Don’t be absurd – 3 tips to practical sanity

absurd medieval rabbits torture a manThere’s a wild streak of absurdity running feral in the world. The public sphere of debate, politics and planning have blurred into ranting, clownish blurts of the absurd. Perhaps this isn’t new – perhaps there is a tide of the absurd that washes in and out of human communities periodically. If so, it is high tide because (for an example) at the moment it seems that the idea that anyone in any media can be assumed to be telling the truth is now an outmoded, dowdy joke. Not a funny joke, more a disparaging snort of derision. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t like that.

I think that having fundamental expectations be absurd undermines our sense of connection to each other and creates an environment in which anything goes, because nothing is ‘true’ any more.

So in an absurd world how do we stay realistic without going mad or becoming overburdened with cynicism? We remember what is always true. Here are three truthful tips to help you stay sane in a flood of absurdity.

Happiness is never absurd

Your happiness and wellbeing matter. Primarily to you and those closest to you, of course, but this is always true. You can hold onto this. That’s not an invitation to become an egomaniac, but a simple reminder that in the face of bureaucratic coldness and structural stupidity you still have value as a sentient being. That is not a grand statement but it is a truth. Well it is a truth I invite you to make the choice to believe in.

Nature is never absurd

Strange, wondrous and amazing the natural world can give you almost infinite pleasure. If you interact with it and let it interact with you then there is a stable and meaningful continuity to that relationship which offers a counterbalance to the absurd in human endeavours.  The endless repeating of patterns in nature are true. They are the language we turned into mathematics. Nature is our alpha and our omega.

Even those who might dream of taking humans to far-off planets must think hard about how to bring nature along for the ride or gamble all on finding it there and welcoming at the destination. Let the natural world be a truth in your reckoning.

Love is a verb

The advanced idea that ‘love is a verb’ is an antidote to the absurd because it puts an active involvement at the centre of choices. It puts a rudder in the waters of chaos and brings the first two ideas into your choice in the now. How will you chose your next action in the context of valuing your wellbeing, and staying connected with the fundamental truth of nature? From those two truths you can triangulate more easily to love in the world and towards your own path of truth.

It may well be high tide for the absurd right now, but this too shall pass.

Over scheduled and too busy to worry

over scheduledDo you have the over-scheduled virus? It is a type of modern flu that has all the symptoms you’re sadly familiar with: fatigue, poor sleep, low level physical ailments (sniffles! That half cough!), a constant sense of not quite being ‘all there’ (because you’re keeping at least one eye on the clock to make sure you get to your next appointment on time), and perhaps worst of all is the gnawing doubt that a helluva lot of what is taking up all that time is not actually important. You know, proper important. Especially compared to the things you’re too tired for at the end of the day, like conversation.

I remember conversation, it is when you talk about something other than the logistics of the next day or who will do which chores. I’m sure I’m still capable of it, if only I had the time. Of course any spare time gets soaked up quickly by the ever-present “should do” list or sleep but presumably there’s a possible future in which I’m caught up on all those things and so is someone I know and we could have a conversation. Hahaha When did that become an almost outlandish fantasy?! Even people I know who are retired from work are busy busy busy. Strange days.

Why you stay over scheduled

But you know, there’s a payoff to this behaviour too, a hidden lining that creates comfort. You wouldn’t think so but there’s plenty worse your brain could be doing and keeping you busy today and tomorrow is really quite clever because when we slow down our habit is not to stay in the now. Oh no, we send our giant brains out into the days beyond and into what might happen. Dangerous ground indeed for this is the hunting grounds for anxiety. Dwell briefly in the future and make a decision about the suitable path and all is well, one can navigate through events and respond when challenges arise. Lingering in the permutations of what might be is necessary for great work but demands huge capacity to defend and define one’s limits and scope. Otherwise the clever early-mammal part of your brain is lured into a hamster wheel of what ifs and becomes trapped in the momentum of its own spinning. Anxiety feeds on you again. There’s a nascent part of our (perhaps higher) self working hard to explain these traps and warn us of the dangers. We tend not to listen.

The ego believes passionately that we’re above such silly situations. The compromise is our over-scheduling. It appeases the puff of the ego and perilously protects the vulnerable brain from too much anxiety. It would be funny if it wasn’t so personal! So the payoffs are always there in our behaviours. You could call it the comfort of complaining. These habits can be so hard to acknowledge without someone to talk things over with and that time in which to reflect on our own patterns or those of our friends (actually I’m a lot wiser when it comes to other people than I am about myself). I’m also lucky to have some very wise friends! So although I’m over-scheduled I’m cautious about just stopping and so making a gap. Even if I could completely stop work and all my commitments and responsibilities that comes with a different risk. We all know that nature abhors a vacuum and in the past it has been another extreme – anxiety – that filled it. I’d like to do it differently this time. I’d like to find a middle way.

Have you ever tried a self-development course and come across a facile question like “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” Oh you’ve GOT to be kidding?! But I tried, I tried so hard to soar with eagles and do better and be better and unleash the giant within and all that stuff. But what I’ve learned is a hard lesson to share, and it is that pretending you can’t fail is unfalteringly useless and here’s why.

Making a friend of failure

Of course you could fail. Most of us actually live from a primary identity of failure. That’s a constant in our lives. From the moment we fell over learning to walk we have implicitly understood that failure is part of the human condition. Even as a mind game to expand our comfort zone it is really really the wrong question to be asking.

Here’s a question to try on. “What is so important to you that you will do it anyway, knowing that you will fail in part?” It is likely that you will fail to meet your fullest dreams, on the other hand there are amazing discoveries promised if unknown at the outset. How might you answer that question? Take a minute now if you like to roll it around and see what you come up with.

This choice, this engagement with your own private calling, does not ignore or diminish the idea of failure and instead embraces it. It is not some light optimism that evades the shadows or distorts the reality of challenge, but instead a serious call to us to face the source of meaning and value in our lives. It is a middle path that expects courage and offers a radical hope. I’m not quite proud of my failures yet, but I am ready to expand them. Are you? Share your proud failures or your middle path in the comments.

When love let me down

loveWhere is the love?

When the terrorist attacks in Paris happened last year I realised that I did not really believe in love. If “love is all you need” then how can people possibly shoot each other as a political process? If love is the greatest power why do we yearn for retribution in our justice, or worse, for revenge? If love is the ultimate force, then why was I trapped inside fear? It was a dark realisation and humbling. I couldn’t find a way forward. Peace eluded me. Love let me down.

At that time it was easy to notice a retreat into established, shared stories. The escapist movies released after that time in the lead up to the end of the year did particularly well because people sought a retreat from a complicated world. In blockbuster movies bad guys are easy to hate and the violence of the good guys is excused because the ends justify it. When you’re fearful, even kindness feels like a vulnerability. No wonder we draw back from love, it is too much to give! We can barely find love in our hearts for ourselves, families, neighbours or work mates. Why should we give when everyone else is taking?

So love as an ideal was tarnished. Love had not been a possible answer to terrorism.

Love is all we have

But. And yet. Nothing else could answer the question. “What would make the world the best possible place?” Telling people, forcing people, arguing shrilly and judging – none of those things work at any level, in any place, to create a more peaceful and harmonious society.

Love is the only answer that makes sense. Most of the time we think about romantic love and that confuses us. Romantic love is tied to personal intimacy, lust, sex, privacy. Then there’s parental love and so on. None of those are quite right either.

Asking to be healed

I’ve been sick and depressed in life and it isn’t fun, it doesn’t make for a peaceful outlook. I wanted to be better, so be well, to be healed, to be happy. I learnt that the first principle of healing is to participate. That means to ask for it. Ask who? Start with yourself. One of the first healers I ever spoke to said one transformative sentence to me: “What are you willing to give up in order to be well?” Not ‘what would I give’ but ‘what would I release’? In many ways that one sentence lead to all the posts here on this blog, all the ways of reframing worry and debt and embracing choice and the freedom of self knowledge. As I asked to be well over the months and years I was shown my patterns, my behaviours, the choices I was making. It was a process that gave lots of opportunities for experimenting with different ways, with different approaches and experiencing radical changes. We’ve talked around those topics in the last two years in a general way/

In the posts to come I’ll share what I’ve learnt in those experiences from a different perspective in the hope that they help you in your journey. Love didn’t let me down after all, it was there waiting for me, as it is waiting even now for you. We’re going to look at life’s challenges together from inside love. I hope we’re all up to it.

Reiki introduction

2016-01-17 Janine Prince and Patricia NewtonThere’s so much suffering in the world and it felt like time to find a way to contribute to the healing of that rather than continue to feel helpless and overwhelmed. As in all things, one must start with oneself, so last weekend, I did a Reiki introduction course with Patricia Newtown. Primarily I wanted to find a way forward in dealing with my colitis and depression. I was hoping for something that would complement my philosophical and intellectual explorations and perhaps help address the patterns of my behaviour that I have not been able to resolve on my own. I decided to ask for help.

First reiki impressions

Reiki is something that has given me a lot of support and help over the past 12 months through occasional short treatments. It is simple to receive, non-invasive, and people who give it always seem to be happy. I like the look of being happy, it is like holidays, but it doesn’t come to an end. Pat’s reiki introduction course looked appealing because she looked happy in her picture, and it would be near where I live. That’s a simple enough decision making process isn’t it? Well it worked. Learning is always fun, but reiki is not just an intellectual pursuit, there is of course lots of attention given to one’s body (in every sense). The welcoming space and happy faces were nice, but the real connection came as soon as we started by checking in on our individual energy levels, and then immediately raising them. That first technique, learnt in the first ten minutes of the day, has been working hard in the days since and will continue to be a touchstone to sanity. Did you know there’s a vibrational frequency to happiness? Of course you do, that’s why everybody loves music. That’s why you feel better after a long walk in nature. That’s why we have the phrase “out of synch” for when we’re down.

Reiki revealed

As in so many courses, much of the learning comes from the interaction with the other people as well as the course leaders. Something like this is incredibly supportive and inspiring as there’s a deliberate choice to be authentic and present in participation. I was also in the pleasant situation of being the least experienced member of the group and so everything the others said seemed to spark another revelation in me, another informational connection, another moment of personal insight. There were also some moments of divine simplicity. Have you ever used that phrase for a friend in distress “I’m sending you love”? That’s what reiki is, sending love. That’s the big reveal. Love. No need to over-think it. What was transformational in my experience was becoming a receiver for that energy and realising how to pass it along. There was an enormous amount of unexpected emotional release of old baggage that happened from the process of being “brought up to speed”.

Now for the housework

As is always the case after a peak experience, there’s a wobbly period afterwards. Lots of emotional clearing, intense personal experiences, heavy downloads of information all need time to settle in and become part of who you are. If indeed you decide to keep them. reiki practitioners around the world encourage the use of a “21 day cycle” which is a protocol for integration based around three full cycles through the seven energy centres in the body. What that means is that much as I was high as a kite last Sunday (when the photo of Pat and I was taken) it was taken for granted that there’s be a ‘coming to ground’ on Monday, and verily that did come to pass and that’s ok too. For healing (and learning) to be meaningful, it has to occur within our everyday lives. That’s what the 21 day cycle is for. Integration moves something from being an idea to wisdom. I’m diligently doing my homework, forgiving my slips and falls, not expecting miracles. This is the time for finding the right place for these skills in the toolbox of my life.

Was it amazing? Yes. Was it worth doing? Yes. Will I go back and learn more? Yes. Has it made a difference to my health? Only time will truly tell, but it has already made a positive difference to my ability to ‘pick myself up’ each morning and face the day with a smile. Can I recommend Patricia Newton as a trainer and a healer? Yes! Absolutely!

What use is love?

So reiki is love. It is a pretty happy, blissful kind of thing. It is a useful thing to add to one’s repertoire of skills and to grow one’s wisdom. So before you ask “what use is reiki?” maybe ask if you want to be the person who is asking “What use is love?”

Belief without love will make you fanatical,
Duty without love will make you ill-humoured,
Order without love will make you pedantic,
Power without love will make you violent,
Justice without love will make you severe,
A life without love will make you ill.

(Excerpt from “Reiki: Universal free energy” by Baginski and Sharamon.)

Tiny stitches

tiny stitchesHave you heard that phrase – “a stitch in time saves nine”? It is one of those useful proverbs reminding us to take a little action now when we first think of something rather than waiting for the problem to unravel even further into something that will take perhaps nine times the effort to fix, if indeed it can be fixed all by then.
Oftentimes we think of life in big pictures – heroic moments – if you will when the reality of life is actually in the millions of tiny stitches that we make each day on the underside of our life. All those tiny stitches pulling one thing and another together to make the pattern of who we are, what we value, how we play.
No one ever sees them, but they’re there all the same. We know them. We know what it took to make them just so, the cost and yes the do-overs and regrets too.

We find happiness, hope and solace in continuing to stitch our lives together out of what comes our way, working in our private dreams and celebrating wins when we can. Sometimes life rips us away from our patch of meaning and challenges us to pick up the thread. It can take a while to face that setback. But this is life, to muddle forwards as we can. Lots of people spend time in denial, wishing things were otherwise, but that is a type of stitching too. In that stitching you’re not placing your needle to any advantage.

When things are darkest or toughest, it can be hard to remember that you are still making tiny stitches. Your choice in that regard remains. Each breath can be deep or each meal can be eaten in gratitude, or each question an opportunity to ask or be open to listen. Tiny stitches make up our time. They will never be perfect, and they don’t need to be. They’re your tiny stitches, yours to place where you will.

Overcommitted

overcommittedEver been overcommitted? Ever found yourself juggling time madly multitasking and pushing your own limits to get everything done? Of course you have, and how silly does it feel to realise you’re the one who signed up for this storm of activity. Sometimes it takes a lightning bolt to show you the terrain that you’re stumbling over. That terrain is actually flat – you’re tripping over your own haste.

You’re in charge of deciding what your time is best spent on, but sometimes you’re the wrong person to make that decision. You don’t think to put your hand up and ask for help, after all, “You can manage“.  So you push on, managing to get by and catch yourself at the stumbles, head up, and carry on through the stress.

Overcommitted is a warning sign, it is a hand up, asking for help. If you’ve felt these first warning signs of storms in your life, take a deep breathe and pause. You have a choice here to give yourself a break. So reconnect with your commitment to meaningful and mindful activity. Quite possibly, a lot of the expectation you’re overcommitted by is from you. You got here from your desire to get it all done, make all the achievements and meet the high expectations of those demanding inner critics. Let me remind you – they are insatiable. They will always have a little thing where you weren’t good enough, didn’t do enough, let yourself down.

Overcommitted is a downward spiral

What might be next? Your health or your close relationships as you take for granted the fuel that is sustaining you and the people who understand what you’re reaching for? Don’t let there be collateral damage from wanting to do well, come back to your centre and recommit to less. Evaluate and select only that which is most meaningful to you right now. Let go of the expectations that you’re drowning under that don’t serve your higher purpose and those that are not in alignment with your intention.

You are not a failure. You’re someone’s beloved, so remind yourself that you can only do, what a person can reasonably do, and that is enough.

Nanowrimo and the risks of research

nanowrimo‘Stretch goals’ we used to call them, when was that? The 90s maybe, then ‘audacious’ goals and then goals somewhere along the line morphed into either challenges or indicators – depending on if you get paid for delivering them. Nanowrimo is a challenge that stretches what you think might be possible for you to achieve within the arbitrary timeframe set for your challenge by the rules of the game . There are lots like it (Inktober for example) and nearly all of them hold their traps and risks. In Nanowrimo, one of the demoralising traps is ‘comparisonitis’ and a risk is ‘research paralysis’.

Nanowrimo and ‘Write what you know’

You’ve probably heard the advice to ‘write what you know’ and during the NANOWRIMO challenge it makes sense because you probably don’t have time to research the thing you want to set your story in or around. If it is fantasy, no worries, make that stuff up and move on (this can be tiring, but there are heaps of tricks to this). You might think you’re off the hook with Science Fiction (or speculative fiction) but oops, not so. Readers are wonderful, clever people with all their attention on your world.

You better have a decent excuse for how that spaceship got to where it is if you expect any of your other technological excuses to fly too. ‘Continuity of world’ is so very important. Readers don’t mind suspending disbelief in one or two areas in the name of entertainment, but you cannot afford to jolt them away from your narrative with broken edges or logical gaps they fall into and cannot get out of.

Nanowrimo can feel like a sprint when you’re trying to get down dialogue between your characters or descriptions of their world, but the moment you come to a real world detail that you know is going to matter, unless you already know it, you stop and check. If you’re experienced at this particular game you do not do this, you simply put in your own code for ‘check this detail later’ (BARNACLE for example – anything you can do a ‘find’ command with) and keep moving because you know that to stop now for research is a terrible risk to run. A risk you probably can’t afford to take.

Research is not writing

Oh it feels so good to be learning something and you just know your characters and plot are going to explode with this fantastic detail you’re getting! Trouble is, oops, where did that hour go? And that one? You’ve only got a limited amount of time for writing and every time you hit up Dr Google to help you with a name for someone or a town or any detail you know you need, you’re going to be distracted. There’s 20 fantastic search results in less time than it took you to hit enter. Even skim reading those is taking your mind away from building what you were going to say next. Research is awesome and one of my favourite parts of writing, but honestly, when you’re up against the clock, indulging in it is a bit of a rick. Type in your best guess, whack a BARANCLE to it, and move on.

Happy story telling everyone.

Celebrating Beltane down under

Gundestrup Cauldron, showing Celtic horned god Cernunnos with torc, Denmark, c100 BC. (Photo by CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images)
Gundestrup Cauldron, showing Celtic horned god Cernunnos with torc, Denmark, c100 BC. (Photo by CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images)

It is Beltane here in the Southern Hemisphere and sometimes it is hard to see how Australians celebrate this wild time of exploding fertility and the fullness of spring, but we do. You won’t see may poles in many places (unless it is a re-enactment group), and you won’t see Beltane mentioned openly or officially, but we celebrate it. You can’t help but feel the sap rise inside you at this time of year, the urge to connect, renew and (if you still have it in you) ‘fertilise your fields’. Yes, I’m being a little coy about sex there, you’ll see why in a little bit.

Beltane is a sexy time of year. We don’t really go in for dancing naked around a fire – we’re a bit too “occupational safety” minded for that kind of thing, plus we’re touchy about setting off fires, but the partying and fertility rites are here to stay and well out in the open.

Increasingly Australians are deciding to celebrate Halloween. It can be confusing to those of us who honour the wheel of the year and downright frustrating too. However, I’ve realised that there’s a nuance that I’ve been missing. Aussies don’t have many shared rituals – as a multicultural nation of people with diverse and or largely (officially) secular backgrounds, we have a magpie habit of comfortably picking only what we like from things and using it to suit our needs. I think the reason we’re appropriating Halloween is simply because it is a well timed excuse for a dress-up party, right at that time of year when we feel like getting sexy. It is also popular because it is suitable for kids to participate, unlike our major, national event, The Melbourne Cup.

That’s right, “The race that stops a nation” is confusing as a national ritual until you realise that it a default, secular, authorised outlet for Beltane celebrations and energy. All around the country, on a single day, all the normal rules are off. You’re expected to gamble, you’re allowed/ encouraged to drink booze (even at work!), you’re expected to leave your normal inhibitions at home in a box for the day. Punters and partiers dress up and then get really drunk on enormous amounts of alcohol. They have a great time. Loads of people have fun. The horses, not so much. There’s plenty of passed out people, or staggering, puking people and (here’s why I was being coy earlier) eyewitness reports of couples ‘fertilising their fields’ on the track and in the car park by the end of the day. Of course, none of this is mandatory. Some people are able just to enjoy a special lunch. My point is not *gasp* people getting messy, it is that this is a normal working day. A Tuesday.

There is nothing special about this race compared to any of the other major race days throughout the spring carnival. Over time, it was this race that grew, that got a little momentum and here we are with something to hang our Beltane on. Don’t go in for horse racing? No worries, hook into the “Halloween” excuse for a party. Don’t like monsters? Have a BBQ, celebrate your wedding anniversary or one of your friend’s birthdays (November is so conveniently located months after the Australia Day and Valentine’s Day rituals to supply an endless number of birthdays to enjoy.

How ever you prefer it, enjoy your Beltane this weekend.

Buried stories – digging in nanowrimo

Ready to writeCreative writing is an act of faith. It is, of course, also a process and work and I will be taking my own advice in those regards but none of that can happen without the trust that inspiration will come. Do you believe in your muse? Do you have a creative faith that you can form something with your mind or hands that didn’t exist yesterday?

Turning up ready to be inspired, making the time and the space for it to happen, listening closely for those soft but magical words “what if…” those are all the ways that stories begin to edge their way into the world. By the time I’m inside that story, I don’t feel that I’m creating it but rather that I’m digging up something my muse buried for me.

That’s when it is going well. It doesn’t always go well.

Last week I was so sick that I didn’t feel like writing. Actually it was worse than that. I wanted to and couldn’t. I wanted to draw some meaning from being ill, to find some message we could all tuck into our hearts and feel positive about. There was nothing. It wasn’t ‘writer’s block’ so much as ‘writer is empty’. Obviously, if one is not writing, one is not a writer. It is with great anticipation then that I look forward to the culmination of my course of antibiotics and of October with the deeply held hope that November will fill me up again to overflowing with words.

November is the annual National Write a Novel Month (Nanowrimo for short) and you’ve heard me be a fangirl about it before. It is a challenge that gives some extra purpose and pleasure to my life, even though it has never yet resulted in a published story (although for hundreds of participants each year it does exactly that). Every year I try and dig up some tasty fiction. It is a choice I make knowing that I might fail (and knowing that I will feel like a failure anyway), that I will have to give up other things in order to do it, and that ultimately it doesn’t matter.  I do it because I love it. It makes me happy to try.

It is uncomfortable to admit that I don’t know what might come (or not come). I have my ideas and themes, my egoic attachment to producing a single, 50 000 word chunk of fiction during November. I have faith that something will come along. I am here in my chair at the keyboard typing that prayer out to you right now.

Hear me Muse! Lead me to a buried treasure!

You just being is awesome

being open your hands RUMIYou, just being here, you’re awesome. You don’t need to “do” anything to be valuable, or worthwhile or precious. You are a wonderful human being. Sure, you’ve got some flaws, everyone does, but you know what? You just being is awesome. That goes for every single sentient being in the world. Imagine how many wonderful people there are behind all those faces that blur past you in the streets or on trains or television. Every one of them is a soul in a body.

So, What do you do for a living?

Mostly we get caught up in what we do. What we do for work. Our culture is very worky worky. Work is, by definition, both a noun and a verb. What we do is called work and when we are doing it we are working. That’s obvious enough. But it pushes just being out of the picture. There’s “working” and then “not-working”.  We don’t remind ourselves that it is useful to just be. Be yourself. Be quiet, be unfunny or a bit sad or thoughtful, be filled with hope, wonder, or just contentment. When you’re worried, anxious or down, that’s who you are too. It is not the job you do for a living that matters it is the being you express by your living.

What people love about you is your being, not your resume

Think about someone you love. Think about what it is about them that you love … I bet it wasn’t that last project they worked on in the office, or their resume, or any of that worky worky stuff. It is in the way their soul shines through and speaks to your soul. You know, that “somehow you make me the better version of myself I like to be” feeling. Maybe you or your beloved is one of those amazing, inspirational people who manage to express their soul in their work day as well. Fantastic and congratulations! Long may you prosper. Ask yourself, if that company crumbled or the economy faltered, and somehow the work was gone would your love for that person vanish too? No.

Connect with being

Maybe put your ‘to-do’ lists aside for a day or two and let yourself rest in being. Let’s be adults, if this is the weekend you’re moving house or catching a plane go ahead and do the things you need to do. But once you’ve done what is needed, stop. Let it be enough. Your purpose is to be here, now, mindful in each moment. Decide moment to moment to do what is needed, or just be. If you can think of something to do that is awesome and expresses your soul into the world, then by all means do it and live long and prosper doing so. If not, you, just being, that’s awesome too.