Promise of puppies

promise of puppiesIt felt like a tough week for lots of people. How hard is it to pull yourself out of the downward spiral when friends are having tough times, your back is constant pain, the news is filled with violence and horror? What can you turn to? What keeps you going in dark days when depression sniffs around or when you don’t know how to take anymore of the *same* *shit* for even another day? Times like this words can’t reach past the gunk to help you reset, you know there’s still love and hope inside you, but you just can’t feel it. Take a tip from the pros to help yourself through and use the power that comes from the promise of puppies.

Kittens work too, or Shetland ponies, baby turtles, that video of a baby elephant dancing with a ribbon. Maybe even a penguin falling over. Whatever. You’re getting the vibe here – find that which for you summons the promise of new hope, true innocence, and unquestioning, uncomplicated, straightforward love and fun. For me, this is the promise of puppies – love and fun. You’re on your own with the toilet training.

Are you shaking your jaded head and tut-tutting?

Yeah, I hear you and the “oh grow-up” or “get serious” type comment, but hear me out. If you want to live deliberately, mindfully, according to your values, then you need some tools to help you reset and refocus when events have you grinding your teeth with frustration or anger. Our grown-up rational mind tries to think us out of the problem. Oh mighty giant brain! I don’t know about you, but for me that just goes around in blame circles, or shoulda-woulda regrets, or just one more thing that I have to remember to do or change or remind myself. Here’s the shortcut – looking at a picture (or listening to a piece of music) switches the side of your brain that’s in charge of processing stimuli and at the same time it gives you a nice feeling. The feeling is the key because all that worry and thinking has put tight, anxious feelings in you, feelings of ‘not enough’ and the power of puppies is that you are already enough. A world that can hold puppies is a world where a smile is still possible.

You’re not being heartless or immature to want to be able to smile in the midst of hardship. You’re giving yourself care and re-affirming the context and values that you have decided to embody. If a picture of a puppy or a kitten helps you stay on track then why would you deny yourself? Sheesh, consider making it a tattoo!

Puppies are for life

We all know that a commitment extends beyond the holiday, beyond the first rush of sweet hedonistic pleasure, so remember – the power of puppies extends well beyond playful Saturday afternoons. Sneak a glimpse at one first thing Monday morning, or any sleepless night. Let the love and life you see in them seep back into your weary mind and from there you can relight your candle with what you may like to think of as ‘higher-level activities’, but I don’t judge. Want life? Want to feel the bliss but you’re too far from it to even crack a smile? Build yourself a bridge and come back to home.  Come on back to that golden lake of joyful contentment that lives inside you because from there you’re living the life that you really want.

Freedom, bliss, joy, balance – they all start from your center. Want the power to return to that place whenever you want or need to? Use the promise of puppies to get you there. I do.

Gandhi’s storage unit

Recently I came across a picture of the personal items of Mahatma Gandhi that were auctioned in 2009. Many people enjoy the secretive delight of peeping into other people’s lives and handbags, particularly famous and powerful people and Gandhi was both. I wondered what the historians found when they looked into his storage unit.

Gandhi's personal belongings

He was an incredibly active and influential leader in Indian politics from 1915 through to the eventual political emancipation of India in the late 1940s. During this turbulent time his leadership was to earn him the endearment of Bapu (Papa). What does a man of this stature, of this importance own? What iconic luxury items might he flaunt to demonstrate his power? What valuable investments would he hold and what unique mementoes and gifts from a grateful population does he display? In short, what can we learn about modern living from Gandhi’s storage unit?

He’d had a long and successful career in law, travelled the world, met with many famous people. He was a well published writer, a political activist and leader, a family man and a philosopher. He was assassinated in 1948 at the age of 78. This was someone still in his peak, still active and publicly involved in the world, not in a hermitage or in any way winding down his life. Should be quite the haul of cool and amazing things!

Live simply so others may simply live

Famously, he owned very few things. The selection in the picture represents nearly half of his worldly stuff upon his death. No need for a storage unit. In fact he nearly wouldn’t have even needed a bag, most of his belongings were his daily wear. That’s his eating bowl there. He owned one book and a little statue (of the Three Monkeys) and actually, that was pretty much it. He replaced those sandals as they wore out, he had the one outfit. It is radically stark. There’s a wallet and reading glasses and a watch, that much most people have on their bedside table.

But then, nothing else. It is confronting.

Not just the lack of books (libraries were a real option in the 20th century) not just the lack of photos (he and his family were already being publicly documented) there’s nothing that to a modern eye says ‘this is who I am”. No music, no brands, no toys or other discernable displays. No sporting goods or dvds or miniature Eiffel Towers. But of course we know very well what type of man he was, what his beliefs were, how powerful his integrity and focus was. I don’t know if he was deliberately proving a point about stuff, but it sure feels like it.

What might our lives be like if we embraced only those things that were necessary to what we do, how we live our purpose in the world? His may be an extreme example – but what if it isn’t? What if we acknowledged how useful it is to share resources for the  many (libraries and kitchens and laundries) and keep our personal items humble? Humble stuff in life obviously does not have to mean humble impact.

Let Gandhi have an impact on you, especially if you’ve ever felt frustrated or smothered by your belongings or debt. He lived in a modern, complex world and he did it meaningfully and successfully without a collection of boxed vinyl figurines from a tv series or even sunglasses. There are seven billion people in the world, and there’s not enough room for us all to have a storage unit.

Ten years living with ulcerative colitis

Janine Prince March 2015This week marks ten years living with ulcerative colitis. Not an anniversary to celebrate. No. However a moment worth marking nonetheless and I’d like to bear witness to my experience. My intention is to do so as a recognition of all the other people who are living with a chronic illness or for those who might find these words when they are first diagnosed, and search (as I did at the time) for some hint that life goes on.
I haven’t learned enough in life yet, but I have learned that my burden is not the heaviest nor the only burden being carried. So many people suffer every day, and that’s the normal part of their day. Many of them are brave, they are courageous, generous, loving and all those things that people are and to me they seem to be saints because they do all of that without ever asking for pity or a special deal for their own personal situation.
I’ve never been like that. I grew up a self-centred, petulant and ego-driven individual who coasted through life enjoying good health and generally easy successes. If something didn’t go my way, I threw a tantrum. I was bad mannered and basically, if you’ll excuse the expression, a pain in the arse.

The fall

Like many people I was misdiagnosed in the early stages and also like many people, the arrival of this condition was extreme. I won’t bore you or try to shock you with the tedious and grotesque details, but if you are interested, by all means read about ulcerative colitis on Wikipedia and be warned, it isn’t pleasant and there are pictures. The first months were a traumatic roller-coaster of denial, endless specialist visits and a cocktail of anger, fatigue, loneliness and humiliation.
Anyone who has a chronic illness has probably had a similar experience in the broad sense. It is something that undermines your sense of identity, worth and optimism. I came to my knees and the landing was hard. Nothing was fair, and no amount of tantrums would change the physical facts. I kept fighting, and I kept not getting anywhere. Chronic illness does not have any obligation to get better or ease up or otherwise change itself just because your life is falling apart.

I can’t go on

For me, it got a bit worse psychologically even while my physical symptoms began to stabilise. Due to the large blood loss sustained on a daily basis, I had a lovey delicate pallor that was visually appealing. I didn’t have anything bandaged, or in a cast, or visible bruising – I looked pretty good. Inside I was in constant pain (no suggestion at that time from any specialist that I seek or simply be given some support for this, other than more drugs) and questioning if this might be a good time to make an informed decision to exist the great stage. Not only was I not confident that the daily regime of drugs would ever restore me to functional operation, but I felt that I had lost my place in the world. Who would ever want someone this broken?

I’ll go on

Thankfully, I didn’t have the energy or the requisite escape-velocity of self-loathing to finalise the exit at that time and urgent practical matters took my mind off the subject in the long, dark nights. If you’re in the first year or so of having been diagnosed with a chronic illness, please get support as soon as possible for managing your physical and emotional pain. Much as you may think it, you’re not currently in a position to make an “informed decision” about what to do with yourself. In hindsight, I can see it was my ego throwing a pretty big tantrum. A bluff I wouldn’t wish on anybody to call.
The sun rose in the east, arced through the sky and set again to the west. The tides of the moon and the wheel of the year swung around me while my bubble of self-protection and self-pity got cramped and ever lonelier. People have different experiences. I was slowly to learn that I was one of the lucky ones. For a long time I kept a list of illness I was grateful I didn’t have and it got longer as I began to listen to other people’s stories. The burdens I was unequal to carrying slowly lightened as I was able to return to work and also to listen with empathy to what others were carrying. It was still unfair, and so little in life was, that the bleakness never wavered. Days trudged by and the game became one of fighting boredom. I was still fighting, still not winning, still pushing people away as much as begging for closeness. It was a life, but it felt hollow. The fight had been to stop the illness from taking over, from changing things, from taking the freedom of choice away. Laugh if you like, it had done that from the moment it appeared, would I ever come to my senses and stop fighting something that had already won?

The serpent

The trouble was, chronic illness is so easy to see as an enemy. For years I thought of it as a great coiled serpent where my bowel should be. A serpent that in some nightmares ate me whole from the feet up. My powerful enemy could bring me to my knees at any time it cared to flex and coil, raise and strike. My feeble body was a warzone of drugs, fear and fatigue.

What if it is all ok?

Thankfully there are a lot of wise and giving people in the world, some of whom planted seeds of wisdom and compassion in my stony skull. I still had some long dark nights where I wondered if all this effort was for nothing, yet at the same time I slowly began to understand the incredible power of helping other people. I began to see a third way between the fantasies of freedom and total annihilation. The endless confrontations with nightmares opened my other eyes to the shadows I held within. Most importantly, I accepted that sometimes the pain was horrible and I stopped trying to anticipate that or wish it away. I held a rock and took it one breath at a time. I checked in every few breaths, maybe changed the rock to the other hand. Breathe. Right now. This is what is happening. Time helped the reality replace the fantasy. I could live in the cracks. Maybe I could bloom where I was planted too. What if I was ok enough?

It is what it is

There’s no snake now, no enemy, no answer either. I have a thing, like you might, or someone you know does. I manage it as best I can and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I forget I have it, other times, well, I still have that rock to hold. My road in the last ten years has been hard work, and followed a river of tears. Along the way I’ve changed and (hopefully) grown. I wish you all the best on your journey, just remember, we’re all in this together.

Of course, your mileage may vary.

Ask and accept

hands askingSuch a simple act, asking, a transaction we take for granted … until we need it. Then it is hard to ask for help and even harder to accept it. When we need it most, our life is contracted and fearful and we shy from asking for help. Partly because we feel alone and partly because we believe we’re meant to do it alone. Somehow it is ‘cheating’ if you get help or you’ll diminish your eventual standing as a hero.

The Hero’s journey

Our culture venerates heroes. The cult of the individual, of the “self-made man” and “supermom” those who seem to have endless amounts of time and energy to be focused, ‘together’ and successful. They battle uneven odds, villains, entropy and all manner of hurdles to win out at the end. Those stereotypes make it hard for normal people like us to feel adequate, to feel ok about wanting someone to help us. We want to be a hero. We want to be Sam or Frodo, off doing deeds that bards will sing about when in fact we’re at home in Hobbitton dealing with overdue bills, an infestation in the crop and illness in the family.

Part of the bigger picture is that it is too easy to slip into thinking in binary. This kind of “win or die” sloganeering that suits the need marketing firms have for dramatic impact is not helpful for general living or for remembering the infinity of possibilities that are available to us. The pervasiveness of hero-based entertainment distracts from our emotional development in respecting our connections and relationships. That is fairly fancy-pants way of saying that when we want deeper, honest, trusting and intimate relationships, we’re ready to learn more about dealing with conflict and about asking for help. Here’s a tip for advanced players – they’re the same thing.

Fighting for your life

When our world contracts to difficulty and we tighten up around the hurt, we’re likely to feel very alone. That perspective is defensive in nature, it is a way of protecting what little we have left and our claim on what was taken away. We aren’t open to a lot of possibilities, normally we attach or even fixate to a single outcome “I want it back the way it was” and moving through that is a hard road. Some people can never find their way out of that grief and anger.

Maybe it isn’t you, maybe you’re standing by someone’s side as they face a dreadful outcome. Maybe you feel useless, or rejected, or attacked as the person you most want to help lashes out at those closest with blind pain or fury. We’ve all been both of those people at one time or another. Did you find the courage to love them through that time, understanding that their actions at that time were a symptom only? Were you able to accept the unknowing of that time and stay committed to standing by them, no matter what? I bet you did. You’re probably thinking that was a no-brainer. Maybe in hindsight you wish you’d done more or been stronger. Rarely do we consider what transformations might happen if we are softer.

Softly does it

If we can soften (sweeten, gentle, trust, surrender – whatever is the word that makes sense for you) in that time of need we can use a different type of power to create possibility and transform our relationship to need.
Imagine you are looking for a chance to help someone every day, that you decided to do this for your own needs or atonement – in that instance you’re actively looking for someone who needs some help. It might be some spare change, or directions on a busy street corner that you can give. It might be listening over lunch to someone’s problem and remembering that there’s an ombudsman who handles appeals or using your personal network to find accommodation for a friend out of town during a medical emergency, or that as your friend’s house floods on the night of her big birthday party you offer to host the party at your place so that guests who are arriving from all corners of the state and city can still gather to celebrate. Those last three are all real, by the way, and from the last week or so. There are some truly wonderful people out in the world (and the ombudsman reclaimed a lost $9 000 so this is not just hand-waving).
But why softness? And what does this have to do with conflict? For a moment think back to the last time someone was unexpectedly nice or kind to you. Did you just feel your shoulders drop a little or your breath deepen a bit? Think of someone who has been endlessly kind to you, and supportive – can you glimpse that warm and fuzzy feeling then? If you can visualise that feeling, feel it, magnify it, this glowing sensation is compassion, it is a type of love.

Not sex love and not alone

Now that you’re a grown-up, you’ve begun to realise that there are all different types of love. Not just lust and adoration, other types too (the love as a friend or as a parent for example). When you can feel that love for strangers (and it is possible) or from an outside source, you’re experiencing divine love. You can learn it if you like (search for “compassion meditation”) it is not hard to get a handle on. One of the amazing side effects of doing simple compassion exercises is the immediate shift in your perception of being alone. Within the concept of divine love, or universal spirit, or cosmic unity (once again play around until you find the words that work for you), how can there possibly be such a thing as ‘alone’? There isn’t. We are, literally and figuratively, all in this together.
Even at a practical, basic, functional level you’re not doing it alone. Someone grew the food you eat and someone else drove it to the store. There’s lots of someones keeping the internet running, making your clothes, building the trains and plumbing and selling you a ticket at the cinema to see the films that other people made. In every area of our life we are part of a vast and interconnected web of people. Don’t be confused by all this talk about economies. Money is an agreement between people – it is the people who really matter. We are fundamentally interdependent and our culture’s veneration of heroes and of ‘individualism’ is an epic case of ego. Like so often with the ego, it leads you towards a less useful place to be in (thanks for nothing ego!).

Gentle hands

Sometimes it is only when you get knocked badly and your knees slam into the ground that you surrender enough ego to open up to grace. You don’t have to make it that hard for yourself, but if you do, try something different and soften up to ask and accept.

Holding a space for someone else (some with whom you may be in conflict) to not be ‘wrong’ in their actions or behaviours means there’s an opportunity for both of you to grown through the experience. It us a challenge to the ego and it does take a high-quality energy but the results are wonderful, they’re transformative. Try it. Call out bad behaviour or bear witness to your own conflict from a position of compassion that gives both of you respect.

When you are in the other position, or being tight and needful, remember that you are part of a whole that includes the possibility of expansion, inclusion and grace. Sometimes it is only when you get knocked badly and your knees slam into the ground that you surrender enough ego to open up to grace. You don’t have to make it that hard for yourself, but if you do, try something different and soften up to ask for help and accept that which is given.

We are all in this together.

Eclipse gravity

Today is a day of power.

Eclipse
1851 07 28 Berkowski” by Berkowski. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Ok yes, most days are powerful days if you’re on your game and ready to embody your intentions with skill, but today is a different day, special in and of itself. There is a special gravity to this eclipse.
This day of total eclipse, a new moon at the omega of the zodiac, tipping right into the equinox is a rare conjunction of patterns. It creates an off inflection for extra agency in your personal choice about perspective.

Stick with this

Before we leap off a precipice of hand-waving, the reason it is valuable to share this is because you and I can both look at the facts of the natural world and see these patterns. That is objective. What we think about them and what meaning we might take from them is subjective and that means we can have an interesting conversation.
The equinox (the time where the night and the day are equal in length) happens twice each year, a moment of unity and convergences in the dualistic dance our tilted axis moves us through between light and dark. Eclipses form and pass as our Earth and the moon spin and dip to each other as together we weave our way in orbit around the sun. The zodiac represents a different view of our orbit, seeing the canopy of stars and planets from the overlay of an ancient pattern that each adjust as the days move along. The natural world is filled with countless such patterns and tides gracefully interacting with each other and forming the normal and significant events that are a backdrop to our human patterns – civilisations, generations, families, birthdays and so on. So many patterns, so many scales of activity and timeframes and perspectives of meaning.

Why that’s great news for you

Sometimes life is hard and unpleasant. Sometimes when that happens, nice people might say “this too shall pass” and they’re trying to be helpful, but it never helped me to feel any better.
That was until I was able to think about it in perspective of the Earth moving around the sun and the four points along that path that you can prove with nothing more sophisticated and complex than a stick in the ground – the solstices and equinoxes. These give the phrase “this too shall pass” some meaningful context.
The Wheel of the year is a bigger picture that I can connect to. I am part of an enormous organism “life” that on this Earth is so ubiquitous as to be taken for granted. Yet in the universe and indeed in the galaxy we know, we can still prove that it is unique to our planet. (No matter how many probes and expectations and hopes and movies we may make or have about the prospect of finding more planets, more somehow of ‘us’. Although I’m not confident that our collective ego would survive if we sadly turned out to not only ‘not-unique’ but actually something more like the shunned ‘hillbilly’ inbreeds of the galaxy that nobody wants to have to call the police on at a wedding but everyone expects that there’ll be a fistfight inevitably leading to blood and tears. But I digress.)

So. Equinox, eclipse – whatever?

Actually a total eclipse doesn’t happen as regularly or often as you may think – at the end of this month we have another, and then there won’t be one for ages. You may have a handful or two of chances to see one in your life (North Pole inhabitants are the lucky ones in this particular instance). This particular one is also a ‘supermoon’ the name for when the moon is particularly close to the Earth there will be king tides because of it. Those are both facts of the science of Astronomy.
Another element of interest to today is from the art of Astrology. This Eclipse happens while the moon is in the last degree of the 360 degrees of the zodiac. That is very unusual. I don’t know how often that pattern happens, but you’re unlikely to come across that one again in your life. You don’t need to believe in astrology or astronomy for both of these things to be happening. They’re going on without you. You can choose what, if any, of this information you take away to apply to understanding your own life and the events and tides you experience in it. Your quincunx is yours to dance within.

What’s your gravitational force?

To be human is to seek connection (or to judge /reject connection if you are rebellious and need something to push against) we move between sets of belonging. It is a force at work within us.
Oddly this is how it is for the stars and planets too. All matter in our galaxy, and in the universe, is bound to each other through subtle, powerful, complex forces and we call it gravity. You and I have no problem believing totally and implicitly in gravity when we play on a swing, catch a ball or drop our toast. Can you easily believe in the power of gravity across a galaxy? Be honest with yourself.

It’s a big question.

Challenge yourself and expand the edge of that belief to the limit of your comfort and look out from that vantage point. What on the horizon makes you uncomfortable? Breathe here for a while and contemplate the nature of things that are unknown or seem impossible. Can you comprehend the vastness of space and the invisible strength of gravity that leads to slow, graceful orbits that human minds can map and trace into the future? What forces pull on you in ways you do not understand but feel to be real? Relationships? The moon? The enormity of the earth below your feet, abstract concepts like money or the type of time that glaciers count?
You may well decide to ignore today other than as a functional section of the weekly calendar. What’s for dinner? Where are the house keys? Or you may drift into an awareness of the bigger patterns of your life that swing around less often than a week and sit underneath the life that is passing in a blur. We are interested in revealing more about life than is held in a spreadsheet. To do that we are on a path of expanding our awareness, our interest, our willingness to hold multiple ideas and possibility. Today, with our total eclipse in the closure of the zodiac on the cusp of the equinox we are in a powerful place of choice.

Open yourself to the idea that you’re part of this single world, we’re together in the gravity of the situation. Patterns are happening around us, within us, even as we shape the events of our lives. Our social and emotional connections to each other give us our relationship gravity, sometimes those orbits put us in the dark, wondering if “this too shall pass” and of course the answer is yes.

Yes, everything changes, and when it comes around again it will be both different in particulars and the same in pattern.

In the dark of this night that is united with day, know that you belong and are part of this mighty dance of the heavens.

Relighting your candle

Do you feel that your flame is flickering?  This week we’ll take a look at relighting your candle. Here are five simple things you can do to help yourself get through tough times.

One candle is lit from another.Just so we’re all clear, if you find yourself fantasising about or indeed planning hurting people (including yourself) (either physically or emotionally) then you’re not well and you need help. Yes, sometimes bad shit happens, but hurting yourself or others is a sign that the situation you’re in is extreme and that you need some professional help – please ask for it.

Also, if you’re feeling blue, or very dark for more than a week or two and with no other extenuating circumstances, then you’re possibly suffering depression and once again, please ask for help.

A lot of times our society doesn’t provide  useful guidelines and it can leave people floundering with burdens that are simply too heavy. Simple rules with clear instructions are easy to follow. Sometimes, particularly when things are bad, you need an objective measure and those ones work. I’m not a medical professional, so we’ll leave dealing with the extreme end of the experience spectrum to the professionals, they will unburden you in stages and then help you to heal.

You matter

When it is all stacking up against you and you can’t seem to get a lucky break at all it is easy to become very despondent and give up. It might make sense to give up on your project, postpone it, modify it or sell it off to someone else, but don’t give up on yourself. Try not to take it personally. Yes, of course it happened to you (and there’s not much that’s more personal in that sense), but you still exist independent of the meaning you (and or our culture) may have ascribed to your project. This is a good opportunity to remember and utilise the quincunx and put your circles back into the right scale and context for you. If you like, try this on too, “all life is sacred“, that includes you (not just dolphins,pandas and enlightened gurus) and you don’t need to do anything to earn that. You just are.

Tough situations are not impossible

There is some comfort in knowing that in all the generations of humans that have gone before us, in the billions of lives that have been lived, others have survived situations this tough, and they probably did so without air-conditioning and smartphones. If you’re the competitive type, this idea is particularly helpful. For many of us, just knowing that it can be done is enough to help us keep getting up when we get knocked down. Just try again. Hard work is what grown-ups do, you can handle it. You won’t like it, it is not as nice as snoozing on the couch, but you can get through it.

Reject the idea of perfection

Oh, you want to do it the right way, and that’s what’s causing delays and hardships and suffering? Are you sure it is right  and not just a choice you might be making? Very rarely is there only a single right way to complete a project in your life or handle a setback. There are normally as many ways as there are people. Your unique outlook, skills, network, humour and style will see you muddle through. Don’t voluntarily add the burden of conforming to the illusion of perfection.

Be a light to others

Helping someone else can and does give you strength to face your own situation anew. Help in an area where you’re not under pressure, where your situation is strong or complete. It will remind you that you have things to be grateful for and that there is likely to be someone out there who would be willing to help you. There’s a light inside people that comes back into their eyes when things turn around for them. It can be infectious, but you only catch it by acting on purpose.

Keep your hands busy

Dwelling in your pain and hardship amplifies it. Literally keeping your hands busy (sewing, cooking, gardening, woodworking etc) edges you out of that stuck place. Meaningful activity gives your mind something else to occupy itself and stimulates your problem-solving and coping abilities. Combine this with helping others if you like and do handiwork for a charity. Can’t use your hands? Find away to serve with what you do have – read to someone who is lonely, walk a bedridden person’s dog. Not busy so you’re exhausted (unless that is likely to help) but active, engaged with the real world, not living completely inside your head.

Hot wax

Candles drip hot wax. That’s a fact of life. You’ll have excuses about these suggestions and a lot of it will be to do with discomfort. If that discomfort is coming from your ego, or an attachment to the status of being hard done by being able to blame others, this is going to take extra bravery on your part. Someone very wise pointed out that “once we’ve asked to be healed, our unhealed places rise to the surface.” You’re underway now and the wax and the falling down and the frustrations are all part of the mess of it, but you’re back on fire, you matter, and the situation is not impossible.

Shit happens

It is Leonard Cohen who moans best “Everybody knows that the dice are loaded, everybody rolls with their fingers crossed” (go and listen) and goes on to enumerate the many ways that shit happens and the universe gives us the rough end of the pineapple. At some point we’ve each felt those words to be the truest thing we’ve ever heard. Sometimes, shit just happens, and there you are – at rock bottom.

Dung barrow - literally a pile of shitThere’s nothing darker, nothing harder. You’re stuck in a situation where the choices are all bad, where there’s no glib ‘out of the box’ solution, where you can’t sweet-talk or wiggle, or ‘leverage’ or visualise abundance or re-frame or negotiate or create a win-win. Here’s the moment where you realise you’re a grown up. This is with you.

Stinks, doesn’t it?

Usually, just to really make sure you’re in a bad place, no one can really help you either. What do you do? How do you cope? Why is life so unfair? Well I’ve got good news and bad news for you.

Bad news

Well the bad news is that there are no simple answers to solve whatever your particular problem, conundrum or situation is. The path ahead of you is going to be rough, uncomfortable and probably life-changing. Ready or not, you’re on it. Also, by the way, no one knows why life is unfair. It just is. That’s another shit thing about being a grown up, there’s no ultimate umpire on the field with you right now who can call a time-out, send off cheating players or award a ‘best and fairest’ to someone who didn’t score but was very nice. Finally, in a personal and physical sense, you’re on your own. You’re in your own head through this with all your demons doing their things. That’s a scary place to be stuck.

Good news

Life is contradictory. Fortuna is both bountiful and capricious.  She can change her mind and ‘whoosh’ the winds blow you in another direction.

Having just finished saying that you’re on your own and no one can help you, the opposite is also true. (This is another weird thing about being a grown up, you have to get used to being able to hold contradictory ideas (truths indeed) in one’s mind, and this is one of them.) Last week we shared ideas for being happier in life and we’re able to do that because so many of us have experienced the same things, just at different times. So if you’re able to accept support, there are people who have also been in a similar dark and hard place and they will share what they have already learnt with you. You’ll have to make your own way out, but at least there will be people cheering for you from the sideline.

Next week we’ll explore some things you can do and some ways to cope with tough situations and rough deals. This is a place for honesty, so let’s admit that we’re about to venture into the realm of grief, sadness and despair. Please be respectful of your own wounds, and those of others. The intention is that by sharing these things we can help to heal ourselves and others who may be lost.

If you are in need of help right now, please ask.  If you’re in Australia, Lifeline offer crisis support and phone counselling. Whatever country you’re in, there’s a charity or service standing ready to help you, please contact them.

Thanks for reading and also for the suggestions last year that we explore this topic.

Ripening New Year

Like many people around the world I sat down to write out what I wanted this new year to be like. Unsurprisingly it was very similar to how I had hoped that last year might be. At first I was despondent about my life having turned into a drab kind of  “rinse and repeat” cycle.

No. Honestly I was gutted.

Wheel of FortunePerhaps this would be all that I could hope for into the future – fresh chances to try and get just one year right. One year where my modest goals could be met; where I might weigh a little less instead of a lot more, where I might see my loved ones more than my work colleagues. Simple, humble goals that I have failed to achieve in the last year. And indeed the year before that too.

You might suggest that having a process fail regularly would be a good reason to let it go. New year’s resolutions are for chumps, everyone knows that. Yes, so just give up, roll over and let it happen how it will. After all, I am 42 now, a middle-aged lady. Nobody cares. All my rage and fury and desires are unbecoming on podgy hips and graying hair. Passions and hopes are for young people. I should just shut up and pay my taxes. After all, I had my chance, I made my moves. Time, as they say, moves on. Every new year just reminds me that I’m racing against the clock and I don’t get to start from scratch, I’ve got a handicap from all the time I spent learning the wrong things, following stupid advice and bumbling around life’s maze.

But time has moved on without so many of us I cannot be alone in hoping for a second chance.

Then I remembered an amazing phrase that had lodged like a burr in my mind since I had read it on the Archdruid’s Report sometime in the last month or two which I have remembered as “we ripen towards death”* and it took the sting out of my haunting sense of another ‘failed’ year. It hinted of slower, gentler rhythms and reminded me that life’s purpose is not to ‘arrive’ at our final destination. We will, most certainly, get there in due course. Our purpose is really a deliberate and mindful process of combining our own selection of influences and inspirations to constantly become our own selves in relationship to the world around us and its major events.

This then is why I keep my little lists in the front of each diary of my intentions and goals. They are my deliberate and mindful process of who I wish to be in face of what life will throw at me.

In the midst of the year’s wheel, I will have a compass to help me towards what will make sense of this world for me. We all want it to make sense, for there to be a reason behind the pain and the obligation and the duty and the frustration and the lost days.

So many lost days in the life that is ticking down to a long cold end but let us each at least be ripe in our own time. If you are thirsty, seek water. If you are fearful, leap. If you are on fire then burn as bright as all the fires in the heart of the sun.  Your path is towards your own end. Let each step on that path be your decision as much as possible. Seek your own flavour in this new year.
Say ‘yes’ to your time.
Be brave. Be incandescent.

* the quote is actually quite different – and a lot better!:
“These people aren’t looking for salvation, at least in the sense that word has been given in the religious sensibility of the last two millennia or so, and which was adopted from that sensibility by the theist and civil religions of the Western world during that time; they are not pounding on the doors of the human condition, trying to get out, or consoling themselves with the belief that sooner or later someone or something is going to rescue them from the supposedly horrible burden of having bodies that pass through the extraordinary journey of ripening toward death that we call life.”
http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/at-closing-of-age.html

Starting the hill

Climbing the hill

Starting over confronts me with the fears of not doing perfectly (or even well enough), the frustration of feeling “uninspiring” and the reality that with a full time job, community commitments, family and friends to stay in touch with, I’ve let my personal dreams get shuffled right to the bottom of the priority pile where they have cried themselves to sleep.

I started this blog the way some couples decide to have a baby – as a way to force things to be better – although there were lots and lots of much better reasons too! I was never going to admit that but in the spirit of radical transformation and honesty it seems that I won’t really be able to move forward with my creative pursuits until I get congruent with what is really going on.

Thinking about climbing a hill, planning the steps, hoping the sky will be blue, none of those things get us nearer to the view from the top. Putting one foot down in the right direction and then the next one and leaning into the wind and holding onto the hat. Dealing with the real hill.
That’s how to get to the views.

Have you ever put off answering your heart’s call? How did you start over?

Trust in the process

Learning something just doesn’t work unless there’s a moment of surrender and I make or let myself say “I don’t know”. When I was a child I didn’t have this challenge. I expected that I didn’t know lots of things but as an adult, I am attached to the idea that I already know things, that I’m already good at some things.

Learning just feels like a lot of failures and plenty of frustrations and errors. That doesn’t feel great. “I don’t know” is a vulnerable place to be in our world of specialists and competition. I can see the value in it too. It is my ego that stops me from admitting I don’t know. My ego holds me back from the chance of learning!

When I reach the surrender of “I don’t know” then I know I am actually ready to learn. From that point, I am truly starting fresh. Then I just have to trust in the process and let the ‘failures’ and frustrations show me the way from there.