Weird days ahead so BYO weird

Don’t be absurd” I said, but then look what happened! That was a strange lesson in things getting a whole lot stranger than you thought possible. I’m alluding vaguely to politics and violence in the world sphere. The weather has been weird where we are – storms like tantrums that thrash and destroy and suddenly weep themselves out. I’m always looking for a sign in the world, it just seems to be that every single one says the same thing – weird days ahead.

Not the new normal

This isn’t a prediction about what might be the ‘new normal’ (sorry – no answers!) or how there’s some magical reset anywhere in sight to take away the weird and give us back our global sanity. Nope. The news is that being rational and reasonable is going to take more work. Each of us will have to make a choice each day on how to deal with what happens.

We won’t know what to expect. The increasing pace of random attacks, weird anti-truth-ness and agonising political hypocrisy are escalating.  All we really have in our control is the decision on how we will act. How we might embody our values person by person. How can we be kind, tolerant, assertive, truthful?

When did the truth become an enemy?

I work in marketing, I’m no stranger to influencing audiences and the ‘massaging’ of facts by our cousins in advertising, but the truth used to be a bedrock, not a moving target.

In the past six months it has seemed as though the political mainstream in the western world has been gaslighting us all so that we get used to anyone asking for ‘honesty’ on issues is considered weird. That’s not helpful. That’s not working towards equality or freedom or happiness. Actually it is verging on taking absurdity and weird right on into the realm of madness.

This is not a great topic. I don’t like that it is going on, but I feel powerless to address it in any way except through personal action. I feel like I am teetering on the edge of madness, and depression. It has put me off writing and blogging, it has weighed on me when I make plans for my future and it drains my sense of value.

Weird inspiration

So what I’m thinking here is that the normal stuff – all the skills and expectations I have from the past few decades – are not that useful anymore. I need to engage with the new weird world on a new level. Isn’t it obvious – I must bring my own weird. That’s right, one sometimes must fight fire with fire. This is not the same as ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ that way is utter chaos in this instance. No. I will allow my weird free, I will bring whatever I can to our table to protect and defend the forces of good. If you want to join the rebellion in support of honesty and goodwill, please do. Tea and biscuits supplied, BYO weird.

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.

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.)

Living with depression

can't even adultA bout in the ring with the black dog this week. There’s never a winner so sport metaphors are fundamentally flawed but it does feel like a fight rather than a dance. In reflecting on what it is like to live with depression from inside it, I will use the first person. I don’t know what it is like for anyone else and indeed this illness is fundamentally isolating, so it is doubly hard to create any sense of connection at all from within it, let alone with my fellow travelers. Also, I chose first person to remind us both that this is a moment in time that I want to share with you as honestly as I can – not a story ‘about a friend’ or as an academic survey or a summary of therapy and help options. All these things already exist elsewhere and by people better qualified than me, I’m just someone living with depression who this week can think of nothing more useful or honest than describing what that is like.

I’m crazy to tell you I have depression

By the way this is not sympathy fishing or for pity or some kind of release for me. After all I’d be crazy to tell the world I have depression. Who’d hire someone like that or be friends with them!?  Well apart from that, from inside this place, those are not emotional states or exchanges I require. They don’t make any sense in here. I’m motivated because I know other people are curious about what it is like and generally they’re too polite or thoughtful to ask (or of course they have their own journey in these lands). In this place I am not verbally capable of answering and generally I work hard to hide this experience. This time I am doing something different. I’m telling the truth as gently and carefully as possible, but the truth nonetheless. If you’re uninterested in reading, I understand completely. I’m uninterested in continuing to experience this, so you have my sympathy.

Living through a depression is for me an experience of involuntary retreat. I can see my normal self at a distance. I have some limited access to the positive emotions of that person however not very much to the positive ones. I know I’m eating delicious food and it is a beautiful day but there is no connection to the sensation of pleasure or the emotion of joy. The bright colours of my clothes feel grey. They are part of my camouflage to try and act normal, to get by in the normal world.

A hollow world

My world today is hollow, grey and has no taste. I am become a meaningless burden on society and the earth. My body is sorrow and I am dissolved into nothing. Through that umbilical thread that connects me to my normal self, I can see that this hurts those who love me and that they’re reaching out, trying and wanting to help me. My normal self feels guilt for their pain and shame at this involuntary weakness. From where I am now, I brush it off. I smile (yes, I know it looks fake but I’m trying ok) and say ‘it is ok, I’m sure it will pass soon’ or some such distraction. It is a white lie that makes my normal self feel a little better about the cleanup she’ll have to do when it is all over and she hopes to still have friends. She’s aghast that I’ve decided to write this today but respects my decision and reasons to do so. She’s given her commitment to stand by it later, but I know that she’s worried about it. Selfish cow. As I like to remind her – we’re all in this together.

I am one, I am many

Does it make you uncomfortable that I’m speaking about parts of myself in the third person? It is something that helps me remember that the hollow lands of depression are not the only place I am a citizen. There are times when this me who survives these times of annihilation is just a memory too. When I didn’t have this technique, thoughts of suicide were common inside this place. After all the normal me was completely lost then in the maze. When no joys can be felt or even remembered, the hollowness that stretches out is unbearable.

Compartmentalising things is useful and so is keeping chunks of time in short bursts. There can be no far horizons in this place. Keep to just now as much as possible. For me this means the routines of life need to be honoured. Gentle exercise, scheduled tasks, as many as possible of the responsibilities of normal life need to be maintained. My normal self knows that these all contribute to alleviating the length and severity of the bout overall. They also help in hiding what is going on for such useful purposes as staying employed. I do all these things and it is an autopilot setting. It is not infallible. It feels stupid, but normal me knows it helps. I’m no brave little soldier, I need my time under a blanket too, but just as easily I can stop and sit and the day will pass unheeded around me.

So many days gone by

That’s what I used to do before I understood what this was and what was happening to me. When I was little it was seen as “being moody” and not simply snapping out of it was considered a belligerent act of rebellion. I can’t begin to unpack that right now, irony is also too subtle for this state. It was a long time ago, so it doesn’t really matter, but in hindsight there were so many days where I was lost in the hollow lands. I wish I’d had some help sooner, but I had no way of asking for it, nor of accepting it had it come.

Help did eventually come in the unusual shape of the suggestion in my normal life to help others whenever possible. This simple thing ended up creating a radical shift. We could summarise it as ‘learning how to be nice’. One of the life-altering outcomes of this that effortlessly translates from normal life over into the hollow lands is that I got a dog. I wanted someone to love and care for that wouldn’t be too harsh about my failings as a human and I had no idea that I would forever after be the greater recipient. Even in the hollow lands, that little dog fearlessly and lovingly trots next no me, happy to walk if I walk and happy to nap under the blanket too.

I’m trying to find a silver lining in the dark grey cloud, and it would be that little dog. His love built the bridge that I use to travel back to normal land. He taught me that love can survive even in the hollow lands and there could have been no greater gift for me. It lead me into a happy future, where this is a place I only visit, not live.

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.

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.