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!

Road rage reflection

It can happen to anybody, maybe even you. Road rage. That ugly beast we can become on the road, and the zombie partner that forms it; if you slip into one, you’ll flip into the other. Let’s take a minute for some road rage reflection.

Chariot pile upImagine if, on a weekday morning, you came out of the house to start your daily commute and found this note on your windscreen.

“To the driver of this vehicle,
You have cut me off twice now, both times I don’t think you saw me at all, even though you came so close and put us both in danger. If you cannot recall the incidents with absolute clarity, then any excuse you think you have is invalid.
Driving is a privilege not a right. Please take this opportunity to refresh your knowledge of the road rules and your understanding of courtesy, and take care to apply them both.
Please don’t make it a third time.”

If that note would give you reason to pause and mentally scroll through memories and evaluate your possible guilt or culpability then you could be someone with an opportunity to change your habits and values when behind the wheel.

Perhaps your opportunity is instead in your habits dealing with shop staff, workers from a different team at your job, the staff who operate the public transport you use, the other people buying groceries at the store, fellow pedestrians, it goes on and on. We have so many interactions every day with so many different people who all have their own story in which they are the central character. For each of us, these are habitual interactions because we live in a world brimming over with people. We have become functions to each other, not fellows, not real people. Functions, meatbots.

Do you ever criticise people who seem continually clenched around their gadget screen or asleep at the wheel or pushing others out of the way in queues? I know I have. It doesn’t feel like enough to try breaking the cycle when those other people then take advantage of you for being nice. We’re all afraid of someone taking advantage of us. I wish I had a moment of enlightenment for every time I’ve been told to ‘toughen up’ or ‘get a thicker skin’.

Actually, when people tell me this I feel more hurt (even fundamentally neglected or undervalued). After all, why can’t other people just be nicer? Why am I the one who’s ‘wrong’? The same types of folk who have no compunction about telling others to ‘toughen up’ seem to never be willing to similarly command others to “be less of an arsehole”. Just sayin.

A wise teacher recently told me that every time I complain about others’ behaviours I am a in fact setting myself back significantly. “Oh great” I thought, “wrong again! Wrong for being too soft, wrong for wanting the world to be more pleasant and now wrong for complaining when others are rude or mean.” That little story I just told to myself there, that was the key to figuring out what he really meant by what he said.
Here are his words:

See if you can catch yourself complaining, in either speech or thought, about a situation you find yourself in, what other people do or say, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather. To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.
Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

I did not want to hear that.

I tried to argue with it. The very first way was by making up that little story above – exaggerating how I am always being made to be wrong – a little melodrama with me as the swooning star. I thought about it every way you can. For weeks. But that’s the trouble with hearing something true, once you know it your life truly changes. So it has been for me as I digest this insight. All else is indeed madness. Leave or accept. Act where you can.

In trying to come to terms with this, I stumbled over this little twist on an old favourite “the grass is always greener where you water it”, fresh enough for me to reflect on my own habits of envy, and to remember the “which wolf you feed” story) and these both made a bridge for me into the key idea that through habit I was allowing a self-identification as a victim in all kinds of realms of daily life. Perhaps that’s another part of road rage – there is a desire to take action against an unfairness or wrong action – and yet violent response outside of building and understanding context and consequence is feeding the wrong wolf, watering the weeds.

In a moment of rage we can be lost to our stories and triggered into moving far from our center. It can feel like blacking out, like being possessed. Inside that unconsciousness we are simply reacting, not making choices. If you feel that you’re in a rut in trying to get positive patterns started in your life then look for places in which you’re complaining about something rather than acting to generate the change that you want. Look with honesty in how you’re describing the story of your situation to yourself and ask if you’re truly supporting the person you want to be or simply enduring the habits you used to water. Imagine forgetting what useless, impotent rage feels like. I think that sounds wonderful, let’s try together.

Image credit.

Bliss of being

Do you feel the bliss of being? Are you in love with the play of light and the feel of the earth as you move through the days of your life? Or do you feel that you’re missing out on something and if only you knew what it was you’d never rest until you found it? “Just tell me!” I’ve heard people plead, “I want to be happy, tell me what to do, I’ll do whatever it takes.”

bliss of beingActually, we’ve been talking about this topic for a long time here, it is why the quincunx model is so important, why we spent time witnessing our behaviours around debt and provisional living. All those topics are connected. They are all part of the incandescent line of who you really are – the part of you that is always enough. It is the part of you that knows the bliss of being, the part that is always already free.

As human beings we get caught up in the human parts of our lives. Our intellect is in charge, driving us this way and that that way, lashed invisibly to our powerful and cunning egos we are so busy in the four senses of the world and their pleasures that we lose touch with being. We look down on “just being” a bit. After all, why go to all the effort of evolving this giant brain if you’re not going to use it all the time? (Exacerbated by all those ways we have of proving how clever and giant that brain really is – MENSA memberships and official measurements of IQ and the university system and so on.)

The burden of the brain

So what’s the drawback of the valuable brain? Well because your amazing, unique, wonderful giant brain will never bring you bliss. Instead it brings with it all of the side-effects of thinking; constant thinking, over-thinking, worry, anxiety, living in the past by re-living events and conversations, trying to double-guess events and reactions that haven’t and may never happen, living in a future that is not certain (when I lose weight, when I have more money, when I have time).
Let’s come at this from a different direction for a moment, and use time as an example. We’ll use ‘human time’ and ‘being time’ to illustrate the difference. Humans used their giant brains to invent clocks so we could keep appointments. That’s handy and lets us get a lot done in an organised and efficient way. Independent of clocks, there is ‘being time’.
If you’re one of the lucky people who has ever shared your life with a pet or an infant human (or indeed a wild creature) then you’ll know that they live completely in ‘being time’. If you’re very lucky indeed and you’ve connected with them deeply and at their level, you’ve probably experienced the bliss of being.
In ‘being time’ you’re able to encompass thinking, but not react to it, you’re able to exist in that brilliant, fluid stillness that we in our impoverished spoken language just call “now”.
Once we give ‘being time’ a name, your giant brain tries to take over again and it interferes with experiencing the now by thinking about what it is that you’re doing while you’re being. Notice those thoughts too and let them go. What you’re after while you’re in ‘being time’ are gaps between thoughts and, if possible, letting those gaps become longer because it is only in those gaps that your being can blossom up into bliss.

The bliss of being

There is a vast something inside you that is brightly alive.

Let’s not give it a name today that will just set your giant brain off again. This aliveness is the source of true bliss in your life and it is always with you.
For a long time I thought that buying (and stockpiling) books would make me happy (at some point in the future) by filling a hole I felt inside of me. I thought that if I knew more, I would feel full but it wasn’t a hole, it was the ‘giant brain’ and the ego keeping me distant from Being. That’s how central it is to us, we know that we need it and yearn for it constantly in the background of our busy lives, our worries, fears and cluttered rooms. We can find freedom from that hurting chasm by re-uniting with our own being, with our aliveness in our center.

It is one thing to know this, but the magic is in feeling it. Seek and ye shall find.

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.

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.

A spiritual tool for personal growth

Don't PanicWe’re on the third part of our exploration of the quincunx (here is part one and part two) as a spiritual tool for personal growth. Of course you will have noticed that there are some drawbacks to this model. For example, the lines can give an unrealistic sense of solidness (which we all know to be a tricksy illusion); we don’t easily see how these circles change size over time in response to the efforts of our will or our habits; and it might look like we’re all individually in little boxes – a perception with particularly negative connotations in our culture besides which we know ourselves to be interconnected. The purpose of the model is to give a framework for reference that can help us to grow. It gives us a new set of choices, not simply an answer.

Don’t panic

It might feel challenging at first, but imagine that you can see your own actions in each of these circles sometimes strong in one and less active in another, see how over time you’ve made a set of spirals and they reach from your past to where you are right now. This can be challenging and uncomfortable because life is often not how we wish it would be. From here you can see the whisper of their trajectory – the next steps you’re likely to take in each of those realms (potentially also an unpleasant vista as we see ourselves perpetuating unwelcome or unhelpful patterns despite our intentions. If you can hold on through this discomfort, it is more than possible for you to visualise these paths, because you’re already living it now, and you are, at least, unconsciously aware of them.

Sometimes to bring that picture to the conscious mind just takes finding the most comfortable image or story that will help you translate this idea into your life. The quincunx itself might have done the trick, or it might have just nudged a door ajar and you need something else to follow on. It is worth the effort because when you have a conscious connection to the patterns of your life you are in a position of choice rather than reaction.

What you’re looking for is a map or a guiding idea that contextualises the dynamic balance of holding the awareness of these five states at once. Possibly there’s one in the faith that you already prefer. Buddhists refer to the four noble truths and the eight-fold path. In Kabbalah this model would connect to the tree of life (which gives a more detailed breakdown of the archetypal actions likely within each of the realms). Christian’s can turn to a Christological reading of the crucifixion (theological significance)  and indeed the symbol of the crucified Christ is a powerful and globally recognised symbol. These examples are given in the spirit of sharing major, existing models not directing us into a theological comparison! There are lots that aren’t religious too. Surfers have their own language for dynamic balance in the moment, and that complete physical and mental commitment often creates a space or an experience in which the higher consciousness’s presence can be felt directly. Some American Shaman teachings refer to the ‘spiral dance’ and to me that idea made sense – hearing the music, feeling the rhythm, interacting with the ground, the sky, the other dancers.

How this is helpful in normal life

When we are stuck in a pattern of behaviour that seems solid, the story or map that we’ve chosen to use can help us to interrupt the habit.

By the way, you might not believe this, but you’ve already made the first step in getting help where you want it. By asking, you’ve found this concept. Just as importantly now is to accept what comes to you as help. (That’s just one of those obvious things that is worth saying out-loud now and then.)

A real example

Let’s say you’re worried about money. Specifically you’re worried that you’re not making enough savings or the right investments right now for when you’re older. I worry about how I will cope with my chronic illness, how I will survive in a hostile economy if I can’t work. In my version of the model, I understand money primarily as Earth (well-being in the physical world) and as Air (a shared concept in our culture). When I’m worrying, and maybe you do this too, I’m often taking a Water perspective (of emotional values) on the situation. That is to say the issue is that I feel weak and vulnerable rather than the rational odds of the likelihood of the situation that I fear or an evaluation of the other mitigating factors that I could use my intelligence to deal with. Notice there is no Fire in this example. Here’s where the model can point out a new perspective. What might the lack of a Fire perspective illustrate? It shows that I feel that I have no grasp of the mechanics of wealth, of how money as a technology functions.

Instead I look around at what I can see others have (Earth again) and measure myself against their possessions or investments. I read articles (Air) about what people in my demographic ‘should’ have or own. Sometimes I witness myself feeling (Water) that I deserve better or more. All of these behaviours perpetuate the habits I’m stuck in.

Even by trying to describe what a fire perspective might be, I had to interrupt my patterned reactions to the issue and go into a perspective that was new and in this case diametrically opposed to the main realm in which the worry holds power. That action of interruption marks a powerful choice. Actions that interrupt our thoughtless reaction mark a point of self-rearrangement. You may also have noticed the use of the word witness in there – that’s another healthy separation that allows us to put what’s going on back into the circle or corner it belongs in and remind ourselves that we’re more than just that reaction.

Even so, there’s one more angle we haven’t used yet to look at this worry. You can see it now can’t you? That’s right – from the centre. What might the soul perspective be on money, debt or poverty?

What does your soul tell you? Did you get a flash of feeling or a picture from your past come to mind?

What perspectives have opened up for you out of this discussion? Please feel welcome to share them in the comments or to think them over in the days ahead. It sounds so simple, but actually doing this can be confronting, can be a challenge, and it can leave you feeling woozy or even a bit lost. Drink some water and be forgiving. Ask for help, we’re all in this together.

Quincunx 102

Quincunx with you in the centreThrough the diagram of the quincunx we introduced the idea that between the realms of the physically manifested world (the world of, say, earth, air, water and fire) there is another space, an important space, and it is the realm of our deeper selves. We’ll explore how by using these diagrams, we can tap into an ancient heritage of enquiry. If you think it sounds a bit simple to suggest that a childlike drawing can be a key to intellectual and spiritual insight, please consider them as “still moments revealing a continuous, timeless, universal action generally hidden from our sensory perception”(Lawlor 1982)*.

Look again at the picture, this time we have a person in the middle with the arms and legs reaching into the four outer circles (almost like the Vitruvian Man  – which is a fascinating subject on proportions if you’re interested) and consider our participation in those physical realms. This sketch symbolises how we participate across these five realms, reserving our core for the center. Our friend, the ego, is very useful in the outer circles but often plays a game of severe interference when we try to retreat into our center. The ego is a beast of the conscious, manifest world; hustling for money, owning land, applying technology and communicating for our promotion and benefit. The ego is hurt when relationships go wrong or when we get cheated in a deal. Our hands and feet put us in the daily round of activity the world requires.

What we require, for our deeper selves, is something else as well. We need to connect to our soul, our inner light, our peaceful sea. However you like to call it, there is a place where you can expand into your full self. In this place your unconscious is also honoured, your value is unquestioned, you’re a part of all creation. Sounds better than a free holiday. You really want that space to be as accommodating and as easy to access as possible! With that in mind, let’s look at the picture again and see if any of the circles can be bigger (because bigger is always better – right?!).

If we allow the four corner circles to be bigger (more stuff!) we might have big houses and cool toys out here, but we’ve certainly squished ourselves into a very small and uncomfortable place for our spiritual aspect to survive. The ego is all for this plan. It *loves* being the center of attention and, as much as possible, being in control. Conversely, it isn’t very practical to let the middle circle swell to the edges of the square either, unless you’re committed to that path. That’s probably the shape that would be close to those special esoteric (or mystical) practitioners who are completely engrossed day to day in their spiritual life. The key then is balance.

You’re probably sick of hearing people tell you that have to balance things “work/life” (is that an unfunny joke or something?) budgets, ph levels (yes, that’s a thing now), diets, relationship chores, and of course balancing our cultural expectations of ‘lifestyle’ with the actual finite limits of the Earth. So you don’t have to balance this. This is not a task. You’re currently operating with proportions that you’ve become accustomed to. That’s your thing. If you ponder this and feel like you’d like to try a different way, stay tuned, we’ll continue to explore these ideas together and share some ideas that worked out ok for other people.

Thanks for reading, by the way, it is wonderful to be sharing this with you.

* Much as I would love to take credit for thinking any of this up, I can’t. I’m merely sharing crumbs from great thinkers who’ve gone before me and who I hope one day to understand. I will add a bibliography of references for this series (and others) but I will rarely quote directly. That one was just too perfect to pass up.

Beginning with the quincunx

quincunx

There’s another way to look at the wheel of life and we’re going to try it on this week. Meet the quincunx. It’s a big-sounding word but a very simple tool.

That sounds like hard work!

There are so many big topics for us to talk about, it was hard to find a beginning. I thought it might be honesty, as that was a theme that came up in the issues people shared at the end of last year. Our relationship with honesty is so important to our wellbeing and it connects into the base of many other issues in the world.

Think of all the times that you’ve wanted to tell the real truth – you know when you be diplomatic instead of telling it how it is. Bosses acting like petulant children, when friends expect you to validate decisions or opinions you disagree with, when you’re volunteered for a task that no one can meet your eye over. Equally there are times when you’ll do any kind of contortion necessary to avoid telling even the vaguest of truths and I’m talking here about things like the real reasons I’m overweight, or not exercising enough, or in debt or lonely or frustrated (feel welcome to insert your demon here). There are other types or shades of honesty too, integrity, trustworthiness, self-respect and so on. There are also the socially acceptable elements of being untruthful that we all have to balance too. Imagine that politicians or advertisements only told the bare truth. Can you imagine a world without white lies? I can’t imagine even an hour at work without them.

But white lies that we use to paper-over the cracks in the social contract are an uncomfortable topic, as is honesty in ourselves. Nonetheless, we must talk about it, we must face it or our other efforts at introspection of self-knowledge are in vain. Why is this, because lies are the servants of our ego. Our ego is possibly the biggest barrier to us finding our centre and so finding lasting peace and perspective. We all have one, but like a pet dog, it isn’t a good idea to let them run the show. So how do we start talking about our world and our concerns without the ego getting in the way all the time? By putting it in place, giving it a job to do.

So that’s too big to start with, so let’s come at it sideways, nice and easy, via some sacred geometry and our friend here the quincunx.

In this picture (if you can’t see it, it is a square with a small circle in each corner and then a big circle in the middle)you see a simple representation of us in the world. For today, we’re just interested in the circles. Take a moment to look at it.

It is probably already familiar to you. Many cultures and religions have a take on this shape. It is used explicitly in temples, churches (here is a well-known Christian example) and architecture but for today we’re just going to look at the simple elements of the shape. It is pretty obvious that the circle in the middle is the biggest part and so probably the most important. You can draw this diagram without the sizing, and then it looks like the number 5 does on playing dice. The four little circles represent the four corners of the physical world or the four elements (etc).

Most of the time our consciousness is caught up wholly in these realms. These four anchor points (named according to the paradigm you’re currently thinking in) are what frame the space in which we really exist. The place from whence we look out and engage with the manifested world, that space in the middle is where our own divine manifests. This represents our spirit centre, our soul or the ‘fifth element’.

What’s important here in all this symbolism is the idea of the separation of your higher self (however you label that) from the physical world. Yes it exists and yes it is found in more than just the physical world. It might not seem like it at first pass, but this is a source of infinite freedom. There’s a lot more than unfolds from this idea, I hope you get a lot out of exploring it.

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