Change is a given; we are all subject to it; none of us are immune to its presence in our lives. No amount of bargaining with the gods will bring about a life without it. Change can be welcome or unwanted but what is certain is that how we deal with it determines a good deal of our ability to be happy. Change challenges us to adapt; it asks that we use our human resources – both physical and psychological – to engage with new ways to be.
It is said that the most stressful life changes are bereavement, birth, separation/divorce and moving house. Over the last couple of years I have encountered all of these with the exception of birth (unless of course you include psychological births, and I think I’ve had one or two of those over this period!). In a week, I will be moving house yet again, the fourth time in less than two years. As is so often the case with me, despite having a lifelong relationship with change, I nevertheless have found myself railing against it. Having to pack up and move back from Scotland to England so soon after my father’s death (and the clearing of his home) felt more than my low reserves could manage. Needs must and although I know that this change will be for the better, I have wrestled with some difficult feelings of resistance.
The loss of my father and the imminent loss of my current dwelling have had me thinking about the notion of ‘home’. The wonderful thing about Druidry is that it helps us to widen our concept of what home actually is. This concept expands from the walls of the building that we live in to include the wider world of community and nature. We root ourselves in the earth and feel ourselves a part of all that is; we nourish ourselves within the protective embrace of our soul family – all those with whom we feel our true emotional and spiritual bonds.
I love this idea but I have to admit that for most of my life, I have struggled with feeling safe in the world. It is not an all-encompassing sense of unease that cripples me daily but it does surface in my vulnerable moments and undermines in an insidious way, like an insect gnawing upon a tap root.
The adult me understands the source of this condition to be rooted in the death of my mother when I was a child. When a parent dies, a child’s fear of abandonment can be very close to the surface. For me, in that one momentous bereavement, all of the nastiest things that my young mind could imagine happening to me became a possibility: the reasoning goes that if something so awful has found me, any dreadful thing can. If this feeling sticks and is not fully processed with the right support, it can leave an emotional residue that can manifest in constantly expecting the rug to be pulled out from beneath us, even when we are at our most happy – in fact, especially then. Each fresh hurt or tragedy in our lives can become layered upon this perceived lack of safety, and over time can build into a pattern of thinking and negative expectation that can be far more damaging in its long-term impact than the original event.
As we grow and live, we have to honestly face these patterns and with a sense of compassion accept them whilst learning to gently unpick ourselves from them; to be a compassionate observer when they surface. I have discovered that the best tactic is to be a reassuring parent to oneself.
That little girl in me – on some level still frightened and grieving the loss of her mother – has been incredibly vocal these last couple of weeks. Soon after dad dying, my partner was forced to travel to England to start his new job, leaving me to pack and prepare for moving into our new home in the coming weeks. Alone and in the thick of such recent bereavement, that little girl’s voice has dominated my responses: all her fears about the future; fears of being utterly alone in the world; fears about the most precious things being taken from her, of being broken by life’s challenges and never being able to mend, have flooded my emotions and left me cut adrift in turbulent waters.
It is an extraordinary thing that the wonderful good fortune of my partner’s new job – which will actually bring a greater abundance and security in our lives – has been met by such an extreme rush of troubling emotions. When learned through early and devastating loss, the hard won knowledge that change will always come can lead us to forget that change can be a blessing, a welcomed shift, and the end of a struggle.
From my bedroom window, level with the tree tops, these last two weeks I have watched the swallows daily as they feed on the wing. Their flight appears so joyfully ecstatic; their impressively acrobatic play a dance of pure abandonment to the moment. Their excited squeals have rung in my ears like a call to life, a reminder that feeling safe is not necessarily always the answer to feeling alive and connected. Perhaps there is a weird kind of ‘safeness’ – or maybe a better word is ‘belonging’ – in that thrilling, swooping ride of uncertainty. The song of the swallow sings of the trusting heart, letting the unknown spaces flood us with new experience, feeling the current of life like a fuel, moving us onwards, no matter where we are, no matter what circumstance confronts us.
My little self and I have been watching the swallows together, and between us, we are beginning to understand that subtle difference between safety and belonging. We belong when we feel ourselves a part of this magical journey of living and breathing- through both the changes that lead us into darker times, or the changes that bless us with renewal. We belong when we share those intimate moments with the people we love; when we engage with the landscapes that move us, with the work that inspires us. We belong by merely being.
There is an art to staying present in the moment because not every moment is pleasant. Some moments bring unbearable pain and it takes courage to remain present in them. But change will always come to our rescue, in one way or another. We get tricked into thinking that because our houses are made of static brick and stone, that home is static too. In truth it moves where we move, and this deep spiritual truth is without doubt one of my key life lessons, resurfacing again and again to make sure that I learn it well.
I will leave you with a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher and author. It is my mantra of the moment:
You are already home…