Supposing…

Each day there seems to be news of yet more cuts to our public services, both here on the Island and elsewhere on the mainland. We have learned recently that the Isle of Wight has the largest unemployment in the country and with the loss of so many of our services and jobs – on top of the poverty and hardship that many face here – it is difficult not to feel rather grim about the immediate future.

I have been thinking a good deal about how to retain a sense of abundance and gratitude in such times of obvious lack. I feel extremely grateful that I now live a relatively comfortable existence; this wasn’t always the case and my past experiences have never let me take for granted anything that I now have. Retaining a sense of gratitude – remembering to be thankful for the little things – helps enormously but I have to admit to a cold, creeping fear when I think of the cuts and their potential impact.

I recognise beneath this fear my own terror of being plunged back into that dreaded place: barely scraping by; living in damp, cold, cramped spaces; not feeling safe or secure… I did it for many years and I know how easy it is to get stuck, and of how, once there, you can become an easy target for the prejudice and ill-judged assumptions of others.

There has been much talk about the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving poor’ of late in our media. I find this despicable evaluation of those that should be supported and those that shouldn’t, odious. For anyone that has ever experienced poverty and lived on the average pittance that is received on benefits, they will know how demoralising and tough it can be. The idea that there are countless, feckless scroungers, living in undeserved luxury is the kind of Daily Mail myth that we’d do best to ignore for the piece of hateful hogwash it is.

I have written much about trusting in life on this Blog, mainly because it is something I have been learning to do for myself. When I write about something, I am actually in the process of trying to unravel my own confusion and make sense of my life; writing is an incredibly useful tool to clear the mists that obscure our feelings. And here I am again, tapping away to make sense of the awful psychological discomfort that this government’s policies stir in me. What is stronger – the fear of life or the trust?

In the poorest moments of my past, I know I was in possession of things of extreme value and worth; things that poverty couldn’t touch: love, friendship and the desire to create. So why are my fears so great and my sense of trust so shaky? Mostly, regardless of where we find ourselves, we survive and live without perhaps realising the cost. It is when we experience a contrast –when we escape from chronic poverty or difficulty – that we then are faced with the challenge to embrace our new, easier life, enjoying it without the fear of losing it. I have to admit, this is one I struggle with, trying hard not to feel that the rug will inevitably be pulled out from beneath me.

I am sure many people are feeling similar thoughts at the moment. Only today I heard that a friend has lost his job. We can all make the decision to react as positively as possible to the difficulties that confront us but we are also subject to wider social and political forces that are beyond our control, and it is these that we somehow have to negotiate, balancing what we can change with what we can’t.

I believe in the fundamental goodness of life and of people, so trust is obviously the best horse to bet on. In times of fear and worry, I often turn to my childhood copy of The House at Pooh Corner by A.A Milne and struggling with how to end this Blog post, I thought I would do that thing when you ask a book for guidance and open it randomly, here is the result:

 The wind was against them now, and Piglet’s ears streamed behind him like banners as he fought his way along, and it seemed hours before he got them into the shelter of Hundred Acre Wood and they stood up straight again, to listen, a little nervously, to the roaring of the gale amongst the tree-tops.

 “Suppose a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”

 “Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought.

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Live Out Of Your Imagination

Live out of your imagination, not your history – Stephen R. Covey

I mentioned this quote a few posts back. I am not the greatest fan of New Year’s resolutions but if I was forced to choose one for 2011, I think this is as good as any.

We each have a history. I occasionally wonder if I really do possess a part of my brain that remembers every single detail of the life I have lived up until now. If I do, it appears powerless against the more dominant function of my incredibly selective memory. I am often aware of how many events are coloured by my emotional responses, my obsessions, misunderstandings or longings. So much of memory can be airbrushed or distorted and over time we create a narrative that suits the colour and shape we wish our life to be. The overarching narrative that we craft can be a positive story that nourishes us and helps us to live effectively, or it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy that keeps us stuck in destructive patterns that undermine our happiness and growth.

Being that it is notoriously difficult for any of us to view life without gazing through the emotional filters peculiar to us, it might be argued that we already live out of our imagination and very little out of our actual history! But if personal history is the ‘story’ of  our lives – no matter how selectively stitched together that might be – then the challenge to live from our imaginations is actually about a process of becoming aware of, and freeing ourselves from, any ‘themes’ that we have built up over time. These themes have a habit of acting like predestined grooves or tracks; we can find ourselves unconsciously driven as opposed to consciously driving.

Of course, this is not all our fault. We have caregivers, communities and cultures that shape us; we learn very early on from these what is acceptable behaviour. For many of us, authentic emotional self-expression can be stifled or even oppressed by the rules and structures placed on us from without. In some cases this is necessary, for instance if we have the urge to torture and kill, then it stands to reason that we are taught to police or monitor such urges in order that we can function healthily as part of a group. However, many of our emotional urges are perfectly healthy but fall foul of the restrictions of culture or family. We internalise this conflict between who we truly are and who we are expected to be – this can have devastating consequences. The tragic rise in suicides of gay teenagers in America in recent times illustrates just how much.

I often feel I struggle to transcend the expectations of my family and my class. Both have shaped me in ways that are both positive and damaging. I was drawn from a very early age to the world of the arts, something that most of my family couldn’t understand or appreciate; coming from a poor working class background, it just wasn’t done. People from my council estate didn’t become writers, dancers or musicians, unless it was ‘merely’ a hobby and therefore not taken seriously – at best it would be considered delusional to think it a possibility; at worst it would be viewed as avoiding the business of real work and responsibility. I was the first in my family to go to University and this was met with hostility and resentment from some family members, as if I had betrayed some unspoken law.

Willy Russell’s wonderful play Educating Rita has it absolutely right: as Rita is irrevocably changed by her exposure to an intellectual world that her class experience has denied her, she finds herself increasingly alienated from her background but also unable to authentically feel a part of the world she aspires to. It’s a painful place to be because ones sense of belonging and of having roots is lost – you can never go back and the directions of the new world appear written in an unfamiliar language. So many of the working class folks I have spoken to who now find themselves in middle-class professions and lifestyles, speak of secretly feeling that they don’t belong. I think of it as moving to another country and learning a second language but only being able to think and dream in your native tongue. The challenge is to learn that this place, although unsettling, offers the opportunity to truly live from the imagination, to find who we are, who we could be; to draw up our own maps and signposts as much as we are able; to learn to speak fluently the language of our souls.

Our histories are important to us; they offer us wisdom and guidance but they are not necessarily who we are. Who we are is in the process of a continual unfolding, born again and again into being in an ever-changing now. By living from our imaginations, not our histories, we claim the freedom and responsibility to be authentically ourselves. It’s not easy but I am hoping that with sensitive and mindful awareness, I can come to a place where I feel a greater ease with myself and my place in the world.

'Mirror of my Future, Reflection of my Past' by Mara Berendt Friedman