Happy Solstice!

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The end of the world came and went in a predictably unspectacular fashion. The Winter Solstice is once more upon us here in the Northern Hemisphere and we ponder on how in the darkest of times, the spark of light burns brightly still; nature reminding us that hope and renewal are always a possibility, no matter how harsh the winter, or how testing our life’s challenges might be.

Of course, for those in the Southern Hemisphere it is the height of summer. The thought that at our coldest, darkest point, somewhere in the world is at its lightest and warmest, feels very apt. For isn’t this just how life is for us all? The wheel of the seasons continually turns, just as the wheel of our own lives revolves; never allowing us to stand still for too long, bringing us experiences that contrast and contradict. It illustrates both the comforting and unnerving reality that everything passes and nothing stays the same.

In a roomful of strangers we would discover a whole gamut of human emotion and experience in process: some would be going through periods of sadness and loss; others, happiness and growth. For others still, we would find all manner of situations and emotions being played out between the polar points of contraction and expansion; the pendulum that swings between these furthest points is the mechanism that fuels and perpetuates life.

I find it comforting that even when I am experiencing loss, somewhere, probably very close to me, someone is experiencing the joy of gain. This tells me that there will be a time, once more, when the hurt will heal. Likewise, when others are grieving and I am experiencing great happiness, I am reminded to never take such blessings for granted, to make the most of – and give thanks for – those blissful moments. Paradoxically, we can encounter both sad and joyful circumstance in life –we all know that feeling when one aspect of our life is flourishing whilst another is in decline, for instance our relationship might be going from strength to strength as our career goes through the doldrums. Life is filled with contrast and we learn to balance, contain and hold this paradox, feeling the cycles move through our lives in a series of undulating waves.

So at this time of both greatest darkness and greatest light, let us honour the blessing of movement and change; let’s choose not to be afraid of the gifts and challenges that accompany these but embrace them, opening to where it is we find ourselves on the wheel with good grace. Let us also recognise with gratitude, just how much we all help and educate each other by the example of our own unique experiences. As personal to us as these events might feel – at their core – they are actually shared by us all, eventually. The wisdom that we gain as people by this sharing, is passed on to others and down through generations in a never ending thread; it is the perpetual unfolding of the human story.

There is nothing new under the Solstice Sun! Life moves through us and we are an expression of its unfathomable and magical nature. On this most special, hopeful day, such a thought is worth celebrating!

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What Lies Beneath

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Insecurities: I don’t know a single soul who doesn’t wrestle, at some point, with one or two (quite possibly a whole heap!) of these. We feel them rise; seeping and sometimes crashing through our fragile surface, seeking out the point of least resistance, spilling forth to expose our raw vulnerability.

Fear fuels our insecurities – the fear that we are not good enough; not lovable enough; attractive, desirable or clever enough; the fear that we are not safe in the world, that our needs will not be met; that we will be left bereft and alone. The roots of our fears are manifold and unique to us, and yet whatever the cause, the impact can be immensely painful and often leads us into self-defeating behaviour. Our insecurities can take our feet right out from beneath us just at the place where the ground is hardest; they leak out and leave tell-tale stains all over our lives and relationships. At best, those that we love and that love us will be tender with our struggles, but left to rampage, our insecurities can lead us to destroy the very things we cherish and need the most.

Situations that rock our faith and trust, or undermine self-esteem, leave a tar of self-doubt; it is viscous and deadly, clogging our responses and impeding the free and spontaneous flow of our joy. Self-doubt strengthens and nourishes our insecurities until they becomes psychological cuckoos; overpowering and dominating our thoughts, distorting our actions and edging out the positive forms of validation that we each receive, but so often ignore, in favour of the negative voices heard both within and outside of us.

Insecurities have a direct line through to our past hurts – all those times when life genuinely winded us. Laying the past to rest can go a long way in helping to understand and heal insecurities but we first need to recognise that they often mask our pasts; they can masquerade as present day people, issues and actions; ones that appear to impact on us from without but are in fact projections of something within us.  Such projections have the potential to both obscures or reflect our historical response to a situation that once damaged us. If our insecurities seek to obsessively but ineffectually defend against our past, we can find ourselves living there far too much for our own health and sabotaging our present to boot. And yet when we dig through the layers – the emotional strata that settle like ash over a place of devastation – we touch on not only a sore and tender spot but a site of potential; of understanding and healing. It’s that eureka moment when we are no longer merely caught up in the emotional current of reactions but can actually see where the water surfaces: we can see the source.

I guess it all depends on how we treat our emotional scar tissue. The skin is a marvellous organ.  Actual scar tissue, if massaged with nourishing oils starts – over time – to become more flexible and the scarring less visible. Our wounds cannot be undone but they can be gently and tenderly worked upon, until we find that their appearance has changed. There is always initial discomfort; we can become tight and inflexible around the old entry site of a wound and this is as true psychologically as it is physically. We might learn to treat our emotional scars as we do the cuts upon our skin: when we focus lovingly and patiently on them – if we honour and acknowledge the events that brought us them, without allowing ourselves to be consumed by them – then we might begin to uncover the root of the sometimes unfathomable behaviour that our insecurities draw from us. In doing so, we are given the opportunity to break a destructive pattern and let the past go.

The Single, Solitary Utterance

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Do we choose words or do words choose us? Each solitary utterance coming together like the individual cells of a slime mould – existing in their own right, yet merging and forming into all manner of shapes –  urged on by the need to form sentences that speak of us and to us, of the world and our relationship to it.

The words that we choose, or that choose us, can liberate or imprison; words have the power to shape our lives for good or ill: the verbs dictate what we do; the adjectives give colour, tone and texture to our actions and thoughts. By the time each of us reaches adulthood, it is hard to comprehend the nature of living outside of language; the narratives we construct about ourselves and the events we encounter establish meaning through the complex and intricate weaving together of one word to the next. And it’s not just our own words but those of others that can have extraordinary impact, even change the course of our lives, our lexicons radically altered by a book, a speech or conversation.

In my early twenties, during a time of poverty and unemployment, I discovered the liberating power of books.  There was a charity shop a short walk from my home. In the front section of the shop were clothes and bric-a-brac but walking out through a door towards the back of the building, the curious could discover a large room filled with numerous bookcases crammed and enticing. The books were mainly old editions of Everyman publications, with subjects ranging from Greek Philosophy to poetry and classic novels; the muted colours of their hardbacks opened to reveal beautifully illustrated inside covers. There were many Penguin books too, the early orange and white distinctive and easily recognisable designs of novels; purple and white for non-fiction essays. It was a place of pure delight. The books were never more than a few pennies, so with my limited funds I was able to enter a world of ideas and words that, despite the narrow restrictions of my external world, helped my inner life to grow and flourish.

If my life had felt stultifying and dead-ended, then books and the words that inhabited their pages, loosened the binds and instilled in me the distinct sense that there was something more out there,  expansive and limitless. I have no doubt that the compulsive and obsessive reading of that period of my life led me to eventually go back to study for a degree as a mature student. Reading alone in my desperate little flat was a training ground for things to come. Reading transformed my life; it taught me to write and ultimately enabled me to experience and achieve things that I had once thought impossible. It has been strange that something so vital to my sense of myself – reading and writing – have been so hard to do of late.

My life has gone through some extraordinary changes over these last eighteen months: I have left my 27 year marriage, started a new relationship, and moved home three times (the last of these to a different country, leaving behind all and everyone that I have known!). Writing these as a list of events could not even begin to hint at the emotional impact of such major changes, let along the odd and heady mixture of carnage and joy that potentially surrounds any one of these singular happenings. Grouped together, it has been quite a ride! Ordinarily, writing would have been the means by which I muddled through and made sense and yet it seems that even this has been too much for my psyche. The words just haven’t found me…

And so, I am left to ponder the link between inspiration and hard graft. It is tempting to think that any creative effort is based solely in that blissful flow and rush of inspiration. However, most creative folks – be they musicians, writers, artists – will confess that it is far less glamorous a process.  Rolling up one’s sleeves and getting on with it, no matter what, is actually the method that produces results. Inspiration is undoubtedly an important factor but without the action – the doing of the thing – nothing materialises. This has been a lesson well-learned of late. The lacking of that spark has left me dry. And the ‘doing’ has felt almost impossible.

Something within suspects that the enormity of the change that has swept through my life has left me stunned.  It has been such a paradigm shift that much of me has yet to catch up. I have gradually started reading again and am forcing my fingers to tap at the keys in the hope that the ignition catches at some point.

Part of me also suspects that sometimes we have to go beyond language, forgoing the attempt to rationalise or arrange into neat narratives, in order that we might engage with raw feeling; emotions that cannot be restrained or civilised by a sentence but that need to be felt. Perhaps when we, in the words of the author Jeanette Winterson, ‘throw ourselves off the roof of our own house’ – that is when we shed all that we were and had, launching out into the vast unknown – we are in some way reborn. We become a baby again, the language to express the immensity of what we are feeling as yet unformed but experienced nonetheless. And we wait, and learn, and listen…and one day the words move across our tongues and spill out across our lips…and one day, later still, we turn the first page and the words fill us until we overflow. There is a moment when we are each that single, solitary utterance waiting for the sentence to take its shape.