Transitions

My eldest daughter finished primary school yesterday.  She and my other daughter went back into school part-time last year after some years of full time home-educating,  when I myself went back into full-time study.  And what a year it’s been!  Big ups, even bigger downs, a massive roller coaster ride of emotions amidst an almost continual questioning of “Are we doing the right thing?”  (Finally, after more than 11 years of parenting, I realise, of course, that we can never truly know the answer to this question.  So much of this journey feels like one huge experiment.  Which feels frightening when what we’re talking about here is a person’s life.  The shaping of a person’s ‘person’ if you like.)

Anyway, it occurred to me over the past few days of heart-wrenching decisions and tearful farewells, that I do not actually know what my eldest daughter is going through right now.  Throughout my whole school life, I never experienced that sense of completion that comes when you finish one level of schooling alongside your peers.  Before the end of primary school, I was taken out and sent to a different school.  Before I was finished at that school, I moved to secondary school.  Between my A level years, I then left secondary school to go finish up (theoretically with more ‘success’) at college in London.   With each of these moves, though, alongside feeling sad and at times very, very alone, I also missed out on that shared ‘ending school’ rite of passage – something which, looking back, and also seeing what my daughter is going through now, feels crucial somehow.  Not to have experienced, alongside all my fellow travellers on that horribly mixed emotional journey of school, the final end to it all.  A sense of completion.  Of survival even.  Of witnessing each other as we both celebrated and grieved for what we were leaving behind, what we’d shared together, and what we were each stepping into in the next phase of our young lives.

(I’ve been wondering, too, these past few days how these missed experiences also feed into that sense I have of myself not fitting in.  Not belonging.  Not quite knowing where to put myself, because, well, actually, I’m not sure I really do fully understand what it means to be a ‘complete’ part of something.  Another piece to the puzzle at least…)

So, when my husband suggested the other day that he’d like for us to think about how we might honour and celebrate this rite of passage for our daughter, I felt, suddenly, like I’d missed something big.  How could I have almost let this moment pass me by? I know now, of course, that the significance of this moment did almost pass me by simply because of my own missed experiences.  (And so, I’ll gently forgive myself for that one.)

Transitions like these, that we go through from the day we are born, are huge.  And, I believe, we should not take them for granted.  Firstly, let us begin simply by acknowledging them!  Let us allow them into our psyche, and see them for what they are.  Then we must find ways of honouring and celebrating them.  Ways that are true and real to us as completely unique individuals and completely unique families – what works for one, after all, might not be relevant for another.  We need to hold our children’s hands through these massive changes, because yes, they are scary!  Those feelings of grief at having to leave behind friends and familiarity, that sense of unknowing and fear of what is to come, they are real and they are big. And, crucially, we will all continue to experience many endings and beginnings throughout our lives.   We can’t take those feelings away from our children, and, indeed, I believe we do them a great disservice by asking them to feel anything differently from what they do, even though, at times, these emotions can make us feel vulnerable ourselves.  I myself have felt confusion, sadness, guilt and a sense of loss of late.  Uncomfortable feelings indeed.  Yet, as I keep reminding my daughter, and myself: to grieve for something is to understand what it really means to care.  We honour where we have come from and what we have come through by remembering it and by grieving for it.

It is in those moments, too, when we feel guilt, shame, anger, sadness, where the true gold is to be found.  If only we could just let ourselves BE in those moments, and not continually strive to push them away.  We are always looking for joy, for happiness, for the ‘good’ emotions – in Buddhist teachings it is exactly this that is the cause of our suffering.  Not that we suffer difficult feelings, depression, loss, death even, but that we do not allow ourselves to really feel these things when they arise, nor accept them for what they are.

And so I say: Let us not let these times past unwitnessed!  Let us be truly mindful of what it is to feel sadness, loss, fear and anticipation.  We all grow through these experiences, but only if we can truly accept what is happening in the moment and to allow our bodies to FEEL it deeply too.  Also, importantly, let us remind ourselves that these difficult emotions do not mean that we have done something badly or made the wrong decision.  We need to learn to embrace them as we do all the happiness, excitement, wonder and joy that will also come our way.

I want to honour this first big transition in my daughter’s life.  I want her to know that I see her and I feel her.  This is one of many, many evolutions she will go through in her beautiful, precious life, and I really, really want to get it right.

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The Essence of Life

In the midst of a turbulent emotional time recently, I picked up Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart again.  It’s a book I keep coming back to when I feel like I can’t seem to step back from where I find myself.  When the ground disappears from underneath me and I don’t know where to find a foothold.

I, like almost everyone else I know, can feel too busy, too preoccupied, too frightened, quite frankly, to allow myself to really feel the true depth of my emotions sometimes.  I was not brought up understanding how to express myself clearly or cleanly.  There is so much that goes on in my body and mind that I am only just beginning to decipher.  And that is only after doing a lot of hard work, going through some dark times, sharing my story with some incredible people, having daughters of my own… and reading some amazing books.

“The essence of life is that it’s challenging.  Sometimes it is sweet, and sometimes it is bitter.  Sometimes your body tenses, and sometimes it relaxes or opens.  Sometimes you have a headache, and sometimes you feel 100 per cent healthy.  From an awakened perspective, trying to tie up all the loose ends and finally get it together is death, because it involves rejecting a lot of your basic experience.  There is something aggressive about that approach to life, trying to flatten out all the rough spots and imperfections into a nice smooth ride.

To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.  To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment completely new and fresh.  To live is to be willing to die over and over again.  From the awakened point of view, that’s life.  Death is wanting to hold on to what you have and to have every experience confirm you and congratulate you and make you feel completely together.”

This passage resonated deeply with me, because what it does is give me permission to open up to those dark places.  In fact, not only does it allow me to go there, it says to me that actually I am not truly alive if I don’t!

Anger, grief, fear, all of these emotions that so many of us are taught to lock away, hide, not deal with, put a smile on, smooth on over, suppress… these are REAL emotions! They are a part of who I am, and I know I need to acknowledge them, accept them, welcome them, even, into being.  Without them I am incomplete.  Without them I am dead.

It is hard feeling angry, sad, scared, worried, confused, groundless.  In our busy, preoccupied lives it can feel almost impossible to find that space in which to allow those emotions to surface. And yet, I can truly now say I know that this is just the point at which we can all begin again.  Each and every time.  If we choose to.

I choose to do this for myself.  And I choose to do this for my daughters.  Because I see all that rage, fear, confusion and sadness in them sometimes and I know how they feel. However hard these emotions are to deal with in the moment, I will never ask them to suppress any of them.  Because to suppress is to die, and I am just not willing to let that happen.

Solstice calling

It is Solstice eve, and I feel a yearning in my soul to be in the wild.  I open my copy of Women Who Run With The Wolves and I read these lines:

We are all filled with a longing for the wild.  There are few culturally sanctioned antidotes for this yearning.  We were taught to feel shame for such a desire.  We grew our hair long and used it to hide our feelings.  But the shadow of Wild Woman still lurks behind us during our days and in our nights.  No matter where we are, the shadow that trots behind us is definitely four-footed.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With The Wolves

And I breathe out.  Because I know I am not alone.

Ode to the Hawthorn and the Merry Merry Month of May

May…  A most hearty (if not a little tardy) welcome to you!

Almost every morning at the moment, I am awakened by birdsong.  Somehow, though, it’s hard to feel annoyed about this, because it is, quite simply, exquisitely wondrous. These so often invisible beings fill up so much aural space!  I love that they (birds) are always there, and yet so often hidden from view.

Outside, there is magic happening.

The countryside is literally exploding with life!  All the new leaves are young and fresh. Suddenly open space is smaller, as grasses, bushes and trees erupt with new growth. Openings are filled in and suddenly my perspective zooms in closer.  No longer can I see the horizon so clearly, and there is so much beauty to behold right in front of me.

Mint_garden

Everything about this time of year fills me with aliveness.  This is nature at her most vibrant – she is almost shouting “Look at me!  You thought I was dead.  Haha!  See how luscious and ALIVE I am!”

Horse_chestnut

The air is warm and the smell of blossom is on the wind.   Cherry, apple, pear, horse chestnut, all of them bursting with beauty.  And my favourite, of course, the hawthorn. Some people say how hawthorn flowers are meant to exude the scent of female sexuality.  Whether or not I know this to be true, I find the aroma that fills the countryside when the hawthorn is in full bloom completely intoxicating.  Yes, maybe even a little seductive.

Hawthorn2

The hawthorn, also known as the May Tree, is truly a tree of the HEART.  Traditionally, the Celtic fire festival of Beltane, marking the start of Summer, began when the hawthorn came into blossom.  Myths proclaim that this is the time when The Oak King reaches his manhood and the May Queen takes him as her lover.  Through their union, the May Queen becomes pregnant, and so all life begins.  Because of this mythology, since ancient times May is the traditional time of year for handfastings, marriages and unions of all kinds.  There is something about this month, and the bewitching magic of the hawthorn tree in particular, that incites passion, vivacity, joy, and the making of vows.

Besides its magical properties, hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) also holds healing properties within its flowers, berries and seeds.  Known by some as ‘valerian of the heart’ and others as ‘food for the heart’, hawthorn is perhaps most commonly used as a heart stimulant, increasing blood flow to heart muscles and restoring normal heart beat.  Simply because of these heart toning properties, patients using hawthorn medicinally are therefore  guaranteed a higher sense of aliveness and vitality.

Hawthorn

The blossoming of the hawthorn and the arrival of May never cease to give me hope. They lift my spirits and make me laugh out loud at the sheer shameless beauty of all I see around me.   And, they remind me that no matter what our Winter is like – no matter how dark, lonely, hopeless and despairing we might feel that things will ever change – there they are.

Out of nowhere springs growth.  Out of death springs life.

They remind me too, that long after we are gone, all of this wild abandon of nature will continue.  Even without human beings to bear witness to this annual bursting forth of sheer vitality, the leaves will keep on greening, the hawthorn will keep on flowering, and the wheel will keep on turning…

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Beauty and pain

Last night, as I watched my two daughters and their beloved cousins dancing around the living room to Michael Jackson, Queen, and Culture Club (our usual playlist), in amongst all the laughter and the silliness and the pure, innocent joy, I realised I felt a pang of sadness.  These four beautiful beings are getting so old!  Their independence grows as they move more and more into their own beings.  Where will these days and nights of endless talk and ridiculous giggles go?  How will things unfold for them?

Every day, in my meditation practice, I make the intention to “come back to the present moment”.  I have a huge tendency to imagine the future, to lay paths out in front of me, and to see myself walking those paths to some distant, imagined, future.  I am so good at this, in fact, I catch myself constantly daydreaming.  Children, for me,  are the very essence of living in the moment.  Yes, they hold memories of sad times, hurtful words, and painful moments, and yes they, too, at times worry about the future.  And yet, time and again, as a full-time parent I witness astonishing moments of acceptance, forgiveness, and letting go.  It humbles me, and it is a huge gift.

In fact, when I take a step back and really see just what my children have brought to my life over the past ten years, I feel quite overwhelmed.  I remember the feeling when I held our first daughter in my arms after she was born – “How am I to take responsibility for this?!”   And yet, every day for the past ten years, as a full-time mum and home educator, I have had to make decisions that affect both my daughters’ lives.  Not only their ‘presents’, but also, potentially, their ‘futures’.  Nowadays, we lack the precious and crucial roles of elders in our society, and so many of these decisions we, as parents, make alone.  And when we choose to take the less conventional roads, such as home educating, we again take on not only so much more of the decision making in our children’s lives, we also often have to forge our own ways with it too.

I feel so grateful for the path we have chosen up until this point.  Although many people see it as somehow ‘less’ than a full time job (because, after all, where’s the respect if you’re not getting paid for something?), the home educating journey is by no means an easy one.  I have met incredible people who walk this path.  The commitment and dedication that they show to their children often blows me away.  I find their deep rooted beliefs that this is the right path for them and their family humbling and, at times, awe inspiring.   They know what they believe, and they walk their talk.  And, for anyone that has ever stepped off the path of convention knows, this is NEVER the easy option.

In September, I will be starting full time study, and my daughters will go to school.  I have a whole range of emotions about this new trajectory.  Right now, what I’m sitting with is just how much I am going to miss these days I spend with my girls.  The last ten years have been hard and relentless and exhausting and challenging and, and, and….  And they have been wonderful.   To watch them grow, to see the developmental leaps that they take EVERY SINGLE DAY, to be such a close part of their daily experience of life – this is a precious thing.  As a result of having spent so much time together in their early years, our relationships are strong.  I have witnessed so much of their lives up until this point that I believe I truly know them.  They, too, have watched me navigating the rollercoaster ride of life, with all its ups and downs.  They have seen me giggle ridiculously and dance wildly.  And they have seen me cry with uncontrollable frustration too.  Many times.  This is not ‘sheltering them from the world’, as some critics of home education argue – on the contrary,  I believe this IS the world, and it has only served to make the bond between us and our children tighter.

I embrace the future, and I am excited beyond words about how it might unfold.  And, yes, I am mourning all that needs to change too.  I accept that this is a major part of parenting, this letting go.  Sometimes I see the joy in it, the openness… the freedom!  And sometimes I feel the loss and sadness that walks hand in hand with that joy, with a pain that is both emotional and physical.

I honour my daughters’ journeys, as I honour my own.  I trust in the decisions we have made so far, and all those decisions that are yet to come.  And, I see the beauty and pain that are sometimes so closely interwoven, some days it can be hard to distinguish between them.

A voice in the darkness

I have been thinking for some time “I must write my blog, I must write my blog, I WANT to write my blog!”  And so, last Thursday, at long, long last, I sat down to do just that.

And you know what?  NOT.  A. THING.  N O T H I N G.

I started writing a few different pieces, dragging the words out of myself and then deleting them all.  My mind was blank.  I literally had nothing to say.  I am not the greatest of thinkers or orators at the best of times – this I know – and yet, and YET..!  The emptiness and loneliness I felt in that moment was really painful.

Since we returned from Canada at the start of December last year, my mind has been in varying states of turmoil.  In many ways, I’d say (and have done, numerous times) that almost every aspect of our lives is in question.  Where are we going to live?  How are we going to earn money?  How are we going to continue educating our children?  How do we fit into the world?  Where is our place?

Lately, I’ve been experiencing a fine line between non-attachment, in the Buddhist sense – essentially practicing release from desire and therefore suffering – and disconnection.  Because that is what I have been feeling since our return – disconnected.  From everything, and (almost) everyone, myself included.  What I have come to realise is this: people like to have answers for things!  Where ARE you going to live?  How ARE you going to earn money? Etc..  And when I can’t answer these questions, not only can it make the person I’m talking to feel really uncomfortable (does it make them call into question their own life choices?), it can also throw me into a state of uncertainty and anxiety.  I can go from experiencing the openness in our lives as liberating, full of potential, exciting even, to being full of worries and concerns about all those limitless unknowns.  And so I feel myself detaching and going into myself more.  As if I were curling in and around my invisible core, to keep it protected somehow.

At times like these, I know I need to remember my Medicine Card for this year – Black Panther – and the words of wisdom that accompany its medicine of “Embracing the Unknown”.  And I take to heart, too, these words by Rilke, shared by Pip Bondy at a Way of Council workshop I attended this past weekend:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.  Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is, to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some distant day into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

These words came to me like a soothing balm, at a time when I was feeling particularly small, particularly vulnerable and particularly voiceless.  I was surprising even myself with the level of aloneness that I could experience, surrounded as I was by strong, safe, solid, open, loving and generous hearts.

These words allowed me, too, to open my own aching heart.  To pour forth what I have been keeping from view for so long.  To ride the waves of shame and fear that threatened to swallow me up, to raise my head and speak directly from my heart into the hearts of others there, waiting patiently and with compassion to witness me and my story.

This is profound work.  And it is painful.  And, I know I will go back time and again into these sacred circles to open myself up – not only because I know of the deep healing that resides in this space, but also because I know this is where I remember how to connect. With myself, yes of course; also, crucially, with others, and with Spirit too.  Way of Council is often described as a place where people find ‘home’.  I know what that means, without really being able to explain it.  It is like a resting place, where soul can settle, and spirit can breathe out.  A place to come back to in those moments of darkness that always return,  knocking us off our feet and taking away our breath.

In our circle, I heard myself speak and I witnessed myself being heard.  And I was welcome.  It brought home to me that when we really, truly, deeply, honestly, openly speak from our hearts, and we really, truly, deeply, honestly, openly hear from our hearts, profound things happen.  We are all capable of this.  All we need to do is listen.  Our voice is always there, and we always have something to say.

Medicine_wheel

Home is where the heart is


Crochet_heart

My friend made this crochet heart for me as a farewell gift when we set off on our travels earlier this year.  Little could she possibly know how much it has played an intrinsic part in my journey across oceans, through forests, round and around and back, always, to myself.  (Or maybe she did.  She’s quite clever.)

Home is where the heart is.

This, I know.  I really do.

And yet…

…as I start my long and winding journey back to my motherland after a not insignificant period of time away, I find myself asking where ‘home’ is for me now.

I’ve come to recognise many things about both myself and the nature of existence these past few months. Some bright days, much of this can feel quite positive! Other mornings, I can wake up and struggle to find much good about myself and I long for sleep to return me to the land of dreams where my living, breathing ego holds no power. Sadly, sleep evades me far more often than I’d like, and so, on these days, I remind myself that nothing is permanent; that this feeling, too, will pass.  And it does, always. Eventually.

One thing I have realised is this: having lived in someone else’s house for the majority of our time away, and then stayed in numerous other homes since we left Cape Breton, I realise how important living in a space that not only speaks to me, but speaks of me, is to my general sense of wellbeing.  I see that so much of my heart takes comfort in the living space around it – being surrounded by colours, shapes and materials that I can connect with becomes quite crucial to my state of mental health.

I love making home. I love creating beautiful space. And, me being me, I also often question whether this is a good use of my time – should I put so much effort into what things look like?  I remember school reports that said “100% for presentation, content could be better.”  Both a compliment and critique, then.  And, most likely, knowing how uninspiring I found the majority of my educational years, fair enough. I recognise that perhaps I do try to put a lot of effort into how things look – I guess a question I’ve recently found myself asking is: “Do I do this at the expense of developing a depth of understanding behind the presentation?” Am I thinking too much about the ‘home’ and not enough about the ‘heart’?  Perhaps.

I have friends who make truly heart-warmingly, soul-nourishingly beautiful homes. Homes that make me feel immediately welcome, loved, happy and inspired.  What I now realise, no, what I now know, is that wherever I may go from here, whatever land or place I may seek to call ‘home’ next, I, too, want to create a space where other people enter and feel welcome, loved, happy and inspired.  Of course I know that all this has more to do with the heart behind it than the home itself, and believe me, I’m working on that.

What I would MOST love to do in the world is to make our own home from scratch. To create something with our very own hands that is truly unique to us, that speaks of us and who we are in every board that is laid, every beam that is raised.  In many ways, it feels an essential part of being human to me – to raise our own dwelling. To find our own place on the land and build our home. On our journey these past months we have met so many people who have done or are doing this very thing, and there is something about it that feels just so right. To mould ourselves into the very place in which we reside, to create somewhere that allows parts of ourselves that are not always easy to find words for to come into being.  Surely, this is what we, as human beings, have always done?  Just because we have now created a world around us where it is both easier and cheaper not to do so, does not nor should not diminish that instinctual desire.

I know my heart sings when I am in spaces that inspire me.  And, I know how affected I am by being in environments that do not speak to me. Yes, yes, there’s that voice inside me that says “It shouldn’t matter where you are, your heart is always the same”, but actually, I disagree.  And I know I am not alone in this. We each seek out people and places that call to our souls, whether we are aware of it or not.  Some of us can not silence the condemning, critical, negative voices in our heads unless we stand, sit, sleep in places of (wild) beauty.  Our own very small island gets more full by the day, it seems. And yet, still I believe we can carve out our own tiny pieces of beauty and serenity in the places where we choose to call home.

So, my main realisation is this: a home is nothing without a heart.  And a happy, loving, inspired and open heart can created a happy, loving, inspired and open home.

This, I know.