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.

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