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.


Breathing in… Breathing out…

Parenting will call into question virtually everything we think we know, beginning with who we think we are. (We’re not!) Children have an extraordinary talent for breaking apart our roles, demanding again and again that we meet them right in the moment, meet our lives, meet difficulty, moment by moment meet and resolve the extraordinary mystery of ‘the other’.  To do this we must time and again lose our precious adult facades and have recall or regain access to the mysterious and creative core that has no name, the source, that we brush again and again in meditation.

Susan Murphy, in Buddhism for Mothers

“I cant meditate.”  That’s the recurrent message I’ve played out for, hmm, about 15 years – the period of time since I first seriously tried meditating, at a vipassana meditation centre in Chiang Mai, back in my good old footloose hippy days.  I lasted 4 days out of a 10 day retreat, telling myself, as I pulled my various shades and layers of tie dyed clothing back on, “I’ve learned all I need to.” Nothing to do with the lack of food, sleep, interpersonal communication, colourful attire, or my inability to sit still for THAT long then?  No, nothing at all.

So, the fact that I have now been meditating regularly for two and a half months comes as a little surprise to me every now and then.  I know many Buddhists would balk at the idea of it, but for practical reasons, I’m doing it the 21st century way (through an app on my new iPad – Headspace, check it out), and it’s really working for me.  Now that my children are old enough to not need something from me every 10 minutes (unless I’m on the phone or toilet of course), I have the space and time to give this to myself almost every single morning.  And I’m loving it.

Ok, so often my practice looks a little like this:

“Breathing in… Breathing out… Breathing in… Breathing out… Gosh my breathing sounds loud today!  I wonder why.  Funny how my breathing sounds different one day to the next.  Oh yes… Breathing in… Breathing out… Breathing in… Breathing out…  Is that a mouse I can hear in the rafters?  Ooh sounds bigger than a mouse.  A rat?  What’s it eating?  Maybe it’s just a bird on the roof after all.  Oops… Breathing in… Breathing out… Breathing in… Breathing out… Is that K getting up? On her own? Hooray!  Oh, maybe it’s the cat.  She’d better not have brought in another bloody rabbit and left it to half fester under our bed again.  Aargh that cat!  Ahem… Breathing in… Breathing out… Breathing in… Breathing out…  Hmm what shall I write my next blog post about?  Haha, I know, I could write about meditating.  Oh lord, what a joke… COME BACK TO YOUR BREATH WOMAN!!  Breathing in… Breathing out…”

(Yes… I realise I’ve a way to go before nirvana becomes more than just a few graphemes put together in an interesting way…)

BUT I do believe that those tiny moments of bliss I experienced in the first few weeks of meditating are genuinely growing.  And I’m seeing myself, in a detached, interested, reflective kind of way, in how I deal with things the kids throw at me in particular.  A common one is: “Why did I just respond like that?  That was unnecessary.”  Because it’s a learned REaction, rather than a conscious response, that’s why.  And it’s time to change direction.

I know I have weeks, months, YEARS of practice ahead of me before some of these neurological habits are shifted onto other clearer, cleaner, calmer pathways.  AND I know it must be doing something good already, because I look forward each morning to starting my day in this way.  I’ve had glimpses into what that clearer, cleaner, calmer mind looks like.

I’m learning a LOT about how and why my mind works as it does and that, actually, what is crucial is not so much about WHAT is happening but HOW I choose to run with it.  I could let all these (quite frankly unimportant) thoughts rampage round and round my head, distracting me from what I’m doing here and now, OR I could learn to simply acknowledge them as mere thoughts and bring myself back to the (much more interesting) present.

After all, the present is where life’s really happening.  It’s where the kids reside every single minute of their tiny, beautiful, inspiring, innocent lives.  And it’s where they constantly drag me back to when my mind is wandering off in other (deceivingly seemingly more enticing) lands.  They’re a relentless wake up call to live life HERE and NOW.

Ah yes indeed, “children are the most demanding and merciless of spiritual teachers” (Sarah Napthali, Buddhism for Mothers).  I’ve known this on some level or other these past 9 years I’ve been mothering, of course.  Now I’m trying really hard to pay deep and close attention to what they’re actually trying to teach me.