This is the story of how the poem ‘Night Foxes’ got written. It’s all about how creative acts can bubble to the surface.
Dreaming safe house,
A Scottish island in the bay,
Reachable at low tide.
Telling her story
In the moments before death
Confessions, holding up her dress
I pull it down.
Coaxing her to speak,
She is from Madagascar.
It makes sense.
But she doesn’t know
Who her father is.
Dead of night
Foxes wake, sounding warnings
In the West, as the process of telling the life story unfolds, I find that a big challenge is finding my way out of the spaces in the story that I get stuck in. Today in our circle, as I shared the latest chapter, I felt a sense of wanting to rush through, get past the section of my life that I have been writing so much on. I have had enough! I want to move forward! So I try to… and the writing reflects this. Sharing it in the circle, I don’t get the sense of having released and passed through. Because in trying to rush through, what is revealed instead is a powerful stuck place that is holding me tight. A shrill, victimised voice runs through the text, and it is mine. Rushing through, I would like to quiet this voice, but this doesn’t work! In order to release, there has to be a point of acknowledgement. Sigh! I see the newspaper cutting I have pinned on my desk:
IT’S OKAY, TAKE YOUR TIME
My circle partner is supportive, and gently encouraging about the need to acknowledge pain and release it with gentleness. Again, I am grateful for the space and support that a cohort; a sangha, brings to this process. She recounts a story from Ursula Le Guin’s book The Wizard of Earthsea. Ged, the main protaganist, is on an island where many of the inhabitants are addicted to a drug that has robbed them of their magic powers even as it keeps them cloaked in a haze of comforting illusion. You can’t see what’s ahead when all you can see is yourself. This is the way that a powerful pain story, unreleased, operates in one’s life. It dominates the narrative so that all that is seen is Self. This obscures life. This blocks the way forward.
My partner also points out how amazing it is that we spend so much time resisting where we are and who we are here with. She reminds me of Pema Chodron’s teaching to practice precision – to see what is clearly. How you feel is your starting point. Be with it. How you relate to it comes next. And both parts, the being with and the letting go, require gentleness. Being with and letting go without harshness.
We feel tired of how we feel about things. I feel tired of how I can feel about things. Where I am in my work, in the telling of the story, in my practice, in my life and relationships. But if we/I don’t listen to the stuckness, keep denying how we feel, try to layer it with a self-judgement to be compassionate, then they will continue to swim around like hungry ghosts, needing attention. Getting stuck is due to not being with the feelings, avoiding them or trying to turn them into other, more acceptable feelings too early. Like turning anger into compassion. Yes, this is the ultimate aim! But, it can’t be rushed without going through due process. Getting through the stuckness with honesty. The compassion must start with ourselves if it is to go out into the world. Because suppressed feelings are dangerous. They can jump out unexpectedly and do damage.
A way to avoid dealing with supressed emotions is to defer them to a martyrdom that masquerades as compassion for others. Am I doing this process to heal a relationship with others? This may very well be a side effect, and if it comes out of it, great. But primarily this is about healing myself, so that in making my way through the world, I stop the cycle of inflicting pain and damage unthinkingly and dangerously. In the inner and outer worlds. This is the connection of all things with self.
Angry girl… you hold your heart on the inside
Angry girl, you turn the point in and do damage.
The side alleyway. I tried to grow things. I tried to make a nest of my own. i think I did this with my sister. i think we did these things together. It was in shadow so things could not grow. I imagined I could make it beautiful but I did not have the resources to do it. Nor was there the natural light. This was a place to bury things. The goldfish corpse that I placed in the ground and dug up a year later to see the bones. This was where I ran to after fights, during the heat of things. This place of shadows and quiet, of building rubble, neglected and private. I cried here a lot, sitting on the upturned bricks. I did bring friends here too. To sit on the bricks. Later, when I was older, to drink Vodka, sniff turpentine.
How do I make space to express suppressed feelings so that I can then allow those feelings to pass? The italicised passage above speaks of a space I made during the time in my life I am writing about at the moment. I placed it randomly here to demonstrate how we carry these spaces with us as metaphors all the time.
The tension of going through the Wheel lies in the dance of identifying whether what we do is honest, or more masking. If we are really seeing the path through, or if we are blinded by the massiveness of our fascination with ourselves. Identifying a pain story is one step. Acknowledging it the next (this can mean difficult feelings). Then, letting it go. For me, the stuckness comes with an attachment to pain, a clinging to the mask of victimisation.
That without pain, my life lacks meaning.
This is where the Wheel is powerful medicine, a structure through which various kinds of spaces can be made to allow things to have their expression. And sometimes, it is in the articulations that other’s make that we can find the right expression for our feelings. These two poems spoke powerfully to me today and yes, gave space. So I keep moving, gently gently.
Since my resolution to try writing at the dawntime I haven’t written a word between 4.30am and 6am. I got as far as turning the computer on at 5am on one day, but then the baby woke up again and all bets were off. He’s been poorly too and the nights have been rough. So I’m sitting with some questions. Is this a failure? Is this a manifestation of resistance (the baby is sick…. I’m so tired…. so I can’t write). Well. Yes! All of the above. But that’s not the end of the story. Because I may not have written a word, but I have been ‘turning up’. At dawn, I wake up, and even as I regret not writing, I have in the past week been present with my work at this time. My thoughts have been fermenting ideas, though it’s been hard to see what the fruits of it would be when I couldn’t follow through with the dawn writing I wanted. Instead, the fruits have appeared at other times of day, when the writing does happen. Today, I gave a lecture titled ‘What makes us human?’ I was terrified by my lack of concrete preparation, it’s also been a very long time since I spoke publicly. It rained and rained in the morning. Getting us all out the house left me soaked to the skin… crouched under a broken umbrella. But once I’d dropped my daughter at school and my son with a friend, the hour before the lecture was there. Stretched open and ripe to pick. Resistance wanted me to ‘wing it’ as I so often do, but instead I allowed the percolations of the dawn time to get their space. The lecture that emerged was cool…. it had life and substance, imperfect yes, and also full of questions and the dynamic of the conversation that makes us think about being human in the first place. I delivered it to all of four 17 year olds on a university taster day, and a couple of their teachers. There were no great accolades or rewards here, just the satisfaction of a job done, and seeing the shift in their faces as some of those questions got through and resonated.
Afterwards, I went to a greasy spoon cafe and got a full English and a cup of tea. Soaking up the beans and fried tomatos with a buttered slice, washed down with the golden brew, I sat with the sense of satisfaction that comes when you’ve done the work. It passes. That’s cool. I’ll fight the battle again. And continue to turn up at dawn. Whether I write or not, it’s the showing up that counts.
1. Did I finish the thesis?
2. Did I get a PhD for it?
3. Am I doing a Post-Doc in Dreams and Divination?
4. How has my community been transformed?
5. How are my family doing? Those closest to me in the lifeboat?
6. What is my practice?
7. Where is the music in my life?
8. Did I find that Soul Home?
9. How are my Ancestors doing?
10. What now?
Looking forward to writing the answers and feeling the story emerge….