I did my back in a few weeks ago. I know now that this is a pretty common thing, but it was my first time and knocked the wind out my sails. One moment I was operating as normal, albeit … Continue reading
There’s a mini heat-wave, and London becomes the tropical city of my dreams. There are long sun filled days at the ReUnion. My five year old splashes in the pool, golden, beads she made in the play project round her neck, performing songs with her friends while I have a cheeky half with their mum. Icy cold London Lager from the micro brewery, sipped under the railway arches. I follow my baby son, now toddling, as he pads along the deck, walking with Sara, a member of the collective of artists who made this space, interpreting her dreams. These whisper of a steady,careful surrender to a great and transformative Unknown; and the tensions of how humans exist with, and make, built environments.
Lucky me, I think, brought to this place of freedom and Life: easy, joyful, gently/firmly disciplined, grounded, ephemeral. Wide open. Most of all, playful! When I come to a place like the ReUnion, I am grateful for the sense of play; both internal and external. There are other families here too from the local flats. All of us benefit from the openness offered by the ReUnion. The sharp edges our children develop in defense against crowded living conditions and the materialistic city, visibly melt as they begin to play. Or make banana crumble. Or sit wide eyed watching a group of feminist protest artists practice a topless intervention. I love how afterwards these serious and focused women bend down to answer the questions from the children. Only here. In the gap between building sites, luxury apartments, council flats and the overhead trains.
In the sultry tropical evening, I go for a walk with my Beloved. Rainbow Olympic lights on the River, the Tate changing colour. When London gets hot, even the local parks gets a sweet and heady feeling in the golden pink hazy light of dusk. Our meander takes us through our local park. The grass has become lush and electric green. A bat flies over our heads. I am surprised and delighted. It is so rare to see bats in the heart of a built up metropolis like ours. But if my dreams and practice of the last year have shown me anything, it is that the city has a natural, wild-life all of its own, woven into the concrete and the high rises. The pocket woods in-between. Animal teachers do appear, and they bring messages and lessons.
On that day, Bat spoke to the tension and dance of what had come up for in my weekly Circle meeting with my writing partner, and in the dreams I had interpreted for Sara at the ReUnion. What happens when we try to control and dominate what we create? What happens when we are responsive to the environment we create in (both the inner and outer worlds), surrendering to the rhythm of what is and building from that point? It’s a dance because there is always the opportunity to take a step away from a stance that is too dominating; to be rescued from the plotting of our egos. The soft landing of Hay Bales.
Dancing between domination and surrender in the West as I write the Life Story, I notice how when I try to force the story (I want it to be finished quickly….), it gets stuck. When I write from a free and open point (within a gentle discipline), it flows. It is almost like magic, the way it shifts and unburdens my mind set as I read it out loud. The same goes for listening to the stories my writing and circle partner shares. Bat brings me a live message about death and initiation:
“Shaman death is the symbolic death of the initiate to the old ways of life and personal identity. The initiation that brings the rights to heal and be called a Shaman is necessarily preceded by ritual death”
The ritual death that I am being asked to undergo by my practice isn’t about being buried alive or placed in the woods alone. It’s about releasing the hold of what has gone and being reborn without the ego that clings to the pain stories of the past as my primary identifier of Self – and all too frequently, my sub-concious saboteur.
I wondered today about what I would say, or what I could say, when my daughter asks why we aren’t rich or live in a big house. What are the reasons? My initial thought was how I could tell her about the hardships I went through as a youngster when we first moved to the UK, when our family lost all our money and our home, and fractured rather than pulling together through crisis. How this set me back so I couldn’t recover economically as an adult – there was both the lack of financial help for getting started, and the pain of traumatic rupture I carried around too. Then I remembered the story my father told me as a child: about how he gave up his place at University so his sister could study because his father couldn’t afford to educate them both. And the subsequent loss of all of his family’s property and money when Mozambique became independent. This is a pain story about sacrifice, martyrdom, holding onto regret and being self-made against the odds that has been passed down. I listened in awe to it then, and now I’m ready to pass it down again as the primary answer to a question that actually deserves far more nuance and consideration in its reply. Not least in questioning the very basis of what we consider wealth to be! How dangerous. That’s why I’m going through the Wheel. To stop passing down the pain stories. And it’s hard. Sometimes I stagnate. And it scares me. The idea that I won’t make it.
“The basic idea of ancient initiations was to break down all the former notions of self that were held by the shaman-to-be”
That’s what telling the Life Story, and identifying the pain, does. It breaks down all former notions of ‘self’ and ‘past’ as intact, absolute, inevitable. Allowing the old self and beliefs to be broken down and die, is to allow it to be transposed into a newborn being. Again, this is the message from the Bat in Mint St:
“Hanging upside down is a symbol for learning to transpose your former self into a newborn being”
I have to keep going. Surrendering to the writing of the Life Story as it comes, and moving into the North of the Wheel. This is what I learnt from giving birth too. The more I resist what is, or try to impose my will on it, the longer and harder the labour. The labours for both my children were fast, easy and exhilirating because I practised surrender to the pain, the fear and the Power that was greater than ‘me’.* I joke that if I was as good at writing PhD’s as I am at giving birth I would have several by now! And the same goes for the stuckness I get to in the Initiation practices of The Wheel. It’s all about Resistance – letting it run things and dictate the pace. The less resistance to what actually is, the easier the birth of whatever it is we are labouring to deliver. Or the faster the death of whatever it is that no longer serves us. Which is the final message from contrary Bat:
“Some people think themselves into a corner with obstacles that are illusionary. By the time they decide what to do, the opportunities are gone and old age is upon them. Use your mind, courage and strength to insure an easy labour and quick delivery into your new state of understanding and growth. Surrender to the new life you have created from thought.”
Tuning in to the natural life of the city on a hot summer’s night. Now that’s how I like to live!
*Giving birth in this magnificent way also involved pooing on myself (both times) and making some very far out noises. Just so there are no misconceptions about what ‘easy’ means in the context of birthing!
With thanks to the following sources:
It was a disembodied voice, heard in the gap between sleeping and waking, that brought me into the Wheel of Initiation. Sounds like something unmissable, but actually capturing dreams and listening to the pointers of truth emerging from our subconcious requires a bit of engagement and discipline. Sometimes we just don’t feel like doing it! I know I don’t. Being in a deep, wonderful sleep, or about to go into a deep wonderful sleep, it can be tempting to not write down the dream when it wakes you, or scrawl down the word that is repeating incesantly. The night I heard the disembodied voice repeating the word that would lead me to Julie Tallard Johnson‘s work over and over again was one of those nights when I REALLY wanted to just sleep. It had been a long day, full of the demands of children, family, home, work and it had been crappy weather to boot. I was SO ready for a good sleep. But this word, repeating, would not go away. So I turned on the light, scrawled it in my bedside notebook, and promptly went into that much needed deep and refreshing sleep. The next day, I checked out the word and the journey began that brought me to the Wheel of Initiation and this very page I am writing now!
Something to be said for keeping a bedside notebook for these night time scrawlings! And also something to be said for just getting them out, however. I have been known to write dreams in the dark too, allowing the pen to just let whatever has come to have some space in the gap of wakefulness. It is always a bit of a thrill and occasionally a surprise to read it back in the morning.
So when I had another repeating word appear in the gap between sleep and awake the other day, I paid attention, scrawling it down with the promise to check it the next morning.
The word was Prometheus.
I knew Prometheus was a figure from Greek mythology, but couldn’t quite remember which one. I had it mixed up with Icarus as I googled the next day. But this was not a dead end of confusion. Icarus is destroyed by flying to close to the sun. And Prometheus is punished by the Gods for stealing fire and giving it to humans. Now what was this dream voice trying to communicate to me? There is something here about too much light, and reflecting on where I was at around the time this dream voice appeared, I was trying very hard to be positive and good, a light-filled person. You know. Spiritual and glowing and saintly. Super committed to my practice. Wanting very badly to progress. Be the most spectacular initiate ever. A wonderful human being. And in the process I was running myself ragged, trying to be all things at all times. To my family, myself, my practice, my work, community, circle. And feeling bad and guilty when I wanted to ‘switch off’. This was resistance trying to get me!
There is absolutely nothing wrong with striving to be these things. But in the process of trying so hard to reach the Light, there is a danger of suppressing the darkness that is also nourishing. Too much emphasis on being positive, light and good, and we can get burned.
The Tao Te Ching speaks a lot about darkness:
Freed from desire, you can see the hidden mystery
By having desire, you can only see what is visibly real.
Yet mystery and reality emerge from the same source.
This source is called darkness.
Darkness born from darkness.
The beginning of all understanding.
Jeanette Winterson has written about the beauty and power inherent to surrendering to darkness at times when it is necessary. Her descriptions of retreating in response to the coming of winter darkness ignite a warm glow in the heart, reminding me of the subtle interplay and dance of darkness and light, and also of the many faces of light. Not always bright, manifesting light can be as much about the low glow of a winter fire, wrapped in the blanket of darkness. When my daughter expresses her fear of the dark at bedtime, I try to describe it in these terms. To think of the dark as a cosy blanket, that we wrap around ourselves to help us get to sleep (she doesn’t always buy it!).
In denying our shadow; our darkness, what do we suppress in ourselves? The feminist writer Audrey Lorde would describe what we suppress in our desire to be too-good/light as The Erotic. This is an erotic far removed from nullifying porno-culture. It is, in Lorde’s words, “…a measure between the beginning of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire.“
Again, I come to this confusion about the nature of light and dark. The danger of making an equivalence between moral value and the qualities of light and dark. This confusion is a way in which what Steven Pressfield describes as ‘Resistance’ finds a subtle way in. Resistance operating in one of its most successful disguises, making over-work and an insane striving, into the illusion of our true work. In Audrey Lorde’s words:
This internal requirement toward excellence which we learn from the erotic must not be misconstrued as demanding the impossible from ourselves nor from others. Such a demand incapacitates everyone in the process. For the erotic is not a question only of what we do; it is a question of how acutely and fully we can feel in the doing…. The aim of each thing which we do is to make our lives and the lives of our children richer and more possible. Within the celebration of the erotic in all our endeavors, my work becomes a longed for bed which I enter gratefully and from which I rise up empowered.
Beware the myth of Prometheus, where the bringing of fire is equated with punishment. Lighting the inner fire requires only a love for the darkness that surrounds it, and an appreciation of the dance between the two.