Exiting The North

English: Photograph of a Vajrayogini painting ...

English: Photograph of a Vajrayogini painting from Thangka. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last few months have been strange.  A submersion in single-minded commitment. Trying hard to get the thesis finished, and when I haven’t succeeded in hitting the targets, putting everything else off till I do.

This approach, weirdly, sapped the energy right out of my work.  I see how much that is a part of my agreements.  To be alone.  To isolate myself.
I held on.
Doing the practices of the North, and dawn meditations, where I struggled to stay awake, I was aware of this deep anxiety.  The pain of how I separate myself from all things.  The way the work of the thesis, unreleased, hung around and fed the anxiety.  How as soon as I did the work, that anxiety would lift.  The sense of connection returned.
It has been a test to stay with it, and leave it, all at once.  Let this part of the project go.  And accept its incompleteness.  Because beyond assembling, some light editing and binding the thing, there isn’t a great deal more I can do content wise.  Got to trust what’s there.
I finally handed the thesis in a month and a half ago, but it is still not quite done.  There are the examiner’s comments, due after Easter.  Further revisions likely.  Meanwhile, life goes on.  In the North you face the biggest tests to your staying power…  I get it.  Finishing this work is my hot spot. Staying with the wisdom of the process as I begin to face East in the Wheel.
We went back to South Africa over the festive season.  To see family, and for my partner to do some work.  We have taken the risk that he leave his job to work the hail season over there, so that with the cash he makes, he can buy a vehicle over here in London and we can have more control over his working hours in order to share child care responsibilities more equitably.  While in South Africa, I kept writing on the thesis daily, energised by proximity to the place that my work is all about.  The tension between separation and unity.  This is all tied in with what I do next.  How I manifest my intention in the real world. On the last day there a friend came over to tell me about a project she is working on, to set up a school that emphasises the natural world and play as central to children’s education, and also bridges the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged in South Africa by offering subsidised places to low income families.  It’s about building an amazing, innovative space to educate children that is accessible to those who are normally excluded.  It is pretty risky and untested.  My friend wants me to get involved, and work on the project.  There is funding.  It’s a paid role.  This would be in about 6 months time.
I sit with the possibility of what can come next.  The risks and the rewards.  What do I do with what I’ve learnt?  How do I manifest right action?
Before we went to South Africa, and while we were discussing whether my partner should leave his job or not, I had the following dream.  It speaks to the heart of ‘what next’.  The step by step.  The letting go. The trust and faith.  The marriage of the miraculous with the pragmatic.  The dream mobilised many symbols of the past few years to powerfully engage me.  I’m still sitting with this one.
I go to a party, with young French people next door to our old home (This is the house we used to live in, our dream home, which we were evicted from very suddenly a year and a half ago.  Though traumatic, the energy released by leaving was what propelled me into opening up to new possibilites.)  I am not with my family.  I must make a decision about whether or not I stay and take halucinogens with these young, sweet, naive,open and exploring French students.  It is hard to make the decision, but still I stay, not deciding either way.  I know it is only for one night, taking the drugs and exploring my own mind.  I will go back to my family.  I look at our old garden next door.  I speak to Charlotte Joy (a colleague in the anthropology department who also has young children, but is more successful than me), and show her the garden, explaining how we lost it when we were evicted.  “It looks dull but at least it is here” I say, because the wild forest like garden planted by my friend is gone, and has been replaced by healthy looking – if dull- vegetable patches.  Well tended.  I am describing the garden to Charlotte in terms of loss, but I realise as I speak that there is no loss.  It was never really my garden.  
 
I must still make my decision about imbibing the halucinogens.  
 
There is aggressive knocking at the door.  Noise Officers from the council, female, like the two women who evicted us from our home in the real world.  i don’t invite them in, but they barge past to serve noise eviction notices.  Suddenly I realise I have nothing to fear from them!  This house is not mine, and the music that had been playing loudly has been turned off.  What a laugh!  An anti-climax for them.  
 
I must still decide.  
Sarah from the ReUnion (the amazing artist project that I got to know over the summer that took over and transformed urban waste ground near our flat into a magical summer space) talks it through with me.  She is somehow running all of this.  But she is neither naive nor young.  She is youthful, knowing and wise.  She is the one who knows.  She will not make a decision for me, but she shows me the den that has been made to cocoon me when I need to retreat from the massive explorations of my conciousness I will undertake by eating the halucinogens.  I know that I will take this leap, it is just scary and I worry about leaving my children.  
 
But it is only one night!  
 
I will be back with my family!
 
This decision is connected to the business idea my partner and I have been discussing in the real world. I see that our plans have a spiritual source and involve travel to South Africa.  
 
I take the drug.
 
My daughter is suddenly there, and afraid.  
 
Twin goddesses rise up out of the wooden floor boards to help me.  
 
They are made out of fire.  Wildly powerful.  But also controlled, exotic, and deeply knowing.  They are coloured red and orange.  
    
They have a lot to show me.  
 
A sweet Bengali girl from my daughter’s school comes and comforts her as I absorb the knowing the Goddesses are imparting.  They do this by asking a series of questions about the business idea.  As I answer it gets clearer.  At its heart, the plan must be altruistic and self-helping, connected to our mission in South Africa.  
At this point I woke up.
I went to the bathroom, and when I came back to bed and fell asleep, I felt the Goddess again, her twin aspect now singular.
My body was vibrating.
I knew she was made of fire.

Being in Allignment with Intention Is Not a Get Out of Jail Free Card

I Awaken my Light…

How much of my life is in alignment with this intention?

Last night I went to bed late having actually done some work on a project that is mine.  I didn’t feel tired, I guess that’s the energy of doing something fresh again, like I was energised by returning, at last, to a project that I want to finish, even if I struggle to at
times. This is interesting to me, the way in which awakening my light is about honoring the things that are close to my heart, that feed the inner fire. And feeding that fire means having more energy, rather than less. This seems to be the way to see if what’s happening is right; to check in with that energy. So there are different kinds of tired. The tired that comes from ‘job well done’, the tired that feels like pushing through treacle because there is so much resistance to doing the task. I’m caught up in thinking about work now. It’s like at long last I have permission to pursue it. Here’s another interesting thing. In order to finish the thesis, I have to totally let go of making it polished and spectacular. There’s not enough time, and the project is too convoluted and complex anyway. My skills are not there yet. This means that sometimes I don’t want to bother finishing.  But here’s the rub, and where I know when I am in alignment with my intention.  Because dropping the standard, and doggedly sticking to it in order to finish, and finishing itself being the end goal, means that I am released from the other baggage and find that the energy returns. The fire ignites.

Going to sleep last night after doing a good few hours on this, I had a dream about my mother and father. My father was collecting all kinds of stuff as he does, and it was all covered in mould, damp. It needed to be thrown away. He hates throwing stuff away. I remember when we left South Africa to come to the UK 19 years ago, how he threw tantrums when my mother took control and emptied the house of all the rubbish and stuff that had accumulated over the years. In my dream last night she, my mum, assumed this uncharacteristically assertive role again. She had a new boyfriend, and was keeping this new information to herself. It was like she had distanced herself from us, her children, and was now living her own life. From what she did say, I guessed that the new boyfriend was Greek, from Tottenham, and a Spurs supporter. A proper immigrant London son and geezer. Not her usual arty, flaky, volatile type at all. It was cool. I liked this change. Having guessed her new involvement I reconnected with her on an equal level. She admitted to me that she had never wanted children, and that she was aware of how this not actually wanting the children she had would’ve affected our experience growing up. This was even more so for my younger sister than me as she had been the second child, and her birth had been located in the really difficult part of our mother’s relationship with our dad. Like I was the romantic baby, my sister was the no-turning-back baby.

Later on my dad let me and my sister throw the mouldy stuff away. It felt good.  Both to thrown the stuff away, and have his permission to do it.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————

In the waking world, my circle partner and I shared our free writes in our weekly space about how in alignment we felt with our intentions.  Mine was the piece of writing shown above.  Discussing our observations from the preceding week, we had a conversation about the unexpected twists in living an intention.  I’ve transcribed it (we held our circle in a chat room due to work commitments… holding our space indeed!) as an experiment in communicating the process of working our way through the Wheel:

Maia – Awakening our light is sometimes not what we expect

Dom –  yes, that sounds right

Maia – Not necessarily all romantic and free

sometimes laundry

facing what we don’t want to

it’s etched with pain and struggle too….

Dom – And awakening our desire within that….

Maia – And pulling ourself out of i

it has tension at the edges

that we see and choose not to submerge in

it can be tired

Dom – Honouring the intention to awaken desire in ALL of life…

Maia – It has a history of heartache

of disappointment,

promises not kept

the birthing process is painful sometimes

and we to mourn

for losing innocence to find it again..it’s the tunnel we have to go through

Dom – Bumpy journey through the birth canal…

Maia – yep

and accepting that

Dom – and that’s where your intention has so much resonance for me… because it holds this thread of accepting all of life… not                  resisting or trying to push away the bumps….

Maia – well it’s only possible if I do

which maybe I didn’t realise

I thought this stuff was partly a get out of jail free card

you know a clean slate where its all different

Dom – Ha ! Tell me about it!

Maia – but its a bit of both or something

Dom – yes… that’s the thing…. its a bit of both….

Maia – it does say you don’t have to feel what you been feeling that’s not yours

but it’s not easy

Dom – exactly… and so the processes in the west of naming and holding and releasing are such an important part of clearing the    space, so you can’t just push it away and avoid. We work with the pain, hold it, and release.

Maia – What feels hard is that I have to do it myself – the thing that’s it’s actually my choice, i create it, am responsible

Dom – Sounds so simple as I write…. I think about the power of resistance that slows me down

Maia– we get help but we have to be willing to take that responsibility

that leap of faith that belief

no one will do it for me

Dom –   When we hold that… the realisation of taking responsibility… how much are we able to drop then? And how liberating is that?     Like… for example, you dropping the idea of doing the PhD…  I have to talk to my boss today about doing less hours in the office over the next few weeks…. it terrifies me… to ask for what I need….

Maia – each of these little things is important and what it’s about

reminds me of a pema chodron quote

where she says we hear a lot about the bliss of enlightenment

but not a lot about how painful/difficult it is to go from being totally wound up to being unstuck

Dom – ha ha… yup.

Maia –  or something like that

but joy is important because we have it there everyday

like my therapist said – have fun – without it there’s not lubrication

Dom- Yes! And it’s hard to go down a slide dry…..

Maia – maybe this could be a task for next week……

Dom – fun is so important… its everything… that playful, smiling spirit…

It changes the nature of things… the heaviness…

Maia – everyday before we sleep, write about the things that made us happy that day

from the smallest to biggest moments

Dom – Is this our practice this week?

 Maia – and share with each other – just a list if we wish

a suggestion…

Dom – great… I love it ! xxx

share all in one next week? Or email each morning?

Maia –  hmm maybe email each morning – i like that idea

Dom – me too…. sort of like daily scripting in reverse….

Maia – yep….. too much counting sorrows let’s count some joys

Dom – Joy counting x

Maia –     : ):)

Dom – Mould wiping : )

Maia – Hehe !

Dom – tee hee xxx

Scripting the Entrance to the North

I’ve been at the gates of the North for a while.  There have been many diversions, things to attend to, resistance to unravel.

Our circle didn’t meet for a good few weeks as these threads of new jobs, relocations, changed plans and shadow dancing were worked through. Are worked through.  Process is always unfolding. I get this. When our circle finally met, it was sweet, a reminder of the value of a cohort rooted in mutual commitment to truth, and the diversity of how truth manifests.  What was clear in our meeting was my resistance to scripting a new story.  Like I wasn’t wanting to let go of the old one yet, or needed more information to make a new one.   Can’t say I’m fully out the woods of these fears, and holding on stubbornly to the old storylines.  But damn, I’m noticing them playing out.  I can see the trees even as I tremble beneath them.  She moves through, anyway.

There’s an agreement here that I break when I move on. The one that says I need to know everything.  Gulp.
Finally I do. Move on. Into the entrance of the North. I call on helpers because when I break the agreement named above, I can open up to assistance. For me right now, this is the support and insight of the circle, the strong home-girl compassion of the deities who speak to me, retreat into time alone and consultation with a fresh version of the I Ching (a dear old friend and guiding hand through many turning points).

I script.

This week I move with a light and slow touch. I perform my roles as mother, worker, partner, sister, friend, daughter, writer and thesis reviser with care, attention and a  joyfully playful mind.

I notice when I compare myself with others. Even little things; the seemingly inconsequential. I note the effect this has on how I do the  things that matter to me.  What forms of censorship I impose. What is suppressed.  What I do instead. I write down these observations as I go about my business, do my work.

I do this to identify what my truth is.

This practice assists me in locating and living by this truth, inhabiting it rather than being led by speculation about the ‘truth’ I think others may expect from me.

I live and respond and take action from this still point. I stay watchful. Keeping meticulous notes frequently helps me in this, because any kind of research is assisted by reflective record keeping on the job.

I travel with pen and paper.

I awaken my light.

I discover my truth.

Bring on the week….  looking North.

Keep On Moving: Postponement as Troublemaker in the North West

keep moving

keep moving (Photo credit: Wrote)

Our circle’s experience of symbolically entering the North of the Wheel in Denmark was so liberating and powerful, the feeling of freedom and flight that followed so wonderful, that there had to be a crash at some point!  And so it goes.  Peak experiences are brilliant – I love and live for them!  But they have their shadow aspect, which manifests as a belief that somehow this is an arrival point, a finishing line moment.  So when the insights of the peak experience have to navigate their way through the more mundane spaces of everyday life, it can be hard to adjust to the ordinary; to the application of insight.  Jack Kornfield wrote a whole book on it, ‘After the Ecstasy, The Laundry’.

It is in these post-peak spaces that Troublemakers really show up.  And as Julie Tallard Johnson discusses in the Wheel of Initiation, these Troublemakers are ways in which our attachment to habitual ways of doing and being in the world can be identified.  They offer us the opportunity to liberate ourselves from them when they show up.  The more you practice, the more you can spot a Troublemaker when it comes up.  A bit like that scene in The Matrix when Neo plucks bullets out the air as if they were apples on a tree and tosses them aside.  Practice strips troublemakers of their power to damage you unthinkingly.  However, where I’m at is more like the start of the Matrix, where Neo flails about and is generally nearly cut down by said bullets!  Awareness of Troublemakers, and shifting the energy patterns that hold you captive to the beliefs that surround your responses to them (what our Circle focused on in Denmark),  is only the beginning!

The day after getting back from Denmark, still on a high, I received an email from Julie about Dealbreakers.  As the week progressed, and things got tougher, I really felt the resonance of her communication.

At times, it is an all-out civil war between our habitual selves (that often sustain our pain stories) and our more authentic nature (and our intentions). Deal breakers finally break the deal with some agreement that is keeping us hostage to our pain stories. (Wherever we are suffering there is an agreement to a pain story).  When a Deal Breaker arises a choice is usually involved. My indifference would say to me: “This doesn’t matter.”  “This doesn’t count.” My authentic self knows on a very basic level that everything counts. In fact sometimes the smallest choice opens us up to an new paradigm, and the briefest comment reveals the deepest truth. It all matters (but this doesn’t mean it is heavy or somber). Every decision, as Joseph Campbell would say is a Destiny Decision. Within the Buddhist philosophy we recognize that everything contributes to causes and conditions and everything has a consequence. So when we break an agreement, and invoke the Deal Breaker there may be blood, but more importantly there will be LIGHT. 

I realised that our Circle was probably more in between than our big leap forward had suggested.  Located somewhere North West if you will. Though we have symbolically moved into the North of The Wheel, in many ways we are still embroiled in the business of the West.  The clearing out of pain stoires, identification of the habitual, recognition of troublemakers and looking out for Dealbreakers.  This is movement in the Wheel.  When I stop and take a breath , I feel how I love and am energised by the dynamism and gathering momentum  of the Wheel!  It is a beautiful thing.

In our Circle we have been negotiating reforming our meeting schedule as new jobs, country moves and change occur around us.  This has been challenging, but also an opportunity to approach our work together in ways that are responsive to what our circumstances actually are (as opposed to imposing a vision of how it ‘should’ be on the process). The point, sometimes, is not to achieve perfection, but to keep turning up. Keep moving.

To finish, I am sharing some of my Circle partner Maia’s writing around something that both of us have identified as a powerful agreement to ‘Postpone our Lives’ or ‘Not Participate’.  These are dealbreakers for real.  I love her writing because it is so raw, and honest.  It elucidates the fragile jaggedness that comes up in this kind of work: it articulates the captivating Siren charm of Resistance (she points out that the will to postpone and resist starting comes up as much in work that she does like to do as work that she doesn’t).

I am in major procrastination mode.  Came to the library to work because it just wasn’t going to happen at home.  Those days when you just don’t want to start.  Probably/maybe when I start it will be much easier.  Been thinking how much this is linked to my deal breaker – not wanting to participate in life, or feeling helpless in my non-participation. I’m that girl  looking at the playground roundabout, thinking that is the world and I am not on it. It was this feeling of being separate and alienated, this numbed off state, of being unable to move beyond the separateness and part of the movement of life.  

Whether I like the work I have to do or not, it brings me face to face with that state again. There are two Osho tarot cards that came to mind this morning.  The one is of a woman looking through window.  She’s all grey and the world outside is full of colour. The card is called Postponement. The other card is called the Outsider.  It shows a child looking through a gate longing to be outside.  The child doesn’t realise the gate is not locked.  

I have always disliked getting these cards, especially the postponement one, which asks you to put aside the desire to delay and act.  I don’t like the card because I like putting stuff off for tomorrow. It’s comfortable, I have gotten used to it.  As much as I have longed for action, to live my life as a bird in full flight, delaying – putting off and slipping into that numbed off, nothing is really happening state is what I know.  It’s really very comfortable. I  also got tired of hating myself for it.  But it’s all been changing for me. The Wheel of Initiation has helped  a lot with it.  Swept me up more than I anticipated.  I now see the possibility of not choosing to follow the narrative.  I see that I am actually a bird in full flight who thinks she’s a postponing woman.  I see the power I have to re-write the narrative to shift and transform and ease out of these heavy habits.  Yes it’s difficult.  I have to meet the troublemakers again and again.  This is my deal breaker.  

I was thinking of an intention that works with this – I participate fully in my life.  It’s what I read Toni Morrison said in an interview.  She just wants to feel whatever she’s feeling whether it’s good or bad.  To really be there.  So here’s the practice.  The call to come alive in whatever I am doing. To not put myself off.  

The feeling I encounter when I do step up to participate is that I can’t do it, that I’m not good enough. That’s the Outsider card.  The gate is open but I don’t step out because I believe I am not good enough. I am that thee year old girl, getting frustrated, crying I can’t do it.  Giving up.  As soon as I start to write there’s a voice crying, I can’t do it, it’s too hard.  That’s the voice I have to look at and say thank you and then turn back to the feeling that I can. 

When I delay or don’t do something that I must, I end up feeling more powerless, paralysed, heavy – it’s circular and then there is no way out.   That’s the mess I create.  I have to keep moving, even though it feels heavy.  Keeeeeep moving.  It’s lighter ahead.   

Maia Marie 2012

 

What am I postponing?

How would it feel to do it?

What happens when I finish?

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wheel-Initiation-Practices-Releasing-Inner/dp/1591431115/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1347454034&sr=8-1

http://www.julietallardjohnson.com/

http://www.osho.com/Main.cfm?Area=magazine&Sub1Menu=tarot&Sub2Menu=oshozentarot

http://www.jackkornfield.com/

Pain Stories? Let’s Head North!

Arrived in Denmark tonight…  heading northwards.  I realise that Denmark is not that much more North than London, where I have come from, but that’s about right.  We are still very much on the edges of the West of the Wheel.  So this is a creep northwards, an inching towards the next direction.  As it is!  The West is a demanding place, where we face all kinds of difficulties.  The stuff that makes us want to turn back.  The pain stories.

I’m all disorientated…. arriving at night… no knowledge of the language.  But that’s cool….  being out of the orientation of what is familiar is a good way to be.  Sometimes.  Anyway, my circle partner tells me everyone speaks English here anyway.  And hey!  Even the word ‘English’ comes from the word ‘Angle’ which was the name for those Danish invaders all those centuries ago, who along with their Saxon bredren, gave us that infamous moniker ‘Anglo-Saxon’.  It’s all connected!

So, this is something my writing and circle partner wrote all about Pain Stories.  We are moving, ever so slightly, northwards.  And her reflection is pretty cool.  So here it is.  Enjoy.

Pain Stories

What a dramatic ring it has. We have been talking about pain stories for a while, sharing them, circling around their meaning in our lives. I have been thinking recently about staying too long. Like the Dionne Farris song “I stayed just a little long and now it’s time for me to move on”. I am always/often staying too long. Past the point where I know I should get up and move, I am still sitting there, wallowing, paralysed with indecision or just plainly not wanting to let go – a little kid screaming mine mine long after the toy’s left your hands. Where’s that step between knowing you have been holding onto this truth for too long and actually letting it go? As Pema Chrodron said somewhere letting go is not something you can actually practise it kind of happens like magic when the ground is set for it. What you can practise she says is gentleness and precision. Precision as in focus, concentration seeing things for what they are. Gentleness for each mis step, inability to move, the meandering route we are likely to take.

So where does that leave us now? We haven’t finished thrashing out our complicated life stories, configuring the various threads to our pain stories. But we have shared a lot. We have been sharing a lot for years. And we know the things that press us down. So much of what we have shared over the past year has been about seeing them more clearly owning up and loosening those ties. It’s a process possibly there’ll always be more to undo and unhem from ourselves and we’ll keep coming back in different forms until we’re light enough to float up into the atmosphere. And along the way there are lots of opportunities for letting go, or for setting the ground for letting go. Intentions, rituals, marking moments all have a role in this…But we also need lightness that’s part of what helps the magic happen. There’s a deep mystery to all of this – which our rational minds can’t quite grasp. Coming from a culture of words – Words to map, words to express, words to limit and free we sometimes forget the power beyond words and store too much faith in the act of saying, as if saying it is enough…
Cause really you have a sense of why you build a certain path, follow a route, but not really where it will go. There’s a balancing act there – focus and openness. Precision. Gentleness. Letting go.

You must know the person you are “or a pattern that others made may prevail in the world” A lot of our writing has explored this. How we have channelled our energy into serving forces that suppress us – for acceptance, for recognition. We want to reclaim this energy for ourselves. Ignite that fierce compassion which guards our hearts and takes back what’s ours.

“The medicine for the wound is right next to wound”
I am not certain what this means. When i think of my pain stories they are just painful. But i can feel that in seeing them for what they are there is healing. Perhaps it’s the old story – when we run from the hurt it just gets worse. When you stop and face it, you find how to heal it…I had a dream recently
I was at the drill hall but it was a different looking building, and I had just had my Danish class there. I was walking around with the guys. The building was doing this weird thing to us, the rooms and passages kept on changing. We were walking around with a torch following strange noises, like the scuttling of creatures. Doors would suddenly shut closing off our way. It was dark and creepy but I wanted to go further, see more. Then all of sudden the passages disappeared and instead there was a smart modern shop – something that the outsiders would be able to see. Nomonde was next me now and told me that the building is actually always the same. It’s my fear that makes it change. I could see that now, it was this organic mass shifting in response to my fear. I could see the possibility of facing it without the fear but told her it’s hard to be there without being scared….
It’s like that one step forward one step back, touch my power and run away. So we continue, giving each courage in the dance.

“People are disturbed not by the events but by the meanings they make of them”
We don’t just experience things, we develop narratives around them and then we repeat these narratives. I have been noting that in myself recently. Like with this decision not to do my Phd. That impulse is there to feel like a failure – it doesn’t work out because it’s me, because there’s something wrong. Then there’s the – what will people think of me, I look like a loser – parcel. But that impulse is not as strong. It’s there but not a truth as it used to be. I choose to not acknowledge the pain story as truth, even as it runs through me…There’re there as ghosts, as I turn more and more to finding my own truth, defining who I am on my own terms.
As Julie writes it:
“It is the strength of the ego that holds on to the agreements of pain. It says to you: ‘This pain speaks the truth’; ‘If you give up this agreement, you will be destroyed’; ‘This is who I am.’ The ego doesn’t want you to listen to your wisdom heart and follow a true god home. Rather it wants you to stay lost and focused on false god rooted in the pain of the past”.

Sometimes it feels that my ego holds me on a leash, I can get some space but too much and it pulls me back, roughly. Then I feel lost.

In the West

Purification, release, recapitulation
Most important is holding in one’s heart-mind a wish for purification, a wish for freedom.

by Maia Marie 2012

The Bats of Tropical London AKA Reading the Natural Life of the City

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:

http://the-reunion.org.uk/

http://www.medicinecards.com/

http://www.julietallardjohnson.com/wheel-of-initiation

Earned the Right to Take Rest?

I press Stop.

Some friends who follow this blog have commented to me recently that it seems like I am perpetually tired and fighting to go on. My writing reflects this struggle with fatigue. They have a point. Young families, social housing, PhD’s and deep spiritual excavations can take it out of a woman! Never mind the entropy of domestic life. You clean it up, and it just gets messy again. Round and round we go.

I notice as part of my Wheel practice, that my initial response to the observation is denial and defensiveness. I am not tired! Or so what if I am! I can handle it all! It’s hard to admit sometimes that I am not as in control as I like to think I am.

It’s OK to press stop.

It’s OK to let my family know that tonight I’d like to go to bed early and be alone for a little while.

It’s definitely OK to do this without a drama. When we give ourselves permission to rest when we need to, it’s easy to let the people close to us know that we are doing so. No big deal. When our need to take a break is tainted with judgements about worthiness and the need to state that we have earned this rest, well, we can act up in all kinds of silly and destructive ways.

Sometimes I need a rest and in the eyes of my inner critic, I didn’t really do anything to justify it. So the lists of ‘all that I do’ come out, the whiny voice of self-justification. I feel compelled to share these reasons with those around me. I teach my children that rest must be earned. Really? And who calculates what counts as work? Was I at that meeting? What kind of cultural belief am I agreeing to when I refuse to allow my knackered body an early night because I didn’t earn it? How much time do I waste by not resting when I need to, in the name of a false belief in what counts as productivity, that is sanctioned by a wider consumer-material culture? The flip side of a cultural belief in needing to ‘earn a rest’ is the equally damaging response of taking too much rest, too much leisure, too much reward. I earned this!

I sat with a friend today watching my son walking. He mastered it about three weeks ago. And he’s really good now. Because every day he practices: he gets up and starts trying to walk. We were reflecting on how babies just get on with stuff, not because they have to or someone tells them to, but because of the sheer joy of it. They haven’t got those moral filters on. They never get tired of their work – to keep walking, to keep making sounds. Except, actually they do!  They walk and walk and walk, and then they get tired. Or hungry. Or they make a big old dump. And if we are wise carers with gently flexible schedules, we let them sleep. Or eat. Or clean them up. And when the business of rest or sustenance or discomfort is done, they carry on, from that pure place of single minded Joy. I am mindful when I follow this formula. Walk when I need to. Eat when I need to. Rest when I need to.

I’ll keep walking towards it! And tonight, I press Stop. Early bedtime, with a hot water bottle and a good film to watch in bed. I begin ten days of recapitulation exercises tomorrow, as I slowly exit from the West of the Wheel.  Visiting my Circle Partner in Denmark in 10 days time. Literally heading North!  Work I choose to do. And when I don’t stress about whether this counts as the kind of work that earns me a rest, then everything is cool in the world.

Night night xx

Of Dreams and Foxes

This is the story of how the poem ‘Night Foxes’ got written.  It’s all about how creative acts can bubble to the surface.

Not sure why I’m sharing this.  It’s sort of mundane, personal… but why not open up an exploration of the ways in which creativity emerges and see what other experiences anyone has to share?   I would love to hear.
It was during a visit from my father.  Dad had been with us for a week already.   On good form but intense.  Always so caught up in his own head; the incessant talking.  My own latent anger.  It was the end of a nice, but emotional, day where his family had come over for lunch.  My aunt had cried while talking to me and her daughter about the time our grandmother, her mother, had died.    My Aunt told me later by e mail that she always felt guilty about how differently her and her brother’s life had turned out.  Her’s marked by material success and good health as she aged; his by big losses and struggles with mental and physical health.  I was getting a little lost in the big feelings that were coming up.
That’s the general background.
Before going to bed that night, attempting to settle, I drew a Medicine card.  It was the Fox.
This is a summary of Fox’s message:
The ability to meld into one’s surroundings and be unnoticed is a powerful gift when one is observing the activities of others.  Fox’s ability to be unseen allows it to be the protector of the family unit. If danger arises, Fox is johnny-on-the- spot. Nanih Waiya, Great Spirit in the Choctaw tonguehonors Fox with the duty of keeping the family together and safe. This is accomplished through Fox’s ability to observe undetected, without making others self-conscious. Fox is always concerned with the safety of family members and is an excellent talisman for those traveling far afield.
If Fox has chosen to share its medicine with you, it is a sign that you are to become like the wind, which is unseen yet is able to weave into and through any location or situation. You would be wise to observe the acts of others rather that their words at this time. Use your cunning nature in a positive way; keep silent about who and what and why you are observing. In learning the art of camouflage, you need to test your ability to pull this off.  One test of exercise that may be helpful to you is deciding to be invisible. In doing this exercise, you might try to visualize your body as part of your surroundings, full of the colours of the location you are in. See yourself in your mind’s eye, moving with stealth and grace, unheeded by others. If you do it right, it works! You can leave a party unnoticed or become as unobtrusive as a piece of furniture, watching the developing
drama of the subjects you are studying.   
With Fox medicine, you are being asked to see
all types of uses for Oneness.
 
I reflected on the aptness of this card after a day of being so immersed in the memories and dynamics of the preceding generation.  My father and Aunt don’t see each other very often.  Their meetings are years apart, and can be hard work.  As a daughter and niece, I had hosted this lunch because it was a means to create a space where we could be together.   Though not always easy, there is something important about witnessing the dynamic of the family; accepting it; opening to it.  The lunch was not about ‘me’, but about witnessing the older generation, however imperfectly.  It was my attempt to acknowledge the ‘oneness’ of my story with theirs.  And I suppose it had required me to become less visible, to listen more (I struggle with listening).  Fox is also a significant animal for my younger sister, who is away right now travelling in North America.  Drawing it, I felt connected to her, able to draw on the support and insight she gives to what can be a heavy family dynamic.
I then went to sleep, but was woken a couple of hours later by shrieking sounds outside on the street.  I got up and looked.  There were two foxes on the road outside!  They appeared to be having a fight, eventually going their separate ways.  I watched the last fox make its way out of sight, then wrote this down:
 
The dead of night
Foxes wake, sounding warnings
Crossing rivers
Made of
Sand
 
I went back to bed and had this dream:
I had through a process of becoming, infiltration, luck and knowing, become part of a tour of Brazilian musicians, who were world famous, and also deeply rooted in a spiritual tradition.  The most well known of the musicians, an older, slightly porky man, showed me evidence of sacred places where he had been instructed not to play music by ghosts who had communicated through till receipts (yes, the kind you get from Tesco.   There is no accounting for the sub-concious!)  He showed me where they had marked the receipts with ‘zero’ to communicate the silence.  This was not a message not to play music -far from it- it was a message about which places on earth are places of sacred silence.  A different thing altogether.  It was powerful.  I put on a big show of being freaked out.  Inside I was amazed and glad to have been included in this inner circle.  I had gained access to it at the Stage Door.   When stopped by the bouncers, I had talked my way in by partly bluffing and partly remembering that I was a Fado singer, who had grown up immersed in the world of Fado through my family.  As I spoke to him I was engaging in a process of piecing together, and creating,  the story of my life, partly fact, partly fiction.  Anyway.  It was enough to get me through the door.
There it is.  In the waking world, I have grown with the world of Fado as a marker of identity, albeit distantly.  My father and Aunt are of Portuguese descent, and their grandmother, a seamstress and a poet, had once made a dress for the famous Fado singer Amalia Rodrigues.  This was a story I had heard a lot as child.  There is more to excavate in this dream, but for me the main thing right now is this sense of making a life story of one’s own that is intimately connected to all the life stories of all the others who are around you, came before you, will come after you.
Since then I have been practising the technique of ‘disappearing’.  This is not so much about magic as it is about lessening one’s sense of being separate.  Doing it, I was reminded of something I had read once by Alice Walker in which she spoke of imagining yourself as gone from the earth, having left not a trace.  In a world obsessed with legacy, fame, being noticed and remembered, this is a powerfully challenging exercise to do.  In terms of my Wheel of Initiation practice, it has provoked an examination of the ways in which I engage with the process of writing my life story in the West.  What version am I telling?  How do I inhibit growth by attempting to tell a perfect version?  What other pain stories, apart from my own, are revealed in hearing what I am writing told through other people’s perspectives?  What do I carry?  What does it mean to release these burdens?  Disappear?  Cultivate spaces of silence?  Not as an escape, but as a form of practice that lessens the attachment of ego to the idea of separation as a primary identifier of Self.
These are tentative reflections on the ways that creativity, in all kinds of forms,  bubbles to the surface out of the soup of everyday life, dreams, coincidence and the opening of practice.

Dreaming of Darkness

Light in the night (Castelldefels)

Light in the night (Castelldefels) (Photo credit: jcarlosn)

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.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/oct/31/jeanette-winterson-night-guide

http://www.metahistory.org/guidelines/EroticUses.php

://www.amazon.co.uk/Wheel-Initiation-Practices-Releasing-Inner/dp/1591431115/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1336561683&sr=8-1