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

The Stuck Places aka It’s Okay, Take Your Time

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.

1.  http://starsrainsunmoon.com/2012/07/12/gulping-sleep/

2. Poem by Maia Marie
Making love to you is a ritual
When the rain is done and the air is new and clean and fresh
After all of that
I still love you, I just love
It lays there bare, a knowing, a fact
A feeling on its own
Separate from place and journeys and destinations
I open and close the window as the wind calms and sun appears
I spend my day like this
Adjusting a sail
Yet the tree always stands in the courtyard letting the wind through its branches easily
Perhaps it’s true, it has no choice but to grow towards the sun from where it’s rooted.
I look for my voice in hiding places
A child playing, koo koo

Fear and the Initiate

What is it about initiation that requires a state of fear to emerge? This is in addition to the exhiliration and the wonderment of excavating the layers of pain that have accumulated over a lifetime.  In anthropology, it is a central question in the vast literature on initiations across myriad cultures – are initiations by necesity violent and disruptive? Violence itself requires clarification here.  Yes, many initiations contain elements of physical violence, but there is also the violence of rupture in the psyche as the old ways of being are dismantled and the initiate is cast into a state of confusion.

This is where I am.  Stranded in the West, the place of purification and release, writing chapter after chapter of a life story which becomes more detailed and demanding even as the time I have to write it shrinks.  Aren’t initiates supposed to be unfettered by family obligations and parenting responsibilities? What does undertaking the deep work of examining your life in this kind of detail mean when you are NOT the ideal neophyte? To be plain, how do you do it?  Right now, I’m blundering about bludgeoning my way through without much finesse or clarity.  I snatch writing time.  I wonder how on earth I will finish my thesis, or write my way out the west when the baby is sick, school pick up is now and the laundry won’t do itself.

I see and read the wonderful work of other mothers, with more children than me, and I feel a little envious of their composure and connection to a deep well of joyful conversation with the Creative that right now seems to be elusive.

I recognise a pain story here.  The one I tell about how other people have the answers and resources, not me.  I feel this one tugging on my arm now.  A shadow that whispers if it’s not perfect it’s not worth doing, and leaves me floundering in the messy uncompleted.

In between, I scan the skies for signs and melody.   Anything to give some indication that it’s worth continuing.

And here’s the rub.  There is no choice but to continue.  And I mean that.  Signs or no signs, when you’re this deep in the woods, you kind of have to just get on with it.  Sigh!  And there’s me hoping for some dazzling sideshow of brilliance and recognition to keep me going.  Entering the Wheel of Initiation on the high of a quasi-miraculous series of lucid dreams means its hard to let go of wanting those fireworks to keep going off.

Anyway.  I’m glad I wrote this.  Gave myself the permission to write.  To be here now.  Sitting in the dark, tapping this piece into my phone for a quick upload.  Hanging in there, fearful and without the razzle dazzle.  Somehow going forward.  Inch by inch.  The state of fear is a messenger.  It tells me to watch out for those inner saboteurs who would gladly kill my fledging process because there is not enough acclaim or tangible reward in sight.  It reminds me that sometimes its necessary to keep your head down, crack a joke and get on with it.  Cheeky smile intact.  Judgement put on ice.  And if I really need a sign, just look up.  There it is, on the left side of Waterloo Bridge, crossing to the North Bank.  Fight the Nothingness.  Big Ben chimes eleven, and I’m done.

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Clearing out Pain Stories & Trusting the River

Right now I am writing my life story, a big part of identifying the pain stories and agreements that are running the show behind the scenes. This felt initially quite indulgent and a bit egotistical.  also hard…. too big.  But this is what is called for in the West of the Wheel.  Old ways of being must be allowed to die with dignity in order to make space.  It’s a bit like clearing out a massive old cupboard, a really really big one. Have I mentioned the size of this thing? Seriously. Huge.  It’s taking our circle forever to go through this part of the Wheel.  But this is the thing with clutter – everyone has different quantities of it and relationships to it.  In our circle, going through the Wheel for the first time, this is a first telling.  Perhaps we are being ambitious. Trying to do a mass clear out, and detailed ordering at the same time.  That’s a lot of labour.  But the more clutter you clear, the lighter it gets.  We are sharing the stories in weekly chapters, each of us taking turns to be teller or listener.  Whether sharing or witnessing, the experience has so far been  tremendously powerful in releasing all the stuff that had been locked in these stories.  It’s good, important work.  And like any work that is significant, there’s a lot of resistance up in here!  It is so hard to turn up for this and stay motivated to write. Yet, like any other clutter busting project, once I get past the gates of resistance and  start, it’s like a rushing river….. torrents of words and memories spill out of me.  The power with which they come tells me that these stories have been longing to be released.  Clamouring for a hearing, however humble. We have barely scratched the surface of childhood in two months, but if this is how long it takes, then this is how long it takes.  Shew! All we have to do is keep turning up for work, letting the river carry us where it will, clearing all the debris on its way.  At this stage, it can be tough to let go and trust the river to do its work.  Maybe, the trick here is not to try too hard to understand the process at this stage…. just let go and get on with getting it out.  See where it goes.  Watching, and feeling, the river flow when you’re in it.

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