Spring Appears

Leaning to the side

Caffeine spiralling up and through

My heart centre

Out the top

Of the chakra

That sits

On the open hole

That is my head, exposed

In between

The traffic sounds

Clitter Clatter

Keys dance, phone rings

Spring Appears

Bird Song

In a tree

Lewisham Way

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When Work is Resistance

I’ve thought a lot about resistance over the past year.  Read Stephen Pressfield’s book, been inspired and shaken by the rallying cry to recognise the insidious forms resistance takes.  For me this meant getting on with my work; with writing; no matter what it took.  The results were powerful, and productive.  I realised I did have it in me to do this thing.  To finish the thesis I have been working on for years.  To move on.  To use other forms of writing to take the pressure off the dissertation, to allow it to be what it is (an academic training exercise) rather than the bearer of all my memories and experience.

I’m handing it in in two weeks.  And the pressure is on to keep working.  To keep up the momentum and get it done.  And I’ve been there at the coal face.  Everyday, writing, editing, crafting.  Releasing the need for it to be perfect (it isn’t).  Releasing the need to know everything (I don’t).

So what’s gone wrong?

I got an inkling of it when my daughter fractured her arm in the playground last week and the first thought that flashed into my head was , “But what about my work?”

Then a dear friend extended an invitation to come to a surprise birthday celebration for her husband.  First response?  “But what about my work?”

Well, what about my work?  In pursuing it so single mindedly I have begun to exclude other daily practices that give my work life and purpose.  In the aftermath of the resistance to engage with what is happening elsewhere in my life, my work has begun to congeal.  I find that though I turn up everyday, progress is slow, the creative spark that was transforming the text vanished.  Resistance came in by the back door.  Not because I wasn’t turning up for work, but because I wasn’t turning off the work.

I see that Resistance is also about not participating fully in my own life.  That the single minded pursuit of work, when it is at the cost of a balanced Wheel, drains the life blood of what sustains the work in the first place.

The Love that keeps you turning up.

The Love that lets you leave when it’s time to.

Untangling the threads of these final weeks, I see that my challenge is not to simply turn up for work.  It is also to blur the boundary of work and play, to make work a long term satisfying practice that I return to, restoring the meaningfulness of work as part of my Life, rather than a crash diet I go on every now and again.

Pause to keep going.  Funny that.

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

Not Writing at Dawn Bears a Late Harvest (aka Another Day. Another Cup of Tea.)

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.

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Lighting the Fire

Sometimes its possible to merge work and life. The times when you type one handed with the baby on your lap. Other times, you have to bide your time. Wait for the right conditions to light the fire. Merging work and life means to dance between the things that sustain you, that need to be done, the work you do not because you have to, but because you have to. Writing, politicking, serving, parenting, cooking, cleaning, talking, reading, sowing seeds, cutting grass, homework, housework, presentations, dissertations. These are the things we dance between. And there is also the necessity to pause, take a breath. Without that, the complexity of the dances we attempt to sustain is well and truly screwed. Right about now, I have to pause. Chapter 3 has been slaying me, emotional rollercoaster and the disturbing of so many demanding ancestors.  The baby wants to crawl. My daughter falls over and needs to be held. This is my work, no great shakes. In order to do it, be present enough to muddle through, I have to pause. Look at these logs. Feel the fire contained in the wood, not yet released. Then I finish chapter 3, laugh through bedtime, cheer the first crawl, hang out the washing, hell, maybe even wash my hair. But first, I pause and return to my breath for just a minute. At the end of this sentence. Stop.

The work-life balance myth

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Oftentimes it is tricky and maybe even impossible to separate work and life. What does that thing ‘work life balance‘ mean anyway? It implies that work and life are somehow intrinsically separate things. This is a western hang over inherited partly from the booze up of the Enlightenment when that Cartesian division of mind and body got honed and perfected. Dividing work and life is an extension of that. When I try to balance work as a writer with life as a mother of two little people, things get ill. It is hard, draining, difficult to strike a balance between such demanding, consuming passions. I am lost somewhere in the mix, chasing an ideal of perfection in two spheres that can’t be achieved. The result as I’ve observed time and time again is stagnation combined with guilt in my work and irritability combined with guilt in my parenting.

So change the script. Recognise this work-life division is an illusion. When you can. Because it saves your skin. It’s saving mine right now. I’m typing this one handed on my phone. My 8 month old son is on my lap chewing up a piece of bread. I dropped my daughter at school about an hour ago and her pink scooter is under the table in the cafe where I’m getting a bit of breakfast and a cup of tea for 20 pence.  Destabilising the tyranny of the work-life balancing act requires sustenance. The working conditions aren’t ideal, but hell, when are they? I can always find a million excuses not to write. Why not just write anyway, as part of the flow of life more generally? Perfection is the enemy of the good. That’s how  the Buddha puts it. Sitting here, my son warm and cosy on my lap, another cup of tea on the way, things are good. And that’s good enough for me.

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http://mommyhuh.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/work-life-imbalance/