Title Image

Relationship

Cannon Ball

Sometimes it is a slight tremor that cleaves a reservoir of ancient sorrow.

A rebuff by a friend or family member. An email, a text, you thought you had deleted, that besieges you, ravaging your heart. Sometimes it takes a cannon ball to crash through the structures of our carefully constructed lives: a trauma in the shape of death, divorce, or terminal illness…

This week, grief came to call, throwing a dark shroud over the landscape of my life. The death of my beloved, chocolate-coloured Burmese released a deluge of sorrow, plaintive echoes of an unbounded lamentation.

Each one of us has a unique journey. A timeline marked by graves of grief, some neglected, some still tended daily or on certain occasions. For some, letting go, moving on, comes easily. Others flee from the ravenous jaws of grief, buffered by a smokescreen of a smiling face, or the distraction of a full schedule.

Times of sorrow are not events, but transitional processes that unfold slowly.  These are sacred times in our life journeys. We are obliged to review, to reminisce. To embrace the lacerating pain, and make up a story that makes sense of it all, for us. It is at times of mourning that we must forgo the busyness, the anti-depressants, the avoidance and embrace the weight of silence that descends in the wake of loss. It is at these times we must fully experience the darkness, contemplate the nothingness, without trying to replace or substitute. Our inner children require nurture (not a spa-day of pampering), our bodies require rest, nourishment, a withdrawal of the senses. Our souls require silence, so that grieving can become sacred, rituals relevant.

Grief can be deeply unsettling, disturbing, and uncomfortable for others to witness. So often, I find myself stumbling over words, mumbling platitudes, sending my “deepest sympathies”. Shakespeare knew that grief requires framing: “Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak, whispers the o’er-fraught heart, and bides it break.” And physician and pathologist, Sir Henry Maudsley wrote at the dawn of the twentieth century “sorrows which find no vent in tears may soon make other organs weep.”

Kahlil Gibran observed “Tears and laughter are inseparable. The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain…. Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy. Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced…

We cry when we are joyful, and when we are overwhelmed by grief. Emotional tears differ from the slicing-of-onions tears. They contain hormones and endorphins which are a moist balm to the searing pain. Tears herald the depth of feelings, reveal relics of unresolved emotions. But only words can identify what lies buried in the heart.

In life, there are those people and animals we deeply love, those we meet in body and mind, a few very precious souls who know our souls. They may be born into homes, cities, countries, so far away from our original starting points. Through our choices, and the complex interwoven chainmail of synchronistic events, our journeys converge; mingle, often for just one brief tremulous moment. Tempus fugit … time flees. With each passing milestone, an anniversary of a death, or a birth or something new, the sweet remembrance of a time tinted now with nostalgia, we become aware of the transience of this life and the Mystery of it all. Sorrow can be a gestation period, long cold waiting in the dank bunker of nothingness… The bittersweet memories, “little bit of your taste in my mouth…” the faint perfume of sadness, the remembrance of deep sense of aloneness that pervades our lives cyclically in a heap of broken images. The inconstant ebb and flow of feelings. The fallow periods of sorrow that herald the bright bud of hope. We may appear less efficient in the world of doingness, and feel as though we are falling apart. We are. Everything will be a mess, and we are required to laboriously re-build from new foundations.

Sorrow, melancholy, depression, like the clouds that scud across moonlit skies to obscure the pure luminescence of the lunar face, are ephemeral, always cyclical. Like the ocean, they ebb and flow, to flood our shores with boundless energy and inspiration, or recede like the tide, revealing shards of broken shells and glistening pebbles etched in the wet sand.

Do we really ever get over ourselves? Should we even try?

“I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano; A stage where every man must play a part, And mine is a sad one” the bard said.  Some walk lightly, some dance and sing along the way, others have a more sombre journey. A friend of mine shared that she had discovered a pair of pearl earrings in a velvet lined box. She had worn them only once. On her wedding day, a dewy-eyed bride, dressed in white. For her, these lustrous orbs from the watery deep enclose two tear drops of a frozen memory, the chronicle of a sacred day. She described how she had enfolded the cool silky smoothness in her hand, revisiting that time in her nascent life, to feel once more  the featherlike nudge of innocence, and the bittersweet lamentation of enormous loss.

Many of us may cope by framing a new narrative for the lost dreams and disappointments  that lie in wait like sharp stones on our path.  Nelson Mandela told a friend of mine who had a private luncheon with this iconic figure of the joy he experienced in his incarceration when he and the other prisoners would sing together as they worked crushing rock in the quarry, day after day in the searing sun and scalding wind. Many public figures have a narrative of their lives which fits their public persona. Often their birth charts may suggest otherwise. Nearly all of us have misty water-coloured memories of the way we were … our version of a prism of an event, faded by time, embellished by the re-telling.

When we are ready, we re-frame the story in the picture gallery of our life… or float like a cannon ball… until we understand why we are sinking… Damien Rice

THE TINY BOAT

God bless this tiny little boat
And me who travels in it
It stays afloat for years and years
And sinks within a minute.

And so the soul in which we sail
Unknown by years of thinking,
Is deeply felt and understood
The minute that it’s sinking.
Michael Leunig (1945- )

5

Both Sides Now

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”

Novelist Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities in 1859, during a time of huge social and political upheaval, violent revolution. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and in 1846, it was the best and worst of time for Neptune to be “discovered” simply because we were ready, collectively, to embrace the archetype, to make another evolutionary shift. It was a time for the Virgin Mary to make an appearance to two wide-eyed children in La Salette, France. It was a time of cholera in England, death by starvation in Ireland. It was time for the spiritualism movement to gain nebulous momentum. It was time for exploring the occult and psychic phenomena. It was time to use cocaine as a local anaesthetic, transporting patients into the sensation-less realm of Neptune.

Neptune is associated with sacrifice, victim consciousness, addiction, pain, renunciation, mass delusion, ambiguity, romance, spirituality, dreams … an ethereal longing to transcend this earthly realm. In Neptune’s sapphire waters, we swim towards “enlightenment” or wash up on the shore of our addictions. We embody our hopes and dreams or passively watch the desiccated flotsam and jetsam of beached yearnings bleach like brittle bones, unable to support the full-formed body of our creativity.

Celestial heralds of the best and worst of times, Neptune and Chiron, dipped into the mystical ouroboric waters of Pisces, in April 2011. Chiron was “discovered” only in 1977, although like Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers, it had been silently, invisibly there all the time. Chiron embraces the archetype of the “wounded healer” or Shaman, and with the advent of the New Age Movement, we were ready. Chiron compels each one of us to imbibe the sacred medicine of suffering as an initiation into our wisdom and conscious understanding, so that we can enter a new stage of our spiritual journey. This is what the Neptune/Chiron energy has brought to consciousness, making us aware that we are all in the same evolutionary spirit boat. As we individually breathe in the star dust that envelops us in a cloak of collective consciousness, perhaps it is not enough to be a mere custodian of spiritual books or to adopt the cosmology of the Native Americans, the Tibetans, or the Hindus. The flaccid underbelly of the “New Age” subculture will need vigorous toning for the Maharishi Effect to expand into a coherent template of love and unity in collective consciousness.

In our own lives, we now have the opportunity to embrace compassion and spiritual maturity in an intensely personal way. This may mean being more responsible and ethically conscious of the foods we buy, the clothes we wear, the choices we make when we opt to buy or not to buy bright shiny disposable technology (are you aware that that sexy little screen on your mobile phone requires a non-renewable rare earth metal, called indium, that may run out in the next ten years?)  Is “virtual reality” perhaps a sham to escape the appalling loneliness of our disconnected lives? So many of us in the west live in the ivory towers of the intellect. A place where the ultimate goal is unattainable perfection through sheer will – of our bodies, our minds, our bank accounts, our relationships. We self-help, self-improve. Our realm is a place of great straining and striving to accomplish some goal in the future, all the while wearing insulated space suits that keep us separate, safe and small.

“I am a Rock,” sang Simon and Garfunkel… “I am shielded in my armour, Hiding in my room, safe within my womb. I touch no one and no one touches me. I am a rock, I am an island. And a rock feels no pain; And an island never cries.”

Neptune and Chiron will  gradually dissolve all that we thought was of substance in our lives through the long Pisces transit (2018 for Chiron and 2026 for Neptune). Over these next decades, we may be required to examine the porous membrane of social networking sites. To be more discerning and honest about how we Eat, Pray and Love. To ponder why it is that we feel the need for the puritanical cleansing of our souls to make us “better” than we are right now. To question, with intelligence and humility, the illusion of what we “know” as “truth” about the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, our lovers, our friendships, our god, our footprint on this earth, be it “sustainable” or stiletto-heeled living. To examine our societal and cultural beliefs. To question our desire to belong to the tribes we form at the office, the gym, and our places of worship. To look, from both sides now, at our own narratives, the “rights” and the “wrongs” about this world we live in. To acknowledge that just because it “happens” it may not mean it is honourable, just or right.

Joni Mitchell  knows the bows and flows so well:

“I’ve looked at life from both sides now,

From win and lose, and still somehow

It’s life’s illusions I recall.

I really don’t know life at all.”

 

0

Old Ideas

There’s a fresh wind shaking the branches of the old oak trees of humanity. A whole generation of baby boomers at the golden zenith of their potential are growing new careers, committing to new relationships, scattering their creative offerings across a world on the brink of great social and cultural change. “Retirement” has become an anachronism in a new zeitgeist that sets fire to the taboo on old age and death. “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again,” said C.S. Lewis. In our communities, our families, our friendship circles, there are remarkable men and women who defy the stereotypes, say a quiet “yes” to the soft flutter in their belly to embrace all the possibilities that allow them to start reading fairy tales once more.

Leonard Cohen, at 77, has just released his latest album, “Old Ideas”, Engelbert Humperdinck at 75, has been nominated to represent the UK at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. The British film industry, mirroring the collective lake of consciousness, has released two films dealing with ageing from very different perspectives; The Iron Lady”  and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”.  Meryl Streep, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Clint Eastwood, Dustin Hoffman, Barbarba Streisland, Louise Hay, Dame “Judi” Dench, Oprah Winfrey… teachers, entrepreneurs, celebrities, and ordinary men and women living extra-ordinary lives – powerfully, positively, productively. As Pluto, god of the Underworld moves silently through the sign of Capricorn, the archetypes of the senex, and the crone are being embodied in these feisty elders, suggesting a gradual rebalancing of our collective cult of youth worship. Jane Fonda, now in her 70s is tackling Act III of her life with the same trailblazing revolutionary spirit that she brought to political causes, and the go for the burn”  fitness videos that plugged aerobics into the living rooms of millions of women. In her book, Prime Time” , she cites studies that show that on average, (in the well-fed, medicated, war-free West, I assume) an average of 34 years have been added to human life expectancy. She describes how at 46, she began to envision the old woman she wanted to be, and quotes gerontologists who believe that threshold events like widowhood, loss of work, moving home, even a terminal illness, are not experienced as traumas “if they were anticipated and, in effect, rehearsed as part of the life cycle.” Although much of her book has a disease model approach to sexuality and health, it is a starting point for a more soulful approach to living a richly meaningful life. The longevity revolution will require a compass and a new course.

By the year 2020, eighty million Americans will be above the age of sixty. Senior citizens will outnumber young people under the age of 18. In America the Wise” , Theodore Roszak writes of the implications of “the longevity revolution” on culture and social values. Roszak feels that we are demographically illiterate”  as a society and have not yet begun to grasp the implications of mass longevity. Never before have elders possessed the social weight to make their values count in matters of policy and the distribution of wealth… The growing numbers of old people in America could bring about an unprecedented cultural shift toward a more nurturant caregiving ethos, an appreciation for social interdependence and cultivated leisure, a transcendence of competitive striving and status anxiety, and a greater appreciation of the wisdom that comes with age.” There are, of course, millions of older men and woman who feel alienated, invisible, and impotent. Millions who suffer physical and mental degeneration that shrinks their lives and darkens their purpose and meaning. “Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for,” said Viktor Frankl. When roles of Parent, Partner, Executive, Homemaker, or Club affiliate are shed, shadowy stretches of depleted time merge soundlessly into months, years that slide into a dark pit of despondency and negativity. The weather becomes either too hot or too cold. A  powerless refrain of lack of money, work, love, health, or support … buries us in the rubble of our concrete thoughts. Albert Camus said darkly, “alas, after a certain age, every man is responsible for his face,” and the truth of that stark statement is revealed in the mirror each morning.

So I guess it falls upon each one of us, no matter what the circumstances of our lives, to cultivate genuine gratitude for the little things: Waking each morning with the ability to get ourselves out of bed. The miracle of seeing the glistening dew on the grass, a coral sunrise, spring flowers. The enchanted chorus of birdsong. The stillness of our kitchen. A cup of hot tea. Our lungs that draw in lifegiving air, our brave hearts that faithfully beat, despite the heartache and disappointments we have endured. Only we can take the blindfold off our eyes. Only we can feel our hearts blossom open petal by fragrant petal. Only we can wear the crown of age, and embody wisdom and our authentic selves. Albert Camus says “In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” Only we can stand tall in the  zenith of our lives, and delight in the reading of fairy tales.

Going Home – Leonard Cohen

3

Landslide

 

Change is a word, like the outworn “transformation”, that paradoxically stops us in our tracks. We may like the idea of changing. But when it comes to significant changes in our lives, most of us recoil from the bracing air that blasts from the open doorway. We retreat to the familiarity of our routines, familiar landscapes, in a world where the speed of change seems faster than the human psyche can contain. Sometimes our souls cannot catch up with the rush of lives lived to the incessant pulse of noise, busyness. Though, there are times when the flame of our courage burns brighter, illuminating the way out of the familiar, into the unknown.  Market research shows that at those threshold times of transition in our lives –  the end of a relationship, the springtime of a new love affair, loss of a job, move to a new country, or a  pregnancy, are fertile beds to grow new habits – and shopping behaviours! If we are to seize these fleeting moments, make lasting changes, set off on new adventures, we require more than courage. We need a sense of meaning.

Many of us suffer from a sense of something missing. It’s not our relationships, our friendships, or our work. A vague loss of meaning, purpose, enshrouds us like a thick fog. Despite a plethora of self-help books, YouTube offerings, workshops, support groups that offer a better way to love, to live. Despite having the tools, holding the key to The Secret, we still cannot find a way to turn our lives around in an irrevocably changing world.

We may feel we are going through the motions, even living a lie. We may experience a delectable plume of joy, a rush of enthusiasm as a holiday, a new project, a new passion, displaces the sense of emptiness –  for a while. The intense peacefulness after a meditation retreat, the peak experience of falling in love, or a spiritual awakening, stirs up the murky mud from the depths of our psyche, bringing the darkness into clearer view. We awaken the demons from the dark folds of our unconscious and find ourselves raging, or  hollow and sorrowful, after a delicious interlude of light and love. So often, we may feel we are moving backwards rather than forward in our spiritual growth, as we enter that dank valley that St. John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul”.

Every beginning marks the end of something.  Says Marianne Williamson, “It’s when we face the darkness squarely in the eye – in ourselves and in the world – that we begin at last to see the light. And that is the alchemy of personal transformation. In the midst of the deepest, darkest night, when we feel most humbled by life, the faint shadow of our wings begins to appear. Only when we have faced the limits of what we can do, does it begin to dawn on us the limitlessness of what God can do.”

Many of us enter our spiritual and psychological growth as consumers, shopping around for therapists, healers, gurus, to get us “fixed” more quickly. Some of us compare ourselves to other, “more spiritually evolved”  people than ourselves, only to judge ourselves as lacking. The competitive, consumer model will not work if we want authentic lives. There are many astrological significators for the various stages of our growth. These celestial cycles are often painful and necessarily slow. “The caterpillar is luckier than we are. It goes through its transformation in the relative peace and security of a cocoon. We, however, may be in the middle of a profound shift in our unfoldment and growth and yet, more often than not, are expected to go on with our daily life as if nothing is happening,” says Dr. Roberto Assagioli, founder of psychosynthesis. These messy crises are a natural part of the cycle of growth. We plummet from the peaks dishevelled and disheartened by what seems to be the enormity of the forces that obstruct our movement to where we long to be.  When we hear, “you were much better before you started meditating/ going to therapy/yoga…” know our mettle is being tested. When we flatline into despair, go a little further. Anatole France says, “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” It is in the landslides of change, as we are covered with the muddy debris of our choices, that we discover our alignment with the seasons of our lives, our belonging to this beautiful Earth. It is when we courageously climb down from the mountain, do we discover a new landscape, a new season in our lives…. Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide. This is for you, Bev …

 

I took my love and I took it down
I climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
‘Til the landslide brought me down

Oh, mirror in the sky
What is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail thru the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

Mmm Mmm… I don’t know… Mmm Mmm… Mmm Mmm…

Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Children get older
I’m getting older too

 

 

 

4

If not now?

Behind the proscenium arch of the Greek stage, a tragedy of calamitous human suffering is enacted as government officials quaff cognac and puff at phallic cigars. In this modern day drama, the chorus are ordinary men and women. For many, suicide is the catharsis to loss of livelihood, shelter… and hope, as bloated politicians overstep legal boundaries, and machismo businessmen arrogantly avoid tax payments. This is not really a play about inflated subsidies and debt bingeing of the last decade. Behind the curtains of the euphemistically-named “austerity measures” which darkly ripple across the landscape of so many lives is a far more sombre enactment of a terrible crime.

To the ancient Greeks, Hubris was the greatest crime of all. The outcome, when mere mortals challenged the gods and their laws, overstepping the boundaries, was never without repudiation. There was no escaping the fated denouement. The ancient Greeks had two phrases that encapsulated Greek thinking, and are still relevant today: Know thyself. Nothing in excess.

The glare of the spotlight illuminates the Greek stage, yet in countries, boardrooms, factories, schools, and homes all over the world, misuse of power is a fatally flawed fractal design.

Today, the word Hubris is imbued with a sense of over-confident pride. Only with quiet contemplation and vigilant self examination can we acknowledge where we overstep the boundaries in our ignorance or self-righteousness. Only with scrupulous honesty can we hollow out behaviours that arrogantly assume our entitlement to friendship, or love, or money, or recognition, when it may be we who did not fulfil our side of the bargain. Can we truthfully claim we are owed something when it is so often we who were not present, diligent, honest, or loving?  Can we slouch flaccidly in the hammock of our own self-absorption, meting out judgements and criticisms that make others wrong, ourselves right?

All cultures have a code of ethics for thoughts, words and deeds that do not violate ourselves or other living things. In Sanskrit, for instance, Ahimsa means kindness and non-violence towards all living things. In Latin, Primum non nocere means first, do no harm.  Some codes take time to crack, and the best we can do is to cultivate the humble awareness of our connection to all living things and to do no harm. “An authentically empowered person is humble. This does not mean the false humility of one who stoops to be with those who are below him or her. It is the inclusiveness of one who responds to the beauty of each soul… It is the harmlessness of one who treasures, honours and reveres life in all its forms”- Gary Zukav.

Since late 2008, when Pluto entered Capricorn, financial and business structures have splintered. We have not yet seen the full trajectory of the Global Recession nor the full implications of misuse of power in government and big business. Recovery will be excruciatingly slow and desperately jobless. The irrevocable sweep of trans-formation (changing form, which always implies a dying) will impact the lives of each one of us in some way. Sombre Saturn, slowly retracing its orbit until October in ethical, judicious Libra, is a stern celestial marker pointing our attention to the necessity for responsibility, realism, and reason, and maturity in our personal lives, in our communities. Austere times require the wisdom of new governance, new law. If not now, then Uranus (until May 2018), dancing a gypsy dance through the sign of Aries (the incendiary energy of rebellion, uprisings, or self-immolation), will shake the flimsy foundations of “civilisation” as we have manifested it.

The fatal flaw in our society is our inherent arrogance. Our collective hubris that has brought Homo sapiens and the plant and animal species on our home planet to the chasm of annihilation.

Bullies and tyrants hold a convenient hook for all that is unacceptable and shadowy, too appalling to own in our personal lives and collectively. Be vigilant for the convenient human tendency to seek a Sacrificial Scapegoat… heavy-handed autocrats, the captains of sunken ships, the boss, ex-husband or wife, the querulous neighbour.  It falls upon each one of us to commit to acts of kindness that expand our capacity for love and generosity that open our awareness to our interconnectedness as living creatures on our beautiful  home planet. If not now, then when?

Tracy Chapman,If not now, then when?

1

Show Me Heaven

How do we become exiled from the inner sanctuary of our own essence?  How do we stay too long in situations, in relationships that bruise and scar.  For so many of us, life becomes a bleak winter of lacklustre, habitual behaviour, where we respond like laboratory rats to cues that trigger the reward centres in our brains, numb to the call of our bodies, the weeping of our souls. Pinned on strips of green felt, like jewel-winged butterflies, frozen in long-forgotten flight.

In her exquisite poem, Wild Geese, Mary Oliver extols:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

In our guilt-steeped Judaic Christian culture, we dishonour our instincts, cage the soft animal of our body. Inhabit only our heads, blindfold our eyes, oblivious to our own specialness.  From early childhood, we anesthetize our feelings; grow up, crippled by unworthiness, stunted by shame.  As adults we live captive lives. Senses dulled by the drone of the hive mentality, the tainted taboos ancient repressions. Too often we deny the jalapeño desire that heats our bellies, sets our hearts aflame.

Here is a poignant story, told by Antoinette Liechti Maccarone,  of an old Mexican woman whose husband lay dying.  Her granddaughter had come to assist her beloved grandmother with the rituals of bathing and preparation for the finality of his death. The old woman was terribly distressed at seeing her husband’s frail naked body. And her granddaughter asked, “What troubles you so, Grandmother?” Her grandmother replied, “My beautiful child, from our wedding night we kept our bodies covered from one another, always wearing our long cotton night clothes. I feel very sad now. He is such a handsome man even in his dying. I wish I had seen him fresh.”

And so we wait, we harness, we restrain our lusty natures until it is too late.  Freud believed that the Id lived in dark, inaccessible realm of our subconscious. It was Id that drove our archaic impulses, our unchained desires.  Rumi knew this voluptuous, dewiness of appetite, as he wrote, breathless, “There is some kiss we want with our whole lives, the touch of spirit on the body. Seawater begs the pearl to break its shell. And the lily, how passionately it needs some wild darling!”

Many cultures have “inversion rituals” that overthrow the social norm. These manifest in the form of bawdy carnivals, gay pride parades. And so to unleash our desire, to touch the warm wetness of our own animal softness, we may need our own inversion ritual. A little transgression to encourage the seed of fecund desire to grow in the garden of our delicious delight. This may be as risqué as wearing no underwear beneath a silky dress, dancing naked bathed in moonlight, making love under the stars on the beach, licking melted chocolate from the soft hollows of the one you love…or staying in bed all day, decadently dining on strawberries and cream … Perhaps today might be  the right time, the  perfect moment,  to break free from  the trusses that tie us all to beliefs and customs that cover our smiles, hush our laughter.

What little transgressions can you conjure up to bring novelty and magic to your erotic nature…. what sublimely sensual pleasure, what wanton playfulness to nurture the red rose of your uniqueness and joy this new day?  Allow the lantern of  the imaginal realm to light the landscape of your unchartered desire.  Gorge greedily from the banquet of life, with shining eyes and hungry heart. Climb out of the window, and feel the moonlight caress your skin. Says Rumi,At night, I open the window and ask the moon to come and press its face against mine. Breathe into me. Close the language door and open the love window. The moon won’t use the door, only the window.”

This is dedicated to Sophie: May you step onto the path of your own incredible beauty. May you press your brave heart upon the loveliness that is you. Maria McKee sings Show Me Heaven

 

3

Set Fire to the Rain

There comes a time when we know for sure that we cannot go back to where we were. We pass the point of no return. Make a choice to watch the wild fire burn away all that is  irrelevant in our lives.

And with that first unsupported step across the threshold into the charred landscape,  the unthinkable becomes thinkable.  What we believed was true detonates in the heat haze of our new resolution. We finally realise that the one we adored was not the god or goddess we thought they were. That the job we strove for does not feel as exciting or expansive as we’d imagined. That we have to face the finality of a relationship that is over, a friendship that will never be the same again.

There comes a time when we stand soul-naked in the first light of the morning and watch as our dream  dissolves on the gossamer shawl of the dew-spangled new day. The mirror on our wall finally reveals who we really are. There comes a time when we  surrender, battle-weary, to take ownership of those parts of ourselves that are encased in fear.  We witness  the distrust that writhes like a worm on the cruel hook of our unworthiness and shame. We observe the ways we place trip wires across the landscape of our relationships, setting ourselves up for the inevitable fall… It takes an act of great courage to stand soul-naked in what we feel is our truth.  To uproot  the mandrake of blame that grows from our belief that it is our crazy mother, absent father, our belligerent teenager, the buffoons in government, or the lover who did not choose us, fight for us, beg us to stay…

In the landscape of self-responsibility we grow up fast. No soft blue blankets, no bottles filled with sweet creamy milk.  No one to clean up the mess of our lives as we rant and wail. Our pain becomes our choice. To choose to stop the pain, to wearily dismount from the Ferris wheel of our own suffering, we need to do excruciatingly laborious work on the lies we tell ourselves. We must change our need to be right, to be in control, to dominate, or to play the Victim trump card. We  must to stand on our own two feet. Straighten our spines. Not fold like a soufflé when we don’t get the approval we crave. Not petulantly push away the gentle hand of friendship when we know it is the only hand there is to help us across the crocodile-infested river of our self-undoing. Not sigh as the world around us burns, when it is we that participate in and perpetuate violence by proxy in our very own homes with our flaming arrows of spite and sulphurous silences.

It is excruciatingly difficult to abandon the ship of self-righteousness. To forgo the familiar thrill of pleasing others so they will love us, need us, never let us go. We grow comfortable in our rusty armour of judgement that pinches and chafes. We feel familiar in its painful tug of constraint. Only when we make the choice to see with clarity and compassion the violent parts of ourselves, the parts that judge, and condemn, the parts that execute others with sharp-shooting precision, can we nurture those parts that stretch our capacity for endurance, forgiveness, generosity in Love, bravery in Loss.

Gary Zukav tells the story about the man, blind from birth whose only experience of this world was darkness. Well, new technology offered him a chance of sight, a miracle beyond his imagining. He asked his family, his friends, and his surgeon what it would be like to see, and of course, nobody could really explain to him what it was to see the turquoise sea, the tangerine colours of the sun set, the silvery moon and the diamond stars, the colour of his own blue eyes. The more he talked to his friends, the more fearful he became. He called his doctor and asked, “Doctor, will I still be able to use my cane to see? I don’t want to see if I can’t use my cane.”

In the terror of losing the comfort of our white canes, we clutch what we know, even though it limits our movement forward and darkens the light of our souls: the terror of being vulnerable, of being used, of being loved, of loving and losing, of having more than our parents, of being ridiculed, humiliated, of asking for what we want, of being “needy”, of losing our identity, of being judged… so  we stay small and quiet, stuck in the darkness of our blindness and our fear, afraid to set fire to the rain, afraid to turn towards a future, without  the cane, and say, I AM.

Set fire to the rain today… and celebrate Love and Life in all it’s wonder.

Adele … Set Fire to the Rain.

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Hometown Glory

“My sister’s not talking to me again,” lamented Maggie, who comes from a family that handles “hot potato” issues by abrupt withdrawal, rigidly polarized role-playing, vast, frozen lakes of silence. Behind closed doors, shuttered windows, or on the altar of talk shows we enact archetypal patterns. For most of us, though, family bonds flourish in adversity, survive ruptures, reincarnate in the comfort of shared history and the cohesion of blood ties. For others, feuds fester for generations; anger poisons the food at the dinner table.

 As we grow into adulthood, it is within our family relationships that we are challenged to set the bar high for our personal growth. Our interactions with our parents and siblings ask that we draw from our creative Higher Self to break the cycle of habitual role playing, to short circuit destructive behaviour. We may need to be counterintuitive to breach the walls of a heavily guarded family secret. To ask questions that inspire thought and heart connection, rather than ignite reactivity. To validate and empathise rather than judge or blame. To choose not to react to behaviour that baffles or appears insensitive or cruel, in the knowledge that it rises from an ancient riverbed of pain. Sometimes it is the news of an accident, an affair, a splintering divorce or lingering illness that opens padlocked hearts, draws us together to deal with a family crisis bonded by our blood. Often it means dismounting from our high horse, bowing our heads to our hearts. Asking ourselves, “do you prefer that you be right, or happy?” (A Course in Miracles)

Like a flock of starlings, families have a murmuration, a rhythmic dance of energy that is passed on from generation to generation. Family therapists see “the identified patient”, the disturbed child or adolescent, who comes bearing the symptoms of the psychic life of the family.

Astrology describes a different approach to the standard psychological view. Our birth charts depict our perceptions of our parents, the unconscious conflicts they bring into the family home, family fate… present in the symbolism of our life journey. There is an old adage “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.”  Our horoscopes suggest we certainly do choose our family. Our father’s drinking, his covert affairs, the inconsistent or unavailable mother, our sister’s anger, our brother’s depression, is already innate, depicted in the birth chart. We are predisposed, or “fated” to experience our actual parents and the archetypal parents through inner images, our own filters. We may perceive our father as being rejecting, distant. Frequently our actual father will behave towards us in a way that will be rejecting and distant, despite himself. Our own behaviour and conscious or unconscious feelings will elicit a cold and distant response from this father figure who may have other attributes that are perceived very differently by our siblings.   Though the protagonists in the family drama are easy to identify, family complexes are enduring. Salvador Minuchin speaks of a family “system” to which the individual must adapt. Our challenge, our growth comes from knowing that our family members mirror what we disown in ourselves.  Only we can choose to break free of the tyranny of repetitive knee-jerk response to stressors, the old agreements, toxic dynamics and outworn resentments, to try on new behaviour.

Freedom from our suffering comes from taking back our projections, one by one. As Bryon Katie says succinctly, “Placing the blame or judgment on someone else leaves you powerless to change your experience; taking responsibility for your beliefs and judgments gives you the power to change them”.

Families are temples for spiritual growth. We elect the curriculum, and set our own pace to do the work. When things get painful we can choose to cut ties with those who trigger our tantrum-throwing inner two year old. To diminish and dilute painful contact to an occasional well-mannered Hallmark greeting card or a one-line text message. To allow the misunderstandings, miscommunications, to stretch and strain into years of silence.  Or we can value ourselves and our family of origin enough to stand in our own solid, flexible sense of Self. To take responsibility for our own lives, pull back our judgements, and open our hearts to incredible Love. That is Power.

The uniquely magnificent Adele, sings out her soul-sound: Hometown Glory

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Don’t You Remember?

When a lover,  close friend, or  family member refuses to discuss their unilateral decision to break off  a treasured relationship, the sting of rejection can reverberate for years, plummeting us into the abyss of depression. Our agonising why spins soundlessly like spokes on a rusty wheel.

When  the One we love is not willing to speak to us – she distances emotionally, he blocks our calls or leaves our empassioned emails suspended in cyberspace – the answers we long for, the amends we pray for, hang like dust motes in the cold silence of separation that strains over the history we’ve shared. To be silenced, shut out, triggers a primal wound of rejection that may bleed for years.

We all need a story to comfort us in the cold bunker of our loss. Our narratives become a soft blue blanket to wrap our lacerations as we weave some meaning that resonates with our core values and beliefs about the world.

For some, the tale of the despicable Villain assuages the pain for a while. This is a tale full of sound and fury that keeps us tied to the railway track, the hapless Victim, powerless and immobilised. We remain in rigor mortis, clutching the self-righteous umbilical cord to the person who silenced us, trampled brutally on our trust. We may not really want the other person to understand how we are feeling, or to excavate the reasons why they behaved so patronisingly or so sadistically. The subtext may be that we want them to suffer the way we still suffer. The people who have wronged us may never realise or even care to understand how much they’ve hurt us. Nothing we can do or say can make someone love us the way we want them to. Stay when they want to go. Nothing we can say can make them understand our hurt and sincerely apologise. Their own feelings may make them unavailable for an authentic exchange, so we will never hear the words we long to hear – and if we do, will we really be willing to drop the black rose of blame? So they remain a corrosive presence in our lives – lovers, friends, relatives – blocking out the light, crushing the bud of joy, a deadly rot that blights our courage to love again.

Rebecca and Johan had a long distance relationship that had bridged three years. When she received an email from Johan saying he loved her but was not “in love with her”, was sorry for hurting her, but did not want to discuss it further, she felt as though she had been disembowelled. Rebecca pleaded and implored, and Johan stalled, blocking all her requests for an explanation. So the messages on his answering machine remained unanswered, the heart-felt emails floated like confetti in cyberspace… the silence stretched into weeks, months. “I just need to understand why he left me so suddenly. Why he broke it off by email, why he would not give our relationship a chance to grow?” she said tearfully a year later, still weighted with the burden of her loss. “My friends are losing patience with me. They say it’s time to “move on”, “let it go,” “what goes around comes around,” but I just cannot stop myself obsessing, trying to understand what went wrong, why he did what he did.” Negative emotions pickle our attachments; preserving our sense of togetherness with those we once loved so intensely, those who meant so much in our lives. Anger is the glue that keeps us stuck in the obsessive, self-harming thoughts and traumatic events of the past. Nailed to the impotent “whys”.

Neale Donald Walsch advises, “stop looking all over the place for “the answers” – whatever they are – and start looking for the questions – the inquiries which are most important in your life, and give them answers. You do not live each day to discover what it holds for you, but to create it.

There must come a time when we ask ourselves what we gain by giving  the villains of our story so much power over us. Why our energy circuits are still attached to an event which happened so long ago, allowing the vampire of the past to sink its fangs into our life blood, leaving us to float, ghostly spectres between worlds? Why is a useless question. It disempowers, keeps us in stalemate. What I am going to do about my thoughts, my feelings, my own life, has a impetus that is far-reaching and empowering. It implies choice, and control. Our challenge is to retrieve our energy and plug it into the wall socket of present time. To invest in a future where we can courageously love again.

Perhaps Johan did not have a rational explanation for breaking up the way he did. Perhaps he could not tell Rebecca what he did not know himself. Perhaps he did not allow himself to feel regret, guilt or sadness. Rebecca will never know. When she was ready to step aside from the pain, release the fantasy that Johan might one day see things the way she did; when she was willing to acknowlege that what she wanted to hear was her own truth, she vowed to take from her own experience this priceless pearl: she would never diminish or disregard another person or leave someone breathless, waiting to exhale… she would weave a new story of compassion for this soul-mate-teacher-lover who had come to bring her the gift of Truth. Says Marion Woodman, “Don’t talk about being true to yourself until you are sure to what voice you are being true.”

Adele soars as she sings Don’t You Remember

 

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When All is Said And Done

Loss can be a seismic shock that cleaves us open to release a torrent of pain or anger. There’s an art to grieving, I believe. An art to embracing the conflicted feelings: shock,  denial, bargaining, anger, and the bleak finality of acceptance. To grieve well requires patience and enormous courage, in a culture which has few rituals to swaddle the weeping heart, to embalm the wound till we grow scar tissue to venture into our lives once again. We are not taught how to grieve. We are taught how to name, categorise, label, mostly,  not how to deeply feel in our fast-food culture of “closure” and “moving on” as if  Love and Loss were malls, or drive-thrus.   Many of us don’t do “closure” easily. We find it excruciatingly difficult to cauterise, tie a torque around seeping lamentation.  We lack the will to dam up the tears that flood the excruciating emptiness. We stand naked in the winter of our discontent.  We sit, immobilised,  in the ashes of our grief.  The salt of our  tears lubricates the keening of our aching heart.

A young woman client arrived today, bowed with grief. She raged with Tiger-fierce anger, then imploded, numb with disbelief, as she told her story of betrayal and humiliation after a unilateral break-up. Her lover’s masochistic behaviour made her realise that she was still loyally clinging to old stories she had told herself about love. Still playing the powerless Victim, still meekly turning the other cheek, afraid to ask, afraid to want.  For some of us, part of the soothing balm of healing is the realisation that we can be angry when our former lover slithers up to us at a party, arms outstretched in a pseudo hale-and-hearty-greeting, hapless trophy-girlfriend firmly in tow.  It is permissible to recognise that the plume of white hot indignation that rises means we are still triggered, and that our pain does not have a short sell-by date. We do not need to be the compliant “good girl / boy”, and force a friendship with someone who has behaved despicably, or go through the motions of “learning lessons” when our inner brat wants to scream obscenities from the abyss of our pain.  We might need to knead and roll out the resistance patiently and creatively. Self-soothe, rather than push down further the bloodied blade of “whys” and “what ifs”.

New Age psychobabble has a lot to answer for sometimes, I feel. And, as for the much extolled virtue of “turning the other cheek,” or the misguided belief that our feelings are infallible truths, or we must think only “good and positive thoughts” lest we do ourselves harm, energetically, I have found that we often muddy the healing waters and prolong our wretched agony. Seeing things from your partner’s perspective can be useful – up to a point. But all we can really change is our own perspective – with a no-nonsense, “is this true?” as we question the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and the one who did not, could not, want to love us. Even this takes some doing, and can be just another form of self abuse if we have not allowed the anger to rush up and release.

Anthropologists guess that humans first developed language and a bulging cerebral cortex about 1.6 million years ago, taking us down a very different evolutionary path to our close cousins, the chimpanzees. We developed, according to anthropologist Helen Fisher, a sense of self, and importantly, a reflected sense of self, which shapes our choice of partner, as it is reliant on feedback from others. So, being humiliated, abandoned, or betrayed by the one we love has a devastating effect on our neurochemistry.  Emotions like anger and deep grief can hijack our positive self-talk and blaze through the libraries of books we have read on self-growth and spirituality, leaving us charred and utterly bereft if we do not have a solid sense of Self; and very few of us do. “Forgiving before you are ready is an act of violence against yourself.  And, you may never be ready” says Nicole Urdang.  Yet, once we are aware that all our long-term relationships and brief encounters are mirrors of our inner beliefs about ourselves, mere shadowy reflections of our shaky sense of Self, we can “love our neighbour – and ourselves.  No more pathological childhood trauma – wallowing in how your parents disappointed or abandoned you. The gift of grief and anger is another step in growing up. And if you honour the process, take your time to self-reflect, not self-flagellate, your tears will turn to pearls.

Astrologically, the transits to your own birth chart may suggest that this drama of grief and pain is happening through you, not to you. You have constellated the actors on the stage of your life, and you can access the power to change old patterns, even short-circuit family fate that has been mired in your ancestry for eons. If you can see your own collusion – not trusting your own instincts, perhaps “settling for” a lover who does not desire you enough to move from gridlock, who does not value you enough to commit to working through the power struggle.  To observe your own stonewalling, withholding, fear, criticism that has polluted the space between you, to have compassion for yourself as you revert to old default buttons, replay threadbare scripts. Only then can you begin to allow the cool tears and the hot anger to cleanse your heart, and make ready to Love again. Astrological Mars, representing anger, libido, fear, the Masculine Principle and our ability to fight off disease stationed early on Monday morning, then moves into retrograde motion on January 25th, reversing through Virgo for the next three months. This suggests that globally and personally, this is a time of turning points, of critical tipping points. A time that it might be helpful to examine how we betray ourselves, deny our intuition, stuff our anger and indignation down, tyrannize ourselves through negative self talk. A time to accept that the soul contract you had with your Lover-Betrayer was one of forgiveness and compassion.

Last word goes to Abba in that tremulously poignant song, When All is Said and Done:

“Thanks for all your generous love and thanks for all the fun
Neither you nor I’m to blame when all is said and done…”

Abba – When All is Said And Done 

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