Meeting people who care

September 28th, 2015

I’m late. I don’t suppose anyone noticed but my intention was to write my final blog on the 24th and having in nine months fully recovered from the impact of losing it so spectacularly, reflect complacently on how I managed to do it.

That’s not how it’s worked out. I’m a mess. Everywhere I look there’s mess. I still haven’t a clue what I’m doing, what I’m going to do. I have the entire contents of the filing cabinet in boxes I’m sorting through. I’ve found notes from training courses I’ve done, session plans and handouts from courses I’ve taught. Only a fraction of the stuff I’ve done. All of it useless. All of it waste. All of it bin-able.

I remember a conversation I had with my father one winter night when he was depressed. He very rarely opened up, my Dad but this night he did. He should have stayed in America when he loved it so much. He should never have worked for his father. He should have moved us all to England when he had the opportunity. He should never have agreed to send us away to boarding school. On and on, late into the night he went through every major decision of his life concluding that he got it all wrong. It’s a conversation that never would have occurred if I hadn’t trained as a person-centred counsellor. I knew better than to argue, understood that it doesn’t matter what I think, what matters is that I witness and don’t block the release. I let him say everything he had to say and, at the time, made no comment. But I wrote him a letter when I got home saying that I disagreed and telling him what a wonderful father he was and had been. He never referred to any of it again.

Last night I realised that I now feel pretty much as he did then. Only I think there’s no way there is any truth in how Dad was judging his decisions whereas the evidence of squandered opportunities and wasted effort abounds in my life. And into this mix, drop a communication from someone I’ve managed to offend to the extent of destroying our friendship.

I went to London to go to the PCSR conference, a magical event somehow so overshadowed by this information that it all but sucked all the good out of it. I slept no more than three hours the night before but was able, in the moment, to set all aside and engage with the wonderful gathering of 170 psychotherapists and counsellors who care about what’s happening in the world, the crisis in mental health provision in this country, all sorts of issues dear to my heart.

I facilitated one session with the whole group and another with about fifty people. What’s amazing is that at no point did anyone say anything inconsequential or irrelevant, no-one wittered on, none of the normal challenges of keeping a conversation on track occurred. It was only on reflection that I realise just how unusual that is. I think it’s because this was a room full of people listening to each other. The circle exploring ethics was wonderful. If ethics is rooted in dialogue, in an exploration of ‘the good’, the diversity of views expressed captured the heart of ethics. I felt completely comfortable saying my piece when it was appropriate. I know it was helpful to have someone draw attention to people who had something to contribute and ensure that those who were most comfortable speaking in such a large group did not end up being the only ones who spoke. Sitting here, this lovely sunny morning, I’m starting to take it all in. I may have been so distressed by the shock of discovering how I have lost the best of friends that it eclipsed the positive experience of participating at the conference in my thoughts, but I can reflect on it now.

Because I was in my element. It is not everyone’s cup of tea to take the helm and work with a group of 170 people. Me, I loved it. It did my heart good to hear what people had to say, to know that my concerns are shared and to feel that together we can become an effective agent of change. We are forming a Union. We are setting some boundaries around what happens people entering the profession. There were people in the room who pay to work. There are trainees counselling people with complex and multiple issues that would challenge the most skilled of counsellors because there is no financial backing of the provision of services. Errors are inevitable and the reputation of the entire profession is tarnished as a result.

I know most about what’s happening in IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapy, the NHS mental health provision – almost entirely CBT orientated), all those good-hearted well-intentioned people doing extraordinary work under the most difficult of circumstances. And still the truth is the less you need, the more likely you are to have your needs met. A hugely disproportionate slice of the available mental health provision is going to people of least need. The people ‘CBT-based treatments’ don’t help, drop out and are ignored in the statistics. In how NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence – they produce the guidelines in relation to all NHS services) and IAPT are playing the numbers game, the picture that results fails to reflect reality. And I’m in a room full of people who get that, who recognise the urgency with which the failure of the system to meet the needs of people in distress needs to be addressed.

Yet the most significant event of the day for me was after the conference as such was over, when C. talked about reading this blog and said something like ‘Everyone needs a community. Everyone needs people on their team. Well I’m on your team’. I felt like crying but I didn’t cry. I have more friends than I know.

There’s the day half gone. Scary. Time to pick up the threads and start tackling the mess. Keep going. Keep saying yes. Maybe this is the best I can be. I go on getting it right sometimes, getting it wrong at others. Better to be upset by getting it wrong than not to give a shit I guess even if it feels horrible.

It was like I stepped into a particular version of myself at the conference. I was given an opportunity to do what I can do well and I enjoyed it. Hearing what people had to say delighted me even when the content was difficult. I’m hearing care and concern. I’m meeting people who are ready, willing and able to take action on what they see needs to be addressed. It’s the beginning of a movement and I was there when it was born. That’ll do. I am blessed beyond all counting and writing this blog has helped me remember that.

On Playing the Bard

September 15th, 2015

Monday Morning

Every morning I pick an angel card, a tarot card and a medicine woman card. Today’s angel is Openness, Tarot 9 pentacles (harvest) and for the nth time in the last couple of weeks I got 2 Pipes as the medicine woman card. I love what it says in the book
‘You are catching a glimpse of possibilities. Right now you are being given a general view. Focus and concentration will come later. You are being magically drawn towards fulfilment.’ (Carol Bridges The Medicine Woman Inner Guidebook) This feels spot on. I feel more relaxed about where I am up to right now reading this.

And the angel Openness is an invitation to be aware of the gift of this day, however it unfolds. I was out ‘playing the Bard’ on Friday night for the first time in years. Then, it’s like someone pressed the off switch and I lost two days in a fug of tiredness and trudging through to do the things I must do. That said, I did go out for a walk yesterday and managed to mow half the lawn which, odd as it looks, I’m telling myself is better than nothing.

I’m glad I didn’t blog my reaction to the disappointment of getting two responses to the last blog. I plummeted into the pit again. But rather than stay there beating myself up, I went to Brean Down and sat in silence with my dearest friend on top of the hill, bathed in blue of sea and sky, meditating in the warmth of the sun and the perfection of the afternoon. Wonderful. For once in my life I did what I am always suggesting to others that they do, I ‘filled the well’. And then I wrote about how it’s done, how I’ve learnt to be kinder to myself than old habits dictate.

Friday night I performed at the Night at the Abbey on the Bardic Stage. First time I’ve donned the Bardic Cloak, ‘played the Bard’ in so long I don’t remember when I last did it. I said ‘The Power of Nine’, the poem that made me a Bard. I rarely perform this particular poem because it is a powerful invocation, an invitation to Spirit to ‘bring it on’.

‘I am a willing initiate.
I would drink of the cauldron of inspiration
of the potion of truth
open to the wisdom of those who’ve gone before.
I would know the nature of Awen
flowing of spirit
essence of life in motion.’

I do not say such things lightly. ‘Thrice times three, so mote it be.’ is traditionally how a spell is sealed. In ‘The Power of Nine’ I am working with this idea to suggest that we have the power and the responsibility to create the world we want to live in

‘Open to your longing
for right living in the world
and know that it is possible
for the point of power is now.’

I was so relaxed. There is an integration that has happened so that I am no longer as split between the anxious, scared ‘just me’ subpersonality and the role I assume when I stand up as an Elder Bard of the Bardic Order of Ynys Witrin and declaim. I was with friends and met more friends. I so far exceeded my hug quota (8 a day) I stopped counting although there were a few exceptionally lovely hugs that are still warming my heart now.

When I woke up on Saturday, it felt like I’d given it my all on Friday night and needed to recover. I have in the past wanted to dissociate myself from the Bardic Order. I do not like it that to say you’re a Bard of Glastonbury is no guarantee of quality. I do not subscribe the idea that any awl blather will do and it seems to me that far too often both Bard and audience are content with performances I find cringe-worthy. I may call it ‘playing the Bard’ but in reality I take the notion that when I speak ‘as the Bard’ I am seeking to honour the Awen, to be a conduit for Spirit, for a power greater than I to speak through me, seriously. In doing so, I feel like the energy behind the words is more important than what I actually say. It is possible to say these words without the energy that can course through them, same as it is possible to give a hug that is empty, that has no love in it. But such a hug does not enhance our wellbeing and meaning can change depending on how words are said.

I’m coming to the point where I’m due to stop blogging – 24th September I said. The purpose was to keep a record of the last six months of my journey from crashing to being back in business. I am still not clear what I am doing next, but the first steps on many different paths are the same so I’m taking those steps – or actually this weekend I thought about what I have to do and made lists, lots of lists, lists of lists to help me take some stock of what is to do, whatever way I go.

And alongside this decluttering, cleaning and sorting project, I’m waiting for signs and portends. I guess some of you make decisions rationally – or at least think you do. Me, I’m under no illusions. I am not a rational being. When I was thinking of leaving Wales, I had a vision, a sort of waking dream and on the basis of how I interpreted that, I left Wales for Tokyo via India. Then when I was in Derry uncertain what to do, I had a dream that brought me to Glastonbury via the Catskill Mountains (the nearest town was Woodstock!) I have always been guided. I have no idea how it works in the world where you decide things on the basis of some rational process. Right now I visualise my guardian angel putting a golden thread in my hands and whispering in my ear ‘Follow that. Don’t worry about anything. Just keep following the golden thread. This is the path of heart. Walk the truth your Being dictates and all will be well.’

I see circles of people, like the circle at Green Earth Awakening. It is such a wonderful experience to create a circle where people hear their own wisdom, to share our awakening with each other. I am calling the work I offer ‘Healing ourselves, healing our world’ and in integrating compassion-focused therapy with Joanna Macy’s ‘work that reconnects’ spiral, I bring a new strand that deepens the healing power of the work. I have so much good material to share. It is exciting. I may no longer be blogging about my recovery because I am recovered but I am going to keep writing and finding ways to share what I’ve written.

I am no longer in fog, I am no longer spinning round. What I need to do now is stand still and let the wind catch my heart. Today’s angel is Openness. It makes me think of David Spangler’s definition of abundance: ‘the presence of possibility and the openness to emergence’. I have said ‘yes’ to all the people who offered me support, you know who you are and I am deeply grateful to you for all the kindness and generosity that helped me on my way.

Monday night
I’ve just had an email from Nick Totton asking if I facilitate a session of the PCSR Big Issues Conference in a couple of weeks from now. I’m pleased he reckons I’m the right person for the job. I love this tribe and only too delighted to be given the job of bossing a large group of people around! So lots to be excited about – the launch party for Wes’ residency at the Library of Avalon on Saturday, the PCSR conference in London and going to Ireland next month. I am so hoping I get a chance to talk about the workshops I want to run there. There are some great people working in Northern Ireland and I’m looking forward to working with them. I don’t know how it is going to come together but keep going and opportunities will appear like they always have before.

And I didn’t post this yesterday. I wanted to include a photograph from the Night at the Abbey but although I used to know how to do this, I haven’t been able to work out how on this occasion. ARRGGHHHH. So here it is without any visual images as usual. Go well one and all. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

When sane talk doesn’t work

September 2nd, 2015

Hi folks, I want to keep writing but in a somewhat less confessional mode than I’ve been writing in over the last few months. This is a first draft of a piece that I’d like your feedback on. There’s so much to say about the model of emotional regulation and I want to keep it simple. I would greatly appreciate questions and comments so I know what I need to do next.

When sane talk doesn’t work

I’ve had two conversations recently with people about what it’s like when you end up in such a state that no amount of ‘sane talk’ makes a pick-worth of difference. Now I’ve got some suggestions for what to do then that are so simple that you won’t believe that they’d make any difference. This is my solution to being totally freaked out.

1. Do the 3 breath chill out (given below)
2. Drink a glass of water. Then have another glass that you continue to sip on for the next few hours. I’d add a couple of drops of Rescue Remedy if I had it handy, but that’s optional.
3. Avoid sugary foods and drinks and eat a small packet of sunflower seeds instead.

The 3 Breath Chill-out
1. Take a breath and breathe out slowly to the count of 4.
2. Take another breath and breathe out slowly to the count of 6.
3. Take another breath and breathe out slowly to the count of 8.

I also find it helpful to say simple phrases to myself as I’m breathing out. Things like ‘I am safe.’ ‘I am centred’. ‘I can handle this.’ ‘I’m doing fine’. I find that by doing so, what I’m saying becomes true. When we lose our capacity to take in ‘sane talk’ we need to keep it simple. For me to tell myself I’m safe makes me feel safer, that I’m centred, more centred.

So now for the fun bit. To explain why these ridiculously simple steps work.

We begin with Paul Gilbert’s model of emotional self-regulation in which three interactive but separate systems govern what motivates us and how we think, feel, and act. What’s significant about this model is that instead of a binary understanding of how we feel i.e. good versus bad, there are two very different systems that relate to positive affect. We have the ‘Drive system’ that motivates us to seek out resources, to take action, to achieve. The drive system is active when we are seeking a goal and the emotion is excitement. It’s ‘up’ – energised, invigorated, sports come to mind. In contrast, the good feelings that are regulated by the ‘Soothe System’ are ‘down’ – relaxed, chilled, at peace with the world. Or to say it another way, ‘getting ahead’ versus ‘getting along’.

Only the ‘Threat System’ has a negative focus. Its job is to keep us safe and it does so by enabling us to detect and respond to danger. It works fast and it is powerful because if we, as the animals we are, did not prioritise safety over excitement and chilling out, we wouldn’t be here. Evolutionarily the threat system, our powerful instinct for survival, came first so the threat system has been found to activate the simplest and oldest part of the brain – what I think of as the ‘reptilian brain’. It makes decisions on a ‘gut’ rather than ‘heart’ (the connect and soothe system) or ‘head’ (drive to achieve goals) level.

Ideally these three functions of emotional regulation are free-flowing and we spend our time enjoying achievements, happy in our community and with the resources to handle whatever dangers life presents us with. In truth, free-flowing functioning is the exception rather than the rule. The need to be safe is paramount so as Paul Gilbert says ‘threat trumps everything else’. The threat system operates on a ‘better safe than sorry’ basis leading us to easily become sensitised to danger, seeing threat where there is none. Those with less sensitive threat systems are the ones that didn’t survive, so our heritage is a highly effective system for keeping us alive. The downside is that we can easily end up hyper-vigilant, always on the alert for threats and stuck in experiencing the world as unsafe.

When we are stressed we are preparing to deal with a dangerous situation, and once we interpret any situation as threating and start going into ‘panic mode’ (whether this finds expression as anger or anxiety) there’s some mighty powerful physiological changes involved. What’s going on physically when no matter how much sense we talk to ourselves it has no effect is that, in experiencing threat, our access to higher brain functions is switched off. We are in survival mode. We are operating from ‘old brain’, the one we owe to our more distant ancestors. Our bodies are flooded with adrenaline and cortisol and the balance of oxygen/carbon dioxide in our system is out of kilter (we breathe faster when we’re stressed and don’t notice). There are other physical changes happening but you get the picture – what’s going on inside is brilliant if you have to fight or flee because you are in exactly the right state physiologically to do it. However when there is no simple, immediate and high energy solution to the problem that triggered the stress response, finding ourselves locked into our reptilian brain is not entirely helpful. The steps I’m suggesting are ways of restoring equilibrium to our physical system, so we can release distress and return to a state of emotional balance.

The 3 breath chill out works primarily because by increasing the length of the outbreath has the effect of bringing the level of carbon dioxide and oxygen in our blood stream back into balance. The addition of simple phrases is my own and I find it helps to recognise that alongside the physical changes, it feels most unpleasant to be seriously upset by something that’s happened, however small the final trigger might be. Use your own phrases or none, experiment and find what works best for you.

Drinking water helps because, first of all, most of us are dehydrated most of the time and the emotional regulations system (or neurotransmitter system if we’re talking physiology) works best with enough water. If you are stressed to the point where you can no longer ‘talk yourself down’, it suggests your body is flooded with stress chemicals. Drinking water dilutes them and then washes them out of the system (hence the second glass). Simple.

Having sunflower seeds available to eat as an alternative to chocolate, cakes, sweet stuff of all descriptions has to do with the fact that having a lot of sugar in your blood fuels the production of cortisol. Having too much sugar (as most of us do) interferes with how the neurotransmitter system works; a lot of sugar in your system means you’re more likely to get in a state in the first place. On the other hand not eating, and particularly not eating in the morning, also impacts on how the emotional regulation system works. A relaxed social meal in the mornings is the best start to the day. And when did you last have one of those?

The reason I recommend sunflower seeds as your nibble of choice is that as someone who had some serious issues with emotional regulation and hypo-glycaemic blackouts for years, having a small bag of sunflower seeds turned out to be a miracle cure. Sunflower seeds bring the blood sugar level into balance supporting the regulation of insulin in the system. And in terms of how emotional regulation works, it makes you less likely to go into ‘override’ in the first place.

The first two suggestions relate to an immediate response to getting stressed and the last is a more general strategy but it is simple to do and if you have ended up in a place where good talk can’t get to you, regulating your blood sugar level and drinking a litre and a half of water a day is definitely worth doing.

In terms of ‘emotional regulation’, it is also a good idea to have a hug, or at least let somebody know. Following any distress, our natural response is to look for comfort, to connect. A problem shared is still a problem halved and in company, we can begin to let sane talk in. Hugs stimulate the production of oxytocin, happy hormone, one of the neurotransmitters that activates the ‘soothe’ system. A good hug slows us down.

There is no doubt that the ‘connect and soothe’ system is the one least supported in our highly competitive culture. In terms of our emotional and mental wellbeing, we are paying a heavy price for the fact. We can easily drive ourselves into isolation by seeing our natural human response when the threat system is fired as ‘weakness’ or otherwise unacceptable and as something we should hide in shame from others. In my case, it’s because the last straw that triggered this powerful physiological response was often in itself a trivial event – losing keys was a favourite for years.

Hitting the hug quota

August 30th, 2015

I’m in ‘useless Sunday’ mode. I went to a 50th birthday party last night, great party, didn’t have to talk much cos we were singing loads. In fact there were people I seriously wanted to catch up with that I only just about caught for a hug. But I hit my hug quota for the day and more.

Hug quotas. It’s to do with the production of oxytocin, the neurotransmitter that gives us a sense of safety and belonging. It links in with Paul Gilbert’s model of emotional regulation – which is what I’m struggling to explain simply. I’ve fallen in love with theories before but this has got to be one of the greatest summaries of human knowledge in a simple form ever. Okay so mental and emotional wellbeing has been the focus of my life’s work and this formulation fits everything I have learnt from my own journey, from those who have shared their journeys with me, and the tools that I’ve worked with over the last 30 years (scary how long I’ve been at this game!). Sorry folks, I’m in love here. It’s honeymoon time. I’ll get over it and start nit-picking at some stage but for now to me, this is a thing of beauty.

I have to accept that it is unlikely to generate quite the same excitement in others. I guess think of a painting or a piece of music that blows you away – that’s what I felt when I was first introduced to this particular model. It’s based both on the findings of neuroscience and current understanding of human evolution. Ideally these three systems – drive that gives us the motivation to act, threat that enables us to respond to danger and ‘connect and soothe’ that allows us to come to rest and enjoy chilling out with our tribe are free flowing so that we move easily from one emotional state to another. The model links each emotional state to a particular neurotransmitter system and to a specific area of the brain that developed at different stages along our evolutionary journey into human form as well as distinct motivations and ways of thinking and feeling. So please tell me if that works as a basic explanation because the implications of this model in terms of the power to help people find a place of mental and emotional wellbeing, even if such has eluded them all their lives, takes considerably more unpacking than this. Paul Gilbert isn’t the only person working along such lines and he wasn’t the person who introduced me to this model but he’s probably its most famous exponent.

And circling back to hug quotas. A proper hug – and there are those who specify how long it should last but I think that’s a nonsense – for me a proper hug is one where you feel hugged, share a moment of love with someone you are comfortable sharing a hug with. Through those wonderful games and experiments into neuro-science we know that when we hug, we produce oxytocin, happy hormone. I can’t remember where I got this from but I believe that we need eight hugs a day. There aren’t many days I hit the quota but I definitely hug more than I used to in seeing if I can.

In terms of the blog that I began ‘to track my journey back into the world’ my time’s up in three weeks if I stick with the original intention of sharing for six months. I just about got to saying ‘Okay so I leave Glastonbury’ and suddenly I’m realising all the things I truly love about living here and every day I have gorgeous encounters that can only happen when you’ve lived somewhere long enough to belong to the community and when a community is as lovely as it is here.

I went to a funeral a couple of weeks ago of someone who died in an accident. It was an untimely death of a big character and very sad, but when we sang ‘Let it be’ there was such a sense of togetherness, of shared grief, of community, that there was healing in it. Can the sea compensate me for all that I lose leaving here?

It is most inconvenient to my dithering self that Glastonbury should sparkle so. It’s not about friends because those I’ll take with me and I can always visit. It’s the way the receptionist waves me through and says ‘Go on in Dearbhaile’ at the entrance to the Abbey Grounds, the timely meetings on the street with someone I need to talk to, the pride people take in having learnt to spell my name right, the friendly staff in the shops, the ‘because you’re you’ discounts I am given without my asking for them. It’s meeting someone at the bus stop who is happy now when a few years back they were anything but and catching up. It’s lighting candles for someone I know only a little who has been dealt the most awful blow and praying for her every time I walk past her house. It’s belonging. It is breaking through the illusion of separation and discovering that the elusive comfortableness in the company of others I’ve always wanted, I now have and in considering leaving, I am starting to see how much home Glastonbury has become.

What I know for sure is I am going to find other outlets for my writing. Because my learning from this sharing is that I always write, I just haven’t often shared what I write, or at least not relative to how much I’ve written. As someone said last night ‘How did I become a writer? I stopped throwing away what I’d written.’ So step one, get what I have to say out there – all suggestions as to how are most welcome. I was thrilled when someone contacted me to say that they thought the brief piece on ecopsychology on my website was excellent and could they put it on theirs. That was a major boost to my confidence when I needed it. I am going to be working at Tarika Trust but next April rather than this November.

And I’m going to Ireland in October to start picking up the threads there, meeting people, taking the talk I gave at Green Earth Awakening to new audiences and generating a mailing list of people who want to know what workshops and trainings I am giving next year. I visualise a calendar of events emerging where I have a circuit of places I turn up and work with circles of people ‘sharing a vision of a world based on freedom and co-operation’. I love this vision. I love how tangible it is, how totally believable.

Cleaning the threads is about as demanding as emotional work gets but the rewards, the way the heart lifts and joy flows afterwards is wonderful. It’s odd to see how unnecessary it is to go on turning my life into a punishment when working with forgiveness allows me to see how that is what I am doing. The past does not determine the future ‘not unless we want it to/ not unless we let it’.

(By the way, all the unattributed quotations on this and other blog posts are from my own poems and I’m lazy and don’t say which ones.)

I need to go eat now. It’s been a lovely lazy chilling out day. I’ve a ‘piece’ (article? Part of book?) I’m working on that I want to run past you – a first draft for commentary. The sticking block right now is how much detail do I need to go into about the model of emotional regulation. It’s done me a power of good to have such wonderful companions for the journey. Your company, your comments, your support has been much appreciated. I hope life is treating you well. Upheaval seems to be the order of the day for so many people I know.

Embrace the new and we’ll all get through.

Cleaning the threads

August 23rd, 2015

Today I am cleaning the threads.

The whole notion of cleaning the threads is based on the idea that underneath the world of senses, the one that we imagine we live in there is ‘the web that weaves’. What it weaves remains nameless in that I have never attempted to define what it is, this web of energy, of story, of the radical interconnectedness of all things. It is movement and being, it is both what is and what is potential.

The practice I think of as cleaning the threads is about release, about travelling back along the time line, untangling the twist it put on me that I have lived these stories and they have shaped me. The more clogged up we are with the stories we carry, the dirtier the threads. The dirtier the threads the harder it is for fresh energy to flow in our lives, the more likely it is that we will recreate the familiar, even if it makes us miserable.

So first, find the start of a thread. A thread is something that’s going on now, an attitude, an issue, like ‘Why do I have such difficulty trusting?’ Following this thread, I see all that I have missed for lack of trust. I forgive. I forgive myself for being the shape I am. I forgive those who betrayed my trust, who let me down. I forgive all those who behaved the way they did for reasons I do not know, because of experiences that shaped them that I have never been told. Then I forgive the people who did the things they did that resulted in this person becoming someone capable of acting as they did and all the threads of pain that weave and weave again between us humans who mean no harm but blunder around blindly, acting out of pain and causing more pain in the process.

Forgiveness as I work with forgiveness does not mean that what has happened is ‘fine by me’. I know that there are those like Richard Tipping who wrote ‘Radical Forgiveness’ who argue that all is perfect in a perfect world and that when we forgive in their terms we recognise that there is nothing to forgive. I have spent too many hours in my life listening to people tell me of the things big people do to little people to go there. I think of the secrets people have shared with me and no, I do not think it is well in this world that such things happen.

Forgiving myself for the ways in which I have shut down, chosen to be a shadow of who I know I am called to be, I want the threads to be clean so I can dance along them, welcoming the fullness of life with all its joys and sorrows. Depression is the refusal to feel because what is there to feel is so sore, so difficult and dark and sad.

In ‘The Goodwill Patterns’ I define forgiveness as follows…

‘Forgiveness is the cancellation of all the conditions in your mind that are preventing the flow of love, joy and vitality through you, independently of the behaviour of yourself, others or of any circumstances. It is a decision not to punish yourself, not to continue to diminish your overflowing love, joy or freedom because of the real or imagined wrongs done by yourself, or others, or because of outer circumstances. Forgiveness is an act of loving will – of mental and spiritual will. It cannot and does not take place on the emotional level, the level on which most problems arise.’

I travel back along the time line. I let memories arise and go on forgiving as one story melts and another arises. I forgive my son’s father for abandoning me when I was pregnant. I forgive myself for being so freaked out by discovering I was pregnant that I contributed to making it a situation he wanted to run away from. I forgive all the people who supported me to have my son adopted, failing to understand that what I actually needed was someone to say ‘You are not alone. You are not the only person who wants your child to live. You are not the only person who loves this little being in your belly.’ I forgive myself and I forgive everyone else. I forgive. I forgive. I forgive. I want to live in love and joy and freedom and no-one else can do this for me. I want to release the story. I want to become someone other than this me ‘that forever grieves with no hope of ever ceasing’. The trick is to accept the feeling and let the story go. Let the cry in my heart rise up and join the mothers’ lament, a keening chorus, the song of mothers who have lost their sons. I am not alone. I am not alone. When we suffer the illusion of separation wraps itself close around us, a dark grey cloak that chokes the voice out of us. In the belief that no-one would want to know of such pain, we fail to realise that ‘this knowing dwells in our hearts for all we seek to escape it’. That which feeds our sense of isolation is an experience intrinsic to the human condition. So is seeking to avoid the truth of ‘how it is to be here now, alive, on the planet, hurting’.

‘Hold out the pain and we hold out the joy too.’ (Joanna Macy) Feel this truth in your heart and know that in grief and sadness and pain we are at one with everyone else who knows this, has felt the searing pain of walking the road of hot stones just as you do.

Today I am cleaning the threads because hard and all as it may be to feel this, I know, I know because I have done this over and over again in order to keep living in this world, that the way back to life is in letting be, in forgiving. I forgive myself for being the shape I am. I forgive myself for not knowing what to do. I forgive myself for my failure to trust. I forgive myself for all the ways in which I still do not trust.

Cleaning the threads is emotional work and you know it is working when the shift happens, something loosens, frees up, releases, relaxes inside us. It’s possible to get stuck in ‘recylcing’ when instead of releasing the story whatever it is and allowing ourselves to experience the feelings, we retell ourselves our story, driving the knife in deeper with every telling.

Forgiveness is everything. Forgiveness does not make what happened a good thing to have happened but when I clean the threads, I find the other side of forgiveness, freer, looser, released, relaxed. I can see how much I have gained, how rich my life has been, all those amazing teachers, mentors, guides, all the skills I’ve gained, practices I have followed, how well I have mastered tools of self-management. All the kindness and care, love and understanding others have shown me along the road. I have needed support and I have had it. And all those amazing people who let me share a stretch of their road with them, who could see, simply because it is true, that I know this territory and can help them find their way through.

With forgiveness comes acceptance. I am no longer, as Caroline Myss puts it ‘financing the past’. I am lighter, more available to the present, to enjoying life. We all have broken hearts in different names. It is not what happens that is the problem, it is the meaning we ascribe to it, the twist we put on ourselves as a consequence. It is the conclusions we come to about ourselves, others and the nature of the world that do the damage, that lead us to turn away from the flow, to choose the half-life of depression as an alternative to opening up, letting be and forgiving ourselves and others for unskilful behaviour, for the things done that would be better undone, the things undone we would have been wiser to do.

May we dwell in the heart.
May we be free from suffering.
May we be healed.
May we be at peace.