Letting love in

May 19th, 2015

Thursday 14th May

I’m aware that I’m going to London tomorrow and won’t have a chance to write over the weekend which means if I’m going to blog at all this week it’s got to be now. I’m sluggish and slow. My right eyelid has developed a twitch – which when I googled it turned out to be a common problem but it’s not one I’ve ever had before. Honestly! What it is to have a body that communicates as clearly as mine does. I sometimes feel that my body dictates my path. I imagine I only have to work out what is ‘right for me to do’ and I’ll move out of this cloud of discomfort and be fit, well, happy, functional again. ‘Let vision come and insight. Let the future stand revealed.’

This is a quotation from ‘The Mantra of Unification’

The sons of men are one & I am one with them.
I seek to love not hate. I seek to serve, not exact due service.
I seek to heal, not hurt.
Let pain bring just reward of light & love.
Let the soul control the outer form & life & all events
& bring to light the love which underlies the happenings of the time.
Let vision come and insight, let the future stand revealed.
Let inner union demonstrate & outer cleavages be gone.
Let love prevail. Let all men love.

This is the version that Maya introduced me to in 1982. Sometimes when I look at the prayers I’ve prayed over and over I can’t imagine who I’d be without them. I really struggled with some of the words in this this as a feminist and in the modification I’ve used for years it becomes
‘The Children of Humanity are One and I am one with them’ at the beginning and
‘Let love prevail. Let all people love.’ to finish.

I knew I was blessed to know Maya Shah. All my life since I met her in Wales in the 80s, I have worked with ideas that she introduced me to so that the blessing of having this beautiful gentle compassionate woman in my life will be with me all my days. I miss her but I’d rather have the loss than never had the gain. She gave me tools that have proved their worth over and again as I’ve faced life’s challenges. As those of you who knew her can confirm, she was an exceptional soul, a true bodhisattva.

I am more upset by the election results this time around than I ever remember being before. It was Jon Cousins who said ‘The turkeys have voted for Christmas’. Another friend said that people who voted Conservative were voting for ‘stability and security’. Well that sure as hell ain’t going to be what we’ll get. It is, I suppose, inevitable that the first action of the newly formed government is the erosion of civil liberties. Cry ‘Terrorist’ and you can get away with just about anything.

Chris Johnstone talked about moving from ‘they should’ to ‘I will’. I want to make that shift. There are so many major issues that need to be addressed how do I know which threads to pick up? Right now I’ve a bit of a bee in my bonnet about the impact of sanctioning on those with mental health problems. Through PCSR (Psychologists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility) I was signposted to a brilliant article that explains clearly how those whom we once recognised as victims of misfortune are now being treated as if to mix up your dates was a crime rather than a symptom of illness. I put it out on facebook but even though a few people have picked up on it, the response has disappointed me. I’ve yet to work out what my next step is. Let vision come and insight, let the
future stand revealed.

Sunday 17th May

My dear lovely friends I come back from London, from a challenging weekend on many fronts and a most uncomfortable coach journey home to a shower of responses to the last blog I posted. It is changing the experience of writing to have readers, to know I am speaking to people who encourage and appreciate me. When I came back from Ireland an old friend had left a voice message saying ‘I have just read your blog and decided to phone you.’ I’ve not heard his voice in a long time. I still haven’t had time to phone back but I’ve listened to that message a number of times for the pleasure of hearing the voice of someone I love.

That night, when I first got the message, I was flooded with memory, flooded with love. This is a man who’s been kind to me times past counting, who’s been in my world for more than half my life. I don’t know why such a rich tapestry of memory was evoked by his voice but I cried. I cried for three days. Not all the time because every so often I’d ‘put on a face’ and go out into the world and do whatever I was called on to do.

(Tuesday 19th May)
But this is about the inner healing that goes on in the times of weeping. I alternate between ‘competent self’ and ‘crying self’ and both are fine, truth to tell. What I want to avoid is these two becoming split off from each other as severely as they have in the past. This blog is healing me because I am letting you know the person I have hidden so successfully from the world.

Let the soul control the outer form, and life, and all events, and bring to light the love that underlies the happenings of the time.
This is the line in the Mantra of Unification that leaps out at me now and brings tears to my eyes. I can’t see the love that underlies what’s happening now. I don’t see it at all. I find what’s happening on a global and national scale frightening and overwhelming. I feel puny and pathetic and powerless. That brings me back to considering unhelpful thinking habits. These are not feelings, they are judgements. They are beliefs, not reality.

When I was working as a voluntary employment advisor with the Opp Shop (in Glastonbury) someone I knew came in, clearly distressed, in despair about being unemployed. I said ‘You are still the same amazingly talented, energetic, capable person ever you were.’ and reminded them of some of the things I knew they’d achieved in the past. All that’s happening here is that I lack confidence in myself. I am as powerful as ever I was, however I am feeling in this moment. I can act and I will act and if the people of goodwill are in a majority in this country, in this world, we will win out. We are Shambhala warriors and it is time to train again in the weapons of the Shambhala warrior, in insight and compassion.

I’ve now completed my third AVP workshop and have been accepted to go forward to the next stage to train as a facilitator with them. I’m itching to get to the stage where I have a say in the work they offer. It kills me some days that I have so much to offer as a facilitator but lack other skills I need to turn those skills into a reliable and adequate income. Yes this is a voluntary project and will cost rather than earn me an income but I believe communication, authentic skilful communication when we are in conflict, communication that leads to resolution is key to tackling the violence inherent in a capitalist, materialistic culture. My currency is time not money. I want to be an effective agent of change using my skills and experience to address the issues I feel passionate about. I know I need to make a living but only under pressure to provide for my daughter was I able to make that a priority.

It took me a very long time to understand that in being punitive towards myself, I was perpetuating violence in the world. Weirdly not even that insight is enough to transform the gremlin’s voice into anything other than attacking. However it does support me in my efforts to be kinder and more accepting of myself as I am.

I have now one thread that I trust will continue into my future. I will train as a facilitator with AVP. I will help people work out how they can handle the conflicts in their lives more skilfully. And in the shorter term, I’m working at Buddhafield again this year. Actually I’m doing a workshop at the Green Earth Awakening with Debbie Warrener and giving a talk. For the talk I’m reflecting on a phrase in a meditation I was introduced to by Joanna Macy back in the 90s. ‘If we block out the pain, we block joy out too.’ I reckon I’ve plenty to say.

And thank you. Thank you for reading this. Thank you for your reflections on what I’ve said. Thank you for your encouragement and support. I do end up in tears I am so moved by your comments. I’m letting the love in.

Let the Future Stand Revealed

May 12th, 2015

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last had the opportunity to ‘rest on the page’, to write about my journey, this process of reassembling a self from the wreckage. A few weeks ago, in a blog I didn’t post I wrote…

I need to set myself an ending I reckon. I cracked up in work on Christmas Eve, I started writing this 3 months to the day later. I reckon that I write my last entry 23rd September 2015 because as I say in ‘The Power of Nine’

‘Nine is the number of initiation.
Nine is the number of endings and beginnings
Nine is the number of inspiration.
Nine is the number of transformation.
Nine moons to bring forth a babe……’

Nine months sounds about right somehow, realistic as the length of time it takes to go from breakdown to breakthrough. Especially as I am far from clear how I get from here to a life that works with less than six months left and the clock ticking. But it feels like a beginning now, not an ending the way it felt back when I couldn’t stop crying.

And within this time frame, these nine months giving birth to a new version of myself, I am in a new phase. It feels important in this map drawing exercise that I take note of the change. I am beginning to imagine what shape my new life could take. I have had the first glimpses of a future in which I am once again happy, productive, functioning. It has the quality of uncertain fluttering, a tentative shy stirring deep within and it makes me cry – but in a good way.

I can identify the first moment I felt this shift, this opening up to the future. I am in Tattenabuddagh, I am on ‘Common Ground’. Robbie’s said that there’s going to be a gathering, an Open Day on 15th August and I’m off wandering the land thinking about where the compost toilets should be located and the people I know for whom to build one is no biggie. And as I reach the brow of the hill, I time travel, have a vision of a possible future.

I have invited the people to spend some time in silence, to walk around and let themselves ‘open to the land’ and to find a place to sit in contemplation for a while. From where I am, I can see some of them, down by the river, standing by trees. I have set out paper, paints, pencils, pens in the room where we gather and I am about to ring the bell that lets them know it is time to return and, in whatever way feels right to them, creatively express the experience of connecting with the place that called them. And then we will have a sharing circle before lunch. All this is in a moment, a moment that’s appeared in the ‘field of potential’ – what we believe is possible in this world.

The odd thing about moving out of the numbing of despair is how much hope hurts. When I return from this ‘foretelling’ I am in tears. I dare not want anything. Desire itself is suspect. Better not to want anything than to cope with the disappointment of not getting what I want. Now, out of the nowhere, there is such longing in me for this vision to be true.

My relationship with ‘home’ is fraught. I hated growing up within a sectarian divided embittered community with such a passion and yet I love the land of my birth and grieve for the suffering we have inflicted on ourselves. Life can offer me no greater gift than to introduce others to the work I have found so healing, to what it means to connect with our inner truth, the people around us and the Earth that sustains us. I have been deeply moved by the circles I have worked in. But what’s awakening in me is how much I want this healing for the people of Northern Ireland where there still are bombs going off and sectarian murders being committed if not as frequently as in the past.

And I return to Us’uns and say that I want to run a ‘Work that Re-connects’ day in September as a follow up to the Open Day in August. As I write, all my fears are flapping round me like bats at dusk. That’s okay. What is important is how my wonderful family of heart accepted my dream, how they held it and said ‘Yes, this is possible. We’ll support you to do this.’ It means the world to me to be one of us’uns, this special circle I belong to. It feels like some great loving spirit brought us together and what can come through us is yet to be.

It was good to be in Ireland. I have sung out loud to a river in Fermanagh and quietly to the sea at Rossnowlagh. I’ve been soaked to the skin in sudden squalls and gone to bed hugging hot water bottles. I have rested my spirit in the beauty of the hills and shores of my beloved Donegal, watched dolphins swimming, had popcorn for dinner in a hostel in the wilds of nowhere. I have been with people I love, talked and laughed and occasionally cried. It’s done me the power of good. Bless you all. You know who you are. (I wanted to post pictures but right now I don’t have any.)

I go on my website and find an invitation to work with the mantra ‘Let vision come, and insight. Let the future stand revealed.’ I don’t know what other people make of the suggested exercises on my site, or if anyone ever does them anymore (I used to get messages from people who did) but this one is so pertinent to my circumstances that it’s made me smile. This is the perfect mantra for where I am right now. I’ll let you know how I get on with it.

Untangling thinking

May 1st, 2015

Friday 17th April

I’ve had another session with the woman from the community mental health team, I’ll call her Anne. It was different than the last time I saw her. Then she kept asking ‘You’ve worked as a therapist. What would you say to someone who was where you are?’ It’s an approach I’ve used myself but what I thought when she did it, was ‘don’t you think I’m asking these questions already?’

It took me a while to work out that I wouldn’t try to say anything at all. With people in distress, I just listened and keep reflecting back what I’ve heard, checking that I’ve got it right. The thing about being trained in person-centred counselling (what I think of as proper person-centred working given that every damned thing claims to be person-centred these days) is that because you are following the other person you get used to saying very little, to being so focused on getting ‘it’ – what’s behind the words, and pretty much everything there is to say arises in the moment out of what you’re hearing. When Anne kept saying ‘and what would you say…’, I felt like I was being thrown back on my own resources. I didn’t find it entirely helpful.

This time she seemed much more definite, said stuff. I went in thinking ‘I’m fine’ but it wasn’t long before she’d to go in search of tissues. It’s an opportunity to say things I don’t say to anyone and it’s like I only know what the grief is about as I begin to speak it. When I said ‘I don’t see it as mental illness. I’m emotionally intense. There’s nothing wrong with me.’ and she so emphatically agreed with me – that helped. It is not easy being me but that doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with who I am.

It’s one of the distinctions that’s made very clearly within CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). How I feel is not how it is. In NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) the same idea is expressed as ‘the map is not the territory’. The way in which we confuse belief and feeling and/or belief and fact underlies a lot of the errors in our ‘map’ of ourselves in the world. I feel unemployable. It doesn’t mean that I am unemployable but it does increase the chances that I’ll sabotage my efforts to get work. It has the potential to become a self-fulfilling prophesy, particularly if I fail to recognise it as a powerful naffirmation. It upsets me greatly that I find it so difficult to see how I get from where I am now to functionality. Will I ever get to the point where I can pay someone to mow my lawn given I can no longer do so myself? Feelings and beliefs can be meshed and seen as facts and then become the ceiling we set for ourselves. What is possible only becomes possible when we believe it to be so.

When I went to mow the lawn, I couldn’t even unscrew the cap to check the petrol and, even if it was ready to go, I can’t hold in the lever to keep it running. It’s such a little thing. The distress I feel is disproportionate. Does it matter if the grass grows long and the dandelions take over? There’s forget-me-knots and buttercups and more important things to worry about. But every day I’m confronted by more things I can no longer do and it does my head in.

And still the tears come, tears for the person I wish I was, for who I might have been. I want to be free. I want the confidence other people imagine I have. I want to be able to step forth into the world and say ‘I’m okay’ like I mean it, like it’s true. Not say it through tears like I’m asserting a lie. I am okay. There is nothing wrong with me.

I’m going to the Radical Hope and Cultural Tragedy conference in Bristol this Saturday. I want to go because eco-psychology is my ‘thing’ and because Chris Johnstone is one of the speakers. But I want an invisibility cloak. I don’t want to have to talk to anyone. I don’t want anyone to ask me how I am. I don’t have a cover story and I don’t know what to say.

Lots of unhelpful thinking habits at play here. Confusing ‘I feel X’ with ‘X is true’ is one of them. Linguistically English is slippery. We say ‘I feel sad/happy/confused’ and these describe states of being. But we also say things like ‘I feel useless’ which is a judgement, a belief. It is more accurately ‘I believe I am useless’ but mostly we say ‘I feel’ and what we mean is ‘I am useless’ as if it is a fact. This is an example of what I mean when I say beliefs and feelings get mixed up and are experienced as fact.

The dread that I feel about Saturday links with other unhelpful patterns of thought that most people will engage in sometimes. Fortune-telling – which is about the assumptions we make about what’ll happen at some event in the future. In the above example, we have my prediction that people will ask me questions that make me uncomfortable. Mindreading is another – when we assume that we know what other people think without ever checking out if we’re right. I am imagining other people judging me as I judge myself. It’s projection, not reality. Lots of conflict and misunderstandings arise out of our inaccurate interpretation of the meaning of what others do and say. We mind-read all the time and we are usually wrong. It takes more courage than I can muster to ask if what I think is going on is real or not.

And then we have the mountains made of molehills, my favourite, catastrophising. As if the momentary awkwardness that may occur is both major and overshadows everything else. There may well be a few difficult moments and yes, it makes me feel sick to my stomach to think of them. I dread so much that question ‘What do you do?’ It touches into all those negative judgements I have about being where I am now that make me feel unable to answer the question.

The truth is that the only people who’ll ask me how I am are people who want to know the answer. That means that they care and if I’d the guts to tell the truth, they’d be there for me. This is a therapists’ conference and not only that, but a gathering of therapists who seek to grapple with the planetary crisis. It is about as safe a selection of people it is possible to find in this world. Even if there are difficult moments it will be worth it.

Sunday 19th April

If ever a process proved its worth exploring my negatives around the conference yesterday did. Where I find this business of exploring my thoughts and feelings works and affirmations don’t particularly (for me) has to do with believability. Telling myself ‘You’ll be fine. It’ll be great.’ or other such positive statements makes not a whit of difference to my state of mind. But seeing that the times that I’ll find difficult are only a small part of the overall event left me feeling less wobbly about going.

First person I spoke to at the conference yesterday, someone in the queue, knew Patrick. Our brief conversation about him, about what an amazing a human being he was, how honoured we felt to know him, did bring tears to my eyes. Because he was ‘Mr. Permaculture’ in so many people’s awareness, lots of people know who he was and know he was special but not so they’d miss him. I met someone else who loved Patrick, had an experience of grief shared. If someone’d asked me ‘What’s the worst thing that could happen at this conference?’ my reply would have been ‘I’ll end up in tears talking to a stranger.’ It happened before I got in the door and do you know what? I didn’t feel like I’d humiliated myself. It felt good. It felt like we connected.

Then Chris Johnstone arrived. Chris is the reason I was going to be at this event no matter what I felt or thought about being there. Chris is the most wonderful facilitator and inspirational teacher I know. He was outstanding when I first met him and he’s even better now. If I fell into a fortune, I’d train with Chris. Yes, I know my stuff and there are people I’ve trained in facilitating the Work that Re-connects that are out there doing good work but in this field, I reckon Chris is the best there is. If I fell into a fortune, I’d sign up for the course he’s running at Schumacher College. It was wonderful to have a hug and my only complaint about his presentation is I wish he’d had longer.

It was a very well organised conference. All too often at such events I find myself in a room full of people with whom I share an interest and have no opportunity to converse with them at all. Instead of Q and A which I’ve never much enjoyed, we split up into discussion groups and shared our responses to the morning’s presentations. Great speakers, interesting workshops, opportunities to talk with other people, they ticked lots of boxes as far as I’m concerned. And I almost made my hug quota for the day meeting some lovely people I’ve met before. It’s a community of interest that comes together on a day like yesterday and ecopsychologists are one of my tribes.

There does always seem to be a price to pay. The bus journey home I was cursing myself for not thinking of bringing some painkillers with me. It was pretty much inevitable that I’d suffer consequences from a day that long but I didn’t take that into account, so it was considerably worse than it needed to be. It would also help if I was prepared to do what I think of as my ‘ministry of funny walks act’. If I’d moved around exactly as I need to I may not have ended up hurting so much. But I am self-conscious about staggering around in front of strangers. It looks odd so people look, understandably. I don’t want to make this condition more of a barrier to participating in the world than it is in and of its own nature.

To give myself some credit, I get up and shuffle around at Green Party meetings and leave whenever I hit my limit. In that set-up, there’s enough people in the room who know the score for me to feel like I can do whatever I have to. Yesterday was well worth the price I paid for it. That was a room full of good people and an encounter that has done my heart good. And by the time I got back I was tired and ill. I burnt my dinner (thoroughly), gave up and went to bed. Not intending to do much today. The weather is glorious. I’m still recovering from yesterday. Life is good.

Affirmations and Naffirmations

April 27th, 2015

7th April

I wake up late and unwell after a rough night. I miss qi gong again. The world is heavy today. I am slow and wretched, weighed down, battling to move. If ever there was a day that calls me into the world it’s Tuesdays – market day and Qi Gong class but I’m dragging myself round the place battling to get with the agenda for the day. I give up. I miss Qi Gong and go back to bed instead.

My resistance is low so the deep swelling of grief that I’ve been holding at bay rises up closer to the surface. Familiar territory this. What we resists, persists. I am the Fool teetering on the precipice trying to summon up courage in my cowardly heart to step forth knowing that last time I did, I messed up right royally. Today I just want to wrap the duvet around me and give up. Every happy memory has an undertow. A sad little voice that whispers ‘That was then. Never again.’ It’s always whispering quietly in the background. The tears that come now are ‘lacrimae rerum’, the tears that lie at the heart of all things. There is sweetness in the moments I have gathered in my heart, my wealth of experience, of happiness I have known, yet always there is loss. The more we love, the more we lose and either we flow with the joys and sorrows of our inner selves or we refuse to feel, create a blockage and live with the consequences. Today, none of my tricks for keeping grief at bay work. I am in the realm of archetypes.

I want this blog to be real but to bring hope to people and how do I do that when I am more doubt than faith? How do you believe again? How do you get through days when grief engulfs you? Sometimes the door to the Underworld opens suddenly, unexpectedly. Numbing out has ceased to be an option. I used to become wildly self-destructive, the sense of pain being unendurable sending me into a frenzy of self-loathing. People will do pretty much anything rather than develop the tolerance for distress that is the secret to managing days when everything seems hopeless.

Me, I set up an altar (that’s a white flower, candle, crystals, cards on the dressing table in my bedroom today), light the candle and do my best to let myself be, just for now, the shape I am without judgement. The secret is to let the stories come up and let them go by. Release the story, accept the emotion and let be, let yourself be. I’m well practiced in doing this yet it still challenges me. It’d be more natural to move into the anger and frustration that are part and parcel of this, to use more familiar strategies to avoid simply allowing whatever is right now to be, and to change, as it will change if you let it. I still believe that this is how it works. Step into the fire, let the dross be burnt off and we come out in a waterfall, once again knowing ourselves as showered with blessings here and now. Where I started, years ago now, was lighting a candle and sobbing, days on end for months on end. I am still here. I have survived myself. I have learnt ways that help me manage. It begins so simply, light a candle and let be. That’s all it takes to create an altar. There’s no requirement to believe anything and whatever works for you is what belongs on your altar. It is yours, for you, by you, reflecting whatever you want it to reflect.

And it comes, the voice, ‘Waste of space, what are you worth now? Useless.’ The lies we tell ourselves. Our own private stock of criticism, of sarcasm, of words that cut, and sting, and wound. There’s an endless stream of abuse pouring forth. I used to be lost in it. Now it is like some furious river thundering beside me. Over the years I have learnt the beauty of witnessing. I’ve practiced meditation, creative visualisation, tried therapies and gone to workshops, trained in the ones I reckoned had promise – biodynamic, Gestalt, Solution-Focused, NLP, and of course C.B.T.

But bottom line for me is that witnessing, the pure heart of Rogerian Counselling, is the key to integrating experiences and moving on. In our griefs and our joys we need a witness, a reliable witness, who reflects back accurately the world around us, affirms our experience of it. (Clearly I’m talking the language of Alice Millar here for those familiar with her work.) When we feel heard, that another person ‘gets’ us, it shatters the illusion of separation that distresses us so much. We experience permission to be the authentic self we had to forget to get by. In ‘I - thou’ conversation we are in communion, community and it is as a collective that we can find the courage to speak truths that we have held unspoken, break the spells in which they hold us.

To state it simply, as I understand Rogers, as children we need to be loved, and we need to express our authentic self. If these two are in conflict so ‘love’ becomes conditional on behaving in ways we experience as inauthentic, we sacrifice our truth for our survival. And in my own words, end up with ‘a twist on us’. Not everyone gets handled an emotional tangle as they enter adulthood but we who do, if we can learn how to untwist the threads, lead rich, challenging, worthwhile lives.

I could have killed myself back in the days when I didn’t know my way around myself, didn’t have myself ‘in hand’. I have always felt that my greatest achievement in this world is surviving myself. It is not something I can write on an application form, now is it? Right now I ache to write to the people like me who have to learn to live with despair that just rocks up some days and thundering away, blocks out everything else. In opposition to every instinct and impulse that arises to attack ourselves, it is time to soften, to own whatever is difficult as simply the human condition, us as we really are, today as it is rather than as it was planned.

9th April

I have on the wall underneath the light switch in my study a Jackie Fleming cartoon of a naked woman looking in a mirror ‘I love my body just the way it is. I love my bulging belly. I love my… Oh forget it.’ it says. It makes me smile every time I read it.

Affirmations are proposed by a myriad of self-help writers as the key to a happy life. Just say these sentences to yourself every day and your life will work in line with what you say to yourself. And the world is split between those who think it nonsense and those who do their best to brainwash themselves. To the best of my knowledge, the authors of such books don’t tend to engage in research to test the efficiency of their suggestions. The books on the power of positive thinking have proliferated since the early days of Louise Hay and Shakti Gawain. Maybe I am missing out on all those for whom it works pat, but I don’t know any of them, so my evidence-base for the argument that they are of limited practical use, is myself and people I know.

The word affirmation comes from ‘to make firm’. It’s working on the principle that energy follows thought and that premise, I am ready to accept. However naff affirmations sound, the reality is that they aren’t half as naff as the things we constantly say to ourselves, we who have a downer on the world and everything in it. I’ve mentioned a few of the favourites of my own personal gremlin ‘You’re a waste of space. You’re useless. How are you going to get out of this mess, you pathetic piece of shite?’ Nice.

A few months ago I did an exercise in a workshop where you’d to write down 5 things you say to yourself often and then change a word or two. It’s such a simple thing to do. I wrote ‘I wish I was dead.’ And that became ‘I wish I was alive.’ The truth underneath what I said to myself. It made it clear to me that I wanted out of the life where so little of my ‘authentic self’ got a look-in. After that whenever I thought ‘I wish I was dead.’ I’d immediately think ‘I wish I was alive.’ and know that the second thought was truer than the first.

I accept that what we say to ourselves is how we’re programming ourselves. The programmes that run us are not always readily accessible, and these ‘rules of life’ (or core beliefs) have been running for a long time – since we were children. There may be aspects of our responses that we can identify as related to events (e.g. a fear of dogs that comes from an unfortunate encounter with a dog) so we know why we are anxious. More significant however are the assumptions about the world, others and ourselves that are rooted so deep we are unaware of how they colour our perceptions in the present. The naffirmations we repeat over and again on a daily basis make firm an experience of ourselves and the world that is most unpleasant. Affirmations, from the mind-set that results, appear ridiculous, and if I’m honest, even when I’m in good form I still find most of the ones I know pretty silly somehow.

But better silly than savage. The difficulty with affirmations (and I reckon I could write an entire book on the subject) is that they skate across the surface and the deep-rooted beliefs that shape our experience of the world remain in place, hammered home because they are conclusions we reached when in intense distress, when our survival was threatened. That may seem a bit extreme but if you think about the powerlessness of being little and the traumas that we inevitably encounter growing up, you may see why I believe ‘each of us embodies the woundings of our culture’.

One way of discovering the dysfunctional, unhelpful beliefs that are shaping us and through doing so the world around us is through playing with affirmations. There’s endless books of the blessed things out there and they appear on cards and fridge stickers, they’re hard to avoid. Work with one that makes you sick with the tweeness, the saccharine stupidity of the statement, ‘I love and accept myself exactly as I am’ is one that I’ve found particularly good for this exercise. You write the affirmation, flip the page and write down all the reasons why this is the most ridiculous embarrassing inane activity you’ve ever engaged in. And then turn the page over and write the affirmation again and once again record your reaction over the page. Keep going for a bit = ideally until you run out of responses and hey presto, you have uncovered what you are making firm – your own personal list of naffirmations.

There are different directions to go following the uncovering of naffirmations but my favourite these days is the ‘change a word’ exercise which yields interesting results that are mine alone. Another one is the CBT game of putting a thought on trial. First work out which of the statements is ‘hot’ meaning that you have a strong emotional response to it. Then list all the evidence for the statement (easy) and all the evidence against it (much more challenging, give yourself as long as you need to come up with at least as many pieces of evidence as you have in the ‘for’ list). And then, and this is the neat part if you ask me, come up with a statement that reflects the truth of the initial formulation BUT doesn’t have the same emotional impact. Producing more neutral, balanced thoughts isn’t the easiest thing to learn to do but well worth it. I find this method of adjusting our thinking more effective than the affirmations in books that are supposed to work miracles in our lives because a) it’s balanced b) it covers the evidence and c) the new thought is, by definition, one we find believable.

I think it’s worth saying that sometimes it is shocking to discover our attitude to ourselves, what we really think. Some mighty angry stuff comes out that we didn’t know was in there. Alongside our anger towards ourselves, we discover anger with others, scary memories, put-downs that worked far too well. In mythology when Hercules chops of one of the snake-heads of the Hydra, two more grow in its place. Hercules is any one of us, chopping the heads of the Hydra is what we do with the aspects of ourselves that we don’t want to own as ours, anger, bitterness, jealousy, flashes of hatred, messy stuff, all that we do not want to see in ourselves becomes the monstrous other, the enemy we must defeat.

Hercules, in the grip of the monstrous snake-headed Hydra remembers the advice of his master ‘We rise by kneeling, we conquer by surrendering, we gain by giving up’. He kneels down in the swamp, puts his hands into it and lifts the Hydra up, out of the swamp and into sunlight. She shrivels in the sunlight and now it is possible to cut off the nine heads so that none regrow. Then a tenth one appears, only this one is a jewel of surpassing beauty. This represents the rewards of bringing the dark and difficult, the things we supress into the light, into consciousness. Thinking, taking control of our thinking is a tricky business. Negative thinking is the snake-headed Hydra and in our archetypical inner world, we are Hercules remembering what it means to kneel, to surrender, to give up.

All my life people have commented ‘You’re very hard on yourself’. I didn’t know what they meant. I’ve spent years learning what it means to soften, to open, to let myself be and the truth is I’m still not particularly brilliant at doing so. It helps to keep writing. To recall what I’ve learnt along the way, all those other times when my life has taken unexpected turns. I’m finding what I didn’t lose. I do know my way out of here, I just need to remember the path and follow it.

Cone of Power

April 23rd, 2015

Day’s end or near it. 1st April

Never caught up with myself today. A rough night, awake at 3 and went back to bed at 4 but thank God for small mercies, I did get back to sleep. Cold, very cold, right inside my bones cold. There’s a meditation in Healing into Life and Death to do with breathing into pain and accepting it as sensation. Stephen Levine reckons he managed to pass a kidney stone without any pain medication using this meditation. I must look it up. I couldn’t remember it so instead I pretended I was an alien trying to work out how to use a body it has taken over. It sounds daft but it got me through and that’s what counts.

Because I didn’t get the Council Tax sorted out, when I checked my account to see if my former landlord had given me the long- overdue deposit back on the house I left in December, instead of money in, there was over £100 out. Panic stations. I got myself sorted to go to the Council Point in the library forgetting it’s shut on Wednesdays. Looking at the situation objectively, I’m a lot further from melt-down these days than I was a while ago. If ever there’s a situation that has the power to launch me like a frisbee into a cloud of criticism this is it. I’ve had that bloody form since the 10th February. And oddly, that’s where the ‘terrible telling’ (the ESA application process) is helpful. It is another example of how my ‘illness or disability’ impacts on my life.

I’m upset and I’m holding back an avalanche of ‘unhelpful thinking’ because it does NOT help to tear myself to shreds even if I have a lifetime of practice and am very, very good at it. I was frazzled for the rest of the day. ‘Non-specific anxiety’ I call it and it is most unpleasant. It’s not worry in that it’s not focused on anything in particular. It’s like trembling mentally rather than physically. It feels like an achievement of no small order that I didn’t start crying outside the Library. I am no longer weeping uncontrollably. I don’t need to hide in my cave because the world is beyond me. I managed. I got through as much as I could and a lot less than I would wish. Perhaps such days are bound to follow a day when I was unable to wrestle with the demands of the day at all.

That said, it’s a relief to release this day and for now, I’m refusing to think about how much I’ve to get through tomorrow. When my daughter was little, every night after her story we’d share ‘3 good things about today’. I’d recommend it to any parent. We’d a chance to talk about arguments that’s happened from a cooler place, time to listen to her saying what it was like for her when I yelled at her, what it was like for me when I tripped over something she’d left where it shouldn’t be. No matter how bad a day is there are always 3 good things to be found, and finding them puts the day to rest.

Best thing today was dancing to Bob Marley’s Legend. It’s so evocative of a rich tapestry of happy memories. The one that surfaced today is the most golden, perfect moment –

I was leaving Durham to return to Wales and at my leaving party someone brought Legend and all my ANC friends were bubbling with their memories, with their legends, their stories of what Bob Marley meant to them. When it came to ‘One love, one heart, let’s get together and feel alright’ we were all singing along and here I have it, Black and White and Yellow and Brown, the colours of the family, the colours of humanity, this circle dancing and singing to Bob Marley in my living room. There were so many nationalities represented that night I can’t remember them all. All those big black men who’d educated me about the ‘Struggle’, some of my neighbours (Overseas students and their families), and the few people still left in the area from my MA course, all singing joyously.

For me, who, when growing up in rural Northern Ireland, danced my longing to know of people and places beyond the narrowness of all I knew, looking at these dear friends was joy indeed. I felt my heart bursting with delight. End of the song, we come into a group hug and together we sent our longing for love and peace and understanding into the night. I believed in ‘cones of power’ then, it was part of my Witchy practice. But if ever a cone of power was released full of love and goodwill, it happened then, in that soul circle.