Religion and tradition—opiate and analgesic?

ADDICTIVE TRADITION 
If religion is the opiate of the people, tradition is an even more sinister analgesic, simply because it rarely appears sinister. 

If religion is a tight band, a throbbing vein, and a needle, tradition is a far homelier concoction: poppy seeds ground into tea; a sweet cocoa drink laced with cocaine; the kind of thing your grandmother might have made.
—Zadie Smith

I have given up worshipping in a church. I have a faith and I have a spiritual practice but my church has no walls, it is wherever I am and it’s most solid in the natural spaces around me. I chose my alternate path because I don’t like dogma and I don’t like being ‘preached’ to by other mere mortals who profess to be superior because of their faith and because they worship in a church.

Everyone sins, some of my ‘sins’ have been more obvious than other people’s. I grew up in the catholic faith and had a child out of wedlock at 18. Didn’t that cause a stir for years to come. Funny too, I was judged for it years and years later, by a family whose religious convictions were very strong until their daughter, the youngest, fell pregnant while still at school. Not a word was breathed about the sin in that.

Tradition is interesting. What tradition are we talking here? The tradition of wearing blue or maroon during the State of Origin series? Having roast turkey on Thanksgiving? Or the traditions associated with initiations, such as the sculling six cans of beer at a party through a hole in the bottom of the can, a naked beach run?

I actually don’t think it’s so much the tradition but the adherence and expectation of adherence to tradition that is the problem. I remember when I said I was no longer buying Christmas gifts for my family. There were some high emotions. I was looked at like I was obscene. I might have dropped a turd in the middle of the living room floor for all the looks of disgust I received.  I was no longer interested in a token effort at playing happy families. My family rarely spoke to me or included me in gatherings (admitteldy I made it very hard for them to love me at the time). I thought it was time to get real. Why give a gift to someone when you really can’t stand them, why uphold a societal norm when you think and feel otherwise? I guess in some ways my action was forcing others to act in congruence with their feelings and it was uncomfortable, exposing.

I see a grim side of tradition where people are trapped in a situation or, worse still, where bad behaviours occur but no one is willing to stand up and say no or put an end to the behaviour.

An interesting thought to ponder. There is so much more, I’ve barely scratched the surface. Thank you Zadie Smith, your words are glinting, grabbibg my attention and causing my mind to turn somersaults. I like it.

 

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What is this ‘flow’ they talk about?

Ideas, concepts, nature and art provoke contemplation in me. I can be occupied for days or weeks in quiet reflection; thoughts mulling about in the background as I go about my daily tasks. I graze and reflect, interpret and try out ideas for myself, finding links and truths, sometimes getting nowhere other times feeling sated by the mere joy of connecting with the brilliance of the original creator of the work.

I read the following idea in Rob Brezsnys’astrological newsletter and made note of it for further thought.

When they say, “Go with the flow,” what “flow” are they talking about? Do they mean the flow of your early childhood conditioning? The flow of your friends’ opinions? The latest cultural trends? Your immediate instinctual needs? When they say, “Go with the flow,” are they urging you to keep doing what’s easiest to do and what will win you the most ego points, even if it keeps you from being true to your soul’s code? Consider the possibility that there are many flows to go with, but only one or some of them are correct for you. Do you know which? Maybe it’s the one flowing in an underground cavern, far from the mad crowd.

My initial ruminations have led me to dismantle this and consider a piece at a time.

When they say, “Go with the flow,” what “flow” are they talking about?

 Good freaking point man.“In flow” too is another curious statement. I’ve always wondered what flow is, even though I’ve used this terminology myself. What do I actually mean?

Do they mean the flow of your early childhood conditioning?

Oh, hell no. That would be freaking disastrous. I would not like that flow. I’ve been trying to leave that ebbing cesspit behind me for most of my recent history, at least 20 years. (Lol. Recent!)

The flow of your friends’ opinions?

Nope. Well, maybe, sometimes. This isn’t always a bad thing. Others can have their opinions, I don’t need to convince them of mine. If I don’t like theirs I don’t have to follow but I don’t have to battle either. If their opinions impinge on my knowledge of what’s right for me then it’s a big no. If it’s about allowing and experiencing something new or different, then yeah, maybe that’s an okay flow to go with.

The latest cultural trends?

I’m not into trends or fads or fashions. So, no.

Your immediate instinctual needs? 

Perhaps this is it. The key here would be to separate self-indulgence from instinct but if we feel something is right why not go with it? This might actually cause a flow state.

When they say, “Go with the flow,” are they urging you to keep doing what’s easiest to do and what will win you the most ego points, even if it keeps you from being true to your soul’s code? 

Well, clearly not. Why would you? Do I do this? Umm, yeah, maybe I do what’s easy sometimes but ego points? I don’t understand that. I don’t consciously do anything that would keep me from my soul code. I think that’s all part of becoming aware and conscious. I strive to unlock my true self, my psychic abilities, my talents. I don’t want to stay away from them any longer. I want to move toward and into them now. Yes, there are triggers and behaviours and habits I am trying to unlock and dissolve so I can come into myself more fully. There is talk of peeling back the layers of the onion. But what’s at the centre? Anything? What happens when there are no more layers? It’s all learning and all part of the magnificent course of life. Maybe this, right now, is the me I am meant to be, the suffering and the joy, the stumbling, the getting up and moving forward are all part of it.

Consider the possibility that there are many flows to go with, but only one or some of them are correct for you. Do you know which?

This statement I agree with. There clearly is more than one flow. We need to be aware of the flow we choose to go with and aware of the consequences. Sometimes there is no harm in catching a ride, just know when to get off. Choose flow that aligns with your heart. Hop on a current that scares you occasionally to see where it leads. Let your heart and intuition guide choice here, I think.

           Maybe it’s the one flowing in an underground cavern, far from the mad crowd.

Anything away from the maddening crowds sounds good to me. The forest. The beach. A mountain top.

What flow will I choose today? The flow of my heart I think.

What does flow mean to you? Have you caught a particularly interesting current lately?

 

Reinvent yourself, reclaim your essence

Reclaim yourself from the living dead. Life beckons”
Srividya Srinivasan

Until the last few weeks I had noticed myself saying, “This is not how I normally behave.” “This is so out of character for me.” “I don’t normally do this.”

It’s been fifteen months since the dissolution of my marriage, since my life change irrevocably in so many ways, for the better, mostly. In this time, I’ve become aware of and begun dismantling some of the habits, beliefs and behaviours that developed during the past 22 years.  Initially, I didn’t know how to define myself without the construct of that relationship around me. Who was I when the persona I’d built, to live within the confines of the relationship, was no longer needed?  How do I navigate the world as a middle aged single woman? It was all very puzzling at first because I no longer had to do many of the things I’d always done now that I was no longer in a relationship. My approach to life was different. Routines fell away because I realised I’d created them to provide a sense of control over my life when I had very little control over the direction or depth of my relationship. Interactions with people changed too. I became more patient with people and more gracious. As a result of my intense pain I noticed I was more accepting of others, willing to listen more, less quick to judge or dismiss. Then of course interactions with men changed too. I was able to have deeper and longer conversations. Spend time with a range of men, things you don’t do, well, I didn’t do, in a marriage. I could go out and not worry about being home at certain times. I could go out on a ‘school night’ even.

It slowly dawned on me that I didn’t have to follow the same rules. That I could choose differently.  I began to let go of “you must be who you’ve always been” and just watched where things led.

I’ve experienced things I haven’t before because of the situation I was in, but I can make different choices now.  If a behaviour doesn’t feel right, then I know that I won’t repeat it. If a thought doesn’t gel, then I won’t go down that road again. But just because I haven’t done or thought or said particular things over the last 20 years or so doesn’t mean I’m not being me or that I’m acting out of character, it just means I’m exploring the possibilities, nudging structures that may no longer serve me. And you know what? If I wake up disappointed with myself, I can always start over and begin again.

The last year has been like an experiment to create a new identity for myself. It’s work in progress, so I don’t think I’ll be bursting through a ribbon, at a convenient end point, proclaiming a bright and shiny new me. The process is more like a resurrection. It’s like a remembering and rediscovering of my truth, a truth that become hidden among the needs of others, a truth hidden in the recesses of memory and youth, if it ever truly had time to develop in the first place. I feel that I’m re-emerging and reframing my life.  I’m discovering that what and who I always thought I was isn’t necessarily true anymore. I am reclaiming the essence of who I am and redefining myself.

If you find yourself in a similar position, my advice is to: resurrect, reclaim, restart and keep moving forward.

 

Connecting hearts – a simple bridge to build connection

 Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.  Dale Carnegie

I’m not sure I totally agree with Carnegie that our name is the most important sound to us but certainly to hear your name spoken by one you love can fill you with joy. I remember my grandmother always made me feel like I was the most special person alive. Whenever I telephoned she would give the most joyful exclamation, “Oh, Shannyn!’ like it was the best thing in her whole day to hear my voice, as though she hadn’t heard from me in years. I loved her for that and I still hear it in my head, often. I can hear her tone, the smile and love in her voice. Few others have ever said my name in a way that has made me feel so loved and valued.

When my lover said my name for the first time it was like the shimmery, sparkly sound that wind chimes make on a lightly breezy day, the sound danced in my ears.  I didn’t realise how tremendous a little thing like that could be.  It came as a surprise because even though we’d known each other for some time our primary language had not been words, until then.

Carnegie’s words have made me more aware. I’ve been paying attention to who uses my name and who doesn’t. There are two people who I have met recently, and have almost daily interactions with, who call me by name. While they are not people I love and are acquaintances only, I feel like I’ve been seen, acknowledged and some connection has been made. It’s an incredibly rare thing, I have come to realise.  Think about it – how often are you called by name? I am surrounded by colleagues who say hello and goodbye, each day, without specifically using my name. I have friends who text or message in some form or another and launch into a conversation without the opening salutation including my name. It feels a little like we’ve adopted the Harry Potter approach and everyone has become he or she who cannot be named. Is it laziness or a consequence of our highly digitalised social media engagement? I don’t know but it’s an interesting exercise to note who uses your name and who doesn’t. I speaks volumes to their character and their regard for human interaction. I appreciate those people a little more now that I have begun to notice.

I also appreciate those who call me by the correct name and those who spell my name correctly. It’s spelt with two ‘n’s’ in the middle.  I’m not sure how you get Sharon from that. It’s also spelt with a ‘y’ not an ‘o’.  It’s been a life time of eye rolling and head shaking. How can they get it wrong I wonder? Australians have a tendency to shorten people’s names. I tend not to do this and I detest using nicknames, especially weird ones, preferring always to call someone by their Christian name as a sign of respect and to demonstrate their value to me. My father and sisters used to shorten my name and call me Shan. I actually don’t mind it. So, it was a surprise to me when Michael came to work for me and very early on he called me Shan.  He was horrified when I said to him “You know, only my family call me that.” He thought he had offended me and overstepped. Far from it, it was really natural, a sign of his comfort with me and of the deep friendship we would develop.  I still enjoy hearing him use it when we talk.

At times, when I’ve been introduced to someone at a noisy party or gathering and I have missed their name or been unsure of how to pronounce it, rather than confirm early I have hesitated and it quickly becomes too late, and I’m stuck in a situation where I converse with someone and don’t call them by name. It’s awkward, I don’t like it and I realise now how different my interactions might be if I more often used someone’s name and simply asked for clarification right from the start.

Using someone’s name is a powerful gesture, a bridge to connect our human hearts across the dross of the everyday. I think it’s time we stopped skating across the surface of life. I think it’s time we connected by simply using the names of those we converse with.  It may not be the absolute, most important sound in the any language but it sure is sweet to the ears and touches the heart. A person’s name is sacred, in a way, and the use of it is a beautiful blessing and acknowledgement of our respect and interest in them. See what a difference it makes to use someone’s name in your interactions; it can buoy a weary soul, calm a raging beast and turn a frown into a smile.

 

“I remember when your name was just another name that rolled without thought off my tongue.
Now, I can’t look at your name without an abundance of sentiment attached to each letter.
Your name, which I played with so carelessly, so easily, has somehow become sacred to my lips.
A name I won’t throw around light-heartedly or repeat without deep thought.
And if ever I speak of you, I use the English language to describe who you were to me. You are nameless, because those letters grouped together in that familiar form….. carries too much meaning for my capricious heart.”
― 
Jamie Weise

Light and shadow intersect in deep healing.

In order for healing to occur, our good and evil, light and shadow must overlap. Embrace your darkness. See what wonders emerge.

Ancient shamans used to perform a balancing ritual, one in which light and dark meet. The light and dark must meet to integrate otherwise we run the risk of the dark erupting and manifesting in depression, anger, misadventure. Repressing our shadow blocks us from living authentically. It isn’t something to be afraid of exploring.

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Sitting in a Melbourne pub on a Tuesday afternoon in March I idly sifted through the photos on my iPad and found a screen shot of a comment I had left on a friend’s Facebook post in 2014. I don’t remember the post but it must have held some meaning for me to take a shot of my comment and save it all this time. I wrote:

I wonder how often we are open to allowing others to see our darkness, so they can forgive us and love us. I know I make it difficult for people to love me because I hide my darkness from them for fear of … for fear of everything. Being abandoned, being vulnerable, having to explain myself, defend myself. Blah, blah, blah (Yes, I wrote blah, blah, blah).
On the other hand, why is it I am aware of the darkness in others, and when I soften to it I am more willing to accept them for who they are and embrace them more?

Someone responded to my comment saying, “when we are being authentic and vulnerable we are exposing that shame, that fear, that guilt or whatever it is for us that keeps us small or limited/ frightened. People who love and know you, won’t hold it against you, they will love you more.”

It was odd to read this and reflect. I’ve not been afraid to be vulnerable in sharing deep thoughts and feelings. People have commented on my writing and applauded my vulnerability. However, the one person I felt I should have been able to truly show my darkness too, didn’t embrace me more but rather walked away.

Sitting in that Melbourne bar, on my second glass of red wine, I realised it was not my darkness he was afraid of but my light. He also acknowledged he had dimmed my light and was letting me go because of it. Yes, he did actually say that and while I’m not entirely convinced he is that sensitive or attuned, it is nice to hold onto, even though I’d rather villainise him. What I realise now is there was no understanding in him. No amount of explanation could help him meet me, see me, know me, understand me. He was unable to hold me in my darkness, or my light, to accept or comprehend me simply because he had never interrogated or opened to his own darkness. But rather stuffed it down, denied it and avoided it. You can’t hold someone else in their darkness if you don’t acknowledge your own. It would be something too foreign, too frightening.

Now, when I meet people I articulate my darkness. It’s hard to show it but I talk about it, warn people, make them aware so they have a chance to run early and so they know what to expect but most of all to save myself the bother of muddling through it and being disappointed later.

The people who really know me, who really love me, do in fact love me even more once they’ve seen it, felt it, held me through it. These champions of mine; my son, my sister, my friends; see the whole of me and keep on supporting me. Funny my life partner, was not one of them. I knew the moment I accepted his desperate, and now I realise manipulative plea because he’s done the same to another, to support him that I was doomed to a life less than I wanted. I saw it all in that moment and yet was too afraid to say no, such was his need.

I made an observation to a friend that I seem to have a habit of collecting broken birds. People who need healing come to me. I’ve never chosen a partner, they’ve chosen me and as I reflect, they all needed healing. I no longer want to heal people who drain me, who turn around and smite me, hurt me as a consequence. Recently, a man asked how my dating life was going. I mentioned it wasn’t really going and something along the lines of seeming to attract men who were afraid to be alone regardless of a glaring mismatch, that many needed validation, or something along those lines. He made the observation that I attract broken pigeons because I am an empath. How astute. He too had been doing the same, until our meeting.

I have meandered away from where I began, and, in my wandering, I now know that it’s unlikely anyone who needs to be healed will be a worthy witness to my dark side. I am not afraid of my darkness, I can love others despite theirs. I can love someone who is willing to show their darkness and not play small, not limit themselves or our relationship by keeping things sanitary and falsely even keeled. I know too that I require a man who will not run from mine. Who will hold fast. Who will embrace me and help me weather the storm. Who I can be truly vulnerable with and who will ride out the rolling, roiling ocean of feminine emotion while remaining steadfastly in his masculine.

I’ve been talking a lot about the masculine and feminine lately, it’s a theme that keeps coming up for me. Years ago, two very intuitive and spiritual men said they could see me running women’s circles about the divine feminine, female energy and goddess energy. I laughed. It was so far outside my comfort zone, interest and lifestyle it just didn’t seem possible. Once I became more interested in spirituality it seemed possible just not probable. At the time I so often defaulted to my masculine that I had no sense of my feminine. I actually ran from it. In order to survive in my work I had to project toughness, though I believe I was, and was often complemented for being, caring and empathetic. In my primary relationship I had to fight to be heard and seen. I also had to protect myself so often that the feminine was very deeply buried. But here she is emerging. Sometimes as Kali energy, sometimes as Venus energy. People notice. I see people notice it. This is new for me. I have been fortunate to have a wonderful man come into my life who has allowed me to explore the feminine. I have seen too how characteristics and behaviours in other men, not fully in their masculine, throw me out of it. And still I digress from my initial musings on dark and light. But perhaps I may still be on track; for while I am now revealing and feeling more into and enjoying the soft feminine, it is the revealing of the dark feminine that I haven’t explored before and that’s where the path takes me.

I wonder, will I bond with a partner who will be open to my darkness as well as my light, so he might love the whole of me? Will I partner with a man without the fear of abandonment, with whom I can be vulnerable, without having to explain myself or defend myself, a man who will hold me not only in my light but also when the tempest rises thus allowing my heart to remain open and unobstructed? Will I unite with an ally who appreciates being seen and supported in their light and dark? A dream I trust can be a reality. I welcome such a gift.

Love isn’t safe; its beauty is in the unpredictable, the rise and fall, the light and dark. To make it safe only makes it temporary. Know who you are. Know what you want. Be vulnerable. Express yourself and tell your partner what you need. Learn what they need. Be conscious. Talk to the people you love. Commit consciously and meet, truly meet them. This and more.

I stood on the edge of the world and magic happened

“Breathe next to me. And I will capture a piece of your soul along with mine.”
Marikit dR. Camba, 

Once, many years ago, I stood on the shore; quiet, desperately sad, with eyes closed, and magic happened. I became one with the ocean. I felt I was the ocean and it was within me. I felt the magnitude of the universe in those seconds. For an instant the whole universe was inside me, I saw it, I felt it, I travelled through it as it travelled simultaneously through me. I was connected to it in a way I had no comprehension of, no prior experience or examples. I did not experience it again. Until recently.

Sitting on the hill of a natural amphitheatre, alone but surrounded by approximately 150 000 people I felt a connection to the hearts of each of them, like I felt with the ocean all those years before. It was New Year’s Eve. I was at Woodford for the annual music festival, six days of music and noise, action, laughter and lots and lots of people. Candles had been distributed throughout the day and at 11:30 they were to be lit, followed by three minutes silence.  The idea of three minutes silence in that place was incomprehensible to me, but I was assured it was a ritual that was adhered to every year.  At 11:30 I passed a spare candle to a man sitting nearby.  He asked how we were meant to light them.  I told him that I believed that was part of the magic.  Within 30 seconds the amphitheatre was alight with the glow of thousands and thousands of candles. And a hush fell over the whole of Woodfordia and I wept.

In the silence, in our quietness we all came together and connected.  It wasn’t like we were holding hands, that’s not the connection, it wasn’t even like an embrace. The sensation began as a ripple then became a gentle, undulating wave that rolled up the front of my body, opened my heart and passed into the depths of me and surrounded me. It was like all those souls were gathered into gentle arms and sent lovingly into the night, into each other. In those three minutes I again touched the inky darkness of the night sky that opened to the universe beyond, and I soared, filled with the souls of those around me.

The powerful persuasiveness of scent

Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.    
                                                     Helen Killer

It’s a grey Sunday morning. I am content with a pot of chai, soulful music in the background accompanied by the sound of rain falling to earth to quench my parched and neglected gardens. I sit at my desk watching a colourful parrot suck sweetness from the golden Grevillea outside my window and I have the scent of Indian sandalwood incense floating in the air around me.

While in India I picked up a copy of Diane Ackerman’s A natural history of the senses. It’s a tantalisingly rich book. From the very first line I was drawn in and felt myself blissfully sinking into the heady world of sensory delight. Ackerman tackles smell first. She calls it the mute sense because “it is almost impossible to describe how something smells to someone who hasn’t smelled it.”

Reading more about smell last night I was intrigued that the author had a similar experience to one I have had, and I will get to that shortly. Being sensitive, smell has always played a large role in my life, even before I could comprehend and articulate its power.

The smell of my grandmother’s house signalled safety and love to me.  It was a smell I never grew tired of.  Her powdered cheek, camphored linen cupboard and simmering braised steak were olfactory sources of contentment.

The moist, dank smell of undergrowth and dirt on the forest floor combined with the freshness of eucalypt or pine needles is a reassuring, grounding smell.  The spray of the ocean on a light breeze can raise my spirits. Fresh mown grass transports me to summer afternoons of my childhood, when the day was ending, and the mosquitos were just coming out to play.

A particular spray deodorant repulses me.  I return to whole days of morning sickness where that smell permeated the rooms I lived in.  Chemical fragrances burn my eyes, irritate my skin and the lining of my nasal passages. I prefer now natural scents whether in the world or captured and bottled.

Scent enhances our experience of life. The waft of a roast dinner in the oven is a prelude to a satisfying feast.  Inhaling the aroma of a glass of red wine or a good scotch before imbibing, readies the taste buds and enhances the experience. I am sure babies smell so good to make us want to take care of them.  Smell protects us also. Foul, putrid, acrid smells warn us something is not right.  They prompt action, either to remove the offending item, or remove ourselves.

I had an unusual experience last year related to smell and memory. I had been attending a spiritualist church to reconnect with that part of myself that I had to hide in my marriage.  One night at circle we did flower readings. We each brought along a flower without revealing it to others and put it in a basket. The basket was handed around and we took a flower out and did a reading for the person whose flower it was. Richard (not his real name), got my flower.

Richard was 100 percent accurate in everything he said. He picked up that my heart was racing like crazy. He said it wasn’t a health issue but that it was terribly strong and that he could feel it. He held out his hand and it shook. He was overwhelmed. He hadn’t felt that connection before. He also knew instinctively it was me.  He looked directly across the circle and spoke to me.

My heart had been racing for three days before that meeting. It was so strong my clothing fluttered with its strength. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Richard wanted to talk to me that night and find out more. In that moment of speaking with him I realised we had met before. I remembered his smell. His breath. I usually remember people’s faces. There was a flicker of visual recognition but so slight I almost missed it. The smell got me and instantly, in my mind’s eye, I saw us at a healing centre. Then he said I should be healing and asked what healing work I did. Turned out we both did the same healing work. We had the same teacher. That’s where I thought we’d met. He had a vague recollection of meeting.  It wasn’t until weeks later we realised our timelines didn’t match up. Was it a future projection or a past life remembering?  I don’t know but the feeling of knowing was strong and convincing.

Then, like the author of my book, I had another experience that turned me away from someone.  Ackerman writes,

“I once started to date a man who was smart, sophisticated, and attractive, but when I kissed him I was put off by a faint, cornlike smell that came from his cheek.  Not cologne or soap.  It was his subtle, natural scent, and I was shocked to discover that it disturbed me viscerally.”

I met a witty, intelligent man who is great fun to hang out with. We share many similar interests with enough differences to make things interesting. We had been out a few times and had a hoot. One day he kissed me and I mentally and energetically recoiled. There was a smell about him I had not previously detected.  Like Ackerman, I knew it was not a layered scent of soap or aftershave.  What was of particular interest to me was how this played out.  Despite all his strengths I did not in my heart feel the connection he felt to me. I didn’t know how to bring it up and so had avoided it.  The smell was a sign to take action.  We had a frank conversation and I was able to convey how much I enjoyed his company and would like to continue as friends without an intimate physical relationship with him.  He agreed, and we have continued to be firm friends.

There are scents I wish I could bottle and sink deeply into as the mood arises; like the smell of India, the scent of ripening stone fruit on the wind in Tanunda or the smell of a lover and our lovemaking that lingers on my body when we part.  Odours and scents have a powerful persuasion over us, they can transport us to a time and place from our past, repel us and draw us in and lull us.  Smell is the mute sense.  It is so very hard to describe and convey to others because of the uniqueness of each smell and also, I think, because of how they make us feel.

Three little clay pots

Mold clay into a bowl.
The empty space makes it useful.   Laozi

Three little unfired clay pots sit on my desk. They are simple, misshapen, chipped little pots but they bring me joy. They have travelled many thousands of kilometres and made it to their new home intact; which is no small feat considering how roughly bags are handled in transit.

This trio of terracotta vessels come from India, a land of contrasts and a land that has captivated my heart and mind.  I drank chia on the streets of Kolkata from these pots, one was a gift from the vendor who served my tea in a similar small pot with this one beneath to save my fingers being burnt by the heat of the fresh, steaming brew.  The taller pair I kept, instead of throwing onto the pile in the street.

Why did I keep something that is the equivalent of a disposable paper cup by western measures? They are reminders of a magical land of heat and dust, of remote villages and bustling cities, of streets thronging with people and noise and the smell of delicious street food during the day and a roaring silence at night.  As a reminder of a land where the constant presence of armed authorities, to the unaccustomed, can feel at first threatening and sinister contrasted with the gentle welcoming nature of individuals who draw you into their home, make you comfortable and make tea. It’s a land of colour, art, spirituality, incredible history and aliveness.

These pots are also a reminder of the simple and elegant beauty of life and the richness of human interactions. Someone in that massive country made these pots by hand, they were transported, sold and stacked and eventually passed across the well-stocked counter of the chai wallah’s stall.  An Aussie girl stood in a muddy lane, surrounded by early morning chia drinking men, and numerous homeless dogs at her feet, to enjoy the relative quiet before the hustle and bustle. The simple elegance of these pots, the curious looks, the numerous conversations asking where I was from and how long I would be in India, the shared appreciation of the flavours of a hot milk chai and being warmly included in a long-standing Kolkata morning routine is why I brought them home. This simple elegance of welcoming a stranger to share a daily ritual, warmed my heart.

So, three simple, misshapen, chipped, little clay pots sit on my desk and I smile as I look at them. I arrived home only an hour or so ago from my travels and was overjoyed these tiny earthen vessels survived the journey that I had to write of my joy.

Being alone is like wandering in a murky twilight. It’s also the best way to heal.

The capacity to be alone is the capacity to love. 

―Osho

I wrote recently of wanting to explore the wild woman within. For some, that was a strange and unfamiliar term.  Simply put, it’s about defining, redefining and getting clear on what matters most to me, who I am as an individual, as a woman. What I didn’t mention in that previous post was that part of the impetus for this exploration has been the startling realisation that humans are so conditioned to be partnered, that many, having experienced a relationship break up,  don’t allow themselves time heal before seeking a new replacement partner. They ignore their emotions, bottle things up and expect a new partner to step in and replace the previous one.  Then there are those who can’t leave a relationship without seeking a soft landing and lining up the next person before leaving their current partner. The ramifications of these behaviours, without healing and without time out before forming a new relationship, means that we end up bleeding all over someone who hasn’t hurt us. It might not happen immediately, but it will happen.

I’ve been surprised by the number of people I have met who are afraid to be alone.  Two men,  both had 19-year marriages that ended, each re-partnered very quickly with another woman. One, had a child with his new partner. Which he said was an unfortunate mistake as he already had four children and she a child of her own.  I say unfortunate, not because he does not love his child, but he knew, and it proved to be true, that sadly this relationship was not destined to last. The other man had been with his new partner for several months and had recently broken up.  He was so heartbroken over this relationship that he was selling his house to move away from the memories of their time together.  He so desperately missed the little things; reading newspapers together on a Sunday, cooking meals together, calling someone at the end of the day, that he was actively searching for another partner to fill the empty spaces.

I too initially missed those same things: weekend breakfasts on the deck,  making my beloved a cup of tea, sharing the highlights and low points of a day. I have since come to the realisation that being alone after a long (22 years) relationship has ended is a good opportunity find out who I am as an individual, outside the confines of a partnership. I have realised too that many behaviours happen in a context and once the context is removed so are the behaviours.  This ’empty’ and undefined space was initially alarming to me but gradually I came to see it for the liberating opportunity it is and became excited to explore, with a clean slate, how I might interact and react in situations now.

Back to my friend who was selling his house. Having turned 50 a few months earlier his dream was to live for 6 weeks in New York, renting an apartment, frequenting cafes and generally just enjoying the vibe of that great big, fascinating metropolis.  When I asked when he was planning to go he claimed it was too late, the year was coming to an end.  It wasn’t even August. Then he said it would be winter soon and that wouldn’t be any good. I thought it would be fabulous, the icy streets of New York, skating in Central Park, surely this would be just as fun as a summer sojourn? Enquiring into this further it was revealed that he didn’t want to go alone and wanted a partner to go with.  Having travelled on my own I know there are times when you just want to share experiences with someone but putting a dream on hold because there is no one to go with and not wanting to be alone. Come on! That’s no good.

I encouraged him to make plans, take his leave and go.  No, no. He simply couldn’t be alone.  I shared all the incredible overseas adventures I had been on alone and how enriching it was. Seeing I was getting nowhere I suggested he go for three weeks on his own and then invite a friend or his daughters to come over and spend the following three weeks. No. He simply could not conceive of being alone.

Gobsmacked, I challenged this mindset further. I truly believe that we owe it to our next partners (if indeed there is to be another partner) to have spent time alone. To unravel the coils of relationship, to sever ties with old partners, to wrestle with the hurts, the disappointments, the annoyances and the habits formed. Surely, he could see how destructive moving into a new relationship would be when he was pining over a lost love? As it turns out, he wasn’t interested in growth or healing.  He wanted to fill a gaping space and fill it quickly.

I share theses stories, not to be unkind or judgemental. They provided me with an insight and a lesson for myself.  I do find it very sad however, that the drive to be attached is so strong that sense and reason seem to get lost.  Yet, I get it. We are designed to be coupled but I fear there are so many recently separated men and women who so desperately want to feel whole again that they jump into the next relationship, only to see it crumble too.  Or, worse still, destroy the person they partner with. I felt the ache, I felt the intense desire to be partnered, I felt the hollow emptiness not only of living alone but knowing no one would walk through the door again. The desire to share, to talk, to embrace and connect was strong.  I felt it. There was an urgency to it. It is a physical ache; a deep longing and it cries out to be sated. But the longer I allowed myself to feel that discomfort the more I realised how much I was healing. And the more I was healing the more I realised I needed to do this for myself otherwise I would repeat the same patterns, that old behaviours would continue and that I would accept the same behaviour in a new partner and nothing would change; simply a new face and an old story. I realised a great merit and freedom in being alone.  Sadly, so many fear it and actively avoid pain, close themselves off to the roiling emotions and stuff it all down.

Relationship breakups hurt. You suffer grief and loss, similar to a death. There’s regret and sadness, for me there was humiliation, embarrassment and a sense of failure, but the best thing to do is feel it all.  Feel the fear, the shame, the hurt, the anger, the need for revenge, the emptiness and the numbness.  Then gear up again for the anger and despair to come flooding back in. Because they creep back in when least expected.

We live in a world where we don’t like the unsanitary, the messy, the inconvenient.  We shy away from discomfort and do our best to soften any blows that come our way.  Let me tell you, this is one time you need to get down and dirty, feel the pain in every iteration. Cry, scream, howl at the moon. Punch. Scream some more if you have to. Flail about. Curl up unbathed and rock. You need to feel the pain, you need to grieve the loss, you need to move through it and emerge, shaken but finally upright with your face to the sun once more.

It’s not easy. It bloody hard.  It’s scary. It’s like wandering in a murky twilight without a torch, hoping to find your way.  Then, when you emerge, connect again with others.  In fact, it’s good to get out and talk with people. It’s good to spend time with others. For me, spending time with male and female friends, having coffee, dinner, going places has been delightful.  It is lovely to listen to someone and be truly present because I have no expectations of them.  I have rebuilt some confidence conversing with men from diverse backgrounds and enjoying their company. Do I want a serious relationship? Hell no.  It’s too early.  It’s time to explore the wonders of the world, my inner strengths and to get really clear on my boundaries, my values, my-self.

To be alone is to heal. We owe it ourselves and to the cultivation of genuine and authentic relationships to be alone. So, I settle in to learn the lessons of aloneness; to figure out what inspires me, to create new dreams and I am grateful for the opportunity.

“The capacity to be alone is the capacity to love. It may look paradoxical to you, but it’s not. It is an existential truth: only those people who are capable of being alone are capable of love, of sharing, of going into the deepest core of another person–without possessing the other, without becoming dependent on the other, without reducing the other to a thing, and without becoming addicted to the other. They allow the other absolute freedom, because they know that if the other leaves, they will be as happy as they are now. Their happiness cannot be taken by the other, because it is not given by the other.”

Osho

Finding True North, reconnecting with the Wild Woman: what would it be like to know your true identity?

Several things have come up lately that have me pondering what it would be like to know my true identity. What would it look like to strip back the rules and routines, the stories and habits, the over civilisation and learnt behaviours, the false fronts and the polite masks? What would it be like to know and be the ‘wild woman’ within?

The spark:

If you’ve read Women who run with the wolves by Clarrisa Pinkola Estes you’ve probably already guessed the book has sparked this curiosity. Every sentence spoke to me. The ideas expressed were truths I’d always known. It was like coming home to my grandmother’s kitchen, a safe place of love and nurturing. Women who run with the wolves explores the idea that in every woman there is a wild and natural creature, a powerful force, filled with good instincts, passionate creativity, and ageless knowing. She is Wild Woman. Dr Estes uses myths and stories to illustrate how women’s vitality can be restored through reconnecting with the Wild Woman archetype.

The kindling:

I remember a time when it was taboo to talk about female sexuality and sexual desires. It struck me last week that if it was taboo, in polite circles, to talk of female sexuality and sexual desire it was most unspeakable to discuss the sexuality and desire of older women. The lid is being lifted on these topics and women are beginning to share their inner most desires, laugh at failed escapades, lament lost lovers and discuss things polite ladies ought not.

I sat in a circle of women and listened to a 70-year-old woman talk about an emerging sensuality in her mid-sixties. She spoke unashamedly about being dry, going to the doctor for assistance and with the help of estrogen cream became juicy again and engaged in very sensuous sexual relationships.

As I looked around the table, many women were smiling. Those of us close to or enjoying middle age were encouraged that menopause did not mark the end of gorgeous physical connections. One young woman in her early twenties, however, was aghast. She was polite but clearly uncomfortable, a slight revolution and mocking were evident on her gorgeous face.  “Baby girl, I thought, you are so vibrant and fresh you don’t yet know how things change.”  Other young women were like acolytes, sitting at the feet of a master. They drank in her words and were reverent.

More kindling:

There is a tendency in women, as we get older, to contain ourselves more and more. Part of the over civilisation I mentioned earlier, I guess. A friend showed me a video of her toddler niece joyfully dancing in church. I asked, “when do we become so self-conscious that we lose that freedom?”  We agreed it may be around two, possibly three. We forget so easily that wonderful liberating freedom to move our bodies, to express ourselves so openly. We close up when we are told to behave. When we are told not to shine too brightly. When we begin to sense we make others uncomfortable. Be a good girl, we are told.

Years ago, my friend and coach Adam, told me I had to stop being the good girl. I didn’t understand because I didn’t see it. I didn’t think I was being the good girl. My body knew it. Eventually, it got sick. It rebelled. My mind got lost, my emotions unravelled, and sleep became elusive. For years.

The fuel:

I’m at a turning point. Alone after 22 years I’m discovering many false faces. There are so many routines, so many beliefs about myself, so many behaviours that I constructed to survive a reality I co-created, to align with the expectations of others over a lifetime.  The thing is, these habits, beliefs and patterns are no longer necessary, and they no longer serve me. Oh, I could keep the stories going, for sure. But I’ve seen the opportunity to let them go and see them for what they are. Just stories. But when you take away the stories, the habitual behaviours, the conditioning you start to wonder, “hang on, who was I before all this shit clung to me?”

I have shared this realisation with a friend over several months and she  has added the fuel to the kindling of my current contemplations. My friend has very lovingly encouraged me to take time out and to ‘go feral’ (sounds dreadful, doesn’t it?) and to reconnect with the wild woman inside me. She sees it. She knows it’s been leashed, restricted and stifled.

I now have the chance to awaken the wild woman and to discover who and what she is, how she thinks feels and interacts with others. It’s time to go beyond fear. I have felt her calling, in the distance, for ever so long. Perhaps that’s why I wake so suddenly from sleep and lay helplessly alert, sure my name has been called, in an empty room. I have been denying and ignoring a part of myself that needs to emerge. I have no idea what I will find. I’m a little apprehensive and I’m not entirely sure how to go about it but I’m also freaking excited.  And maybe, in the end, I won’t look a whole lot different to the way I look now, but maybe, just maybe, a little bit of the unruly and wild will keep the fire going, make my cells dance, allow my light to shine and with it create a freedom to live unrestrained, untethered and joyfully.