I am intensity junkie in recovery.
I used to be dependent on intensity. It was my narcotic of choice. It was how i recognised myself. It was what i thought was the same as 'deep'. if I couldn't have an intense conversation with someone, then i didn't know how to relate to them. Or rather - i judged them as being uninteresting, lacking complexity, emotional intelligence, or just intelligence. I confused ease and simplicity with ignorance or laziness.
Recently i am emerging from a work relationship that was characterised by a kind of systemic hyper-arousal and hyper-vigilance. This sense that everything was potentially an emergency. And everything that wasn't in accordance with the prevailing culture represented a hostile threat. A potential threat that we had to arm ourselves against.
For ages, i couldn't work out why i found it so challenging to come to quiet in this work environment, or why i wasn't doing my best work. I kept trying to re-shape myself into a closer approximation of what I imagined was needed. re-shape, re-shape, re-shape. And then i got sick. My body put me down. I'm not saying it was directly because of this situation, but i am convinced it was part of it. I'm convinced that my inability to regulate around it is what tipped me over the edge. I had been ignoring the warning signs for too long.
It was a red flag moment... like many that have come before... A clear indicator that i could not continue in that dynamic and be healthy.
This work relationship has come to represent the last vestige of a way of being that used to be my ordinary operating system. Following over a decade of similar dynamics in work and intimate relationships.
This most recent one, is the last shackle of it falling away.
Scales falling from my eyes.
The whole de-conditioning process has taken nearly 15 years.
And out of the fertile compost of all this, an emergent discovery of how i really want to do things. Following ease. Following creative possibility. Following curiosity.
The first few years of exploring following ease, rather than difficulty, i found i needed to sleep a lot. For my system to counterbalance all the free floating anxiety and hyper vigilance it needed some pretty deep wipe-out time. I had a recurring image of a restless black dog trying to find a place to settle in the corner of my consciousness and eventually i found a way to release him. I spoke about an encounter with this imagined dog in an excellent open conversation about creative courage last week with Dave Rock and Brooke McNamara. You can listen & watch it if you sign up to the Embodiment Conference (its free... click on 'Webinars' in the Resources section.)
Now, I don't know if it is just me getting older, doing all this Feldenkrais, or if it is just some deep systemic change and healing... certainly if feels like a falling away of a massive shackle of limiting cultural ENTRAINMENT. So probably some synthesis of all three.
These days I am tired, bone tired, BORED of intensity and unnecessary struggle. I see it as a dysfunction of a culture addicted to adrenaline; a system that rewards continual growth and goal setting and can't live with decay and being with uncertainty. A system that is propped up by the dangerous delusion, that an alert problem solving form of consciousness is the only valid kind.
Obviously these mindsets permeate our workplaces, corporations and education systems, but incredibly, I see vestiges of this mindset leaking into climate action groups and activism generally. Also, therapeutic workshops, self development courses, yoga retreats. Not to mention ‘resilience’ workshops! It’s bloody everywhere! The meta - project of 'is how i am being sustainable?' is neglected.
It isn't healthy biological functioning and it is making us sick. Nature is shouting loudly that this is a way of being that cannot continue with out great cost. And it is costing us.
This is not to say that there aren't situations that require appropriate urgency, hard work, focus and vigilance.
Not at all.
But now, the proportions feel more sustainable in my life.
There is more balance and perspective.
I am elastic and capable, so when there is a genuine emergency, I am better resourced to wrangle with it.
And this brings me to simplicity.
I was chatting to a friend and colleague Mairtin McNamara yesterday about what is essentially required of us as to be good facilitators and it lead us towards a conversation about complexity and simplicity and to what extent it is the responsibility of the facilitator / coach to be holding a more complex circle of attention than the client. I wasn't so sure.
These days i am so grateful for - and deeply appreciative of - the experience of simplicity. It has taken hacking through an incredibly complicated forest to get there, but it seems these days i can recognise it when i am there and seem to be able to find my way there at will. A lot of my relationships have changed tone. Or just changed. Some have fallen away. Some i no longer feel the need to make myself into the shape required to be in them any more... a quality i now recognise as a kind of high functioning dis-function.
In my theatre work, i recognise that when simplicity and ease arrive, then i am landing on something good. Sometimes it takes ploughing through some gnarly complexity to get there, but the journey is always worth it when it starts to feel simple. I know, then that something is landing. An altogether different feeling to listlessness, laziness or procrastination. It has a restful vibrancy about it.
I am learning this also when i hold space for others, in a therapeutic container, coaching container or an educational one, that if, what i pay attention to, is being a well resourced, nervous system, then the work we are doing together can have its greatest impact.
This isn't about 'controlling myself' or forcing anything, it feels more like guiding a stream of energy in a direction of my conscious choosing. And as much about a kind of bubbling brook of ventral vagal interconnection as it is about being being 'relaxed'. Something about being elastic, adaptable and alive to what is. To be able to feel what is happening on lots of levels: in me, in them, between us, in the field beyond us.... whether this is through talking, touch or holding some other kind of space.... even an online space, (which i am doing increasingly). I may only draw on one or two 'tools' for the whole session, but the focus is on tracking the ever emergent present, being a loving, well resourced, presence to support what wants to emerge, guided by both of us. Sometimes this requires invisibility. Sometimes visibility. Sometimes a tool or two. Sometimes a shift of gear. Sometimes almost nothing at all.
My theory at the moment is that the nature of consciousness is like an infinite unfolding of ever increasing fractal-like organic complexity that changes depending where attention is placed. Attention being a creative, generative principle. If i assume it is much larger, more profound and unknowable than any system, method, technique or person; much larger and more complex than any one of us can know, then i can feel I am on the right track.
Yet it is also profoundly OF me. Of us. It is the gossamer which animates the fabric of all organic life.
Profundity and complexity are woven into our biological identities, so perhaps the most extraordinary gift i can offer as a facilitator is a kind of learned simplicity. If - as some studies claim - 90% of the therapeutic effect is relational presence and trust, not technique... Ninety percent!! Then perhaps the more simple i can be in my holding of space, the more vivid, unexpected and profound can be the discoveries.
Blue Zoanthids - Image by Ka78 on Deviant Art
Happy New Year!
I am feeling good about 2020. Ready to begin, in good health, full of love and excited about the possibilities.
And yet, I am really struggling to find a way to engage with the world - the human and environmental crisis - in any way that feels useful or meaningful. I'm finding I'm weeping frequently I get emotionally over wrought and then i'm useless. I work with touch, creativity and the felt sense, so I need to be - at the very least - a well resourced nervous system for the people i am working with, to be any good at my job.
My land of birth is burning and experiencing the hottest days it has ever known, and western leaders are playing with fire whilst continuing to ignore the biggest issue of all. It feels like our species and the whole natural world is inside one epic reactive pain body.
Yet this is strange to reconcile with most of my ordinary, everyday moments. At home, with my loved ones, in my work, in my being, i am experiencing great joy, emotional nourishment, creative capacity, fulfilment and peace. For the first time in my adult life i can honestly say that finally, I am no longer constantly at war with myself. My perception of the world in chaos is not a metaphor for how things feel inside, it is simply an observable truth. This is new and I cant quite believe it.
So, as an emotionally resourced adult, what can i do about it?
I can write letters, I can donate, I can protest. I do those things. But none of that feels enough.
I know that hope is a precious thing and ignorance is dangerous. I know that to lose hope is to feel like we have lost everything.
I guess I mean hope in the human creative spirit: hope that life can regenerate. Hope that our whole species organism has some in-built urge to grow towards real health instead of self hatred.
On the other hand, if I feel into the opposite - The feeling that I get from pretty much all news feeds at the moment- 'all is hopeless' - everything collapses inside me and the spark of creative possibility is deadened.
The atmosphere of creative possibility is where everything worth birthing is birthed. This is not an advertisement for Pollyanna style naive optimism. Nope. Jesus, that is not what we need. It is not a time for ignorance. Cultivating hope in the face of what is happening requires commitment and guts. Cultivating the atmosphere of possibility for transformation inside of ourselves is urgently required. It is the medicine we need if any change is possible. With out this, where does it leave us?
I am making a piece of art (theatre performance) this year on this question of creative capacity in the face of depressing news and terrible odds. It is called You Aren't Doing It Wrong If No One Knows What You Are Doing. The idea is that it is interactive and as funny as it is painful. Humour that emerges from the discomfort of shared recognition.
I'm excited about it. It feels important to make. Yet is hard to feel that anything is going to touch the sides of the size of thing we are all facing. I know though, that if i think like that, there is no point doing anything at all. Art can't repopulate our natural environments with birds, bees and oxygen giving ancient trees, or re-mineralise our critically depleted soils and water supplies, but it can go a way towards addressing hopelessness and despair. It can open up enquiries that are difficult to address in more brutal head on ways And if we stop, something dies. If we lose our capacity for creative agency we are a lost species.
I know that Love coheres, warms, expands and is abundance.
Fear separates, isolates, contracts and is lack.
Both are creative principles.
So what are we choosing to create?
I know that we all have some agency in how we respond and that to deny that is an ignorance and a violence. It is also victim-hood. The ability to choose how I respond to a crisis might be the only agency I have... I know when I am in self loathing - whether that is personal or cultural, I cannot make choices that are healthy, for myself or on behalf of anyone else. I can feel that there are lots of people in power making decisions on behalf of me, on behalf of many of us at the moment, that feel they come from a place of deep self loathing on a personal, cultural level, on a species level...
I know I have some agency to make choices and make actions that come from compassion and kindness instead of fear and doubt. And that I have agency to change my response to situations that might for example be violent or debasing of another living human being.
I can't take on 'the news'.
If I work harder I can't stop anyone denying the climate emergency, prioritising economic growth over core human values, making pre-emptive strikes on Iran because they are anxious they might be impeached... sorry, did i let that slip out?
Somehow we need to stay engaged with the fuel of creative possibility or our humanity really is utterly squandered.
I want to listen with my heart and give what is needed of it. Which feels so desperately about honouring heart-full-ness, kindness, compassion, generosity of spirit & tolerance. It also feels, like saying 'NO' with clarity, directness and fierceness, when needed.
I can make art that says the things i feel want to be said.
I can support people to feel better in themselves through my bodywork practice and Feldenkrais.
I can support people to feel creatively engaged and more on purpose and more embodied though my somatic coaching and creative mentoring.
I can do that.
And I can be more LOVE.
I can do that too.
I only know how to start with what I know, what I am and what I have. What change can I make? It is small. It is local. It is about what I know of the human heart and the principle of creation.
So I'm starting there.
Painting by Tim Storrier (b.1949) - Evening Light Line (Journey): Point to Point. 1991. Synthetic polymer and rope on canvas. Thanks to my brother Jonathan for the introduction to Tim Storrier's sublime paintings of the Australian landscape.
_ _ _ . _ _ _ . _ _ _ . _ _ _
If you want to help the wildlife rescue services and fire fighters in Australia (because it is with me day and night at the moment). These organisations would love your support (thanks Susie Cave for the links via Insta)
If you want to campaign to support people doing great work for the climate emergency, these people at Impact Matters and Giving Green can give you wise guidance about where to invest your money.
And here are some other highly recommended ideas:
Clean Air Task Force
Coalition for Rainforest Nations
The Clean Energy Innovation Program - Advises policy makers creating programs for climate change in governments and organisations.
The Rainforest Foundation - good for supporting amazons and The America's rainforests
Sandbag - a think tank for developing better climate policy
The Climate Emergency Fund - channels money to groups doing frontline protests, like Extinction Rebellion.
Lots of Love,
See you in February.
A few weeks ago, a guy who I dated briefly a very long time ago, got in touch via Facebook.
We aren't 'friends' - so i took a while to notice the missed messages.
In our time together he was manipulative and sleazy and prone to violent outbursts when he didn’t get what he wanted during sex. Mostly he'd be sort of enchanting and playful, then out of the blue, suddenly aggressive and cruel. It was an unpleasant head-fuck of an experience. He said he had had a diagnosis of a specific personality disorder - which at the time I didn’t know anything about. So subsequently got a bit educated around.
So out of the blue he gets in touch wanting to be ‘friends’ asking if I’d like to meet up (he’s in London now) to talk about our mutual professional connections and interests. He wants to become a therapist.
I ignore the message for a month, then eventually find some words for him.
I write a letter and re-write it many times. tweak it and tweak it. And eventually cut most of it out and arrive at something that is very simple.
I don't get into expressing anything about the reaction I'm having to the idea of him being a therapist. Who knows what he's been through in the past 15 or 20years! Maybe he's a new person! So i let that lie. Suffice to say it reminds me of this hilarious article on the Daily Mash. The other side of this coin though is that healing things in ourselves naturally means we want to extend the opportunity of healing outwards. 12 step fellowship programs understand this. The crack that lets the light in etc etc.
I think wounds can become super powers if we can work out how to heal and transform them. It is all possible.
Anyway, I decide to focus instead on my feelings and what i want to be true now.
I’m going to leave the letter here.
Not in a quest to humiliate someone in public (I have changed a few details)
I leave it here because it represents a new leaf for me: finding language that represents my experience with out tipping into emotional drama and blame. I doubt prior to the #metoo movement, i would have responded to him at all. I just would have just blanked him, buried my feeling and hoped I never had to deal with it.
I have gained the courage to leave it here because i first posted it earlier today in a private group i created for people to share delicate things they want to grow: shy and uncertain hopes and dreams, however unrealistic. It is a safe space for this kind of thing, called The Cathedral of Fragile Hopes. It is private, but you can join if you answer the membership questions...
Anyway, the incredibly human atmosphere there and the beautiful heart-led people, gave me encouragement to share this more broadly here.
I made a promise to myself a few years ago, that I wasn’t going to post anything on social media that wasn’t hopefully good for more people than just me. So posting this became part of that.
This kind of thing wants to sit in the shadows right next to shame & it needn’t.
My hope is that by sharing this here; by shining attention into these shadowy areas, some healing can happen.
• • •
‘Hey [person’s name]
Thanks for getting in touch.
Yeah sounds like you are moving into some material that is related to where i am working these days.
In terms of meeting up, I don't feel i want to. I didn't like how it went between us and i felt a bit used by you for sex if I'm honest. The whole thing left a bad taste.
In the end, I don't think you treated me very well. I felt manipulated into doing things I wasn’t comfortable with, then when I expressed my discomfort, you were angry.
I found it a very confusing experience.
Perhaps you were dealing with all sorts of unprocessed pain. I’m sorry for that. But at the time, I was left with the feeling of not being sure you were a kind person.
People change and it sounds like you are working with some of the challenges life has given you to turn it towards helping people.
I'm not bitter about it, I just don't want to be mates or colleagues or anything. I have plenty of people in my life who do that job really well.
Good luck with everything.’
• • •
How do we stay kind when things are triggering, with out dissipating our power?
I am looking forward to exploring this more.
I wonder if I dealt with it as well as I could have... It was an extremely uncomfortable edge for me to write this at all and i felt all wobbly and jangled afterwards. Relieved though and grateful for the new language arriving. But shook up and like i might somehow get in trouble.
What the fuck is all that about?!
I've had worse experiences.
But I'm thinking of this is a beginning.
Special thanks and shout out to Dave Rock, and Bella Kirkus for staying blisteringly true to their uncomfortable edges and daring to report back from their hearts.
Photograph - my bare feet in the grass at the end of summer.
I was speaking recently with a friend of mine and highly respected colleague who is a long term meditator and excellent somatic educator. He also battles intermittently with crippling depression. He was speaking about how when he is in a particularly low place, his meditation practice doesn't work for him and how at these points he needs to practice 'not-mindfulness'. I asked him what that meant for him and he said, being wrapped in a blanket on the sofa watching true crime. 'Have you watched Mind Hunter?' He quipped, 'It is phenomenally good. That kind of thing does the trick. The more gruesome the better.'
It reminded me of a time i had come out of making my last full length theatre piece and how - though it looked successful on paper, nearly broke me to deliver and i collapsed into a heap at the end. Failure wasn't an option, so i chose to break me instead - although it didn't feel like a choice at the time.
I fell into bed for about 3 months, shut off contact, slept a LOT and only got out of bed to eat and earn money. I couldn't really face anything else. My real occupation became conspiracy theories... I fell down the rabbit hole of the various JFK assassination perspectives, 9/11, the Bermuda Triangle and not only the good ones...I devoted days on wondering exactly what kind of idiot would identify as a 'flat-earther' whilst trawling through all their ridiculous online literature. ... ...
I now see it was a kind of low level nervous break down. But one thing I am 100% sure about is that consuming all that conspiracy theory junk, was some kind of temporary medicine. It was like putting myself into a cocoon for 3 months. It served to distract some part of me that needed to be shut up so that some deeper part of me could work out how to heal. I didn't have to make any complicated choices or create anything.... Someone else's drama was bigger and stupider than mine, so i could displace mine for a while. it helped mine feel less overwhelming.
There is a meme in 'wellness' culture that unwanted habits are inherently bad. That purging is good. Detoxifying. Purifying. Cleansing. Transcending. Non Attachment. Mindfulness. Awakeness - are all things to be desired, to be strived for. And i would like to suggest - that, yes, maybe and... yes and that all depends...
We now know there are certain kinds of manifestations of trauma and certain kinds of depression for which some meditation practices - especially sitting still, noticing thought - style of meditation - is actively NOT recommended.
I am reminded of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen talking with Emilie Conrad in the Moving Legends interviews, where she talks about her recovery process from chronic fatigue and she says that the only thing that began to heal her nervous system, was to be incredibly slow and in the dark.
Light and disciplined attention doesn't work for everyone every time.
What i know of the cycles of biological intelligence is that there is waxing and waning; there is a build up of momentum and a letting go of momentum. There is growth and there is diminishment. There is gestation, birth, youth, age, dying, death. There is a cyclic nature to all organic things which form part of a whole experience of being alive. If we are not separate to these rhythms then to go against them is to neglect something essential in ourselves at the level of BEING. Each creative venture has a birth, life and death. Rarely do any of us enjoy being with a death, so the temptation is to prolong the life part interminably... Stay in the light! Stay in the light!.
Getting better managing or transcending our material limits; getting better at managing or transcending our limbic system, can give us wonderful relief.
On a good day.
On the wrong day it can be yet another way to place the locus of control outside ourselves. Not listen in. Another manifestation of spiritual by-pass.
Let's look at biological intelligence again for a moment.. As the self develops, a grasping or holding response is as vital a function to learn as letting go / surrender. It is not that one is inherently good and the other bad. It is more about how we are choosing it and to what end. So the mastery then, is learning when and how to apply it. Whether it has us in our thrall, or whether we have some solid, clear instincts about what is the right action for the right time.
There is also something I'm learning about effort and rest. Doing and not doing. There is something very creative sometimes in distraction. When I am trying to finish some writing, I can sit with a really good quality of attention, relaxed, present and ready to go... but nothing comes. And it's not till i give up, get up and go to look in the fridge or lay on my back, cuddle the dog and think about Christmas, that the words sneak in.
They sneak in sideways.
Whilst i'm looking elsewhere.
I think there is a place for distraction.
Maybe there is a part of what it is to live in a body on earth that is about letting our attention wander off now and again, letting our gaze roam, day dream, reverie. And when things are not so pleasant, to give our busy, worrying, story telling brain function, some true crime to be distracted by so our nervous system can come to quiet with out us trying so hard to make it so.
i had a meeting with someone recently.
Someone i respect and like.
I have noticed that when ever i talk to her, i get a feeling of un-groundedness and a slight anxiety. Like i lose my centre a bit around them.
Then once i've left, it takes me a few minutes of being alone to find it again.
It isn't like the feeling of a crush or trigger or anything. It is more like a slight adrenal spike. But i notice it. I think 'I'm feeling ungrounded.' Why?!
In the past i have assumed this is because i am slightly in admiration. Because i relate it to the feeling i have when i want people to think highly of me.
However this time, I was in a very relaxed, peaceful place rather than my usual rushing around. So when i noticed it happening again, i took a moment to feel it, then, as we talked, i placed some attention on bringing myself to quiet. Noticing my breathing... softening my belly, supporting myself through my skeleton, softening my tongue in the back of my mouth. Feeling my feet on the floor. Letting my gaze dance around, out the window at the birds in the trees. Taking it down a notch. Regulating my nervous system.
The first change i noticed was that all of a sudden the 'need' to talk had become a choice and i could sit with silence more comfortably.
The second thing i discovered, was that I could suddenly feel that the pace of her language and delivery, had a rhythm that was naturally much faster than mine. Kind of like a humming bird to my big cat... or 'Nemo' to my whale... or something... I noticed that in taking myself back to my own rhythm, slowing down in the conversation and honouring that; in making that space for myself, rather than letting myself get swept up in her rhythm, something in her rhythm was able to relax and the whole quality of our conversation changed.
Pathways opened up in our connection that hadn't existed before.
F A S C I N A T I N G...
Self regulation is vital in parasympathetic repair. But if we can't feel what we are doing, in moments. like this. how can we make change...?
The next time you are having one of these moments with someone, give it a try. 💓
As the equinox approaches i am reflecting on how i can bring balance.
I am often feeling over extended and under resourced. Being passionate about everything i do, has the down side of it sometimes becoming like an over grown jungle. All lush and creatively abundant, but not everything getting the light or space it needs to thrive. The other downside is I seem to always be busy. So not allowing the myself deep, true downtime.
So - discernment: what can i let go of?
In Chinese medicine perhaps i am needing the intervention of metal. To cut back the growth a bit and make some space to breathe. To see more clearly around me. Get more perspective.
This equinox, i want to clarify and make space. To bring balance. And for me the feeling of space is a place of creative possibility. But it is also a place of wonder, reflection, tranquility and rest. Ahhh, rest.
Some of you may know, I work as a trainer on The Embodied Facilitator course. A very thorough program of learning that requires a deep commitment and discipline of its pupils. We teach coaches and facilitators how to work from and with the body. So students are learning primarily about themselves, then concurrently, how to work with others. It is a packed schedule with new tasks added every week and an intense commitment to ones own daily embodied practices, weekly live and online content, weekly group calls and developing coaching skills with trial coachees that is quite a lot! Phew!
This week is their 'rest week'.
A week of undoing.
A week of dropping things and allowing space. Bringing balance.
I'm running an optional 'rest' webinar that they can turn up to in their pyjamas if they like.
And weirdly, through no planning on my part (Jesus, I wish!) it has landed on the same week that i am offering my own public session on the same subject. So i have been reflecting this morning on what it actually is - to rest. And what makes it different to other state management practices?
I realised it has a lot to do with being prepared to allow things to literally drop away. To bring the nervous system into a quieter place. Rest is its own practice. It's own dojo, if you will.
Here is the letter i wrote to the students this morning:
A few suggestions for where to place your attention during your rest week... Become curious about your nervous system and the delicate balance between coming to quiet v/s the stirings of hyper arousal - where do you notice subtle hyper-arousal responses and where can you make a choice to step away from them this week? Which environments, which relationships, which conditions tend to make it more of a challenge for you to come to quiet?
Choose to move away from these things / people / environments.
Choose coming to quiet.
This is different to centring, which is about managing a stress response so you can stay in useful relationship with the stressor. This is not that. This is choosing to remove yourself from the source of agitation. Leave the room. Leave the conversation. Leave the physical presence of a person. Have a nap. Let it go. Put it to bed. Hand it over. Let the floor take care of it. Close a door. Shut the computer. Take a book outside into the late summer sunshine. Play on the grass with a pal. Bake a cake ... I'm talking about a felt sense of quietening - nothing to do with aerobic activity. You could run a marathon and have your curiosity entrained on how to do it from a place of a quiet nervous system.
So - what ever you are doing - because we still must do - washing up - cleaning your teeth - having your mother in law stay unexpectedly. Can i choose to do this thing, have this conversation etc etc from a place of having a quiet nervous system...? And if i can't, can I take a break. Take a rest from it?
It is a radical act to come to quiet. It is an even more culturally perturbing act to take a nap. To give up all your effort for a while and let the floor hold you up. Give it up to the bed. Let gravity hold it for a while! I love the work that the The Nap Ministry is doing on this front. The quiet revolution of it.
How do we bring balance to counterpoint all the doings? How sustainable am i being at the level of my being-ness? How can i make my rest time a more juicy nourishment practice, so I am better resourced to go and meet the world?
I have learnt from Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais that adaptation (change. The growth of a new possibility of being) happens most effortlessly when the nervous system is quiet. In between periods of doing. This is why some of our best ideas drop in when we're going for a wander, sitting on the loo, day dreaming, or drifting off to sleep. Our best ideas drop in when we give up trying. In the space between the effort-ings.
So this Equinox, how are you tending to the space between things?
What if the spaces in between are just as important as your doings?
If you'd like to explore it, you're welcome to drop by on Wednesday evening. You can get half price using the discount code EE3CLIENT at checkout. You'll need a stable internet connection, a note pad and pen and you'll be encouraged to join the call from a place of rest. Your bed. Your lounge chair. A shady tree. Somewhere it is easy to come to quiet. Anyone is welcome.
Equinox image by Mystic Mama
I watched a woman shout at and beat her little dog in the centre of town yesterday. The animal had run gleefully into a charity shop and his keeper was highly distressed - I think she felt embarrassed. She was violent. It was horrible to watch.
I thought about domestic animals and how hard they work to exist within our systems. Interpret our language. Translate our signs and symbols. How they come more than half way to meet us on our side of the species fence.
I thought about blindness and deafness and disability and age and how intolerant our systems and languages are of alternative species experience. Of vulnerability and weakness. How hostile our systems are towards fragility and uncertainty. Ambiguity. How so easily we take our dominant hegemonic cultural frequency for granted.
And this idea of 'ownership' of another being - canine or otherwise - and the implications of that word. The power relationship it implies. When really you are visiting each other for a while and agreeing to a relationship.
I think of colonialism.
Speculative markets. War.
And the ancient idea that we are the land and the land is us. That it is a symbiosis. Equal responsibility.
I think of the idea of being in service.
The idea that you and your dog - both of you - are agreeing to this relationship for a time. The time of the dogs life. And as with your dog, so with all things.
Anyway. That happened.
Then later I bought some jeans.
‘Nature is trying very hard to make us succeed, but nature does not depend on us. We are not the only experiment.’ Buckminster Fuller
Photo by Sunyu on Unsplash
mmmm yeah, well, my partner went to bed early the other night, so, not yet tired and looking for some light entertainment, i decided to start watching, (he's seen it before), at 11.30 at night, the Ted Bundy documentary on Netflix. Little did i know it was a 5 part series... Jesus.
Nearly 5 intense and incredulous hours later, I make my way shakily to bed... I feel infected by him. His darkness. Like the guy has crept into my being from the grave.
I feel SURE that if i'd met him as an earlier, younger version of myself, I would most certainly have been charmed by him. His quicksilver wit, his elegance, his confidence, his sartorial elegance, his mercurial quality, his hopeless, hopeless narcissism. This disarming, magnanimous projected self, that masks a hidden, shadowy, dissowned, terrifying otherness. The dynamic, SO familiar somehow and stretched to such an extreme in Bundy, he becomes a chilling archetype.
He would have had me, hook line and sinker...
It is the shadow i have been healing for much of my adult life.
I climb into bed beside my partner. I am seeing things. I feel very weird. I am sure my husband is Bundy on the inside. I have tricked myself and have chosen badly again. He even looks just like him. How have i not noticed this before...?!
Some part of me knows he's not, but maybe he is..?
Maybe I am like Bundy too.
I know I'm not, but maybe I am...?
Maybe there is something deep and dangerous in me that i am refusing to look at.
In fact I am sure there is. In all of us. Maybe we are all Bundys.
My bones are terrified. I am too terrified to sleep. Eventually sleep takes me down, just as the birds are bursting into life outside. ffs! But i dream about him. I am running. Running. Running. Running through woods and streams in tangled almost darkness and not running fast enough and the feeling of quicksand and my clothing not covering me properly and not enough air coming into my lungs and cuts and bruises all over. Running from some frighteningly familiar pattern i recognise, that used to have me in it's death grip. Those women. All those bright young women at the very beginning of their possibility.
In the morning my partner has morphed back into his usual arrangement and I see there is no longer any vestige of Bundy-ness about him. He pulls his jeans on and checks his phone. Yeah, it's him. The man i remember. Never the less, I do a 20 minute vigorous shaking and shouting meditation to get the shadow of Bundy out of my system.
My partner brings me a hot drink, 'hey honey, here's your lemon water.'
'I need to talk about Ted Bundy' i say.
'Errm, OK' he says. 'well, I'm just in the middle of cooking eggs... will it be a long conversation?'
'not really a conversation' I say.
'what time did you come to bed?'
He goes and finishes the eggs.
It haunts me for days.
That brutal monstrosity sitting under such learned and cultured civility. In plain sight. David Lynch knows it. How it leaks into our nightmares...
And how, if i were just a little better self managed, i might have titrated the experience instead of mainlining it direct and undiluted into my bloodstream, like an addict. How it, like the man himself, is compelling viewing and cleverly put together, but maybe not the best for 'ones' mental health, in the witching hour, alone at night, especially if you have a vivid imagination and a history of dysfunctional relationships... erm...
Glad i put myself through it though...
It opens up deeper questions for me about how we negotiate the freedoms of our culture. How some people deal very badly with agency and choice. The incredible opportunity that opens up in contemporary civilisation to chase what ever path takes our fancy; full-fill which ever thing we are called to do; follow our bliss.... having a duality. And that with that emerging power comes great responsibility. i think about Gabriel Roth's statement that it takes discipline to be a free spirit. And part of that rigour is the courage to keep shining the light into the darkness with in ourselves and the darkness within culture. Shining the light of attention into the darkness, or the uncomfortable truth and owning up to what we find there.
Again and again and again.
Here is the trailer.
I’ve been trying to write a blog post about the difference between ‘cool’ and being genuinely relaxed; how both look similar objectively, but feel entirely different from an embodiment perspective. I was going to use a video of my partner relaxing on our honey moon as an example...
But it isn’t coming.
Instead i have this gnawing feeling about things falling dramatically apart around us. In my tiny sphere of influence i am aware of something in Britain falling apart. Notre Dame burning down. I am aware of the Extinction Rebellion week kicking off and feeling helpless here in my lounge room, not participating because of stuff i’ve ‘got to do’. The feeling that anything i offer is not enough anyway. Aware that when i watched part of an episode of Our Planet last night, chimpanzees gently playing, frogs breathing, grasses billowing in the breeze, that feelings of pain, grief, rage and hopelessness overwhelm me and tears come streaming down my face. So instead i watched a violent police drama. At least then my pain is displaced. My pain is put to one side for one evening. And the pain i’m feeling is felt instead by the characters in a fiction.
It is a time of not much trust.
At least not in me.
It is hard to write about ‘cool’ at the moment.
Maybe another day.
For The Embodiment Conference last year, i ran a session on staying in touch with our creative agency, asking how we can continue to make good decisions in the face of depressing news and terrible odds, because if we can't do that we are lost as a species. It was called Tools for Navigating the Zombie Apocalypse. It felt hopeful at the time and has informed a lot of my work moving forward. Things might be falling apart, but what can i do in my sphere of influence to look after my state and wellbeing enough to be able to keep treating people humanely and make small differences where i can?
I think this is all noble and good and today I am feeling hopelessness.
I am reminded that there is a shape in nature that reminds me how to be when things are falling apart. And it isn’t running around like a lunatic trying to put out small bonfires. It isn’t about throwing myself in the way of a Tsunami to try save everyone, or trying to stop the monumental tide that’s coming in. That is foolish heroics. It is about doing the very best I can to keep things living and surrendering to what i cannot control. The serenity prayer.
It isn’t a hopeful time. Today. For me. And that’s ok. Today i am surrendered to the truth of feeling hopeless. And I am trying to be ok with it. Trying to pull it around for you because i want a hopeful ending. Because yearning for a narrative that makes sense is part of it too. We are narrative making creatures. It is devastating to accept there may not be one.
And I look forward to the tide of a sense of what is possible flowing back in towards me at some point soon. Mean time, I find art helps. Making it. Being around it. Being in it. Having it around it. Finding metaphors to articulate my inner experience. And finding trees to lay under. Horizons to look out on.
This horizon was captured from the top of Devil's Dyke in the downs as the sun set. It was freezing cold and i was trying to record one of my somatic meditations. It didn't work. My fingers were too frozen to press the buttons properly. When i finally managed it, all i could hear on the recording was the howling wind. My voice muffled in the distance. I had to let the idea go, keep warm and surrender to the incredible vista.
Things fall apart the centre cannot hold…
I am encouraged by this beautiful quote:
‘For a seed to achieve it’s greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, I could look like complete destruction.’
'This culture around radical self-management and radical self-
ownership that is trending at the moment, sometimes just feels
like crippling perfectionism dressed up in more sophisticated
clothing. Or a band-aid measure that temporarily shores up the
symptoms of a much deeper cultural and spiritual disorder.'
...reflections on being in a body on the planet today...
For a long time i have held an idealism about bringing consciousness expanding work into the corporate sector and to people inside institutions.
If i can just turn one person on.
Open one heart.
Then one life is more awake and the system they are a part of can transform from the inside.
Because our systems are made up of people, after all, aren’t they?
Recently this construct has been changing inside me.
Last Friday, i watched the children protest here in Brighton against government inaction on climate change and it broke me open. From the cafe where i sat, making ‘solidarity’ signs to the passing kids, i found tears streaming spontaneously down my face. Some devastating combination of hope, hopelessness, despair, innocence, passion, fury and futility.
And then I read articles like this about what a waste of resources it is for the kids to take a day off school and feel a deep cognitive dissonance inside. Between what i am reading and what i was feeling in my heart and seeing on the streets.
And a few weeks ago i read an article (i can't find now) about how stress management workshops were being taken into schools to help students self manage more effectively against the pressure to achieve…
Students are having to deal with unprecedented levels of results driven pressure, at younger and younger ages, it was saying… having to manage increasingly target focussed and product oriented structures…
At a place of learning!
At a place where mistakes should be encouraged!
School systems are becoming so risk averse and success oriented, that its inhabitants are taking time off for stress induced illness - and our solution is to offer stress management classes to the under 10’s ?!!!!
FOR FUCKS SAKE!!!
This is a system that is not working for us.
Because if the system itself is self seeking (targets trumping values for example), or corrupt, or dysfunctional, or psychopathic, sociopathic, or if it is simply old, set in its ways and disinterested in thinking differently, how can any work we are doing with individuals inside it, have any meaningful impact?
Or if an organisation is led by someone who is a massive narcissist, or who has a volatile ego, or a violent temper, or tries it on sexually with all the young women/men in the organisation, or has a will to dominate everything, or is a pedophile, or demonstrates some other harmful psycho-pathology, that the power structure - whilst not willing to take responsibility for it (coughthecatholicchurchcough) - is covertly supporting... (soooo many examples from culture at the moment)... what ultimately is the point?
Coming from the arts and therapeutic professional environments, taking my work into more conservative organisations or institutions, i believed a narrative that i was working ‘in the real world’ with ‘real people’. I guess ‘real’ as opposed to what i previously would have judged as being the softer more interpretive worlds that culture tells us are less important… or ancillary to the ‘real work’… or something similar. Creativity. Pleasure. Play. Restoration. Sensuality. Exploration. Imagination. Dream. Intimacy. In between states. Not knowing.
So bringing the tools of creativity, state change and healing, the tools of expression and communication; bringing the languages of the artist & therapist into the experience of people who i judged as needing it most, but most likely not exposed to it, seemed a valuable enterprise.
But now I notice increasingly I want to work for humans, not the systems they work for.
Being better self managed. Better self regulated. Centring. Mindfulness. Meditation. Eating well. All these things are great. All very well and good. Important! And I - of course - am a huge fan. But i am beginning to question what we are doing these practices in service of? Helping ourselves to manage impossible work loads? Helping us to better manage an unsustainable lifestyle? Better serving an organisation or individual who’s core values or practices, compromise something deep with in us?
This culture around radical self management and radical self ownership that is trending at the moment, sometimes just feels like crippling perfectionism dressed up in more sophisticated clothing. Or a band-aid measure that temporarily shores up the symptoms of a much deeper cultural and spiritual disorder.
It also crucially, isolates us and cuts us off from a meaningful experience of community and interconnectedness. We are relational beings. Our vulnerabilities are what make us unique and human. We need each other.
Because self management is all very well if it means we are improving our connections with each other, enjoying our time more, improving our relationships with the planet, other life forms, improving our health, bringing us home to our bodies… but this is not what i see or experience.
Self regulation is great, but it is only part of the picture and it isn’t enough. How we are being is not sustainable. If we are simply functioning less badly in an environment who’s values are slowly killing us, then we are losing. If we are simply managing better in an industry or institution that promotes an abusive leadership or a broken system, we are losing.
Similarly if we are using our self regulation to ’over manage’ our wild creativity; our dreaming; our ability to rest in the tantalisingly uncertain; to rest in the discomfort of not having a fucking clue. Our willingness to risk looking like an idiot. To risk everything, fuck it all up spectacularly and admit we fucked it up with open palms, open hearts and humility; to work out how to start again with no idea how…quietly, humbly, and from scratch, is something of profound value.
So I wonder, when i go in to these places and deliver a workshop on - say emotional intelligence or stress management - to managers who are being paid extremely well - so they can get better at managing themselves to better serve the interests of their global corporate structure and maybe also, be a bit more responsive and less reactive to their husbands…. for example. I wonder these days, if i am simply helping self-interested organisations better train their staff’s capacity to self-manage around increasingly unrealistic work loads and increasingly inhumane targets. Generating a work force who have better buy-in, better emotional intelligence, better leadership tools, and phenomenal self management skills, but who’s increased skill base really only better serves the organisations’ singular self interest. Profit. Power. Market domination.
And so the psychopathological entity triumphs over the spirit of the people that give it life.
And the ones that get the real light bulb moments, the ones who get satori from encountering, say, Dan Pink’s beautiful purpose and mastery work for the first time - for example - cannot stay in the game any more and must make a hasty exit. For they can no longer live with integrity in a system that does not support their core values.
And all this is not to say we shouldn't also be doing this work inside corporations. (I am writing this tonight from a hotel room about to contribute to just such a session with some managers of a large insurance company tomorrow morning. It helps me pay my rent.). Just that maybe we are kidding ourselves that it is likely to have any significant impact until the systems we are working inside are remade.
I love the thinking of philosopher and author Charles Eisenstein on this subject. In this short clip, he calls it supporting the old ‘problem solving’ system.
Maybe now is not the time to patiently wait for change to happen inside our systems, one person at a time. I wonder if, like the kids have demonstrated, stepping outside of the old systems and feeling our creative agency outside of them, is the way forward. Not waiting for governments, and institutions to represent us, but representing ourselves, with brave hearts.
I like what Eisenstein says here about how following the final collapse of a way that no longer works, there is a pause. And how in that pause, we will have a chance to rest in the uncertainty of not knowing what is going to come next. And how in that space, right there, is a hopeful moment, because it is a place where we don’t know how.
And in that space, that is where healing can happen.
Of ourselves, of the planet, of culture.
We need new systems.
Maybe now is the time for the ‘soft’ tools of play, gratitude, imagination, enjoyment and healing; of risking feeling ridiculous because we are unsure and do not know - to become an integral part of what ever system we choose to create next.
Image from Unsplash