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
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.
We'll be practicing this kind of thing in the Rest Digest, Restore workshop in Brighton in April.