About ten years ago, I went to a healing session with a sound therapist and mentioned I was curious to see if I had any guides who wanted to turn up to work with me. I asked the question lightly, knowing she had some awareness of working with such things.
At the time I thought I probably had a basic awareness of such things myself. I had already been working with a Samurai who turned up around 2003 and never left. He would stand to the left hand side of me and slightly to the front and felt like a very protective, earthing presence. He had a kind of sub-bass frequency that I could tune into when I needed it. Especially when I was feeling ungrounded. He helped move my bodywork into a new level of depth, presence and clarity. I could ask for his advice and he’d show me things.
I thought I knew Kung Fu...
Anyway, about 2 days after that sound therapy session, I had what I suspect the medical world might describe as a psychosis. Or maybe a ‘nervous breakdown’.
Something suddenly cracked open in me and I had no tools for closing it or putting myself back together again.
One afternoon, my bedroom was suddenly PACKED with spirit activity - all sorts. Crawling and shrieking with beings of all imaginable dimensions and not all benevolent.
It turns out the session had been kind of wildly 'effective' in terms of my request, but it had not been grounded or protective of my nervous system in any way. At the time I knew nothing of nervous system regulation or what titration meant. I had a contemplative practice and lots of somatic tools, which were brilliant, but no lineages to hold me in these radically different kinds of conscious states. I had no reference for what what happening. I was lost.
For about three days, I couldn’t work out anything - when it was dark or light, when it was time to sleep, or eat, or even how to dress myself. It was frightening to go to sleep and when I did sleep, it didn’t feel safe. I didn’t know who I was or how to make it stop. It was so bad, that several times, I thought I might need to get myself sectioned. The whole world was suddenly upside down and it was UTTERLY TERRIFYING.
Interestingly, though I have never had anything similar happen before or since, a little voice in me somewhere was telling me that it was something I needed to learn how to work with, rather than something I had to make go away.
Thank god for that little voice. .
So, far from 'knowing Kung Fu', It turns out, I was profoundly naive and had almost no tools to navigate such a thing.
So in a state of desperation, I set about finding some tools - even though I had no clue where to look.
A witchy friend of mine provided the first anchor. To my face she said ‘Rachel, you are the keeper of this realm!! You need to STAND YOUR GROUND! Tell everyone to get out of your bedroom!!’. Mean while, behind the scenes, she confessed to me later, that she had been very concerned about my mental health.
So, that night, I went into my bedroom and I said out loud “OK NOW EVERYONE - BEAT IT!!’
I said to my Samurai, “You can stay, but everyone else, GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM... N O W !!!” I know I sounded like a crazy person - well - let's face it, I WAS a crazy person. But at the time, it felt like I was saving my own life.
It instantly got A LOT quieter. and more bearable.
I couldn’t believe how powerful it was to simply stand my ground.
That night sleep was a lot easier, but still floundering, I asked my sleep to show me some more teachers who could help me with this.
The next day, I woke up with 2 names. Both unexpected. One - a good friend with shamanic training. The second - an ex-therapist who I trusted. Both it turns out knew exactly how to support me, in equally relevant but very different ways.
I was shown how to work with journeying and how to ground guides in physical objects. How to discern non - benevolent presences and how to choose where to place my focus. I learnt how prepare to enter and return safely. I also grew language to begin to speak about it.
As I began to work with my new tools. sanity and peace of mind quickly returned and I began to be able to work with what was happening.
Ever since that time, I have sought out tools, teachers and trainings that can teach me some new aspect of how to ground this work in practical, healthy and safe ways. I’ve been exploring how to do this work in ways that honour somatic sovereignty and from a place of a well resourced nervous system. Comprehensive Resource Model is one of the best tools I have encountered for this.
As I grew literacy with this and learned about nervous system health and trauma education, I became more and more able to see that it was possible to work with this stuff in a much more resourced and simple way - that took the drama and the danger out of it entirely.
These days it has become an ordinary and very precious part of my daily life and integrated into all I do. It isn’t over-whelming at all - more of a casual ongoing part of the conversational nature of reality. And these days I feel comfortable and confident to hold others in their own explorations too.
The main things I’ve learnt that I wish I knew 10 years ago are:
You don't have to go through what I went through to begin to grow a relationship with Spirit. This kind of work, I believe is in our species nature, many of us have simply forgotten how to go there and work in this way. Everyone can do it and we can learn to do it safely, kindly and respectfully.
The next Monthly Medicine Circle (Thursday 23rd June) deals in exactly this territory and supports you to meet a healthy, benevolent guide in a supported, safe and nervous system friendly way.
To find out more, click here.
Photo Cyrus by Geran De Klerk
I made a request to the universe last year to attract more collaborations.
As a self employed person, doing everything solo all the time, or, as an artist, having to lead on projects, I found was getting tiring and, if I'm honest, a little dull.
Perhaps this is not the case for everyone.
turns out it was for me.
I recall something artist Wendy Houstoun said once about making solo work - how, when you work alone, eventually you become a victim of your own control.
This is a screen shot of me and Mairtin McNamara working together yesterday. We are running an in person workshop together on Re-Awakening Care & Touch soon and we're tending to the last details of the content before he visits from Belgium in a few weeks time.
There are still a few places left if you are interested.
It will be like it looks in this picture:
Easeful. Spacious. Fun.
The whole process has felt genuinely collaborative, evenly pitched, naturally forward moving and easily focussed on the participant's best experience.
I'm fortunate enough to be good at a lot of different things. I am good at things some people find difficult - and - as if by divine justice - I'm also severely rubbish at things many people find easy. The world doesn't feel built in a way that suits my odd kind of consciousness a lot of the time.
I'm eccentrically wired and I wonder if that's partially why i've historically gone it alone so often. It has often felt like the quickest way round.
Easier than having to explain myself.
But I'm pretty sure we're not all meant to be great at everything.I believe the world needs all the different colours and flavours of us all.
I've been thinking about the difference between being good at something and loving it. Also the difference between loving something and wanting to own it v/s loving something and wanting to keep it alive.
Capitalism sell us the lie that if we're good at something we owe it to ourselves and the needs of the market to contribute it. Which is nonsense.
If what I'm doing is leaving my nervous system shattered and depleted, then that is - surely - a dead economy.
For example - I'm an excellent massage therapist.
A lot of people wish I would continue with it.
I could (and have) made a lot of money out of it.
It is a good, healing influence in the world.
Yet - I am 100% done.
And the capitalist mind trick of the debt economy, tricks us into thinking if I am not outputting and achieving to the very edge of my capacity, then I am - at best - not pulling my weight, not trying hard enough - or at worst, barely justifying my right to exist. This is a frame work that has haunted me in the past.
What a monumental sack of nonsense.
The idea that hard work IN IT'S OWN RIGHT is somehow virtuous is one of the greatest tricks the devil ever played. It keeps us tethered to work we feel ambivalent about (or hate) way beyond its use by date. It keeps us tethered to systems and networks who's values are often horribly misaligned with our own.
Most of us have been steeped in this belief system from very early on and come from a long line of people for whom the idea of hard work is conflated with notions of goodness. That a self might be able to operate as some kind of 'happy' machine, untethered from prioritising a well nourished nervous system is a false economy.
Surely with out a well nourished nervous system, there is no sustainable anything.
Only extraction, exploitation and injury?
So along with all this holding and supporting I'm doing for others, where am I allowing myself to be held in return and how am I sharing the load? How do I create an ecology where I am not simply outputting all the time, but am also sharing my weight, being with and alongside and participating in the being-ness of things? How can I do it in a way that feels sustainable?
Related to all this - about 5 years ago I made a promise to myself to stop working with arseholes.
Turns out it wasn't that easy.
A bit of back story -
A therapist had once said to me - 'you know Rachel, how might it be to accept that some people are just arseholes?'.
I couldn'tt conceive of such a thing.
I just did not want to accept it:
People are inherently good and we need to believe in that, don't we?
It was a world view I was very invested in.
Well this one statement took me nearly 10 years to sift through - to identify the good medicine in it, specifically for me.
I had been so determined to see the good in people, I was letting myself be exploited.
I was refusing to see what was in plain sight.
I was not dealing with reality.
Everyone might have goodness at their core, yes - but it doesn't mean that everyone is capable of operating from that place in their daily life. (Likely because underneath it all we feel unsafe, of course), What ever the reason, arseholery in another is not mine to fix, heal or even necessarily stay next to if i don't want to.
That was a slow learning.
So not working with arseholes was a good intention, but it took me years to work out how to do it - or what that even meant exactly.
Many were hiding in plain sight. Some even making the same noises and gestures that kind people make. Hehe.
It took a while.
The coast is mostly clear of them now.
Learning to collaborate has been a slow learning for me and it continues. But it is an indication of how far I've come that I can identify what is working now.
I'm inviting in people now with whom it feels -
Generous and playful in spirit. It's fun.
There is trust and we have each other's backs.
There are shared values.
We can bring challenges and the system is evolved by it.
There is no dominating, colonising or extracting.
There is space for both (all) our needs to be met.
We aren't trying to be the same as each other.
The work feels like a living thing.
Part of the discipline is about self care and tending to our lives around the work.
Working like this with people I love and trust has taught me a deeper cut of how to hold people I'm supporting, hold myself and be in deep service simultaneously... when to let go, how to trust what is emergent, when what I'm feeling is a YES. Then to honour my 'maybe' with some space and curiosity until I have got really clear on it. To be relaxed in the discomfort of not knowing.
How about you?
- - -
I've been doing a brilliant BRILLIANT online workshop series with writer, vocalist, sacred scholar and activist, Amber McZeal called De-Colonial Somatic Approaches. It means staying awake between midnight and 3am UK time. My eyes are always closing by the end, but EVERY TIME i am so nourished by the encounter, it is totally TOTALLY worth it. Amber is such a penetrating intelligence, draws on so many levels of sacred wisdom and has such a vast, seeing heart that i need to re-listen to the sessions several times to metabolise it all. I am changed from every session. *
In the most recent workshop - Biophilia and Value Formation, we were exploring what brings us big joy (EROS) and where that meets a deep need in the world (PSYCHE) and how that might orient us in life.
This is the enquiry that is sitting behind my desire to explore this topic today.
What if - as we begin to allow ourselves to follow big joy (aliveness) in ourselves, we get intimate enough with it to identify it?
Let's call that step one.
Then in coming to meet the needs of the world, if we encounter another who is burning with the same kind of joy and yearning to meet a similar need in the world, we might recognise it because we have first recognised it in ourselves.
Perhaps right there might be the hint of what a good collaboration might look like.
Trust yourself to know it when you feel it.
- - -
*if you feel drawn to work with Amber, the final workshop in her most recent series: Decolonial Somatic Approaches: Futurity & Radical Imaginings is happening on the 4th May 4pm - 7pm PDT (midnight - 3am BST). You can sign up for that here.
Maybe see you there.
We're having some rare weather here in the UK at the moment. It is warm and peaceful. I'm swimming everyday. The evenings seem to be stretching on for ever and the outside keeps calling me into her. I'm enjoying throwing open all the windows and the feeling of air against my skin - choosing no shoes...
These are feelings I associate with the warmer climates of my birth land.
I've never experienced the sun as medicine so potently as i do in this country. He is a welcome antidote to the pervading dampness here; he brings a clarity to the usual indirectness and obfuscation in the British character.
I find I grieve the brevity of the summer here before it has even gotten going.
And still people complain. 'oooh it is every so close!' 'oh i'm not getting along AT ALL with this heat!' etc etc.
But complaining is woven deeply into the national identity here. It is an important part of how people find connection and belonging. It is social currency - secular sacred bread and butter.
When i first moved here, i found it extremely confusing to relate to - like an anti-relationship.
Then i went through a phase of feeling compelled to change it.
That didn't go so well.
Now i've learnt to let it play lightly in the back ground and focus where i want.
Now Covid has eclipsed The Weather (and narrowly, Brexit) as the preferred topic of generic British wingeing. And with surging Delta Variants and Systems Chaos providing juicy and some may say, perfectly legitimate fodder for such perspectives, i do get it.
And it is tempting to jump in and add my 2 cents worth .. have a bit of a winge, because when in Rome...
But I'm experimenting with letting it all settle more quietly into the back ground. Still doing my bit as a responsible citizen - I'm vaccinated. I'm mask wearing. I'm respectful. I'm seeking reliable data etc etc etc. but am actively tuning out of all the hyper arousal and high drama.
It is making things a lot more peaceful in me and around me.
There are thousands of years worth of hungry ghosts and beleaguered ancestors deeply committed to battling on with this particular dynamic here in England.
I suspect it has been these people's secular sacrament since way before witches were being burnt at stakes in town squares...
So who am I to take all that on?
I'm choosing a similar approach with domineering or colonising personalities. I'll just quietly take my attention somewhere else and get on with things over there ... and wow - what a difference it makes.
As a great person once said - 'Not my circus, not my monkeys'.
Our attention is a precious generous and highly generative resource. Where we offer our attention, so we invest and create.
So if you could place your attention (with open, gentle curiousity) anywhere you'd like today - right now in this moment - even for a little bit - where might that be?
image by Jarvadh on Unsplash
I used to feel exhausted and low in the winter months in the UK and not understand why. I felt frustrated I wasn’t being more productive and wondered why I felt so resentful, pushing through long work days when it was dark and cold and miserable outside.
Why wasn’t I feeling better?
I had an idea that it was SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) so did a load of research into infra red saunas, supplements and UV lamps. I went to workshops on resilience and if i'd had any spare cash, would have dropped a few hundred quid on some SAD glasses. I also considered asking my GP for some low level anti-depressants, even though i was aware i wasn't clinically depressed, I dreaded winter in this country so much.
At the same time - around 15 years ago - I started more actively honouring significant planetary rhythms via various earth rituals and ceremonies. I also started to listen to my own bodily cycles more. Still, i wasn't joining the dots, but looking back now, this time was providing early clues to my future healing.
Eventually, via various plant teachers and human teachers and recovering from a few of my very own, bespoke mini-'system collapses' (which were perhaps the greatest teachers of all), I was able to feel how intrinsically we are in and of the seasons and that a huge part of my struggle had been that I simply wasn't giving myself a proper winter.
I wasn’t allowing myself a hibernation.
Everything in my body and spirit was desperate for a withdrawal from doing... yearning for it... All the signs were there. I needed to draw myself inward back and down... to empty out and be simple and slow, but I was fighting against it.
Fighting with that need was making me ill and on top of that I was perfectly willing to pathologise my symptoms and medicalise my totally healthy desire to rest.
We do that a lot in western culture. Fight on when we're exhausted. Keep turning up, even when we are dying inside. And we attach it to some notion of being heroic or tough... maybe good and kind, or even worthy. We are very quick to celebrate an alert, problem solving form of consciousness* and productivity above all things. When we are not being that, we are failing somehow or letting the species down by being lazy, or not focusing hard enough.
What a huge swag of self defeating bullshit.
This strange cultural LIE goes against all of our natural biological intelligence and straight to the heart of a lot of what is making us ill with stress and exhaustion.
This work is foundational to how I have structured my year long mentoring program as I see it as fundamental to how we build sustainable relationships with what we are creating and with ourselves as creators.
It also forms the philosophical back-bone of what i teach in the Somatic Meditations for Soothing and Softening course which offers 6 different ways into a more settled sense of self. To prepare you for napping, sleeping, or even just feeling more at ease in your own skin.
I don't feel wary of the winter anymore.
In fact the Winter Solstice has become the most potent date of the year for me.
I look forward to this quiet, inward, still time.
I crave the emptying out.
I relish making space.
I nap a lot, do jigsaws, read and take my wonder for a wander... mostly, i just don't expect too much of myself.
It goes against all my upbringing, the formal education and dominant cultural, capitalist noise.
But it feels right.
Now, if you are reading this from the Northern Hemisphere, we are soon to emerge into Imbolc, (1st & 2nd Feb) where the first hint of Spring suggests itself. The first glimmer of the returning light.
Life begins to quietly stir under the surface of the soil.
If January was in the darkness, and alive with the metaphor of conception, then this emergent Imbolc part of the year is still more inward than outwards. Delicate and unformed. think snowdrops. think babies in first and second trimester. wriggling, coming to life, but still needing to be in. not ready to be birthed yet (that's all to come in Oestara / Easter / Vernal equinox but that's a while off yet) .
These seasonal markers and metaphors don't imply how you should be feeling, or how you should be acting. Rather they are reference points against which we can experience our living processes... conditions of living against which we can enquire into what is most resonant for us in this moment. If we can learn to be more awake to these shifts, and listen to ourselves, we can make more informed choices.
What is this part of the year suggesting to you now? How is it calling to you?
Not on a work level (of course we need to earn money to pay the rent), but on a more deep, body level - On an animal level... What does your soft animal want at this time?
I find simple rituals can be very effective ways of marking my moments in time. The symbolism of this time can be anything that represents life coming gently awake under the surface of things as the light begins to return.
The most elegant symbolism for this time could be, quite simply, planting a seed.
Below is a suggestion for how to ritualise it:
I wish you happy emergence from the darkest time.
Darkness by Rosie Fraser
Baby by Kelly Sikkema
Cat sleeping by Priscilla Du Preez
Late winter buds by Thomas Willmott
All from Unsplash.
Text adapted from several posts i created for my mentoring group.
The Mentoring Group recruits once a year in October / November and this year is sold out.
The next 6 week course of Somatic Meditations for Soothing & Softening begins on the 23rd Feb - 30th March 2021
Last night Cucumber Spirit came and spoke to me in my dreams. Not in language, but in dynamic expression.
She showed me how yin and delicate she is. How light and bright. What she loves and needs. She danced. It was like ballet but with none of the painful bits. All air and water and light. All elegant a-loftiness, adaptive, elastic and gymnastic. Graceful. Joyful. Refreshing. Like cucumber. It was the most beautiful thing. To discover I had known her all along, but not been listening.
When I awoke, I knew Cucumber. And now we are speaking where ever I go in the house. She is queening away inside me. Quite chatty and bright. Light and crisp. Like she is...of course.
Plants are like they are when they speak. Working with plants. Eating drinking growing them, teaches me about plants. They show me about each other. Not like a book does, or heaven forbid, a you tube video, but the plant itself. If I am awake in a particular way, they show me about the plant-ness of things.
That how they are in fruit is how they are in all other things.
What surprises me is how much there is to learn about listening... 🥒🌼
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. 💓
writings on states of being, being in a body and being human.