The Inverse of the Summit

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White Peaks, Derbyshire, taken on a walking holiday

Most people who enjoy hiking know that getting to the top of a mountain can be difficult. But for those who are experienced, perhaps after about 40 years of climbing those mountains, we begin to understand that it is the descent that is actually the more challenging of the two. Sure, you become breathless as you make your way slowly up the mountainside, sweat on your brow and your legs muscles pumping.  But on the way down, you have to take special care, your balance comes into play, and one wrong move can leave you stranded on that mountainside awaiting rescue.

And it’s this analogy that I’ve come to understand as the integration of those rare moments of epiphany in our lives. Getting to the mountaintop can be the easy part; coming back home can be the more difficult. We got to the top, now we’re on our return journey, tired, but taking the memory and experience with us to internalise. Having the epiphany is easy – integrating it into every day is the more difficult part of the journey. It’s the inverse of the mountain’s peak, and once we’ve traversed this sometimes treacherous way, it’s then that we can find that lovely and level middle ground.

It doesn’t matter whether it was a small realisation or a grand epiphany that you’ve come to in your life; the really important thing is how to integrate it into your soul and your life. You can’t just have it and then forget about it – or, you could, but then what’s the point? The real point is to make it a part of your life, each and every day. To live the realisation, to make it a reality.

And it’s not easy. Our everyday lives can be so busy, and filled with a plethora of tasks and minutiae that can take precedence unless we are careful about how we manage our integration. It’s all good to go on a retreat, to meditate, to do pathworking or journeying work, even spellwork, but then it’s up to us to bring that into our lives as well, and not just let it rest “out there in the universe”. We have to make it manifest, we have to make time and integrate the work. We have to come down that mountain.

And it can seem dull and boring, all the repetitive tasks that we have to do each day, when we’d rather be receiving even more epiphanies. We have to do the dishes, clean the bathroom, cook our meals, teach our kids, feed the cats, mow the lawn, pay the bills, etc. We have to get on with the chores of the day.

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My little Kiri cat 🙂

But these elements, numerous as they are, form such a large part of our lives. So why shouldn’t we make them even more special, and give them more significance? Why can’t we internalise our hard work and let that inspiration flow out in everything that we do? It’s all a matter of perspective. On the summit, it’s easy to see all around you, to have that greater perspective. Scooping out the poop in the kitty litter box isn’t nearly as grand.

But that revelatory experience doesn’t have to fade with time. We can carry that in our souls, even when we’re running to the bin with a very stinky scoop of poop. For me, the act of service helps me to continue my revelatory experiences in everything that I do. It’s something that we’ve always taught at Druid College, and something which I’ve expanded even further in my studies and work with the Sisterhood of Avalon. That service, whether it’s working for your community or taking care of your stinky cats can be the thing that connects you to everything else. It is in those moments of interconnection that we realise that we are all a part of a greater tapestry of life, woven from many threads, stronger and even more beautiful when we support each other.

That larger perspective is carried in our hearts and minds, and into everything that we do, from the choices we make each and every day to the way we interact with people every single moment. And it’s not easy. Coming down the mountain there are loose rocks and stones that can trip us up or roll under our feet, causing us to lose our balance, wrench our knee, put our back out. But if we’re careful, if we’re mindful, we can hopefully get back to everyday life intact and in good condition to keep that momentum going. There are the pitfalls of losing our way, losing the daylight, losing the map or compass. But unless we’re really unlucky, most of us will make it back and into our nice, warm homes where we can integrate fully the experience. And it’s keeping that feeling in our hearts as we go about our daily tasks can be equally as challenging. That is the real inverse of the summit.

But once we have achieved that, then we find the level path that allows us a good vantage point, and is much easier to manage as well. We find that balance point in our heart and souls, and the way forward becomes more pleasant. So the next time you reach that mountaintop in your life, find a word that summarises the experience, something that you can recall when you are cleaning a clogged drain, dealing with a difficult neighbour, or sitting in a lonely silence. This is what you can use to make the vision real, to make the intangible, tangible. Manifest this in your life, and then all that work will truly be worth it.

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The valley where I grew up in Quebec, taken from the lovely and level trail of an old disused railway.

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Living Lagom: 2

Image result for lagomSo, furthering my adventures with the Swedish concept of lagom (not too much, not too little, just the right amount) I’m seeing the complete opposite happening all around me here in Suffolk and, I’m sure, many others in the UK and other parts of the world are as well. Whether or not one is accustomed to the concept, everyone knows about basic human decency, but many are still choosing to opt out.

Image result for lagomThe most noticeable area where the lagom balance is out of whack is, of course, the supermarkets during this pandemic. It took us two weeks to be able to find toilet paper, and I think we just got lucky last week. Before the pandemic began, my husband began noticing people in the supermarket stocking up on the stuff – several giant packs of it in their shopping trolleys. He joked that maybe they know something we don’t. He was right. They knew how to be selfish, how to take more than their share. This is the antithesis to lagom.

We hoped the situation would get better. Even with the government warning people that there is no shortage of food, that the problem with re-stocking is the drop in delivery drivers due to quarantine, still people were panic buying, and buying more than they need with already stocked fridges, larders and pantries. If everyone had just continued with their normal amounts, even with the drop in delivery drivers we would have been okay. But no, the “not enough” mentality kicks in hard.  Just in case, they say. And so, when people who aren’t stockpiling, or when social care workers finish their shifts at the hospital, they go to the supermarket and find nothing but empty shelves. No meat, little fresh veg left, no frozen or canned goods. No loo roll. No painkillers or cold medication. No bread. No flour even to make bread. A nurse was in tears in a video that has since gone viral, after she had worked for 48 hours and needed to get some food, and found there was none left. Old folks who don’t drive and are shuffling to the village shop can’t get their groceries. People are taking more than their share, and making others suffer needlessly because of it.

Image result for lagom Lagom is all about balance. It’s not altruistic – you don’t have to give up stuff and suffer because of it. You take your fair share, and you leave a fair share for others. Simple. No one is left out. It’s about community. The word stems from the Viking phrase lagom et, which means taking a sip from the communal drinking horn, but ensuring that there is enough to go around the group. How quickly this concept of sharing, of personal responsibility, compassionate caring and just general decency has been forgotten in the face of this global pandemic.

And for what? For many, many people this pandemic means that they get to stay at home in their warm houses, with overstocked fridges and pantries, watching Netflix and gaming. How tragic.

I fear for when the shit really hits the fan. It may not be this virus, but if this is a warning of how we react to things, I really, really fear for the future.

I understand the urge. I really do. When we walked into our Co-Op and saw that beautiful shelf full of toilet roll, we were so happy. We were allowed to take up to two of anything in the shop. My husband asked, “Should we take two of these, because we don’t know when it will be re-stocked?” I thought for a moment, but then said “No. Four rolls of toilet paper can last us two weeks in our household if we’re careful. Let’s leave some for others – I’m sure that there are many like us who have been desperate for it these last couple of weeks. It could make their day.” It’s a sad state of affairs when buying toilet paper makes your day.

Image result for lagomIt’s not just in the supermarkets that we’re seeing people go overboard. Here on the Suffolk coast, many of the richer folks have decided to leave their London homes and head out to their second homes on the coast. Are they practicing social distancing? Are they heck. Cafes, supermarkets, boardwalks and shops are heaving in coastal towns and villages during what would normally be a very quiet time. This poses a real threat, especially to the elderly, who live in these areas, and who a) need the food from their local stores, and b) shouldn’t be exposed to people needlessly. Again, it’s pure selfishness.

This is a test, and it seems that we are failing. So many people are aware of the Danish concept of hygge, but I think we all desperately need to learn about lagom. How to be a responsible member of society. How to not panic. How to act with intention  and forethought. How to take our fair share, while caring about others. How to work together, instead of every person for themselves.

We need to find the balance. And what better time than at the Spring Equinox? The days and nights are fairly equal this week, and it’s a great time to explore the concept of lagom. To learn how to be in the world, in the community, in the ecosystem.

lagomI had thought that my lagom blog posts would be fun, an experiment in the little things of life, like my wardrobe, my home, my relationships. But it turns out that the real test has hit us all very hard on the head, and we’re failing badly. It’s clearly pointing out to me how much we need lagom in our society. It’s the defense against capitalistic over-consumption. It’s the defense against the deterioration of community. It’s the defense against the death of everything we know and love. Seriously.

Let’s take what we have learned these last few weeks and work to correct those mistakes. Let’s work together with the concept of lagom. Let’s take the time that is given to us to improve ourselves and our lives. And stay safe.

Here are some of the best books on lagom (and Scandinavian life) that I have found to date:

Lagom: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life by Niki Brantmark

(The best book on Lagom, in my opinion).

 

Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living by Linnea Dunne

(My second favourite, but some pages are hard to read because of the colours behind the lettering.)

 

The Lagom Life: A Swedish Way of Living by Elisabeth Carlsson

(Filled with beautiful images and a taste of the lagom life.)

 

NØRTH: How to Live Scandinavian by Brontë Aurell

(My favourite book on all things Scandinavian. Written with wit and humour, and jam-packed with info about most everything to do with Scandinavian life.)

Looking Ahead to 2020

Globally we face some very challenging times. Whether it’s politics, climate change, religious persecution, war, famine, poverty and homelessness, we know that across the world things are moving in a direction which to many increases the fear for our future. The uncertainty, for ourselves, our loved ones and our planet makes us feel like we’ve lost hope, or that the rug has been pulled out from under our feet. Generations of people are pitted against other generations, the old against the young. The blame game is heavily underway, and there are many casualties. Tempers are high, the stretching point is at near maximum. We head into a new decade filled with uncertainty and anxiety.

So what can we do about it? Here in the UK, we’ve been rocked by a recent Trump-esque election result. We’ve seen it happening across the world, with a swing to the right in other countries. There’s a lot of anger and blame raging across the political world. However, it’s not just in the UK and America: in India, in Australia, in Brazil, Hungary, Turkey and the Philippines, the hard right is winning. If we simply blame one leader or political party such as Labour in the UK or the Democrats in the US, we miss the main point that we need to address. We are working with a very unfair system, ruled by media oligarchs and the billionaire press that use lies and sleight of hand to win elections and the votes of those who would previously never cast their lot in that direction. We need to look to countries that are framing the model that we wish to achieve, such as Finland with their new Prime Minister and their resistance to fake news through a very effective digital literacy campaign that has been underway for the past few years for people of all ages. George Monibot explains this very well in his video for the website, Double Down News.  He also offers up the beginnings of a solution, at a grassroots level that seems to be emerging worldwide.

From my perspective, we also need to remember to close the ranks when it comes to our progressive, left-wing allies. In the UK, the Tories are extremely good at closing ranks when it comes to opposition, and on the other side, the opposing leftist or centrist parties are just too busy trying to bring each other down in order to take the Tories place. Instead of working together, they’re too busy fighting each other. It’s utterly ridiculous. No one will win against those odds.

So we need to stand shoulder to shoulder with everyone who opposes the status quo. We need to support each other in order to succeed in creating a progressive, fair and equal system that works for everyone. How do we do that?

With our everyday words and deeds. It’s not just our vote in elections that matters. It’s how we live our lives. And yes, our lives will be altered and framed within the current political context, for sure. We’ll be worse off unless we’re part of the 1% that are receiving tax breaks and sending their money to offshore accounts. We’ll be fighting to put food on our table to feed our children, to keep our houses warm while receiving a tiny state pension, combating those who say that despite disability people need to return to work and then suffering the consequences horrendously while having their benefits cut or removed.  It’s not going to be an easy decade. But we can start at home, with each other, with our everyday words and deeds.

We can be kind to one another. We can support one another, despite political views, religion, race or creed. We can stand in solidarity for everyone in order to make this world a better place. It all starts with us, on a personal level. It means engaging in dialogue instead of closing it down because someone’s opinion is so different from our own. We have become so used to policing each other that it has led to a culture of echo chambers, where we just won’t listen to any other point of view or tolerate a different opinion. We know that We Are Right and that They are Wrong. We are creating such division from this perspective. We become good guys vs deplorables. How can we ever create unity when sowing the seeds of such discord?

Instead of looking out for number one, we look out for each other as well as ourselves. We see this working in Scandinavian countries, with a healthy social welfare system and free healthcare. It is a more egalitarian society than what we are currently witnessing in the UK and in the US. In Sweden, they have a wonderful word that encourages balance in everyday life. It is known as lagom, which means understanding the right balance. Not too much, not too little, but just enough. The word lagom has two potential origins: one from the Viking era, when a communal horn filled with mead was passed around and everyone took a small sip in order for there to be enough for everyone, and another possible origin, which derived from the Swedish word lag, meaning law. Both show an understanding of community and how rules and standards, both spoken and unspoken, can help us achieve the task of no one being left out or left behind.

And this is what I will personally be working with in 2020. I’ve already started, but I will be bringing the concept to the forefront of my consciousness in everything that I do. I might even start blogging about my adventures with lagom here, in order to keep my words and thoughts in right order, and to share them and receive feedback.

At the moment, I’m just beginning with a lagom attitude towards 2020. I know it will be tough, and for many people exceptionally difficult. I know I am blessed in many areas of my life. I will accept these blessings and return them to complete the cycle. There may be good luck or back luck ahead. There will be ups and downs, challenges and achievements. But working with lagom means that I work with balance. I’ve done so for many years with eastern philosophies, and so I’m experimenting with a different approach here.

It begins at home. It beings with daily interactions with people. When someone is railing at your political views, for instance, with lagom you can see that there is anger and misunderstanding, and that you can either get upset back or work towards the benefit of the whole. You can support those who need support, and get support back when you need it. It’s very similar to Druidic philosophy, of being a functioning part of an ecosystem, working for the benefit of the whole in a holistic sense. It’s not taking too much, and giving in return. Looking out for everyone.

So, my resolution last night was to incorporate more lagom into my life. In my relationship with my husband, my family, my friends, my community and the wider world. To meet the challenges that are coming with this balanced frame of mind, and to help to make this world a better place for all. To understand lagom in terms of running a household, a marriage, a business. To understand lagom in politics, culture and religion. To live lagom and not just think about it. I may disagree with someone, I may want different things out of life and for my community, but I will learn to work with people in a lagom manner in order to benefit the whole. To find lagom in the raging hormones of my menopausal, 45-year old body. To find lagom in work, and in fundraising and charity. To find lagom in the food that I eat. To find lagom in my environment, and spend as much time as I can ensuring that it’s not just the human community that I am applying this philosophy to, but to the entire sphere of my own shared existence.

I look forward to this journey, even though I know that the challenges are there, waiting for me and for everyone. But I have hope, coupled with a good dose of reality, in a very lagom kind of way.

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