Reblog: Bullies and Re-membering

This is a reblog from my channel at PaganSquare… to see the original, click HERE.

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“Bully Bogey” by Brian Froud, from the book Good Faeries, Bad Faeries

I was bullied really badly as a teenager. I went from being an utterly confident 12-year old, full of promise and with a “sky’s the limit” attitude to one of sheer terror and depression. For three long years I suffered physically and mentally at the hands of a few girls who were two grades above me. Those feelings never go away.

The problem with bullies is that they too never go away. You may never see those childhood bullies again in your life, but they’ll always be there, living in your head, little demons that run out and snarl at you when you least expect it. You have forgiven the childhood bullies, and done cleansing ceremonies. You’ve accepted and moved on. You’ve lived the best life you can. But they’re still there. They are a part of you, and they wait to pounce on you, grasping into your flesh with their sharp little fingers, whispering in your ear. Through acts of kindness, through living a life of compassion for others, you can keep them at bay, but they never, ever go away. A tiny crack in the fortress of love can allow these slippery little demons through. There merest tear in the fabric of your being allows them to shred their way straight through to your soul. Yet you continue, you go on, putting one foot in front of the other. Demons of the past may have been dealt with, but they re-emerge with demons of the present, a lingering army in your mind, combining forces in an assault against your very being. So how to win through?

As with any abuse, we can only take things one day at a time. Things will happen in our lives that will allow these demons a chance to take hold once again. New bullies may appear in your life, and dog you for years, trying to bring you down. You struggle and fight against the abuse with all the resources you have to hand: love, empathy, compassion, intelligence, determination. You may win a battle, but the war is a long one, and you are tired. So we carry on, one day at a time, one battle at a time, keeping those demons and bullies at bay, from both the past and present. It’s not easy. But you know that giving in to them is not an option, for then they would tear you apart, turn you into one of them. You struggle on, seeing the good in people, despite everything aimed at you, despite the unkindness in the world today. Is it sheer determination or just plain stubbornness? You don’t know, but you carry on regardless.

People can be wonderful. They can also be utterly awful. Though my life is filled with mostly beautiful folk, there are one or two that try to negate all that loveliness, with sour words and tongues, whispering into the ears of others, for whatever reason. These broken souls wend their way into your life every now and then, and there is no option but to deal with them as best you can. And when you have past abuse to contend with, the assault on the psyche is even worse, as issues from the past rise once again to the surface, and you realise that you have to deal with them all over again. I’m 42, going on 14.

But then again, aren’t we all? We are all stories, stories of our past trying to live in the present moment, without worrying too much about the future. We work and walk with nature, seeing the beauty in the sunset, the mystery in the moonrise. We know the different gods, we talk to the ancestors, we dance with the spirits of place. We find inspiration everywhere, and so do we use our spiritual path as well to help us along on our journey, no matter what demons rear their ugly heads.

We need to remember. We need to re-member. We need to take our inspiration from nature, to bring ourselves back into being. We need to recreate ourselves each and every day. By remembering who we are, we can re-member our very being, bringing together those disparate elements that we have lost at the hands of abuse, allowing the past to have happened, but not allowing it to live in the present moment. If we remember, we acknowledge the past. If we re-member, we forge ourselves anew in the light of a brand new day. By bringing the two together, we can find wisdom.

I spoke with Rhiannon, Bloedeuwedd and Cerridwen recently about the bullies in my life, past and present. They helped me to acknowledge the past suffering, as well as the present. I am unable to do anything about the behaviour of other people, foul as it may be. But I can remain open and honest, compassionate and kind. These were their words to me, along with words of caution: they also reminded me that I have nothing to prove.

Often when we are bullied, either from the past or in the present moment, we feel that “living well is the best revenge”. However, if revenge is anywhere in your thoughts, you most certainly are not living well. We can pour inordinate amounts of time and energy into trying to prove ourselves against those who would badmouth us, who would threaten us, who would try to bring us down for their own troubled reasons. But as we realise that we have nothing to prove to these people, we release them from our lives, allowing them to be blown away on the evening breeze. We can face the darkness without fear of them lurking in the shadows.

There will always be people who are antagonistic towards you in your life, for whatever reason. My advice, for myself and for all who have suffered similarly, is to not overcompensate, for in doing so those bullies still have a hold over you. We need to take a stand sometimes in our life, and we need to speak out against injustice. But when we feel that we have something to prove, then little cracks being to appear in our being. It’s the ego talking, and it’s not coming from a place of compassion or empathy. It’s almost a form of punishment, which is perfectly understandable given the amount of suffering one may have undergone. It’s a purely human response, and we can acknowledge it as such. How we act upon that feeling is what defines us.

The bullies in our life, past, present and future, may never go away. We may have to content with them again and again, privately, publicly, professionally. My advice to all who have similarly suffered would be to not fall into the trap of overcompensation. We all have little coping mechanisms to help us get through. Look deeply into the amount of time and energy that you give to a situation, and see where that time and energy might be better spent: with family and loved ones, for example. Look for the good in the world. Look for the beauty.

I remember those long bus rides home, over an hour, with name-calling, food/garbage throwing, physical abuse, etc. I remember the more recent times of bullying in my professional life. And I re-member myself. I see the beauty of the clear blue sky, and I re-member. I see my cat’s sleepy face, and I re-member. I make love to my husband, and I re-member. I laugh with my friends, and I re-member. These are the important things that require focus and attention. This is where I can find the core of my being. This is what I re-member.

And when I do, I can let it all go, slipping into the gentle stream that burbles in the sunlight, that nourishes with its very being everything it touches.

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Letting Go: Beware the Children of Anger

Letting go is truly a difficult thing to do, and yet seems so simple. Human beings, with their human consciousness, are just not that simple.

I’ve written before on how letting go is a process we have to repeat over and over again; it’s not a one-time event. We have to continually make the choice to let go, in order to truly live our lives in the present moment, in the here and now, emotionally responsible for ourselves and finding an ethically sound way of being in the world. I haven’t discussed the finer process of letting go, however, in any great detail and here are a few words from my own experience.

People are going to hurt us in one way or another, based upon expectations, behaviour, upbringing, environment and a whole host of factors that we simply have no control over. Our response to this is what is most important: our response-ability. When we have the ability to respond in a thoughtful, compassionate way then we are truly working to be a part of the world, a weave of the web that strengthens the whole.

Yet it is so hard to be compassionate when people deliberately hurt us, and sometimes even when it’s not deliberate but perhaps uncontrolled aggression from their past experience, current physical pain or more. But the ability to understand that there are more factors involved in any given situation that you are simply unable to perceive is at the heart of compassion. Compassion is a willingness to understand.

People have hurt me in the past, willingly and unwillingly. Colleagues and co-workers, lovers, strangers; there is no telling where the next experience will come from. However, noticing the stages that we go through when we are being hurt can help us on the path to letting go with an awareness that will allow us to not slip into the easy patterns of denial, whether that is of our own behaviour or that of others.

When we are hurt, usually our first response is anger. For most people, anger is something that time heals, though the length of time is relative to the person and their situation. Anger isn’t the most difficult thing to move through, as we can recognise anger much more easily than its children: pity being one of them. Often when we move through anger towards pity, we don’t know that we are still dealing with anger, with an abstract notion of the other person. Pity does not have empathy. Pity does not have anything to do with compasssion. Pity is the result of dualistic thinking, of an Us and Them mentality. We pity someone because we are separate from them. Pity is so often tinged with bitterness and anger that they are almost inseparable. When we have finished being angry with someone, we move on towards pitying them, in a passive/aggressive way of still attacking them. Pity the poor fool.

When we bypass pity through working around our anger, we find empathy instead, which holds no judgement of the individual.

Sometimes pity is replaced with its older sibling: contempt. We have been a victim of someone’s abuse, and though we realise we are no longer going to take their crap, we hold them in high contempt for putting us through that. They may have spent months trying to hurt us in various ways; we are so over that now and could they just get in with their own lives, please? So trapped in their little world, so lost…

Contempt is just as easy a trap to fall into as pity. Again, contempt has absolutely no compassion, no element of trying to understand involved in its process; it seeks only to make us feel better about ourselves. In the web of existence, we can’t just work on ourselves: we have to work on the whole.

We don’t have to stick around for further abuse, but we do have to be on our guard for feelings such as pity and contempt to flag up the fact that we haven’t actually moved on, we haven’t let go of our anger, we’ve only put a new hat on it and deceived ourselves with its shiny new appearance. When we find ourselves dancing with the feelings of contempt or pity, we can stop, untangle ourselves, bow and walk away, breathing into the wild winds of change. We know that we can choose our dance partners, and in that choosing find glorious freedom and self-expression. We know that we are part of an eco-system, part of a whole, where every part is acknowledged and sacred. The flows of the gods of humanity that we choose to dance with, however, it entirely up to us.

Lessons in Pain

These last three months have been quite challenging, and I rarely talk about it, but today I would like to share some views on dealing with physical pain.

I have had rheumatoid arthritis for about twenty years now. Usually it’s just a day or so of aching hands and swollen fingers, but this year it has been different. At the end of May, a “trapped nerve” in my hip rendered me nearly incapable of walking – even sitting was painful. After a month long recovery (and a good osteopath) we managed to work it out, only for me to experience the worst arthritic flare up I have ever experienced. This lasted nearly a month.

Painful hands, fingers so swollen, sharp aching elfshots running down the fingers. Unable to make a fist or hold a coffee cup with one hand. Hands just held on my lap, tingling, tired. Unable to write very well with a pen or pencil. Typing was difficult, but better than writing. Not sleeping due to pain.

When that flare up died down at the beginning of this month, my back then went out. Now, this too isn’t a rare occurrence – I have fallen off too many horses in my lifetime, and it’s always a weak point. But this time was different. This time the pain was so severe my legs were shaking, I felt dizzy and sick. I have a high threshold for pain, and this tested that limit.

The back is now on the mend, and I am able to sit here at my computer and type this. I can only sit for about 15 minutes – but that is better than yesterday, by a whole five minutes. Little steps.

Pain is not just a physical challenge, but a mental one as well. It can so easily lead to depression, our human minds unable to see beyond the day when the pain will ever stop. Luckily for me, right now I know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but for those whom constant pain is their life, and for whom there is no end in sight, I have the utmost sympathy and empathy. I have come to terms with the fact that as I age, this too may be my plight in life.

Pain can be a great teacher though. It can teach us of our limits. It heightens our awareness, if we are not pushing it away. Being in the moment with your pain is the last thing your mind wants to do, but may just be the best thing you can do at that moment.

Pain also teaches us to slow down. This past week I have not been able to sit upright for five days. I’ve learned a whole new way of looking at things – from a horizontal perspective. I’ve learned patience. I’ve learned the resolve needed in order to heal.

My husband set out our inflatable camping bed in the backyard on Sunday, so that I could go outside and lie down (I tried on the grass, but needed cushioning for my hip). I spent all afternoon lying on my side or on my back, underneath the beach tree that shelters my altar, communing with the tree and learning lessons of what it means to stay in one place, to be unable to move. Glorious insights, and the blessings of the world around me filled me with such awe. I always knew trees were great teachers.

The pain is now coming back, into my lower spine, and I will now be signing off, to lie down and let the muscles and spine stretch out again. Learning, listening, patience and endurance. Lessons in pain.

Expectations…

It’s so hard to let go of our expectations of other people.  If, like me, you would do anything for your friends, it would seem likely that you would expect the same in return.  And yet, I’m looking more and more into letting go of expectations of other people – and in doing so, not being let down quite so much.

You might ask – what is the problem with setting high standards, or any standards, for people?  Shouldn’t  we all have people in our lives that we can rely on?

The answer that I’m pondering, is “no.”

This is not the say that I’m going to be 100% self-reliant – that’s impossible. It doesn’t necessarily mean cutting people out of my life. What it does mean is that I cannot expect people to be there for me.  It’s far too easy for me to fall into despair, for giving someone all I can and not “getting” anything in return.  I still view a relationship as a give and take scenario – but I also see the dangers inherent in any duality. So I’m trying to adopt a different worldview.  A few friends have let me down recently – but after much thinking on just who the self is, I’m also wondering just “who” is this person that they’re letting down?

If we view the self as a myriad of thoughts that we have retained, thoughts that we think pertain to this body, this behaviour, this person, then who exactly are we? Thoughts are not reality – and they change all the time.  What if our view of the self is only those thoughts that are the loudest, that we have repeated to ourselves over and over again until we believe them?  How limiting is that – and how free could we be if we drop the idea of a self?

But I digress.

Should we expect people to help us, friends to help us, in our time of need? Sometimes they just can’t, as they are dealing with their own battles. Sometimes they are just crap. Either way, they are simply being themselves, and that we cannot control that in any way.  If we dropped our expectations that they will be there for us when we need them, then we will also avoid disappointment.

This may seem a little nihilistic, but only in obliterating these assumptions can we attain the freedom and open the door to possible happiness.  Sometimes breaking down walls – a little deconstruction- is a good thing.  The question remains, however – if we do not expect things from people, what happens to our standards?

We won’t have any.

Yikes. I know – it’s a scary thought. But who are we to have such standards? Who is this self that sets standards for other people? If we don’t have standards, will people then walk all over us? Of course not. Not having standards doesn’t mean we become doormats. It simply means we have dropped all judgement of others and take things as they come.  We will not be disappointed anymore.  Isn’t that a good thing? And, if people do mistreat us, we then simply walk away. Without judgement, if possible (though highly improbable – I’m not that enlightened).

There are, of course, limits to this. In work relationships, we do have to expect certain things of our co-workers if we need them to get the job done.  But in our personal and private lives, we can let this go and see what happens.

What about our partners? Should I expect anything of my husband? No, not really.  I’ve had the joy of always having a husband who is “there” for me, but if I did “need” him and he wasn’t, I’d be devastated. Unless I adopt this new strategy.  This doesn’t make me an “island” – I am not cutting myself off from everyone – rather the opposite. I am engaging in non-judgemental behaviour that brings me closer to everything and everyone. Interesting.

Perhaps even harder than giving up the expectations of other people, is giving up expectations of yourself.  We believe we are a certain person, that we should react and behave in a certain way. I know that this weekend, when dealing with a car accident, I was shocked at my unwillingness to walk towards a smoking vehicle and help people out – fear and horror making each step leaden as I went towards the smoking ruin.  I expected myself to be able to jump out of the car and run heroically to save people, and was shocked at my initial response. Needless to say, of course I did go to the car and help, but I learned that I was not as brave as I thought I was.

Also, the accident was caused by an oncoming police car responding to an emergency call.  I went to the aid of the car that they hit (which was right in front of us) but didn’t go to the police car afterwards to see if they were okay.  I saw one officer come out, and then returned my attention to the “victims”.  It had been the police car’s fault – I made a judgement call. I expected them to know better than to overtake with no room – and then expected them to help out with the other victims when they came out of the car, having had all the proper training.  I should have had compassion for them as well – they had just been in a horrible accident as well, and were the cause. How awful they must feel. Even if they didn’t react “properly”, whatever that is, I should have tried to help them as well. So I’ve been beating myself up about that too.  I have such high expectations of myself.  Drop them, Jo. There is so self, remember? Just a collection of thoughts and judgements.  Drop the expectations and life will contain much less suffering.

I’m going to give it a go.  It’s going to be bloody hard. You can wish me luck, but I’m not expecting you to 😉