Darkness, the Self and Release

I wept this morning, over a photo of a man fleeing his Syrian homeland with his two children, stepping out of the boat, clutching his loved ones close to him and weeping himself. What uncertainty faces this family, along with the other refugees arriving on the islands of Greece? What could it possibly feel like to leave all that you know, out of fear for your life and those that you love, hoping that your decision will be the right one?

This is probably not a decision that I shall ever have to make in my lifetime. It is moments like these that remind me to step beyond myself, to get outside of my head, to stop thinking in the context of “me” and move forward into integrated relationship. Doing this keeps things in perspective, and keeps my own troubles, pains and dark wolves at bay. When the weight of the world seems to push me under, I get beyond myself and into the wider web. It is something that I’ve been writing about for months now, about deep integration, about dropping the illusion of the self, about seeing the interconnectedness of all things.

I look out my window and see a leaf on the beech tree. That leaf is not separate from the other leaves. That leaf is not separate from the branch, or any part of the tree. The tree is the leaf and the leaf is the tree. Even when the leaf falls in the autumn, it lands on the ground at the base of the tree, decaying into the soil, feeding the roots and is still a part of the tree. Watching this cycle, witnessing it from a Druid perspective I see how the illusion of separateness causes us so much suffering. There is no “Us” and “Them”. There is only life.

Deep integration and dropping the sense of self. Seeing beyond the “me, myself and I” keeps my head above the water, rafting the currents of life. When things are at their darkest, I can release into that darkness, dropping the edges and boundaries and allowing a greater perspective than could ever be achieved thinking that I am confined to this body and this mind. When the sheer stupidity of the human race threatens to drag me down, when my body is in great pain, when I see others suffering, I release into the darkness and there find the potential that awaits, like the seed in wintertime. If I fail in that endeavour, then there is always a back-up, words spoken by someone whose name I cannot remember, but goes something along the lines of:

“When I am in pain, show me someone who is in agony. When I am hungry, show me someone who is starving…”

Again, this lets me step beyond my self, to allow me a greater perspective. Pain and suffering, cruelty and bad behaviour all stem from misperceptions. If we can get past that notion of the self, that self-centredness, then we can dance with the divine in a beautiful, graceful round surrounded by the stars, galaxies and all life as we know it. In doing so we are free.

Tori Amos and Terrorism

Working on my new book, The Stillness Within – Finding Inner Peace in a Conflicted World has really given me the opportunity to delve deep into my own soul. This book is taken from writings on this blog and updated, collated and revised into a little book that will hopefully be a guidepost on the roads we travel to a place of peace.

I apologise if my posts here the last few weeks have been a bit scarce – I’m in full-on editing mode, and sorting out the cover this week too. One thing that I am exploring deeply this week, however, which may or may not make it into the edit of this book (time restrictions) is the notion of how much we fight ourselves, as well as each other. Watching some interviews with music artist Tori Amos the other day, she spoke of how we find our own personal power, which can defeat notions of terrorism. This terrorism is not in the conventional sense, however, but a personal terrorism that comes from within that seeks to obliterate rather than negotiate.

She stated that the song The Power of Orange Knickers, that deals with the theme of terrorism, kept drawing her in, deeper and deeper into different meanings of the word. “It’s easy to see the enemy in another country, it’s easy to see the enemy in another culture: find the enemy in your own culture, then find the enemy in your own being… we all have this part of ourselves that would choose to obliterate an idea instead of negotiate, because it takes a lot of skill to negotiate, but it doesn’t take a lot of skill to obliterate.”

Her words struck a chord with me. How often do we not allow for understanding to bring about a resolution to a conflict? In my book, I talk a lot about how compassion is understanding, trying to see the other side, trying to see the bigger picture. But in doing so, we may have to admit that we have a limited viewpoint, and worse still, that our viewpoint may actually be wrong. Our egos get in the way all the time, trying to save face, with bitter, hurtful words, bad or destructive behaviour or any other myriad ways which we employ to ensure that the façade that we are “right” is kept intact. But what happens when that is happening from within, not only doing it to others, but when we are doing that to ourselves?

For the most part, when we have been hurt, we often try to obliterate the person who has hurt us, punishing them in some way to make ourselves feel better. In severe cases of abuse this may not be the case, but in our day to day interactions with others, when someone does something we do not like, when they say something we disagree with, when we allow past events to influence the present moment, perhaps even dredging up old hurts and projecting them onto the current situation, we seek to annihilate the person whom we believe to be the current source of all our pain.

But what if that person is ourselves? What if we do as Tori states, and look to find this person within? We all have aspects of ourselves that are less than glowing, “darker” aspects that we would rather not face. We spend so much time deluding ourselves, our egos constantly chattering inside our heads convincing us that we are right, that they are wrong, that they are the enemy. The enemy is often lying within, silent and deadly, slowly and steadily killing all chances of peace and compassion.

We have to learn to negotiate with that aspect of ourselves, to talk with it, to try to understand it. In understanding this aspect, we find compassion, for ourselves and for others. In seeing the demons in our own soul we can better understand the demons in others. We have to become skilled negotiators, finding the right words that will cut through the pride and the ego, that will get to the heart of the matter in kindness and in love. We can’t just wade into our psyches and try to obliterate that aspect of ourselves; when we do that, we are just perpetuating the suffering in ourselves and in the world. We have to learn the deep art of communication, to open up the pathways of resolution. There are many choices we can make, if only we are able to see them.

Work towards an ending of the war within. Learn the arts of negotiation and communication. Take the time to look deeply, past the walls of the ego and through the memories of the past and the worries of the future. Look to the person you are right now. Find how you can heal her. Stop the cycle of hurt, pain suffering within and you will also stop that cycle without. It’s never too late.

For the full interview in which Tori Amos discusses the different songs on her album, The Beekeeper, please see below.

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.