2019: Top 10 blogs or the story in the stats

I have a big box under my desk which is full of planners and journals and notebooks that I have dragged around forever and I am wondering, should I make a big bonfire out of them? I never look in them. I keep them, just in case.

I think my motivation is the same as Muriel Spark’s. I talk about it here in the Privacy blog (one of my personal favourites, just lately anyway), as Spark kept an archive as irrefutable proof of who she was and the experiences which had shaped her. She could use that archive to know the truth about herself. No one could tell her who she was.

I feel that. I want me to tell me who I am. It has always been my greatest fear to not know myself. Deepak Chopra says that the fear of death is just really the fear of not knowing who you are and once you know who you are, you are no longer afraid of death.

Having watched my mother withdraw from life, from herself, and from all the things which give life meaning, including who she was, I saw that not knowing who you are was quite different from the frightening thing I imagined it to be, to the point, that in some respects, it might be nice to not hold on so tight to everything, all those social labels, those constructed identities, the need to please, the desire to be seen as successful. That said, throughout my mother’s long journey on home, as it were, though she was my home, I wanted her so desperately to stay the same, be the her I had always known, and to still be here with me, so that I wouldn’t feel so lost and homeless.

After she died, I decided that I would use the money from her Estate to do something nice for me, so I applied to do a Creative Writing MA at my local university. At interview, I had to discuss one of the last five books I had read. I chose Elizabeth is missing (oh they are going making it into a BBC drama starring Glenda Jackson. Great joy).

The main protagonist has Alzheimer’s but she is never afraid of not knowing who she is or if someone is annoyed, perhaps even at her – it is what it is. She just carries on with her detective work, and the reader finds out what is going on from the other characters, which made me laugh out loud. I read it not long after my mum died and I was so comforted because I often worried about my mum’s distress and pain about not remembering even though she never seemed that bothered. One time I said to her: Oh there’s another Jean in here. And she nodded and then looked at me for a bit and nodded: Jean, Is that me? Am I Jean? Is that my name?

So, there I was in the interview, part way through explaining the book and comfort and experience and resonance (oooh no link, my fingers are itching to write a blog on resonance) and all the stuff ( good stuff) I blog about. And, I began to cry. I couldn’t speak so I cried for a good few minutes. The interviewer – white male middle class (patriarchal but thinks he’s not, bless him) – just looked at me expressionless and then offered me a tissue, and I cried into that until I finished off what I was saying and we carried on with the interview. It was very British. The only thing that was missing was a teapot. One lump or two? (I wish I hadn’t written that as it reminds me of discovering breast cancer.)

Sometimes, I think that it might be nice to retreat from the world, to choose to shave my head and go sit in a cave somewhere, with just a knotted hankie of my possessions and no social labels, just to connect with the divine. Although, I have just put a lovely blue rinse – wash in/wash out Pixie Lott promises me – on my fabulous long grey locks which have taken ages to grow, so no, not right now, perhaps I could take a mirror and a job lot of blue rinses: You look gorgeous.

The first time I had chemotherapy, I ended up in hospital with neutropenia. Lying in a hospital bed on a drip with the curtains closed feeling like death warmed up (as my mother used to say), which apparently I was, medically speaking, it wasn’t that bad. It really wasn’t that bad. I could barely remember my own name and couldn’t at all remember my date of birth, but that was ok, it was written on the tag on my wrist. I was detached from anything which had given me meaning and it wasn’t at all how I imagined it to be. It wasn’t frightening. It really was peaceful, nothing mattered, and if I had slipped away, it might, possibly, have been okay, selfishly, for me. Although, to be perfectly honest it has taken until now for me to come to terms with the reality that I had cancer.

Another time, in the chemotherapy room which made me nauseous – the stem cell treatment smelt like heated sweetcorn – a woman next to me was telling me that after a chemotherapy session she found it hard to care about anything including her beloved dogs, she said she literally threw food at them. I shared with her that it was the same with my babies, my longed for loved babies, the drugs were so strong as to disconnect us and life shrank down to the bed and the pains in my veins (she told me that she loved her central line and I was momentarily envious) from what had been injected in there. She looked better about it and I am glad we had that moment. I wonder how she is and I often think of her. I like to think of her walking her dogs, feeling happy, full of love.

Life is what it is in any given moment, and it’s easier, though nigh on, sometimes, impossible, to accept things as they are and remember even in the depths of despair, things change. Even when there is no hope, there’s always hope. At the very least, the hope that when the desperation passes there will be peace, even just briefly.

It’s odd to think that I got discharged so I can go about the world bombarded with adverts on every social media platform about shite that I have no interest in. It makes me want to look under the hood and tinker with the lazy algorithms, though the Match.com 30something handsome men who want a date with me ads aren’t so bad. You are as young as you feel ( I wouldn’t mind feeling me some 30, wink, wink – perverted old lady stereotype – nice, a new social label).

Offline, I have an immense amount of super boring transactional conversations about other people’s shite too. You know the type, when you have known people for years and seen them daily but still they never speak unless you make a big effort so that they notice you, they don’t reply to your email even though it’s about fun stuff our kids could do together, you have to go over and put your face in theirs and demand a yes or no because they are holding out on a better offer and don’t care if they hurt your kid’s feelings #wtf. They never remember your name, or your children’s until they find out that one of yours child goes to the school of their dreams and now they want to be your best friend and want information like you have some sort of insight. Oooh, perhaps they thought I tweaked an algorithm. An algorithm of life. A secret of life. Interesting. We often all think that, don’t we? That someone else knows something we don’t which is why they look like they are living on Easy St and we are stuck in the Five of Wands battling through life, our difficulties, our mental conflict.

Five of wands source: Tarotteachings

I love the Tarot, it has a card for every occasion.

So, I have deleted my stats plug-in, again, and today, I am thinking I might just write my own, as we can see, I like thinking about algorithms, and interpretations, I could do that. I have been pondering what to do and that I am done, stick a fork in me, I’m done. It might be nice to do something new within what I already know.

But, before I do, and before I deleted my stats counter- which reminds me of comedian Alan Carr’s very funny routine about his parents buying a shredder to prevent identity theft, if they carried on like that, they wouldn’t remember who they were themselves – I made a note of my ten top blogs of 2019 which now that this blog has gotten really long, I will analyse separately in: 2019 Top 10 Blogs the sequel.

In the meantime, I have to ask: Does it matter if we don’t remember who we are? Does it matter if I don’t drag around my past? Would I feel better if I made a lovely bonfire out of my journals and danced around it, naked as a new born, under the moonlight?

We are always changing, always experiencing new things. Perhaps, I could let go of the past, of the journals, of old ideas, old dreams, old goals, and with a big fire, I could create some space for dancing, dreaming, drumming and the odd quotation from ye auld Lao Tzu:

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.

– Lao Tzu

I have no idea what it means, I really don’t, but does it matter? It fills me up, it gives me hope.

Last winter I burnt all my old lecture notes and forgot I had and only remembered when I had turned the place upside-down looking for them. Turns out I got on just fine without them. I didn’t need them at all.

I’ve never needed my box of journals either but after I have emptied it, I may just leave it the box there as a den for the cats, and I will also leave a note, so that if I go looking for my journals and my past, I’ll find a cat and instructions:

Look inside your heart, Ruth, you’ll find everything you need.

– Is that me? Am I Ruth?

I used to be, my darling, I used to be.

[ Part 2: the list ]

The accidental techie (6): Going inside

my pad, av de france, Lausanne

1) the accidental techie2) the uninvited3) transference california4) flow5) shadowing6) going inside 7) lost and found8) 20/20 9) creating, 10) finished ]

One morning in my 20s, I woke up with a hankering for my own space. So, I said goodbye to my band of merry men with whom I was sharing a flat and found my own place on the top floor of a building which had a pizzeria in it.

The picture above is of that place. I lived alone and alongside studying for my PhD and doing projects shadowing my users and writing software for them, I think I was super keen on shadowing me, connecting to myself and being there for me.

I want to say that it was autumn when I moved in, but I don’t really remember to be honest, though I do remember standing on the little balcony at midnight which was cut out of the roof so that if felt very private, under a harvest moon which shone on the rooftops of Lausanne all the way down to lac leman, Evian and the Alps.

I remember the crisp night air and the rush of total happiness and excitement at being alive, utterly and blissfully alone, without anyone to bother me.

I remember how the sun moved around the flat during the day at different times during different seasons, and how good it felt on my skin in summer. In winter, I remember how the snow piled up on the balcony turning it into a huge white fridge so that when my pals and I made beer it was perfect to keep all our bottles chilled.

Living alone, I realised that I didn’t have to spend time with people inside my flat or outside who didn’t fill up my well. This revelation came to me in an instant one night when I was standing in the pub with a crowd of very nice people. I felt lonely and I wanted comfort. So, I put down my pint, said my farewells, and I ran all the way home, to greet myself, at my own door and I welcomed myself home. I think I probably took a bath too, by candlelight, as I gazed at the stars through the skylight in the bathroom roof.

It’s hard to see on the picture above but the roof sloped right down into the corner which the TV is facing. In that corner, I had made a nest of cushions to lie in, to think, to watch TV, tap on my laptop and be at home with myself. I should think, that night, I went and lay there.

It was a time before mobile phones and the Internet were used widely. If I was working at home which I did a lot, at night and at weekends, I would take what papers or software I needed home. I read them there and ran tests on my laptop.

I could leave all my notes out and no one wanted them tidying up ever because there was only me. And, even though it was full on studying and thinking and quite a few unreasonable deadlines, I remember it as a time of leisure and space and deep thought and lots of reading.

On weekends I would lie around eating shortbread biscuits and drinking tea with the occasional slice of cenovis on toast whilst reading books from the local library which was at the end of the street.

The library had an eclectic English section, probably aimed at itinerant people like me and I read the whole section over the time I was there. After a full day of study, coding, and communicating in French and civil engineering (which is a whole language in and of itself), it was a bit of a relief to relax with a book from the English section, books I never would have read if they hadn’t been there on the shelves, like the Gnomes of Zurich and Susan Howatch novels. One day, a Venezuelan woman came over and asked me if I would teach her girls to speak English and in return she would teach me Spanish. When I asked her how she knew that I was English, she told me that I looked like a porcelain doll holding a book written in English, and we did for a time exchange languages over dinner at her house with her family. It was nice. In turn I would cook dinner at my place, over a gin and tonic, for a Swiss lady who wanted to practice her English with me.

The day I left Lausanne, I ceremoniously took all the books I had bought during my time there and donated them to say thank you for all that the library had given me and to leave something for the section to remember me by.

The flat was great for parties and entertaining. The first dinner party I had, I made soup as a starter and was just turning round to serve it up when I realised I didn’t have any soup bowls. We had to make do with what was in the flat: a big cup, a deep plate, a pan, and so on. One friend who got the salad bowl said that she was just glad she didn’t get the dog bowl, horrified by my lack of organisation. I don’t know where that bowl had come from but it held soup just fine.

Sometimes, I would cook myself very elaborate dinners and open a really good bottle of red wine, a party for one. Other times I would stay up all night reading or writing or sitting under the stars on the balcony, or lie in the middle of the floor and talk to friends on the phone. My phone had a great big long wire so I could carry it right around the flat to talk and alternatively, I could not answer it or the door, if I didn’t want to, especially that time I had a stalker. Bless his lonely heart.

I was busy getting to know myself in the time honoured female rite of passage.

A lovely friend who helped me move told me over the beers we cracked open to celebrate my new pad (we did a special beer run and got a huge crate, and I think I had a flat warming party too) to relish every second as she hadn’t had long enough being alone. I didn’t believe her. I even read a book on living alone along with Women who run with the wolves ordered from that quaint new bookshop online called Amazon. She was right, though. I met the man who became my husband about six months later, and I’ve never really been alone since.

I love my family, I do, but I have occasional fantasies of being alone and living alone. In my dreams, especially when my subconscious is telling me something, I’m back in my flat sometimes alone, but mainly I am with other people. A couple of years ago, I dreamt that the flat was full of loads of people bothering me and an acquaintance handed me a key so that I could lock them out and regain my solitude and joy.

Like many women who have put themselves on the back burner as they raise their children, tend the home, do their jobs, and try to squash in their dreams and aspirations in the tiny slivers of time left over, I have lost touch with myself, I realise that I miss me and I occasionally crave the freedom I had back then.

If I am being totally honest with myself, sometimes I was lonely, the existential loneliness of being human, and I craved deep connection. But, if I was to meet my old self now and tell me about the even cooler flat I live in today, in London of all places, with my lovely little family which includes my cats – I always wanted a cat and now I have two – and that I became the mum/university lecturer/yogini I dreamed I could be, I am sure I would be pleased.

Last night after dinner, I stood in the garden with a glass of red wine, there was no moon to be seen, the air was damp but smelt of bonfires the way it does at autumn, and everyone came out to join me. I was happy to share the moment with them but could have done with a little longer by myself, and I was put in mind of my old self, in my old flat, by myself and it feels like now it is time once more to experience that space again and a coming back to me.

Today, I have gotten out my Halloween decorations. I’ve said before that I dread winter but with ritual, fluffy socks, fires, and warm milk, the heat of Bikram and new projects, autumn is less nowadays about endings and more about beginnings. Tarot reader, Dane Hart likens this time of year to hibernating, going deep, and I love to think that’s what I did all those years ago in my very own space. So, this autumn, I am super keen on remembering that energy, diving deep, connecting to myself and being there for me. I am ready to experience again that rush of total happiness and excitement at being alive and I can’t wait to see what I have to teach myself.

[ part 7 ]

Privacy

Privacy is shorthand for breathing room to engage in the process of … self-development. – Julie E. Cohen

Writer Muriel Spark kept her own archives. Every bus ticket, theatre ticket, diary, shopping list, cheque stub, etc., she kept and stored in boxes for years until she sold the lot to the National Library of Scotland.

When I first read about Spark’s archive, I loved her chutzpah. But, in Appointment in Arezzo, Alan Taylor explains that the archive was far from her having one eye on posterity. Spark kept it so that she had irrefutable proof of who she was and the experiences which had shaped her. She could use that archive to know the truth about herself and her past especially when people she had known and loved wrote about her unfavourably.

Nowadays we all have similar archive, online. It boggles my mind how Google has recorded every journey I have ever made when using its maps. Elsewhere I am in databases in the workplace, pension plans, the doctor’s, the dentist, the TFL Oyster card system, and so on. My offline archive is just a mountain of old diaries.

Personal information, like the fields found in a database, wasn’t really collected until after WWII, and even then it didn’t become a commodity until much later on when businesses began to collect it to sell us things. Before that, there wasn’t much anyone didn’t know about you in your community say like your village. I know where I grew up everyone knew everything about me. But there is a massive difference between the facts that are known about me by neighbours and the journals I have kept.

It is the same today. I mean I don’t care if you know where I go, or what I buy, or how old I am. I don’t publicise these things and definitely not online, but even so, if you asked me I would probably tell you. However, if you were to come round my house and read my diaries I would be mortified. They are private.

Privacy is a social construct. Historically people lived closely together so there was no privacy. It was only in the US in 1980, it came to mean the right to be let alone as defined in Samuel D Warren and Louis Brandeis’ article titled The Right to Privacy.

UK and EU law is more piecemeal, we have privacy of information and the right to respect for our private and family life but nothing as clear as the US torts.

There might be lots of personal information about us in databases or in other people’s heads where we fit demographically, but that is not the same as our hopes, our dreams, or our irritating habits, which is why when someone shares that sort of information about us or indeed reads it in a diary, without our permission, especially if it is something we wouldn’t want the whole village or indeed Internet to know, it can feel like a horrible betrayal and a violation of our privacy.

That said, our everyday lives are a constant trade off between privacy and intimacy, between sociability and creating relationships. Privacy is not an absolute state and it can be doubly difficult to figure out where we are, when we are the individuals who have offered up our private space in the first place, which is what we do when we put up pictures of our houses, or our lunch, or ourselves, online.

Knowing yourself in the face of others

Knowing what to keep private can be a hard call and can change from day to day. With people online, whom we chat to, we tend to fall into an immediate trust and share more readily because trusting and sharing is what builds intimacy, and as we have little to go on with a virtual someone else, we may violate our own privacy to drum up a sense of intimacy and trust, and if the other person turns out to be not what they said they were then we may feel a bit foolish, that’s if we are lucky!

We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin. – André Berthiaume

But it is not our fault. Laurence Scott says in The Four Dimensional Human, that the modern message is that we are fundamentally isolated from each other and that when we get online we have the abstract promise of going home, it has become part of the rhythms of almost every waking hour to look for a sign or word elsewhere.

In other words, connection gives our lives meaning and we will readily trade some privacy for the promise of not feeling socially excluded. And, if Scott is to be believed, then technology has trained him to be permanently online hoping for some connection.

The hoped for self

And, if that is true, it is no wonder that Scott remains frustrated that people do not share the things which he feels really need to be shared and instead curate their lives carefully to makes themselves look like they are having a life well lived. In his words: We gentrify our web presence and describes social media as a bit of a stage performance.

But how else are we to behave? Being honest and vulnerable online or off takes courage, so if the person or indeed the whole gang of people with whom you are sharing don’t understand or empathise, and in a worst case scenario, let you know, you can feel crushed and ganged up against. It is only with a strong sense of self can you recover.

Privacy provides you with a space in which to discover that sense of self but if you are never offline then how can you cultivate one? You cannot do it online if you are wanting randomers to satisfy your painful yearnings for connection.

I read something today that the optimum number of friends of Facebook is 300. Anymore and you look like you have no friends. Elsewhere, like Twitter or LinkedIn, lots of followers makes you look fabulous. Connectedness is a commodity and we work hard to keep our numbers up. We cannot win. Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman has said that we are under siege in this pervasive digital culture and there are a lot of rules made up by social media experts for us to manage and succeed online. We need to be authentic, unless of course we are not very nice then we have to hide that and pretend to be nice, authentic, and the same as everyone else.

We like rules to make sense of things and we have long been told how we should live our lives by the media, with social media there are just more ways to be told how to conform.

In Cave in the snow author Vicki MacKenzie, describes how Buddhist monk Tenzin Palmo moved into a cave up the Himalayas so that she could meditate in peace:

She could begin to unravel the secrets of the inner world – the world that was said to contain the vastness and wonder of the entire universe.

More and more I am beginning to think this aptly describes privacy. We could all do with a bit of solitude to build our emotional and digital resilience. The Internet is fabulous as it compresses time and space, great for maintaining friendships, keeping in touch with loved ones, running businesses, and so on. But if all we do is constantly look online to find meaning,connection and validation then we will never give ourselves that time and space to give those things to ourselves.

We don’t have to go mad like Tenzin Palmo and sit in a cave for 12 years or indeed emulate Christopher Knight the man who lived alone in the woods for 27 years and experienced deep transcendental moments in nature. We don’t  even need to delete our social media accounts as Jared Lenier warns us we must. But, we need to protect our inner world, our privacy, so that if we never unravel the secrets of the entire universe, or transcend ourselves watching the fog lift at sunrise, we know enough to love and respect our own dear selves, so that we are able to connect with love and respect to our fellow human beings, by transcending the painful yearning we sometimes get when our needs are not being met.

The man in the woods’s observation of the mobile phone is fascinating: Why, he wonders, would a person take pleasure in using a telephone as a telegraph machine? “We’re going backwards,” he says.

Privacy is the space in which we come on home to ourselves. There’s no need to camp out online in the hope of making a home in a stranger’s photo album.

Creating space (5): When people can’t stand you

We have to acknowledge the pain of the present, the traumas of the past, and the broken dreams of the future – Matt Licata

The day I rang my dad to tell him what the plan was for treating the cancer I had been diagnosed with, he said: You haven’t really got cancer, have you? Not really. I read about it on the Internet.

I was so angry, I could barely speak: Err, yes I have, that is why I am now starting what will be probably a year in total of treatment (it turned out to be two). But, even though I was raging, he just couldn’t stop himself insisting that I hadn’t really got cancer.

I now see that it was just him unable to witness me potentially fall apart, or worse. We had just been through three years of life or death treatment with my daughter who was born with renal failure, and two years of mental and physical illness with my mum and so my news tapped into a hopelessness and grief he hadn’t had space to process and which he could no longer manage which is why he felt the need to talk me out of my experience. He died one year later, his big, kind heart couldn’t take anymore.

Don’t wear your heart on a sleeve

My dad is an extreme example of not being able to recognise or bear witness to another’s fear and pain. But, it is not uncommon. Last week, I went to my uncle’s funeral and one completely lovely relative said to me: Don’t cry, Ruth, – words we say to one another all the time which are comforting, but are really, deep down, a plea asking someone to keep it together, behave better, and stop reminding everyone about the pain and agony in their own hearts.

Anyone who has cancer can tell you how, when you tell someone your news, the person opposite you will chime in – often part way through your story – to tell you about their friend/relative/loved one who has/had cancer too. They launch into a massive tale that you really haven’t got the emotional strength to hear, let alone bear witness to. People can’t stand you. They cannot stand to hear your pain, as it taps into theirs until they just have to share their pain, in the hope of feeling better, which in this scenario doesn’t really work.

I  know now this is why one wise doctor advised me to be very careful when thinking about telling people I had cancer. After some God-awful-into-the-abyss-experiences when I felt myself freefalling into the fear which has no beginning or end, I took to interrupting people: Has this story got a happy ending? Otherwise, left to their own pain and sadness, people would quite amazingly finish whatever very long, horrific tale with: AND THEN THEY DIED….!!! #ffs. I know more stories about cancer and kidney transplants than anyone in their right mind can bear.

Holding space

It is very hard to watch someone fall apart under the weight of a life experience, to fall into that dreadful emotional agony, without wanting to stop it, to shush it, to shove it all back down to where it is manageable. It takes even greater strength to stand there and share that agony by acknowledging it and being a witness so that you allow someone to express what they must, but I am starting to think that it is the only way to live this life. We have to acknowledge the pain of the present, the traumas of the past, and the broken dreams of the future as psychotherapist Matt Licata puts it in a lovely facebook post, so that you can be of service to yourself and others.

Managing others experiences

When my baby had tubes coming out of her and I had no hair at all, I used to watch all the mums going off on their lovely coffee/play dates, as I made my lonely way home. We were not invited. It seemed that we were not wanted because we looked different. We had scars which demonstrated that life can serve up terrible experiences inexplicably, without rhyme or reason, so it was easier not to have us around. No one wanted to be reminded of the fragility of life.This made me feel ashamed as if there was something wrong with me: why couldn’t I just be normal? Talk normally? And, most of all not cry. The rejection scarred me deeper than any surgeon’s scalpel.

One mum kindly admitted last year that people dreaded seeing us as you never knew what terrible thing might have happened to us since the last terrible thing. In a strange way her admission made me feel better. It wasn’t me, it was them. Just the other day I bumped into one of those mums who breezily asked me how our health was, I ignored her (a new skill I have when I don’t want to answer a question which can undo me, sometimes I just shake my head) but she asked me several times. I think she asked because it looked like she would get a safe answer in the middle of H&M, because even now she wants my experience to be one that she can manage, and she can feel she expressed the appropriate amount of concern without me touching her fear.

It seems to me that when you get breezy, avoid, or interrupt someone, you are forgetting that they are human, and that they are innocent and whole underneath the wounds which frighten you so much. But it is very hard to not interrupt other peoples’ energy – to let them have the space to let off steam and to let the conversation flow. But if you do, it is in there that you let them decide what the meaning of it all is and allow them to be exactly what and who they are. You are giving them the greatest gift of all – the gift of love. None of us get enough love says meditation teacher davidji to which he adds, and none of us breathes deeply enough.

However, if you cannot hold the space, ask yourself what it is that makes you so afraid? I know I am still afraid, still anxious, still hurting after all this time, and I don’t always manage conversations well. Meditation makes it better but it is agony, which is funny as that is the topic of the last conversation I had with my dad, which would surprise anyone who knew him. He was a rock, who could sit in the company of the wounded, the dying and make it right, make it better. He had a magnificent compassion that was pure unconditional love. However, that night, on the phone, he got me to read out the side effects of my latest round of painkillers, in case they would be good for him, he was in pain, and then he said he was having trouble sleeping/managing/being and I said that he had to meditate, ‘cos I had just read a book by Deepak Chopra on it. He said: Effing Deepak Chopra… and there was a load of chuntering on and more swearing until he admitted: Meditation is so hard. And so it is.

Be not afraid: Energy exchange for the broken hearted

Lately, I have been practising Tonglen a Buddhist meditation technique for overcoming the fear and suffering my dad was swearing about. Danielle La Porte sums it up in the Firestarter sessions as:

Breathe in for all of us and breathe out for all of us. Breathe in suffering— yours, others, the world’s. Breathe out compassion— for yourself, for others, for the world.

Basically when you feel brokenhearted, which I currently do, you breathe in the very pain that is undoing you, and you lean into the unbearable agony of it all, and then you breathe out love. You may feel that you are going to shatter into a million little pieces, but then a little magic happens and you exchange one emotion for another. You do it for yourself, and for all the ones who broke your heart, and for those who broke their own hearts, and by doing so broke your heart so badly that you feel nothing good will ever happen again. And, you keep doing it, in and out, in and out, in and out, until the pain is bearable and not so heart breaking and not so frightening and it has become a noble pain of service. Who knew that the simple act of breathing could be so powerful?

The most often repeated words in the Bible are: Be not afraid and yet it is the hardest thing to be, not afraid. And yet, it is the only thing to be, in order to live life with love and to truly connect with others, we have to learn to be not afraid. As my old dad used to always say:

The only thing to fear is fear itself.

Until you can know that, deep down in your broken, tender heart, the only thing to do is breathe.

Creating space (2): In daily life

In creating space, I wrote about what happens to me during yoga and meditation and how I have learnt that on the yoga mat when I am struggling,  I can stop, breathe, and create space to reflect on what to do next, which can actually change what happens next.

Taking it off the mat and into the world

This is starting to happen in real life too. I have learnt that when I am having a conversation with someone either in real time or online, I can do exactly what I do on my yoga mat. If someone says something to me which presses my buttons, or something which is the complete opposite of what I believe, I can breath and give myself a space to reflect on why I am so upset, and then I can be more objective and respond better. I know that nine times out of 10 when people say things, it is about them and not me, they haven’t said it to purposefully upset me, and vice versa, when I respond with anger/fear/hurt and a desire to upset someone it’s about me not them, so there is no need for me to get my yoga pants in a twist in that precise moment.

My repetitive thoughts

[pullquote]I have a lot of repetitive thoughts on a loop which cause me pain and when I am supposed to be quiet and observe them, they are so strong, I follow those thoughts straight into my mind, out of the quiet space.[/pullquote]It is the same in my meditation practice too. I don’t ever manage to clear my mind, but what I can do is recognise my thoughts as they arrive when I am sitting still. I have a lot of repetitive thoughts on a loop which cause me pain and when I am supposed to be quiet and observe them, they are so strong that I follow those thoughts straight into my mind, out of the quiet space. I hear the old negative self-talk, the he-shouldn’t-have-done-that-to-me series,  and all the others which have crossed my mind so often and are so familiar I am off before I have had time to catch myself, and I can spend a couple of minutes in the same-old-same-old before I come back to meditating. Thankfully now back in my daily life, sometimes I start thinking something which isn’t good for me from that list of familiar thoughts, and I think: Ah ok, I don’t have to think that thought right now, I am doing ok without it. There is a space within in which I am kind to myself and in which I feel free.

Tolerating bad behaviour

Then, there are the patterns. Often, I will tolerate behaviour which bothers me, because instead of just saying: Can you not do that? I don’t like it. I second guess myself and hear all the voices from childhood telling me to stop making a fuss. But the truth is, if someone is doing something that I don’t like, I can ask clearly, it isn’t making a fuss. It is about feeling comfortable with how people behave towards you. If it bothers me then it is important.

So, just last week, I asked someone to stop touching me. This is someone who greets me everyday by kissing me, hugging me, and touching my hair, which in the given specific circumstance, I find over familiar and uncomfortable. I had until the moment I spoke, hoped the person would have noticed that I flinch every time. Did I ask well? Not necessarily, but it was a first step. Did it go down well? No, the person was offended, and immediately walked away, and hasn’t really spoken since, but then that is their right. However, I got what I wanted, someone stopped invading my boundaries and manhandling me. I also stretched myself further and did something I have never done before. Normally, I apologise for saying what I really think or for asking someone to do the right thing in order for me to feel comfortable. This time I took a deep breath and didn’t apologise for wanting what makes me feel comfortable. So, I sat with the discomfort that I spoke honestly and that this person might not speak to me again.

But then, I did the other thing I do when I feel uncomfortable, I had to seek validation for my behaviour. I told someone else what happened, but picked a person who said: You shouldn’t have done that. Now! I knew that person would respond like that and I wouldn’t feel better. So why did I do it? Why? Because, I still don’t listen to myself. Or perhaps I listen to myself – well my thoughts/my ego – too much, and know exactly what to do to back them up.

[pullquote]All the relationships and interactions in our lives reflect us, and how we feel about ourselves.[/pullquote]Spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant says that all the relationships and interactions in our lives reflect us, and how we feel about ourselves. I definitely believe that. I am proof of that.  I went out and asked the exact person who would reflect what I was thinking: I shouldn’t have done that. Even though in that deepest part of me, that most pure, innocent part of my heart, which I access in those moments of space I create, I know  if something bothers me, I am allowed to say: Enough, please treat me better. Regardless of what the other person thinks, if it bothers me, and if they care about me like they say they do, then they won’t do it.

However, this is a recurring pattern, as Iyanla says, and it will play out again and again with the same story but different scenarios, different actors. I will have the chance to learn this lesson again. What I can do is adopt Byron Katie’s approach in the work and say: I look forward to it happening again, so that I can look at it as an opportunity to create that lovely space in which to question it, free myself and feel better, so that I can learn a new pattern of less compromise, less mental chatter, less external validation. I can hardly wait.