New Year Thoughts

I posted this on my main blog Zen and the Art of Tightropewalking first but bears sharing here too. Happy New Year, my wild sheepy friends!

Low resolution, high resolution ~ New Year thoughts

 

I considered calling this article, The Last Post, because it will be the last one to appear in 2013, but then I realised that this might sound as if I am giving up blogging. This year has been a huge struggle to keep going with lots of things and I confess that making sure I post a new piece once a week has sometimes been quite a challenge.

That makes me wonder who I am blogging for and why.

Blogging is almost by definition confessional, personal and yet very public. I share my thoughts because I believe that they are worth sharing, that those who read what I write may find it interesting, helpful or challenging. At times the conviction that this is so is shaken; a former colleague made various attacks on me on Facebook indicating that she found my outpourings tedious. It upset me more than is reasonable and made me question the worth of my writing, especially my poetry. In the end, I chose to ignore that viewpoint based on the torrent of support I received.

I wasn’t sure I had anything I could offer today as a hope-encrusted gem, making the best of the year gone by and projecting desires and wishes for the year to come. I don’t generally do the whole New Year’s resolution thing, not since teenage years when it usually consisted of one muddled wish to be thinner. Yet, here I am in middle-age, fatter than ever. Nothing ever works out quite how we desire it to.

2013 has been a hard year for me. I had to fight to get diagnoses of two conditions, one life limiting, the other life limiting AND life threatening. I knew there was something very wrong, and yet getting through to medical professionals with it has been terribly tough. I can’t help thinking that had I not been who I am, I might well be looking at a grim future and an early death. While I accept that neither condition is easy to diagnose or well-known, it seems criminal that blood test anomalies had been ignored and glossed over probably for some years. I have now seen my enemy on an ultrasound screen. 8mm by 5mm doesn’t sound that big but given that the gland the tumour grew from should be no bigger than the head of a pin (or thereabouts) it’s colossal. I’m hoping that the removal of it will give me new life. I’m sick of pain, sick of the fogginess and memory fuzziness, the feeling of being significantly impaired, of being woken 8 times a night because of the polyuria, of having a permanently dry mouth that means I need to sip water to stay hydrated. I’m tired of being tired, and of all the other nasty symptoms that doctors were originally ascribing to depression. I’m fed up of being sad and being unable to feel good about things. My real hope for 2014 is that I can start to live again.

The writer’s block I have wrestled with for as long as I’ve been blogging may well turn out to be a direct result of the malfunctioning parathyroid. It’s hard to carry ideas, plots, characters, dialogue, settings and descriptions when your short term memory is peppered with tiny holes. Much of my writing is brewed in the subconscious layers of my mind, but is filtered through the conscious strata and ordered by the logical, methodical processes that are affected by the illness. The continuation of writing during this long illness is something I feel I should be proud of, yet I fear that perhaps I’m actually a crap writer who’s burned out all her good stuff years ago.

I did some of the things I aimed at doing this year. I published The Moth’s Kiss, got it and The Wild Hunt out in gorgeous peachy-skinned paperbacks. I reviewed and re-uploaded the Kindle version of Strangers & Pilgrims, cleaning it of the typos that had marred it. You perhaps cannot imagine how very difficult and painful that was for me, or how cathartic it was. I spoke at the TAP conference in March. But I didn’t get The Bet out in paperback, and I didn’t put together the book I intended to release of the top posts from this blog, or the ones I wanted to do of my poetry.

I began a new novel in January, which has been hard work to write and I think I am roughly half way. I’m about half way through the story I began originally here as a serial, Lost. I’ve written some short stories, some poetry, and I’ve managed to blog here at least once a week, all year. It’s none of it been easy.

Things I want to do next year include delving ever deeper into the Grail lore I’ve been studying and writing about, mostly privately. I want to write more for myself. I’ve realised that while I have a niche for my writing, and I have a lot of wonderful readers, I’m not going to ‘make it’ as a best selling author, selling tens of thousands of books, or even millions. To have even one person read, enjoy and benefit from my writing is success. I’d rather stay small and stay myself than be lured into chasing the will o’ the wisp of commercial success. I can remain resolutely amateur and while I wish to present my work in as accessible and attractive a manner as possible, to invest money I don’t have in let’s say,cover art that aims to seduce the potential reader (and other stratagems) I’d rather be original and myself and risk being deemed ‘unprofessional’.

I do want to get my poetry out there and also the compilation of the best posts from this blog, but I don’t want it to be something to pressure myself with. I know now I am quite ill and the last thing I need is to stress myself with foolish self-imposed deadlines. I’d rather have the pleasure of using my clearer moments to write things, and enjoy writing, than spend the time on things I don’t enjoy. If my hopes for this illness are borne out, then once I begin to recover, then tasks I have hitherto found as hard as tap-dancing in quick drying cement, may flow more readily and take up less energy.

There’s books on my hard drive ready to be polished up for publishing; I’m about half way with Square Peg so if there are any of you who fancy being beta-readers or proof readers, I’d be happy to hear from you. There are two sequels to The Bet. And several other tales I’ve maybe never mentioned before, as well as the incomplete ones (two of which I have mentioned already, and another two I haven’t), and a longer short story I’d hoped to have out for Christmas and failed.

Anyway, I have meandered and muddled along through this article and I need to wrap it up by saying a huge thank you to everyone who has read this blog, either as a regular thing or as an occasional dip-in. I’d like to thank those who have bought and read my books: you do not know quite how much that means to me.

May the new Year of 2014 bring you blessings and challenges in a balanced measure, enough to grow and develop and also to have much joy to counter the sorrow that is woven through all of life. 

Dandelions and Bad Hair Days ~ a very different book about Mental Health

On World Mental Health day on the 10th of October I traveled to Taunton for the launch of a very special book put together by the wonderful Suzie Grogan.

Dandelions & Bad Hair days is a collection of essays, prose, poetry and photographs by people affected by mental health issues. Some are carers for loved ones affected by it, and others, like me, are sufferers of various mental health challenges. The profits from the sales of the book are going to two mental health charities, SANE and OCD in action.

It was a powerful experience to be there; a number of contributors were there and we read some of our pieces. Even though it was an evening about a serious subject, it was actually enormously good fun.

I was honoured by the fact that the essay I’d offered for the collection gave its name to the book. Lots of folks have said it’s the best title for a book on mental health and depression they’ve heard of, and I get a little glow of pride at that but the real work was done by Suzie in finding it a publisher and getting it up and out there.

If you’re curious about it, then do check it out. I know I am biased because I have two essays and a poem in it, but it’s a brilliant book. There’s so much of raw honesty and hope and humanity, it’ll warm your heart and it might just change your mind about mental health issues . There are a couple of ways to buy. You can buy from Suzie herself  here or you can go to Amazon here for the UK or here for the USA

Also, if you have already read it, please consider leaving a review as this helps to make a book more visible for searches, as does tagging a book appropriately.

If I don’t post again here before Christmas may yours be filled with light and joy, whatever your beliefs.

 

 

Meaning in Life ~ light, dark and the conflict between them

Is Light hurt by Darkness? ~ searching for meaning in life

 (first published at my main blog http://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com )

I’ve been haunted lately by images and semi-visions of shadows, dreams of living darkness that consumes everything in its path. I had a vivid nightmare some weeks back where patches of shadow were sentient and hungry, and swallowed up both light and life. Darker than darkness, voids that reflect no light and absorb everything.

Last night I finally read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I’d hesitated first about buying it, then about reading it, simply because of associations with a person no longer part of my life, but realised that was idiotic. A book that has had a hundred or more printings and sold over nine million copies cannot really be tainted by one person’s opinion of it. So I read it and am still thinking about it. I suspect I will read it again many times before finally writing about the book itself; I am writing here about some thoughts that have been sparked by it.

One of the central premises of Frankl’s book and indeed of the psychotherapy Frankl founded, Logotherapy, is that to live, people need to find meaning in their lives.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logotherapy

Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones. Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life. We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.

 

“We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering” and that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances”.

 

Now, Frankl survived concentration camps and therefore has in my opinion the crown when it comes to suffering and finding meaning in suffering. Anything I have experienced is nothing to what he survived. However, my old friend the Mad Priest has said on a number of occasions that comparing one person’s sufferings with that of another is both ludicrous and insulting: suffering is suffering.

 

This is what dear old Wiki says about Frankl’s views on depression:

 

Depression

Viktor Frankl believed depression occurred at the psychological, physiological, and spiritual levels. At the psychological level, he believed that feelings of inadequacy stem from undertaking tasks beyond our abilities. At the physiological level, he recognized a “vital low”, which he defined as a “diminishment of physical energy” Finally, Frankl believed that at the spiritual level, the depressed man faces tension between who he actually is in relation to what he should be. Frankl refers to this as the gaping abyss (Frankl; page 202). Finally Frankl suggests that if goals seem unreachable, an individual loses a sense of future and thus meaning resulting in depression. Thus logotherapy aims “to change the patient’s attitude toward her disease as well as toward her life as a task” (Frankl, page 200)

 

Reading this, I had a strong sense of this chiming with my own experiences and beliefs. I am not what I should be. But what should I be?

Lying in the bath this morning, I let my mind wander off by itself. It never goes very far but this time it came back with a few curious thoughts. I mused on my own name. I have two Christian names that both derive from Latin, and translated mean Living Light. It set me wondering whether light is harmed by darkness. The nightmares about the consuming shadows have shaken me rather a lot, and while I know that Light is merely a form of energy if you use purely physics, I started to wonder if in some sense darkness is something more sentient, more aggressive, an entity rather than simply the absence of light. Scientists among you might be tutting at this point. But metaphysicians and mystics have asked this question for millennia, about this apparent war between light and darkness.

Then I started musing about the word Logos. In Greek it means a number of things, and while it is often translated as WORD, it can also be translated as MEANING, hence Dr Frankl using the term logotherapy (literally, healing through meaning). In John’s Gospel, the term Logos is used as Word and refers to Jesus (probably):

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

 

So we are back to the struggle between light and dark, between life and death and between meaning and void.

My initial question, (Is light hurt by darkness) takes on a more personal meaning when aligned with this struggle. Are my efforts to exist in a meaningful way damaged by the rising tide of darkness that emerges both from within my own psyche and from the world beyond me? Can I integrate, indeed, should I integrate, my own darkness? Is life about keeping the dark at bay or is it about understanding that darkness is not evil but rather a different state of being essential to survival? Is not only my life but life on earth meaningless or meaningful?

In some of the most harrowing parts of the book, Frankl wrote of those who gave up their hold on life, those whose struggle to find meaning in their sufferings proved too much for them, and who lay down and became unresponsive to stimuli and died, even when their health was not as compromised as many. Often they would smoke a cigarette long hoarded as collateral for barter, clearly accepting that they might as well just enjoy that one simple pleasure and let go of their grip on life. I cannot help wondering now whether our collective consumerism and cultural hedonism is not somehow akin to this.

My own search for meaning in my life is a struggle right now. I had for a while thought that my writing, (which I pretentiously call My Work) might be a strong contender, but since I’ve hardly written anything worthwhile(fiction anyway) in over a year, I am not convinced this hits the spot. Perhaps my meaning still awaits my discovery of it. I can only hope so.  

 

Why daffodils became the last straw ~ metaphors that strike to the heart

Why daffodils became the last straw ~ metaphors that strike to the heart

Say the word “daffodils” and any literate person will probably reply with “I wandered lonely as a cloud,” and any poor fool who grew up with Not The Nine O’ Clock News will probably put on a funny voice and say, “He does eat daffodils, you know.” My friend Kate will probably tell you of the time her clergyman grandfather ate a daffodil as a part of an Easter Day sermon. They’re generally not the sort of flowers to reduce someone to a flood of tears like rain from a blue sky. Genial, gleaming golden trumpets with a faint scent of spring sunshine and pollen, they herald the real arrival of spring with silent songs and waving yellow heads.

There are hundreds planted along the roadside on my route to work, massed brilliance of almost neon yellow, paler shades of lemon and deeper orange of the narcisssi varieties. They’re there for everyone who walks, cycles or drives past to enjoy for a few brief weeks each year.

Last Monday was my birthday. I’m not big on birthdays, I don’t like to make a fuss about them, so working that day was not a big deal. I decided to walk rather than cycle as I’d asked my husband to collect me from work in the evening so we could go and have a meal somewhere. The plan was a picnic on a beach somewhere, if the weather stayed fine enough.

I got a little under half way when I saw the daffodils. Rank upon rank of them, blooming in the sunshine. Then I saw the other ones. Someone had thoughtlessly picked a dozen or so, then thrown them down onto the path and left them, perhaps trampling them as they did so. I don’t know who picked them or who trampled them. It doesn’t matter, now. They were smushed into the path, withering where they had not been flattened.

I tripped in my stride and felt as if the world had suddenly become shadowed. I’d not been precisely cheerful that morning but not a lot different to usual. Tears prickled my eyes, then began to fall, uncontrollable and hot. Flowers have such a brief life, why did someone destroy those ones so wantonly? I sobbed as I walked, unable to understand why a handful of blowsy smashed-up  flowers had bypassed all my controls and hit me so hard. By the time I got to work, I had to come home again.

Now I’d finally spoken to my doctor about the insomnia and the depression and he’d given me some sleeping pills as an interim aide, and I’d been taking half a tablet cautiously every other night. Reading through the leaflet, one of the side effects is “unmasking of existing depression.” Bang on, that is. Unmasking. Yes, indeed. And I found I couldn’t put that mask back on this time.

Those daffodils were a powerful message, a metaphor from the world that flashed directly into my being. We’ve trashed a beautiful world without a thought for the fragile beauty and wonder therein. Oh you could say, it was just a few flowers and there are plenty more. You could say, well they’re bulbs, they’ll get another chance to bloom next Spring.

You could.

But those flowers were cut down and destroyed before they had a chance to finish their short blooming. Cut flowers in vases don’t bother me, because the time they bloom their beauty is being shared, seen and appreciated. Each flower matters, each bee, each bird, each bacteria, each living being, each rock, each bug that creeps you out, each one matters immensely because while there might be millions or even trillions like it, it is the only one in it’s existence.

Ascribing consciousness to inanimate things or creatures might sound mad, but surely recognising the right for things to have existence is better than wiping out things on a whim?

Wild Sheep Dismayed

 

Wild Sheep Dismayed

 

There was so much to learn about life beyond the safe, predictable life behind the hedges and fences and farms that most of the escapees found themselves bewildered and disorientated. Some even chose to go back, shortly after their frenzied escape from the field on finally understanding their fate. The cold and the hunger and the fear were all too much for animals who had been reared to accept the sweet hay and sheep nuts left out for them, and the ministering of the vet when ill.

But a hardy few survived the first months beyond the confines of their former lives and those who did realised that the long term survival of the wild sheep meant sharing both knowledge and experience with newcomers, still with their wool fresh and clean and smelling of sheep-dip. If you had comrades with whom you could stand when the blizzards came, then you would not freeze to death on your hooves, and when the predators came, as they will, you can stand and face them. If you all rush as one, you will put most predators to flight by your sheer force of united strength.

For sheep are far stronger than many imagine them to be, not seeing that beneath the layer of wool and insulating fat, they are powerful beasts and capable of laying a man out with ruptured internal organs. But they are herd animals and they are happiest in a group and as time went on the escapees formed small groups that were not quite flocks. The groups had to be small for obvious reasons, because no one wanted to draw attention to themselves and be caught. Fleeces were deliberately allowed to grow green with algae, as camouflage, and instead of following paths they tried to take new routes each time so no new paths could be worn.

As time went on, new arrivals were accepted into existing groups and taught what they might safely eat, where to drink without being seen and other vital things. Some of the new wild sheep were strange looking, rare breeds and even exotic ones escaped from parks and even zoos. The only requirement to join a group of wild sheep was to declare oneself to be a wild sheep.

Once a year, around the autumn equinox, the sheep would all meet high in the mountains to discover what the year had brought each group. A great gathering of silent sheep would scare the life out of any human watching but these sheep knew how to keep their peace and as they filed into the valley a watcher might have marvelled at their numbers, and the variety of the forms the sheep took. Small ones and large ones, black ones and (greenish) white ones, piebald and grey, they came in every shade and form you could imagine. There were even plenty who everyone knew were really goats but who could scarcely be distinguished from the canny, sure-footed little sheep who grazed the mountain passes. The goats were as welcome as any.

Each group had an elected leader who spoke their year’s news and when most had spoken and the wild sheep were feeling content that their fellows were thriving, a ragged looking fellow, so thin his backbone showed through his fleece spoke up. His little band of sheep were no better than he.

Our news is not so good,” he said.

Why so? Your territory has good grazing far from people. What has troubled you?” asked another spokes-sheep.

The ragged sheep was silent for a while.

You will see that we are fewer in number than we were last year,” he said. “Shortly after our last enclave we were joined by a new sheep, fresh from the farm. He seemed as relieved as any to have escaped. He fitted in with our ways and all seemed well for a while. Then our sheep began to grow listless. To grow thin when we should have grown fat, for as you have said, we live on good land with rich grass.”

So what happened?” a small black sheep asked.

Again the ragged sheep took some time to answer.

I have only now understood what happened,” he said. “But I do not understand all of it. The new sheep….was not like any sheep I had known. He could do things I’d never seen. He could persuade you that the grass over there was better than this luscious patch of clover you had been about to eat, or that if we all went down to the road there was a load of spilled beets and carrots to enjoy. But the road is miles away and when we got there, the beets were all gone. If they had even been there. But the worst was to come. He became close friends with certain sheep; you would never seen them apart, grazing together, and slowly, his friends weakened. Some died, in their sleep; some vanished. Some we know went back to their farms. I did not understand that he could have the power to weaken the others until a dear friend of mine fell under his spell. When she became too weak to move, I found her, lying a long way from any of us. As she lay dying, her spirit broken, I made her tell me what had occurred. She had felt like she had fallen into a dream, and she would willingly give up the best grazing for her friend because he had suffered so when he was at the farm. Though our grazing is good, it is sparsely scattered and we are careful not to allow places to become obviously grazed. She would bring him the choicest of leaves and would even venture down to the farm to steal mangles and beets and carrots when he was flagging. He would talk all the time about going back to the farm, and that life out here was too hard and how he missed the life he’d led back there, and that while we would all eventually be slaughtered, better to die warm and well fed. And she would argue that living wild and free might be hard at times, but surely it was worth it to build a better life that was lived as true sheep should.”

The ragged sheep bowed his head.

I sought to find our newest sheep and found him gone before I could question him and call him to account,” he said. “I do not know where he has gone. I cannot ask why he did what he did to so many good sheep, or whether it was his intention to do so. He may have gone back to his farm, or he may be wandering to find a new flock.”

What did he look like?” asked a spokes-sheep from a little further back.

He looked just like any one of us, an ordinary sheep that has sought to be wild,” said the ragged sheep. “There was nothing to warn you. It’s not as if he was a wolf wearing sheepskin. He was just another sheep.”

So how can any of us know if he (or one like him) is among us?” demanded another sheep, her voice full of fear.

We must be vigilant and we must talk to each other,” said the ragged sheep. “Support each other, share our burdens widely. Not with just one sheep, but openly. What we have learned needs to be shared with all, but so too does what we experience. I have heard tales of vampire sheep that suck the blood of others, but these are just tales to scare the lambs into silence at night. This is far worse because you offer your strength willingly to another, believing that the other will share with you when you need it. And they do not. I would rather a ravening wolf came among us than this.”

Soberly the conclave of sheep ended and the groups dispersed as silently as they had come, each thinking hard thoughts of their own and feeling a chill like winter had come early.

“All the lonely people, where do they all come from?”

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?”

 

 

I was cycling home yesterday from my optician’s appointment and as I whizzed past a pub, the opening lines of “Eleanor Rigby” filled
the street and my consciousness for a moment. I’ve always loved that song, was actually one I could play on the guitar, but along with “Streets of London” it gives me a moment of intense melancholy.

Loneliness is endemic. It’s something that’s been a part of society for such a long time. Even in a big family, or a close-knit community, there will be people who are lonely. Even with a loving partner who
understands us, many of us are still deeply, painfully lonely. No
amount of hugs and cuddles or reassuring words quite take away that aching loneliness. They may displace it at times but it never goes away permanently.

The way I see it, it’s because inside my head, there is only me, however many different voices that self uses. Even though quite often I know what my husband is thinking, I don’t hear his thoughts in my head. That might be why the concept of true telepathy is so seductive and appealing.

The internet brings a greater balm to the lonely than almost anything in the last century. It can feel like someone is so on your wavelength that they might almost be inside your head. But they’re not. Internet friends help, enormously, in getting through those times when being alone in your own head is to painful to bear; that said, they vanish without trace (and that’s another story) just when you need them. Physically present friends, or ones at the other end of a phone line can help too. Still, at three in the morning, when there’s no one to talk to, when you are totally isolated from your usual pain-relieving relationships, you are thrown back into your own deserted mind, with only yourself for company.

I’ve never liked myself much, to be honest. Perhaps the deep loneliness I feel is because the very last person I want to spend the eternity of the small hours with is myself. Perhaps that’s why I reach out to others, for that comfort, and the hope that unlike Eleanor Rigby in the song, when I die, I will not be buried along with my name and that someone will come, that I may have made some sort of a difference in the years I’ve been around. 

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Dsz4dB6DuM

 

What I am and what I am not

What I am and what I am not

I’m not a teacher, as such, and I have nothing to teach you. But we might learn together.
I don’t have any answers, not the definitive big answers to the big questions. I just have more questions. But my new questions might inspire you to ask some of your own.
I’m not enlightened; I can make no claim to such a thing being sometimes so lost in my own internal darkness that I extinguish my own small light while thrashing around. But sometimes that tiny pearl of light might be enough to guide a soul home.
I’m not awakened; I live in that shadowy penumbra of the world between worlds, caught in the trailing edge of dreams. But sometimes we may be dreaming the same dream and can compare notes.
I’m not a guru and I don’t want disciples or followers. But I would like friends and fellow travellers. I will carry your load for you while you build your muscles to full strength and I hope you will sometimes carry mine for me while I am weak.
For I am not strong. I stagger and fall and break into a million shining fragments. I can be brittle, like untempered steel. You may see the shine of polished metal but it’s only through repeated forging that true strength comes. Being beaten on an anvil is painful and I try to avoid it, and yet, again and again, I land in the furnace and the forge. One day I may be a worthwhile tool but not yet.
I’m not a saint but I may yet be a martyr, for the drive to perfect integrity takes us to strange and dangerous places where the choices we make under pressure are not always ones that are good for us as individuals. But those choices may be of greater worth for mankind than for the poor soul who makes them.
I am just an imperfect human being trying to understand who I am in this world. I make mistakes, I get things horribly wrong, and for this I ask patience and forgiveness from those I may have hurt on my journey. I have gifts but I am flawed and broken and sometimes I do not use those gifts as well as I might in a perfect world.
I’m no angel, but I may be a messenger. I stand with one foot in either world, amphibious, between the world of the soul and the world of the body, never quite sure from one moment to the next where the messages are coming from.
I’m an empty vessel, being filled by the living words of my soul, and letting them pour out and flow onto parched lands. If they water your soul garden, I am glad; if they swamp your first shoots then I am sorry and will try and channel the flow elsewhere till they have grown taller and stronger.
I am a child, looking at the world with tired eyes and sometimes a heart that is coated in jade, that is so easily broken. For all my childishness, I am older than you know and in my ancientness I see further and deeper than I should and for that I will avert my eyes if you wish me to.
I’m not a leader. No one should follow me where I am going, but I would welcome the company if anyone is going the same way. Sometimes we all need a hand to hold in the darkness.