As the doors re-open into others’ worlds, shops, cafes and space, I acknowledge a little turbulence in that moment when I get out of my car in order to move along a narrow pavement, people heavy. Okay, I am outside now, so…. mask? Not mask? Inside the shop there are thingies on the floor to keep us a metre apart but this doesn’t work in doorways nor when someone remembers they forgot something and makes a U turn between the acres of alcohol and a long colour run of biscuits and cakes. Unable to disappear, there are at best, 12 inches between the U-Turner and the long queue of masked up distanced basket carriers. Suddenly we are, momentarily, way too close for comfort. I help an old lady with her bags, taking her arm on the steps. Of course I do. It wonders me, my choice to do this when I almost felled a structure of pink wafers in my frantic reversement just a few moments ago. This is indeed a time of wonderment. It takes me back to one of those ballets I was in a hundred years ago, one of the Little Swans, I think, all tippytoes and tutu, breathless and terrified and way too close together for ballet shoe freedom of speech.
But I must not give in to fear. I refuse. Stoutly. This is at attitude I have learned and infused into my very bones. The fact that it doesn’t work for me is, largely, my failure. I hear stories of those who have moved beyond the unholy mess of fear and doubt that we currently live in, those who have ‘mastered’ their fear and done it anyway, whatever ‘it’ was. They are beautiful, confident, unreal. I buy into it, and, in doing so, I fail. Again. So how do we ordinary folk doing our best with all our current limitations, whether extraneous or intrinsic (and ps btw how do we know the difference) make sense of it all? How do we correct the imbalance between fear and doing it anyway? It seems to me the biggest map of all, the biggest gap of all, the one between us and where we want to be. It is as wide and as daunting as the Sonoran desert. I have (had) a husband who crossed that desert, that Sonoran Desert with its 1000 square miles of nothing and no-one but sand and massive heat and massive cold and a blast of sudden butterflies to clog the radiator half way across.
My thinking, my counsellor’s advice, is to take baby steps, one day at a time, all that stuff.. Even as I know it is the only way, it bugs me. I’m thinking this. I have got this far, I am 68, mother to five, grandmother to ten plus two steps and surely I have done my baby stepping? I had loads of confidence once. Where the hell is it now? But it seems we still have to work, we oldies, and maybe that’s a good thing, however much it irritates me. These days I notice a gamut of emotions swirling inside my heart bringing thoughts that are not always helpful. The loss of self confidence, the emptiness of this space I inhabit, the feeling that something huge and irreplaceable is gone for ever, all swipe me sideways at times. I walk, I read positive books, I study (deeply) the power of emotions and how to both allow and control them. At first, no, for yonks, I have bought into the theory that moving on or moving through is all about control, self control, emotional control ya-di-ya. This belief has held me up, and possibly down, for most of my life, swooping right back to childhood. Stuff happens. It hurts. Deal with yourself and come back down when you are like the rest of us, aka fitting in and not trying to break the sound barrier. I tell someone I feel sad, afraid, lacking in confidence and angry and they say nothing for a split second, but here it comes……’But look at the sunshine/Spring/flowers/view, as if any of those things have anything to do with how I feel. Such a response is counter intuitive and counter intelligent but we all make that response because we have never been taught how to allow a ‘negative’ just to be.
I walk further, forgetting to acknowledge Lady Larch, for which I will need to apologise tomorrow, not that she is crabbit about such things. She has taken a very very long time to get to her full height and knows a thing or two about distracted walkers passing beneath her graceful branches. I pick up ideas along the banks, from among the self-heal, the wood anemones, sorrel and bluebells, colourful ideas with petals that follow the sun or petals that line a stem, indigo against the bright green grasses. They tumble around in my mind. What is the key to this emotional rampage? Do I allow or do I control or do I both or do I neither? Which way is up? I know about down. Down is always right there.
Listening to a talk today on exactly this subject, I have learned something. I think I have been hoodwinked into believing in the horns of a dilemma, either this, or that, black or white, positive or negative. Our culture promotes Positive, big time. After all, the alternative is pretty unappealing. Who wants to be negative? Negative is glass half empty. Negative is dark, slow, miserable. Negative needs to look up more, look out more. Negative needs to get over herself, get out there, do something for someone else – in other words please make sure you run away from negative as far and as fast as you can. Better, deny it exists, at least in me, in my heart, in my ticketyboo life. As I write this, I chuckle. How utterly ridiculous it sounds as it reads itself back to me. But that is what I have been doing. I have made an art of not being negative, of being insistently positive, of pretending, of not truthing. I am damn good at it, excellent in fact and I am about to deconstruct my own myth, not that I can take all the credit for its pervasive presence within our culture, one that has been fed to us like mother’s milk for generations. So how exactly do I put my inner construct of beliefs back together again in a new shape? Behold all these minute complex parts spread out before me for which there are is no instruction manual? The myriad and tiny parts look up at me and titter. I am not daunted, I refuse to be. That would be me siding with you know who. After all, I have lived almost 7 decades, each one loaded with learnings, with ups and downs and with many an adventure. So, maybe I don’t need to reconstruct this structure of beliefs. Perhaps I just need to let the old lie there in pieces and to walk back out into the world open-hearted, curious and interested. If I just notice my emotions, acknowledge them, all of them, the negative and the positive, then maybe a natural construct of beliefs will form all by itself. I could watch it happen as an observer. I could be emotionally agile, ready to change, ready to adapt at a moment’s notice, ready to engage.
This morning I ‘noticed’ I felt grief, loss, sadness and fear with a sprinkling of anxiety as garnish and with a side of self-doubt. I wrote them down. There they are in a neat list on the page before me. Hallo you. I said. But what I did not say is Go Away. I did not scrunch up the paper and use it as a spill to light my pipe. I did not shut down my heart, draw the dead bolts, pull up the drawbridge, whisper insurgence in the ears of the guard dogs and then hide under the bed. I just watched the list from time to time and said Hallo you. I thought a little about each feeling, brushing over its surface with my fingers, gently. I was kind to each one of them. Yes you hurt. Yes you feel sharp and (interestingly) judgmental and that is when it came to me like a blinding flash. That is the moment I blew up the old belief structure because deciding to be positive always makes a judge of any negatives. I should not feel this way. I do feel this way. Therefore it is I who am to blame. This crime is punishable by a whole stretch of time wherein I will find a gazillion ways to tell myself that I am a waste of space, always was and that there is no earthly chance of anything good ever happening to me because I just don’t deserve it. Anyone relate?
Accepting that ‘There’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so’ is mildly helpful but the wisdom is not explained very well. If thinking is also a crime, or poor thinking, negative thinking, then off I go again with the self-flagellation. However, if thoughts are unconscious, if such thoughts precede emotions, then they are extraneous, surely? They come at me about 60,000 times a day. My mind is never still and nor btw is yours. There is nothing we can do about this truth but what we can do is to ‘notice’ an emotion, an unconscious thought, to step back from it, to observe and acknowledge it and then make a choice, of action perhaps or maybe inaction. A decision made based on doing nothing much, just noticing, observing, watching or a considered decision that is not a dash for the safety net of positivity. Dashing into a response just gives that random emotion or unconscious thought all of the power, power over me, over you and it ultimately denies the existence of that sad, angry, fearful feeling which achieves two things. First it tells the thinker that he or she was wrong to think that way and second, it fuels up the ‘negative’ feeling for a far greater assault another day.
Bereavement brings so many thoughts and emotions. I want to wind time back and re-do or re-don’t many things. I have so many questions that will never be answered. Even when my relatively sane mind is busy on some project or even fast asleep, my unconscious is working away like a busy little bee so that my decision not to think about the somethings I regret, missed out on or wish had never happened just makes that bee very happy giving it full permission to fatten up the very things I don’t want to think about. Don’t think about an elephant. I know, you just thought about an elephant. But it isn’t just people like me with a dead husband of just a few months who are bursting with emotional chaos just now. The lockdowns, the indecision, the fear of catching the virus, all collude with inner confusion to confound so many of us. We hardly know what to think any more and it will take many of us long time to grow new confidence. And that is perfectly okay. Let us take the time. Let us let ourselves move at our own pace through whatever wilderness we wander, observing, noticing, but mostly not judging ourselves. Thoughts will come all the way up to that last breath. There is no stopping them, but, like a good sailor in a brisk breeze we can work with the thoughtweather. At times we can spill the wind, at others we can let the sails, fill fat-bellied, and just fly. At times we can moor in a peaceful cove, and at others, when the morning is fresh and the wind lively, we can weigh anchor and head far out to sea, laughing in the spray, exhilarated.
In the time between birth and death there are we. I plan to live that time as the very best me I can possibly be.