Island Blog – Three Keys in My Hand

I have one, no, two meetings this week. One on Tuesday, a zoom with a writer friend, and one on Wednesday with my counsellor. In my opinion, many of us need to find someone just a bit more above things than we are. I have always found that a hand reaching down is a huge help, despite the initial shame I felt at asking for it. And there’s a thing. As this lockdown keeps us stuck/imprisoned/safe, there are many who are finding it super tough, whose mental stability is being seriously challenged. I get it. As one who has always been mentally turmoiled to a degree, and who sees that last week was Mental Health Week (as if one week would ever be enough) I am more than happy that the world is getting it, or, at least, the slowmovingrulemakers are thinking wider, perhaps. In my life I have met many who could flower but cannot flower within the confines of stigmatism and of what is socially acceptable. Hence the hidden pain. And the most destructive judge of all lives within. We are all flawed, broken to varying degrees, doing out very best to fit in without sticking out in ways that might draw attention to our faults.

Looking out upon the natural world is key, but we must also look within. As I have been a student of self-improvement for decades, I have absorbed a million positive phrases and still found myself not quite at home with myself, no matter how bright the epiphany. However, I am finally beginning to understand that time holds the second key and time requires my patience, my faith in the strength of a human spirit and my trust that the goodly gods are working for me, and not against me. When the world demands something I do not want or cannot give, I need this trust. If we were all meant to be the same we would be mere automatons. We are far from that, thank goodness. Although we are currently required to live as such, it will pass eventually. Confined to home, required to wash our hands a hundred times a day, separated from loved ones, stuck in the wrong country and so on, we have this time to reflect on who we are and on the life we want for ourselves once we are freed from the chains that bind. Think on that.

I watch the young birds fly through my little garden, feathers awry, all ruffly spot and unsure of where to land. New life learning old ways. For them, survival is the teacher. They cannot suddenly square up to a cat or challenge the dive of a sparrow hawk without almost certainly turning into lunch. But we can. If we consider our predators, our demons, our self-doubts and our fears to be in control of our lives, then they will be. Noticing every thought and questioning it is key number three. Even if I am uncertain of my path, my voice, the strength, or lack of it, of my own human spirit, if I decide to turn this thing around, to turn myself around, then wonderful things begin to happen. I don’t need to run from my doubts and fears, my thoughts and worries, I just need to about face and question. Do I really think this or is this thought thinking me? Then, if it isn’t useful, I say cheerio. I don’t need you. Every time I do this, I empower my true self. I am not controlled by my thoughts. I control them, and in this uncertain life when a single day can throw a tidal wave over my carefully constructed sandcastle, my thoughts are the only thing I can control.

I know what it is like to be in the darkness of depression. I know how overwhelming life can be. I also know how to rebuild my spirit and I am thankful for all my guides over the years. Not everyone finds their way. Some souls are lost. Most of our illnesses come from inner stress, manifesting in the physical body, sometimes destroying it. This time of reflection is a gift to us all, not only to make new ways to live for ourselves by taking a long hard look at our core values, our life choices, our work and our families, but to look and to see others who may need our clear and open friendship. Those, whom we might have dismissed before as misery guts or gloomy or bad tempered. Nobody wants to live like that. Nobody. But everybody needs somebody to lift them at some point in their lives.

There are less of us still breathing in the world today. This virus is greedy and it isn’t done with us yet. Let us make sure that the ones who will emerge back into the light of ‘normality’ even more broken, even more damaged and even more fearful of their futures, do not have to walk alone.

Island Blog 113 Secrets and Mindfulness (plus donkey)

2013-11-22 16.18.16

 

 

 

Inside us lies a world of secrets.  Secrets we share with one or two trusted people, and secrets we never ever tell a soul.  There are secrets we won’t even share with ourselves.

I am learning the wonders of Mindfulness.  What it asks of me, this Mindfulness thingy is that I pause long enough to notice my responses to any stimulation, any event, any person, any words aimed at me, and so on.  For instance, if you say to me something like ‘ I wish you wouldn’t always kick my donkey when you walk through his field’ I might respond angrily, especially if it wisnae me in the first place, but just some woman who bought the same red jacket last Autumn. If I did kick the donkey, then I might respond defensively, maintaining that the donkey is bad tempered and sly, watching out for me crossing his field and making sure he whaps my shin when you’re not looking.

In both these cases I am holding a secret.  The first one will be that I think you are a stupid smug donkey-owner and I never liked, nor trusted you one tiny bit.  You are a gossip and probably spreading no end of rumours about me down at the shop.  I don’t tell you this, of course but hold this secret within my soft interior, a secret that rises like bile in my gut every time I have the misfortune to meet you in the road.

The second one could be that I do sneak about kicking donkeys, even if they do mind their own business and are astonished any time my boot makes contact.

I appreciate that the above example is a tad silly, and I would also like to state, for the record, that I have never kicked anyone’s donkey, even though anyone’s donkey most certainly has kicked me. But that’s another blog, another time.

My thoughts, my private thoughts are my secrets.  I like them, but there are times when I must allow them to fly away because holding onto them will harm me.

Anger and resentment for example will make me ill, or, at the very least, bring me lower back pain and plooks. Oh I know, absolutely know that people who say anger is a bad thing have never been angry enough.  Fear of anger, my own or just anger in general gives the powerful emotion very bad press, and quite wrongly so. Anger is an energy, creating adrenalin and heightened strength, and, mindfully employed, can achieve remarkable good things – lashing out with sharpened weaponry not being one of them. If I can accept and be thankful for this surge of anger and think about why I felt it so strongly when all you did was break my favourite coffee mug, I will eventually be able to understand the root of it all.  In the current climate, someone will probably tell me it’s all my mother’s fault, but I must look beyond her.  Although she is a convenient soft landing for the punch of blame, she won’t be the whole reason I can promise you that.

My over response to unkind words, or of being abandoned, rejected, accused or blamed will have its roots in childhood. Could be at home, at school, anywhere in the playround of youth.  Often, the lineage of those roots is untraceable back to source.  So what?  Mindfully I can accept this and move on, but not move on and hold onto them.  I must move on and let them go.  I don’t need them, they weigh me down and make me secretly kick donkeys and over-react to broken mugs.  I know I don’t like unkind words, but I also know that you may not have meant them they way I heard them.  I know I don’t like the accusing gossip in you, but you very probably don’t like much in me either and, as we don’t have to meet, let’s not. I don’t want to be rejected or dissed or ignored or abandoned, but life is going to throw all of them my way at some point.  If I am mindful of my response to any of these as they cross my path, I am going to hear my own secrets.  Instead of pretending that it is all ok and that I don’t hurt at all, I will be able to honestly allow anger to rise against the pain and deal with it all by myself.  I won’t need to snap at anyone, or kick a donkey.  Then, when you break my replacement, replacement, replacement coffee cup I will be able to say (and mean it) that it doesn’t matter one jot because it’s only a cup, and can be replaced (providing there are any left), whereas you are irreplaceable.

Island Blog 95 Broken Circle

broken circle

 

 

What is the shape of disappointment? I know how it feels, and how it looks on another’s face, how it infiltrates the hours that follow, how it changes an opinion, a truth, a person, but if I had to pick a shape, to visually explain it, I think I would opt for a broken circle.

A broken circle tells me it can’t quite arrive. It began, quite the thing, knowing it was heading for Circledom and then stopped short of completion. Therefore it is no longer a circle, because there is no such thing as half a circle, or a bit of a circle, or, even a circl.

We like to know what lies ahead, or as much of it as is possible through the cloudy eyes of a mere human being. To know everything would surely require considerably more A levels than I ever took, which, by the way, was none. Well, I never got the chance once I was expelled.

And so, we strain to see as much as we can of what lies ahead, completing the circle as we mentally arrive at our destination, factoring in room for the unknowns and unforeseens, but still confident to varying degrees that we will, indeed, arrive.

But what happens when everything changes in a heartbeat and our circle is broken? Not because we faltered on the journey, lost heart and turned back and not because we changed our minds about setting off at all, but because someone, or something took it all away.

Pouf! Just like that.

And all those wise sayings about how Disappointment Will Pass and how it Makes Us Stronger can just go and flush themselves down the loo, because I have a raging miserable fury inside of me right now that just might boil up all over you if you tell me once more that I’ll feel better soon, because I plan never to feel better, ever again.

I remember my first big disappointment very well. Early days of motherhood, dressed for a party and looking forward to it overly much.

We can’t go, he said. The corn dryer’s broken down and I have to fix it.

And then he went back out on the farm.

I sat down on the bed, in my pretty dress and sobbed until all my face had melted into my palms. Then came the rage, which was dark red and black and full of forked lightening and thunderous door slamming.

The circle was broken. I know it was only a party but for a young mother, just to dress up and go out was such a big deal and had meant days of a champagne anticipation.

And nobody let me grieve, including myself. I was spoilt, petulant, selfish with nothing in the fridge for supper.

Disappointment is not allowed to show its face ravaged with tears and mascara, nor can it open its mouth and roar into the sky, because, firstly, there is something alarming about a woman with her mouth wide open, spraying anger and deep grief all over the place; secondly others share that sky and have seats at the top table and, thirdly, we’re British, with all our lips buttoned up tight.

So what do we do with it, any of us?

Well, I have learned that disappointment is indeed part of life and that the jagged wound it makes, does heal, although I don’t want to hear you tell me that. I’ll discover that for myself.

I have also learned that the only person who can deal with the grief I feel at a disappointment, is me, and if I want to roar into ‘our’ sky, you can just block your ears.

You might consider practising the odd roar yourself.

Clears a whole pavement in seconds.

Island Blog 69 – Aground

Island Blog 69 - Broken back shipThere’s a ship in our harbour aground on the rocks, a big and very stuck ship.  It was on its way from Belfast to Sweden with a load of timber.  I don’t know what will happen to it, or the timber, or the waters in the harbour, but I do know that it matters to me when anything bad happens at sea, because the next part usually involves one of my men.

In the early days of living on the island there was no lifeboat, and the local seamen became auxiliary coastguards.  I remember not infrequent calls, especially during the summer months when every loon with a dream of the wild ocean waves, took to the sea without a clue of tidal rips, wind direction or the rise and fall of the tides.  Add to all that ‘complicata’, those dodgy times when the wind argues with the direction of the tide, creating a real stooshie, when your little craft, so safe, (you thought) begins to screw tail in the boiling soup and runs the very real risk of tipping right over if one big wave comes at you sideways on.  Then there are those razor sharp rocks just below the surface.  You can’t afford to marvel at the wonderful views anywhere near land, because land is not where you think it is.  Land goes on into the sea and says nothing much.  It just blows a few bubbles that can look dead cute if you don’t check your chart.

I’m not saying the skipper of this massive hulk didn’t check his or her charts.  With a ship that big, stopping at all must be planned a mile away, and turning round quickly at the last minute when bubbles reveal their teeth is quite out of the question.

Anyway, back to what I was saying about my men.  The old sea dog had to turn around quick sharp often after a tourist trip to the islands, or out to watch for whales, if a call came through on the radio.  Out he would go, spotlight on the waves, if it was a darkling time of day, to search for a dingy, or worse, a person in the black soup.  It is hard enough to find a huge whale in the sea, never mind a little person with only a head showing.  He has towed sailing boats off beaches and rocks and stayed to reassure folk who had to wait for the lifeboat to arrive from the mainland.  He has helped people be airlifted out, and seen many back into safety.  Now we do have a lifeboat on the island, one with big twin engines, and our son is deputy cox and sometimes the whole cox.  When a storm rises like a bully and when the wind roars and the night is black as a witch, I wonder what he might be called out to do.  There have been some really tough times, but the team is tight and experienced and they know the rocks like teeth just under the surface of the sea, of old.  But still, we women and our imaginations can take the facts and spin our spin and hardly sleep a wink for the pictures in our fluffy little heads.

The sea is a wild thing- unpredictable and demanding respect.  Nobody can be her master and nor they ever will be.