Island Blog – Plan Be

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.

Island Blog – Space

Today the photography volunteers have been given the name of their project.  Minimalism.  I watch them wander around the reserve, deep in thought, eyes looking down, eyes looking up, looking out, thinking in.  What does minimalism mean to me?  Is it this leaf in a dustbowl, or that emerald green gecko shinning up a fat brown tree?  What do I hear while I seek my subject?  What do I feel, how do I feel?  Someone hunkers down to take a picture of an attention bell, one of those ping things that sit at reception when reception has popped out for a pee.  She places it carefully on the wide stone floor and crouches down to get it right.  I see the bell, tiny in such a lot of negative space.  From above it certainly is minimalism.  A child’s boat in a great stone ocean.  From down there, where she is, the bell becomes huge and the stone ocean goes on for ever, or, at least, until it meets the wall.

At art school we were required to work on negative space.  I hadn’t a scooby what that was, thinking it was something dodgy, the opposite of positive space, if, indeed that’s not an oxymoron. I found it extremely difficult at first, looking at what wasn’t there, the space in between the things that were.  We had to look, see, draw the spaces, not the jugs or benches or trees or parked cars.  All I could see was physical presence until, eversoslowly, just as my eyeballs threatened early closing, I got it, saw it and it was huge.

My understanding of opposites can often be This or That.  I forget there are many miles in between the two, many colours, hues, options.  Inhabiting that space is something I need to re-train my mind to work with.  A physical life requires certain choices between This and That and decisions are based on what I see, what is available, what is acceptable in any given moment.   We like routine, most of us, known quantities of things fixable and in good working order, things we use in our daily lives.  There is, after all, a time and place for everything, is there not? I want a positive space to live in, one that protects me, mostly, from myself, one that nurtures, one I can see clearly and understand.

At home, I would call those times of deep internal unrest, negative space.  Instead of really looking into that space, seeing it for what it is and allowing it just to be, I feel that I need to colour it in with my own pack of crayons.  I need to get busy, sweep the floor, cook something, change a bed, anything that gives me good grasp of the positive, the physical. What I can touch reassures me.  At least, over these things, I have control. That awful empty space back there, the one I just ran away from, the one full of unhappy thoughts and doubts and fears, well I sincerely hope that, by the time I descend the stairs, it has flown out the window.  Go pray on someone else you horrid negative space.  I’m fine now, with my pinny on and not long till lunch and the aftermath of dishes and cups to wash and dry.  When I focus on the tasks ahead of me, I can feel the calm.  There is always something to be done, after all, something that demands straightening, or mending, or wiping down, and once collected in an orderly fashion inside my mind, I am happy again. I am safe.  this life is just fine.

However, this is a life out of balance.  It must be, because the negative space is still there and it still bugs me. I don’t ask for it but it has something of import to show me.  Drawing the space in between two jugs, I began to notice the distance.  It wasn’t empty at all.  Behind the jugs I could see someone’s hand as they drew their own negative space, a corner of a cupboard, a snatch of white-scuffed blackboard, and even further back, the branch of a tree through the murky window.  It made me realize that I could look for ever into negative space and find positives, but distant positives, not too close, not mine to fix or mend or rearrange.  They were simply there.  I could fill in the gaps, complete the cupboard, the hand or the tree in my mind, but, somehow, I didn’t need to.

In order to control my mind, my thoughts, thoughts that fuel my choices of action and thoughts that will always have consequences, I need discipline, but discipline and I have never enjoyed each other’s company. I didn’t ever complete the drawing (no discipline!) because I was so pulled into the space.  I may have been given  poor marks, but what I learned about negative space back then has become a life-long fascination.  The trick is to be able to inhabit it, just as it is.  Those times of discomfort and self-doubt will still come to me.  I can fill them with stuff and noise and self pity; I can beat myself up, tear myself to shreds with my hyena teeth, or I can simply let them wash over me and move on.  I doubt that I will ever learn my way around them, never ‘complete’ my drawing, but if I just sit and let them come to me, surround me, without fear……. if I can find the courage to do that, I believe I will, at last, be able to say this is Me.

No apology.

 

Island Blog 85 – Coming Home

2013-07-25 09.56.40When I go anywhere I take me with me.  Now I know that sounds, at best, numptyish, at worst psychotic, but I don’t mean it physically.  It is obvious on a human level that I am pretty much stuck with me till death do us part.  But the natural desire to escape my inner self, that part I cannot see, can sometimes overwhelm.

No-one admits to it of course.  Well, it is possible to keep this tricky creature well and truly hidden, and for a whole lifetime if I so choose, which I do not.  As I ‘open my heart’ to someone, I let them glimpse into my very soul.  Sometimes it really helps.  Sometimes I regret it.  I can feel trampled.

As I skitter about the country on this new adventure, I can feel as light as a bird, catching a ride on the thermals, soaring through the clouds and into wide new skies, or I can feel like a desert tumbleweed with sand in my eyes till I’m blind.

What I have worked out is that it has less to do with whatever I meet on my journeys and everything to do with how I feel about me.  Not in a ‘will I be good enough for them? sort of way, but more…’will I be good enough for me?

For it is always me who judges me, and my judge has a knife for a tongue.  When I meet new people, they don’t hear my judge.  In fact, if I was to tell them what she thinks of me, they would laugh out loud.

Now, if I, with all my confident energy, who can write, paint, sing and dance my life…..if I am still trying to co-ordinate the inside with the outside of me, in my final trimester, what on earth is it like for the rest of the world? And why is it we have this constant search for peace?

Well, I think it is what life is all about.  I don’t think anyone has it sussed, lives a perfect life.  I don’t believe in material wealth as the answer, nor academic brilliance.  Most of us don’t remember those who made no impression on our lives, and remember clearly those who, through struggle, did something different, made something happen.  These people, the ones we do remember had the same judge we all have.  Some people call it the devil.  Some people think it’s what they eat, or where they live, or who they live with, but I think we are all born with it all fankled up in our DNA and it’s quite impossible to hide from.

The good part of it tells us to be careful, to watch our step, to consider our actions.  In balance this is all good.  Out of balance, it becomes growing self-doubt, and, if we keep feeding it, it takes over our inner garden, rising high as weeds that eventually block out our sun.

What a waste.

Well….. I have said, What a waste to myself a million times and still crouched there behind the weeds, peering out at a passing crowd of confident others and snivelling into my pocket handkerchief.

Travelling through new lands I get time to think things through.  I never thought anything through for decades as there was never more than five minutes available for such indulgence.  But now, I can, and I do and its very exciting and encouraging, because I realise this.

It is never ever too late to begin again and I begin with one conscious decision.

To get on with it.

To thank the judge for her protective presence, but to take charge of her.  To listen, but to respond with confidence.  When she tuts and shakes her head and says in that ‘I know what’s best for you dear’ voice…..’You can’t do that.  You never did it before and got it right.  Just give up the idea and stay where you are…….’ I will stop, turn to her and say………

Just watch me!

And then I will spin on my sassy heel and step into my life.