I don’t understand – but I trust

So, once again I am on the brink of leaving my ‘regular’ life behind to leap into the abyss and explore some more of what this crazy, beautiful planet has to offer. It has been such a journey getting to this point, and it still feels strange. I am a bundle of emotions – sadness and grief at what I’m leaving behind and might yet lose, yet wonder that this sadness is only there because of the deep love and gratitude that lies beneath it. And of course there is huge excitement, joyful curiosity and fear in the mix too – I often feel I’m in the middle of a furious maelstrom of emotions these days, yet there’s a deep strength underlying it all, and I seem able to stand firm and trusting at its still-point centre, even when my mind can’t possibly explain what’s going on!

Many people have asked me what I’m doing this year, and sometimes also asking, ‘why?’. It’s a natural question, and one I’ve struggled to answer. I’ve struggled in part because I am shy to bring my explorations out into the open. And I’ve also struggled because my mind can’t make sense of what I’m doing – it can’t rationalise it, put it into a tidy, neat box and justify it. So I’m often left without many words, just a sheepish look and a helpless shrug. But I know that I need to lose the sheepishness and instead own and honour what I’m doing without fear of judgement and without any feelings of embarrassment or shame. Why? Because I am following a deep, deep instinct. It is that crazy, inexplicable thing that we all have, if we can only quieten the mind long enough to listen: intuition. No, I can’t explain it in my head, but I feel it deeply in my heart and gut and it’s impossible to ignore. Sometimes we have to leap, even when we don’t know why. And in that leap of faith, that act of surrender and trust, invisible arms appear to support us and carry us to the other side, from where we will look back and see the method in the madness, the thread of truth through running through the mists of confusion.

So what am I doing with myself this winter? Well, firstly, I am revisiting a beautiful and magical retreat centre in Inverness (www.anamcara.org) where I attended a course recently, entitled ‘Plant Spirit Medicine’, which signalled my first ‘official’ foray into shamanic practices. I have been drawn to shamanism for many years, pretty much since I began my inner questing in earnest, and it has become increasingly obvious that, through my own inner journey, of which connection to nature is a massive part, I’ve adopted many of its practices intuitively and naturally, without ever having ‘learnt’ these, and I think this is its appeal. To me, shamanism is an umbrella term for intuitive, innate and timeless healing wisdom that comes from connecting deeply with the land and with yourself as an integral part of the land. It is no coincidence that every ancient culture across the globe has some kind of ‘shaman’ healer and/or knowledge-keeper as an important member of the community, and that the practices used by shamans across the world are eerily similar. And if these practices are both universal and, seemingly, timeless, then we would be foolish to write them off, especially when so many of our existing systems are so clearly failing us.

Shamanism is about bridging the gap between the seen and unseen realms, and honouring every living thing as equally sacred. This is a path I’ve been walking anyway, but now I’m ready to give it some kind of framework, and I have found the perfect teacher at Anam Cara, and the perfect place to immerse myself in the sacred celebration of the land. I will be volunteering at the centre for around six weeks, and hope to learn more about running retreats and managing a large piece of land, which follows permaculture principles, as well as exploring community living again, as these are all things that I am very interested in and that I think will become increasingly woven into the mainstream as humanity opens its eyes once again to the old ways, and rekindles a longing for deep connection to land that is crying out to be fed within us.

Then, after six weeks of retreat living in Scotland, I am off to India to, firstly, study astrology via the medium of dance (yes, really), and then immerse myself in yoga for a couple of months. Again, I’ve felt sheepish confessing this newfound love of astrology to people, but it’s a passion that has found me. It has grown within me stealthily until, like the shamanism, I feel it’s time to honour it by dedicating time, money and energy to learning more.  Just like the shamanism, it’s an ancient, timeless practice – the alignment of ancient sites with constellations is but one of many illustrations of how our ancestors valued astrology as a potent science. And, like shamanism, it has grown within me as a natural, intuitive extension of my persona rather than as a conscious intellectual exercise. I literally feel the effects of the planetary movements on my being, and my studies into it are more affirmative than illuminating, just like the shamanism, although of course I realise there is so much to learn – again, hence the need to delve into this world and provide a framework of sorts for the intuitive wisdom that is gradually being remembered within me. I feel these different worlds are all just facets of the same complex totality of existence, but we need some form within the freedom, and the mind likes to learn, even if the heart and spirit already know it all. Like all things in life, it’s all about the balance.

So why have I felt reluctant to share my new direction with people? Fear of negative judgement of course. Fear that my yoga students will drop away, thinking I’m becoming too weird and far-out hippy. Fear that friends will disown me for the same reason. Fear, fear, fear…

The thing is, this fear is abating fast. Of course, it’s still there. But I now understand that if I don’t honour and respect my decisions then how can I possibly expect others to do so? Furthermore, I now place personal authenticity above feeling the need to please others. Because I have finally realised that the only way I can ever please others is by being true to myself first. And I know that I have to teach my truth too, and that this is the greatest honour I can give my students. I’ve always struggled with the ‘teacher’ label anyway – I just want to share my passions with those keen to learn, that’s all. So I have to allow my teaching to grow as I do.

And, here’s the funny thing. It’s all yoga anyway! I have always struggled to fit myself into any kind of box – I resist labels when I can, and it’s been a long journey to accept that yoga is a big enough container for my personal growth. But yoga means union, which means bringing everything together, and in this I can believe. Yoga is taking us towards the experiential understanding that we are all one and the unconditional love that follows such a revelation, and in this I also believe.

And, as I learn more, I see how shamanism and yoga are but two sides of an infinitely multi-faceted coin, and I notice that references to astrology appear as aspects of the ‘siddhis’ (special powers that committed yogis will start to eventually experience) in Patanjali’s yoga sutras (III.26-III.28). I used to think the siddhis were all-out bonkers, but these days they just seem a very natural part of expansion of consciousness, which any kind of healing/inner work is contributing to – but the proof will always be in the pudding (hurrah for puddings); all the great truth teachings are merely affirmative of your own experiential findings – we have all the answers we need within us already. And all great ‘teachers’ will just remind us of this and help us to extract them. As one of my recent teachers/mentors said, ‘we are the Patanjalis of our time’. So I think my forays into shamanism and astrology are actually very much a positive sign that yoga is working for me. And, it’s all one anyway, so I don’t even know why I’m quibbling… 😉

So, this doesn’t mean my weekly yoga classes will now include astrological discussions or shamanic rituals, but it does mean I might occasionally weave these into my teachings, if it seems to fit, which it does surprisingly often. And it does mean that I continue to expand and grow my body of knowledge and experience in a way that feels intuitively right to me, and this is surely one of the best teachings I can give to others; to be true to yourself, to follow what makes your soul sing and your curiosity soar with joyful excitement. And, more than this, to follow that deep, deep knowing within you, even when it makes no sense at all.

emptiness

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Posted in Community life, Connecting with the natural world, crystals, Detoxification, India, Love, Meditation, Mindfulness, Patanjali, Positivity, Power of change, Self-love, Stone circles, Uncategorized, Yoga, yoga philosophy | Leave a comment

Growing Through Vulnerability

I’ve been putting off writing my monthly newsletter for a couple of weeks now, simply because I couldn’t focus on what to write about in this month’s article. I listlessly flicked through the Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, hoping for some drop of wisdom to jump out, but nothing pulled me in. I was too distracted by what was going on in my personal life. Then it hit me today… I should just write about what I’m going through!

Striving to be as authentic as possible is really important to me, especially as we live in a world where this is often not readily supported. In the spirit of ‘being the change you want to see’ (thanks, Gandhi!) I aim to share as honestly as possible my own struggles and joys, in order to inspire others to do the same and to find the courage to speak their own truth, even when this seems at odds with societal expectations and convention. We are all gloriously unique, and will only find true self-fulfilment when we embrace this and begin discovering and unapologetically living that truth, rather than trying to fit into prescribed boxes that don’t suit us.

So, part of my truth is to try and overcome the stiff-upper-lip Britishness/modern-day humanness of not admitting our own weaknesses by sharing my dark times as well as my wonderful times. I am well aware that this raw emotional sharing often makes people feel very uncomfortable, but then change is always uncomfortable and, as I see it, our inability to share our truth with each other, especially when it comes to emotions, has got us into rather a sticky situation as a species, where loneliness, superficiality and confusion are rife, and I sense a deep hunger rising within us for a change in this respect.

In addition, I am aware that the reluctance to share weakness with others often stems from the competitive tendency that we have fallen into as a modern, achievement-focused species, which awards approval based on what we do not rather than who we truly are.

I am also aware that this truth I feel and share often makes me sound quite negative about our species, but in fact the opposite is true. It is because I believe in us so very deeply, and know it doesn’t have to be this way, that I feel committed to being part of a positive shift in how we interact and communicate with each other, by re-establishing our sense of connectedness and allowing emotions and heartfelt truth their rightful place as essential components of healthy and happy living. This is, in essence, what yoga is all about really – union, unity, connection; the realisation that we are all one, there is no separation. Big stuff, I know, but I feel it so very deeply and I see that others feel it too on some level – those random acts of kindness and conscious self-sacrifice that we as a species are uniquely capable of on the planet can only come from such a place. I believe love and connection are our natural state yet for some reason we have had to learn and teach a different way and now suffer from the resultant enforced separation and competition. Yet, despite this, we can and, I believe, will inevitably eventually return to our true state, through self-preservation if nothing else. And the return journey will be so much easier than the original tangent, for it being so natural to us. I believe there is no limit to how deeply we can love ourselves and each other, but we will never plumb these depths by keeping our truths locked inside.

Anyway, I am off on one of my involved tangents! So, to sum up, I find courage today to put myself out on an honest limb of sharing this truth I feel in full awareness and, in addition, I share with readers that I’ve been struggling ni my personal life of late! Yes, I do existentially and experientially believe that, underneath all of our negative illusions, we are pure love and light. But that doesn’t mean love and light abound in my life all the time! We have to keep moving through the illusions, learning the lessons they are here to teach us and, meanwhile, dealing with whatever pain they throw up. And, even whilst having the awareness that the pain is ultimately an illusion that stems from a false sense of separation – it’s still pain, and it feels very real indeed as I struggle to deal with it. My life is unravelling somewhat as I write this, the familiar gradually dropping away. And what will be left? The thought is terrifying and exhilarating in equal measures. I feel like a hermit crab that’s outgrown its shell and is struggling, naked and vulnerable, across the sand, desperately seeking its new home. I know good times lie ahead, they always do. But I am not afraid to own my sense of doubt and fear during this transition.

I don’t think even the bravest souls ever lose their fear, they just deal with it well and know it’s a tool to sharpen the mind and keep the focus on growth. What is known cannot be unknown and we can never go back to where we were before. These things I know. So I will keep crawling towards my bigger shell, and know that, at some point again in the future, that shell will become too small for me and I will have to make that terrifying scramble towards my next home once more. But of course our only true home is the one we house deep within us, and each leap to a bigger shell is really just a step closer towards the infinite wonder of our own authentic being. And I wouldn’t have it any other way… 🙂

So, whether you’re on your yoga mat struggling through your nemesis pose or off the mat facing something equally challenging, just keep going full steam ahead, forging onwards through the sand, and know that if you do, a bigger and better you lies on the other side.

 

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Sometimes Less is More

I’m just back from an idyllic week of teaching my summer retreat in sunny Spain. As always, I was reminded that this is something that I really enjoy doing, perhaps above all else. I love watching the journey that everyone goes on, myself included, as we all slowly release the binding ties and prescribed masks of our ‘normal’ life and gradually relax and unwind. It is as though we enter another realm or dimension, where time doesn’t play such a critical role and where expectations, labels and identities are able to be released, with sweet relief. By the end of the week, it really did sometimes seem like time was standing still – people moved more slowly, organised activities were blissfully sparse and just merged effortlessly into each other, with minimum organisational input required. The less we worried, the more the universe flowed, placing us all exactly where we needed to be at the perfect time. With outer protective layers dropping away, the beauty of heartfelt communication, supportive friendship, body wisdom and intuitive healing were able to rise to the fore.

But, it takes a while to get to this point. We fight the sparseness, we fear the empty hours and the lack of structure. In a world that is so organised and obsessed with efficiency and profitability, where our time is so compartmentalised, it can feel like a brutal wrench to suddenly break away and be faced with the spaciousness of clear days to just be with ‘me, myself and I’. You would think that we would embrace this with open arms – how many times do we find ourselves saying things like, ‘God I need a holiday!’ and, ‘I just need some time to myself!’. But, often, when such a thing is gifted to us, it can throw us into even more of a headspin.

I do think that’s why so many people spend their holidays avidly sightseeing; really, it’s often just an extension of the busy, pressured life we’ve left behind. And I very much speak from experience here – I used to feel a deep sense of duty and self-imposed pressure to fill every little pocket of time with ‘productive’ activities, whether I was on holiday or not. But I now see this as a symptom of an imbalanced society, which places way too much emphasis on ‘doing’ at the expense of just ‘being’. In fact, ‘being’ is often criticised as being self-indulgent, a waste of time, useless, selfish etc. But, I would argue that this is most definitely not the case and in fact the world is crying out for us to just stop what we’re doing and sit still with ourselves for a while, to catch up with ourselves and enter the inner, bodily world of feelings and emotions rather than remaining trapped in our minds, where we are mercilessly controlled and censored by our persecuting ego. We need space for true insight, clarity and inspired creativity to emerge, and for peace to descend.

The problem is, modern society is now so entrenched in this efficient world of doing, that most of us have lost the ability to just be with ourselves.  It almost panics us, creating feelings such as, ‘If I haven’t got anything to do, then how can I possibly be of value?’  We feel we have to prove our value through our achievements and our possessions. But have you ever thought that you came into the world as a precious gift to the universe, and that this hasn’t changed – you’re very being here is enough? We don’t look at a newborn baby and expect it to start doing something to prove its worth, before we will accept it into the world. And we tend not to chastise children when they ‘space out’ and become lost in their daydreaming reveries and imagination and create with joyful abandon. Yet, as we grow into adults, the external expectations and pressures begin, and we start to feel we aren’t good enough as we are, and that instead we need to start proving ourselves to others, to meet others’ expectations of how we should be.

The other issue is that, in a world focused on productivity, emotions tend to be downplayed, suppressed and even denied as, when they take us over, we’re not in total control of ourselves and therefore not as efficient at what we do. How can we meet our tight deadlines when we’re also dealing with huge emotional rollercoasters? So what do we do? Often we distract ourselves from our emotions through all kinds of techniques, some obvious, but some very stealthy indeed. Drugs and alcohol are an obvious distraction, but so is over-working, and even over-playing – we can kid ourselves that going to the gym, watching TV, going to the pub etc is helping us relax, but what is our motive really? Is it possible that we are distracting ourselves from painful emotions that we fear to truly enter and experience, in case our ‘efficient’ life unravels? Another one to look out for is when you spend all your time looking after everyone else, and solving their problems. You can justify this quite easily as kindness and generosity, but are you being kind and generous to yourself first? Or are you running away from yourself…? (I’ve definitely been very guilty of this one in the past!)

Like any other activity, even our yoga practice can be a distraction if we’re not mindful, perpetuating our sense that we’re not good enough as we are, that we need to do more, try harder, work harder. I certainly have experience of this – I strictly followed a very dynamic yoga practice for many years, telling myself it was for relaxation and personal development, but really I was continuing an old pattern of punishing myself due to a deep but as-yet unacknowledged self-loathing, and distracting myself from truly entering the hugely painful emotions that were buried deep within me. In short I was in denial, and yoga was at first just another layer that I built up to help keep those emotions trapped inside, where I couldn’t feel them so acutely. But, of course, we can’t bury and avoid our emotions forever.

So, although it’s immensely difficult, I think finding space in our days where we have no plans whatsoever, except to be kind to ourselves, to enter our inner world of feelings and emotions with self-compassion, could really help change the world, and help us to find our way out of the negative trajectory towards self-destruction that our human species finds itself on. Each of us is an enmeshed balance of mind, body and spirit as all ancient wisdom and indigenous cultures know intimately, yet somewhere along the line we have lost the path. We’ve lived too much in the mind for far too long now, and now we’re feeling a void within us due to our systemic suppression of heart and spirit, and we’ve forgotten how to reconnect to these essential parts of our being. I confess it frustrates me that concepts like emotions, heart, love and spirit are often spoken of with derision by society as wishy-washy, ‘hippy’ ideas, even though I feel they are what will save us as a species. Yet I do understand the disconnect, because I felt it myself for much of my life. In the end, it was only when I became more mindful and conscious in my yoga practice that I was able to honestly acknowledge some truths about myself that I had been running from, which helped me to shift my perspective and raise my awareness of the huge imbalance that we’re suffering from. I finally began to understand that, above all, I needed to be kind to myself and come to love myself, so I began to give myself space to delve within, truly, and to allow those buried emotions to start being released so that I could begin to heal myself.

And, in effect, healing is what we all need. We are all suffering from the planetary imbalance of mind dominating heart/spirit, and we all need to heal from this. But we fear to enter the space where this might become a possibility, because we know deep down it will utterly rock the bedrock of our perceptions of ourselves and our world, which is a scary thought. But if we can go there together, it’s far less threatening, and we can support each other through the huge shifts that are required. The power of community is immense, and is something else we’ve become disconnected from through living in our minds at the expense of our hearts. Mind is separation and competition, heart is unity and collaboration. Of course I’m not saying we need to drop the mind completely – we very much need it for our survival. But we need to rebalance, and allow heart and spirit an equal voice.

So, to draw this to a close (although, I’m just getting going really, lol!) this brings me back to my original point about the power of allowing yourself to take time out to go on retreat, ideally in some kind of group or community setting. When we stop still, time expands to embrace us, and we can begin to remember that we are perfect, beautiful and lovable just as we are – the universe needs no corroboration of this and, as a vital, integral part of the universe, we will eventually realise that we need no evidence either and self-love can flourish, as it longs to do. This is what the universe is calling us to remember as it seeks to come to a peaceful equilibrium and this is what I feel humanity needs to move towards positive evolution … 🙂

emptiness

Posted in Community life, Connecting with the natural world, Depression, Detoxification, Love, Meditation, Mindfulness, Positivity, Power of change, Self-love, Yoga, yoga retreat | Leave a comment

Growing pains

Isn’t it strange that the only constant we can rely on in life is change, yet change is something that we seem to resist?

If you watch animals, they seem to take change in their stride pretty naturally; they live in the moment and accept what ‘is’ rather than expending energy on thinking about how things actually should be, or how much better things used to be. I love watching my parents’ dog for that reason; he teaches me so much about endless patience and acceptance.  Yet, with our expanded consciousness, we humans have somehow lost that quality – we tend to live in the past or in the future way more than in the present and this brings with it an illusory sense of being able to control what ‘is’ and a resultant resistance to unlooked-for change (this is why we tend to hang on to the past and fear the future – it’s all tied in to wanting to feel in control). When you start to observe yourself and others around you, it soon becomes painfully apparent how much we detest change and will do anything we can to avoid it.

But, the thing is, we can’t avoid it. Change will always come for us.  We can arrange things in our lives delicately, to create an illusion of being in control and then, whoosh, the carpet is swept from beneath us.  A loved one dies, we have an accident or become ill, we lose a job, a relationship ends, a friend moves away, the local supermarket stops stocking your favourite food, we begin to notice wrinkles and grey hairs, there are roadworks on your way to work! Life is full of events that are totally out of our control. And, if we’re not ready for it, this can leave us reeling, struggling to cope.

But, if we can gradually come to understand all of life is inherently transient, then we can begin to form a better relationship with change, and see it as the beautiful lubrication that allows life’s wheels to keep turning. Without change life could not exist, it is the dynamic aspect of evolution and growth. The problem is we focus on its shadow side, which is loss. To grow, expand, evolve and live fully, we have to allow loss into our lives. And, truly, loss is as beautiful as gain, as you can’t have one without the other; both are as much an integral part of the human experience as the other, and our suffering comes from resisting this fact of life. Sometimes the pain of loss is so huge it seems impossible to see beyond it, to the positive growth that it will lead to. But the growth is always there, if we allow it in.

So, in a way, the inner path is about consciously altering our relationship with change and beginning to work with it not against it.  We start to invite change into our lives, dance with it and see it for the great friend and teacher that it is. Because the inner path is all about personal growth and transformation, and to allow this, we have to let old, stale beliefs, thought patterns and identities fall away, over and over again, so we can constantly be reborn, bigger and better each time.  For this reason, to begin with at least, the path is terrifying, and that’s why most people avoid it.  The number of times I’ve heard people say something along the lines of, ‘Yes I want to change, but I’m scared of rocking the boat’ or ‘I’m scared of what I’ll become and what this will mean for xxx’ etc. Well, yes, it will rock the boat and, yes, you will change, but you will be moving further towards the truth of who you are, beneath all those beliefs, thought-patterns and identities, and you will therefore be a happier and more peaceful version of yourself as a result. And, do you know what? Those around you will feel the ripples of this change themselves; usually the boat is crying out to be rocked.  Healing is a non-local event – if you work to heal yourself, you help to heal those around you and, ultimately, the world, as we are all inherently connected.

The reason I write these words today is because I am once again in that deeply uncomfortable place of knocking on the door of change and inviting it into my life. And, even though I have been here many times before, and I am excited to be here because it’s a sign of my progress, this doesn’t make it feel any easier at all when I get to this place – the emotions of fear and unease are still there, especially because each layer of illusion we move through is deeper and therefore can be trickier to work through in some ways. But I just try and sit with these feelings, welcoming them as the positive signs of a change in the air rather than resisting them and disallowing them, understanding that the unease is inevitable, no matter how many times we come to this place, and that there is beauty in it if I am able to shift my perspective in this way. And I also know this uncomfortable period is in itself temporary and will change in time too. On the other side, if I have the courage to knock loudly on the door and walk through it, lies a bigger, better, brighter version of myself.

And what are my fears of? They are of not being accepted or approved of by those who know and appreciate this current version of myself, if I change too much, of not rocking the boat of course! But I know this is me projecting my own, stale old fears onto others, and that I have to allow my old leaves to shed and have confidence that things will work out and that my boat is well and truly ready to be rocked again. And things always do work out, one way or the other, because nothing is permanent anyway. Good times lead to bad lead to good, and in the end they are all the same, it is only ourselves that allow the judgements of good and bad to be assigned to our experiences. It is all just life, playing out in shades of black, white and everything in between, as it always has done and always will. The best thing we can do is begin to dance with change and enjoy and learn from the ride as best we can.

heart ferns

Posted in Connecting with the natural world, Love, Meditation, Mindfulness, Positivity, Power of change, Self-love, Yoga | Leave a comment

Crystal clarity

A crystal has clarity, transparency, multi-faceted beauty. It sparkles and glitters with the light that it contains. Its irregular outer belies the sacred regularity of its inner world. It has great strength and endurance. It flowers its petals beneath the ground. It needs no audience. It just is. Radiating purity and light into the world, for the sake of nothing but creation. Its life is undiluted by projection; it is a paradox of self-containment and universal radiance.

But even the crystal, one day, will turn back to dust.  And I too come from dust and will return to dust. So I like to think that in the deepest nook of my heart there lies a pure crystal that needs no audience, that just is.

crystal nature

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Walking the walk

I’ve recently returned from a one month ‘solo’ walking and camping trip from the midlands to Cornwall, carrying all of my belongings in my backpack, with the aim of visiting as many sacred, ancient sites along the way. The obvious question is, ‘Why on earth would I want to do this in February?!’ It is a good question indeed, and one which I will try to answer here!

The desire to do a solo walk has been brewing for a while now, probably since I saw that wonderfully inspiring film, ‘Wild’, on the plane on the way back from India a few years ago. I am a firm believer in the benefit of time spent alone, especially when also immersing yourself in nature – to me these are essential components of any healing journey. There is a quote I love that comes from a seventeenth century mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascale, who said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Aside from his negligence of womankind, which I’m sure was purely a generational oversight and if he was around today then such a wise man would certainly have expanded his wording to include men and women (!), this strikes me as a very true statement indeed.

Anyway, whilst on a road trip around Pembrokeshire this January, with my beloved partner, Chris, where, I might add, we were having a lovely time together, this background yen for solitude in nature nevertheless grew and grew until one day it spectacularly exploded out of me and I wailed, ‘I need to be alone!‘. In the end, the catalyst was the unbelievably fantastic book, ‘This Changes Everything’, by Naomi Klein, which I can’t recommend highly enough. It is about how our current corrupt capitalist system is directly at odds with preserving the planet and therefore is nonsensically leading to our own self-destruction as, sadly, we are so disconnected from ourselves and nature that we seem to have forgotten that we cannot possibly survive without the health of our planet! Anyway, it is ultimately an optimistic read and has such a power behind it that it’s hard to read it and then just go back to your normal life, without making any changes (I guess the clue is in the title!). Certainly, for me, it incited a huge need to ‘do’ something positive to help the world, whatever it was. Raw emotions of pain and betrayal at how poorly we are treating ourselves, each other and our planet, which had been building up inside me for a long time, suddenly poured out of me with a tremendous power – it was seriously intense, almost like grieving for humanity’s loss of soulfulness and connection. I know I’m an emotional girl, but this was something else!

So, the potent combination of feeling the need to be on my own for a while, combined with the long-held desire for a long-distance solo hike and a strong urge to somehow pour my pain at humanity and mother earth’s suffering into doing something concrete (an interesting turn of phrase for nature immersion!), led to me gate-crashing the rest of Chris and my planned campervan trip around the UK with this walk. Chris, bless him, supported me all the way, despite his initial confusion at what was going on with me, and indeed I was confused too! I am truly blessed in that department… 🙂

So, what did I gain from the walk? Well, not at all what I thought I would, as is usually the case!

I thought the walk was about solitude and having time alone to think and work out what I could do to help ease our planetary suffering. Also, if I’m honest, there was a perceived need within me to prove to myself and others that I could cope on my own as a single female. On the first night, after an arduous day’s walk where I realised I probably should have done some training, and I was far from any campsite, I had to wild-camp in a wood. I hadn’t been able to find a farmhouse to ask permission, so I just found a spot close to the path and hoped for the best. I had barely put my tent up when the land-owner appeared and asked what I was doing! Luckily, he was really lovely and also had an interest in stone circles and wildlife and, after a friendly chat, he wished me well and left me alone with his permission to stay. I felt buoyed by his kindness and realised how happy I had been to have a conversation with someone after my day alone, and this was my first inkling that the walk wasn’t to be quite how I imagined.

My second wake-up call literally came when I woke up the next morning to a ground frost, after a terrible night’s sleep due to being so cold. I was aching all over and frustrated at not being able to even sit-up in my tent, yet alone stand up. Somehow I had managed to get what I suspect was badger poo over most of my belongings – whatever it was it stank! And it felt horrible not being able to wash properly too. After a rubbish breakfast of oats and water, I set off again, feeling pretty emotional about how much I HADN’T enjoyed my first night in the wild, at odds with my naïve preconceptions of how I would relish the independence and freedom of being alone in nature. From then on, I decided not to wild-camp. I soon realised I had nothing to prove to myself or anyone else, and this felt like a huge relief! So, onto Plan B…

Before I left I had sent out a message to all my facebook friends, asking if anyone along my proposed route would be happy to put me up for a night, as I noticed most of the campsites along the way were closed over winter.  The response was overwhelmingly positive, which was beautiful and humbling in itself, before I had even left. And now, without wild-camping as an option and with a scarcity of campsites, I was ready to take up as many of these offers as possible – so much for solitude! So, in brief, what followed was a beautiful lesson in the innate goodness of humanity.  Some of my hosts were old friends and some were people I didn’t know well at all. But every individual or family that took me in blew me away with their kindness and hospitality.  After attempting to pay for the first couple of nights and being firmly told to put my money away, I soon realised that people WANT to help. And, when I thought about it, I too would be very glad indeed to host a passing walker for a night. It is clearly an innate human quality, to want to provide shelter, warmth, company and food to those in need. And this is a beautiful thing to consider… 🙂

Furthermore, I also fully appreciated the wonders of, again, the innate kindness of strangers. So many people took great interest in my walk along the way, and I had some really lovely interactions with locals, all of whom were keen to help in any way they could. One example was a wonderful lady that I met at a campsite who, seeing me putting up my tent in the descending evening frost, gave me a big hug and gifted me with some home-made cashmere leg and wrist warmers that she had made, and a hot water bottle.  Even now, when I catch a whiff of her perfume, still lingering on the cashmere, I feel immense gratitude towards that lady!

And then of course there was my absolute delight in seeing Chris, who faithfully came to see me most weekends in our campervan, stocking me up on fruit and veg and love. I soon banished any feelings of guilt that I was being rather less hardcore than I had planned – the walk was showing me how much I value the beautiful people in my life as well as how much I value time to myself.

So, rather than being about solitude, this walk was actually about connection – who knew?! And this, of course, was the best theme for me to explore, particularly in today’s turbulent world, where we are hit with endless stories of division, hate and war and there’s a depressing sense of the flawed nature of humanity.  Instead, it’s good to remember that people are innately good, people are kind, we want to help each other when it comes to it.

I learnt so many things on my walk, and I did indeed enjoy all that time alone in nature and feel that I have yet to appreciate all that it gave me.  I aim to share more of my insights as and when they occur but, for now, the big revelation is that solitude is rather an illusory concept. We can never truly be alone, we always remain connected to others, even if it’s simply through having to source our food and shelter from others. But, actually I think it’s something more, I think we are sociable creatures at heart that need company. Solitude is wonderful, but only when there’s a known end to it. Then, once the solitude is broken, the smile of another and the prospect of sharing food together or swapping tales is all the sweeter, as the solitude merely reminds us of our intrinsic connection to each other.

everything-is-connected

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An essay on darkness and light

Last December I attended a week-long writing course at the brilliant Schumacher College in Totnes with Jay Griffiths running the writing side of things, whose book, ‘Wild: An Elemental Journey‘ made a huge impact on me back in 2013. The course was entitled ‘Tender is the Night’ and the theme was exploring darkness, on all levels. So as well as spending lots of time out in the woods at night, we also delved into the darkness of the psyche through writing exercises and other exploratory techniques including shamanic drumming and dancing, and I suppose the week’s theme was really a celebration of this darker side of life, again on all levels.

Anyway, I was surprised at how difficult I found the week.  All kinds of buried emotions and memories emerged, linked to my history of depression, and I really struggled to connect to this idea of celebrating darkness, and felt like the ‘problem child’ of the group, although I know that was all in my head – the group were completely supportive and lovely!

Anyhow, rather than wang on about it here, I felt compelled today to share the piece of writing I did during the course; on the first day we were given the title, ‘True Darkness’ and asked to use our spare time during the week to write a piece using this title as inspiration, which we would all share on the last day.  I struggled with the piece and, in the end, realised I couldn’t celebrate darkness, and I needed to be true to myself. So, my piece was really an essay explaining why I honour and value the dark, but I seek and celebrate the light. I do hope you enjoy it – it comes from my heart.

16th December 2016 – Essay on ‘True Darkness’, written as part of the Schumacher College course, Tender is the Night, with Chris Salisbury and Jay Griffiths

Preamble

The only truth I can ever speak is my own. And who can say if I’m right or wrong? Not I, not you. For truth is movable. Give me a fact, and I can always challenge it. But tell me with honesty how you feel, and I will listen gladly. Even writing down my truth feels wrong, as already it is fixed in time, static, positional. All of life is pure vibration and energy – of this at least, the scientists and the monks agree. So if life is movement, then nothing is static, not even truth. This writing is the truth I felt as my fingers tapped out the words. But already it may be old.

Darkness is a tool, to help us know the light

I honour and love the darkness, as I know it is an integral part of myself and all of life, and indeed it is my greatest teacher. But I struggle to truly revel in darkness; instead I seek the light. Having known darkness with an uncomfortable intimacy then subsequently having tasted the light of my soul, I know clearly in which of these I prefer to reside.

This week, whilst we’ve been celebrating the night, an insistent voice has whispered to me, ‘But we only find beauty in the night because of the moon’s reflected light’ and I can’t help but notice our rapture at the candles and firelight. And when I sit in the meditation room in front of a giant painting of a single candle, silent tears run down my face and I recall Rumi’s words, ‘the wound is where the light enters’.

I do not feel the truth of true darkness; any sense of true darkness is, to me, an imaginary, illusory fear-based state of the psyche, one which I know well. It is a negative version of Willo-the-wisp, there to guide us to the light. And, in opposition to its mischievous counter-light, it will take us there, if we have the courage to follow it. The only truth of darkness, for me, is the light it contains.

Perhaps this is ignorance of a deeper truth, an egoic blind-spot. But, if so, I have faith that, when I’m ready, the darkness will show this to me, drawing me out of any backwater in which I languish and back into the full flow of life.

The truth I feel is that we are pure light, and all of our suffering comes from having forgotten this. As I write these words, I cringe at the cliché I’ve become. The earnest yoga teacher, speaking of love and light and ‘feeling energy’. But it wasn’t always like this, I assure you, and I can only speak my current truth, knowing that truth is the feeling of a moment in time and our truths change as we do, if we allow ourselves to grow.

In occasional flashes of lucidity, and sometimes for exquisitely prolonged periods, I experience my own light and know I am pure love, as are we all, because we are all one. And, for me, having tasted such sweetness, darkness is a bitterness that can no longer be tolerated as a long-term resident, but is valued even more highly as a trusted teacher when it comes to visit, to remind me of what I am not. Again, I cringe as I write these words – ‘You’re not seriously going to share this stuff with the group, are you Becky?’ my dark censor asks. ‘You sound like an arrogant mad-woman.’ But I have learnt to just smile at this voice, send it love, and soon it will leave again. Oh yes, it will be back, but I’m no longer its ashamed slave.

So I don’t share this in the spirit of superiority or arrogance, in fact egotism is one of my greatest fears, as the darkness loves to remind me endlessly. But, for my own growth, I need to summon the power of my shadow side to speak my truth, even when I’m shaking like an aspen leaf.  And, deep down, I know it’s the opposite of ego, as it comes from a feeling that we are all made of the same light.

And it is absolutely thanks to the darkness, that I have found this deep sense of knowing. Depression runs like a coal seam through my ancestry, and it has certainly mined my depths. It took a near terminal descent into the abyss of clinical depression for me to finally begin a dialogue with darkness. At the time it felt true enough – sadness was a black snow obliterating my sense of self, gradually turning me to ice.  But, through talking to the darkness, it lost its power over me, which I eventually realised was only ever self-imposed. The darkness is never our jailor; I created my prison myself, and it was made of nothing but fear. I began to see the psychic darkness as the patient tutor and friend that it is, even though it administers its lessons solely through the medium of suffering. It does this because it knows that we cannot ignore suffering forever.

So now I welcome darkness every time it scuds through my life, always teaching me, always showing me my opposite, moving me deeper and deeper into the vortex of my infinite existence. Melancholy still bites at my ankles, reminding me that black snow could fall again. But I now know it is helping me to maintain a true course towards the light, in order to heal not only myself, but also my family tree and, as we are all one, the universe.

To me, light is the fabric of existence and darkness is its negative state, the space in between. It keeps us growing upwards, like seeds desperately pushing out of the soil and towards the liberation of a light-filled, endless sky. We are seeds, and we have a lot of growing to do, sewing a seam through light and dark as we evolve.

Sun and moon

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