My eyes weigh heavy

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How can it be, this crazy duality 

Of life? 

In one instant, pure joy

Flooding my veins – 

In the next, the piercing arrow

Of grief, of despair.

I touch my face;

My skin soft and smooth, delicate

as a flowers’ first blossom

My lips parted in innocence – 

Open still to life

Despite all.

A cruel joke, God,

To pull us into being, then

In full flow,

Cut us down, unmercifully.

And yet there is still mercy

Even in the bleakest hours – 

A kind word, a sunbeam

And once again, my heart opens 

As the daisy welcomes the morning light.

It seems this path,

The breaking, the cracking open,

The courage to continue

Is all we do here.

And sometimes I am so weary of this growth – 

So radical it seems to me,

So extremely hard.

Is there not a path that is gentler

Whose trail leads a winding way

And is not all cliffs, and jagged rocks

And brittle bones 

At the bottom of the crevice?

For mine have broke, and set, and broke again

And though I bear my scars proudly, 

My eyes weigh heavy with the wisdom gleaned.

It’s only this instant – 

Now.

Here still, after all;

Soft and yielding, for

What choice have we?

And if it’s true

That I chose this ride

If it’s within me the responsibility lies

Then I’ll lift my chin, again

And again

And continue on, and on

And on.

For in those small moments of reprieve

When It’s just you and me and the trees

I see the whole, I see my role

And in it is beauty, and awe 

Behold.

//

Photo credit: finchandfawn.com

How much space do you inhabit?

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A few months back, I went to an entrepreneurship meet-up. There was a presentation, followed by an open discussion. There were about 20 of us – but there was this one guy who took up way more space than everyone else.

Not in a bad way; he wasn’t arrogant or pushy or overly verbose. But somehow even when he wasn’t speaking he was taking up more space. People began looking at him when a question was asked.

He was a natural leader.

I sat there fascinated and mildly envious; how was he inhabiting all that space?

Me and my space

I’ve always been pretty sucky at inhabiting my space in groups. I used to put this down to shyness, but I’ve discovered over the years that it’s also partly because I’m an observer – I like to assess the group dynamic thoroughly before deciding to what extent I will involve myself.

Another aspect is my respect for other people’s attention; if I’m going to ask for it I need to have something important to say that will be of interest to the whole group.

But there’s something else at play as well.

My tendency is to move through the world taking up a minimum of space, making myself as accommodating as possible.

Which feel like it’s founded on ego-bullshit and I’m over it.

Why it matters

When we’re not taking our space, not fully showing up, we’re massively reducing our power to create, to manifest, to have impact.

Also; our behaviour creates feedback loops.

We continuously learn about ourselves through our contact with the external world. When we show up with only 30% of who we are, that’s what we get reflected back at us. Not surprisingly, that can make us feel small and powerless.

Showing up fully is also a question of energy release; when we don’t give the world our energy we create blockages within ourselves. An energetic feedback loop that stays circling within us instead of being released into the world and coming back to us in new forms.

Another important point is that when we don’t own our space, we don’t feel seen.

And not feeling seen leads to feeling disconnected.

Humans are expressive beings.

We have an inherent need to express ourselves, to create, to manifest ourselves in the external world.

Some will argue this is a direct result of our knowledge of our own mortality; the desire to leave part of us behind in the world.

Whatever the grounds for the drive, it’s there.

Not listening to it is a recipe for deathbed regret and a life of frustration.

Owning your space

Something I’ve noticed that’s helped me to inhabit more space as I move through the world is connecting deeply with everything I am before I make contact with it. With all the facets, dimensions, interests, questions, experiences that make me ME.

This is something which is easy for some people, but for others (like me) who are very tuned in to the outside, to other (and usually very permeable with it), it can be challenging to have a strong connection to self.

Another is making it (somewhat paradoxically) less personal. Reflecting on the fact that I have a unique perspective of the world and that sharing that (whether verbally or simply by being) is a responsibility; not to get an ego kick, but to offer what I am here – and united with this ego – to offer.

Realising that we are each a one-off, crazily complex piece of Universe – and that everything in the Universe has a function.

When we don’t show up, we’re effectively suppressing the Universal impulse that brought us into being.

Is that really something you want to be doing? ;)

//

 

Photo credit:thebohemiangirl.tumblr.com

Grief as a Portal to Spirit and Joy

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On Monday the 27th of April 2015, the single greatest source of joy in my life for the last 16 and a half years, left this world.

As with most things, she rebelled against death, refusing it right up until the last minute, when I had to make one of the hardest decisions of my life. It seems wrong to me to decide when another should die – very wrong – and yet the alternative was to let her die slowly by asphyxiation.

It was a beautiful day. The vet gave her the anaesthetic and I picked her up and went outside with her in my arms, with her front paws resting on my shoulder, the way we always did. I was walking and speaking to her as she slipped away, birdsong and spring scents in the air. I couldn’t have asked for it to be different, better…and I’m very grateful for that.

Tig (officially Tiger, but too cute to be called that)

Tig was my teacher, my playmate, my companion, my bundle of endlessly mischievous and curious cat-joy. I have a thousand stories of hilarious escapades, a thousand different games we invented over the years, a thousand memories of tender, quiet moments of complicity, of her falling asleep in my arms, of shared naps, of mutual delight whenever we were reunited, be it after a day or a month.

In many ways, she was more of a dog than a cat; she used to play fetch with anything you threw, would dribble balls across the living room parquet like a miniature feline footballer on speed, would race you round (and round, and round…) the house (the human always lost), would search for you, meowing, if you tried to play hide&seek with her or pretend to disappear behind an item of furniture…and (when all other tricks had failed) would sit next to my head and lick my face to wake me up.

And she didn’t stop playing until a few months before she died. Even though she had a heart problem, she’d still play (less voraciously but nonetheless). She’d be the happiest little creature ever known when she got a treat. She could purr so loudly her entire body would vibrate with the force of it, just from a kiss on her head.

She taught me curiosity and playfulness, above all, and determination, resilience, defiance (didn’t really need that one but anyway), acceptance and grace. From the moment she adopted me as her human (when she was about 6 months old), until the day she left, 16 years later, we had an intense, beautiful connection.

Losing her is one of the most painful things I’ve experienced.

Grief

I read somewhere recently that grief is love inverted – and that’s why it hurts so much; because the strength of it is the inverted strength of your love.

And this ache feels like redundant love; it’s so strong but now she’s not here for me to give it to anymore.

On the third day after she was gone I became angry. Angry at a culture that has no (or few) elders, that passes on no wisdom about how to deal with grief, how to process and heal, and continue – for how to make grief a healthy part of life (as it is, and as I believe it is possible to experience it). Presumably this is different for those who are religious, but nowadays that still leaves a lot of us with nowhere to turn to.

Another completely natural aspect of life that most of us are entirely unprepared for how to deal with. Fuck maths, teach that in schools.

Spirit

After a few days, when the initial shock had worn off a little and I was able to finally be quiet inside when I sat to meditate, I became aware of a clear strong presence. And no, I wasn’t under the influence of any drugs, and I am not one to fancifully (or – let’s be fair – intuitively) “tune in” to spirits on a regular basis. But I did.

And this presence was clearly Tig, but not Tig.

As in, it felt like the spirit of Tig (the wilful, powerful, determined, wise part), minus the cat-properties. An immense presence, that seemed far too big to possibly be contained in a tiny cat – an actual tiger or lion would feel like a more appropriate animal for this presence to inhabit. But the quality of it felt exactly like the quality I found in Tig’s eyes in those quiet moments of being, when she was calm and still and present.

The first impulse that came from it was that she (it?) has not finished teaching me – that our paths continue together in some form.

At first I questioned it, but it was there constantly, and so strong that it started to seem ridiculous to question it. So, shoving my rational mind aside and leaning into trusting my intuition, I began to accept what I sensed.

And this presence is clearly and completely at peace with where it is. And also, very clearly, not Tig. When I connect with it therefore, it feels like connecting with Spirit; not with Tig.

And so there is a dual process; Steph mourns Tig, and Steph’s spirit (forgive the third person usage, it just makes sense to me this way) recognises (what seems like) Tig’s spirit and is completely peaceful in communion with it. Which in turn creates so much gratitude that my heart feels like it will certainly burst from the combination of intense grief and intense gratitude.

Being human is weird.

I’ve never had an experience like this before, and have hesitated sharing it, but it’s what is true for me, and also a hugely important part of this process. To reject it would feel like renouncing not only a huge gift, but an invitation – to connect more with essence, with Spirit.

And it feels like something has shifted; like I’m opening further to the intangible. Something old and very known is awakening in my belly…something which is completely unsurprised by this experience.

Self-Compassion

Another gift to arise out of my state of the last two weeks has been what feels like a massive, engulfing wave of self-compassion. It is strong, it is fierce; it will brook no exceptions.

It insists that I give myself the space I need. That I am infinitely gentle with myself. That I watch with eagle eyes to make sure my boundaries are healthy in every moment, that I’m getting what I need. It’s a depth of vigilance I’ve never known before that is continuously checking to monitor what is coming in, and if that is ok for me in that moment.

A kind of fine-tuning into myself.

I’ve written a lot in my fledgling book (which may or may not one day be released into the world) about the importance of recognising and cultivating our relationship with our inner healer (or higher self), and this experience feels like it’s bringing that awareness to a whole new level.

And it’s a huge comfort, because I know that I can allow the hurting part of me let go, and that I’ll be taken care of by that wise, loving part of myself.

Surrender

Grief is humbling.

It breaks you down and breaks you open until you are grateful just to be able to breathe again. And it is relentless in its demand for you to feel.

Every time another wave comes, you have to choose; either to surrender to it, ride it and wash out again, exhausted, or to fight it, to say ‘No’, to contract and block it. But saying ‘No’ to emotion is saying no to life – it’s saying “I refuse to be here, in what is.” And the problem with that is that it just gets you stuck where you are, with trapped emotion inside you, and it also means that joy and light don’t reach you because you’re in a closed-down, contracted “No”-space.

I’m not suggesting that we give in to each emotional impulse we experience – the lesson is to learn to tune in when emotion comes up and feel out where it’s coming from; is it a healthy, real-feeling place, or is it a tired or hysterical place? What does it really want?

If the emotion is “pure” and just wants to be expressed, then this is what is true for us in that moment – this is life, coursing through us.

To say ‘No’ then, is to refuse life.

There’s that wonderful quote from Robert Frost, “The only way out is through.” Which seems to me, particularly with inner emotional processes to be at once incredibly true, and impossibly hard.

And yet it feels like the only choice if we want to go on living, fully alive.

Joy

It blew my mind last time, and it did it again this time – the fact that it’s possible to experience intense joy at the same time as intense grief. To be able to feel the two simultaneously in your heart seems like the most bizarre paradox.

And it struck me again that we aways have two choices, whatever we are faced with in life: to contract or to expand. I even made a little video as I walked in rapture in the misty forest a few days afterwards.

“Life, is both loss and renewal, death and resurrection, chaos and healing at the same time; life seems to be a collision of opposites.” – Richard Rohr

In addition, in the two days after Tig died I received 4 invitations from people reaching out to connect with lovely proposals. I’ve since met up with two of these people and insanely synergistic conversations ensued, totally lighting my soul on fire and fanning the creative flames, and opening new doorways for collaboration.

Is it a coincidence that a little windfall of awesomeness and connection came at that time?

I don’t know. I do know that I am immensely grateful for it, and for all the love and compassion and kindness that so many have extended to me. And for spring, which has finally arrived. And for life.

And maybe one day soon, even for death.

But not yet.

//

Ode to the Beechen Woods of May

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Oh beechen woods of May –
Enchanted by night and restless by day,
Full of magic and bewitching fae,
What is it you whisper of today
Oh beechen woods of May?
 
Oh beechen woods of May –
What secrets do you keep at bay,
Beneath the dome of where I lay
And thought of all that I would say,
Oh beechen woods of May?
 
Oh beechen woods of May –
How many loves have you betrayed,
What whimsies have you seen decay 
When all that was has gone away,
Oh beechen woods of May?
 
Oh beechen woods of May –
 If your ancient boughs could but relay
The wisdom in each dappled ray
Of light that shines on you each day
Oh beechen woods of May!
 
Oh beechen woods of May –
How I wish that I could stay
Beneath your canopy so gay
That knows nothing of dismay
Oh beechen woods of May!
 
// 
 
 

Photo credit: absinthius.tumblr.com

Why we need to talk about loneliness

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Confession time:

1. I feel lonely a lot of the time the last few years

2. I’m (still) crap at being deeply vulnerable

During my adult life, I’ve moved around a lot. Different jobs, different cities, different countries.. So I’m pretty used to starting over somewhere new, exploring and opening and making every effort to be sociable and meet new people…and make new friends.

You learn a lot about human psychology in this way.

How most people (who stay in the same place) are happy to stick with the friends they grew up with, do the same things every weekend, and aren’t that interested in making new friends outside their established circle (which is why, as an expat, you usually just end up being friends with other expats; not because you don’t make an effort to make friends with the indigenous folks, but because they’re not that bothered about extending their circle of friends).

How after about your mid-twenties, men are no longer (ever) interested in being friends (I realise at this juncture some people will ask the rhetorical question “Were they ever?”, but even if they weren’t, back in the day they pretended and you could hang out and have a few beers together without it getting weird at least some of the time).

How rare and precious it is to meet someone with whom you have that instantaneous click, that feeling of recognition, of having known each other for ages, of intrinsically understanding each other. And how the deliciousness of that never diminishes.

How deeply everyone longs for connection. How making new friends is vulnerable. How so many people seem to settle for less than what they long for.

How much harder it is in your 30’s than when you were a kid, or at university.

How no one talks about it because we’re scared we’ll be called friendless weirdos and pointed at like lepers.

So I’m breaking the silence.

Connection

From the moment of separation at birth til our death, we are all seeking connection. Not just people to party with, but searingly deep connection. The creation of a space between you that fuses you together, so that you are no longer separate. A shared reality in which you are no longer facing the world alone.

We tend to search desperately for this in romantic partners (who should also ideally fulfill an assortment of criteria that will nurse our childhood wounds, love and accept our shadows, and caress our sense of worth and value), and then fall apart when the intensity of the demand implodes the relationship.

The people I know who are great at life, are also great at friendship. They swim gracefully through the reefs and rocks of friendship as they do life, washing over troubles and rounding upon new encounters with all the ease of a particularly well-adapted eel.

But many people (most) are not such natural experts at cultivating deep connection. Many people spend much of their lives feeling isolated (even when they’re surrounded by other people). Many people bear their joys and their sadnesses alone. Particularly in a society where anxiety disorders and depression run rampant, but where there is still so much stigma attached to both that shame is added to the mix and the pain of it is borne silently.

Friendship and me

My own experiences with friendship have been mixed.

I always had a few very close friends but had trouble in bigger groups. I never felt like I ‘belonged’ in the general mix. I made friends easily in one-to-one connection but struggled to show myself and connect in groups.

To a large extent, that is still the case.

At school and at university I had my tribes, easeful places of soul connection, for which I am infinitely grateful, because growing up feeling understood by at least a handful of fellow humans eased the existential anxiety that was my constant companion.

But since University, with all my moving and the craziness of life (admittedly some people tell me I cram a lot into mine) it’s become much harder.

There are old friendships that have run their course; where interests and approach to life have diverged to the point of losing that shared space. There are old friendships that persist doggedly, in spite of long absences and missed birthdays; where the shared moments of that particular brand of madness is all that is needed to rekindle the flames of connection, no matter how much time goes by.

There are new friendships that remain at a disappointingly superficial level, despite attempts to infuse them with more meaning. And then there are ones that are born out of that magical elixir of shared understanding, the ones that make you feel like you’ve come home.

There are many in my somewhat nomadic life, that come into being and infuse us with joy for a short time before one or the other of us is swept away once more on the currents of life. Many that are separated by thousands of kilometers. Many that never had the chance to blossom.

The bottom line of it is that the last few years, the sum of these friendships has felt insufficient. I long to have a few close girlfriends (guy friends would also be great) who actually live near me to really share my life with.

Because the reality is that when you’re officially ‘grown up’ and single and nomadic, you don’t automatically have people who share your life. And that feeling of being witnessed is something that we are wired to need.

Vulnerability

As I’ve come to know myself more over the years, I’ve learnt that there are particular environments where I am much more likely to find kindred spirits. However even in this age of Meetup.com, Facebook groups, expat groups, and the myriad other ways of finding people who have shared interests with you, it’s still not that easy to find those people who you can connect with on a deep level (whose particular brand of madness, if you will, matches yours).

Even for me, with my deeply rooted desire to be fully transparent and authentic, it’s hard to just get naked in this world. To be brave enough to really show who you are; a vulnerable, big-hearted human searching for connection, towing behind you all your scars and hopes and dreams, and the meandering story of your life.

And I think that part of the reason for that is that we still live in a world where vulnerability is regarded as weakness. And that this perception is so pervasive that in most environments it still feels like the weight of a fully open heart will crack the brittle veneer of social norms. And God help you if you do that. After all, in most places you need to show up not just as normal but as cool.

The dark side of human nature

This culture of coolness (where coolness is almost entirely externalized and the material is valued over the intrinsic) is responsible for so much of the shame and anxiety that people have about showing and sharing themselves fully, in all their scared, ugly, damaged human truth. In a culture where there isn’t space for those ‘undesirable’ parts of ourselves, the result is twofold.

1. We will never be fully seen and therefore only partly witnessed, and the sense of wholeness that is derived from having our experience as a Self be seen and shared is elusive. All manner of psychosocial disorders arise form this, and we have yet to establish any approach that yields sustainable results on a bigger scale.

2. The repression and secreting away of our ‘undesirable’ dark parts mean these are externally expressed in unhealthy (unconscious) ways, often masked in socially acceptable forms. Hence the ugliness, cruelty, and violence that we see across almost all cultures, as well as the unrepentant ravaging of the earth.

Our fear of the darker aspects of ourselves has led us to create a culture that tries to pretend that they doesn’t exist. That this doesn’t work is indisputable at this point, and yet our resistance individually and culturally to transform into a society that is open and accepting of all the intricacies of human nature is slow to yield.

A culture that accepts only the light creates an underbelly for the expression of the dark. And until we learn to value and express both the light and the dark side of human nature, we will continue to have the dark furtively expressed externally. In a world where one man can cause enormous destruction, that is a dangerous game to continue to play.

So how do we go about changing culture?

It starts with me and you. It starts with individuals being brave enough to face their own dark side, to work on integrating it, and to show up in the world as the beautiful, complex, multidimensional beings that we truly are. Owning ALL of who we are. Showing others that it’s ok to be in the world just as they are.

Bringing all of who we are into the workplace. Into sports teams. Into business and politics and education. Creating systems that support and honour full human expression. That make space for the dark side. That value vulnerability and understand that connection is the basis of all of human endeavour.

The Quiet Revolution is a revolution of the heart, of the soul. Vulnerability is not optional.

We have no choice but to bare our hearts, if we want to save the world.

//

 

Photo credit: wattpad.com

An ode to my body

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I want to cherish myself.

To love each inch of this precious pulsing body.

To feel the blood running rich and ripe through me like tiny rivers of magic.

To revel in each movement it can make,

To feel the delight of my limbs

As they reach and stretch and jump.

 

I want to be the dance in my hair

When the wind lifts it,

I want to kiss the earth, the grass, the sand

When my feet meet the ground

I want to make love to the air

As it caresses my skin.

 

I want to let it be heavy and soft in sleep,

And wild and fiery in love

I want to let it skip and jump and run and play

And laugh and cry and kiss and sing

I want to feel it open and vulnerable,

And strong and sure and bold.

 

I want to listen to each secret that it whispers

To be present for each pleasure and each pain

To conspire in the ever increasing awareness

Of the sensual, the soft, the subtle

Hazy line where I encounter the outside

Where I end and the rest begins.

 

I want space within

To be in every moment while it lasts

Breathing its beauty, touching it lightly

Then letting go.

It’s all for me, this sensing, feeling, breathing delight,

This body.

//

Photo credit: threeriversdeep.wordpress.com

Even Now There is Hope

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Our hearts are like flowers.

The open and close according to the weather; how much sun there is, how warm it is, whether it’s nighttime or daytime.

They’re our barometers of wellbeing; opening in flow and closing in fear and pain. Opening to the light, even if it’s windy and raining, closing to the darkness when it seems the night will never end.

H O P E

Our hearts need to be watered by hope. For floods of it to wash through all the grief and despair about where the world is at today, until the petals of our heart are gently prised open once again so the light can get in.

Because there IS light.

Even now. Even now.

Even now in this murky ugliness, oozing with the dank odours of human greed, even now with our dirty skies and our poisoned waters, even now with the wars, the abuse, the endless and persistent hate.

Even now there is hope.

There is hope because there is light. Even in the darkest places, tiny cracks of light. The soft spring breeze of a new generation, filled with youths’ disregard for the possible. The silent multitudes using their scratchy voices for the first time since they learned it was safer to be silent.

The compassionate wave of a mindful revolution.

The unfaltering courage of the human heart in showing kindness to strangers, to love when it feels impossible, to give when there is nothing to give, to keep this fragile, bleeding, raw heart open.

Yes, even now there is hope.

And as one flame lights another, so these little sparks of light kindle others and spread. May they spread like a forest fire, flames flaming higher, winds blowing stronger each minute, until soon the raging burning engulfs all that is dark and dank and foul and cleanses our broken civilisation in the sacred flames of redemption.

May we open those pulsing flowers, those loudly beating hearts, to enclose all that we are, all of us and everything, to the furthest reaches of the universe and back.

Because we are all one. It’s all the same.

Dark and light are simply different paths.

May we choose the light.

//

 

Photo credit: merde-petit-maitre.tumblr.com