Stopping to take a good look at ourselves (and noticing the anatomy of fear)

Human beings are innately curious, reason why a road accident will slow down the whole stretch of road, in both directions. Rubbernecking isn’t what I want to talk about here; but if I can dig to the root of that innate curiosity and redirect it, I always know I’ve got me a power-source. What makes me want to take a look?

Because, when we turn our innate curiosity in on ourselves, this is when things really start to shift. Of course, many of us are deeply afraid to do this and would almost rather do anything else…

I noticed something crucial about myself just last week; something I’ve picked-up on before but this time the metaphor came in clear and graphic. When I worry about something, even a subliminal worry that is more like a dark cloud hovering over a long period of time than an overt crisis to be dealt with, that worry seems to grow and elongate until it looks something like a massively long cobra. The more I spin this worry theme, the longer it grows, so tightly coiled around itself that I hardly notice how massive it is becoming, day after day. Yet still it grows and grows in length and I never get a proper moment’s ease, a good night’s sleep, across all these days, weeks and months with it just sat there as though it might pounce, my thoughts somewhat strangulated by it so that I’m simply not as expansive as I might otherwise be, its shadow cast around my life.

Then, one day, once the worry is at some sort of conclusion, the immediate anxiety dissipated, I’m left with this massive thing as long as a sizeable snake because it doesn’t just go away, as if my magic, once its not needed anymore. I’m left with yards and yards of this bizarrely elongated thing, likely longer than at least twice the circumference of my house stretched out, and by now is so real to me it that it has its own texture and hue, a familiar bedfellow, a heavy feeling, that has been the constant shadow of my days. Part of me, I recognise, has become accustomed to the feeling of it being there…and wouldn’t quickly know how to transition to where it wasn’t there, such is our innate attachment to familiarity!

This, of course, is how the feeling of trauma gets lodged in our bodies, the reminder and the placemarker that keeps us on our guard, long after the “cause” has removed itself.

So, the days and weeks afterwards can be tricky because this thing is just sat there, looking for the opportunity to do more of what it does…worry, fear, be anxious or on-alert….and, for my part, I don’t really know how to send it packing, my feelings subtly torn by the craving for continuity over sudden change. So, its as though I become an attractant to things to worry about for a while, my mind thrashing all-about in search of more of “the same” to sink my teeth into. The longer the “snake” has become, the more it seeks to attract equivalent worry to itself, like a long strip of fly-paper will attract more flies.

Your fear might not “look” like mine but visualing it can be a powerful tool, especially if you are a visual thinker (in which case, you probably already are…so dragging it from the periphery and bringing it fully into focus can be a powerful way of expunging its rule over your life). You can then start to use other visuals to transform your fear…bathing it in a bright white light, a loving glow, wrapping it in a container, a conversation with it to ask what it wants, whatever works for you and it will be different for each of us. There are many tools “out there”by way of resources if you look around but I have always found my own intuition works best in these matters. Using a powerful technique such as Havening to defuse the fear as soon as you have brought it into focus can rid your system of it, right at the root of where it is stored in your neurology, once and for all (if only I had known that technique 30 years ago but it is just as powerful on old fears lodged in the psyche, hence its compelling track-record for treating PTSD).

This very week, as a period of general worry about something, thus more like a hovering “concern” stretched out over an elongated long period of time (whereby I expected to be, and was, called to high alert a handful of times), came to its inevitable conclusion, nothing more to be worried about or done… and I felt, at first, huge relief and release; a feeling of celebration. I realised, in actual fact, this had been something I was expecting to have been a worrisome period, a sort of finale, for many years and now it had passed. So, I noticed the presence of this now obsolete “worry thing” as I woke on what should have been, by contrast, a worry-free morning filled with the joys of spring. I noticed it there…and I noticed its size, or, the size of the gap it was now trying to fill with new concerns (nature abhors a vaccum). I noticed what it was trying to do as it urged me to comb the air for anything else that I could possibly spin some concern about, any more things that could possibly “go wrong” that I could brood over. Its still hovering and yet, in noticing this, I’ve managed to keep it in check, though I also confess myself to be fascinated by its undulations as it keeps trying to rise up and do what it does best, day after day. My week has had an undeniably “snakey” quality. I’ve also found I have to keep busy, to keep my hands occupied, to rebuff it. When I notice that its stirring again, I sit with the trend and that simple act of stopping to observe dissipates it, most effectively. A little laughter or even just a wry smile at how persistent it is, can do wonders!

As it happens, my daughter is also at such a point as she has just finished her high-pressure degree, something she has given blood, sweat and tears to around the clock and is now in the awkward phase where she is still waiting for clues as to what will happen next, supposedly having a rest. The reality is, she is struggling with having a completely unnatural (to her) amount of time on her hands, so that she almost feels spooked by the lack of pressure and is, thus, finding all manner of things to worry about and blow out of all proportion. When we spoke, it was clear she, too, is in this bizarre place of “let down” from worry, where the mind would do almost anything to find itself something else to chew on, anything to turn into a crisis. I know she will get through it because, like me, she is very quick to notice these behaviours in herself and others and is “onto” this one, which is why she needed to talk…because, sometimes, talking our worries through before they develop can be an extremely quick way of throwing water all over them!

When we are unconscious of our own traits, its all too easy to play them out on repeat, to take the worries seriously (even when they’re not), to self-medicate with whatever supposedly works for us (drink, drugs, overeating, various forms of excess consumerism or high-adrenalin “sports”) to take our minds off it all. Or to sink into hopelessness about a world that only ever seems to deliver new things for us to feel stressed and fearful of, feeling resentful and powerless, buried by a rigid belief in our “inevitable” state of victimhood, as though there are no other things to which we can possibly turn our attention.

If we can gain perspective, the overview, then things can start to look different. Its not that we have a quick solution for the mind’s tendency to worry but, in seeing how it develops, how its often in the phase right after a particularly long phase of worrying (and haven’t we all been through one of those lately…?) that we are at our most vulnerable because we seek to plug the gap with more reasons to worry (rather than face-up to the feeling of emptiness it leaves behind…) we can start to get a handle on this existential human fear we all seem to have, of emptiness, nothingness, full-stop-ness, that point when everything returns to source and is still. Of course, nothing in existence is ever truly still, we can be sure of that (and can only hope aproximate stillness for a moment, in the ceaseless push-pull of opposite factors) yet we still fear it, as though it may happen by accident one day and gobble us up!

Why we fear this is one of the longest-running unfathomables humanity has ever faced, and will probably continue to ponder over forever, yet I suspect it is something akin to the fear of death. Without constant friction in our lives, the feeling of there always being something there that makes us feel we are in a fight for our lives, we can start to catch glimpses of the stillness, the nothingness, out of which all existence arose…and will one day, inevitably, return…and so it panics us the same way that imagining our own demise fills us with terror. Our entire biological structure is geared towards this one fundamental urge for existence, an inbuilt cellular impulse to assert the will for life at all costs, and when we cease to enact that struggle and strife, the reach for life, even for a moment, we start to feel as though we will back-peddle or slip backwards into non-existence, the blackness, the void of nothingness…which is somewhat the same as death, as we see it, thus we fear it.

Photo by dominik hofbauer on Unsplash

It takes a significant shift of gear for a person to realise they can be still and still “be”….in fact, they can be at a whole other level of experience compared to when they are rushing around doing so much they simply hop from one thing to another, leaving no gaps at all. Its a version of existence that opens up dimensions, that elevates, affords perspective and TRANSFORMS everything. Yet we shrug it off and struggle with it, with all our existential might!

As someone with ADHD wiring I “get” this more than most because when I am not “doing” or “thinking” something my brain chemistry goes haywire and it feels as though I am in crisis. We are all affected by dopamine but, without those regular fixes, my brain seems to stall and, before I know it, I’ve gone too far the other way, into the place where I almost can’t motivate to do anything at all, even to breathe. I slip into the kind of inertia that feels as though it might swallow me whole and the only thing to get me going, sometimes, is the sense of there being enough friction, sufficient lumps and bumps in an imperfect life for me to grab a hold of, to climb back up!

Believe me, I am more than aware that this has likely played a part in my chronic health issues; have noted, in myself, the abject fear that can swoop in at the thought I might not have a problem to solve anymore if I woke up to find I was perfectly well one day. This isn’t a conscious thought, so I can’t just switch it off in myself; but it potentially lurks there, right at the source of the very cells that misfire to create the array of problems I have to deal with, day after day. Brain retrianing can certainly help with these hidden mindloops that sabotage us, as can getting back into touch with our bodies (I mean cultivating a real, fully aware, closely listening mind-body relationship whereby we remember how to use our bodies as an inbuilt guidance system) to rebalance the modern propensity to live so fully in our head, where all these unhealthy glitches we have formed in our psyche reside. Sometimes, returning to the relative simplicity of the body can help process the unprocessable and with far less of the drama.

Yet its also been at those times when my health has joined my chemical inertia in its enforced stillness…or, perhaps that should be the other way around and its really my struggling health that enforced the stillness I otherwise resisted with all my might…that I caught some of my first, most compelling glimpses of my own non-linear existence and it transformed me, many times over. Now, to make room for those moments without the need for a health crisis…

Coming to understand this about myself (rather late in life…) has been so major for me as it helps me to observe my behaviours even more closely and with more information as to what is happening in my brain. I’ve always been so fascinated by my own brain and the consciousness that seems to reside inside of me; I can clearly recall pondering these things as a surprisingly young child and such thoughts have never abated, so you could say I had a head start on self-observation, long before I came across the idea of “mindfulness”, which is that very thing in a action. I continue to be ceaselessly fascinated by my own consciousness, impulses and habits, and by other people’s behaviours too. I’m fascinated by the process of people waking up to a much deeper self-consciousness than they used to have, as so many people are these days, and am equally fascinated by those who don’t seem to stir, at all, in their self-observation abilities. It’s all equally fascinating and this keeps my mind occupied enough to keep me happily chewing the cud of my own ponderings and, mostly, out of a place of worry. In fact, I have never worried less in my life than now (not because there is less to worry about but because I choose not to expend all my energy that way) and am far better at pushing worry to one side, these days, at times when there is no action I can take to allay that worry…“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”.

I would much rather spend my days in quiet observation of the human condition than join it in the fray!

Thankfully, this fascination has become my own safety zone, the thing to which I can turn my mind when I feel those pressing dopamine cravings coming over me because the thrill I get from considering these abstract things, studying them, writing about them, reaching a point of deeper understanding about myself and the human condition, is more than equal to any of the kicks I could get from a material “fix” or even the bizarre kind of kick I notice I get out of worrying about something simply because it keeps me fighting and focused on something.

The fact that so many of us, perhaps all of us, get some sort of kick out of worrying is one of the most fascinating things of all. It explains a great deal about humanity, how we are driven, what motivates us, why we mess up (repeatedly) and seem to get stuck. In my case, the understanding I have gradually gleaned that being neurodiverse means I am simply not motivated by the typical things that motivate people (money, prestige, fame, validation…) has explained an awful lot as this is so true of me; I never have been motivated by those things and the closest I ever got was to pretend I was, in order to fit in with everyone else. Therefore, I have been in a lifelong quest for motivators of my own and I seldom join in those that are “mainstream”, preferring to get my kicks out of a quiet, creative, appreciative, nature-oriented, philosophical life that would leave many people cold at the very idea. Some would consider it a kind of death, I have no doubt, but it works for me!

The more I have got real and honest about myself, and got to truly know myself, over the last few years, the harder it has been to find motivation to do the traditional sort of things that people do (sell all their precious time for money, socialise, compete, network, cultivate their public profile, seek ever-increasing prestige and status, accumulate posessions, play power games, dabble in personal and public politics etc). I don’t seem to do any of these things for “typical” reasons and, in the case of some of them, I simply don’t pursue them at all because they just don’t appeal to me and I don’t see the point. This lays me wide-open to the use of “fear” as a prime motivator because, when you have very few things to get you going in the morning, pure-and-simple existential crisis is often the only thing to get you moving!

On days when my philosophical and ever-curious thoughts dry up, my creativity escapes me or the lousy weather keeps me indoors…these are the days when I find myself most vulnerable to fear as an alternate motivator, so I strive to fill myself up with plenty of the above (an ability to change the weather being the one exception) to keep this at bay.

Perhaps this default to fear as a prime motivator is the case for a lot of people these days, neurodiverse or not, as the meaning starts to fall out of a lot of traditional behaviours and therefore the very reason for doing things the way, and for the old reasons, we used to do them. People are becoming more aware and therefore much more savvy, on a grand scale; they are noticing more trends and patterns of human behaviour as behaviour in general gets ever-more exposed via the internet and thus they are starting to question and wake up from the old habits and previously unchallenged assumptions about what life is all about. In the interim phase, this amount of dismantling and exposure of old belief systems is bound to create some fairly widescale instability in whether, and for what reasons, people feel motivated to do anything with their lives. When fear becomes the prime motivator (for lack of other obvious contenders) we become reactionary rather than proactive…like one giant knee-jerk reaction to each other, on a mass scale, and it can get really messy!

As more and more people start to question why they do certain things, why are they putting their energy into them, why they go through the motions year after year with traditions that have no real substance, and as they start to question all the unhealthy habits too…the abject consumerism, the search for five minutes of fame, for attention and validation, for external love when they have none for themselves…then more people will start to lack the motivation to get up in the morning, at least until they can find new motivators to fuel their fire. Perhaps, having something to worry about is the only thing that electrocutes them enough to sit up in their beds, at least for now, which could be why we seem to be in the midst of a veritable fear-factory at the moment. It’s as though everyone is generating more fear and anxiety for themselves and others than ever before; as though all the other motivators have started to slip away, in which case lets hope we start to find healthier and more authentic ones, soon!

We will, as more people start to wake up to what truly makes them tick, beyond the fear, and as they start to dare to go after that, refusing to acquiesce with the old fear-driven motivators any more!

Unfortunately, fear is a game that has been played, for such a long time, as a way to motivate human beings to do other’s bidding and now the feeling of it has become ingrained in most of us from birth; can take some real time and a sort of purging to get it out of our systems once we pull away from that system (as happened to me when I left my corporate job, where fear was endemic). When under immense stress, or in abject pain, its well-known that a human being can rise to unnatural levels of performance. We can lift cars off trapped people, we can carry more than our own body weight, we can run from a fire with a broken leg. Does it really take that much motivation to get us going any more, and is that where we have got to collectively…as in, needing to feel an untenable amount of stress to perform our jobs, to meet the deadline (why do we, so liberally, use such an abhorent word?), to keep doing all the disjunct things we are expected to do without examining them too closely or questioning them.

In more than one context lately, I’ve heard about such an untenable, almost inhumane amount of pressure being put onto an individual in a work context that it made me feel sick with anxiety for them (another peril for the empath is that we can easily plug our fear-gap with other people’s worries!), and all just because that is the way “things have always been done”, I suppose. In both cases, the person in question almost buckled under the immense pressure and one of them has gone from being a bright and optimistic young individual, eager to learn and to give of his best, to someone with considerably mental health issues…and all for what reason? What good does it do to treat hard-working and eager people like that, when the deadline and pressures doled out are just there for the sake of it, to give someone in authority a power-kick, perhaps as some sort of rite of passage used to force people to prove themselves before earning their stripes (“I had to do the same thing in my day…”), and when the job in question could have been done far better, with far fewer repercussions to all those other people in support, and all without so much heartache and stress?

Hearing such stories makes me just so very grateful that I have been able to pull out of the world of working for others and that I have long-since become my own “boss”, with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude to dealing with others, but I have most assuredly been there (around the time my health crashed) and it played a massive part in the downturn of my health as I went from a state of abject stress to none at all and yet still watched my health implode for another few years as I sifted through all the considerable rubble it left behind. It has been a cathartic, and insightful, journey as I picked up all those tiny broken fragments of myself and put them back together, this time in a far more authentic way.

Again, when we stop to observe these patterns, notice the links (to our wellbeing, our health), when we start to question “what really motivates me, where do I really get my kicks, get to use my talents?”, we start to shift. Maybe not overnight, but inch my inch, we withdraw our consensus with all the faulty behaviours of old and start to rebuild them anew, which is how we get to be part of a paradigm shift, one person at a time.

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Degrees of quietude

I’m less than a week back home from the longest holiday I had had for three years; a trip that headed me off in the direction of the setting sun, away from the noisy, overstimulating Thames Valley and about as far as you can go before falling into the sea. What is it about “heading west”, because it seems to have been the long-running dream of my life and not mine alone.“Go west, young man!”, a concept often associated with the westward expansion of America but it holds true, to this day, as a feeling of liberation embodied in a phrase, like running away ahead of a tidal wave that is in hot pursuit. I guess western “civilisation” has indeed been in hot pursuit and on our tails for a considerably long time now and some of us keep on running.

So, what is it we expect to find at the end of a western-pointing rainbow that we don’t enjoy right where we are? Certainly, when it comes to the British Isles, you can expect a degree of spaciousness and relative quietude that is ever the harder to claim in the Home Counties pivoted upon London. It was for this reason that my dream of returning to Pembrokeshire hovered so close in my thoughts, as a near-constant daydream I would fall back on, throughout all the various lockdowns. Idyllic memories of wildflower strewn cliffs dappled in sunshine above a turquoise sea held me steady and constant through the worst barrages of what, for all of us, have been some pretty challenging and lifestyle-questioning times. Our goal, for a long while, has been to relocate west but, for now, we make-do with what we regard as recognisance trips to feed the soul and remind us why it feels so important to disengage ourselves from the ever-slurping whirlpool of London-centric life (which is really just a geographical manifestation of an AI dominated infrastructure that feels like it is spreading its net out of the commercial centre, hungrily eating its way into all the green corners of whatever’s left of the other life). West feels, for the moment, like a breath of fresh air in a world gone crazy.

So we headed west, over 4 degrees west to be precise, making our journey in two trips and I woke up early, on day one, in an Airbnb flat built as an extension to a large Victorian house in small Welsh town on the fringes of the Brecon Beacons. It was early, not for the usual reason of disturbed sleep from all the traffic noise and feeling ever too-hot (even when I’m cold…) in my urban bedroom but because it felt natural here to wake with the dawn. In fact, by 5.30am I had been awake for over an hour, my body lapping-up a degree of calm that’s quite alien to me back in the TV where, even with ear plugs wedged in, I feel the cacophony day and night. Here, I was starkly aware of the cacophony of…well…nothing; a deep stillness and quietude that slipped into my hungry cells with the softness of molten honey, like a balm to my rawest edges of overwhelm.

Yet “quiet” isn’t exactly true as the birds had begun their chorus about 45 minutes before and I could still pick out the almost subliminal hum of the nearest A-road through the open skylite; a continuous soft growl of traffic that had continued throughout the night, yet several degrees further away than it ever is in the TV, also buffered by the immense hills that rose all around our airy apartment, filling every large sash window with such a soothing shade of green, like having arrived in the Emerald City or the bottom of an exotic fish tank.

When we first arrived here, I was so struck by the relative quiet so unknown to my senses (even at night, in TV) that I didn’t pick out the traffic noise, at all, beyond the evening blackbird song but there it was, when I went to the bathroom in the middle of the night, taking me by surprise like a nocturnal lawn-mower humming away…out of place, unexpected. So, you really can’t get away from the pollution of traffic noise anywhere anymore, was my disappointed thought…yet, really, this was nothing to what I’m used to. I allowed myself a moment of sadness for all the quietude we have lost on this planet; the degree of tranquility we so easily traded in, this last 100 years, for the convenience, nay the “entitlement” of mobility and speed!

Really its not so much that I hear cacophony everywhere but that I feel it, with all my senses rolled together. Vibration converts to something more generalist, more seismic, than sound, rocking my cells to the core with overlappingly disharmonious rhythms that wear the biological system down with their attempts to entrain the unentrainable, since I won’t ever willingly submit! Constant noise certainly adds to the “soup” of my constant ringing tinnitus, which feels like my body’s attempt to compound these disharmonies and eject them out again, holding them at bay.

Other rhythms are more subtle, adding to the bone-quaking feeling that aches and fatigues body tissue, confounds body functions, trip-wires pulses, triggers nerves and randomly contracts and releases joints with chaotic effects that keep me on the constant edge of pain or breakdown in TV. There, I feel proximity of people like scratchy clothes on sunburnt skin yet, here, we were surrounded all about by houses, a neighbourhood of long cottage gardens and evident domesticity yet I felt none of that scratch as I do in the ever twitchy commuter belt urbanity of home. Here, the “air” was more paced, more engaged, more communal and grounded. When we walked about its streets, sharing a few friendly words with passers-by, walking past all the other houses with their little front gardens growing flowers and clipped hedges lively with loudly chirping sparrows, I felt as though I had dropped through a time portal and landed somewhere back in time, back in the neighbourhood of my 1970s childhood, pre cordless phones, pre smart tech, pre everything that invisibly harries modern life around the clock. Maybe that’s what I love about heading west…the feeling of winding back time to something simpler, more in touch with nature!

As I sat there with these thoughts, I realised a song was playing in my head…an oldie I happened to hear for the very first time in maybe 45 years just the other day. When I first heard it, I was impressed at how perfectly I knew every line, ever key change, every nuance of that song from childhood like I had last heard it just yesterday, and now it was playing on repeat in my head in this quiet Welsh town. This is what my “impressionable” body does…it constantly picks up impressions and stores them, playing them back on closely-mirrored repeat, sometimes with great accuracy and persistence. This can be a joy (as you can imagine) and it can also be agony, depending on the nature of the sensory impression, sometimes amping up the sensory effect to full pitch and refusing to drop it even when I try to negotiate. When my senses are overloaded, this effect can lead to overlapping tortures that affront my system day and night.

Here, I could feel myself unpack such effects to the point where I was able to guide my sensory replays towards those that I choose, those that enhance my day…a cheerful song, those vivid green hills filling all our windows with a shade of green that makes me feel calm, grounded and in control of my experiences, not assaulted by them. I made a mental note to bottle that colour and take it back home…

As I started to unpack my nervous system, a pleasant, vaguely familiar feeling that I realised I had not had since our last long holiday, to Shropshire in summer of ’19, had come over me. It was as though I was opening a waste disposal chute and letting things go out of it, as though nature’s refuse collector had finally arrived to carry it all away and I began to feel lighter. On that other trip, I made the tactical error of opening up all too quickly, too fully, only to experience a severe backlash on the second night there in that remote spot in the hills when (bizarrest of the bizarre) an unscheduled local car rally happened to go right past our cottage door overnight…dozens of fumey, revving, headlight blaring vehicles slamming up the steep hills and passing, one after another, just inches from our cottage wall for over four hours as I tried to sleep, after which my whole nervous system collapsed into a hypermobility and dysautonomic flare-up that left me hardly able to walk for the entire week we were there and beyond. It was the extreme unexpectedness of what happened that seemed to rock me whereas, at home, I’m always braced for the sensory onslaught!

In my other blog, I’ve just explored the theory that many if not all of our modern chronic health conditions, chronic fague and pain, PoTs, electrosensitivity, MCAS etc, are a version of extreme flight, flight or freeze triggered by the overstimulated thus highly defensive nervous systems we are starting to develop to cope with the sensory assaults of modern life. This time, I meant to open up slowly, cautiously and, besides, we had another day of travel yet before ultimate destination.

Our bodies have become mimics of all the dysfunctionality of modern life…because what goes in must come out; we can’t expect to consume so much and yet not even stop to consider how to recycle all the refuse of all that over-consumption, and the same goes for energy. In congested, urban environments, where our bodies are (increasingly) not our own and with ever-more “going on” visibly and invisibly around us 24/7, whether we consciously acquiesce with it or not, the mandate to cram ourselves with unwanted junk, to somehow cope with it, to squirrel it away to deal with “later”, is ever-more pressing so our bodies take the toll. The key, at both levels, is to assert our choice to take in far less in the first place, as in just enough for our genuine needs, and to simplify our lives (not follow the trend for “more”). Yet , oh how we still continue to gorge on overstimulation and accumulation these days, with no thought for how it must one day come out of us, making such a heinous mess as we spew the after-effects of our over-busy, over-stimulating, over-consuming, over-demanding lifestyles into our shared environment because, as we each reach overload point, we inevitably bounce all those effects off each other, turning our shared living spaces into a toxic landfill no one wants to take responsibility for.

So we walk past each other in the street without so much as a smile, we make noise and drop litter without consideration, we rage at each other over minor affronts and step over the needy as though they don’t exist, we rant at each other with the plaintive tone of our ever-more bloated sense of entitlement and we wonder why we are all cut down by illnesses before the mortgages for our excessive houses full of the meaningless trophies of hard-earned wealth are paid off. Our youth are sucked into this toxic cycle with grim inevitability unless they dare, somehow, to be different. Some of them head west, or whatever their version of “west” happens to be; I am still looking for mine.

In this place, half way to the edge of the most westernmost point we could get to on land, I could at least start to smell the sweet scent of liberation from all of that slurry. I felt, for the first time in a long while, more able to make choices as to what I took on.

Hard to do surrounded by human technological cacophony, which can follow us to places more “remote”. Last month, on a hoped-for retreat to the countryside for three days, we were tripped up by unexpected energetic neighbours when our “quiet spot” turned out to be very close indeed to a cellphone tower and also in far closer proximity with the Airbnb host’s main property than we had realised, a substantial house which overlooked ours and beamed undesirable images (a horror movie one evening!) from giant screen TVs in three of its rooms, directly into our space. A stern reminder that rural doesn’t have to mean natural. For all that place looked magazine-article pristine, it turned out to be a very hard place to find any peace, like I was shrinking into its corners looking for somewhere I could “be” like a discontented cat, so I struggled to sleep, rising daily feeling wired, tired and full of pain. There was also a noticeable absence of birds or birdsong in their carefully tended garden, which leant it such an eerie quality.

This place was starting to feel quite different to that one, even though it was plainer, less pretentious. I was quickly sloughing off layers of energetic static and beginning to feel clearer, lighter, hour by hour. I began to feel more like I could stay present with things as they happened, whether pleasant or not so pleasant, so I could deal with them, one by one as they arose without the constant sense of overwhelm. From today, I intended to explore what it feels like to be recoverable as things happen; not stashing effects up to deal with “at some other time” (which never seems to come…). When you are energetically sensitive, you can find yourself full to the brim before you ever start, some days. What would it be like to only have to deal with just enough to hold in the hand at any one time instead of way too much? I began to see this in action already…how quickly I recovered from our motorway journey without the usual day of crashing or enhanced sensory sensitivity that nearly always follows car-journeys. I could see it in my face, which had already taken on a much less gaunt, far softer, appearance and lost the slightly haunted look in the eyes it has had of late. I knew it from the state of calmness that began to inhabit me.

“The best things in life are qi. Qi is everywhere and its free. There is an unlimited abundance of energy in nature and in the universe. Qi animates your body and ignites your mind. Breathe it in to be inspired. Let go, relax, empty your cup to allow the boundless life-force energy to pour though you, let it flow”. (Lee Holden)

These timely words from came my morning qigong practice as I set myself up for my usual morning routine, this time, surrounded by vibrant green hills through windows on two sides. I realised, as I contemplated these words, that I had become accustomed to indiscriminately blocking energy, defaulting to self-protection mode, because my cup felt routinely rammed to the brink with mostly what I didn’t want. Or, sometimes I drank of it so thirstily that I gave myself indigestion, littering my system with unintended debris that I inadvertently sucked in as I tried to gulp down precious moments of nature and calm as they came along. Today, I was able to sip of everything and still be in flow, energy in and energy out, moving freely. I was also, noticeably, strong and steady in my legs as I did my squats and leg lifts. A hot air balloon floated over the skylight as I did my stretches; it amplified the way I felt.

As we head further west, I felt my cells untangle knots I didn’t even know I had. When we finally reached the part of the road that looked as though it might drive us straight into the sea, I felt a visceral unravelling and those cells began to sing. Tree-tunnelled roads and we were there, in the small hamlet with the unpronounceable name and standing outside our home for the week.

Our cottage, really an old chapel, was cool and light with passive stone walls made up of tweedy grey-hues, solid and dependable, squat to the ground, whitewashed on the outside to a snowy-white dazzle against the deep blue sky. This had a feeling of Cornwall only different, a softer feel, the hug of shadow-patterned Pembrokeshire hills all around and, in two directions, glimpses of the sea.

© Helen White

We weren’t disappointed in those wildflower strewn cliffs, the endless grassy headlands cupping turquoise and indigo water with pointed rocks like jagged teeth all around the cove edges and liberally scattered along the coastline, lapped by the soothing primal rhythm of the very edges of the Atlantic Ocean where it meets the Irish Sea. Blessed with unexpected sunshine, we lay down on those cliffs, our backs against the shelter of rock and earth, and soaked in this cleansing rhythm, and the dancing of flowers, and the wind on our faces. I knew I was soaking it all in to my visceral memory bank, bottling it up for other times, just as the last time’s stash had seen me through the pandemic….it really did!

Our days there were quiet, unhurried. I pulled up a rocking chair to the sash window and spent my mornings writing, drawing, embroidering, soaking in the sound and the feel of all the lively birds chattering and (so quiet we could hear the) wings flapping as they nimbly dove in to collect bugs off the uneven brickwork of ours and the two other facing cottages of our tiny hamlet. Chaffinches and goldfinches, robin, sparrows, thrush, blackbird, rooks and morning cuckoo, we have all but the latter back home but there was no other noise to contend with here so we dialled into it the-more, until birdsong became the soundtrack of our days from dawn until dusk. I realised I hadn’t had to use earplugs for days, didn’t want to use noise cancelling headphones or even listen to music…only to soak in these sounds and the the quietude, this healing balm to the senses. At times, flowing inspiration came in with such ease but, at others, I was able to sit there in my rocking chair and notice my thoughts were as muted as they had ever been.

I found only one foil to my peace; the heated floors in two bathrooms which created an electric field that, combined with our metal bedstead, overstimulated my nervous system hugely on the first night. After that, we ignored the owner’s instructions not to turn these devices off and an energetic stillness came over the house. At night, the room was so still, so dark I could lie there with my mind almost entirely still…rare for me…then wake to the first light of dawn through flimsy curtains yet still sated by my relatively brief sleep and eager to be up to begin my day. I dragged my husband from bed to walk the lanes and fields close to the house at dewy times of day when my muscles are usually seized-up and reluctant to work or when my head generally feels too fuzzy and disoriented to be balanced, back home, yet here I was eager to be upright and walking, tripping out of bed nimbly once we had been there for two or three days. We came back to hearty breakfasts and plenty of morning still left before the time we would normally “get going” with our days. Time seemed to expand across eventful yet deeply restful days and we chatted, on and off, about how we could live like this “forever” and never get bored or needy.

Although household electricals aren’t strictly a major aggravant to me, merely the last straw on the back of the camel when I am otherwise overstimulated, I’m still sensitive enough to notice how they keep a place from feeling truly passive. One day, there was a power cut for over four hours and my peace was complete; without so much as the hum of a fridge or the encroachment of neighbours’ wifi routers, we were at one with nature in the most natural place we could be for the longest time of my last few decades!

Noticeably absent was any sense of encroachment. We had two near-neighbours yet there was no feeling of overspill, not even from adjoining walls. The only “thing” to come over into our territory was a particularly beautiful cat that persisted in traumatising the blackbirds nesting in a nearby hedgerow for its own amusement. The garden felt neutral underfoot whereas our green-patch at home seems, for all our efforts at creating a haven, to pulse with rhythms from nearby road and wifi and mains pipes and ground current underfoot and has endless traffic noise (apart from, of course, those halcyon weeks of the first lockdown when all was transformed).

After a deliberately low sensory day following our journey there (even when I was itching to move…at last, I learn how to pace!), I felt so recovered I was able to fully engage with our loosely-knitted “schedule” and found I had, in general, far more stamina than at home. I climbed the headland and down to coves, on more than one day, and tackled small towns built on anything but evenness, their streets undulating up and down with steep pavements or dotted with rugged steps yet I managed it all with none of my usual hypermobility issues. Tired, yes…exhausted to the point of absolute fatigue or collapse, no!

Taking this much of a respite from my normal life, I could feel the potency of the opportunity this presented. There was as good a chance any any, I realised, being far outside of my usual paradigm, to surprise, as in, to attempt to somehow catch out, or catch a glimpse of myself around one of life’s quantum undulations, like a chance to see myself and my situation more fully, objectively, as in a polished mirror. So I spent countless hours writing, reading, considering, pondering deep topics of existential importance to myself, where others might have taken a complete holiday from all that and read fiction…a degree of reckless escapism that would have felt like a waste, or an avoidance, of opportunity to me. Instead, I became clear on some really important things, realisations that felt seismic, that I knew I could take back home with me and use to instigate changes from “within the system” when I got back. I felt daily shifts and new clarity emerging. I noticed new, broader, perspectives insinuating from the sidelines. Priorities began to crystallise. We alternated quiet time and, in both our cases, journal writing with periods of rambling conversation and all of this felt fresher for the change of scene.

I dived into a book I’d long been meaning to read on sensory defensiveness (Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to Do If You Are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World – Sharon Heller; see my other posts about this so-helpful book here and here ) and came to realise, more obviously than ever, the degree to which this lies at the very core of my issues, being as triggered as I am by so many aspects of modern urbanity. My innate sensitivity has become the peril of my life, in a profoundly overstimulating world and, as such, I need to learn to navigate it far far better than I have been doing. Far far better, and the book has methods!

I wasn’t immune to the effects of my hypersensitivity in this quiet place; far from it. One day, the sky became white with heavy cloud so that the light, bouncing off whitewashed walls and with that extra-charged quality it has near the coast, began to overstimulate my vision long before I realised it, turning towards pain, so I had to move from the window and close my eyes, using all my methods to decompress. My determination to soak up the silence had also allowed me to tune into my tinnitus more than usual, making it seem more dominant, so I came to realise the benefit of intermittent music on headphones to break up the fixation, even here where I wanted to lap up the quiet. I spent some evenings listening to an audio book or music when I noticed I was overstimulated from sheer tiredness and found that, by tuning out even the quiet of my environment for a while, I was able to rescue myself from further overwhelm, just as I would at home when its noisy. I listened to a lot of Irish harp music in the late evenings, the Celtic feel of it perfectly complementing the surroundings and soothing me for bedtime.

One day, we went to the beach, found a sheltered nook after our walk and lay down on the sand with our eyes closed, perhaps for rather too long. The immense roar of the sea “got into me” as did the intense UV beating down from the kind of light-dazzle, not necessarily sunny but nonetheless energy-charged as is typical of the seaside, leaving my head overstimulated with tingle and heat for hours. I felt as though I had a primal pulse running through me all of that day, and ached profoundly that evening, a stern reminder that unbridled nature can also be overwhelming and needs to be respected and even dosed appropriately (especially by the unaccustomed and highly-sensitive).

I didn’t forget (as I usually do in my enthusiasm) that being on holiday its own exhausting task because it forces my nervous system to change its patterns and routines, to tune into the new. I was patient with my own sensitivities and listened to what they had to say rather than riding roughshod over them. I made sure to do my qigong every morning, framed by the view of the Pembrokeshire hills and chaffinches in song sitting on the wire peering in at me.

More than once on this holiday, I had to stop myself from overdoing things, lest my enthusiasm should carry me away. What causes me to be carried off against my better judgement is two-pronged, I realised. First, there’s an inner nag to “achieve something”, to make hay while the sun shines, and then there’s a powerful dopamine-fuelled urge to take possession of the perfect moment/memory/photo opportunity etc. The first of those feels largely driven by cultural and familial training that cautions against idleness or lost opportunity, the second is strongly linked to my ADHD whereby I crave and gobble up thrilling experiences, all the more when I have surplus energy (compared to usual). It doesn’t take much, then, for me to severely overdo things. Is it possible to get drunk on high vibes? Oh yes it most certainly is and I noticed we both did it, one particular day on this trip, chasing after one dopamine high after another (all harmless!), bubbly and excitable, ending up by chatting so enthusiastically with a woman art gallery owner that she invited us into her lovely garden and we left all smiles from the impromptu interaction, some time after the gallery was meant to be shut. High vibes are contagious!

I suppose, inevitably, coming up to half way through the holiday, I had a meltdown of sorts. All my pent-up emotions about where and how we normally live, all my frustration of wanting a life more like this, shook up to the surface and expressed itself, unedited, unbridled, for once and there it all was, starkly infront of us, impossible to ignore. I try not to force this sensitive topic at home…we know we can’t leave TV yet, having business and responsibilities to attend for at least the next two to three years, but what if I NEED it to happen sooner, what if I can’t bear it, what if my health can’t cope any longer!? How many more times can I expect to force myself back into that uncomfortable box and for my body to keep on trucking with its chock-full of sensitivities to modern life that most other people don’t experience or understand? I know that if I lived on my own, if all choices were mine, I would leave all that behind and move somewhere else, any which way I could, just to be in a place of natural simplicity and quietude right now.

I realised, soberly, that I had come to think of my time left on this planet as something more like 15 to 20 years (I’m in my mid 50s now…). For years and years, I would always envision myself making it well into my eccentric 90s or beyond, but I’m not sure I could, or would want to feeling like this, or with the world like this either. What happened to me; my determination, my vision, my optimism? Would a move to somewhere peaceful, like this, add those years back onto my life-expectancy? I knew, without hesitation, the answer was yes. So, what if I make my health much worse by staying any longer where we are? Can my nerves take much more? Our nervous system, like a loyal dog, lives entirely in the present moment…you can’t talk in terms of “one day soon” to a dog, it only cares if you are taking it out for a walk right now (not sometime tomorrow) and, likewise, my nervous system can’t make do with endless promises of a quieter future, the assurance that one day I will make the changes it needs in order to thrive…it needs to be thrown a bone right now.

Once these emotions were out, chastened by the sad effect they had on my husband who feels responsible and can’t do anything about it just yet, I did my darnedest to turn my hopeless mood around so I could reap all the benefits of this week away from it all. I made sure to notice all the positive effects on my nervous system of being here, not to make myself worse when we got back but so I could come to better understand what effects most need my urgent attention when we got home. Also, to appreciate that my “system” isn’t broken, yet, and that it still recovers when I give it a break.

For one thing, I realised the essential tremor had gone out of me after a few days, and I was able to hold the camera rock steady (as one example) as I videoed a thrush in full song, whereas my videos normally sway and shake all over the place. I noticed an absence of inexplicable pain and rigidity in my limbs, improving day by day. I was able to sit upright for extremely long portions of time (in the lovely rocking chair) with no adverse effects whereas, at home, I have to elevate my legs to counterbalance dysautonomia effects such as blood pooling or feeing faint and get severe back and neck pain and severely tired from sitting up in a chair for long. My vision began to clear and my eyes to feel generally less sensitive to light. My trousers began to feel looser (though I’m sure I was eating more…), as though the perpetual bloat around my midriff was starting to reduce of its own accord. My stomach was more settled though we were eating exactly the same food as usual. My sleep was deeper, longer anto and from the bathroom without fully waking up. No supplements required to get me off to sleep, either.

I could tell I was feeling more like “me” than usual because I became sort of “bla” about doing anything that felt rushed, or like an imperative, or as though I was ticking things off a list, vehemently not wanting to do anything like that. At home, I get taken off track so easily, sucked into things that aren’t worthy of my consideration, paining over decisions whereas, here, I felt much clearer about what I want, what I consider important, as though intellect and instinct were working in perfect tandem. I became so content to go with the flow, able to enjoy doing nothing at all just as much as going out somewhere that was supposedly on some list.

What if I could use this week to recalibrate my nervous system, by beginning to develop stronger filters, instigating some of the many suggestions in my book for recovering my nervous system from habitual sensory defensiveness, in spite of where I live?

And then there was the returning ability to touch and be touched! When I’m home, I get so overwhelmed, just so sensitive, I rebuff contact most of the time. After a few days thawing, I began to crave strong hugs, being held, cuddling up in the morning, feeling my head against another heartbeat, noticing how one person’s heartrate recalibrates in sync with another (mine to his, steady and constant as a drumbeat…my flighty, highly-strung rhythms calming down to where my breath came in long, steady and consistent). It only added to my increasing sense of groundedness as the week progressed.

On our final evening, the sunset we had hoped for all week began to show itself through the clouds so we dashed to the beach for the most spectacular show I could have hoped for. I felt just so moved to watch the giant orange fireball sink into the sea as seagulls played in the gold tipped waves, like fire-birds in the flames; or, really it was the sea coming up to claim it. There were quite a number of people dotted on that beach, standing in quiet reverance at the sight of it. I felt just so somber seeing the sun go, knowing full well it would be quite some time before we saw it touch down on the open sea again and that tomorrow we were leaving.

On the way back home, stopping again at our half-way point overnight, it was obvious to me which place I preferred. This flat was certainly a lovely base for one night again, but where we had been was somewhere I could have moved into and never left. Here there was the factor of houses all around it and the ever present hum of traffic (more alien-sounding than ever). Pembrokeshire, in ways mostly impossible to describe, felt quite different to this…like another world. There, I felt rooted in natural things, blended into them in my low-slung stone cottage whilst, here in my third-floor flat with lovely views, nature felt like an ever-present embellishment yet this was still, primarily, the domain of people, fringed by hills.

I missed the sea breeze slipping into our window over night and happening to having gales around our roof that night didn’t compensate for the feeling of having left the western wilderness behind. For the first time in a week, I woke up after 8, having missed the dawn chorus, and in my discombobulation from that, felt subtly yet undeniably as though a disconnect was starting to happen as we moved further east again, like I was being uprooted and put back in a box, reconnected to the grid.

I was also so aware now how the brick and plasterboard construction of this building differed from the ancient cottage we had been in, where its stone walls and slate roof had seemed to breathe with me; this felt hermetically sealed, humming with electrical wiring, stifled by plasterboard, synthetic carpet and paints, air-freshener scents and PVU windows. In the night, the glow of several appliances left on perpetual standby, even the fixed radiators glowing bright halos of light, stole the blackness and filled the room with dots of coloured pigment that kept me from deepest sleep through my eyelids.

One thing I had really appreciated in Pembrokeshire was how the one streetlight was fixed at half-mast on its pole, its amber light no affront to the eyes like the blue light of most places and our bedroom thankfully on the other side of the building anyway. Here, I was astonished at the degree of light pollution from the windows, the entire town picked out in lights brightly shining their blue-white glow deep into the night though, I bet, half those rooms or places had no need of a light at such an hour (just as, at home, all our neighbours seem to be adding garden lights and security lights that nobody sees except those of us who are sensitive to the never darkened nights). Then, in the towns, all the lights are positioned so very high these days, as though not really there to serve the people who live under them so much as to light us up to something peering in at us, like we are subjects in some sort voyeurism exercise from above. I knew it would be some time before I enjoyed proper dark skies, with so many stars, again.

However, on the final journey home, I felt quite philosophical and more than a little determined to hold onto this improved stability of my nervous system; to maintain it using every means at my disposal. What if I could change my beliefs, not about where and how I would prefer to live but around how well I can withstand the temporary phase of how things are for the moment, my own ability to stay healthy regardless. Maybe the pandemic had done me a favour in this one sense that I had been stuck at home for so long that, now that I had been away, I could starkly observe how chalk and cheese my options were, how there really is a fork-in-the-road decision to be made about where and how I intend to live out the rest of my life, and not get swept along with the herd. Now to keep that realisation firmly within my sights, no long-term compromises.

As we wryly observed over 40 miles of near stationary traffic stuck on the motorway headed in the opposite direction across the Severn Bridge towards Wales (it was Friday), I wondered why people do it…living the abysmal work-life balance that we do with all of its compromises, then subjecting ourselves to the mass exodus, on highly congested roads, polluting the environment and bombarding the countryside at the weekends and holidays. Why not make life more balanced much more of the time; settling for having less in order to have the quality? On the upside, if all these people moved west, we likely wouldn’t want to move there ourselves after all. I felt quite overwhelmed to see all these people, sat in the exoskeleton of their cars, three lanes wide for mile after mile after mile after our week and a half of next to nobody…

When we got home, the house looked comforting but felt “busy”; it never feels anything but, however quiet we get or passive we try to make it. I was all-too aware of all our neighbours’ wifi routers (ours is kept off) the very moment I sat down. My neighbour popped round with a parcel; the noise of the four o’clock traffic as I opened the door meant we had to shout slightly. She complained of terrible hot flushes and brain fog theses days, feeling so dizzy and out of sorts she can hardly function, her husband think’s she is getting dementia. She asked if I had seen some program on the TV with Davina talking about the “evils” of menopause (like its some sort of disease, not a natural process). Her doorbell, when I had gone round earlier, connected me by voice to her mobile phone as she was out…everything in their house is smart tech. I advised her to spend some time with her router and phone off to see if she feels more grounded; she looked at me as though I was a bit ‘touched” for suggesting this and said there was no chance of that as her husband is a cable engineer, its all on all the time.

Since getting back home, I’ve tried to focus on the green haven of our garden, which had gone mad in our absence, and in which the arrival of a songthrush has added another melody to the already resident robin, blackbird and goldfinches. Yet I’ve hardly managed to spend any time out there, preferring to look at the view from the door, as it still feels “too much” compared to what I’ve become used to. I find I have to put on my noise cancelling headphones, even without music, to sit in the garden for even five minutes, to block out the endless traffic noise (I seem to be more sensitive to that than ever), but when the birds are in full song, I can bear it for a short while. I seem to get too hot all the time, even in the shade…not the usual kind of heat, more “cellular” and nights have been unbearable this week, though we have all our windows open to grasp at any possible through breeze (the weather isn’t that warm, this is more a feeling of being stifled I’m contending with). I’ve had to go straight back into using my computer a lot as I’ve been helping someone with a report layout for many hours this week, remotely. My stomach has developed a red reaction right across it that feels like intense skin burn, a histamine response, and is distended like a football again.

I notice the feeling of being more scattered in my thinking is back; forgetful as to what I’m meant to be doing, making silly mistakes. I’m having to push my thoughts through my head rather than them flowing so easily as they were, making tasks feel uphill. And I’m back to fixating on tasks, nearly always hyperfocused as some sort of buffer to the ever-present sensory feedback of the environment trying to distract me. My vision has become snowy again and I find myself leaning forwards to see, even with my glasses on. Toothpaste hurts my teeth on contact this week and all my clothes feel scratchy. I’ve had many more symptoms of dysautonomia and had to abort a walk the other day due to dizziness and feeling overstimulated. I’m waking up several times a night again and get up feeling hot-and-bothered, tired before I’ve started, not refreshed as I was.

I’ve started creating for myself a sensory diet for recovery purposes, as per the Heller book, and its helping me to make gradual increments in how well I cope with the barrage of sensory overwhelm that is normal here, or at least I think it is helping. The very fact of stopping what I’m doing to brush my skin and do some vestibular exercises every couple of hours feels grounding and focusses me on the sovereignty of self-care, above all else. Considering I’ve been away, which usually flattens me for a week, I feel pretty robust in myself and have regained some perspective and determination. I’ve got myself a rocking chair!

I have a project to paint our main living room a bold, verdant shade of green…something I mentally bottled and brought back from our holidays and I’m hopeful it will alter the dynamic of this room that I spend so much time in as I’ve realised its white neutrality, which I chose to complement my art and my textiles, isn’t opinionated enough to hold its own in this location. Neutrals can be calming where the energy is uncomplicated but my book has reminded me how colour is frequency (we can literally feel it, with our eyes closed!) and I need it to be more assertive, to make a statement in a frequency of greenness to bolster the effect of my garden and balance this urban setting. Using it to encourage me, I look forward, and remind myself often, that one day we will move westward and stay there.

Posted in Health & wellbeing, Life choices, Menu, Recovery chronic illness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A place for introverts

I’m not being moody! I don’t even know who I’m protesting to because no one has accused me of this (recently…) but then I know they have thought it, in the near distant past. My husband, thankfully, knows that when he finds me in the kitchen preparing my breakfast with my noise cancelling headphones wedged in, not so much avoiding eye-contact as not actively seeking it, that I need to be alone.

In fact, I need to be alone so much its akin to the need to breathe, such that not being alone at this moment could leave me gasping, depleted, eyes a little wild as I try to make sense of too much information coming at me from outside my bubble. My bubble, at those times, feels precarious, like I am carrying it on one of those “wands” you dip into the bubble-making solution and it might detach or burst at any moment. Any merest draught of air could do it, so I have to carry it, deftly, efficiently, to my brown chair by the window in “the sunny room”.

Not always sunny, this room of course, but when it is I go there, with relief. When it isn’t, its dreariness oppresses more than any other room in the house since it overlooks the road, with its traffic, its people dashing about…sunshine somehow keeps those at bay. If I slant the shutters, open wide the one with the long view along the road, once a lane, past the old white farmhouse with its white blossom tree and a fringe of trees, I can filter out most of the early morning mayhem of commuter-belt village life. Without sunshine, those things seems to dominate and pour into the room and I retreat to another place.

This sunny day, as ever, I have one of three very long playlists of self-selected classical music. I have my books, my pens, my journal, my dairy, my breakfast, my tea, my water. Now, for a few precious hours, I can be alone to makes sense of my inner domain, the sanctum that never stops talking, wondering, processing, questioning, connecting, hypothesising, creating, feeling, marvelling and noticing. How on earth could I cope with all that if I had to make small-talk? All my nighttime gems and dawn revelations would be lost. Even if I so much as had to sit in a room with another person, not talking, my energy would default to theirs, my mirror sensors unfurling out of me to report back what kind of mood they are in, how much is on their mind. Pregnant silences would speak volumes, the din of another consciousness at close proximity, vying for attention with mine. That will happen soon enough, but at least if I an delay it for these first precious hours.

Sometimes I don’t even know what I’ve got to say to myself until I put a pen in my hand. Then, like magic, the words come tumbling out and I see myself, peering deep into the corners of my psyche, noticing things I never glimpsed before. Others are like old friends, only, each time they visit they are different, matured by the rigours of life ever-changing; entire reconfigurations, like the image in a kaleidoscope after its been shaken or turned. Suddenly, those same jewel colours I thought I knew in a certain arrangement are reformatted in magnificent juxtaposition with each other. Life is like that, when we pull back far enough to take in the whole picture of it…constantly beguiling, always shifting, always much more to see than people could possibly notice when they are running around being so busy or sociable.

This isn’t a world full of “things” so much as abstractions that flash tantalising glimpses of their quantum potentials…so, this is the place where, once in a while, complete newness appears, like a seed spawned in another galaxy. If all they want is for us to keep on shifting the same old furniture of life around into different yet, ultimately, finite arrangements in an ever-repeating cycle then keeping us so busy, time-poor and obsessively preoccupied by each other is the way to go about it. But, if we want anything truly new to occur to us, the kind of breakthrough that shifts a paradigm, we need those who do far better left alone to be allowed to spend more time doing what they do, the way they do it, untampered with. Perhaps too late for me but not for the countless others like me. Yet, where (still) is the room at the table for the introvert that processes life in this alternate way? When will they be valued and made space for, exactly as they are, not corrected and coached into “the norm” of a broken construct?

For 16 days ahead it won’t be like this for me since my husband has “leave”. We will be together, solidly, for half a month with our routines snapped together where, normally, they diverge. I’m so used to spending most of the daylight hours alone, at least five days a week, that this comes as a shock to my system, every time. This always used to panic me so desperately inside, though I never allowed the thought to surface, ashamed of it. Now, I find I must and so I share it with him. I know, without a shadow of a doubt these days (now that the social guilt is shrugged off from me), that I really need to carve for myself some alone time every day, even when the excuses are gone. The need to be alone is its own excuse; I claim that for myself, just as important as any other activity. A “negative space” that is just as real as any object in the room. I shrug from me, also, this idea that being alone is not to be “doing” anything that is worthwhile, a cultural mime that slips into everything. In relationship, this translates as “prefering to be alone means you don’t want to be with me”; when, really, it has nothing to do with relationship at all…and my husband knows this, I sincerely hope. I think he does.

It’s not him but me, as the saying goes. I feel so blessed in the relationship dynamic we have; no other would, or ever could, have ever worked. If I had known about myself, years ago, the true and many diversities and solitary urges that I have latterly discovered in myself, I would have feared I would never, ever, find a life partner but I would have been wrong. Through the orchestrations of an intelligent universe, I found my one true match, and he allows me to be “me”. That said, I do, still, sometimes have to remind him, because who could relate, that wasn’t exactly the same? When you are diverse in any way, it’s down to you to advocate for yourself, and as often as is necessary!

There is no one that I love enough to give away all of my solitude because (need I remind you) its like breath to me. Without it, I fade, I crumple, I wilt like a flower left in stale water on a hot shelf. The lights go out of me. My windows are boarded up. Just a little time alone, time when “we” can soften (never gone, since I feel it like like a warmth wrapped around me) into something less demanding; when it asks nothing of me and I am left to the neutrality of my own unique interface with the universe…this is all I need. Then, and only then, can I remember pieces of who I am, gain flashes of why that even matters, like glimpsing bright coloured fish beneath the current in the water. Perhaps that’s the thing, the base difference about the introvert, as in to measure or know oneself intrinsically, not in relationship (or comparison) with other. This kind of knowing rises up in you, since it is inherent, not externally applied, and it takes time and intimacy spent with self to even gain the first foothold of it, like the beginnings of an endless voyage into the universe within.


For a (very) long time, I felt so guilty, apologetic, that I have these pressing needs to be alone such a lot of the time. As a parent, I was consumed with guilt when I asserted this need even a little, like another parent right guiltily say “not now, I’m working”. This was different, not being the culturally valued construct of “work”, so it felt extravagant, but I was wrong…it was always necessary (yet our culture says different). I would “cave-in” all too often, giving in, giving up what I needed, apologising for even having that thought of slipping away, like a parent with a secret drink problem. Yet, all I needed were times to recharge…easy when school was on; a nightmare at weekends or in the holidays!

Ironic since, with my quota of solitary times, I’m far more stable, reasonable, relaxed, clear-thinking, a generally “better” person; and my husband has come to see that. Being the introvert himself, though far closer to ambivert, he understands the need to recharge alone…though not so much my need to deep dive into a pool of myself, to get to the pen even before I’ve said good morning or made eye-contact that day, lest I lose something precious caught like a glimpse through a crack in a door that might slam shut at any moment. Too many door slams and I might “lose it”, lose myself, as I’ve done at other times in my life, when the pressing need to go out to work and fulfil social obligations has sent me into an asylum inside my own head; trapped, ravaged, prodded and poked by cultural “necessities” that, to me, often seem superfluous.

Our world is not built for introverts or the neurodiverse (some say introversion is its own version of neurodiversity), for outliers and non-conformers. Yet, lately, lockdowns have given some of us our own way, a taste of what it could and should be more like…inclusiveness for those who perform better left alone, to work in their own chosen space, to their own patterns and timings, without the overseer peering over their shoulder or the tyranny of “teamwork” bearing down on us. Its also time to fix what our culture thinks an introvert is (if you want some idea, search google or any photo asset website for a picture of an introvert…prepared to be shocked by images of people with tape across their mouths, boxes on their heads or sitting stooped-backed and alone in dreary hotel rooms looking like they are about to self-harm). Its time schools and businesses stopped mandating against introverted preferences (here’s an example). Like every other minority group or flavour of diversity, its time to self-advocate and claim space for ourselves; to stop taking any nonsense about what we need or our style of expressing, working or anything else, and its time we protected our rights to be the very way we inherently are.

I’m almost jealous of this generation as they begin to play with new possibilities for introverts, to take part in their own way and on their own terms, honing their own skills instead of retraining or masking them into conformity with the “typical”. Perhaps I could have thrived in such a time, I will never know how things could have been different for me, but I sincerely hope, for the introverts of this and future generations, that they grab the ripe fruit of opportunity and claim their seat at the table of a world that needs them so.

Posted in Consciousness & evolution, Culture, Life choices, Menu, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The way of the birds

If there’s a track record running through all of my life, its a steady stream of birds…on the wing, on the ground, entertaining with antics, just always being there in my periphery, for all of my life, like the ever-present subplot that is more of a main plot, the older I get. They were vividly there in my attention all through childhood (I drew them obsessively) and they continue to fill all the corners of my world, even though there was a time when they seemed to drop into the background for a while when “life” took me over, yet they they never really left. I was always far more aware of the birds than many of the other people I spent time with seemed to be, so that (to this day) when I meet others who also pay attention to birds, I tend to know I have found someone I can really connect with. Just like, when there are clues that birds are all around me, that they are important, in a particular place, I tend know I have found one of my hallowed spots. Its as though I have spent my entire life walking the way of the birds, which is like series of subtle signposts calling me “this way, come this way; that’s right, over here, you’re headed in the right direction”.

Bronze of Gilbert White holding a swallow

It was like that the other day when we took a spontaneous trip to Gilbert White’s House in the gorgeous South Downs village of Selborne which, for all its hardly more than half an hour’s drive from my home, I hadn’t been to for probably more than a decade. The whole day was filled with birds, animate and not so animate yet when we got to the church, it was really then that I knew I had found a kindred spirit in GW, who was a famous naturalist of his day and whose book The Natural History and Antiquities of Selbourne, has been continuously in print since it was published in 1789. What really made White unique in his time (when dissection was so popular) was that he made his observations of live animals and plants in their natural habitat, writing down his observations as part of daily life, with an eye for detail and a wondering mind, making a particular study of the species known as hirundines; what we know as swallows, house martins and swifts, formulating a theory that was new in his time (it was thought that they hibernated underground) that they migrated in winter. He also wrote about countless other bird species along with bats, the importance of worms and even a tortoise he kept and closely studied the “language” of different bird species. 

On the south side of the village church, in a wall that had been partially reconstructed since a 1400 year-old yew tree toppled over into it during a gale in 1990, I found a glorious St Francis stained glass window in his honour, crafted in my home-town of Nottingham in 1920 and thankfully intact, which was stuffed full of every species of native bird you could think of, taken from his memoirs. This filled me with so much excitement, as the bird enthusiast and artist, lover of stained glass, that I am! How had I not seen this wonderful window before? Probably because we would have had the kids with us on our previous visit and, the time before, I was on an art-errand at the local gallery so this was the first time I had stepped into the church, as though it had been saved for this very day (in a month that has felt full of birds). Even all the prayer cushions were stitched with wildlife and birds. I was utterly transfixed and, as you can see, took countless photographs.

These past weeks have been so wonderful, the weather warm and springlike and my body following suit. I have felt the best in recent weeks that I can recall for years, probably almost two decades since my health issues began, and I’ve been full of such enthusiasm, gratitude and vibrancy, darting here and there with excitement, like a bird infused with springtime myself (probably doing too much, too fast…that’s just how I am). Everywhere we have gone, all the various gardens we have visited and on our daily walks, there have been special moments with birds…just so many robins, new sightings such as a bunting the other day, some grey wagtails (which are anything but grey with their canary yellow dazzle), even a kingfisher like a dart of iridescent blue along our river, a little egret checking out the riverbank, swans galore, often a kestrel, several buzzards along with countless kites, a pair of Egyptian geese with 6 hatchlings, a sparrowhawk landed on our garden fence and, everyday, our garden stuffed to the brink with sparrows, starlings, jackdaws, collard doves and woodpigeons, plus our resident robin with his new mate and a wren coming and going in the undergrowth. The image below links to some of the photos and short videos I’ve taken…but mostly I’ve taken it all in with my eyes and my ears (less fixated on “capturing” the moment than I used to be)!

The goldfinches have returned to the vicinity of our garden and mob the tall trees opposite the window where I do my morning qigong, their jewel colours flashing in the morning sun and their chatter filling the air. Two by two, they have started to check out our garden, first pecking at the moss on the roofline, then onto the branches of the wisteria or flitting into the borders, until some of the other birds inevitably startle them off, but they will be back again tomorrow. My heart is full of hope that they will nest again in the australas tree in view of our bedroom window, as they did last April, and I am almost holding my breath to see if they do. Meanwhile, the bluetits have claimed the little bird house behind the cherry tree, as ever they do, and the resident robin is checking out the little cabin of woven broom that I installed behind the magnolia tree just the other week. Another robin, bold and talkative, has become my friend down at the church carpark on our daily walk. He barely waits for me to put down the seed on the log that has become his “table” before he flits down to tuck in and has considered, very seriously, coming down onto my hand held out with seed…but not quite yet. He always sings for his supper, just two feet away on a branch, coquettishly tipping his head to make sure we are paying attention!

Such glorious, healthy, vibrant weeks…not so much this week as my body has contracted in some considerable pain as the cloud cover has come over to drop temperatures and turn the sky to greyish-white. Yet, all morning, the blackbird has sang out his clear song, almost more amplified by the stifled energy of thick cloud-cover, making it seem quite ethereal and far more worthy of attention than the rush of morning traffic on the road (so I hold back on putting in my headphones). Now, the baseline of a pigeon coo has just joined in, and now the robin from the magnolia. My sleepless night was broken into rays of hopefulness as vibrant as any sunrise when the little wren sang our her trill at what can’t have been any later than 4 o clock (new time…oh how I loathe the disruption of the clocks “changing”). The birds don’t halt their patterns for moods, clocks or weather change; they simply busy themselves today as they did yesterday…the jackdaw pair gathering mouthfuls of dried stems (now I’m so glad we don’t keep such a tidy garden!) for their nest, the magpie doing likewise in the top branches of the giant redwood in view of our window. Impossible to dwell anywhere but here and now when the birds are around. They call us back to this moment more efficiently than any reminder on some “app” designed to drag us away from our obsessions, our fixations and our ruminations (which I first mistyped “ruinations”…not far wrong!) Those deep-dives into past or future, raking over or anticipating worst-case scenarios do us no good at all and only keep us out of this moment’s abundant gifts.

The birds are one of those freely available and most abundant gifts (when we notice them…). Flicking back through the pages of my gratitude journal, I find there is a clear theme in my daily list of good things worth highlighting from my days: “goldfinches checking out the garden…”, “nesting lapwings in the field near the church…”, “robin came right up to my hand…”, “blackbird sang to me while I was in the bath…”, “cormorant down by the river…”, “another mob of goldfinches seen on our walk…”, “long tailed tits above our heads making a racket…”, “a thrush serenading us on our walk…”.

Imagine a world without them…I really don’t want to yet not everyone notices when they are here. I pay far more attention to them than I do to “the news” or half a dozen other things that would have my mental health in tatters if I let them and, for that distraction, I am just so grateful though, in my opinion, they aren’t the “distraction” away from what really matters (all that other stuff constitutes the real distraction)! What can I really change in this world, except for the direction of my focus? What we give our attention to affects everything we get to experience…this was one of the earliest things I learned for myself after “the crash” and, no matter how busy or distracting life ever gets again, I will never forget it.

As I sit here right now, watching a jackdaw comedically hang off the tiny window box, meant for much smaller birds, in order to help himself to a peanut, and as sparrows make my bright-green euphorbia bush bounce with bizarre animation, as though it is alive, given I can hardly see that they are in there, I know I am perfectly alright today, I can breathe, can find my creative spark before anything more weighty presses down on my mood (nothing reminds us more effectively than a bird lustily singing out to the morning sky that creativity should always take precedent over other more practical matters of the day…). They remind me tirelessly that the world continues to turn with its daily and seasonal routines, even when the sun doesn’t shine or the weather disappoints…and everything else that may be “going wrong”. In short, they remind me what really matters and that’s what matters to me.

Posted in Art, Birds, Consciousness & evolution, Gardens & gardening, Health & wellbeing, Life choices, Menu, Nature | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Today is not the same as yesterday

Today, there has been a shift though I know it may not seem like it from the dark, dreary start of yet another February morn but there surely has because I just know it…I FEEL it.

Like when I used to announce, with such confidence, to my mother “everything has changed today” (and she would stare at me quite uncomprehendingly, or say something like “don’t be so silly!”…how we sensitives are taught to doubt ourselves!) I perceive everything is different today than how it was yesterday. The carousel of magical lands at the top of the Faraway Tree (for those who get the reference…) has spun around and a new one has taken over this shift, neither better or worse (though to some, maybe preferable); the season, in its broadest form, has changed distinctly overnight. I knew it as soon as I became vertical and walked to the bathroom, my subtle earth-connected senses told me so before my thoughts had time to argue.

Like the morning after a protracted labour, there is a relief and a release with it, though still a way to go. Perhaps some days or even weeks to get into a new groove, but I “smell” the change or detect a sort of vibrancy in the air…no, those discriptors aren’t enough, let’s not get carried away with labels to pin it down, the shift is as yet unfathomable, but its real.

Just as when a new era begins, some start to know it, others lag behind, fixated with “hard” evidence that all all remains exactly as it was before. So they get left behind in that other land as it spins from the top of the tree and never realise something else has taken its place, where others are already accessing something fresh and new, since they are locked-into the perameters of their expectations, built to fit that old paradigm.

Or, like when a fever breaks and those holding vigil just know…

These last days have felt like a sort of fever to me…always does in this season. Just when I allow myself to think, in January, “this winter isn’t so hard”, February “happens” and its like birthing pains in my body, wracked with intense, fatiguing symptoms of transition and always about this time of the month, give or take a few days.

Then, the release that comes, the forgetting as every new mother forgets her birthing pangs and willingly goes through them all again next time around. At least now I know to surrender to the process, to assert with the rhyhms of forward momentum, to breathe and stay present when the pain becomes too much.

Yes, today feels as different as can be to yesterday, though my body has still to catch up. I long-ago ceased really trying to explain it to others, I just know and that’s enough. From here, its not plain sailing exactly, just different; and change is as good as a rest, change and expansion being where we work our magic as micro-creators and influencers of reality, and now is that time.

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Who I really am (exploring “the dreamer”)

Why is the question “who am I?” so important to me (because, I can assure you, it’s the primary question of my life)? Why do I put so much onus on tools such as Myers-Briggs? Because I know myself to be more abstract than made of solid materials, which makes it vert hard to see what that “looks like” in practical terms, therefore just so intriguing (even necessary, for a far more fulfilling, comfortable, purpose-made, targetted life) to even try.

An analogy is the way the Invisible Man can only be seen in a “wrapper” (such as bandages or a suit of clothes). MB, and other tools like it, serves as a kind of wrapper that helps me to see my core yet otherwise largely abstract “self” rather better than I might otherwise do. I get to fathom some of the most intrinsic qualities and preferences of my personality type which, far from being some sort of triviality compared to “soul”, is really an unchanging throughout our lifetime representation of that soul that serves as the interface where it meets the physical, circumstantial world we engage with as human beings. Getting to see this interface mirrored back at ourselves is powerful and I have always found it especially so, particularly since I don’t spent a lot of time around other people “reflecting me back at myself” (as all relationships do, unreliable as that can be in any case) or measuring myself according to success, popularity or possessions. MB has got close…very close…to handing me a sort of formula or handbook to at least starting to understand myself better but, here’s the thing, its done that incredibly well, even though I now believe I have been wrong all along about which MB personality type I am!

How could this be? When I first got into MB, I did more than one online assessment “test”, I read all the books I could get my hands on, watched countless videos, the lot…and I was convinced I was INFJ (as I wrote about at the time). So how could this mix-up even happen and what does that mean about all I feel I have learned from the experience since?

Well, it does happen that we sometimes get it wrong from the self-assessments and, apparently, the INFP (which I now believe I am) is more prone to trying on other MB personality types than any other, by virtue of it being part of the INFP trait bundle to “try on” many different personas, like different hats, during the exploratory phase of their life, as they search for the one that feels absolutely the truest fit , such is their curiosity and long-term desire to be authentically themselves when it comes to getting to know what that looks like (I can certainly lay-claim to experimenting with various versions of myself in my earlier years). There is a particular confusion that often occurs between INFP and INFJ and, in fact, it is such a classic issue to mistake one for the other, even though they are very different, that there are countless videos, books and podcasts addressing this very topic. Both are introverted, both are feelers making them human-centric over “ideas” fixated yet they otherwise have quite different operating systems.

Well, I always love a good paradox and here I find out that I am almost the opposite to how I thought I was and yet with no great collapse of who I continue to be in the process; instead, I have only grown in the process!

So, how do I know I am one of those many people that mistook myself for INFJ when INFP, or vice versa? First, I ran a MB test again, just the other day, on the back of a conversation with a new friend who is INFJ. We have been having some very in-depth “get to know you” conversations and, perhaps it was because she and I are so very different in some very fundamental ways, to do with motivations and how we interact with others, even though we share many core interests, that I was prompted to redo the test, because I have never, knowingly, had an INFJ friend before. In fact, one of the first things I did, all those years ago, was join some INFJ communities on FB and, to this day, I have struggled to find very much relatability to their core attitudes to life or motivations for doing things yet still I stuck to my guns because of all the reading and testing I had done. However, the one person I really gel with in this world, as-in we share so many of the same approaches and value priorities, is my husband…the INFP!

So, I did the 16-personalities test the other day and it brought me up as an INFP and, its interesting how, I wasn’t really that surprised or indignant. Normally, I might have assumed “its got me wrong”and held fast to my INFJ label but this time I continued my enquiries with several more tests (there seem to be more around than there were back then, including a very detailed one from Personality Max which is now my favourite). As all of them came out as INFP, I really couldn’t dismiss the result. So then I dived some videos about why this overlap might happen, give some of the core traits are opposite, and started reading some books, including a highly regarded one by Heidi Priebe, “The Comprehensive INFP Surivival Guide”, which addresses this very question in the early chapters.

In very short time, I could see how this INFP-FJ confusion might have happened and not only “could” I feasibly be an INFP but it now feels glaringly obvious, like “why didn’t I see this before??” A combination of communication breakdown between the questions (or my interpretation of them) and my answers plus a certain bias in the way I might have answered them a few years ago probably played the biggest part in this confusion. I honestly believe, from long-observation, that the more my health is in the mire (and it really was down in the basement struggling along, three or so years ago), the more withdrawn, “autistic” (by which I mean the social and sensory struggle factors associated with my autism rather than the gifts of neurodiversity) and introverted in some distinctly INFJ ways I become. None of which is not to say INFJ traits are wrong or anything to do with being disfunctional…far from it…only that they are wrong for me. Thus, when I am not doing so well in my health, my personality gets a little taken off its natural tracks and so I fixate on different things, wider perspectives, other people’s problems and generally get stuck into different processing priorities/modalities to my norm, meaning they aren’t my strength. I guess you could say that I notice how “I become more myself” when my health is more stable and, right now, I feel increasingly more robust in my core self, even though health still knocks me about a bit, because it isn’t defining who I am or getting my mood down, so I guess now is a better time to do such self-enquiry than where I was before.

Also, a long-time chip on my shoulder that I am “always the odd one out” might have predisposed me to assume I would obviously be the rarest type of personality, the INFJ, and yet the INFP is also pretty rare at just 2% of the population and, I’ve already read in my book, each of those INFPs tend to be fairly individualistic in and of themselves, whereas what I have noticed in forums is how INFJs can be so similar, or cohesive as a collective, in many ways. My husband is certainly that oddball personality, the likes of which I am unlikely to meet a replica of in this lifetime and I guess I feel that way too (he says so), which has often been that hurdle to making new friends. This expectation of being the rarest kind, the oddity, even the weirdo, can often led to an INFJ assumption according to Heidi Priebe in her book.

There are now so many clues to why I am really an INFP that I would be here all day if I tried to list them and I mostly wanted to flag up that (as ever) the true gift is found in getting it more closely “right” or into a better fit, not in holding on, determined and tight, to an opinion you once had and then guarding it with ferocity. In fact, the biggest growth in our lives can tend to come out of the detours and then the gradual self-correction, making it a core part of the journey towards personal growth to go off track in the first place. So, I’m not about to rewrite every bog post where I called myself an INFJ, as that was then and this is now, but I’m not about to limit the future by refusing to admit “I was wrong” before either.

What I do want to outline are these core differences between two very similar personality types and then highlight why it changes EVERYTHING for me to switch from believing I am one type to the other.

To summarise, the INFP uses Introverted Judging and Extrovert Perceiving and the INFJ uses Introverted Perceiving and Extroverted Judging, meaning that in those ways they are essentially opposite one another. So for an INFP, waking up in the morning, they begin with feeling into things using their primary trait Introverted Feeling (just like they might also feel into a room they just stepped into as their primary assessment, which is is exactly how I operate in the world…feeling my way in). So, they feel…and once they have felt into things, taking the assessment of those feelings inwards to match against their own value system and way of deciding how to proceed, drawing on their authenticity as an individual (that “checking in” with individual integrity is key to their processing, before they decide how to act), then they then use their secondary trait Extroverted Intuition to decide the best method of using whatever they just felt by way of an outward response in the world. In other words, they question “how do I bring my response to that feeling out to people?” using imagination, creativity, gut feeling, new ways of looking at the situation and thought experiments (“lets try thinking about this thing a whole new way”), metaphor, paint, whatever their preferred vehicle and I can identify with all of those, hugely!

By contrast, the INFJ learns about the world and everything that they can possibly glean going on in it, using their primary trait of Introverted Intuition, by watching it closely, tracking the process from the broadest standpoint where they can see everything, observing, questioning, logging all the details. Then, they use their Extroverted Feeling to work out how to deliver this scenario to other people, like a host might rush to the door at a party, meeting and greeting, checking the new arrivals have everything they need, that they know where the buffet is and that they feel welcome (INFJs expend a lot of energy ensuring other people don’t feel uncomfortable on their watch). Even though “meet-and-greet” type behaviours might not be their most natural role as an introvert, this tendency to check everyone else is OK as priority is a fairly strong trait and so they extend themeselves out into what is sometimes a challenging position to be in, wanting to put things right for everyone around them.

I believed, for a long time, that this was “me” (checking in with others, feeling whether they needed anything from me, is a role I learned, to a very high degree, as a survival tactic when I was a child…) and that my role was to be that person who noticed everything and then worked so hard to disseminate “what is” to others whilst protecting them from discomfort, unpleasantness, inconvenience or harm. I have sometimes prevented myself from feeling happy, healthy or fulfilled until I had tended to others’ needs, even when it has meant great personal sacrifices, long ingraining this behaviour as a “learned response” into my life because I practiced it for just so many years to keep the peace and save myself from unwanted attention. When I read about the INFJ Extroverted Feeling trait and the propensity to check in with how others are doing and what they need first, it only reenforced that such behaviour was a “meant to be” characteristic of my personality type and that the best I could do was learn to live with it in the healthiest way. It has even informed the motivation for writing a blog, at times when I have pushed myself to share on certain far-more laboured topics, rather than just allowing the lighter-brighter, less responsibility-laden topics to bubble up in a more casual or spontaneous way, or leaving my more personal thoughts tucked away safely in my journal, treating my blog like a social responsibility or good deed I had to perform to immediately “share what I have found out” in case it helps someone. This has increasingly felt like a wrong avenue or motivation for writing and, also, quite counterproductive to my healing process but it was around for a long time and is a die-hard habit I’ve formed, not helped by thinking it was INFJ-typical.

Yet when I feel into (note that preference “to feel”…) the INFP type and absorb how the process for them is more a case of making a heartfelt appraisal of the situation, slowly and without pressure (we really need to take that time to evaluate, our own way…please don’t rush us), allowing ample time and space to carry out a value assessment of what is going on…and then charging it with an innovative, creative tendency to work new, positive scenarios out of what we just found out, this process feels much more natural to me and like it is where my skills are at their strongest. Everything else has been an effort, a struggle, an uphill climb and somehow false, because it was basically learned behaviour, a hang-over from the past, but this…this…feels like home and to see it sitting there as the two strongest traits of being an INFP working in tandem is like watching the mists clear. My highest inspiration and least laboured or left-brain researched writing, my best artwork and most lit-up personality, is lighter, far more unique and feelings-led than I was allowing it, much less self-conscious…and invariably comes from this place.

This INFP standpoint reaffirms that I don’t ever “have to” share with others (and not ever, unless it feels light and celebratory to do so) and that just perceiving things for myself, journalling about them or painting them without need for words is quite enough…even just being the person who had the feeling and made something of it internally is quite often enough to feel I put something out there. This is very-much in alignment with some of the themes I have been writing about over the course of the last year….be here now, be yourself, be appreciative of how things are, be present with them, in fact “just be”, its all enough (and feels like coming home to me). We all get creative, as a matter of course, when we leave ourselves alone for long enough…and realising you have been your own, unwitting, task-master is a cathartic thing.

The INFJ simply comes from a different viewpoint of the world and thus gets their kicks in other ways. They have more of a visionary trait, of watching over things in a timeless way, discerning the symbolic implications, the patterns…I love all of that from the sidelines, some of my favourite writers and mentors are made just this way…but it isn’t me or what I am cut-out to do and I was getting that mixed up for myself, giving myself objectives that felt painfully unachievable. Sometimes, I have overstretched myself to a very high degree and it reflects in my health and the state of my nervous system because fixing other people’s problems, always checking-in with them or feeling responsible for explaining highly complex scenarios to others, which means diving informational things far deeper than I sometimes feel comfortable doing, takes me away from my dreaming state, my creativity and true joy right here in the minutiae of this little moment, the very thing I was writing about in my last post. The world needs big-picture INFJs but we can’t all be one and we only find our strengths, and our gifts, when we land where we are meant to be. The INFP has their own pot of gold to explore, as soon as they remember where they buried it.

I love this quote about the INFP personality from the highly useful podcast Geek Psychology (Episode: How to Tell if You are an INFP or an INFJ) –

“Its very active and expressive and its trying to create new things, its trying to enable people to see things from another perspective or exist in a new changed world”.

Yes, this feels like me, especially the “new changed world” factor, which has been the backbone of so many of my topics and a key motivator for as long as I can recall in my life….yet (though I am comfortable with where I have been) I don’t naturally dwell in the past or even the way things are in this time of great uncertainty. Having to keep backtracking to look at where we have been, or how things temporarily seem at the moment, to set the context of some of my writing, has only ever felt like I am being pulled back on a piece of elastic and I had already vowed to make my preoccupations more present-day and onwards centric from now on. I have always had so much optimism, a propensity to see the good in any crisis, to envision a sunrise coming up over the hill, to dream of a golden future.

One of the things I want to do more but in a different way is write, but this time just for me. I happened upon a quote by best-selling author Wilbur Smith just last night and, as I write this post, his echoing words couldn’t be more apt because he never strove to be popular or to deliver what others wanted to read. He said, and I paraphrase, don’t ever write for others or for some imagined audience, write for yourself. When you write for others you don’t even scratch the surface of what you are here to write, and you hardly get any writing done, all you do is talk about what you want to write. Other writers spend years talking about what they intend to write while I was busy writing dozens of books.

Well, I have been talking about writing since I was 8 years-old yet, in print, all I have is one short autobiographical story to my name because I have been so distracted by an ingrained belief system telling me that I was here to do good “work” with my writing, or to deliver what others would relate to or thought they wanted, both of which are a mystery to me yet this urge to write won’t go away. Its been a catch-22 since I first lamented, age 12, that I had “nothing relatable to write about” and so I have made do with some sort of second-guess territory, occassionally daring to touch upon something uniquely spontaneous and”me” when, really, that persona is eager to come out and have a play. I have no idea what that might look like but I owe it to myself to try.

Refining who I am I is the core work of this maturing stage of the self-exploratory life I have always led. I am my own life’s primary objective (or, as I see it, we all are but some get more distracted by externals) and this fine calibration process between two highly-similar personality types gets me a long way closer than I was before.

Above all, it liberates me because being chained to who we are not is like a prison sentence. I realise how I was like the host at that party I referred to, always feeling like I had to give up my quiet corner to leap forth, towards the door, to meet and greet and make people comfortable, even when it is not my comfort place to do so…sacrificing my comfort for their’s! I think I have spoken before about my belief that we are leaving the age of sacrifice far behind as we go through the transition from one world paradigm to another. Nobody should have to give up who they are for another to thrive.

Knowing what I now do about my core character blueprint liberates me to be who I am and to put what I want to put out into the world the way I choose to deliver it or, you could say, in ways that are inherenty mine (there can be no other way for me to thrive). In fact when I am being an artist, I realise I already do exactly what it says on he INFP can, as in, when I sit down to paint I feel into “the situation” of that painting and I respond to it by making whatever flourishes of my brush it calls for as a response in that moment. I don’t and, to a large extent, can’t plan ahead or bite off more than I can chew, with grand designs for an outcome (including pleasing anybody with the results), I can only respond to what is and then deliver a creative response to that, which is why it has long been my comfort place to spend hours painting as I do, because it feels so natural to me. It literally comes out of my core instincts, via my top two personality traits, compared to which many other tasks, by comparison, feel like such an effort….but only because I have a propensity to go about them the wrong way for my type.

Behind my very motivations as a writer, let alone as a person, I have too-long felt responsible for disseminating an era of transition and possibility that is also highly over-stimulating and alarming to others who may feel less comfortable with that change-over, trying to offer hints and clues and fragments of hope that it will “all be alright really” through everything I put out there, because this is what I believe. Whilst I may likely continue to write about hope and to paint subjects infused with light, its from a different standpoint and without the same kind of pressure as I was doing it before, seen through INFP eyes. I now realise it is my more-fitting place to feel into things as they are (more so than research the hell out of them or wind backwards in time to examine loads of precedent…) and then be creative, a dreamer, someone who plays with the fanciful, the etheric, the intangible and the distinctly “me”, with no apologies.

I was already doing this quite a lot before…but was also making myself feel guilty for it, like I was taking a holiday when I relaxed, or like it wasn’t ever quite enough. I also, frequently bit off more than I could chew with my output into the world, when it could have been enough to just know something for myself and not have to struggle to find the expression for it, in order to convey it to others (many times, I just don’t have the words or other ability that could do that…but I have tried so hard to find them, wrestling with the task, to the point of exhaustion sometimes). Now, I can allow that by bringing in my ability to feel and then to innovate, in multiple different ways (not always putting something out that can be directly shared by others) I give more than I ever did when I was trying so hard to be an alternative source of “news” or “informational” in a world with too much going on. We all give, just from the simple achievement of being most authentically ourselves and this ripples out to the world in ways that are as powerful as they are sometimes unspoken.

So, I can really concentrate on being the artist or creative writer, or even just me, “just because”, which slots in with a building urge I have had this year to compile a book of short essays on no particular topic, the same way a poet might go off on a fancy, which I suspect is a degree of freedom I have never allowed myself before, and then put it out there with no expectations at all, just the desire to set some form of self-expression free on the wind. The best writing or art has always come from my camp when I’ve spent next to no time on forethought or “working” on a concept but, rather, it has just bubbled up in me, on an impulse, and so I’ve acted on it without all the checking in that it is needed or wanted and then I’ve let it go out into the world without too much angst or editing. I could also say very much the same about times when I have been more successful at being me, out in the world…my best moments invariably come from just being who I am, unplanned and unedited, take me or leave me. At last, with the insight the INFP profile offers me, I get to concentrate on being who I am, for its own sake, and know that is being my absolute best.

Drawing on another great quote from “Geek Psychology”, I get to lean into one of my favourite skillsets, the “enchanter style” that belongs to the INFP…as-in, we get kicks out of offering intangible. maybe quite small, abstract or ethereal ingredients, almost like magical charms, to other people (rather than solid, demonstrable, pieces of advice) that may yet help them live their lives better…I truly love doing that, whether I’m writing or talking to people face to face and yet I could never explain exactly what it is that I do or where it comes from, only that its a strength of mine and it feels like it often makes things better. Above all, it gives me a lot of pleasure to reclaim this as a skillset I possess and which I was preciously undervaluing because I honestly couldn’t see that I had it.

Imagine if we all got much closer to who really are and where our true strengths lie and acted accordingly, without all the layers of contortion and distortion, forcing ourselves and being forced or coerced into being what we are not…how the world’s problems would unravel organically.

I also look back and notice how the idea that I had to “meet people at the door” of every broadest experience I ever had, being there waiting on the threshold to reassure them “I got here first and I’ve checked it out for threats, it will all be OK”, resulted in my highly sensitive nervous system being unfurled very far and wide into a world I then, unsurprisingly, find too much most of the time. By trying to check in with people and things, everywhere I went, I left my nervous system feeling distended and raw, like a stomach that is permanently bloated with too much to digest. Working so hard to be “the advocate” left me in tatters at times, My high sensitivities can be put to far better use as part of my skillset of feeling into how I am and how things are in my immediate environment, from which start-point I get to navigate my days feeling more centred and grounded-into my own experience, which is where the gifts of being fully present lie. None of which is to imply “I decided” to become an INFP (we can’t do that!) but that I was previously trying to be what I was not and that I had allowed life to reaffirm my misunderstanding again and again, until now.

What a journey this has been, so I share with enthusiasm for the gifts of it. Sometimes, getting very close to where we are meant to be and yet still feeling as though we do not quite fit (often making do, telling ourselves its “good enough”) can be the richest learning territory of our lives. The very “rub” of things that that don’t feel quite right, so very close to home (which you can almost see through that white picket fence…but you can’t get quite get to it or move in) can vasty accelerate the self-development process and “bring us on”. Like a seedling placed under glass to concentrate the heat when the growth-spurt is most ready to occur can suddenly take off.

My last few years of deep-diving the MB system and yet being a little “off” centre in my own assessment have been like that. They make landing home feel all the more potent as I am there now, ready to dig deep into my roots, where the pot of gold lies buried. Or, you could, say, its where the real self-development work starts…a beginning, not an ending.

Photo by Kevin Young on Unsplash

Though I wasn’t always going about it the right way before, I still really want to impact the world and I suspect most INFPs also do (though many struggle to work out how to offer up their unique gifts, feeling the world is “not made for us”, “I feel too much to cope”, “there’s no way I can thrive being this introverted/different from mainstream”, etc.). I suspect the best way to do that is to be inherently myself, not to strive so hard to be all these other things that I’m really not or where my strengths, and my joy, don’t lie. To thrive, we all need to change any negative beliefs we harbour about what we have to offer to the world or how it will be received but the most powerful thing of all is to be ourselves, and to offer whatever it is our own unique way. Maybe we get to impact the world the most by simply thriving as an INFP; enjoy playing with that!

The world needs dreamers (the INFP is known as “The Dreamer”), perhaps now more than ever. Getting too practical, too responsible-feeling (or trying to…) never suited me or brought me joy and was a distraction from the dreaming-states where my hoard lies. Now I get to dig it up and explore what is in there, expressly for me, at my own pace, using whatever tools I feel inclined to pick up at the time and no need for fanfare, just being who I am a little more each day.

Related post: The healthy INFP: What might that look like?

Posted in Books, Consciousness & evolution, Life choices, Life journey, Menu, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Power of now

(Originally published as Present Moment Only on Living Whole)

Some days it feels like a kind of alchemy that I manage to pull off, taking my body from the car-crash state that it sometimes feels like it is in when I wake up to how I now am, 45 mins to an hour later, after my morning rituals (gentle yoga and exercise routines, movement to music and a few other tools up my sleeve). The person that roll-fell out of bed bears no resemblance, inside or out, to the one that walks back into the bedroom to reclaim my things ready to start the day when I’m done.

From the bed, my stirring husband will then sometimes (when he forgets what I’ve told him before) enquire as to “how was your night?” or words to that effect….words borne out of loving kindness and concern, for which I deeply cherish him. However, even the casual question “how are you doing?” requires a fuller post-mortem of my overall state than I really want to get into right after my mindfulness hour and here’s why.

Photo by ORNELLA BINNI on Unsplash

The problem (and its a sticking point) is that to answer that question I have to rewind back to how I was at, say, 3am or when I first fell out of bed the morning, depleted of sleep or in a lot of pain…not how I am now. Even if I am feeling much better than I was back then, the altered state is still fragile, tenuous and I really don’t want to get into analysis right now because, in this moment, I am likely calm, neutral, holding the potential of improvement in my hand like a tiny flower that I don’t want to crush with the grip of too much thinking. I suspect we are all starting to become more familiar with the mantra that the present moment is where it’s all at; is where the real power of life resides. That “now” moment in our hand may seem fragile but its also the single most powerful thing we each have, though most of us don’t act like we realise it.

More than just some kind of cheesy “bumper sticker” speak, this core truth about the power of now is front and centre to making any positive changes in our lives, healing included. If our minds are constantly induced to rewind back to “how we were” before, even just an hour or a few minutes ago, then guess where we stay stuck, because our focus lands there? Yes, in the past, the way we were yesterday! Or with it’s equally troubling twin, worrying about the future. We can now forget about all the positive changes we just made by staying more present, all that undeniable feeling of spaciousness that seemed to make things feel “not so bad” or limiting for a little while as our minds went into neutral, because its all gone up in the smoke of habitual thinking.

Our mind loves the past (and the future), holding on like glue as there is just so much to think about there, whereas it is far more uncomfortable in the present because, it knows, it becomes largely obsolete in a zone where we don’t need to ruminate so much (really, at all) because we have all the experiential data we need. We don’t need track record or to predict in the present moment, because we are here, right now, where it is all happening, and whatever “it” is is generally not so bad as those other zones might have had us believe.

So, of course, our mind grabs onto any chance to rewind the clock, to get stuck into a ripping yarn about something that happened ages ago, weaving an elaborate story like a fireside pro. Before we know it, we’ve lost all our headway and that powerful, spacious, calm feeling we clawed back from our thoughts during a few moments of mindfulness or yoga, even just sitting watching the birds from our chair, is lost in favour of telling our story, yet again.

There used to be a similar pitfall for me, late at night, when my sleepy husband got into the habit of asking “are you alright?” on automatic pilot when I come up to bed half an hour later. Whether I am or I’m not, I prefer not to be sent down the track of enquiry that question takes me down because it can lead to the kind of ruminations that keep me awake…”how amI, indeed?”…a loaded granade of a question to ponder at bedtime for some of us. So I coached him out of that habit and now our unwritten agreement is to keep conversation out of the bedroom at night so we can both wind down into a relaxed slumber. That time right before sleep is a power-zone unto itself as the mindset we get into can blossom into a whole set of new patterns by the morning, so think what you plant in the earth of your evenings then tend the garden of your sleep arrangements carefully so it has the best chance to flourish.

In fact, these days, I try to spend at least half an hour in quiet time before I come up to bed, writing my gratitude diary and inducing a semi-sleepy state of calm, even before I clean my teeth and fall into bed. Reactivating the mind at this stage isn’t the best protocol…so I don’t.

Its hard when people around us act from the deepest concern but it doesn’t help us yet we don’t want to offend or rebuff them, thus I rode out these kinds of pitfalls for a long time, thinking it was “my problem” how I reacted to kind enquiries, not just at home but from family and friends. These days, I realise its far too important that I stay where the healing power is…right here and now…so I protect this zone by retraining the habits of others. I know my health situation best and have learned from experience that, in the big scheme of things, the only moment that matters and makes a lasting difference is here and now, where I am aware of my circumstances as they present in this moment, not how they have been or might be in some impossible-to-predict future scenario. The human propensity to dwell on track-record or to try to forecast outcomes is, perhaps, our biggest downfall and often the reason our wheels get so firmly stuck in the mud. When your conditions is “chronic” this is worth giving some serious consideration; how are you allowing that wheel to remain embedded and in what ways can you encourage others to support you to get into your power zone, so you can make changes and prove “chronic” wrong?

When we stay in the now, we can allow what is to just “be”, witnessing without reacting, remaining impassive and curiously objective, allowing some space to gather around whatever that circumstance or sensation happens to be. Take the precedent or the fear out it and, suddenly, we are in a far more neutral place and can simply play witness to whatever our body or other life experience (really it is always about the body as we only ever experience via our senses) delivers. This space is where all that power I keep speaking about resides, because it softens things and allows unexpected potentials to take form out of the limitless possibilities of the universe. Suddenly, we aren’t trapped in this or that but simply watching an unravelment of moments that could go one of countless ways, our very mindset helping to determine which road it takes at the crossroads, exactly the way our expectations influence the witnessing of a quantum leap (or, a rerun of the way things have always been…if that’s that we happen to expect). Positivity and openness are key to how we set these intentions. Constantly backtracking to “how things were” before, even a short time ago, isn’t helpful because, if we happen to have made that quantum leap in the past hour, minute or even split second, we can easily flip right back again.

This is one of the reasons I avoid seeing doctors and such…impossible to do so without raking over the whole track record of symptoms and scenarios and being pigeonholed then set-off along some particular route of expectations, accordingly. The more I keep to myself, the more unlimited my potentials feel, stretching out before me into the unwritten page of a fathomless future. That’s not to say don’t seek a medical opinion when you need one (you should always do that) but you surely hear what I’m saying; its hard not to take on the often quite rigid predictions of others when this happens, as my friend found out when she received her cancer diagnosis. For 6 years, she tried with every ounce of her being to defy the mindset of those around her with their less-than-favourable expectations as to how her prognosis, from treatment side-effects as well as the illness itself, would play out (using her own methods, including giving the treatments her own much more positive-sounding name, she underwent several rounds of “chemo” with no unpleasant side-effects at all) but they got to her in the end because, everywhere she looked, all the information suggested she was out of options, even when she didn’t feel that in herself. This taught me how it’s all the more important that we learn to guard our own viewpoint on our situation as best we can, in a world so fixated by precedents and predictions…no one else can label the state that we are in, by rights. For more on the power of belief to influence our biology, dive the work of biologist Dr Bruce Lipton, including his seminal book The Biology of Belief.

For me, this feels so important because, on paper, my condition sounds dreadful but, I’ve learned, its symptoms are not mutually exclusive from peace, calm, serenity, joy, excitement, fulfilment, happiness and so on, all of which I experience on a regular basis and, in fact, most of the time as my dominant states of being. Ask me how I am when I am less tired, thus unconscious in my answer, than on first waking up in the morning and I probably wouldn’t hesitate to say “I’m marvellous” on any given day. If I was to believe what others believe about how I “should” feel about my health, say on various health forums, I would have been done-for years ago. I simply wouldn’t have come as far as I have, which is very far indeed.

When I say “unconscious” I don’t mean to be patronising to myself or others with their more negative viewpoints; all I mean is that, when we have “gone unconscious”, we have momentarily stepped out of our natural inborn power because we have forgotten that now is all there is and got carried away by a story about how bad things have been or are going to be. Now is, quite literally, the only thing that matters, the place we should always prioritise and answer from when we talk to others, which would have spectacular results in terms of transforming the world but, sadly, we are so well versed in a linear perspective that we all regard ourselves, primarily, as part of a continuum…past, present and future, all rolled into one sizeable amalgam, entangled together unto the end of life’s conveyor belt. Thus, the baggage we lug around with us is as hefty as all the many years we have been on this planet plus all we concern ourselves about for the future, and it weighs a ton. No wonder we often don’t seem to get anywhere!

When it comes to those loved ones and other well-meaning people who enquire, even those we like catching up with over a chat where we regale each other with what’s been happening lately, we simply owe it to ourselves, and them if they want to help us, to request that they refrain from checking in so often, or, that they re-couch their question. “How are you (now)?” is far less loaded than “How have you been (since I last saw you)?” or “How did that thing (health dip, pain episode, drama, trauma) go?” Neither you nor they need the entire story…not when it reloads all the feelings, sensations and worries that we have previously had straight back into our nervous system, doubling, tripling, quadrupling the effect the more times we have to bring people up to speed. Sometimes I resort to a certain grin or a sort of hand gesture to imply “up and down” (such is life) then quickly move onto the better stuff.

Likewise, if there are certain times of day or situation when we prefer not to talk or to analyse at all, for instance right after mediation, when we first wake up, on our walks in nature or if we are having some quiet time today, then we carve out that space by telling people around us that we want to be left alone in these circumstances (we can’t expect them to be mind-readers unless we tell them this) and make sure to teach any other colleagues, family members and so on to honour this, yes even our kids (it can be done, as I have living proof of). If we like to go into our inner state when we do our hobbies, our number-crunching or even the washing-up, let people know that…and reap the benefits. We each take our meditative moments where they feel most natural to us and, the more time we spend in them, the more time we touch base with the present moment.

In honouring these needs, we go a very long way towards standing up for our right to be healthy in this moment, and for staying right here in such spaciousness and unlimited potential, far more often than not. The longer we stay here in the nowness, the more we realise the effect accumulates, blossoms and transforms, you can take it from me.

As ever, recommended material on this topic is everthing ever offered by Eckhart Tolle, including some of the most influential books you are ever likely to pick up: The Power of Now, A New Earth and his latest offering Oneness With All Things.

Disclaimer: Always seek a medical opinion if you are concerned about your health. This blog is anecdotal and does not constitute or replace medical advice.

Posted in Consciousness & evolution, Health & wellbeing, Life choices, Meditation, Personal Development, Recovery chronic illness, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gold where you are

I’ve really settled into a deep inner practice this year; inner and also outer, balanced by creativity and meaningful connection. My days are settled into the rhythm of self-care, mindfulness and rituals that support me inside and out. Inside, I remain calm and oddly unsurprised, unrattled, by whatever unfolds. I can even see how these two roller-coaster years have served me by “giving me permission” to cease looking outside myself so much for answers or validation. No more trying so hard or pretending that I could ever conform to something “normal” or “mainstream”; just gently being me, exploring whatever that means, moment to moment. I find enjoyment honouring the full individuation of myself that all my traits and preferences have always pointed towards, thus I feel more comfortably “myself” than ever before. This serene state doesnt require the world to be solved or my health to be healed; they are not mutually exclusive. My days are infused with gratitude and it turns up all the lights and colours, day after day.

This has helped me to experience (not just “know” hypothetically…) how it really all does start and end on the inside of us, in our own back yard. The more I turn my attention there, the more gold seems to come my way, the simplest of days infused with it. I’ve got around to doing all those daily practices I allude to, and more (not just on highdays and holidays…) such as pausing to meditate several times a day, mindful walking, journalling and practicing being right here, in the moment, most of the time, which is the real pot of gold that each of us have access to.

Because it all happens right here in the present moment, outside of the reach of fear, rumination and the classic incentives of “money, prestige and winning” (to quote Eckhart Tolle). Nothing else matters nor has power outside of this moment, because “now” is where everything happens; all the rest is illusion, either the ghost of a memory or wild speculation of a future we can’t hope to predict. Beyond those things, I find peace and stillness over and over and over again because it is always more than manageable and offers such peace, such immense sense of wholeness, that the experience of them utterly defies words so I don’t even strive anymore. I savour it all for me, as can we all, once we get beyond the misguided belief that we need to save everyone else, thinking we have to bear the responsibility of all that is “going wrong”. Its not our job to convince, cajole or carry anyone along, none of us is here for that; what is unfolding right now is way bigger than any of us and we each play our ample part by cleaning up our own act.

All very well to feel so serene and “holy’ living your life like that, with ample time to paint and meditate, you might say. Yet I have my load…of high levels of pain and the many problems and frustrations that come with hypermobility, “stopping me” from doing what I “want to do”, keeping me from planning ahead. Like most people, I have to play Tetris with our finances just so we can get along. In recent months, we have had, and still have, loss and serious illness in our family and inner circle, all the usual stuff. Yet when I take pause and spend time with this moment, and then this moment and then this one I start to draw gold out of even this state of being “grounded” by my so called limitations because it quite literally grounds me here, in the now, which is the only moment that is and that matters; also, because I appreciate how it has liberated me for a life outside of the fray. Of course, we are all different but, whatever our circumstance, the gift of being here with what is, right now, is already here waiting for us, just as soon as we become aware of it…as in, truly, deeply aware, following the breath, ceasing to identify with our thinking, just stepping back and witnessing it all, noticing what comes up, aware of our own awareness…not bemoaning our circumstances or trying to medicate or distract them away.

©Helen White

Sometimes we don’t see gold for looking, or because we see what we expect to see, not what is actually there. I took myself for a walk in the woods near our house the other day, which was the first time I had managed to go out alone, due to my health, for quite a long time. The landscape had seemed so drab, so colourless when I set off and I could have stuck myself in that mindset, eyes down to the ground, yet when I looked up high in the trees, alerted by a certain chitter-chatter made familiar during last summer’s dreamy warmth in my garden, when they nested nearby, I found the trees above my head where full of red and yellow goldfinches, their dazzlingly incongruous outfits a foil to the bare-woody brownness of the trees. Only the day before, I had worked on an old artwork of mine, improving and expanding it to add more radiance plus an enhanced sense of depth to the composition so that these celestial birds now seemed to be tumbling from a portal in the sky, like manna from heaven. It had been my original vision for the artwork, two years ago but never quite got there…always a bit flat…and now I seemed to be able to get much closer to my far-more expansive intention, leaving me much more pleased with the result.

It was as though, not for the first time, my highly-focused attention working on that artwork, art being a highly-focused task that holds me in the moment more-so than anything I know, had somehow manifested them!

The next day, we came across the goldfinches again as we walked by the river where we mostly walk each day (and they have been there many days since)…loads of them…and then they appeared in the trees near our house, their unmistakably cheeky, rambling song with its “beep beep” chorus alerting my eyes upwards as I filled up the bird feeders. This morning, as I prepared to get on my yoga mat, there were 11 of them sat on the roof directly opposite my window, pecking at the moss, so, getting closer and closer. So much gold, right on the doorstep…I feel truly blessed.

What has this got to do with anything, some kind of superstition, as though the birds signify something meaningful…what’s it got to do with real life? Well, what it reminds us of, when we notice and appreciate any other small yet precious detail of our lives, is that it all happens when we slow right down, expand our gaze, take the time to be fully present and aware, interested, grateful. These things appear to us only when we are paying attention, being present, open, curious and aware, not expectant so much as willing to be pleasantly surprised without putting any pressure on the moment to be one way or another. In such a state, we skip dimensions, outside the bonds of the strictly three-dimensional experience, including the rather hopeless and cynical way the world is presented to us and how we have been entrained to see it, and so we remember, as children do (but almost inevitably forget, once they are socialised…) that life is so much more than “all this”, that possibilities await us way beyond any limitations our day may seem to present. We start to directly experience how there is gold waiting for us, whatever that may look like to us in particular, just as long as we are present and open enough to receive. For me, it happens to look like a world stuffed with brightly coloured birds, amongst other things!

From right here, we can refresh and renew our lives in some surprising ways, not by “doing anything” in particular but by changing the way we are being. New models of how to live our best life will no-doubt arise out of such moments, and we can amply harvest those inspirations as we go along. Old-stuck patterns will get noticed and thus trimmed away so they can shackle us no-longer and toxic exposures will be seen and addressed, not left unnoticed or put up with any longer. As space gets created in our days, it can seem as though everything is held in more space, thus nothing feels so pressured or chaffing as it once did. Calmness and clarity become less conditional and so the nervous system resets. And of course, whatever we “do” from present awareness gets infused with presence, transforming it and infusing it with quality and power because we are fully there with it, filled with joy and purpose (not just doing as a means to an end).

Yet the real gift is the practice of slowing right down, out of action and into awareness, as a primary state of being; now given its ample priority at last. Day by day, inch by tiny inch, time spent this way effects some surprising changes of trajectory made up of countless minute adjustments that turn out to alter everything in our own back yard and so here’s the very truth of it: this is the pot of gold we forgot we were sat on all the time, never needing to go out there digging for it since we only ever had to realise that it was here, hidden in plain sight, all along.

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SLOWly easing into the New Year

Second morning of the return to “normality” post Christmas and I suddenly became aware, sat there on my meditation bolster, just what it was that had had me feeling so unexpectedly aggravated yesterday.

Its been a really lovely couple of weeks spent in a small unit of 4 with close family; just what we needed and an absolute tonic but as soon as our little group disbanded on Monday and my husband returned to his home “office” on Tuesday morning (no, before that…the very thought of it made him toss and turn all night!) I began to feel as though a tight coil was being wound more and more tightly in my gut. I spent yesterday locked into a sort of exhausted blue-funk on the sofa catching up on my emails and other less-than inspiring things which, given I’ve been surprisingly robust, upright and lightheartedly creative this Christmas, came as a shock to the system. So there it was this morning…I saw it just as it is…the mindset that we are all implanted with from birth, that we must Rocket Launch the new year with dynamic new intentions and high activity, like its a race to the finish line now we’ve had our little culturally-endorsed break-away from the office. What a con!

Nature is (as ever) the clue to the truth. Out there, it’s now far colder than it was over our very mild Christmas and all the birds in my garden know its still deep winter with, maybe, the coldest yet to come. Our very biology is wired to slow down at this time of year…yes, even after the New Year sales have whipped people into an artificial frenzy…and yet we’ve been indoctrinated with the idea that we all need to dive straight back into the usual, frenetic way of being just as soon as the 4th of January comes around. Its utter brain-washing nonsense, and it deprives us of our best gifts and highest natural-born superpowers, all of which get suppressed beneath a thick layer of exhaustion that leads straight to the inevitable mid-February burn-out. We are all at sixes-and-sevens with the way our bodies work, and with the very way we draw on our personal strengths and best sources of inspiration at this dreaming time of the year, like we are allowed to think we are given the freedom to be who we are but are subtly knocked off track, enough to discombobulate us. Yes, we are even meant to sleep more than life makes room for at this time of the year; it’s how we are programmed.

Part of why I felt so agitated yesterday, I now realise, is the massive increase of traffic on my road, from way before daylight, compared to a couple of weeks over Christmas when traffic levels were pretty spartan. Now, my house grumbles to the sound of heavy vehicles once again but, more than that, its the SPEEEED everyone is going at out there…impacting my nervous system long before I open my eyes in the morning. Slow down already, where’s the fire?

I heard something so very true in Lee Harris’ latest offering “Conversations with the Z’s, The Energetics of the New Human Soul, Part 1” just this morning (and I paraphrase). We have been separated from our truth and one of the ways this has been done is that certain “truths” have been wrapped up inside of constructs designed to separate us from remembering we are multidimensional beings and therefore so much more than the locked-in constructs we tend to live to, day-in-day-out, such as the need to make a living to survive. The fact these nuggets of truth are hidden inside the falsehoods we are fed ensure that we allow ourselves to believe we are on the right track, because there is just enough truth to keep us on that wrong trail, for years if not all of our lives. One of these truths, I suspect, is that (yes) this is a very good time for setting positive aspirations in the ground of our year, the way we plant a seed in readiness for spring. However, that’s all we are meant to do right now…plant and have patience…taking each day at just the right pace to nurture the seed, keeping it warm, feeding it with our creativity and optimism, tinkering with the creative ideas we have just enough to draw them from the earth like an early shoot of hope. We are not meant to dash out into the cold winter garden of our lives at the start of January and start ploughing over the earth with a frenzy!

Our separationist culture tells us otherwise. It has us jumping up like a Jack-in-a-box to do the bidding of our inbuilt “training” to be productive, even when we think we are doing it for ourselves (because we are made to think that material goals are all we really live for and/or that our survival depends on it).

My husband has got the right idea this week, opting to flexi-work his way back into the routine with irregular coffee breaks, or walks by the river with me, according to when he wants to take those pauses. He did an hour or so’s work in his PJs yesterday so he could take a longer break a little later and then he finished off his work not long after the sun set, and if that’s what it takes to get the job done in a way that feels gentler, far more organic, then that’s really great. What he’s always found before is that he actually gets more done this way because it no longer feels like work.

The problem comes as the pressure amps up and more expectations start coming in, forming a hard grid of time blocks in a diary that has precious little room for manoeuvre…which all comes back to the expectations of other people to be able to get things done, get answers “immediately” and make progress with their agendas the very moment the New Year begins. Some things in life, for sure, require structure and schedule but I suspect there is a sizeable layer of stress-strata that could be dissolved in a moment if only people were prepared to be more flexible, reasonable and patient. Certainly, “work from home” allowances and far more flexible working hours would make a huge contribution. If only we all worked together on this, the world of “work” could be made so much more benign and far better for our collective health.

Hopefully the current advisory on “work from home” to do with covid will help out some people’s desire to “ease in” to this new year, not least those of us so introverted we always work best in our own environment, but I gather the struggle continues with some employers. The frustrating thing is that we all work so much better, more productively, when we do it to our own and Nature’s natural rhythms, which includes the circadian and circannual cycles. When we force ourselves out of Nature’s groves, we have to push ourselves so much harder…and our health always takes the toll, sooner or later.

When I work to my natural rhythms, I allow intuition to come up and take a front row seat. This is really key for me right now as its been a BIG Christmas period of creativity and strong intuitions about a lot of things that could enhance my experience of life, not to mention my health. I have irons in many fires and they all show so much promise…but I know the key is not to rush the rate at which each of these irons heat up. So much has come up and through me…just so much coherence and realisation…yet there’s no point jotting it down in my journal as though I had some “clever thought” one day unless I live to these new insights, at their own pace. The trick is not to scare them away before they’ve even settled, and launching projects too fast, too urgently, with far too much pressure can do that every time. Speed really isn’t the sexy thing its being sold as (constantly) by our culture and what I’ve found, time and time again, is that slow and steady gets me there, in fact gets me somewhere I never even dreamed of in more frenetic times, without the burn out; and believe me, with my health-history, I know all about burnout.

This time last week, I was “on holiday” getting up to my own rhythms and following my muse as to what to do with my time, whether that was writing, embroidering or knitting, painting, cooking or planning a completely left-field new creative project I’m suddenly excited to get started on (I’ve concertedly focused on activities that don’t require a computer, which has been so beneficial). All of the above activities are still available to me now that Christmas is “over” and yet somehow, yesterday, I felt utterly rigid, almost “rabbit caught in the headlamps” confronted with the very same choices…because I had somehow changed my whole attitude to how I APPROACHED those same tasks, over-layering them with pressure, perfectionism, timescales, stategies and other such nonsense when really I work best when I am in my natural rhythms and “flow”. Its a potent thing in our culture, this mindset…set to explode like an early-morning alarm call on 4th January, driving people to their desks and their gyms like their life depends on it, and I felt it!!

None of those things apply well to the creative process and yet I somehow got swept along on the cultural switch-over to Rocket Launch mode, perhaps because I felt my husband rise from his bed early, or because of the increased traffic noise outside alerting me it was “back to work day”. Yet the latter is just a concept, it doesn’t affect me (thankfully) and it shouldn’t really have to affect any of us that feel we work better without it; who just know we are our own best selves without feeling as though we are prisoners to a work ethic and have no choice. When we offer up our gifts freely and with joy, we work not only smarter but more productively and with less effort, not to mention so much more creativity and inspiration. It’s how we access our “big picture thinking” and make the kind of unprecedented connections that positively impact the world. At the very least, it’s how we live our best lives and rediscover what really makes us tick…not to mention our health.

How to even start? Well we can all start the process of slowly easing into the year by easing slowly into whatever it is we do with this one day. And then the next day. And then the day after that. Avoid, as far as possible, over-reaching with Grand Projects that become rods for our own backs; try planting more seeds and seeing how they do if we nurture them. Its a form of staying present with this moment and if this moment tells us we need to take a pause we make that pause happen. If we know we would do better to put this task down and take another look at it later or tomorrow we do that. We listen to the body, and we make lots of space for our intuition.

If this creates a “rub” with a certain situation or another person then we at least get to notice what or who it is that is acting as a tyrant over our life. If that situation can’t be changed and is making us unhappy or even ill then we can…slowly…start to change this, either by negotiating the way that we get to do our work or changing where or for whom we work in the first place. This was something I had to do for myself, on a very grand scale, for both my health and my sanity, 16 years ago and I sometimes allow myself to forget that was a battle hard won (but so worth it) and that this more fitting life of mine, these days, didn’t just land easily in my lap…its taken many sacrifices, a complete reinvention of my self-perception (as a so-called productive “unit” in this world) and a whole lot of misunderstanding from other parties. However, I’m just so glad I did that for myself; it saved my life, and I’m so happy to see more people prioritising this for themselves than ever before. Its a collective wake-up call happening at quite a rate of knots, even though we don’t always see it happening at the ground level where peer-group pressure reigns, and thus I hope my daughter and her offspring find a very different ethos about life-work balance waiting for them in just a few years time.

Meanwhile, I have seen the trip wire and stepped over it this morning. Back into my slow-groove, I find my creativity is creeping back and my excitement to do what I really want to do, without so much rushing, is fizzing gently in my stomach. If I’m honest, my most productive time of year is always March to April (not that I consider “productivity” so all-important any more), which is pretty-much in alignment with the green shoots of Spring. Plenty of time to go yet then…and I, finally, have more patience (and a lot more joy) than I ever had in my life.

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Lost…and found

Finding out about the syndrome of The Lost Child as a very real “psychology dynamic” within families was BIG for me just the other day (there’s an excellent short video on the topic by Heidi Priebe if this rings any bells, as it did for me). It ticks all the boxes for how I have always felt in my particular family dynamic and well into the core themes of my adult life and, not only that, I seem to have shared my childhood with one each of the other “types”, the Golden Child, the Hero and the Scapegoat, amongst my siblings, making us the textbook family unit. How archetypal is that!

That title The Lost Child sounds rather forlorne and it is (but there was absolutely no hesitation in me identifying myself with it when I heard it mentioned in an article…I can recall a time when I thought of myself as the Little Match Girl, always stood in the cold, peering in at a misted window to see the golden gathering around the Christmas tree from which I felt excluded…what a thing to have sat there at the core of your psyche). What I now see is that I had to loose myself in order to find myself. I mean REALLY find myself, which is the ongoing work of my life.

This theme sheds light on the importance of a key “trauma” of my childhood. I had a teddy from which I was utterly inseperable for years, taking him everywhere, constantly making him safe (in various carrying devices of my own inventing) in order to establish my own feeling of safety, especially when we went out in the world, but who was lost from the carrier on the back of my bicycle when I was 8 years old. It rocked my world, coinciding with a significant loss of confidence at school and in general.

What I now realise is that I had to loose Barnaby at such a key stage of my development (which the age of 8 really is, as children start to formulate who they are relative to others and the world at large) in order to reflect back at myself this integral state of “lostness”. The fact this trauma only thew me more deeply into a state of feeling so very lost and alone was perhaps the hardest route I could have taken in one so young, but it sure as anything “grew me” over the next few decades. We have to first lose something in order to find it, and I needed to be able to see my own sense of loss by staring it directly in the face, in order to start work on it. Its a universal quest; one that takes all things that exist in matter away from their source so that they can explore that state of oppositeness and separation on the way to realising all the ways they were never really anything except connected and whole.

Diving the theme so concertedly over losing one so twinned with who I felt myself to be became a foundational trauma for the next few decades. Don’t laugh as I describe myself as somehow “twinned” or intrinsically partnered with a stuffed toy…autistic children often form far stronger than average bonds with inanimate objects, often but not always stuffed toys, sometimes remaining deeply bonded with them well into adulthood (see this exploration of the topic by asperger blogger Aoife) and I have continued to form relationships with stuffed toys all my life, as does my husband (we do it together and form a family unit with various stuffed members in our household, ostensibly tongue in cheek but if anything should ever happen to our doppelgängers, who travel everywhere with us, we would be utterly distraught). When I lost Barnaby, I began some really important work on my own state of “lostness” and it was mirrored back at me through all my angst and rumination about where could he be, what had happened to him, why did nobody seem to care or relate..? I cared, and often wondered about him, even many years later.

Flipping those questions around, some hardly gleaned subconscious part of me was asking those very same questions about myself…what had happened to me, why did nobody seem to care or relate…and where was I now? Gradually, as those questions surfaced, they became my deep inner-work and they helped to walk me back towards my own sense of wholeness. At the point I was able to say with feeling “I have refound some important part of myself” I met my human teddy bear stand-in and recognised him on first sight (the bear-reference is an in-joke between my husband and I but let’s just say I never use his real name, he is variably Teddy or Bear to me). We have kidded many times that he is in fact Barnaby returned, dusted off and grown-up, with hardly a scar. The thing is, he is not my missing part but, rather, he reflects back to me my own intrinsic state of wholeness. No other person has ever, more consistently, reasserted and validated my wholeness in every moment, regardless of whatever transitory state of physical, mental or emotional health I happen to be in (not that I tend to need actual validation of wholeness any more, except in my most vulnerable or forgetful moments).

Meanwhile, as written about more than once this last year or so, I have been playing with time travel through listening to music from times when I felt most happy and whole in my life. When we listen to music, or revisit hobbies and interests, from earlier times in our lives we awaken body memories which are real and visceral in our present state of being and this can be useful as well as extremely powerful when the present times prove hard to stay immersed in all the time.

Discovering a particularly happy place recently in the music of Chirstmas ’75 (not all of it “Christmas” music but all music remembered from around that time) I find myself wondering if there was still something more “intact” about me that year, compared to subsequent years. I would have been 7 and the real hard-core bullying at school was yet to start plus it was before some other things happened to grow-me-up and unsettle me at home. Key is that, when I listen to certain songs, some of then not really heard very much or even at all since those times (the wonders of a child’s memory paired with the internet), its as though I can capture the visceral sensations of the star-eyed christmas child that I once was, like a rarified quality hovering in the air (like the musty smell of old Chistmas decorations can take you straight back in time…). It can give me the most tangible flashbacks to that earlier version of myself, like I am momentarily “there”. Most of all, I can draw to me the feeling of being utterly safe, cosy and even coddled in Christmas-ness. Perhaps it was the year before my brother broke it to me that Santa doesn’t really exist and it was all “a great big lie” because something changed after that…and I fell deeper into a sense of losing myself and also, interestingly, into the game of trying to pretend I was more like everyone else in order to fit in. That’s a lifelong game I am still busily unpicking!

This isn’t all about autism but I see how my autism has taken me more deeply into the journey of it. The loss of “Christmas Magic” is something that scars many more of us than our adult-version would care to admit. Hallmark movies rely on it…as does our shopping economy…all fuelled by the tireless search for Christmas magic.

Perhaps this is one of the many gifts of autism; we just know, in the most visceral and obvious way, that everything we experience is really about ourselves. We are the universe we live in and everything “going on” inside and out is simply relative to the workings of our consciousness. This is where we make the changes, do the real work, heal the “unhealable” and fill all those gaps and absences to become whole. If something feels missing this Christmas then really, once again, the lost element is an insider job. We are the magic we believe to be lost and our capacity to glean magic in the everyday the very portal to it. Just like our ability to feel valid, worthy, safe and intact, in the most unconditional ways, is the route to our very wholeness. When we find these things lead back into ourselves, we rediscover everything we ever thought to be lost “out there”…and that is just the beginning to a far happier New Year.

Christmas blessings and warmest wishes for the New Year from me and my Bear…here’s a self-portrait of us both finished just today (painting it has been an excercise in gratitude), the paint still slightly wet on our smiles.

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