This garden universe vibrates complete Some, we get a sound so sweet Vibrations reach on up to become light And then through gamma, out of sight Between the eyes and ears there lie The sounds of colour and the light of a sigh And to hear the sun, what a thing to believe But it’s all around if we could but perceive To know ultra-violet, infra-red, and x-rays Beauty to find in so many ways Two notes of the chord, that’s our full scope But to reach the chord is our life’s hope And to name the chord is important to some So they give it a word, and the word is OM.
This poem, under the title The Word, was penned by the poet-musician Grahaem Edge, drummer and resident poet of the band The Moody Blues, released as a “track” on the album In Search of the Lost Chord during the year of my birth, 1968 (video animation here). I have long felt connected to these words; at first because they belong to an album that has been one of my favourites since I was a young-teen; later because I came to associate it with my birth-era in general (whose particular high-frequency…such an extraordinary couple of years, 1967-68, that they really need no preamble…has somewhat set the tone of my life; call me a hippy if you will but I regard it as being wide open to something beyond the “obvious” material world). Edge’s words seem to capture the flavour of that entire era and its rumbling discontent with what “seems” to be so, the status quo of three-dimensional, at least to me.
More recently, it resonates with me because it speaks to my experience of synesthesia (where senses such as sound and colour are interchangeable), for I too perceive frequency as colour and the effects of the sun as many things that are nigh-on indescribable, though they affect me profoundly (as regulars of both my blogs will know)…but ”a sigh” will do. These “extra” experiences of mine remain, still, just a mere fragment of the lost chord though they take me beyond the bonds of regular experience (those mere “two notes” that most people reside in) and Edge’s words help make that seem to be more by design than accident; thank you for the reassurance. I am far from the only person to cite Edge’s poems as mantras for their life!
Edge, a man of evident sensitivity with a searching awareness of the world, has by now rediscovered the lost chord for himself, I presume, since he left this limited dimension on 11/11/21, having been a member of the Moody Blues to his dying day.
His poem was likewise inspired by one entitled The Lost Chord written by Adelaide Anne Procter, an interesting character herself, published in 1858 (see below) and later set to music by Arthur Sullivan in 1877 at the bedside of his brother during his last illness. It was destined to become so popular that it was even used in one of the very first recordings ever made, by Thomas Edison using his newly perfected phonograph in 1888. One respondent to a demonstration of this new contraption is recorded as saying “I can only say that I am astonished and somewhat terrified at the result of this evening’s experiments: astonished at the wonderful power you have developed, and terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record forever”.
Since that time, many more “mixed” outcomes have come of human beings recording, amplifying and conveying information using “new” technologies, some of them worthy but many of them disharmonious in the extreme, for which those of us who are more sensitive suffer profoundly. But then, our world seems to omit an ever more disharmonious cacophony, drowning out all sense of nature’s original intention. Yet, even the disharmonious belongs somewhere in the universe, part of the full spectrum, fatally fractured though our world may seem…our lifelong task, individually, to dial up the higher frequencies and include whatever is perceived as “missing” wherever and whenever we can. An ability to perceive there is a full chord in the first place, in order for it to seem “lost”, is just the beginning in a process of awareness expanding; a prerequisite to being a lifelong seeker, hoper and explorer.
So continue on we sensitives will, in never-tiring search of the missing fragments of the lost chord. Perhaps in identifying this as a primary objective so early in my life, with the help of the Moody Blues and such like (I was a sensitive child and responded much to musical and other influences), I have opened myself to more than a touch of high-sensitivity and sensory cross-over that, these days, exhausts, bewilders and confounds me; even causes pain and loss of hope at times. Indeed, I suspect so many of us feel like this, the closer we get to becoming, crucially, more aware and far more open in our perception… yet undeterred by our feelings of extreme overwhelm and singularity we need to be. There are many more of us going through this now than in 1968 and we are never truly alone, whatever “seems”.
So far, this has been a lifetime of yearning and striving with every fibre of my being towards “something” impossible to name (I now notice my two most recent posts are both entitled “in search” of something…), perhaps for a degree of harmony, inclusion and coherence that seems to elude ever-more, relative to how the more chaotic frequencies of human influence are unleashed in the name of progress, yet I continue on and so must we all. In regarding this degree of sensitivity to life (including sensitivity to its potential to be “better than it is” during its span, not just in death!) as a gift, not a curse, accepting “what is” (just as long as I know there is also something else simultaneously making its harmonious “sound”, if I can but perceive it), I get closer to the chord by the day. Whatever, we all return to the completeness of the garden universe sooner or later, a thought I try to hold onto whenever life gets too much.
The Lost Chord by Adelaide Anne Procter
Seated one day at the Organ, I was weary and ill at ease, And my fingers wandered idly Over the noisy keys.
I do not know what I was playing, Or what I was dreaming then ; But I struck one chord of music, Like the sound of a great Amen.
It flooded the crimson twilight, Like the close of an Angel’s Psalm, And it lay on my fevered spirit With a touch of infinite calm.
It quieted pain and sorrow, Like love overcoming strife ; It seemed the harmonious echo From our discordant life.
It linked all perplexéd meanings Into one perfect peace, And trembled away into silence As if it were loth to cease.
I have sought, but I seek it vainly, That one lost chord divine, Which came from the soul of the Organ, And entered into mine.
It may be that Death’s bright angel Will speak in that chord again, It may be that only in Heaven I shall hear that grand Amen.
What is this need in me for pressure before anything gets done? Like I have to be running extremely late to hurry or focus my mind. Or, in this glitchy body of mine, invoke gravity for digestion to work, tolerate extreme contraction of muscles to hold my laxity upright. Or like, even as I realise my journal is running out of pages and nowhere nearby to buy a new one, I find myself pondering how I should pretend this is the case more often as it seems to help focus my mind and get my writing more ‘on point’ (me the frequent victim of verbal diarrhoea).
What is this ever present human need for pressure, imperative, even disaster to focus the ability to get on with things, or is it especially an oddity of neurodiversity as though normal motivations don’t apply. I simply can’t be bothered with most things because I already glean the inevitability of reversal…spend a day cleaning and watch the house get messy again, go somewhere only to come back. That gleaning haunts me as a sort of pointlessness that turns everything lax…a sort of hypermobility of the attitude that echoes my body-state. Without urgency, pressure, fear, imperative nothing much would happen in my world, I suspect.
How is this related to the constant search for stimulation, for something to ‘hook onto’, to ‘beat me a rhythm’? Here I am tonight staying in a supremely quiet location for once, which is my longing, and the silence is almost deafening yet I’m wide awake at 4am because something stimulated me. There it is…I’ve got it, subtle though it is. Is it a smart meter? A subtle rhythm, thin as a reed, impossibly shrill only it’s not a sound so much as a sensation penetrating me, a sort of disharmonious quiver, a tension that asserts it’s non-organic pulse right through me. My foot registers it first, then it runs through my vagal nerve, ends in acute tension in all my muscles and nerves like they are poised to perform some alien action though the only action right now should be sleep!
Or is it the moon, big and full arched over the house tonight but I don’t think so because though I always register the moon rise up, go down, with every fibre of my being, that can feel insistent but never alien.
This trend for awaiting ‘instructions’ (pressure, imperative, urgency) lays me wide open to being overly impressionable because some part of me sits and waits for that thing from outside of me, to motivate me, to acquiesce to (and though this doesn’t feel like ‘me’, miss independent, it’s an old pattern going back to the start of my life). My nervous system is like a drowsy child straining to keep one eye open, one ear listening out lest the teacher should call out their name or bark out an instruction. Though they want to surrender, to relax to their innate imagination, the child feels like they must attend…or die. How many of us feel like this, the chronic hyper-vigilance of the human condition, entrained from birth until our innocence subsides?
Often the kind of things such a nervous system latches onto with all its sensitivity (refined as it is over many years of seeking some sort of worthy impulse to drive it) are not such good markers of time or objective. So the impulses that drive us bewilder us or they hurt, confound and distract, sending a us off on a macabre dance through pain and disillusionment, enslaved by a maniacal pulse tapped out by a pair of once beguiling red shoes we now long to shed but don’t know how. Slowly it becomes apparent, only we can take them off, no one else can do that for us, but how to break the spell?
The breath…to breathe, to find one’s own natural rhythm, one that has always been there, the continuum, emanating from the very centre of existence. I’ve always struggled with my breath; too shallow, too perfunctory, made small out of forgetfulness or shame, or as though not sure that I’m really entitled to it. Always afraid that if I make it conscious I will forget how to do it; that if I interfere, take it apart with my curiosity, I won’t know how to put it back together again.
So how do I turn to the breath without interfering, so that it can lead me (not me if)? Can I simply learn to trust it and my ability to hold it, not to breathe so much as to be breathed, to be amazed into reverence at its very presence in my chest…without having to get too curious, doubtful, analytical? Simply sit with it as the most loving and reassuring force in the universe made manifest within me, then entrain to that?
Having found it, the silence is suddenly punctured by the robin piping up in the dawn gloaming. I feel nerves unravel like self-unpicking knots. Witness tension roll away like wash off the beach leaving pristine, glistening sand. Begin again, and again, with each subsequent breath. Experience first-hand the paradox of the universe that, in its ever pressing continuum, it’s relentless march forwards, it’s urgency, it’s disillusionment, birth and rebirth will always continue to assert, come what may. Here within me exists a worthy impulse; one to which I can surrender.
If you have no concept or prior knowledge of what an Out of Bounds Moon is then this post should be read in conjunction with my earlier post on the topic; although I am only using this as a push-off into a much more broadly relevant topic than the apparent one on astrology (you require no interest in astrology to get something from this post). For the record, I am no a astrologer myself and have only the kind of interest in it that that waxes and wanes in an exaggerated way (from fascinated to completely disengaged for long periods), thus I had not given a lingering though to the Out Of Bounds Moon topic for quite some time when this train of thought spontaneously came to me.
I was listening to someone’s playlist of music of the 1970s when a song came up that reminded me of an artist I hadn’t given any thought to for decades. My curiosity piqued, as it often is when I listen to music, I went down a rabbit hole and found out that he was one of those supremely gifted individuals that can turn his hand to anything…making music of any genre, producing, presenting and more. He was also a prolific paedophile, which took me by surprise.
All this had happened since I last gave this person any consideration, decades ago, since I don’t tend to track current affairs very closely and this all came to a head 15 years ago. My immediate thought was “he has got to have an Out of Bounds Moon in his chart”. I haven’t confirmed or denied this as yet, though he was born in an OOB moon year (this year, by the way, is such a year; see my previous post for why that’s significant). Whatever, the reason for my thought is that having an OOB moon (I have one!) feels somehow freeing yet also somewhat like there being no moral or other rules that truly apply to you, as though you are somehow exempt, a bystander to everyone else’s constructs. Its also as though your parent wandered off or got distracted during your formative years (there was an element of that for me but I speak here of the much more abstract circumstance of your personality formation) and you were left free to make up all of your own from scratch; by observing and constructing from some slightly off to the side position on life, when everyone else seems to be caught up in the mosh-pit of it all.
This has an inbuilt sense of “limitlessness” (something I work very hard to preserve in my life) about it but a wise OOB individual will come to realise that its not a case of having no rules at all, since we all do better when we agree to be constrained by some outer limits, but of not accepting those presented to you automatically, mindlessly or without question. Rather, you survey them from an objective point of view, as though you were that OOB moon hovered right at the outer limits of its orbit, you could say “from the fringes of life”, from where you reevaluate them…and then, having observed, you set about adopting your own. Which is not to say you make up rules that serve only yourself but that you take on those more commonly held by others that have the general interest at heart…whilst questioning, even abolishing, those that make no sense or do harm. This is the OOB moon ideal scenario and may take a few decades to come into its zenith. At its best, it can make highly creative, paradigm shifting individuals out of us (see my other post for some well-known individuals with this trait) or it can implode, as a sense of not knowing what to do, where to go, how to fit in (a sense of too many possibilities can undo us all, in the end, if we don’t know how to handle ourselves; like a sort of lottery win of the psyche).
Of course, there is plenty of scope for an individual with an OOB moon to go completely rogue and self-serving, or develop some highly distorted ideology that seeks to sweep away whatever does not conform with their worldview. Astrologer Steven Forest, author of “The Book of the Moon: Astrology’s Lost Dimension” counts Hitler as an OOB moon personality though he was half a degree short. I’ve just discovered a certain present-day warmongering president whose name begins with P is an Out of Bounds Moon individual!
I’m suddenly reminded of a favourite story for reading outloud when my daughter was little, ‘Marvin Wanted More’, about the very hungry sheep who kept eating and eating until he swallowed the whole world! There can be an element of that ‘intense wanting’ to the OOB type personality, which can be turned to light or dark depending…as in, it can be driven towards doing great good for the world, or really not. The thing is, as the world loses its moral and other constructs, a lot of people (besides despots or those with an OOB Moon) are turning into mindless consumers!
So it seems an OOB trait moon can be a force for extreme light or dark, or perhaps a life-long wrestle between the two, depending on whose hands it is in. Einstein and Henry David Thoreau, who gave up the normal comforts of life and society to live at Waldon Pond, are examples of OOB moon individuals; Freddie Mercury and Kurt Cobain are a couple of others…
I personally feel the invitation of the OOB moon is not to go rogue but to assess it all and then come back to centre; to serve another ideal, one that has harmony and fairness to all life (including your own) as its pivot-point. Whereas it is all too easy to see that life as it is is anything but fair or altruistic, thus the world needs outliers to stand back and point out where things could be better.
In fact, the OOB trait seems to make natural outliers, watchers of the world and its people; perhaps we then tend to other traits that incline us to be those who stand patiently apart, nonplused with meaningless social niceties or trends, who prefer to work alone, to observe, to philosophise, to come up with our own systems, to suggest and innovate. I don’t claim to be a great mover and shaker as an OOB moon person myself but I have given my life to watching and deeply philosophising (from a very young age), putting my ideas out there, daring to stretch, weave and elaborate ideas that may contribute something to the themes of positivity I live for and then daring to live to my personal standards in my own somewhat nonconformist way. Meanwhile I prioritise doing good for the planet and those who share it.
The challenge is, what kind of person do you become in the end, if you feel cut loose (by the moon or anything else that might give you a powerful sense of unwavering structure that stays with you all your life)? If you lack supervision and guidance, a clear sense of a role model (like a kind of motherless child left to “parent” yourself…or be parented by the arbitrary) which do you become in the end…an unholy mess or an exemplar of a life well and fairly lived? That bit is up to us.
It feels timely to have rambled off along this thought-path just as I am reading the “warrior” technique part of Todd E. Pressman’s excellent book “Deconstructing Anxiety: The Journey From Fear to Fulfilment”. He advises (and I am paraphrasing very loosely) that whenever an action or thought feels compulsive to STOP doing what you were doing or thinking and don’t let it continue; in other words, FREEZE your next step and just be with the impulse until all of the compulsion has drizzled out of it…then and only then, move forwards to decide your next action or thought. It may be that you still want to proceed with what you were about to do or think, but at least it is now a conscious decision and not one driven by fear.
If you are already thinking “but my actions aren’t always driven by fear…” then think again, and look more deeply. If there is tension in your body, or if you feel you “ought” to do something (however big or small), then there is anxiety at work and this action is not coming from intrinsic “you” or from where you would naturally choose from, if all things were possible and you were free to go with your better, you could say more heart-centred, thoughts and actions. We live so much in this way that we hardly even notice we are doing it!
I suspect the OOB personality is one of the first to question this and come up with something different, hopefully to better themselves, perhaps even the world if they leave a mark (or, to potentially abuse the fact that so many other people fail to notice their conditioned motivations, if they are that way inclined). All my life, I have been playing some sort of a witness to my actions and, hard though it has been, it feels like it has got me to somewhere I might not otherwise have reached by now, for which I am deeply grateful.
In these confusing times, I think a lot of us feel profoundly cut loose, without a moral or even logical framework by which to modulate our behaviours. Our culture is driven by compulsions of all kinds, mostly those that lead back to fear in all its disguises. If we were to dig to the roots of most of our behaviours, we would discover some anxiety there, that if we didn’t do “this” then “that” would happens. Without the structures once provided from cradle to grave by religious belief and a far simpler construct of what life is all about, many feel lost and all at sea.
This is the natural state of the OOB personality, speaks one who has always felt this way, since long before any curiosity about astrology was piqued. The discovery of astrology isn’t the reason I am this way (or for this post) but it helps to give form to an otherwise abstract construct; one that I suspect far more of us are feeling in these times…as in, cut loose, meaningless, lost, purposeless, confused. Oh yes, I have been there…I suspect, all all my life!
Yet it is also an opportunity; a great opportunity to do great good. If only we could all come back to this simple process of pausing before we act, to let the compulsion behind the action or thought soften and release its grip on us and then…only then…putting our next best foot forward, think how different the world could be. Food for thought, I felt, and so this post is my offering.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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 scenariosdo 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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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