The alchemy of now

Consider this, when you notice profound alchemy taking place (as I suspect you are doing, or could be about to…); don’t rush to share every detail of it, to whoop and holler it from the rooftops. Allow yourself to take it in, slowly and deeply. Avoid hurrying to make it cerebral or package it in words except, perhaps, to yourself or your most trusted confidants. We are so programmed to share out what we have newly gained but sometimes to share is to dilute and to disempower the very alchemy you are playing witness too. You’ve waited so very long for this mingling of the unminglable but to point it out…to analyse…is often to break the spell, as if the caterpillar were to articulate “oh, I seem to be growing wings”. Let “oh I am starting to see…” go the same way.

If this means taking a quiet time at “what seems like” it should be an eventful time, at the turn of a decade, then allow that too. It will be eventful; but what “seems like” event is just a smokescreen for far deeper alchemy taking place. If you are one of the ones who are noticing, pay tribute to that on the inside; allow it to radiate and infuse your days with new glow. But beautiful subtly is this era’s friend and most people don’t do subtle…yet.

So don’t always feel you have to nanny others who don’t yet see; the days of playing the parent are over. Allow your mastery to take form and assume, without needing the details, that many others are doing likewise; each in their perfect way. The “show and tell” of mainstream life was another of its pitfalls; an addiction we all fell into. You already know the inner work is really the outer work…time to put your actions (or lack thereof) into practice and watch the other dimensional transformations do what they are doing; to take the process of witnessing deeper, which is really the medium of how alchemy happens – the corner that makes the triangle.

Meanwhile, allow yourself to luxuriate in your self-created world of less obvious pleasures and reasons to feel grateful; yes, utterly prioritise maintaining your own frequency. This respite for deepest-ever appreciation will stand us all in such good stead for what comes next as the opportunity for 20:20 clarity comes our way.

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Soft landing

IMG_0891.jpgThis latest trip to Amsterdam has been a revelation in so many ways; being my first travels from home since realising I have Asperger’s. In a sense, no place could have met that realisation better, as it turns out. Why? Because the very geography of the place seemed to speak to some aspect of my Asperger’s way of regarding the world so that, like a metaphor mirroring both inside and out, I got to know myself a little better with each step I took around its streets. If this seems like a peculiar thing to say then, I guess, its just my Asperger’s way of regarding the world and you will either “get me” or you won’t….but if you are an Apsie then just maybe you will.

In fact, its so fascinating to me now to look back at my life-long interaction with the “geometry of place” through the eyes of my Asperger’s. So many of the posts I’ve shared in this space have been a self-frustrating attempt to convey my underlying sense of there being a pattern or hidden geometry to a place (no typical travel blog this!), be that a city or an ancient hillside, yet I often come away even more frustrated than ever by my flawed attempt to convey in words what, to me, is so patently obvious. In hindsight, I doubt many reading my words could ever grasp what it is that I allude to, being such a personal experience yet I feel so compelled to try to share, if only to make more sense of these observations to myself; in which sense blogging is my Asperger’s “outlet” and an attempt to rationalise what is obvious yet abstract through my senses.

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To me, these obscure yet obvious patterns of place are as real and tangible (perhaps more so…) as its buildings and its throngs of people, buses, bicycles and all those “must-see” tourist landmarks that seem to consume other peoples’ interest. I am so fascinated by patterns of behaviour; how feet beat a path to certain favoured places, converging in whirlpools of human activity in some locations whilst quiet havens and empty voids form around the edges; all of which hint at an underlying energy grid, a geometry of sorts, asserting beneath all these feet. Why do people tend to gravitate to some places yet away from others; and why do places feel so different to each other though they may be just yards apart; all these considerations are part of my life-long obsession with patterns and making connections between diverse or even quite obscure details.

Now, at last, I grasp why it is that I am so fascinated; being to do with my very-different way of interacting with things, feeling through all the senses, “seeing” what I see  in a different order of priority to a neurotypical person who may focus on the more obvious or cerebral yet, to me, more trivial details of a place. This is always how I interact with the world, like viewing an ant colony from above, or crawling within some sort of hidden maze of information barely yet compellingly perceived beneath the surface.

I newly grasp this trait through my Asperger’s eyes and travel surfaces it for me in a way that more commonplace experiences leave alone through their familiarity. Other such posts that spring to mind, from before my Asperger’s relevation, have been about Venice and Stockholm, leylines and Cotswolds villages…posts whose accessibility was probably quite obscure and yet I felt so compelled to share them at the time; and there’s nothing like coming to realise how differently you are “wired” to help you understand how you have been largely rambling on to yourself on your favourite “pet” interests!

This time, I will try to stay somewhat on the accessible path…and deal openly with the Asperger’s one…inspired on this occasion (and not for the first time) by Amsterdam, having just returned from a week living in a rooftop apartment in its most neighbourly and colourful of districts, the Jordaan. This choice of location, itself, added interest to this trip since I had been to the city twice before in quite different living circumstances. The first time, we stayed (as a family) in a far more imposing and spacious apartment on the far side of Prinsengracht, which is diametrically opposite to the Jordaan in every sense and, last time, just the two of us in a small hotel close to the centre, not so far from Dam Square. That time was a compromise base for our long-weekend, giving us easy access to all the culture spots we planned to visit in short time yet I was not particularly enticed to return there since it lacked true “feeling” of the city (is the only way I could describe it).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis time, we craved a fuller emersion in the “real” Amsterdam and the pied-a terre I found was just perfect, being small enough to meet our needs yet real enough, on Amsterdam terms, to throw us amidst real people leading ordinary lives. The owner of this apartment lives there once a week so it has the feeling of a home that is well-loved and”real” amidst an actual neighbourhood made up of local residents. In an Amsterdam apartment on the old canals, achieving that part is relatively easy; just look out of one of your own numerous windows, for these townhouses love their glass, and you are likely faced with scenes of some domestic idyl or other across the way and at every level below; without even trying to, forced by proximity to voyeuristically peer into families around their tables, people at their desks or snuggled on sofas watching TV, surrounded by the stylishly eclectic yet functional interiors that seem to come so naturally to them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd what you can see, they can see of your life also, of course, yet there is a sense of contained human interaction; me in my glass box and them in theirs. Which is different to being at home, where I sit in my box yet see nobody but the birds in the garden, so this is real city living for me; a giant step outwards from my usual isolation yet, here’s another reason I love this particular city; I feel involved and yet not really, or (I could say) only on comfortable Asperger terms, with a safety barrier around myself and everyone esle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlso because nothing much offends my eyes (and I do so get offended by “wrong” looking interiors) since Amsterdam’s style is my style; neat and geometrical in white-grey-black with flashes of blue lit by Edison light bulbs…its shops, flea markets, florists, cafés and domestic glimpses oozing the kind of mix-it-up taste, made up of modern and functionally clean lines softened by injections of boho-hippy-nostalgic, that is very-much my own back at home. The streets in our neighbour oozed yoga shops and retro, health food and second-hand vinyl, reclaimed architectural salvage and vintage clothes; a colourful mixture that speaks the kind of eclectic taste that I share to my core.

DutchAnd, is it me or is there something about the Dutch personality that is more than a little bit Asperger’s because a book left on the coffee table in our flat hinted at quite a handful of traits in common (“You know you’re Dutch when…you love practical solutions to everyday problems….you say what you think…you take your own food/drink with you on vacation….you eat dinner at the same time every day…you don’t care what others think of you…you have no idea how to be politically correct…you swear using colourful words”). What’s this, am I Dutch? Yet, from the data I can find, diagnosed autism cases are modest in the Netherlands; though, my thinking is, maybe this would be the case in a place where these traits are accepted as relatively normal compared to in other places, such as North America, where they are more typically, or even culturally, frowned upon unless you happen to live in Silicon Valley…

The first time I stayed in Amsterdam, it felt just sooo oddly familiar; that was my biggest sensation. When I wrote about it, I attempted a convoluted description of how the old part of the city built around the four semi-circular canals felt like one of the butterflies I kept seeing everywhere in museums and shop windows, its sides divided in two, like wings wOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhose patterns identically mirror each other…perfectly symmetrical…at the surface of it and yet which are not quite the same; in fact, quite the opposite when you look more closely. Though Amsterdam centrum is horseshoe shaped, the one side is quite unlike the other in how it feels

Now, I would make that analogy simpler and say that I regard its horseshoe canal design, of four-hundred years’ standing, as being like the human brain, split into halves which look the same and yet are not… with its would be centre point, Dam Square, poised at the tip of its brain stem, beyond which it is connected to the outside world via train terminus, harbour and, now, airport links. This way of regarding a city’s street arrangement – which is a an impression I get more so than a logical idea I have formulated – feels potently linked to my synesthesia; thus, is extremely difficult to convey to others since no two synesthestes experiences things quite the same way as each other, or anyone else, but this is my best attempt, below.

Amsterdam head.jpgAssuming this, the first time we stayed there we had landed in the the left hemisphere, which is how it felt because, when we ventured over to the Jordaan on the opposite side of town, we found a vastly more colourful neighbourhood than the predominantly black and white one in which we were then staying and where we gained no sense of anybody being around in a neighbourly way, except other tourists walking or partying on boats beneath our window, which overlooked the Prinsengracht canal. In that place, we felt quite aloof in our balconied window, staring across at the penguin-like buildings with their lights on, but not so much feeling of anybody at home.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis time around, as we walked the reverse journey along the Prinsengracht, away from the neighbourly Jordaan, towards that same sensible row of houses where we first stayed, there could be no doubting that the design of the city’s buildings became more and more uniform as we progressed from one side to the other; the most favoured black and white building design assimilated again and again like so many tall men in suits, whereas they are a jumble of colour, shape and variety on the Jordaan side; and much more prepared to show glimpses of their innards through colourful window displays made up of oddities and floral displays, sleeping cats or dogs and real people…expectably noisy people… leading ordinary lives.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn fact most of the quirk and variety, even flamboyance and borderline oddity, of the city seems to pool around the Jordaan end of the Prinsengracht and, once in the depths of its smaller streets (where we were staying this time) and its Saturday markets, there is so much to take in that the senses are at a loss where to place their attention first, but in a far more pleasant way than most urban settings; which is a photographer’s heaven.

I realised this, too; that my trait of seeing and gathering information in pictures is exactly what makes the photographer (and artist) of me since I already take “impressions” on the inside, like I’m a walking photographic plate. This is an idea that developed so much on this trip (excuse the pun) that I just shared an Asperger’s related post about it in my other blog (Impresssionable II: Lliving in snapshots).

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Another analogy that keeps coming to me lately, especially in relation to the physical trait of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) that I also share with many Aspie’s, is that I am like memory foam; holding patterns and impressions long after I have encountered them (which can be a source of pain in the least desirable situations). Again, I have just shared about this on my other website as it feels like an important realisation for how I perceive things as an Aspie woman (see Impressionable: A breakthrough in working with super-sensitivity). Colours, vibrations, the whole sensory kit-and-caboodle of a scene leave their mark on me and this often fuels a desire to hold onto or share this particular ensemble of effects (and, often, has led to disappointment when others don’t seem to “see”  what I see with the same enthusiasm).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHelped by this new level of understanding, I am finally starting to reconcile how painful if has been to  constantly feel as though others don’t relate to me; and to glean ways that I can continue to find purpose and joy from pursuing these interests, regardless. I suspect this is possible just as soon as I cease expecting to relate these points of intense personal interest exactly as I experience them to others, or them to relate to me on their neurotypical terms, since I am very far from typical and, in that sense, we speak quite different languages. In other words, I must learn to share what I do for myself or, perhaps, for other neurodiverse individuals who may happen upon what I put out here and feel somehow less alone for the effort I’ve made to communicate.

To me, this sensory interface I use to navigate my way around a place is my primary way of navigating the world in general; far more so than via drama or event, conversation, transaction or instruction. I don’t feel a certain way about a place because I am told to do so by a sign or some guide book but because its obvious to me in other ways; just as, in other places, its so obvious there’s nothing to be recommended, though everyone seems to gather there due to some cultural trend or other-such directive. I’d just watched the film about Temple Grandin, famous Asperger’s woman who has written books and given countless talks about her remarkable career as an innovator built on her trait of “thinking in pictures”, prior to this trip, and this is my version; allowing me to get in under the hood of what seems obvious and perceive beauty and possibility in uncontrived places…and Amsterdam is so full of those.

Westerkerk.jpgA paradox I noticed; how the tallest and most obviously present landmark of the Jordaan district is the Westerkerk….at face value, a prim high-protestant “cathedral” and yet its melodious carillon, which rings out on every quarter hour day and night, had a softer side, playing Beatles songs and other unexpected melodies if you paid attention. The first time we heard those quarterly tinkles and the twice hourly chimes, from this blue-tipped and glowing tower which beautifully filled the frame of the window directly opposite our bed, we groaned at the prospect of many disturbed nights sleep (I can’t abide any kind of timekeeping device in our room back home) but, oh irony, I enjoyed better sleep in that bed than I had had for weeks in my own bed, where other human noises have started driving me to distraction lately. Wherever we walked around our favourite part of the city, the Westerkerk tower would guide us home like a friend that we grew so very fond of on this trip.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAConversely, the one-and-only thing that tempted us back to that other side of town, where we had stayed the very first time, was our favourite vegan restaurant, The Golden Temple; like a flamboyant taste of the east dropped into a far less colourful district as a foil to its relative austerity and yet still worth the very long walk, as ever it was. Like the “dots” in the yin and yang symbol, their very presence made these dichotomous landmarks – the protestant church and the golden temple – into a sort of lynchpin around which their opposite qualities could express all the more fully; and I know there is no right or wrong here, just my personal preference at work…and I clearly preferred staying in the Jordaan. Through falling in love with the chimes of the Westerkerk, for all I normally dislike clocks, I was able to bring home from this trip the realisation that not all rhythmic, repetitious sounds are “annoying”; some can help hold us together and even comfort us as they mark out time…

Which links in with that other so-unavoidable landmark of the Jordaan, the Anne Frank House museum and yet, fate took a hand, there were no pre-book tickets to be had and so we didn’t go there, yet again. As I surveyed the queue from our favourite juice bar on our final morning, I realised just how glad I was not to have joined its ranks. It’s not that I am not interested; I am very interested indeed. Reading “The Diary of Anne Frank” was one of the BIG Asperger’s “focused interests” of my youth, transitioning me from the relatively happy times where a handful of gutsy and heroic fictional female characters were my near-obsessional points of interest to where I was thrown without warning into all the intensity of those same feelings over a real-life girl with her real-life ordeal and oh-so horrific death in a concentration camp. I have now learned how much additional intensity people, especially girls, with autism often bring to their reading matter; how much they tend to take their relationships with fictional and non-fictional characters more literally, personally and deeply within than neurotypicals tend to do. Often, they react to the plight of characters in stories as though they really know them and are directly impacted, even traumatised, by what befalls them; as though they are in relationship with them…actual friends or family. I did that; still do that, with fictional characters and people I get to know through written words and the intensity of my involvement only puzzled me more as I matured and compared with others. In the light of my newly discovered Asperger’s, I am therefore no longer surprised at just how intensely this era of my reading affected me, setting me off on a new and much darker trajectory of preoccupation.

What began from that point was, in hindsight, a new obsession with reading everything I possibly could about the holocaust, to the exclusion of nearly all other reading material for at least a couple of years or more after “Anne Frank”, needing to know more and more and more about this topic…plunging very deep and dark into adult material. I then took what I learned deep inside of me as only an Aspie ever seems to do with such intensity, as though all these traumas had happened to me or as though I was now charged with the heavy responsibility of being fully and mindfully aware of all this stuff, keeping its memory alive in me, on behalf of all my school peers, who couldn’t seem to care less. What I learned about human nature over those couple of years really wounded me and my sense of the world; if only I could have found myself a “focussed interest” with a lighter feel to it…but there it was and it has made me who I am today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYet that museum, with the “house” and, more particularly, the “room” where Anne Frank spent her incarcerated time, from where she also deeply loved the reassuring sound of the Westerkerk bells (until they were taken away to be melted down for “the war; how demoralising that one simple action of “dissolving normality” must have been for so many in that district of Amsterdam…) now seems quite gobbled by the vast modern building and so much other baggage to do with holocaust studies and related preoccupations. That’s not to criticise the endeavour of the museum at all but to say that, to me, it seems like one hell of a load for a small girl to carry and a cacophony that drowns out the quiet voice recorded in her diary as she looked out on the world through the “eyes” of her thoughts and her writing, whilst quite separate from it, much as I do in that sense. Perhaps that’s why I related to her so intensely, even then; which was through our shared sense of being the detached observer that watched life more so than taking part in it, for all I realise how audacious that comparison sounds given I was always free to come and go. Yet it was with her ordinary girl-ness that I related and which took me inside her experience, through that relatability. It’s all too easy to forget that she really was that ordinary girl, with quite ordinary preoccupations, when projected through the eyes of the phenomenon that she has now become. In a sense, her name has been turned into a brand (how the world loves it brands) which, like a monster onion, is actually gaining layers rather than unpeeling them….and, these days, my inclination is always to unpeel, to simplify and to get to the heart of things. In my fond connection to the Westerkerk bells, I now feel closer to Anne Frank than I think I ever would through a visit to that museum and a new tenderness has formed around that old scar from my teenage reading…

For the record, I learned that a movement to silence the Westerkerk clock during the nighttime hours was quashed by locals in the Jordaan just over a decade ago. It was deemed to be quite a ridiculous proposition made at the bequest of outside visitors and new “yuppy” property owners in the district and nothing to do with them, to whom the sound of the quarter-hour carillon is like breath itself…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo me, those bells only added to the feeling of softness that seemed to be filling my days a little more with each passing hour…And there it is, the very theme of this trip because softness was coming through as the most resounding sensation linking all my best experiences, including the distinct feeling of having landed in softness or “my comfortable place”. Before we set off from home, I was more than a little anxious about travelling again, my track record not having been the best this year. In Italy in the Spring, in that same place I had enjoyed a milestone-positive holiday two years ago, some cross-contaminated guten led to the return of such intense IBS that it lasted for two long months after we returned home. Then, on a tranquil hill in Shropshire in July, my health crashed with one of the most intense returns of fibromyalgia  symptoms (and what I now know to be EDS) for years and it took more than two months to get me fully back on my feet. Now I was to put myself through a city break and days of pavement pounding; what was I even thinking of…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYet, from the uber comfortable bed (big relief!) to the way all the many windows in every street reflected back and muddled soft interiors, gorgeous and brightly daring fabrics, so many flowers everywhere and all the autumn leaves reflected back off the trees that line every canal walk, like all the colours of a watercolour painting merged so artistically together, I had landed softly into such a comfortable and sensorarily gorgeous place that I really didn’t want to leave after our few days. It was as though I lit up on the inside at the recognition of so much that was pleasing to my senses; as so much is in Amsterdam. My love of architecture and of beautiful interiors I can peer into sprang back into life like a seed bestowed with water. With so much walking to do and the chillier weather that arrived with us, I dressed only for comfort; comfortable shoes and nothing that hoisted me up or pulled me in as I used to do when around other people (a theme I wrote about just recently…) but, rather, in soft fluid layers of natural fibres and an array of my own-designed colourful scarves, my eccentricity blending in with the locals and hardly a blink. Our room was chilly enough, up the white-painted stepladder and under the eaves, for me to take to  wearing hat and scarf to bed, which only added to the child-like cosiness, and we lounged on sofas and chairs in snug blankets as the heating got-going again over breakfast, bathed in the beautiful Delft blues of our host’s colour scheme. Somehow it felt a lot more like a nest or a tree-house than a real house that we had landed ourselves in, looking down on a world of coffee shops and other people’s domestic arrangements as though we were stalks in the rafters with the best bird’s eye view.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven the easiness of “foraging” for food was part of this softness since I am well-accustomed to the hard challenge of fending for myself on holidays due to my multiple dietary intolerances, hence booking an apartment with a kitchen, but my quirks were not so very quirky here. We had so many vegan and gluten free options within walking distance, and ingredients were so transparent and open for discussion with cheerful and well-informed staff, that I cooked only once, the time we were too tired from all our walking img_1388.jpgto go out again one evening. On all those other days, we really relished the lamplight-reflecting waterside walks to and fro to different places I’d found, then the gentle camaraderie of eating amongst folk who really warm-up and enthuse over healthy harm-free food as we do. And how we walked…and walked…and walked…yet I was so “in my place” that I only seemed to get stronger for it. That corkscrew climb up a a narrow staircase, three stories high and more like a ladder by the top, had near killed me on the first attempt but, after a few days, I was hardly pausing to catch my breath. The miles we must have covered each day….only coming back from hours of pavement pounding ready to walk out to dinner with no lack of enthusiasm.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWalking is a real pleasure in this city; that I also notice, since the main risk is not to come into conflict with one of the hundreds of bicycles that whiz around at Ninja speed. How the locals do that, as though it is second nature to have pedals attached to your feet, and no breaks on so many of those bikes, I have no idea but they start young and, by the time they have families of their own, think nothing of cycling carts packed to bursting with children and dogs on board. My husband’s favourite observation was that the city is filled with butter-wouldn’t-melt females who acquire a “get out of my way or I’ll run you over” glint in the eye if you step off the pavement at the wrong time. Though you are forced to keep your wits about you, this cycling urge makes the streets quieter, less polluted, more relaxed and benign somehow than in London, where the energy drains me even as I walk along the pavement.

I noticed I was doing my yoga with more strength each day, my skin was glowing, there were no energy crashes to speak of beyond those that took just ten minutes shut-eye or sit-down to recover from and I was relishing all the uber healthy food – the juices and superfoods so readily available on every street corner, served by welcoming staff who speak English so well you sometimes pause to wonder if they are Canadian or some other native speaker. We became familiar faces in the local juice bar; greeted with enthusiasm, our personalised drinks made just the way we liked them and – truly, in just a few short days – this had started to feel more like home than home itself, if that is possible, since our real home ends at the perimeter of the walls of our property but this feeling spilled out over edges, onto pavements and to where small pools of familiarity began to form. In fact I could so easily imagine it thus; as we popped to the local supermarket, laughed with the cashier, returned our bottles for recycling, learned the shortcuts between places and observed the rituals of rubbish collection days and turning our music down after hours. All this we had missed out on in a hotel last time around and it was quite unlike that first apartment experience on the far side of the Prinsengracht. Amsterdam is so symmetrical that I felt like I was staying in the yin to that yang in a way that was quite palpable.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd here was another one of those Asperger traits newly appraised. As I collected short cuts and alternative routes, I realised how I love to work with places visually, as a pattern in my head, and when that urge is made all the easier by a place created by deliberate design – as Amsterdam was – I can make sense of it all the easier, unlike in other places that expand chaotically, driven only by supply and demand. Each time we set off to go somewhere, I would study the map and learn it through a series of turns and landmarks and would then get us there, no problems, as though I had walked the route a dozen times before, and often with nifty shortcuts or the most scenic view.

This way of working with a place appeals to me oh-so deeply….so much more so than in a more messy urban landscape…and it also highlights something else to me in a way that links directly to how the human brain functions; or, at least, the way mine prefers to operate. The more I walked those preferred and most scenic routes, the more established they became, as though their experience became more colourful and larger than life and those other places I like less well receded, shrinking into greys. It was like when you consciously choose your own preferred preoccupations in your head or apply yourself to learning some positive new habit rather than leaving it all to chance. In doing so, you encourage those particular “happy” neurones to work fluidly, all-flushed-out with oxygen and good nutrients, well-oiled and ready for use, encouraged to expand and  grow stronger by your every action. Whereas, in withdrawing your focus and encouragement of those other actions, thoughts and experiences you like the least, dropping them out of your focused routine, entire branches of neurological “habit” die back, like pruning off the least healthy branches of a tree to allow the rest of it to thrive. This is how we hold the key to change our experience of life, from the inside out, via neuroplasticity and, in walking my daily routine this way, I was reinforcing its truth, over and over again; doing the good work of stengthening good and life-affirming habits, both inside and out by choosing my best version of Amsterdam; the parts that work best for me (for I know it has its other sides). As I did this each day, I realised how I needed to make more of such habits at home; and how the particular geography of urban settings could help me make this more manifest in my Asperger’s mind’s eye.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, the more we moved between places we preferred, focusing on what we liked so much about them (avoiding utterly what didn’t feel right, including any set “tourist” agendas that felt prescriptive), the more our stay seemed to flush with wonderful feelings, pleasant encounters and conversations, good timings, happy coincidences and beautiful, sometimes wondrous things, that had us brimful with gratitude and enthusiasm. We chose quirky museums that really appealed to us – one on cats, one on hash, one on houseboats…or popped our heads into side-street galleries but avoided all the stuffiness of city art collections and other such stuff that registered boredom even before we went. The one time we went off piste, to get to one of the museums I wanted to visit (thankfully, worth the trip), crossing the hideous mess of Dam Square, the contrast showed me just how much I was having “my” particular experience of Amsterdam by choosing as I did and that it also has a very different underbelly. Here, I had no desire whatsoever to take any impressions away with me; only to get through it unscathed with my camera tucked deep in my bag.

In fact, if Dam Square and surrounding area, the well known Red Light district, is located…as per my analogy…in the centre of the city’s “brain”, its preoccupation centre, then I see through its metaphor what holds every other version of it, in miniature, back from the brink of a far more switched-on, lit-up, love-filled version of itself. For, like any human brain whose pineal has become encrusted in so much sludge and slurry from a life of distorted and confused, repetitious, often addictive and quite self-destructive preoccupations, it will serve as the sinkhole for a whirlpool of disillusioned, dystopian and self-fulfillingly defeatist thoughts. Maybe every city, like a bathtub, has to have such a place and here we were, feeling the slip-slidy tug whist focussing with all our might in order to keep an unhindered, unconfrontational path.

That’s exactly what Dam Square felt like with its austere grubby buildings, chaotic traffic, tamlines and armwaving workmen doing crazy roadworks, plus just so many people rudely crashing into each other carting luggage and bags, mostly quite unaware and uncaring, bunched together in zombie-eyed herds, gobbling the readily available junk foods and diving into shops selling tourist-tat, enticed by every dubious sign. Maybe I caught this place on a particularly bad day. Maybe I felt some of its history, which I only read about later. Whatever it was, there was a repugnance we both picked up on and we had the urge, once through it, to shake and frisk ourselves down as we last did in some of the most crowded hubs on our Italian holiday; and each city has its version…Venice’s San Marco, London’s Piccadilly Circus, New York’s Time Square; places where the vast majority of people seem to have lost their minds to blank-eyed jadedness, peer pressure and wild consumerism built upon pointless yet eye-grabbingly garish trinkets and processed junk…plus that all-important selfie to be taken at inopportune moments. Branching all around were the kind of streets that shout out familiar corporate brand names as per any other city in the world. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand what so many people saw in this heinously overcrowded square that they were prepared to prolong the visit by sitting down at the people-jostled pavement cafés to consume whatever strongly smelling processed food they had to offer when there was a whole other city waiting just the other side of a canal bridge…But then that, in essence, is the biggest mystery of my life; how we can always be so very close and yet fail, en masse, to get to a more sublime and beautiful place.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWere those other, quieter, parts of the city any different to this, really, except with slightly less people? Well, yes, those people felt more more aware; a higher proportion of them looked at you as they came up close or served you in cafes, they walked around instead of shoulder crashing you, small conversations were struck up, they asked if everything was OK, remembered your face the next day, there was a degree of authenticity, laughter, time to lean back and not feel rushed from your table by the next arriving herd.

Yet even given this, I still noticed how I remained pulled back; still the detached observer, by and large. Though I enjoyed this week-long excursion into the midst of far more human interaction than I normally encounter in a month of Sundays, I was still the one on the sidelines and – most important of all – I observed I liked it there; this was my happy place. Its why city breaks….in the right city….are one of my favourite things, for all I am overwhelmed by much of the sensory onslaught that one assumes comes with city life; oh paradox of my life, because I get to be where I can watch people, up close, and (in my way) to be a part of their colourful, creative and lively world, without having to go in too deep.

This paradoxical state was my more outgoing comfort zone, the foil to that other comfort zone that means I like to be all alone at home most of the time. Here, I was allowed to be the anthropologist, studying all the patterns and rhythms that go on in a city, including patterns of human behaviour, watching it all as though through a pane of glass. When I was inside I peered outside and when I was outside I peered inside and this…I realised…was one of my very favourite things about Amsterdam; that same theme I wrote about when I blogged about glass butterflies all those years ago only, I now realised, I was that glass butterfly….not innert and pinned to a collector’s wall but fully animate and brightly colourful, choosing to experience life at arm’s length as though through a pane of glass. My early fixation with painting window compositions and photographing butterflies behind glass came full circle at last; it had been my Asperger’s hint to myself!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis, again, is what makes Amsterdam so perfect for me as a destination; so much glass, whether I am inside or out, through which to observe as though viewing a tableau of human life, something fascinating for me to study, yet I can remain detached, which is the only way I know how to be. Its how I prefer things to be…and I won’t change, can’t change, for its as valid a way of being as any other and this is the true gift of accepting my Asperger’s. I can fully immerse in human life, sort of…as though wearing a space suit, and yet not feel myself tugged more deeply than I like into an atmosphere I don’t seem equipped to breathe in. Yes, like a visitor from another planet, curious yet aloof; this is how I am and will be, going forwards. I can enjoy a brief encounter over a common point or something funny in a cafe (we left so many people laughing at our comic double-act, which is how we are…lighthearted wherever we go) but, I also noticed this; when I have had too much or even start to feel slightly overwhelmed by all the sensory assault or too much chatter, I pull back into myself to, typically to work on my photography, editing images on my portable version of Photoshop and happily left to my own thoughts and creativity until I am ready to emerge again (and my husband knows when I need to recharge myself like this; there is no irritation or judgement from him, my perfect travel partner). By finally owning and accepting the need for this pull-back behaviour (no, I am not being sullen or rude…I have Asperger’s) I can cope all the more with situations, able to go into them because its now on my own terms, knowing I have a safety valve, an escape route or refuge, wherever I go.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhotography is that other thing that makes Amsterdam so perfect for me since it is the most photogenic city I know and I do so love to take pictures that involve architecture and, especially, glass. Nature is wonderful, yes, but there is something so very special to me about places where architecture merges – softly – with nature and vice versa and that happens via every sheet of glass in that oh-so colourful city, where every subtle alteration in the light throws up new patterns for my hungry eyes to notice and gather. As reflections blur the lines between what is solid and what is not, that interplay feeds my eyes and my very soul with such a joyful feeling that I can’t truly express it except to say I found my way again, during this visit, remembering what I am all about and what truly makes me tick; and how I need the inspiration of being around other creative people and their output, even without necessarily talking to them, to feed off the colourful patterns and shapes they throw into the mix of life…whether I am looking at a flower arrangement, a piece of art in a gallery or the way someone has put their outfit together. Its all the same; inspiration and food for my soul and I need it in my life; can’t afford to allow myself to feel so rebuffed by modern life, overstimulation and the constant presence of people that I recoil to a fully solitary life. Such a life would be wrong for me; I would become jaded and drab, stagnant and sickly, with no prospect of cross-pollination to ensure future generations of my output and so the me that is most intrinsically me would very quickly die out.

I need to remember this….its so important!

Being around other creative, eclectic, diverse, colourful people lights me up and reminds me of who I am without the need for words and, on this trip, there was the sense of regathering parts of myself that I had discarded or lost along life’s path. This, perhaps, is the most potent way that I know how to engage with other human beings…and it’s important that I recognise it in myself and allow it to occur in its own quiet, watchful way and without comparing with how others might do things differently; I am the way that I am and it could be interesting, if only I could stop judging it so harshly!

img_0947.jpgMy urge to dress eccentrically and decorate my living space to my own eclectic vision (both long-standing traits…) received such a breath of life on this trip, leading to a couple of purchases and some plans to play with new ideas when I got home. In just a few strolls around the Jordaan, I remembered just how deeply I love colour, textile, flora, light and pattern and anything that has the audacity to play with tradition and newness all in one palette; how pursuing these things, in whatever bizarre way calls to me next, is my reason d’être and one that needs no explanation or justification to another soul. It just is that way…and I just am this way, with my Asperger’s explanation (such as I needed one) and no apology required, except to myself if I delay living according to this truth a single moment longer. There have been too many years of trying to fix or alter myself, to conform or at least seem vaguely conventional. I have made a milestone choice to just be the way that I am from now on and to be grateful and curious, not self-derogatory or prone to comparisons with “normal” or “typical” any longer.

Colour, beauty, pattern, tone and the juxtaposition of these are all so unspeakably important to me…I can’t even describe why…but they just are. As I brought home four tiny hand-made coloured glass vases for a collection that began from the same shop on my first visit, I felt so joyful clutching my treasures that it was like being a child at Christmas all over again. I had become such a puritan lately, forbidding purchases that couldn’t be justified in some sensible way but Amsterdam had reminded me of some quite fundamental quality of needing this form of self-expression and to indulge my synesthestic senses in a wholly playful way; qualities which lie at the very crux of who I am, for all I can hardly put them into words. I feel excited to get home and play with my designs and other projects; without need to justify them in any other way now except to shrug as I point out they bring me deepest joy and another mode of expressing myself without words.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYet, somehow (I knew) the softness and quirk that is me had been allowed to surface explicitly because of the sense of structure that is everywhere in Amsterdam; all the undeniable structure of street grid and bicycle lanes, of straight-edged and exceptionally tall monochrome buildings, of winding staircases, of canals that require bridges to get across and multiple tram lanes that intersect with bike lanes and pedestrian crossing at busy junctions that require such concentration to get across. It was the all-powerful juxtaposition of these two qualities…the fixed and the fluid, the orderly and the playful…that had worked its magic. All these rules and lines and the ceaseless marking of time by the quarter hour, day and night, and yet I had only become softer….like honey poured through a honeycomb; brimful with the nectar of my own interior kind of life, made even more manifest, before my very eyes, as the madcap world I was visiting, as though I had been temporarily turned inside out. I don’t know quite what it was but something clicked into place in the lifelong work of accepting myself while I was there and I have come home feeling far more intact than I was when I left….and than I have felt for a long time. The feeling continues even as I look around my own familiar domain and the wide-open fields of my walks; so different to where I have just been and yet it was largely an inside job.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWas I oblivious to all those hordes of people that fill the streets of Amsterdam, as though they were invisible or simply not important to me? Was I being as coldly aloof as they say an Aspie’s can be? No; it’s just that I don’t need to interact with the particular story of each of them because I sense them through their frequency. By pulling back from the fray, I am able to dial into other people without becoming muddled or thrown off track by what they do and say, to feel what they are really about so, in a sense, I see them more authentically this way, without all the layers that bring obscurity and confusion. All my life, this has been the behaviour that has made me seem a little odd; rude, staring, aloof, snobbish or disinterested but it is really my best way of coping with many people all at once, given the way I process information, which is with little sense for what people are thinking, planning, intending and all that very convoluted stuff (and I am far too prone to taking their behaviour too personally, hurtfully, if I don’t stand back from their effect) yet with powerful sense of their heart resonance from where I view them in my own particular way. What I discover, in watching other people like this, from afar, is that they so seldom engage with one another with great authenticity anyway, for all they do so noisily engage; so I am hardly missing out, as I see it. Most of it is only surface deep, trivial and fickle, made of big gestures that taper to smallness when tested; and I would rather hold back and be real, waiting for what is really worth the engagement. Their behaviour, by and large, is tribal (a word I like less and less); to do with safety in numbers and a sense of belonging to the winning team yet I feel more intact in my individuality and always have.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd yes, you get the sense Amsterdam is full of individuals when you sit back to observe. In the neighbourhood where we were staying and the kind of places where we chose to eat, I liked the feeling of these people, which was enough to tell me all I needed to know so that we could be together in our separation, passing smiles or jokes but not so in-the-face that we were expected to form packs in agreement with one another, as neurotypicals like to do; more strength to their arm in assimilation. My strength comes from the opposite to that; though feeling intact within myself, surrounded by people I like the feeling of. Feeling comes from frequency and frequency, after all, is a vibration; yet another pattern that my autistic sensibilities make me extra party to and this can be enough to shout out information to me, without all the need for surface interactions, the chitter-chatter and trivia upon which so many other people rely. Some insist that those on the autism spectrum lack the ability to communicate non-verbally but, no, whilst we may be no good at all the surface level artifice of silent messages people signal out to one another through body language and nuance in social settings, I would say we are extra good at picking up on the vibration of other’s deeper levels; their hearts, their fears, their true intentions and any hidden agendas. I suspect it’s why so many NTs find themselves uncomfortable around us, perhaps especially Aspie women, since we have this uncanny way of seeing through people’s outer layers, getting to what they don’t always want to reveal to others.

So in terms of other people, you could say, I am a generalist more so than someone who can cope with getting very specific, except in a handful of cases where I get to know certain people very well, such as my husband or a very few close friends. Our initial reason to be in Amsterdam was to see Deva Premal and Miten in concert in nearby Almere. The proximity of concert hall to where we were staying that first night meant that we “met” them in our hotel, in the town and at the train station and yet…perhaps this is not how other people would do it when meeting someone they are genuinely in awe of, encountered face to face, I did no more than say a brief “hello” to Miten as I would to anyone else bumped into at the breakfast bar. Deva and I locked eyes for several (what could have been deemed, awkward) seconds, smiling yet wordless, on the escalator heading to the train yet I felt quite alright about that once I overrode the tendency to interpret what just happened using neurotypical measures. The wordless look we passed conveyed more than a thousand words ever could have said; I could feel our transmission and any more than that would have felt sycophantic. I suspect others may have gushed a dozen words but I would have hated that, my stance being that this was their private time, they were “off duty” and out of the public domain when we saw them so why should I bother them with my introductions, as though they were old friends? If that came off as odd or even rude behaviour then that’s a shame; but I somehow think that was not the case.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat was the same day we headed to the crowds of Amsterdam and our long walk to our apartment from the train and, as it happens, this pulled-back stance turns out to be my very best way of being in a crowd. It’s so easy in this city, where  no one asks too much in exchange for our few moments of interaction in cafes and shops. Not like back home, where you can feel so alone in a crowd (not because of your personal preferences but) due to the judgements of those all around you, coming at you in waves if you happen to go for lunch alone or prefer to walk briskly past on your dog walks in the park. Separate behaviour in social contexts is not a very English thing, I find; except maybe in London but not in neighbourly places, where women operate in packs. Yet the Jordaan district was made up of a crowd of individualistic individuals and, here in this favourite district of a favourite city, I felt none of that familiar sense of “oddity” around doing things in my pulled back quirky way. After just a few short days, I found I had achieved a great deal for I had felt more than a little bit at home in this crowd, had found my happy place and had coped with more than my usual dose of over-stimulation from noise and chaos (the kind of stimuli that has me feeling completely out of my depth at home) as a result of feeling intact and in my integrity. I could tell I had achieved this since, unusually for me, I went home feeling far better for it and not rung out from a week of non-stop activity, like I am from even a day spent in London or some other urban places, including the town where I live which exhausts me utterly. Rather, I came home more energised than normal…and am still so, like a dynamo fully charged.

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When I’m alright with all this stuff; when I know I am allowed to just be the way that I am and am not expected to be other than I am, inside or out, I find I can cope with crowded places far better; can be out and about pavement pounding far longer even where the streets are most busy, or eat my meals in noisy places for a couple of hours, just like neurotypical people do…without being a mess by the time I get home, because I have not spent all my time trying to seem like them, to assimilate…only to be amongst them (which is quite different). This was a revelation to me since, at home, these noisy, crowded, populous and overstimulating places are my struggle zones and yet I watched myself do all this and thrive. I was so bowled over by this success that I wanted to try it out back home as soon as I could, setting myself the challenge of going into town the very next day and then into London for a food festival  a couple of days after that, which was a remarkable achievement straight after a holiday. I noticed straightaway that the frequency of the people back home was certainly not the same and I felt cut-off at the knees by the energy of them in any confined spaces I happened to be in, such as in my local shopping mall and on busy trains, all of which felt much more akin to the energy of Dam Square and its neighbouring streets. But, having found this (paradoxically) softer-thus-sturdier place in myself, where I can be alright regardless of all that outside stuff, just as soon as I remember to pull back inwards and notice only those structures, rhythms and patterns that actually support me, or afford me pleasure and comfort, letting go of all the rest, I believe I can get better at this with practice. There’s a technique that I’ve since written about, self-taught on my holiday, and it helps me let go of overstimulation when I need to.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost of all, I realised, I had come to terms with my autism on this trip and this was BIGGER for me than I could have anticipated. Before I went, I was writing up a storm of so much enthusiasm for it all, open to perceiving all the positives of a trait that has rendered me not only “different” but pretty confused and lonely in that difference all my life, until I realised I had Asperger’s this summer. I now had my reason for being “an odd bird”; which was such a massive breakthrough. Yet…as all the books I am avidly reading on the topic describe in their different ways… finding out is just the beginning of a long process of unpacking this new information. Armed with its handbook (which is work-in-progress as more and more women, so importantly, write about their particular experiences, as I am now doing…), you then start to really understand yourself for the very first time in your life, shedding light on ways that you have struggled and felt isolated for decades. This is a lot to take on since it can unleash a whole array of other emotions, even anger and frustration at not having known and having been forced to stumble around in the dark for so long. For all I had been doing so well with reconciling this new understanding in myself, it was only once I took this time out in a place that seemed to meet me half way, as though made for my particular sensibilities, that I could make this giant leap…and so I did. Its as though I am now fully and celebratory reconciled to all my quirks, ready for a life that embraces (not apologises) for all that; and seeking out ways of living, expressing and spending my time accordingly. The future hasn’t felt this bright and carefree since I was an adolescent first setting out into the world from my quirky teenage bedroom where I hand made my own clothes and collected offcuts of fabrics; yet all that has really changed is my perspective which had, for a long time, been turned pseudo-neurotypical and now I am fully in my Asperger’s groove.

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Another really big thing to realise…or, rather, admit…is that executive functioning is my classic Asperger’s shortfall; and what little bit of structure I used to have in my life, hard won from years of practice in school and my earlier careers when I had to be around people, I have tended to dismantle or throw out of the window in disdain for all things neurotypical these last years (along with my watch). So, I get easily obsessed by things, carried away, they take me over, and I don’t know how to say “enough” or “stop” to myself and actually listen, to the point I do too much, for too long, taken-off down long rambling paths of over-exertion, forgetting to pause, to move, to vary things, or even to breathe at times. Yet, as I have seen on this trip, I do rather better when there is at least the semblance of am outline and some edges to my days and my intentions; and I feel more calm and in my place, overall, when that is so.  Without at least some structure and tidiness to my projects, my creativity spills all over the place and goes to waste, led astray by my ever  rambling mind. Amsterdam has reminded me that, with some grids, rules of thumb, straight lines and markers of time, I can get even more out of my life than without them and I intend to take a good hard look at that truism now I’m home.

IMG_0905.jpgMy aspirations for my future life have thus broadened into full acceptance of who and how I am…the creative oddity; and I will keep on adjusting the trappings of life around me instead of expecting me to change to fit those trappings (as I have tended to do for too long, assuming myself to be the faulty one, the misfit…). My right to claim a life that works for me the way I am, and which inspires me has been shored-up somehow; and I now know that I will  certainly find my niche or, if I can’t find it, will set about making one of my own…and enjoy doing so. None of us deserve any less than this, however we happen to be wired, and it is in this indulgence of our personal preferences that we find the ultimate softness that allows us to mellow into the state of wholeness that was always just waiting for us to come back home.

To see more of my photos, you can go to my Flickr album (many more images still to be added).

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Logically spiritual

For the longest time, I pushed back against “logic” and “order”, “structure” and “form as though they were the very enemies of my being. Since my Asperger’s diagnosis, I’ve been compelled to review that attitude and flip it on its back, which has been interesting in the extreme. I find it was a case of protesting too loudly…pointing in the opposite direction to myself…since I love these very things; they are the core part of me, my default setting.

So why the push-back; why have I worked so hard to destructure my life and my attitudes, to undo life’s corsets, to be the bohemian and to pursue the role of “artist” as a life choice, not just a vocation? I have chased after “fluid” like my life depended on it, for years and years.

Two theories spring to mind; one is that it is to divert attention from my core self, to distract attention from my secret sanctuary where control reigns suppreme, to cope better with the crazy world outside and to hide my eccentricities (which are real enough…) beneath a patina of artistic sensibility.

The other is that I have resisted what I am because “what I am” pointed straight back to this distinctly Asperger’s way of doing things. It pointed at a truth I was not yet ready to embrace. I was fooling myself as much as I was fooling other people.

Plus, I had made my home, more recently, amongst those who call themselves “spiritual” and that seemed to be all about throwing over the structures of this reality to embrace something more fluid, less tangible, far from empirical. Ironically, those who are spiritual so often act as though they want nothing of logic whereas those who claim logic seem the most illogical of all.

I am aways baffled when people prickle so at this word “spiritual” as though you had announced yourself a “born again” christian in an atheist’s society. People start treating you as though you believe in Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy; as though you have lost credibility in their logical eyes. Yet, to me, spiritual is as logical as it gets since it allows for an acceptance of everything that we think of as reality, all in one vast box of creation, with an underlying intelligence that helps explain the inexplicable and which enables it to work slickly and with purpose, like the very best of machines; making sense out of random chaos and seeking out patterns, which is my absolute forte. To me, it speaks of the ultimate structure and containment; albeit much of this, as yet, outside the comprehension of our limited human minds. So why the big fuss when we drop this particular word bomb?

Yet when I delve this territory, I find myself far from alone, in Asperger’s land, considering that there is more to life than what “seems” to the empirical eye. From Einstein to Mozart to Tesla (all speculated to be Asperger’s) and many others besides, I discover that they only ever found more proof of God in all the detail; perceiving “proof” of a different kind to the conventional in all the sheer complexity they grappled with in their earthly lives and as they tirelessly pursued their obsession for knowledge with the extreme hyper-focus that is an Asperger’s trait. The more they looked and looked and looked at all the detail of their material reality, the more they discovered that all roads pointed back to this spiritual perspective.

Others have more recently taken the angle that there is nothing more logical than a spiritual perspective….since we are all, truly, spiritual in that part of ourselves that accepts a reality without separation and the understanding that we are just a tiny part of something far vaster; a mere droplet in an ocean we barely understand. Those who deny such an approach to life are wholly illogically, in my view, for where is the proof that we are broken, at odds with all things and the very epicentre of of our own universe in which material possession is the only god. It is a confused and disoriented version of “man” that has created such a world and I find plentiful logic in my spiritual perspective these days, though (in company with the best of those that do likewise) I really struggle when it comes to putting all this into words…which is no big deal for me since putting things into words is something I struggle with anyway, given my Asperger’s. My best shot at it is always in writing, not speech, which is why abstract, spiritual material has become the lifeblood of my longest running blog here and yet its audience remains niche and I most often feel I am talking to myself.

Yet, turning this around, perhaps it is this very trait of struggling to find words for the sheer complexity we are party to, in the inside of our heads, that makes the person with Asperger’s most open and likely to consider a reality that includes a creator or, at least, an intelligent consciousness that runs through all material things. We perceive things that others seem to miss and a lack of words to describe what we perceive does not mean that we are wrong; we know this well (on many counts) though, once more, we lack the words or sometimes the confidence to express this truth out loud. It is something that has fed into the propensity for the most gifted Asperger’s individuals to blurt out breakthrough hypotheses which prove to hold water, for all they shock and astound those who considered themselves the most logical people of the previous paradigm. Yes, I said prove….logic…for all some of these ideas were scoffed at for being sheer inarticulate madness, delusion, the ramblings of a crazy person to begin with. We are natural born paradigm breakers since we find logic in illogical places, drawing those places into logic’s widening net.

My new-found friendship with logic, structure, organisation, containment is already paying me dividends as I enjoy a wave of returning back to myself that had eluded me for many years. No longer berating or turning my back on the “control freakish” part of myself, I listen to what it has to say and find solutions to long running problems that had kept me stood there, the rabbit in the headlights of a world too externally chaotic for (you guessed it) words. Filtering through to all aspects of my world, from the organisation of my domestic day to my finances and the way I engage with people, the new way I am approaching my work rhythms split between more creative and intuitive aspects and those parts that long to graze through the outpourings of these pursuits with a red pen poised for editing, I am finding this play-off of my soft and harder parts a delight since it leads to a far happier environment…on the inside.

34350549770_82e92a724b_o.jpgSo funny that for years my long-running metaphor, pursued though the imagery of my art and in my blogging, was the analogy of feeling like a butterfly caught inside a glass box. Now, I discover (perhaps perversely but not from the perspective of a person with Asperger’s) that I quite like my glass box, as long as it was me that put myself there. It affords me a window on the world and keeps my inner sanctum more pristine than it would otherwise be and these traits are important to some with Asperger’s. “Out there” is far too much risk of being sucked into an air conditioning vent, of being eaten by a large bird or damaging my delicate wings on the branches of a tree in a sudden strong wind. Here, in my Asperger’s bubble, I get to see out yet to be the control freak of all I need to engage with and this affords such strength to my methods since I can relax enough to explore my inherent gifts without consistently wondering how I will brave a world in which I have to be other than myself, all my energy expended in that pursuit and not upon exploring what I truly and uniquely have to offer. I find I am the support I was always seeking, I am the sides to the box; a truth that offers a degree of self-containment that always felt lacking before.

And the more I contain myself, the more I feel at liberty to explore a sideless reality within which I am but a droplet…

There is nothing wrong in this choice to be the introvert and the hermit, honing a comfortable world that best suits me; this has been the big admission of my year and it allows me to make this hermitage permanent and portable (no longer somewhere I was always expecting to have to surrender at some point or if I go “outside” to be amongst other people), thus open to all my ingenuity when it comes to making this the most comfortable place for me to be, always. Like the tortoise, I take this inner world with me wherever I go and can retreat to it at a moment’s notice. I can use my innate resources to redecorate my world to be most conducive to my best efforts as a fluid and creative thinker, a creative liver, a creative artist…..those fluidities held securely like water in a cup, which is much preferable to spilling it all over the table. Yet my perameters are solid, I have structure I can rely on and it comes from me. I have returned to the self-containment of childhood and it feels like the home I had long wept for, after years of being shoe-horned out by the expectations of “society”. One of the greatest gifts of having accepted my Asperger’s traits is to own that this is how I am and how I must be in order to thrive so there’s an end to all discussion about more normalising alternatives (which comes as such a relief).  I gain the most expansive version of reality I could possibly have access to, a world with no limitations…safely encompassed by the chosen edges of myself. There is so much sense to all this; one could even say “logic”.

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Pigment of life

Pigment has always been about life, to me, and exploring it has been my way of exploring life in a way I could relate to, perhaps cope with, more intimately than dealing with life itself.

As a child, it came to me simply, in hand held blocks that excited me more than just about any other thing. Easter eggs and other childish preoccupations were willingly swopped for huge tins of coloured pencils that thrilled me with all their potential and, as I arranged their rainbow colours into order, I noticed not…at that early stage…how they were far more pristine and radiant than life itself, though perhaps my focussed obsession with them tried to tell me so.

Later, my choice was watercolour since it was as portable as my desire to slip all I possessed into a bag and carry it on my shoulder. Yet the pigment was always less than life; washy and faint, like some elder-persons memory but not yet for me.

Many years of exploring oil paints took me very far into an old paradigm; one I had to get to know as a child born deep into the twentieth century. At first, I applied it in daubs, thickly, robustly then, as I approached my maturity with it, I came to understand that coverage did not neutralise what lay underneath. Hidden layers had a way of speaking even when not seen; yesterday’s flaws asserting themselves, wanting to take part in the present, insisting that they did, so I tried to use that; to make the best of it by owning it as “true”. Like someone admitting to their own imperfect past, seeking beauty in what had been “mistaken” before, I allowed these under-layers to come to the surface but only where I said so; where it added to the beauty of the now. This became arduous, a game of control, so I spent many hours perfecting that control, steadying the hand and squinting at my canvases. Where layers of the past asserted most artfully, I sometimes used sandpaper to abrase it though, inviting it up to be seen, like someone plunging and analysing their depths might bring up choice parts of their former life to mingle them…poetically…with the person they had become. It became like an addiction to psychotherapy; useful in its way but always anchoring me to what had been, tying my leg to the ground.

With time, this became laborious, too deliberate, a new obsession of its own so that bringing up layers became more consuming than working on the now. Life began to feel like artifice, wishing for mistakes, even expecting or encouraging them only to make things more interesting “later”; as someone might live a wild youth in order to have something to entertain their friends at dinner when life became dull. While this had a degree of satisfaction to offer, to the creator, the overseer of it all, the one who loved to show their adeptness at tidying up messes, troubleshooting challenges, emerging from wrecks, it often made a mess of the picture and, like a god frustrated with their own experiment in “life”, I almost gave up; leaden with the pointlessness.

In fact, I did…for the longest time since I had started.

So there, in my story, I came upon a stumble in my artistic life; a pregnant pause or, at times, it seemed to be fully aborted. It felt like the historic times we are all in presently…a wheel stuck in a sticky groove and little desire to continue the journey, or definable sense of where it is all heading to. Had I done it all, explored all possibilities; had it all become a pointless, self-gratifying mess?

But then the joy of pigment, somehow, kept asserting. What was its point, I told myself logically, and yet there it was; without any reason for it, I still desired it and it drew me forwards.

The first time I added gouache to my box of colours, I missed its potential because I painted like I had always painted; in blocky daubs, thickly, expecting to be able to hide away what went beneath, thus with all that old carelessness, the expectation of dubious beginnings and laborious endings. Only now, instead of beauty where these oh-so rapid layers formed, the paint being just so quick to dry, the pigment became pitted and seemed dead, like the craters of the moon; its colours matte and lacking in all the complexity that took eons to create in oils. This threw me back into nostalgia for the old ways, for all that I had felt done with just a moment before; this new paint the “convenience food” that would mimic the banquet of the old life yet I wanted none of either; sought something that had yet to reveal itself and began to loose faith that it  could ever exist. Unhappy with these results, and the return to the exposed old patterns of how I had always worked with pigment, which felt so desperately retrograde that I couldn’t countenance the predictable grind of their cycles of sacrifice and hard-earned progress, I put it all away again and left it, perhaps forever.

Yet something…unspoken, unspeakable still, a life force, some original spark without name…brought me back and there I was, back at my desk one sunny September morning, when new beginnings are least expected. Only, this time with a different mindset, one that was prepared to learn from the pigment, not impose what I thought I already knew.

Oddly, at first glance, what showed itself was a little like what I knew about oils but also about watercolours. It was like…though not like…either of these things; perhaps more than the sum. I could block out and I could daub, or add water, achieving fine detail, painted thinly; a whole new paradigm to be learned, familiar…yet unexpected. (I liked this) its colours remained true; not the alteration of themselves into serious drabness on drying or maturing. It was more playful, somehow, than the “grown-up” pigments that had consumed my adult years; which both excited and terrified me. I pushed down the thought “its a young person’s paint” and continued on with my playing, remembering how from a long time ago. It was the best of both worlds I had explored before and yet it was its own thing.

I could layer…yes…but, with new paint or water added, I could also blend a day later, though the paint had dried almost as soon as applied (there is such speed to life now…taking only moments to do what took days, weeks or months before). Life had picked up pace, decisions had to be handled on the spot and yet they were also fluid since nothing had to be owned this way forever and ever amen. Things could be turned around….only not so much through hiding but by incorporating, which took a different mindset; one which cradled all you had been and would ever be, finite and infinite, in the palm of the same creator’s hand.

Most of all, I realised this…that there was no hiding what I did; not really. For though the paint was quickly dry, adding water to my brush would reanimate it (oh water, eternal source of life and silent messenger of frequencies). Layers may go over the top but they would also mingle; turn muddy if I let them. So, I had to take ownership for what I did, accept responsibility, both there and forever; had to newly make this commentment in every moment, there being no hiding under carpets anymore. Karma had just gone “instant”. I had to be prepared to incorporate all of my layers as one, even as I put them down and before I added what had not yet even been conceived of. There was an honesty, a truth, asserting with every brushstroke…and a chance for mastery to assert, for the conscious creator to emerge, stepping up to all I knew I could be in the matter of living “as it happened”, without convenient blindspots, and instead of dumping down whatever suited me, as I had before when I was reliant upon those old-style guarantees that meant I could always shrug away my mistakes, disowning them. Now, I would have to be masterful; and this would call upon all I had ever learned, still asking more from me. I would be compelled to rise to the task…at last…and I knew that I could; that I was ready for the graduation.

This would have to be an “evolved me” stepping forwards now, one that was both painstaking yet speedy, flawed and yet aware, complex and contradictory and yet incorporating, forgiving. I would have to hold all these many things in the palm of my hand without dropping a single one of them and yet, even as I did this, I knew I could blend away any harshness, merging stark contrasts into new collaborations of diversity. Here, less (pigments, details, layers…) would often mean “more”; achieving the beauty of simplicity, I could sense that so now to achieve it. And a patient me, a tolerant me; this is what I felt being called forwards. Right away, I needed to cease delivering such harsh judgment upon what was working and what was not, based on old methodology and outmoded measures of accomplishment; in fact, be hanged, all thoughts of “the right way to do things”, there is no map or tradition here but there are other gauges. I could always get somewhere worthwhile by being prepared to see what new thing emerged, my mind fully open to the collaboration of what I do not yet know with what I thought I did.

And it is all new, as yet…for, as I write these words, I have hardly made a stoke of this new paint on my new work surfaces; new and taut yet textured, similar but not really the same as my old canvases, which adhered, beyond practicality, to the nostalgia of an earlier time. These modern, practical, wholly satisfying surfaces arrive pristine and ready for my newly evolved strokes and, though I know not where I am heading with them, I feel all the expectation of one who senses they are gestated into the first stage of delivery into newness; a topsy-survey slide into a whole other era that will have more to tell me about life than any that came before it; even, perhaps, for several thousand years or more. So I simply hold my hand out, poised, and leave my mind wide open, prepared to start over…

honey-fangs-UjcwVv_Tj44-unsplashWith this, my exploration of life through pigment continues, the best way I know how…through the deep inner process; the trial and error, hands-on tutorial that defies words, reveals in small flashes of inspiration, carries on the wings of the thrill of those moments when beauty shows itself and I sense my small part in it, having guided the brush. At last, I understand how this has little or nought to do with anyone but myself; for we each have our own process and this happens to be mine. So, though others may applaud or appreciate, compare or relate, the only real measure of our output is how we feel as we survey our own picture, stood back from the canvas of life, the harshest and most forgiving of all critics and the one who must live with the effects…or start again, trying different ways.

So begins my new painting process and my guide, pure and simple, is the sheer relish and excitement with which I newly approach the task. The fact that I am wanting to take part once again, not held in all the suspended animation of not knowing what, how or why, is the most significant of all.  Yes, even though part of me still resisists with the “you can’t teach this old dog new tricks…I’m too tired” mantra. Underneath the resistance, I know I’m “in”, even if I have to learn this new pigment of life, master its ways, handle its foibles. Like the first shoot of spring (on the first day of autumn; oh paradox), I have pushed through my stalemate and am surveying the pre-territory of the decades to come.

Posted in Art, Art metaphor, Art purpose, Art technique, Art transformation tool, Consciousness & evolution, Life choices, Life journey, Menu, metaphor, Painting, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jane Eyre – nineteenth century Aspie woman

Poster-ImageYesterday, I was at the Blackeyed Theatre stage production of Jane Eyre and, from the front balcony seat looking down onto the stage, I saw something so new yet just so obvious about this well-known character that I had missed across all the many years of our intimacy. Very much water has slipped under the bridge since I first turned the pages of Charlotte Brontë’s novel; turning them, I seem to recall, avidly and compulsively beneath my bed sheets, probably in the dead of night and the very early dawn of another summer night spent reading. A whole other deluge of water has passed since the several years that I spent beating all the life out of it through the over-analysis that comes as the pitfall of studying for A levels and an English Literature degree. My professor, I recall, was overly-fixated upon dredging up repressed and coded feminist, and probably lesbian, themes from all our nineteenth century literature and this one especially. By the time I had finished my degree course, I was so weary of annotating books with a pencil, mining them for academic hypotheses that bled them into husks of their former glory, that I read all-but nothing of substance for years afterwards.

But Jane Eyre…she always stood there stalwartly, remaining just out of sight in the shadows of my nostalgia, held there by all the fondness and familiarity that I reserve only for a relatable characters, real or fictional (its all the same to me). She was someone I understood and who may well have understood me; one of those rare beings who felt like friend or compatriot in this oh-so mysterious life. I had travelled her story, felt all the tumultuousness of her passions and yet grasped, more than most, the twists and turns of her rejections.

And there it was, so obvious to me now; she was the oh-so obvious Asperger’s woman stood on the stage before me. Her lack of social ability plus the unnamable qualities of distinction that make others reject her for no logical reason except for a feeling of her being different to them in some unfathomable way, even as a baby…resulting in such a strong dislike from her aunt and cousins that they treat her like some sort of creature on whom to practice their cruel behaviours. Then her sudden outbursts of animalistic rage, her bluntness, the passive logic of her arguments, her extreme self-sufficiency, the lack of emotion in her delivery of information or even in the midst of tumultuous crisis, the robustness of her stance on right and wrong, the cut and dried inability to step forward with Mr Rochester once she realises he has told her an untruth for all she forgives him on the spot, the burning of bridges and walking away so abruptly and with little practical preparation for the “real” world outside….familiar, familiar, familiar!

For all she is a long-running “popular heroine” in some female literary quarters, she is a character who has been equally disliked or even loathed, right from the outset of the book’s publication. Harsh criticism pelted from the sidelines and continue still (such strong reactions she provokes); reviews that talk of her coldness, her inhuman behaviour, her impassive and unrelatable, a-typical behaviour. Me, I never had any of that problem so I didn’t realise…at the time…and not until my studies shouted down my innate response, turning the way I was “supposed” to read this story into more of a thing to do with having to relate to others, including those who marked my work! Not that everyone disliked her but they still failed to get her as I now do and as I think I did as the child on first reading. Back in the academia of my young adulthood, the traits I have listed were made a meal of – yes – but twisted into something to do with Victorian repression of female traits, the need to remain covert when you harbour passions such as these, the suppression of feminine power to the point of poor Jane “having” to seek other outlets for her emotions, resort to the invented-on-the-spot knee jerk positions of an era trying to break out of its corsets; nobody mentioned autism.

Maybe this is why, in my younger years, I mistook myself for some sort of repressed Victorian born into the wrong time, caught up in girdles of behaviour that locked me away into a sanctuary of myself except…oh confusion…I was the one who seemed to have put them there. So, in line with my cultural entrainment, I sought to loosen my own girdles and to become more like those around me; which took alcohol and a whole lot of bending of my own comfort boundaries, all of which got me precisely nowhere; except to send me into a rebound, firmly and decisively back to myself, which is where I find myself (at mid-life) after so many years of pretence. Just like Jane, when she returns to her even-more tumbledown, burnt out home at Thornfield, to be with the one who “gets her” just the way she is and to make for herself the simple life of joy that, perhaps, not everyone would relate to. I had been fighting my own state for decades; my innate “wiring” had made me thus and there it was, plain as day, for me to see from the overview…enacted on a stage; Jane Eyre, to so many women a role model and literary friend and to me, a taste of myself.

So (much like Asperger’s itself) it had taken me most of five decades to see all this and (not for the first time) the somewhat surreal experience of sitting high in a balcony looking down on it enacted on a stage made it all the clearer…somewhat like my last theatrical epiphany, early this year. This was apparently why I pounced on these tickets without a moment’s hesitation, as the second outing for my women’s group, five more women I had just met through my introversion quirks, all of whom were sat in the row beside me. Had they had this same epiphany? No, since they are not Aspie’s as far as I can so-far tell, nor had they (it turned out) had the long-running acquaintanceship with Jane Eyre that I had had. But they enjoyed it anyway; in their own way and I was mostly content to be there having this private, inner layer of experience; no difference there to in any other situation of my life. I am starting to see how friendships come in different depths and colours and I can accept them all just so long as my expectations are realistic. Perhaps a close friend will come along soon…though (I read just the other day) we do better if we don’t make this the be-all-and-end-all of our Aspie lives since it is certainly, in no way, a “given”. Perhaps this is why we respond so intensely to fictional and virtual friends wheresoever we find them. As an undiagnosed female with Asperger’s, literature served as my greatest teacher and soul companion for many years; and finding people I can communicate with exclusively via the written word has been the greatest gift of the internet age, bypassing so many of the difficulties of face-to-face misunderstandings.

Jane could so easily have been my close friend; for we would have “got” each other. The deep passion, the often cool exterior…we were bookends made for each other; and that ending…finding her quiet place with the man whose wild ambitions have been reined in through his very brokenness, yes I get that too for I have found that quiet place in my world with my slightly battered man who is a tadge on the spectrum. Is Rochester on the spectrum? I think so…this is why he found Jane so refreshing to talk to in a world of NTs talking gibberish; why he drew her to his fireside for frank intimacy and no holds barred conversation. I relate to that too; the deep joy of finding this match in a man and of them gleaning this same click-into-place match in you, via the very quirk that makes you like no other partner they could be with; the pearl beyond all pearls. For we are rare enough to have to stick together, types such as us…no complacent “plenty more fish in the sea” attitude will do. I think this is what made my skin tingle when I first read those infamous words “Reader, I married him…”; no less so yesterday when they were delivered on stage in a pool of stage light….who says we don’t feel things profoundly! But, for me, this was no mere romantic notion but a matter of thriving and of soul survival in an alien world since souls like ours need to be together to truly BE; they truly need that “other” who relates and I am reading that truism again and again in my current binge upon Asperger’s biographies. I think I sensed that all important Asperger’s life-hack being delivered to me the very first time I put Jane Eyre down on the side of my bed; like a glimmer of hope…one day I will find my person and then I can just be who I am. It was the light shining at the end of a long arduous tunnel (though I had yet to travel its length); a promise on the wind, drawing me forwards. How did Charlotte Brontë know; was she also on the spectrum? I have yet to even go there with the thought…

So, though I could go deeply into the academic topic of whether I believe Jane Eyre had Asperger’s, presenting “evidence” hither and thither, scouring the book with a pencil in my teeth, I will resist and leave that to others, linking two excellent articles (below) that I unearthed as soon as I got home from the theatre. One is a blogger with Asperger’s and the other, more studied, article (whilst an excellent read) is, you can tell, from someone approaching autism from the academic angle, not someone who knows what its really like, from the inside. As I read her words, though I hear what she says, I can already feel myself switch off as though the harm she does as she rakes through the experience of the novel is all too much like what was done to it by those seeking clues of Victorian repression and feminist themes.

Rather, my response was “its obvious” and, from that place, I never felt more certain that I am right, which is quite enough for me. Asperger’s traits do not benefit much from “being studied” in this highly objective way; which somehow misses the whole point and certainly the beauty of them. Finding peace with this has been one of the true gifts of realising my own Asperger’s traits…I now see them all about me and it feels profound to realise I am not so alone, that they are part of “real” life and that they are endearing, useful, valid and not broken foibles. More, that heroines and people we admire, individuals and literacy characters we have held up as role models have worn these traits…and worn them well (and to hell with the naysayers). Those who are least likely to accept neurodiversity in real life are just as likely to reject them literature but that is their loss!


Related:

“You Are a Strange Child, Miss Jane” – Autist’s Corner

“On the Spectrum”: Rereading Contact and Affect in Jane Eyre” – Julia Miele Rodas

From Elizabeth Rigby in The Quarterly Review 1848; the quote used to open Rodas’ article. Spot the autistic traits, and the neurotypical disdain, disquiet and suspicion around them, if you can…

We hear nothing but self-eulogiums on the perfect tact and wondrous penetration with which she is gifted, and yet almost every word she utters offends us, not only with the absence of these qualities, but with the positive contrasts of them, in either her pedantry, stupidity, or gross vulgarity. She is one of those ladies who put us in the unpleasant predicament of under-valuing their very virtues for dislike of the person in whom they are represented. One feels provoked as Jane Eyre stands before us—for in the wonderful reality of her thoughts and descriptions, she seems accountable for all done in her name—with principles you must approve in the main, and yet with language and manners that offend you in every particular. Even in that chef d’oeuvre of brilliant retrospective sketching, the description of her early life, it is the childhood and not the child that interests you. The little Jane, with her sharp eyes and dogmatic speeches, is a being you neither could fondle nor love…As the child, so also the woman—an uninteresting, sententious, pedantic thing.

Another Brönte revisitation blog (2018) in my collection – To Walk Visible…At Last . My childhood love of the Brontë’s has since been cast in a new light via the Asperger’s realisation. It throws up, somehow, my blunt-speaking Yorkshire roots (my longest running stretch of ancestry of many hundreds of years comes from very close to where the Brontës lived) including my blunt spoken yet deep feeling (posthumously realised) Aspie mother who was of that Yorkshire stock through and through. For me, there is a deeply recognisable quality…a kinship…running through it all.  I feel like I know where I am with it and this came off the pages when I was that girl curled up in my bed, paperback always in hand.

Posted in Biography, Consciousness & evolution, Fiction, Life choices, Life journey, Literature, Menu, Personal Development, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Going “nowhere”, reaching beyond “the point”

We are just back from a long weekend away to a place not visited for quite a few years; 21st December 2012 was the last time we stayed there…”that date” so many of us hovered over, poised in high expectation or cynicism (its all the same). No wonder I recall the date and that it felt like some sort of impromptu review to go back there; to ask, where have we got to since then and where are we going? Whether or not we believe in the Mayan calendar, in the birth of a new era or even that 21/12/12 was the key date (though the fact it became such a focal point at the time “gave” it an energy of shifting sands), there’s no denying we have been in unchartered territories since. My trip seemed to want to say something on this topic; to spur me into making a review. So how did it do that; what did it have to say?

Just five minutes back at home and it’s almost as though I have never been away, every time. Yet, as I do the self-assessment that takes place as the more familiar sounds of everyday life permeate my head on waking “the morning after” (mostly, traffic…) there’s one resounding feature, one corner, of the place that stays with me still; resilient and strong.

Ruins 2.jpgIts a feeling (paradoxically) captured by part of a church opened up wide to the sky; beautiful ruins that were opposite our windows for the last four days…once again, just as they were last time (to a point, only last time they were just out of view behind trees, tucked behind the intact part of the church). In fact, I had laughed out loud when I first realised that the Airbnb that drew my eyes so compellingly in this small village location, causing me to drop, like a hot stone, the alternate booking I had been poised to confirm (in a completely different town!), turned out to be right next door to the cottage where we stayed at the end of 2012….which is what first claimed my attention. In fact, it turned out to be, literally, the house next door (I didn’t find that bit out until we got there as there are four similar cottages in a row). Clearly “it was meant to be” since this was all quite unplanned.

Ruins 1.jpgThis time, we couldn’t have been more close to those ruins if we’d tried, so they were there when I went to sleep (I could feel them…as though they hosted my dreams) and the first thing I saw as I opened the curtains, beyond the porch of the far-more intact St Bartholomews, which had been the attention of a long-running Victorian refurbishment project…but not these ramshackle relics. No, these beauties, at a glance in half-light, could have been a sprinkling of Rome, an Acropean fragment transported to English climes, their thick pillars marked with the hints of spiralling patterns, their rounded arches like bridges held up to the sky.

Yet, for all they were so patently there, I didn’t visit them until we were about to leave; didn’t even want to, somehow, and the one time we tried in the dark, our footing was too unsure on a rickety path to risk a tumble in that place where night sky is actually allowed to be, so we vowed to go back in the morning, before driving home. Somehow, I hadn’t needed to be so close to them until that moment of saying “thank you for being there” to them, so obvious was their presence, holdings space for something too often missing from the modern landscape. Yes, a little pointlessness, a touch of lost direction; almost a hint of the same maverick non-conformity “outside” the walls of tidy convention that is my way and my happy place…

Quay.jpgIn fact, this whole place was a marker for more than one theme of that ilk, being a place that is, in more ways than one, going nowhere. At night time, just before bed, we would get the urge to walk along its dark streets, eyes drawn to the cosy amber light pooled around windows and doorways, down to the quay where the moon reflected on the water and just stand there, breathing it all in. The availability of “land” was withdrawn so abruptly, without fanfare, that it seemed quite commonplace just to stand on the edge of a minuscule wall and sense (not even quite see…) water’s fluid motion “down there”; more animated with gentle rhythms one night and as still as a mill pond the other. Above and so (clearly) below, the first-quarter moon restated this plain truism that, in life’s busy-ness, we forget; then, a whole complexity of stars that light pollution turns, more often than not, into the simple cartoon we make do with back home…a child’s bedroom ceiling to this grown-up reminder that we are are but a dot in a sky of many.

This uneventful removal of “the point” of walking somewhere, there being nowhere to go, served as deep therapy as we dressed up warm like excited children, leaving comfortable places “just” to be somewhere that had no other reason except that we wanted to experience it before bed and while we can, having nothing like this back home.

This place, with no point, drew no traffic after dark so we were free to amble down the middle of the road, the only other trespasser a cat and, somewhere around us, a pair of owls in some sort of animated dialogue or territory war, yet even that sounded benign. This lack of compunction, of timetable or point was so refreshing to the soul, I could have bottled it…would have, if I could only find a container big enough. Instead, I sucked it into me as though with a broad drinking straw, promising….faithfully…to return sooner next time.

And yet the place itself, revealed in daylight hours, had lost some of its point since last time. The tea shop we fondly remembered, from times visited with the kids when they were kid-like and our previous dog, was no longer there; turned into more rentals, it looked like. In fact, most of the place had the air of somewhere turned into a series of “holiday lets” (stickers in windows) for outside visitors who don’t even try with each other, knowing they are “just passing” (how odd to be almost shoulder to shoulder with someone, unloading your car, and him blanking you so studiously, as though you’re not even there…the woman with the toddler fractionally more receptive to a nod and a smile). These places, with their passers-through, quickly lose their heart and soul; though, along the road to the quay, we looked in at one family…on two nights…where a white haired couple chatted earnestly with a young man, about my daughter’s age, and it was a pleasant illusion that this, at least for a night or two, was the norm…without a flickering TV screen on, dominating the room. Perhaps I was kidding myself; perhaps I just wanted to.

The village had also lost its famous “smokehouse” where, once on a long-ago visit (in pre-vegan days) we went to collect great slabs of smoked stilton to gorge over as we played family games around a kitchen table (which was my daughter’s thing back then; she organised long-running events around a theme and we were held captive to her imaginations for hour after hour….oh happy times). Now, a blackened-out building stood where those propped-up signs and the unmistakable smell once invited crowds in to gather armfuls of smoked fish, meat and cheese, cured to traditional methods…now all-but lost. Its owner had, apparently died quite unexpectedly, an untenable inheritance tax bill ruining the three-generation family business, then the building burned down. A sign of the times…

Without those two landmarks, which I had imagined in my head the whole time I had been planning this trip, I felt vaguely disoriented, like this place was a pretender to the title of the place in which we had once made such happy memories. But then I knew I was there once we walked the headland, in those unmistakably chill winds from the North Sea. The last time I walked that headland was on 20th December, 2012….one day before we left; the end of an era (in more ways than one) as I had had front-centre in my mind all that day. The rain had been so relentless and horizontal that I would lose my dog in seconds unless he was on a short leash (and the rest of the family tucked away around the cosy fireside because it hadn’t seemed fair that they all get soaked to the skin). Yet it had been a catharsis of sorts to rain-pelt away all the crud of a broken paradigm I was just so willing to let go of in one almighty, almost biblical, moment of release. I was calling to change, hollering it with all my might (had turned abruptly vegetarian just one week before; which felt like the thin edge of the wedge, a show of willingness to break with hard-fast tradition, even where it meant inconvenience). Those gusty edges and the inability to see clearly where firm ground was, where water of uncertain depth lay below, had felt so apt to me that day for we, none of us, knew where we were headed.

YINYANG swans.jpgThis time, the most striking thing I witnessed was a pair of yin-and-yang swans in most elegant flight together, round and around, clearly enjoying themselves, for all the wind was so keen against my neck and head, while their dark-feathered youngster slurped noisily and unattended in the reeds closeby. My birds of this era; birds of remembrance that we come from the stars, that oddity can be beautiful and “normal”, that we are more than one species in one oddly-proportioned form, that we are magnificent whether grounded or airborn, can be abundantly responsible yet still do things for the pure rapture of being alive…both graceful and formidible all at the same time. Yes, these birds in evenly matched flight were my welcome clue as to what we can still aspire to be.

Most of all, this time, it was the oh-so peaceful yet oddly void nighttime walks that left most impression; the pitch dark and sense of going nowhere reflecting something of where I am now, long settled into the new era and yet (still) quite clueless as to where we are all heading. They reminded me how I needed to be contented with that, to make it alright to just put one foot in front of the other, enjoying the odd pool of light…

Dark cottageThe nights were so dark and syrupy, quiet to a fault, that we would lose ourselves in the softness and tranquility of them, the absolute silence and surrender of nothingness, until the next pool of amber light spotlit some sort of jewel of domestic life through a window (though mostly unpeopled scenes of furniture and lights) as we walked the deserted lanes. From our own window, there was no other house to be seen; only the churchyard and this was the same view, pretty much, that we had had the other year. It even struck me as a metaphor for how I hadn’t got so very far in all these years…and yet, though seemingly “much the same”, just being those few feet to one side of where we stayed before had altered the whole perspective of my view of everything (yes, that is what the last few years feel like…everything, sort of, the same and yet indescribably different). Because, last time, the church and its restored tower stood full thrust, squared in our view, and now these ruins were more assertive; so much so that they held my gaze, even my energy’s attention, as I slept. In every respect, this house seemed to suit our preferences “more” than the one we had stayed in before, for all they were ostensibly the same; its aesthetic, proportions, all the little details more closely matched to the way we like things…just as my life now, more nearly, matches “me” much more closely than it did a few year ago; in ways subtle yet just so important since they alter everything.

Ruins 1When we finally got to those ruins, the morning we were about to leave, there it was again; the feeling of a spirit that knows not its full potential now released to play with the container, a bird opened out to the sky from the cramped cage where it had spent all its life yet not fleeing but staying to perch, singing, on the roof. The only paradigm that is known…challenged, in ways that can seem momentarily destructive, disorienting, almost sacreligious; implied wrong doing. Yet oh so beautiful when you see beyond the erosion of “fixed” human intentions towards the merger with something else long-lost and abused that has grown to love its limitations in some wierd and wonderful way.

I have always had “a thing” about churches “released” back to nature and the sky; broken cathedrals, ruined abbeys, chapels with windows blasted through or with clear panes replacing all the fussiness, that overwhelming human desire to “tell stories” in coloured cartoons made of glass. We had had our fair share of stories that weekend too….of course we had…travelling with a teenage daughter and visiting elderly in-laws whose views are poles apart from ours; and yet we had quite deliberately steered away from those trigger topics (the B word, for instance…), keeping to the softer paths, adhering to no particular signposts except for the simple desire to spend quality time together. Keeping away from the oft-travelled highways, focused on common ground in between, did us all some good.Ruins 9.jpg

Akin to many of the places I’m attracted to, this place had clearly seen grander and more political times, when church and power made their homes here. Royalty had left its mark (the remnants of a castle) and dark intrigue had more recently followed  (a boat takes you to a “ness” where cold war experimentation took place; as ever, I had no desire to go there). Now, it has lost those trappings and is all the better for the relinquishment, yet softer somehow for having been around the wheel of fate and fortune, still bearing some of the scars. It knows better now and is the master of such fickleness; more than willing to crumble into a collection of quaint trophies as a quiet backwater. The best it has; the feeling of being allowed to let go of what everyone else is so strung up about. I found myself quite jealous of the air of detachment that permeated the village as vegetables and knitting craft got sold like it was “just any other day”, every day.

Ruins 10.jpgHere in the churchyard, those once stridently assertive, grandiosely thick pillars of human intention now reached “only” for the sky (not some lofty point of ambition at the top)…and there was simply no stopping them. Where arches remained, they simply leapt from one post to the next like the strides of a giant cloud-hopping across the green…and the place was so very green, like a merry dance between bricks and foliage. Moments of embellishment still asserted themselves from a bygone era, if disjointedly so, leaving them pure somehow, like pleasant words disengaged from tediously rambling sentences. The whole scene was over-watched by two holly trees stood guardian to the ruins. Even these were almost completely without point, their leaves mostly smooth (an epigenetic trait in response to a lack of environmental pressures, I read; nobody…no grazing animals…had apparently bothered these trees for some time). Rather, they seemed content to play hide-and seek with each other in this Eden made of crumbled-down stone, one male and one female, returned to some sort of balance we could all use the reminder of.

Just imagine how our own epigenetic traits could respond to a lack of needing so many sharp points in defence of ourselves, if we only gave them the chance to know such an environment…how we could all become more rounded, less guarded, in less than a generation.

Ruins 8.jpgThe whole place was so easy in its harmony and simplicity; and (now I’m home) reminds me of that part of me that I can go to quite regardless of what the outside world would have me drawn into; all those spaghetti junctions and sharp-edged “steel and glass buildings” of intent we make of our world. It is where I tune into, where I can divert my footfall towards, when opinions would have me join sides, when signs try to insist I must walk in a particular direction, towards some outcome or other (and never for just the view). When it all gets too much then here, in this small crumbling corner of this apparently purposeless place, was a reminder of something else I have access to, inside of me. A reminder that, far from having no measurable credentials, it has the most resounding of all since it liberates me to the big big skies beyond such cares.

Ruins 12.jpgWe bypassed the actual church on this visit; well, we were out of time and, besides, it would have detracted from the pure magic I had now installed in my heart as the take-away of this whole trip. I read that it has exceptional acoustics, so much so that composer Benjamin Britten and other musicians have long sought it out for that very reason and yet what are acoustics if not the desire to hear one’s own voice amplified back to oneself, louder and more resilient than ever? What if the alternate longing is to surrender that self-righteous voice…just for a time…and open-up to something else; to let wind and rain and other parts of Nature’s timpani make their so-called random cacophony, or to hear nothing at all and be refreshed by that beautiful silence? How about listening for once instead of always having to know best? What if it is in the spaces of silence, in the questions not answered and the not knowing where we are headed that we find ourselves again? I felt I knew myself somewhat better for my few days, for all I had written not a word…as though my words, like conversation on a headland, had simply got carried away on the wind.

As I settle back into the relentless noise of where I live, on a road where everyone is always going somewhere, which is an energy my body registers long before I wake and long after I fall into exhausted sleep each night, I hold onto that feeling as the treasure of all treasures. The nearest I can get to describing it is a sense of having remembered the value of “going nowhere”, of reaching beyond “the point”…or at least, any place or point that we yet know of. Because, when we enter into a new paradigm, all our measures and markers shift so dramatically that we cannot be held in by them anymore; we simply have to look beyond them…

The place we have just been, though it has “lost” a few things in recent years, is doing quite well at holding onto something even more precious than old-paradigm stuff and, perhaps, more necessary for us all to hold onto in the coming era, when momentum and making ourselves heard above others is deemed to be “everything” and we are all recruited for the fast-track ride to “somewhere” even before we are born. No, we are only fully buckled into that seat on the crazy ride if we agree to it; can all, if we want to, find other places and spaces where we abstain and retrain ourselves to the resonance of a contrary void of potential, with other things to say about liberty and balance, about unknown places and unlimited spaces. I am now a little more freshly reacquainted with mine.

Posted in Consciousness & evolution, Divine feminine, divine masculine, Life journey, Menu, Personal Development, Spirituality, Symbolic journeys | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seeking the warmth of “new” friendship

Of all the themes that has been on my mind this last year it is my sense of frustration over the lifelong quest for the “warmth and reciprocation” of in-person female friendship that mostly hangs in the air, unfulfilled. This is a quest where I don’t seem to have got very far on this planet of people from whom I feel distinctly separate in my, now diagnosed, neurodiversity (for all I now understand it better). Because, what I mean here is genuine intimacy, not all that on-the-surface showiness of familiarity that I see all around me. Rather, something much more like a glowing hearth fire I can draw close to in the form of another person and that person, likewise, to mine so that we can bathe in the warmth of trust and intimacy, without all the need for pretence. Its part and parcel of the longing to be seen as I am, to be accepted and loved without need for alteration. It’s the burning desire not to have to put on a front or use filters to make myself accessible and relatable to other people.

This may strike you as ironic given that those with Asperger’s, like me, are thought of as so cold, distant and not particularly good at relationships…but my experience is that women Aspie’s are full of love and deep feelings, we just don’t show it in the same way as neurotypicals (NTs).

More than anything, I suspect we don’t want to become part of all the fakeness that we see in so much NT behaviour, being far more straightforward than that (and we just cant do all that role-playing, stance taking stuff) and so we hold back….often withdrawing from the whole game rather than take part in what isn’t our way. We would rather wait this one out on the sidelines than play by rules that strike us as nonsensical and which would have us pretend to be what we are not, which goes against the grain of our logical mindset. So we become the classic loners, the ones deemed to be happy all alone, content to be watching the rest of the female population wrap arms around each other, operating (even in their mature years) in warm and gushing packs of females who like to be part of a crowd. As is typical of anything you are not part of, when you are not part of this it can seem like the whole world…every social media page and coffee shop…is bursting full of such women. We don’t even ask for such a crowd; tending to prefer a couple of really good friends that we can be intimate with, one at a time, but other women seek safety in numbers…which makes us shudder and back off even more. Is it any wonder we are deemed to be loners.

The irony is NTs, can seem so inclusively warm from the moment you meet them but that is really just some sort of mating dance to show off their feathers, a kind of preview…with conditions attached. You get the taster (certain voice tone with lots of up and down enthusiasm to what you say, hello and goodbye hugs though you are virtual strangers, the encouraging semblance of interest as stories get swopped, a cursory eye over what you are wearing and the way you do your hair, perhaps even a compliment though a criticism is just as likely to sound that way since there are hidden meanings in the tone of words). You get through this in one piece, you think, but then you still have to walk through some sort of baptism of fire, a testing zone, to get to that inner friendship core that you’ve been shown from the picture in the catalogue…

This testing zone is the second tier of the performance, the one where your provisional acceptance into the inner sanctum has to be put under duress, your credentials thoroughly checked out. So assuming you have got through the first stage (“what do you do/earn and where/how do you live” and a zillion hidden questions within), which you may not have done, even more chatting, comparing and swopping takes place; with a layer of filters now used to compartmentalise you. Mostly, a series of unspoken cues via body language and the need to obediently adhere to certain invisible hierarchies, like in the case of alpha and beta dogs, takes place. You will be put to the test, trip wires will be laid, opportunities for you to put a foot wrong which will determine whether you are a conformer to these unspoken rules and (you can set your timer to the moment of ejection) if you don’t pass muster, you’re “out”.

As a more experienced Aspie (though this stage may have eluded you as as child) you will feel that very moment when the eyes and even the air around you becomes subtly colder and the person turns their attention to something or someone else. It means you have failed some sort of test conducted entirely in unspoken signals, body language, pupil size and how long you can hold a gaze but, more importantly, whether you transmit some sort of quite particular electrical signal that says “I won’t rock your world or bend your paradigm further than you are comfortable with; I will live within your castle walls”. That test includes the game of passing the conversation ball back and forth (you probably dropped it or held it too long) or conveying, via some unspoken portfolio, that you have enough things in common to suggest you could meet this person’s other friends or family and it not be cringeworthy for them within a structure that says all their friends have to fit like a perfect piece of jigsaw that creates a most particular picture they have in mind. Only, you are the anomaly piece so you are thrown back in the box.

Aspie women are, I suspect, quite familiar with failing this test , even if they know not what they keep doing that strikes them off the potential list without opportunity for a tribunal or a review. So the second or third meeting never happens, you watch other new friendships take off in your presence, almost in an exaggerated way (as if to show you “this is what you didn’t get”), interest around you is markedly cooled down, people are busy, they cancel and suddenly you are back where you started; watching others form gushing friendships that you are never part of.

The thing is (here’s the biggest irony) you don’t actually want to be part of all that gush, the pretence, the fake interest in each other, the very premise that sets up scenarios intended to make others fail in order to expose and make meat of them (and maybe that’s the very signal that you sent out which ensured that you failed the test…) You were a dissenter. Perhaps you forgot to arrange your facial expression into something more neutral when behaviours you saw left you incredulous. You were too honest. You conveyed your reluctance all too clearly and you were sniffed out as a spy in the camp (laughing as that auto-corrected to “Aspie”). Plus, you were a threat to the stability of the group; someone who rocks the boat, thinks in a different way, makes up their own rules, doesn’t conform to norms.

You only ever wanted one thing, the real thing…where is it? Not amongst these people, who look so warm and cosy yet the conditions they have to dance through to keep “in” the fold are painful to behold. Would you trust your innermosts with such people? They do, apparently based on their topics of conversation but then you wonder why, since this degree of intimacy only ever comes back to haunt them when things turn unpleasant; as you probably got to experience at least once or twice in your life, when your intimate shares were turned against you after the friendship with an NT ended. In fact, there is a culture of gathering-in information expressly to make one person powerful over another, holding as they now do the other person’s secrets, like the currency of power; its all too obviously flawed and convoluted for an Aspie to want to take part in. Yes, there are some genuine souls in those groups but they are sold out to that whole dance of behaviours, too fearful of being perceived as different to become too close to you and too reluctant to be bothered with you anyway, because you are “hard work”, requiring them to learn different ways of interacting and to think outside their comfortable box. Maybe you are the friend they turn to in desperation, when they are abandoned or after a crisis of some kind…and there you are, the reliable rock of support in their hour of need…but in fair weather, they often disappear again. If this has been your trend, you may not choose to offer yourself up like that any more…

So any wonder we seem cold; for we have learned many hard lessons about how it goes when we show ourselves too much too soon…as we have a tendency to do, being so straightforward that this is how we are; truthful when asked questions. This trait seems to fit in at the first stage of the NT assessment, when fake enthusiasm and interest abounds but, by the second stage, we are often deemed weird for being too frank, too honest, about interests and viewpoints that set alarm bells ringing and so we are dropped.

What you see is what you get here, we have no time or inclination for any social dances. If we are there at all, in a social setting, then we are prepared to be with this person…with full emphasis on the word “BE”….and so we expect the same back; to be received as we are, not to have to pass muster in some-sort of comedy of manners. We are there to be together, as equals with interest in each other, on a level playing field of interaction but without the games. We bring our heart and you bring yours…it really is that simple, one could almost say logical.

Because we like to get straight to the point then, yes, maybe heart on sleeve is the apt phrase, because we are either inside of ourselves all alone or with someone else wanting to get to know them, and for them to know us….so we show ourselves; we really do (or we did until we lost he nerve after so many hurts). That’s the point, right? There is no other point to friendship in our view. For us, it’s not about survival (we already know we can cope well on our own), we don’t seek safety in numbers, we are looking for a match, an interaction, a kindling of feelings. All this layering of behaviours, the secret codes of nuance, the fake friendliness over guarded sub-layers built like some sort of endurance test coated with sugar; it fazes us and distracts from the whole purpose…of two souls meeting to compare notes about life, to share special topics, to be genuinely interested in each other and to care deeply. For the sum of two to be more than their parts. Isn’t that the whole point of human relationships? I sometimes wonder…

Maybe this is why I’ve had better track record making friends on the internet; where you are expected to get straight to this heart-point, without all the frills. Yes, I’ve encountered some bitchiness, cliquiness and stance taking in internet forums but Im not talking about them; I mean real connections made one person to another through common interest. These have thrown up some of the warmest and most genuine friendships of my life, without which I might give up on expecting it any more. Three of my closest friends are in America and they check in with me often, they ask how I’m doing, they really care and they are spontaneous in their expressions of love (yes, I said love) and all of the above from me to them. We do big stuff for each other, not as transaction but out of wanting to. We can be who we are with each other and we are so important to each other; and yet we have never met!

Perhaps this is because, having not met me in person, my lack of appropriate “secret” body language can’t be judged…there is no test to be taken…so they evaluate me according to who I really am, via those things that I express, which are so much more fluent when I have written words at my disposal (another Aspie trait). Through words direct from the heart,, they regard me as anything but cold or threatening to know; quite the opposite. Its similar to those friendships I have made via my blogging. What l have come to know is that when I am seen directly via the heart, without all the trappings, it is sooo possible for people to “get” me and value me for just how true and unconvaluted my nature is; I am what I am and that’s what they love about me. Yet I stand all alone at a gathering, the one no one picked, which goes to show how much crap is over-layered “in the flesh” of human social situations!

So what I seek from a friendship is truly reciprocal and that is what I have always lacked in my in-person friendships. When I look back to my most recent crash and burn attempts, the couple that looked so promising and the long standing friend (met when our girls were just born) there is a distinct theme in common. They HARVESTED me. I was like a fascinating book the couple couldn’t put down, their questions about things they longed to hear my spin about were relentless but they never met “me” as I am, never wanted to get involved in how I felt inside, my struggles, the elephant in the room of my health challenges, those things that make me often painfully human. There was no asking how I was today, no concern if I had problems, no checking in or asking for updates afterwards; and oh how I long for these behaviours from what I imagine to be my ideal friends. In fact, it was the point when my health issues came up unavoidably, meaning I had to be firm about the way we arranged our activities together, that the whole thing went cold because it simply wasn’t convenient that I was a person with this thing going on. I suspect, I wasn’t believed and was even belittled somewhat for challenges they couldn’t see with their eyes, didn’t even want to try to comprehend with their minds (not one question asked about that part of my life…). There were too many conversations about me behind closed doors (I hate that and it loses my intimacy immediately; I could feel every disgruntled word said as a frequency, though the words weren’t audible, telling me all I needed to know…don’t people know that?). So there it was, exposed to the light; I had been milked as usual but had not been embraced or even half-way met as a flesh-and-blood person. The same with my long standing friend; when I reminisce about our highlights, these were times when I had information to share that was useful to her as a parent (she liked mostly to compare how our daughters were doing…such a limited topic to spend 20 years on, in my view, but it made her feel better in some way) or as someone with health challenges. So I would share and share and she would take note but there was no real interest in me, in how I felt, how I was really doing, what I had been through lately, no warmth or gestures of care or concern to reciprocate ways I constantly tried to draw her out…and, I guess, no surprise, the friendship abruptly ended when its reason for being (our girls) left home. Those same things that still eluded me in almost all my friendships were abjectly missing.

Tragically, my whole lifetime of friendships looks a bit like that; a one way street of entertainment with my quirkiness and humour when I was younger or of emotional support and information from the vast pool of my special interests around wellbeing and spiritual topics as I matured. It was like I did all the work and they came around for a cheer up and a crash course, sometimes (literally) clutching pen and paper in hand for their note-taking…something that has happened to me such a lot, like I was delivering a fascinating lecture or a counselling session to those people I considered to be my closest friends. They couldn’t even be bothered to read my blogs, they told me (though the topics often overlapped); they wanted it spoon fed. Sometimes, I felt like I should have charged for tickets or sent them a bill for my time after several exhausting hours of counselling, leaving them feeling much better and me depleted. I became the plot summary on the back cover, the living lifehack, the research bod, even the guinea pig and then they would take away the best of the best of what I had come up with lately and I would stand there in a cloud of dust on my doorstep as they breezed off with their arms full of booty. I would try to pass off the warm glow that “helping people” gave to me as the golden reciprocation of friendship…until I realised that they gave nothing back except exhaustion and disappointment; the feeling of being fleeced or burgled. I’ve done with being a resource; I’m holding out for the real thing now. Maybe this is another Aspie pitfall, at times when our “special interests” hold currency to certain people who call themselves friends; and maybe its one to look out for if the flow is all one way and if that energy-drain is all that is holding a friendship together.

So, how do I imagine true friendship to be? It has been such a long time in the longing stage that I almost lack the stamina to say. Yet I know it exists because I have seen and heard it depicted, read about it in stories and autobiographies (it can make me cry rivers…) and I now have it with my “big” sister. Yes, it may have been a long time coming but over the last three years since she retired, my sister and I have become so close (though she lives 160 miles away) that it makes my heart sing. We can talk about almost anything, from the mundane to the meaningful and we check in with each other…really check in about how we are doing, following up, thinking about each other in our absence, genuinely showing interest in each other’s projects. We can do this stuff stream-of-consciousness fashion over the internet, which has been such a boon to this blossoming friendship, but also in person; where we are so warm with one another, so open and full of trust and mutual support, capable of being so fun and yet deep at the same time. This is what I want; have always wanted. This late summer bloom from within my own tribe has finally modelled what I am looking for from a friendship with someone who lives close enough for me to see them in the flesh, to sit knees next to knees by the light of the hearth for long chats or comfortable silences; to go on spontaneous outings; to laugh and be playful with yet also serious and deep without all the need for caution and preamble. This, this, this…..is what I want.

But then, of course, I think there is a reason this new phase of friendship has come to pass with my sister other than our pre-existing link as (to start with) not so close family members; and its that we are wired pretty-much the same way. Its not for me to say whether she has Asperger’s but she is self-admittedly “on the spectrum” in some of her ways (oh yes!) and she also has no time for faking it, for social mind games, the jumping through hoops and passing of tests. We are who we say we are and we get straight to the point. We can see, without so much crap layered on top, that each of us has this HUGE tender heart and we treat that with such care, such nurture and consideration, as though it was our own heart, so it is this reciprocity that, I realise, is everything to the kind of union I have sought all my life. There are no hierarchies, pecking orders, rules, transactions…we are so very equal that we defy such a definition in words; almost as though we are the same person. By comparison, NT friendships seem to be more about bumping shoulders together until one party gives way. What we do (ironically, since we are labelled so anti-social) is like a merger, a truth pot, returning to source, Namaste (“I see you…”) in action. It is where logic (since this straightforward heart-merger, without all the tappings, is the very epitome of logical) becomes cosmic…back to where we are all one and the same and yet we have our humanness to discuss together with ever-flowing, ceaselessly growing fascination. We are source split in two forms comparing “what have you got…here’s mine” out of our special interest pots whilst knowing, always, that we are sentient beings who long to be seen in all our complexities, our hurts, our joys; yes, seen as a whole picture, every part included and welcome to show up. We connect through frequency, which is a shared wavelength (we have many telepathic moments, as I do with my close internet friends)…and it travels any distance, flows through obstacles, speaks only truth.

This gives me hope for other Aspie female friendships but how do I make them? I suspect many Aspie women, who are already having to come to terms with their diagnosis late in life (as is so often the case), reach this point feeling as bruised and jaded about friendships as I am. They have lost faith that it can be any different to how it has always been. Perhaps they worry that such closeness necessitates very-much touching and complimenting, gushing and endearments that are not in our vocabulary (nope!), that it would be too demanding of their inner time and need to be alone (no way, we really get this!) or that they have nothing interesting to say that is of value to others (by that same token, I must be a stuck record of tediously weird and self-focused topics). What I suspect, actually, is that we would start to evolve and then model the fundamentals of friendship in some new and highly refreshing ways; that our propensity to get straight to the point would allow us to become closer friends quicker than most; and that we wouldn’t play mind games or manipulate, make up stories or put on fronts and masks, since its not in our remit to proffer falsehoods (what’s the point of that?) nor would we take people for a ride only to dump them on a whim or because of a change in the wind. We would, of course, remember things about each other, being sticklers for details and, knowing how bruised we all feel from “not having been seen” as who we really are for so long, we would absolutely SEE each other as we are, would check in without prompting and would show that we cared, long after the meet-up…in fact, outside of space and time, unconditional of setting or convenience and even if we met only seldom. This is what I imagine…not just for Aspie’s but for everyone that wants it.

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The taking and the giving

Yesterday, I killed a bird and it was quite unintentional. With somewhere to get to and with a rare schedule to keep, I was driving along the winding country lane near my home at the speed of one who knows all the bends when a cloud of swallows rose up from behind the hedgerow and flew as one in a great swoop over the road to the telegraph wire. One lagged behind out of the pattern, hesitated and came lower as though straight towards me and I also hesitated, tried to swerve and, in doing so, hit it as it took the same avoiding diversion. This wasn’t a road for stopping so I witnessed its last movements as a receding view in my mirror, down on the tarmac; yet somehow felt its irregularly fluttering heart, its sun-warmed feathers, in the palm of my hand with such intimacy it broke my heart. I felt sick, all the colour drained from my face and I probably trembled a little, even as I bashed the steering wheel with frustration. I was so angry with myself for not being present as I drove…or at least, not enough to know whether there was another car up close behind if I braked hard on the bend so I had hesitated, assuming the bird was nimble enough to avoid me and there it was, I had done this. My dance with Nature had been out of step for long enough to do harm.

From that point, I felt agitated, consumed with guilt, regret and remorse, as though a heavy leaden weight had descended on my heart, a cup of ink had spilled on the day or like an omen had been shown to me (it was an auspicious day; soon, we were heading off to the airport to collect my daughter, whose plane was about to take off…). Now, I felt I didn’t deserve my day to go well anymore; felt distinctly out of kilter.

I sent blessings to the bird, garbling some appropriate-seeming words in my head to accompany it on its way, wishing fervently that I had better ones to draw on when these things happen; some profound alchemy I could perform in order to restore the balance most quickly. I was struck by the irony that I had ended its life at the peak of its exuberance, that very thing I had been writing about in my post that morning; feeling it rise in myself like a spiralling tailwind in the warm breeze and now I had cut-short the life of its very talisman. I wanted to somehow make recompense to the bird-world though my husband aptly pointed out that I already had as the kites gained a lunch…it was all-but cleaned up by the time I drove back an hour later (Nature wastes nothing). Everything I’m about, that I choose to be, felt temporarily spoiled or hypocritical in the aftermath, like I had failed at it all.

But then as the day progressed, I continued to hear all the relentless shooting sounds that go on in the background, weekend after weekend from late august, where I live….the ceaseless murder of birds reared in the name of someone getting to shoot at them. What I “had done” by accident was a far cry from what the greedy pigs (sorry pigs) that guzzle on pheasant meat washed down by a robust red do, really, so that they can kill “for fun”, which pheasant shooting is really about; no one “needs” this meat on their plate, least of all those who have it. With all the gun-shot, it honestly sounds like we live a mile from the frontline in this typical South of England semi-rural community and it sickens me to my stomach, angers me so much, week after week, but there it is…its legal and its popular.

As it happened, I had been drawn to watch Avatar the evening before (it had been many years…) and hadn’t got around to finishing it so I settled down to watch its second half that evening. In many ways, watching it then felt so timely, now more so than even the night before.  I NEEDED to do a refresher on how it’s all about balance; how Eywa (like our Gaia) won’t take sides… but will step in if that balance gets messed with. Push too far one way and we can be sure she will push back. In these morale-destroying times, I needed to make myself sure of that again; this needed to be revised, made fresh as a visual (thank you Avatar) so I can keep on believing it more strongly. Like a tonic, I HAD to immerse in the acknowledgement that all is connected for a couple of hours, as I truly believe it is, for all it is not widely acknowledged by the masses. I found whole new layers of synchronicity with what I have been learning recently about the incredible interconnectivity of trees and between trees and the rest of Nature in Peter Wohlleben’s astonishing book The Hidden Life of Trees – What They feel, How They Communicate (2017); to the  point that Avatar has already taken on the air of science fact more so than science fiction in the ten years since its release (two sequels are in the pipeline). These connections are undeniable, yet they can seem ephemeral, fragile and we can (collectively) abuse them, pushing and pushing them to the point of extinction. So, in the dominant world trajectory, we are (again, collectively) pushing very hard indeed…but we can be sure Gaia will push back, in ways that may surprise and, yes, alarm us all yet.

And of those doing the pushing, I am doing relatively little of it…in fact, less and less, with each passing year as we adapt our lifestyle to be more in sync with Nature, not less so as is the dominant trend. My heartfelt accident is a far cry from those who kill for nearly every meal (even if they pay someone else to do it) though there are plenty of other healthy options in most developed places, for instance, plus all the harm they do to the planet by encouraging meat production as one of the most ecologically destructive industries yet devised. I suspect it will be those of us who tread most gently on the earth, acting as gentle custodians, not rapers and pillagers, who will ride out this next wave with most grace; because we will be serving as the agents of balance in a world off kilter.

And if we feel alone or dispersed, ineffectual and outnumbered, Avatar reminded me also that what we actually need is a willing turn out, with a forceful desire in our hearts to step forwards as protectors of Nature, in ways large and small, doing what we can with what we have, as with the gathering of the far-flung nations in Avatar (and not necessarily an equal match for the machine mentality in force power). Because, at some point, when we reach a certain tipping point as those prepared to take a stand, we will feel Gaia’s support at our backs, as the agents of balance working with her, and it will make all the difference. As I said before, all is connected…in ways unfathomable to those who plunder Nature as a “resource”; thank you, Avatar, for the spectacular visual reminder of our sentient planet and the hidden “technologies” that outdo the arogance of self-interested parties. It isn’t those of us who feel remorse as we harm that are most out of kilter here, it is those who feel nothing at all!

So, yes, yesterday I killed a bird…unwittingly, with great remorse, feeling sick to my stomach and it reverberated through me long afterwards and still now; just as it did the very last time, years ago, when a robin came from nowhere against my windscreen on a country lane. That time, I also pained and pained over it; but then, looking back, it was from about then that I paid more attention to these and other small birds, treating them ever more thoughtfully, paying close attention to their habits, learning their songs, encouraging them all through my garden by creating a habitat that would enable them to thrive, with food in winter, water in the heat and sheltered places for nesting. Since then, we have attracted all sorts of birds and welcomed one fledgling robin after another, watching them grow up from the speckled fluff balls that find their feet and then their wings in our cat-free haven (one even spent its first day out of the nest in my dog’s plush bed, right next to where we were sitting, unfazed by our presence). Then, each autumn, one always seems to take up position as “our” resident bird, singing nightly in the tree by my kitchen window as I prepare the evening meal…same place, probably same branch, year after year….and on into spring time, bringing back a mate and so the circle turns. Though I already loved robins, I was reminded of some sort of intimacy with birds that I must have lost, after my adolescence, by the gift of that one bird’s demise and, now, my relationship with all birds is one of the most important things in my world, teaching me so very much about some surprisingly universal things. It somehow jolted me out of the subtle state of disconnect I had been in beforehand (a collective phenomenon…convenient but unhealthy) and I felt more aligned after that.

So, we give and we take; and, though sometimes we don’t mean to take or it feels necessary, when done with great respect and gratitude (Avatar once again), it is that all-important point of realising the difference between this and grabbing all we can that makes a person who they really are; a “small” detail which, I suspect, will become far more decisive of our fate than some people have yet to realise in this quite pivotal era we have now entered.

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Exquisite life

Being a mother in the confidence of a young adult daughter is such an opportunity to relive some of those old colours and sensations of youth. Listening to my daughter tearily describe to me, from the airport as she awaited her flight home, the sheer tirade of emotions running though her as she left behind three of the most incredible months of her life and all the intense new friendships she has made working for the summer on the other side of the world, I found myself saying these words to try and help her navigate the seeming overwhelm of it all: “You’re experiencing the ‘exquisite pain of youth’….the reason you feel things so intensely at your age is that even the pain is because you love something or someone so much. I remember that feeling! Yes, life is very intense at your time of life, so enjoy it. I miss it!!”

And I meant it…was caught, transfixed, for a moment immersed in its flavour, carried on the wind from my newly travel-enriched offspring. Back then at her age, as I recall, all the colours and volumes of life were turned up for me too…and I allowed it all in, I beckoned it, without hesitation. It was a sensory explosion and life was a crazy, rich tapestry of ecstasy and hurt…so much hurt. There were so many fixations upon things and people but perhaps, especially, boys who did not reciprocate; in fact (I suspect) if they had I would have run a mile, yet I jumped in with both feet, intensely and obsessively when it came to these one-sided fixations which, I now learn, is an Asperger’s thing. Whether they are one-sided or not (and for my daughter, clearly not) it was this free-for-all, the wholesale “give it to me” wolf howl for experiences to happen that I remember the most. What happened to all that?

As I reminisced out loud to my husband this morning, I found myself describing how I kept it going, perhaps, longer than some…wooing this free-for-all experiential feeling long into my twenties, living as bohemianly and noncommittally as I could, mixing with colourful people who seemed to throw these colours around on their palette just like I did. However, one by one, either because they had attached to some career path that meant more to them or because they were on some other work path that didn’t and which wore their spirit down, those people stepped away from the exhuberant scene I had chosen and I was left all alone.

Also, somewhere down the line, that general exuberance got replaced by alcohol driven behaviours, fixations that were about other things to those that truly excited me. I can recall how, in the early years that we were together, one of the things that most beguiled me about my first husband was the way he would exude so much excitement for a future built on all the riches he planned to “make”; spinning stories about how he would spend his millions on a lifestyle that “we” would be enjoying by now. As exuberant friends stepped away from our circle to get married or “serious” about life, I shortchanged myself into accepting his version of what I once had, which wasn’t ever about being rich in money, but was always about being rich in life. I mistook one for the other, dazzled by the frequency of excitement and not so-much hearing the content; until I was caught up in it all, duped into something that had “seemed” to be what I was wanting but was not. For here was a man who had nothing to offer when it came to exploration and travel, to feelings and colour; he wanted none of that, poo-pooing all I had to say on such matters. My sensory synapses got blunted and then blunted some more until I felt like a mute piece of firewood for the longest time. That was how it had happened…

At the start, all I had ever really wanted was to travel, to meet people, to experience different cultures, to defy the linearity and planning-obsession of life and mix it all up into soundbites of colour and sensation, like a multi-sensory synesthesia painting. I was where my daughter is now, newly back from crazy, eventful travels with a female friend, with that travel bug biting away at my heels and with such misgivings at the prospect of setting down into my first job (which awaited me) gnawing away at my thoughts, when I met my first husband and it all got trimmed away as superfluous.

So, in my conversation with her last night, I also found myself saying “I think you know this by now but only be with people who encourage you to grow and explore…if they try to clip your wings, fly away!”

This is as sound advice as I can give anyone of any age but it applies especially to her age group, as friends “get serious” and partner up so fast that the conveyor-belt mentality is literally all around, bedazzling with promises of a house, a ring, a dog…empty promises without the freedom to experience all you are here to experience. It would have been good advice to me and I still give it to myself (though I have far less need to, these days).

The challenge, at my age, can be finding people who still want to join you on the sensory explosion of life, as you once caught a taste of in your youth. And can it ever be experienced again, once life has blunted off all your most wayward, exploratory nerve ends, whole bunches of synapses filed away as superfluous by the hard “truths” of conventional life? Once life has “taught you” the disappointing and hard practicalities of “the way things are?” Its a hard thing to achieve but not impossible to regain some ground and, there, I suspect I have the advantage as the non-conformist, a-typical Aspie with the built-in synesthesia point of view. Forever, I have harboured this nugget of the wayward, like a handful of that earlier prototype of myself “held back” when life came to demand that I hand it all over; and it has served me well in many a crisis. Because, while those around me started to fixate on their salary brackets, lawns, cars, package holidays, waistlines, where to get their hair or nails done and the plots of their favourite soaps, I was busily having the burnout that returned me back to the rawness of myself. Yes, it was often exquistely painful but a timely reminder and somewhat of a relief, after the comfortable numbness that preceeded it. Those beliefs I once had, that life can be rich, intense and fluid are still there, seeking new outlets as the alternate me I have become (and am still becoming). I am not politely self-limited but exponential, in my own revised viewpoint, beyond convention.

Its made me a far more accessible and useful parent than I might have been. In those glimpses when I still recall the intensity of those earlier times like they were yesterday, I am able to share out that relatability factor with my daughter at the same time as reserving a portion for myself. In those remembered moments of what life can feel like, full volume, as though you had learned none of the jaded stuff to contradict what your heart wants to feel, I can draw back some of those sensations into my own colour spectrum and dip my brush in their vibrancy to paint something new and surprising for my age-group. It mixes things up for me and, though I largely do it alone with respect to my age peers, I newly appreciate how I was always meant to do that anyway. ..that it was always about me, having the experience, and not reliant on other people to provide the subplots. Life is as rich as we individually make it (and allow it to be) and while some would say “you have to grow up…put those ideas to one side” I would argue that there is no good precedent to say so. Really, are those who ever did so such a great advert for the effect? As ever, I prefer to be alone and be authentic to myself than in a crowd miserably “conforming”.

We compartmentalise youth as though its something to be grown out of, put aside…but, so often, we lose such big parts of ourselves and some of the richness of life along the way. With increasing nostalgia, as parenthood brings memories (such memories!) flooding back, I find myself remembering and getting drunk on the exquisite pain of it all in preference to the well-rehearsed stories I had long used to compartmentalise the past in so many grey boxes on the shelves of my memory. Those occassional shards of remembered pain are like a defibrillator sparking my jaded heart back into life; I regret nothing anymore…no, not one single stab in the heart, paired as it was with such vibrancy, excitement and joy to be alive. The full experience range of life “remembered” as in to “reattach” to myself. Exquisite pain sounds, to me, far better than chronic numbness, so these windows into what it is possible to be feel are doing me such good on the roller-coaster ride of parenthood. Though I might not want to do it all again from scratch, I relish the chance to (re)learn the gift of being more fully alive through younger eyes and hope, in the process, I offer good counsel not to give it all away for a song.

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The Path

When life (not just health) “goes wrong”, most of us are happy with the 2 Ps…a prescription and a pat on the head. We seldom ask core questions, of ourselves or our mentors.

Life has become synonymous with pain and we just want to hand it over, to make it all go away.

This fear of pain makes space for paternalism and politics. The system becomes the great father to whom we go for answers and instruction; and, in time, we learn to question at our peril since to question is to rock the boat that provides what we now regard as the source of our safety.

Yet (as perception wakes up, we will be called on to ask) where do we think peril really lies; in the state of our life or in handing over our destiny to the say-so of others in such a wholesale, unquestioning way?

When we do the latter, we lose also our pride and our power. Easy sacrifices since, for too long, we have been taught that these are “bad” or “misplaced” things in the individual.

Pride has been tarnished by association with “ego”; linked to desire for self-preservation…survival; an innately human yet frowned-upon thing, except when managed on our behalf.

We forget that this is also linked to self-love…a belief in ap-preciation over de-preciation; to take care of and honour oneself as a unique creation of the divine.

Appreciation leads straight to personal empowerment since we now appreciate all that we are and can do…and all that we are not and do not resonate with.

patrick-fore-74TufExdP3Y-unsplashSo, at last, we stand up tall in our perfection. In remembering how we are already perfect we also recall how, when we handed ourselves over so freely, we surrendered a belief in our own innate wellness, losing ourselves in other agendas; a murky deluge that has swamped us for the longest time. We bought into a belief that we were broken, flawed, commonplace, ignorant, not deserving.

Now we have found peace; which is an internal thing, an insider job that we do each day though the work is not taxing and which we carry with us constantly though the load is forever light.

Once we are there, our head above water, we seldom get lost again since we have remembered our own unique path; which is part of us, sewed to the heel of our foot by our own divine self.

All of this is a journey on the way towards a new paradigm; one we take many times, in many forms. It is in the getting “lost” for a time that we rediscover ourselves on the bends; by catching those ever-more frequent glimpses of our true self glistening and tall in our peripheral vision (we now look way beyond “the obvious” as we navigate our path) as we turn yet another sharp corner, away from what was not our heart’s destination until, at last, we recognise who we really are.

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