When I was very young, my impulse was always to excitedly push forwards along some perceived highway of no visible end, whose route was bordered by surprises, to want to stride or possibly work out how to fly to get ever further across that borderless landscape and to see everything that came my way, guided by impulse. If I close my eyes now, I can experience once again just a hint of the excitement that used to flower in the pit of my stomach when I considered what lay up ahead which, I knew, needed no predictors…I loved that it was filled to the brim with the unknown. I assumed, this being just the beginning, that there must be so much in store for me up ahead; that repetition was unnecessary in such a world. I see now how the stronger impulse of life, once life got going, was to force me to live in circles; like I was a kid being called in from exploring outside…to sit down with my hands on my knees and told to do what I was expected to do, as we have apparently always done it, then to keep on marking the occasions that had gone before with an endless repeat of the same.
Seasons have long held me in…traditions…anniversaries… As a consummate synaesthete, I have always visualised my journey through time as travelling a “road” that resembles a coil, each time of the year arranged above the previous matching seasons so that I could almost jump between the layers of time just as easily as I could continue travelling forwards. “Doing the same things” year-on-year reinforced that, held my years in ever tighter, like a spring in a box…its full potential not full explored; a pile of circles held in place by these clips that held everything neatly in place. Is this how we all learn to live our lives…until we literally run out of spring? When I first started letting go of those things that pinned my experiences down in this way…started experimenting…time felt like one of those slinky toys let of it’s packaging, charging down the staircase of my childhood home, unleashed, audacious and exuberant again.
Impossible to list all the complex and subtle ways I have let go of tradition and habitual behaviours over the last half decade but a more obvious example is just how much I feel “in neutral” about Christmas approaching now. You know, that one-day event that, for more than half the population of the world, preoccupies their every-second thought in the third portion of the year, their whole world fitted around and culminating in that one date like their very lives depended on it. These days, I don’t drink, don’t eat meat let alone the big heavy roasts that I used to, don’t eat confectionary, cakes, don’t watch tv or listen to insipid music or radio stations, don’t shop in any conventional way, don’t throw open house for distant relatives or loose acquaintances, don’t buy “stuff” out of habit, for the fleeting high of shopping, to compete with others or, indeed, at all unless it’s a well-considered acquisition and either beautiful, useful or both. So what are we going to do this christmas? Yet there’s no sadness in the question, only curiosity. Its been a tenuous tradition in our family for almost half a decade and, I realise, is now hanging by hardly a thread but, in paring it down to what’s truly important to us, we’ve made room for something new to arise and I am curious to see what that is. By and large, I see now how Christmas entrained me to embrace repetition, honing in that childlike impulse to pursue excitement and turning it into the once-a-year promise of a thrill in return for trading in so many more of my excited impulses.Well, I for one would rather get excited all year around about a myriad of other things. I still expect to decorate a tree, go for winter walks, light fires, be grateful and spend even more focused, precious time in the company of loved ones; but I won’t be orchestrating any of that, or giving it a second thought until it pretty-much happens. The relief is massive. I no longer feel held down to an action-replay of all the previous Decembers of my life!
The thing is, I haven’t lost anything by taking these traditions out of the protective wrappers that had mummified the habits of a lifetime into the stuck-points of my experience; and I have gained far more than I imagined. When the coil expands, light slips in between the layers. You can still “see” what you did at this season before but those memories are less dictatorial. The curiosity around what is currently arising is much stronger, more vivid. You realise you are dealing with what is, not what you expected to be there.
I realise that the labyrinth I recently walked (my post Walking the Labyrinth) reenacted this phenomenon for me so that I could become even more powerfully aware of it. Through its many 180 degree turns, we found that – as we all spread out along its route, walking at different paces – we arrived at situations where we seemed to be very close to each other, shoulder to shoulder at times and yet, in terms of the path we were on, we were actually very far apart, standing in very different parts of the journey. Many footsteps lay in between one person and the other and yet the illusion of being “in the same place”was quite over-bearing at times so the eyes tried to insist what was not so. That’s just how life can feel in our relationship with previous versions of ourselves…we think we have traveled very far, achieved so much and “wallop” its New Year again or the same people are visiting, saying the same things and its as though we have landed right back where we started, as in a game of snakes and ladders. We peer over the walls and fences of time and the external similarities of the landscape try to tell us we are exactly who were were a year, a decade, a whole lifetime ago…even though we have traveled untold distances in between and we have a tendency to fall for that illusion the more it is sured up by repetitious behaviour.
We were right the first time: we have travelled very far indeed but life trips us up into thinking we are held back to things that stopped being part of what we choose for ourselves long long ago. Christmas…being with other family members…is particularly good at that. Music can do that in a nano-second; two bars and we’re right back there and I notice the new impulse in myself, these days, is to constantly seek out new music and to move on from it once it becomes too heavily associated with time or place. Seasons, anniversaries, traditions all prompt us to go back there, suggest we are closer than we are to the times when long-ago things happened – like a wormhole through time – and yet we are light years away measured in footsteps, breaths, moments of consciousness. We realise all at once, time is an illusion and yet, while in this body, the experience of “now” is all important, is where we most emphatically place attention to get the most out of it all…not peering down these wormholes of repetition, beguiling and insistent as they are. It can be as hard as giving up an addiction to shake off the constricts of habit and tradition yet so worth it to survey the fresh borderless landscape ahead.
“Be here, now” has become the very mantra of my recovery – in terms of health and of liberating myself from all the calcified thoughts and emotions of the amalgam of prior experiences that I know I had become before I came to understand this. The now is an interface that offers me everything I need to take my next best step forwards; when I trust it to do so, it will intuitively offer up anything that I need to recall from “the past” (will spontaneously play that song at me that bridges the experiences I needed to help me perceive the connection between different parts of my lives, for instance) without me prompting it or forcing it along. This has become the dance of a new reality that is birthing a lightness of experience that, I suspect, is like nothing I have ever enjoyed before from within the human experience.
Tradition can feel like it grounds us, holds us safe on the familiar soil of our world; and there is such a lot of fear around disrespecting the past, its ways and inhabitants, those things they put themselves through to get us here. The seasons rhythmically comfort us like the rocking arms of a cradling mother, reassuring us that we are safe, held and nurtured in the embrace of something far bigger than we allow ourselves to accept that we are. Yet when we let go of all these as the determining factors of our experiences and allow the tightly coiled impulses of many lifetimes pull asunder, to limber up and snap out of their restraints and to leap where they will again, we put the spring back into life and we reach closer to our potential, like tiny steps suddenly made giant.
This can be exhilarating beyond words and, above all, sweeps us up in the knowing that whatever happens now is uniquely ours, not somebody else’s pattern. When we let go of old fixed patterns, it’s not that we are suddenly devoid of patterns in our lives…but, rather, that far more uniquely perfect, divinely inspired ones start to assert themselves through the rhythms of our lives. They sing their exquisite melodies through the so-called accidents of synchronicity and convergence, through intuition and quick-step impulses, delivering lyrics to a song we might have missed hearing altogether in the habitual hymnal of our old life. On hearing them, this becomes the point when life stops being conditional upon mundane circumstance and becomes something with its own set of wings.