There is a collared dove living in our garden, we call her/him “Bob” and we love him/her with a vengeance.

Really, there is a pair of doves because they were, and are again, a couple, though only one is ever on the nest or feeder in our garden at any one time, and they (of course) could be a different pair to last year. Because this pattern has been going on for years…in fact, as long as I can remember in this house, with the very same nest in use time and time again. So, presented with two of them, which one (if either of them) is Bob?

However we know for sure, this time, that one of the “Bobs” is the same as last summer as he/she has a drooping right wing from when she/he bounced off our window, having being flustered by a wood pigeon at the feeding station, and I rescued him/her with food, water and watchful company, setting up my painting station close-by (which he/she seemed to appreciate), until she/he had recovered enough to leave the flower borders and take off a couple of days later.

He/she lives in a rudimentary nest of twigs in our disused satellite dish on the south-facing wall of our house, right under the eaves, and is often to be found sat in there, leaning against the metal bracket, peering down at us from a bird’s eye view. She/he seems to love to watch us reading, pruning, enjoying breakfast together in the garden below (as we did just the other day, before the cold snap came back…) and is both reticent yet comfortable with us, also curious and, of course, to a degree dependent on food we put out on the ground feeder. Bob has never been far away over winter, although there was no partner in sight during those months.

During the warmer days, they (as a couple) can be found together in easy coupledom, high up in the tree over our driveway, just a short swoop from their satellite nest. Up there, on the sunnier afternoons, they preen and they doze together to the background music of robin or goldfinch and it warms the heart to see them up there, familiar sight as it is from last year and, probably, the year before and the one before that.

Yet all this time, and its been quite some time now, of feeling as though Bob is a part of our family (the name “Bob” came to me when I was tending to him/her under the cover of the dahlias after the window crash…) we have no idea whether Bob him/herself is male or female or, really, any evidence at all that this is the same couple who nested in our dish last summer…or, our favourite theory, is Bob the offspring of that effort (because there was one offspring)…because they all look exactly the same.

So, Bob is “Bob” and other Bob is “Bob”, or sometimes we take a stab and call one of then Bob-ette, but not very often. They are kind-of one and the same entity that we love dearly and consider part of our expanded family unit, such that (after last night’s dusting of snow and this morning’s white frosty coating) I have just been out there to check on him/her in the nest and, with a slight jiggle of my jug full of seed, announced that breakfast is served in the ground feeder. His/her beady eye seemed to acknowledge that, yes, in a few moments, when the sun has warmed the ground a little more, she/he might deign to swoop down (before the woodpidgeons get stuck in…) and so I now feel comfortable to settle down to my own breakfast.

Often, on warmer days, when I am still on my yoga mat, its as though Bob uses the cue of my stirrings just the other side of a foot’s depth of brick wall, to take that first swoop across my window view, down to the lawn and so I get to see him/her enjoying breakfast whilst I stand in tree-pose (assuming there is any food left from the night before)…or, I’ve been known to interrupt my practice to go down in the cold morning to fill the empty feeder because I can’t bear to leave him/her wanting while I am in the zone if its been a cold night. By the same token, I remind myself, often, that I am not responsible for any of the wildlife in my garden and that they are free to come and go; am not about to get so attached that my wellbeing relies on whether they are there today, or not, because that’s an entanglement they don’t want any more than I do (they’re not pets!) so it is all easy come-and-go; we watch, we enjoy, we provide assistance where we can, we are kind…and we love.

It occurs to me, it really doesn’t matter if its Bob or not Bob, if Bob is male or female, whether its the same bird(s) as last year or different (they live about 3 years and often reuse the same nest), or indeed whether it will be different or the same “Bobs” in our garden next year. Its the essence of Bob that I’m in relationship with and it expresses as the gentle curiosity made manifest as collared doves in my garden; I don’t need to get caught up in the political correctness of pronouns to go there.The love I feel in my heart for Bob is deep and real, is pulsing and warm and strong and it is entirely unconditional of all these arbitrary labels and constructs, which feel so entirely done with where real love is concerned. I also know that he/she feels it and, in his/her own way, reciprocates and that this is enough to fill up all of our worlds with an amber-hued kind of glow that colours our days spent together.

Posted in Animal welfare, Birds, Consciousness & evolution, Health & wellbeing, Life choices, Menu, Nature, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Coming home

This week I had a BIG release on the back of the realisation that, as a child, I externalised my sense of safety to the home (rather than it feeling like an insider job) partly because a sense of the potential to feel safe in my own skin wasn’t forthcoming or demonstrated to me by my parents (through no fault of their own, they did what they knew how to do). Their best demonstration of “how” to be safe was to make a wonderful home and stay there, come what may and that was a valid part of my sense of safety as I grew up there, but it made that safety conditional upon a set of outer circumstances whilst it remained absent within me. It was as though that whole part of my wiring remained under-developed because it had come to equate itself with this externalised or extended sense of self; so, perhaps, no wonder I have always felt as though my nervous system extends about 50 feet wider than may actual body…said tongue in cheek but I suspect there is some truth in that. Its somewhat like developing an exoskeleton when you are meant to have your supports, and your boundaries, on the inside!

That home became a set of arms around me, that held me in some sort of suspended sense of safety that I imagine might otherwise have come from the internalised touch-memory of what it felt like to be held by a parent’s arms, to know their smell, to feel that everything is in its place because they are always there for you and are teaching you how to self-love the way they love you. I can only imagine how such an upbringing would feel, though its the one I strove to give to my daughter. For me, that feeling of being held always came from stepping back through my own front door after a day at school, feeling overwhelmed, overstimulated, often bullied, insecure and ceaseless trying so hard to fit in…yet home was where I could go limpid and fall into a swoon as though nothing else mattered. My parents did well to create such a wonderful haven and I see how that feeling was an externalised version of those unspoken aspects of themselves that loved me so much; they loved through the action of providing such a home and regarded actual embrace as superfluous (however, I think this last year has taught us all, even the least touchy-feely of us as I am, that embrace is never superfluous…).

Also, their worldview only really worked if I was able to predict living in such a sheltered world all my life (obviously, something I have not managed to do…though it helps me understand how I have managed to replicate my mother’s living-close-to-home life for most of those adult years, largely through health issues). Please bear in mind that my mother was a home-maker and my dad was retired when I was growing up so I saw none of the rhythms of working life outside the home. I see now how that feeling of home= ultimate safetly they cultivated; or, the tireless search for the replica of that feeling in my adult life, has fed into so much to do with my sense (or not) of being safe and my very high sensitivity because I rely on it so heavily and anything outside the home is deemed a threat by my nervous system.

That my parents loved me and were there for me is in no doubt whatsoever but they never wrapped their arms around me in a hug or stoked my hair. I don’t remember bing kissed goodnight and, though my father put me to bed for years, what I remember was how painfully awkward he was. They never discussed with me why I was looking sad (did they even notice, or did I learn to hide it too well?) and explain or demonstrate to me how to stay feeling safe within the domain of my own experience, regardless of what others did or said around me. They didn’t demonstrate courage out in the world because my father lacked this completely (frightened of his own shadow) and my mother was seldom challenged but, when she was, came at the situation like a bull unleashed and I could see how that often made things worse. None of this, I stress and I re-stress, is any criticism of the way my parents were or brought me up but a necessary part of considering why I feel more hugged by a sense of place than by my own sense of resilience in the world. Its a sobering truth of the matter that has arisen for me as I’ve deep-dived my own “protection” issues; one of the themes covered in the Gupta Program as a means to healing my health conundrum and an inevitable topic (one I’ve scratched the top off many times before!) when you get to the root of hyper-sensitivity and chronic health conditions. When you have an uncertain or over-extended sense of personal boundary, it feeds massively into anxiety!

Therefore, it’s a topic for all of us, when all is said and done, especially in these anxiety-inducing times; as in, what makes me feel safe? What do I think I need to surround myself with, to build barricades with, to hide inside of in order to feel that kind of safety in the world? What feel like the non-negotiable boundaries required in order to feel safe and how does modern life or the demands of my work encroach on that? How did the quieter life of the past year make me feel? (as in, better or worse in terms of personal safety; FTR some of us introverts feel safer when we are tucked away at home more than usual, yes even in a pandemic!) and what does that say about my desire to keep working/living the way I used to before lockdown? What are my true priorities in life and what do those say about where I feel most relaxed and comfortable to be myself, can I make my life fit those priorities better? Is there more inner work to be done so that I can feel safe regardless and not be at the beck and call of outside circumstances the way I am? Do I have all the resources I need to feel safe unconditionally like that, even as I stand here in my socks, or do I lean too much into external factors, both for comfort but therefore also as a source of trigger when things “go wrong”? So many of these enquiries will inevitably lead us back to childhood and the way we were parented; not to judge our parents or dig over old wounds but to help us make sense of ourselves.

Back then, home to me was, in the words of my sister describing a holiday cottage she has just booked (interesting that she should also use the terminology of personal contact when describing a house…) “like a great-big hug of a place” and I felt alright as long as I was there. Its interesting, that is just how “home”, as a concept, has always seemed to me…a hug; holiday places far less so since they are unfamiliar, though I try very hard to get close, hence the great lengths I go to with feeling into a place before I will even consider hanging my hat up there, even for a couple of nights!

It’s all, to me, about the feeling of place and that feeling is something I’ve gone to great lengths to cultivate in whatever space I’ve ever called my own, all my life (even temporary student digs) to the point I have harshly judged myself for being “too materially fixated” for a lot of years; even apologised for it, just the other day, to my husband, as though my fixation on having a beautiful, safe, warm, materially comfortable place to live is a spiritual failing of mine…not zen enough to match his boarding-school-childhood-converts-seemlessly-to-monastic perspective of the world. For him, he could be alright wherever the two of us were, a good book to read, his music to listen to and a bed to sleep in (probably not quite that rudimentary, if tested, but that’s the way he couches it!) but for me it takes a close study of all the minutiae to be able to feel truly at home somewhere, and is therefore not something I like to shake-up and change very often. The thought of moving house gives me curdles!

Because (and THIS is the big realisation) for me, that sense of home has become my outer perimeter. I don’t stop at my skin or even my aura but at the boundary of my house and garden. Like a tortoise inseparable from his shell, where I go it must go, in order for me to feel safe in the world. Any wonder I have discovered my longest running triggers in the form of neighbours, traffic, wifi frequencies, smells, people from the outside wanting to come in to my inner domain without invitation…to me, these feel like penetrations of my actual skin, coming into my most personal domain, and it affects me immensely. So, which came first, my introversion or this? Impossible to sift one out from the other given the simultaneity of when they arose out of the soft childhood clay of “me” in my formative years!

Those times I’ve struggled most have, perhaps inevitably, been those when my home boundaries have felt most transgressed or compromised. So, the time when I was sexusally abused in my own home decades ago, you could say my outer walls breached, happened at a time I shared a house with my landlord and her partner and therefore had no clear sense of my own sacred domain, not even a floor of the four-story house I could clearly call my own since my two small rooms were spread out on different levels within someone else’s space; it was the least grounded I ever felt. Years later, my health breakdown came in the wake of having various lodgers and au pairs in and out of my precious home, abusing my inner spaces in all manner of ways, even stealing from me (it was a failed, if necessary, experiment in making my post-divorce life work). And, of course, the slow-subtle abuse of my first marriage, like the steady erosion of an emotional dry-rot, was an insider job yet, ironically, I made the knee-jerk choice of it because my childhood home had just been “lost” on the death of my mother; really, a double trauma for me and I knew it, even at the time. It was that very thing that decided me, abruptly, to marry rather than risk breaking up the only home I had left; my prime motivator and a somewhat more fathomable one now I see it through the eyes of how I was in no place to risk losing yet another layer of my sense of self-hood as I continued to grieve my mother at that time of my life. My very compass needle was in a spin, desperately seeking its sense of home after she died and my nearest facsimile was the shared life I had with this person, mostly because we had bought a home together and I had given it my all; if we split, it would have to be divided and sold so I sealed the deal with a wedding certificate (not at the conscious level, but this was beneath the surface).

And I can certainly recall crying myself to sleep as a teenager at the thought that one day I would have to detach from the safe-space of my bedroom for the very last time. It had become such a sanctuary from the world to me that I could come back to it, even when I lived elsewhere, and just sleep and sleep with such surrender; the kind that eluded me anywhere else.

Of course, I have that feeling here in my home of 18 years…or do I? Have I ever again found such a place, so seamlessly part of my sense of safety in this world? I’m not sure I have and maybe this is the problem with my sense of safety in the world. The less I have felt that layer of externalised boundary where I expect it to be, hugging me as no parent ever did, the less I have felt whole, supported, at liberty to relax. When youths use our road as a speedway late at night, when people throw litter into our front garden, at times when our neighbour revs his various engines all weekend long or people on the other side of us decide to billow meaty-smelling bbq smoke over our wall every non-raining day, I subliminally take each affront as a personal abuse, as though they are crossing my boundaries. It feeds into my hypervigilence, my high-sensitivity, my intolerance of any additional sensory data (because I am already overloaded).

This past year has not altered me, only made me go deeper into the effect. With my natural inclination towards introversion, I’ve only embraced the lockdown with more sense of “why all the fuss?” and, for me, there’s no compelling longing to go back to normal. For some chosen things, yes, I would like the choice of it but, as newspaper headlines fervently stir the masses back into their newfound freedoms, as the supermarkets sell out of snacks and barbecue foods this week, as our noisy neighbours lay out their garden furniture and delux-sized barbecue on their just-finished new patio, I find myself girding my loins for more afronts to my sense of sanctuary.

Even as I face an inevitable dilemma, this year, and start to approach people to help us to maintain our modest garden because, the truth is all too plain to see (every time I have tried to do the slightest bit of physical gardening work for the last few months, it has resulted in several days of exhaustion and enhanced pain…I am simply not capable of what I could do even a year ago) I flinch at the very thought of bringing outsiders “in”. It’s now occurred to me to try to find a woman gardener, someone whose words in some advert or website suggests we are on a wavelength. Because, to me, one of the most abrasive, even traumatic things I could do (and I know this from having been forced to do it in the past) is call in the kind of contractors that come into my rarified space brashly and noisily, puffing their cigarette smoke, blaring their radios, shouting into phones, shout-talking to each other swarily even though they stand at arms length. Even when I have, previously, dealt with some affable-seeming front man to shake hands on a price, I have invariably found that these are the people that show up on the day my garden needs digging and I have, honestly, tried to get over it; to tell myself not to be so sensitive and just stay indoors until they are finished. But the truth of the matter is that it feels as though some sort of abuse is taking place, my garden ravaged, its rarified quality, the air of stillness and reverence for nature we cultivate, the very frequency that draws in so many birds, butterflies and bees left tattered and torn in their wake. The garden just doesn’t feel the same when its energy walls have been breached in that way.

Its a dilemma that has my mind circling in the night right now because I can’t manage the garden myself any more and with my husbands injured knee (and he’s not an enthusiastic gardener, but I can usually direct him at some digging to be done…not this year) I am at a complete loss. Without some assistance, the overgrowth of last year is set to take over, undoing ten years’ efforts since I redesigned the space into an eclectic collection of small areas made for enjoying season-round usage and turn, instead, into over-leggy monstrosities buoyed up by weeds. I rely on this outdoor space far more than I can put into words, spending as I do almost every dry day in it from March until October as though it were another set of small rooms in my house. Its one of the reasons for how shrunken my energy feels in the winter…because, in spring and summer, my energy field relies on having this extra outdoor space to tag-on to itself, to feel closer to its naturally expanded state, which is not constricted indoors or sofa-bound but expansive and colourful but, in winter, I am forced to shrink back down into a more contracted version of myself, like it or not. All those birds and bees thriving in my garden reflect my own internal energy picking up in its verve in springtime, singing and birthing, feeding and playing…so, this isn’t “like “ how I am feeling, as some sort of elaborate metaphor, it actually IS me and to have anyone trample all over feels like a slap to the face, a kick in the guts, a personal abuse.

I guess you could say, its the ultimate “growing” test for me, in a way, as I have to be able to trust someone enough to allow them to come into my inner sanctum and help me to maintain it so that I can enjoy it for myself (work in progress as a stream of “sorry we can’t help” emails land in my inbox today). Perhaps I just need to become more open and positive in my imaginings of such a person and they will manifest in just the perfect timing, looking for a small job like mine, the begining of a working relationship. Perhaps, for me, this is how I make myself stronger through vulnerability the way others might do from sharing their innermost thoughts (I have no problems doing that but seeking practical help is my absolute weak spot). Perhaps with women gardeners I can dare to be more open about why I need their help…not the usual, formal, request for a quote. This is how we change the world, inch by inch, need by need, vulnerability by vulnerability, collaboration by collaboration.

In this taking solace from the garden aspect, I find also my father who “lived for” his garden though a shoehorn wouldn’t get him away from our home for even a night spent somewhere else (in fact, the garden was often his excuse). For me, its not the green-fingered approach (I’m not someone who relishes more than the most basic gardening tasks) but a deepest appreciation of the feeling of it, a need to just be out there in it, reading or painting or listening to the birds. Dad and I did that together too, sat wordlessly side-by-side for hour after hour, even on an overcast day, and at the time it sufficed for the hug that was always absent. After all, I didn’t know what I was missing, we just didn’t do that touching stuff in our family and we didn’t discuss the feeling stuff either, we just shared this space we called home and it felt safe, felt reliable, felt like who we were, collectively and in our independence of each other. I find a similar “vibe” in the homes of each of my siblings, like we have each carried a portion of it on…and, meanwhile, none of us even scratch the surface with each other; we just don’t seem to be able to do it at all, its all small talk and no real contact to be had. I suppose, as we step into each other’s houses (not that we do that often) the feeling is meant to suffice as the hug we would otherwise give, only the house and the hospitality does the unspoken hugging.

Am I too late to learn a different way to be with myself; is this old dog too old to learn new tricks? Will I ever know what its like to feel as contained and whole in myself as I do in an externalised place called home and which I hanker for with every cell of my being? Will those places that are “not home” always feel so alien, even threatening, to me to the point of making me ill? I am reminded of Dorothy at the point she realises the world often isn’t as roaringly terrifying as it all seems with its loud booms and its flashes of smoke (manifested by little men tucked behind the scenes) and that, while there really is no place like home, that home was never somewhere else but “somewhere” that is always with you. We find ourselves just the other side of the same common-or-garden rainbow that was always there right in front of us.

Have you ever been struck by how extraordinary and etheral a rainbow can make the most everyday scenes appear for a few moment, reminding us that there are other dimensions at work in every single moment? That happened to me just the other day when, after a gloomy dark day and not feeling well at all, wanting nothing more than to stay close to home and give in to the feeling, I somehow persuaded myself that a slow walk would do me more good than staying rooted to the sofa. Looking back at the dark sky as we crossed the common in wind and rain, a massive bowed rainbow appeared with the thickest end I have ever seen and that end came down right over the roof of my house, as broad as its entire roofline; something I would never had seen if I hadn’t persuaded myself to step out of it for a while. Yet I knew the feeling of home (and the beauty of the moment) was there with me looking back at the scene, not back there where I would have been oblivious to it. It was due to the wonderment I was able to feel because I know what home feels like, and that becomes a benchmark for resonant experiences, which then keeps us open and optimistically looking for the same frequency for as long as we live (and refusing to settle for less).

So, home is a frequency, not bricks and mortar. We might think we need to attach the feeling to a particular place, to guard it, fence it in…but what gave the place the rarified feeling we have long sought out, even caught glimpses of at different points in our lives? It was always us, our own heart-light turned up to its full beam, generating that feeling of landing back home, emmiting the frequency that not only serves us best but which enables us to radiate our own best-selves in a way that others are deeply and positively impacted by, without need for superfluous words or gestures (thank you parents for teaching me that). When in fear and dread, of course, that light is (at best) a very dim flicker, which can seem to corroborate our darkest fear that some outside force is here to invade our inner sanctuary and quash the light. What if, by realising the feeling of home is an immutable aspect of self, one that can’t be sullied or taken away, we can stop dreading these dips into the lower frequencies and spend more time in the higher ones, regardless of outer circumstances. As ever, for me, its work in progress but I feel I just made a significant step in the right direction.

Posted in Consciousness & evolution, Health & wellbeing, Life choices, Menu, Personal Development, Recovery chronic illness, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Magnificent contract

Our lives can sometimes feel like a contract we signed one night in a dimly lit bar, having had too many drinks…without checking the small print. Once signed into it, we can feel as though we spend all of our time trying to wiggle out of its constrictions, escaping through every bit of our guile and our many fixations (or addictions), trying to play the system, to soften the bonds that hold us to something that, often, feels “not quite right” like we landed in the wrong life. For more people than not, it can be a struggle.

I have this wonderful friend Mary who, ten years ago on Wednesday (24 March 2011) did her very utmost to get out of the contract of her life (in her own words, due to the “murky irreconcilability of the earthly and heavenly realms”, having yelled, in vain, for help reconciling metaphysical experiences she had been having for over 10 years) such that she sat down and, in the most premeditated of ways, swallowed 97 pain and sleeping pills with 3 glasses of wine over the course of 22 minutes.

The next morning, by some miracle, she woke up, in terrible pain…and one could argue (I’m sure she would argue) that the ten years since have been her best yet, through a process of wholesale expansion and exploration that has seen her give talks to hundreds of people and impact the life of even more through her work. I’m sharing nothing private here; you can read her incredible story in her book, soon to become a screenplay, The Unwitting Mystic and on her website and blog, also hear her unique brand of inspiration in countless interviews and videos. Yesterday, she celebrated her rebirth day with friends all over the world (and shared an inspirational post about what she has learned these few last years on Facebook; recommended reading).

So, we can wiggle out of our contract whenever we want…or can we? Not if its part of the contract that we live through all those doubts and stay away.

My own big breakthrough, or rebirth, moment also happened in March 2011, the 11th to be precise (and its interesting to me how both of our stories line up with quantum physicist Carl Calleman’s assertion that the Ninth Wave of Creation, a unity consciousness wave here to reconcile our polarities, started to activate that very month; look up my previous posts on “ninth wave” for more on this). At the time, I was really struggling to see the point at all, my body was in so much pain and dysfunction and had been for years, I had met nothing but hardships, abuse and trouble fitting into “normal” expectations, one after another, and above all my energy and morale, my very spark, was seriously waning.

In my case what then happened out of the blue, and I have described the experience many times before, was more like suddenly breaking out of an egg. One moment I was in the dark, feeling my way through it all from some deeply subjective experience. Suddenly, I had broken out of that “egg” in a golden glow of new perception and could see it all, even my part in it.

I guess you could say, I saw the contract laid out on the table and, from then, it made it all so much easier to be alive; in fact, I no longer questioned it but took on every challenge with a new curiosity. I no longer felt as though “something else” was holding me captive against my will in a dysfunctional plot line of a life because I could see, so clearly, that the “signature” on it was mine. I had underwritten it, every word.

In other words, I had agreed, wholeheartedly, to have this particular human experience, with all that entails including the ups and downs. It changed everything for me, on a pin head.

Over the intervening ten years, while Mary was becoming a nun in India, meeting the Dalai Lama, setting up her charity, writing a book, talking to crowds of people, all over America and beyond, about love and fearlessness and embracing life, you could say mixing the metaphysical with a wonderfully grounded route to bringing that into the everyday lives of other people, I was conducting my own unique method of standing with one foot in each of the two camps that I now regarded as part of the human experience.

Or, it often looked like, I was vascillating (wildly) between expansive metaphysical enquiry, which is really a case of “just knowing” all we needed to know and reminding ourselves…and the continued direction of my human parts, where life can still feel so limited, confusing and very hard to swallow. If unity was the aim of this newly awoken awareness of my diversity then I was struggling to hold it all in without feeling torn assunder.

In the part that was still in the thick of the experience and which liked to analyse and disect (or which saw no other option if I was to “get to the bottom” of my experiences), much like in the short story “Exhalation” (Ted Chiang) mentioned in a previous post, it was as though I set about constructing an elaborate periscope with which to view the back of my own head and take my brain apart, bit by bit, looking for signs of consciousness “in action” within the human construct. At the other end of my scale, I already felt what consciousness was…was riding on its metaphysical currents which, in those first few years, I became quite addicted to, spending more time out there than perhaps was balanced for someone with family responsibilities…but in this other, uber analytical, place, I wanted to get down into the nitty gritty of myself, to look under every stone and to figure out why so much struggle, such pain and conflict in the human situation.

At times, I became so abstract in my spiritual seeking it was hard to ground myself but then, by focusing on all the details, fixating on the process of scrutiny, I could bring myself back down to earth with an incentive…into a body that fascinated as well as bewildered me with its range of capacity for such magnificence and joy, yet so much pain. In fact, the source of my pain only ever seemed to get more diverse, more intense and perplexing, as though the enquiry (meant to fill the hole) had only been digging it wider…the very same soil I was using to fill one hole of enquiry creating yet another hole for me to peer into.

So, over the exact decade now since my wake-up, life for me has been a constant see-saw with one player onboard, having to run from one end of the see-saw to the other to keep it moving. Times when I’ve found balance have been few and far between…more so, even, than before I “woke up”, I suspect, because the polarities I incorporate only seemed to become more and more diverse, thus spaced-out, from each other the more I explored myself. The only way I could ever meet myself, in balance, was to sit in the exact centre of the see-saw but that, of course, ceased its momentum and, as per my earlier post, I suspect there is a kind of existential dread around that moment, as though to aim for it is to hasten one’s own death. Because, of course, once everything harmonises, equilibrium achieved, we know the “show” is over.

(Or, perhaps, something completely new is birthed by the same unfathamoable impulse that birthed our present universe out of “nothing”.)

So, I guess you could even say, my resistance of balance (perhaps all of our resistance of balance) is proof of life. We clearly want to be here or we would not tip ourselves off-balance so vehemently, giving it all we’ve got!

Meanwhile, those two “ends” of me, in equal proportion to each other, still feel irritated and challenged by their opposite part, if not quite so irreconcilable as they once were. They are like incompatible classmates forced to work together on a project, teeth gnashing, arguing over the protocol though, at some other level, they don’t really mind each other either. Yet, when they work together, even fleetingly, they somehow manage to collaborate on demarking the edges of a kind of vastness that is universal….a mirror to the very universe they strive to come to terms with, each in their own way. One says “I’m way out here, walking the perimeter, looking out for new territory over the edges” and the other one, not to be out done, hollers “and I’m way over here, way off the centre, exploring something mindblowing”. Together, they are both aspects of me, and I love them both equally.

By the way, I once spent some time trying to shut down my hyper analytical, left-brained, “egoic” part, (as though it was “wrong”), as we are often told to do in spiritual circles, but it didn’t feel right to turn on myself so vehemently and, besides, the more I tried to do that, the more abstract I became which only took me way off balance!

So I have come to accept myself as a mirror of universal vastness (as we all are) and it is in the accepting of this that I have finally unleashed just so many of the hints and clues to it that I had, for so long, suppressed as the “socially inappropriate traits” of my neurodiversity. Ironic, really, since the acronym VAST (variable attention stimulus trait ) is my latest, acquired, label in the attempt to better understand myself, and no other label ever fit me more exactly. If I seem fidgety and inconsistent, you could say “all over the place”, it’s because I am. Its because I swallowed a universe before I came here…and I know it. Aham Brahmasmi (Sashkrit) = “I Am the universe”.

In fact, we all swallowed that same universe, but not all of us realise it yet…though more and more people are getting there. I suspect neurodiverse individuals are just one step ahead of the game in realising this, mapping out the all-inclusive diversity of the universe in action and, the more diversity we allow in the world, the more everyone gets to notice it in plain sight. As above, so below.

More and more of us are having metaphysical experiences than ever; and, thankfully, the support systems are starting to appear so we can have those and still not loose our footing in a more grounded life (unlike ten years ago). Dare I say, it is becoming more commonplace to experience the exceptional, a dichotomy if I ever heard one, which is how we get to bring more and more of our universal aspects into life, in order to dig our dominantly logical wheel out of the muck and get this two-sided cart rolling again. We need both sides to get ourselves to the next way stop.

We each swallowed the entire universe, a souvenir from our origins, right before we signed the contract to come here to see what it feels like to make that universe compact enough to contain within a human body, an experience and a micro world. So, if we don’t always seem to fit into ourselves, if we spew over its edges, is there any wonder? We are all the more courageous and determined and awesome than we give ourselves credit for, even for trying. When we get out of bed (again), shake ourselves down and s-q-u-e-e-z-e ourselves into that tight fitting body-suit to give it another go (as in, being the vastness of a universe in a localised, limited circumstance) we are little miracles in action, every single day of the week.

It takes a magnificent contract, fuelled by a cosmic impulse (underwritten by ourselves), to attach us to all this so we don’t disappear off at the first hurdle…really, a contract-ion, as in, we have to pull ourselves into our smallest part, an unfeasible-sounding experiment, the eye of a needle. So when we feel excruciating pain, feel limited and small, feel hopelessness, unable to see a way out, when it feels as agonising as trying to ram something vast into a small, rigid box and slamming the lid on before it can escape then, yes, this is it, this is what contraction feels like…and is an experience we contracted to have, in order to get to know ourselves better.

So, recognising that and bringing the knowing of it into the very situations where it is most needed is a breakthrough; such as, “today I am in unfathomable pain…so I allow that it is just a contraction taking place, without having to know exactly why it occurred”, then doing what we can to minimise the discomfort, staying watchful for ways that we might be feeding the contraction with certain thoughts and attitudes. Doing all this really helps us to not to get so invested in the inevitable contractions of life as much as we used to be. It’s all just pain, a hurdle, just a passing moment; and this too shall pass.

Yet it is also a valuable reminder that, in order to hurt so very much, we must be the very vastness we have temporarily forgotten or denied. Because, if we were really as small and helpless as we often dread we are, there would be no struggle or pain whenever life seemed to limit us. We would just suck it up…instead of feeling so very much discomfort and resistence at the attempted limitation, which is because we feel our vastness shouting back at us that this is not who we are; it does not define us.

And what contracts must, by the laws of the universe, also expand…which is what awaits us the very moment we glimpse the potential for expansion, even for a second, like the inevitable out breath for the in breath…of life.

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Writing as compared to nest-building

It occurred to me today during meditation that writing a blog (for me at least) is something like building a nest; a process I’ve had a bird’s eye view of from my window this week as the goldfinches continue their construction right outside my window.

In busy bursts, usually in the mornings (just like those birds), I also set to work placing, let’s call them, carefully selected materials into the outline structure of some idea I have had; rearranging them, weaving them into the fabric, combing and teasing some of them out to make them more expansive. It may look a little rustic by the time I’ve “finished” (that point which, much like these birds I’m watching, I struggle to decide I have reached, such that what started as a modest idea grows and grows…often added to some more, even after publishing, never quite satisfied). Yet, however it looks, to the one working on the construct, there is always an underlying design, a coherence or an intention to it.

And of course its raison d’être is to “give birth to” something, to hatch out a new idea or two, or (perhaps) not such a new idea since, like baby birds, they come and they go year on year…flying away, only for more to arrive that seem, to the naked eye, identical to the previous year’s crop (as the saying goes, there is nothing new in creation). Yet, to me, it is always driven by the the urgency of newness coming forth…must get the nest finished in time… and so this birthing process feels like the be-all-and-end-all of my mornings. It is literally everything while I give my all to it…and then its done, or paused, and I spend my afternoons “singing in the sun”, or whatever my equivalent of that happens to be that day (in the sunshine, if there happens to be any). Yet in its morning urgency, writing is compelling, pressing, absorbing and I am completely driven in this act of carefully placing and weaving materials which, to me at least, are the carefully selected outcome of some deep plunge into what, to others, might just seem like a useless pile of old rotting leaves, the spewing innard of some worn-out matter, dried twigs from another year’s old growth lying around on the floor…old stuff…repurposed into meaning and future significance in my head.

What difference that writing makes, in the end, is no more than the ripple made by a pebble thrown into a vast ocean; an infinitesimal blip in the consciousness of humanity and yet, just as each newly fledged bird taking to the sky is important in a world of increasing scarcity, it plays its part…in something bigger than itself…as do all thoughts and words. Perhaps this one lands with someone, one day, and being there at just that very moment, makes that all-important difference, if only to brighten the view or uplift the mood with a different melody, interrupting the pattern of normality.

Just as I seldom return to my own writing, how many birds return to their old nests? Some do, or use other’s, of course, but mostly there is this ceaseless drive to repeat the process, year after year, with never one iota less consideration taken as to what materials to use, the way they are woven together, the amount of liner used to soften the impact, or not. In fact seldom a misplaced detail of any kind, really, since (as in life) there are no mistakes in writing, its desire to be there being its very reason for existing, however it is constructed. You could call it the enactment of a universal urge; an out breath to balance an in breath.

Like birds building nests, we don’t need to question it; only to decide whether to engage with it or not and, just as some people never seem to notice all the beautiful birds around them, many don’t read very much either…but, for those of us who do, the delight of discovering other people’s nests is a deep and impactful one; we seldom forget a good one and, some, we return to many times for comfort, like the pair of collared doves who have now spent months in the same dishelvelled nest under my eaves as last year and the year before (built against a disused satelite dish!) because they know what they like!

Like a scattered community of different birds across a landscape of dense trees and hedgerows, just as my garden and surroundings seems to be at the moment, you can feel the shared-energy of optimism and passion, of creativity and hope tucked inside nearly every discrete and dark-seeming corner of life when you seek out its writers and that’s enough to give hope and uplift in abundance to fellow writers like me.

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Being in balance

Though I’ve sought out balance for many years, knowing its importance so very well, I don’t think I’ve ever invoked it more fervently than over this Spring Equinox period as the planet herself finds her own state of balance. Yet, more so than calling it forth (though I do that for all of us) I realise the real power comes from being it, living it, embodying it…and that part is forever work in progress.

Though its an old one, this is a theme that has come up a great deal for me lately, as though to finally and irrevocably drum itself home. Without listing them all, every topic I’ve wrestled with for months has vehemently brought me back to the conclusion, a balanced approach is my answer.

As someone who is such a contrarian, a paradox, a contradiction in terms (something else I’ve never owned more whole heartedly than of late), I see now how balance has had to be the core theme of my life. When I get it wrong, the effect is pretty dire for someone so spread out across such seemingly contradictory traits.

When you are someone who relishes and thrives in a quiet, introverted life and yet who’s soul relishes, and generates, great enthusiasm and excitement, as I do; who can be impulsive, chaotic and fidgety for all I am orchestrated, fixated, diligent and studied; controversial, even provocative yet the compulsive seeker of compromise and solutions; intense for all I am calm and gentle; urgent, eager and demanding in proportion to a health circumstance that demand saintly patience and stillness; as chatty and animated as I can be deeply pulled in to myself and oblivious to others (paradoxes alluded to in my recent post I am VAST on LW), there is no other comfortable place to land except in balance. In my health too; I want to be proactive with my recovery and with teaching my body how to move again, I refuse to stagnate or become a couch potato and yet there are times when it serves me far better to refrain from too much movement and let the the recovery happen. Now is a point in case because, on Monday, I overdid it a bit, going for two walks instead of one because the weather was so spring-like, then spending more time reading in the sun than I had for a very long time, which always takes a while for my uber-sensitive system to acclimatise to. “Old” me of a few months ago would have insisted upon making two walks a new “thing” to be strived for, every day from now on, but new, wiser, more balanced, me realises that, while I feel this crashed and in pain from the first attempt, this week needs to be a time of pulling back for a further day or two, longer if necessary. Slow and steady wins the race for this live-wire!

So knowing…and owning…my diverse traits as I now do, I see all-too clearly how its VERY easy for me to knock myself off-kilter with a burst of over-zealous enthusiasm for this or that; and its a trait I now watch out for more than ever. The joy is, the more I own my diversity, and the core need for balance, the more I can enjoy the gifts of my traits…rather than rueing the many downsides of them.

Balance comes into the very paradox that, whilst chronic fatigue and pain limit my everyday manoeuvres, I can seemingly dance, not once but usually twice a day, but then dance has had a lot to teach me about balance. Not all dance is the same, by a long stretch, and adapting to what meets me best, wherever I am that day, is one of the ways I have become a much closer listener to my body on this very topic of balance, adjusting accordingly. If I overdo it, I’m quickly put out of action so, when I adhere to the thumb-rule of balance, I can get much more dance out of my body so its well worth my while!

What I’ve discovered is that balance is the very home of neuroplasticity because, when we are in balance, its as though a new potential opens up; as in, a place that we haven’t seen before, out of which new possibilities can be coaxed, if we are prepared to stay there and refrain from thinking we already “know best” because of all our previous experiences. In that new place, we have to be prepared to know nothing at all and to remain curious enough to engage with the new. This happens because a crack or interruption forms between the habitual behaviours that tell us one thing is the correct way to be / think or, no no, its very opposite is better, places most of us rigidly hold to, or swing between, for huge swathes of our lives. However, new paradigms can only be born out of that paradox crack, the place where none of our presumptions strictly hold together…but where a kind of mixture or alchemy can occur, the short word for which is, guess what, balance.

In eras when a lot of people start to reach this balanced, paradoxical, place at once (balance can even come out of the state of not knowing which way to turn because admitting this, surrendering all the old thoughts, can be that powerful!) its as though a renaissance of new understanding is given rise to and so a new paradigm or shift of realities starts to occur. I am hopeful that we are in one such era right now. After all, unpleasant as it has been, the pandemic has served as one particularly major interruption of behaviour patterns!

It’s in the interruption of habit, that point where we are forced to stop behaving according to reflexes driven by “this is the way things have always been done”, that we realise we have no other, viable, choice except to take responsibility for our own actions. For a time, we may get it even more wrong than before, defaulting to the opposite of what “used to be” in reaction to that old paradigm, and this can seem to make things even worse for a time. However, really (what I have found is that) the answer seldom lies in the polar opposite to the old paradigm but in something more comfortably in the middle of it all.

It’s an equation I have faced, yet again, these last few days on the back of concluding, and not for the first time, that hormone imbalance (which affects us all, men included) lay at the route of some of my physical stuck points. If this sound like too personal an issue to be of interest, think again as my pet theory is that, these days, we are nearly all off-kilter in our hormones (which profoundly affect human behaviours on a grand scale) as a result of all the xenoestrogenic environmental pollution going on in the air, food and water supplies, and the culturally endemic tampering with hormones that goes on from puberty to the grave, especially in the case of women who often leap straight from the birth control pill to HRT. For just one example, its been found that many of the popular oral contraceptive brands remodel the female brain over time, making women more masculine, which then affects their ability range, the way they process information, their emotional traits and how they perceive and prioritise the issues of the world, for instance they have been shown to be less articulate and less empathic, if better at spatial tasks, they even look different. So just imagine the effect of these chemical effects on the tilt on our world situation over the last 50 or so years…but don’t get me started.

To quote Belinda Pelizer, who has conducted studies to examine the effect of oral contraception on the brain:

“Within about a century, physicians, biologists, and chemists around the world elucidated the physiology of the ovary, manipulated its function, and triggered a global experiment, which influenced our society”. 

She continues:

“when athletes take steroids we call it ‘doping’ – it’s considered abuse and strongly condemned by society. But we’re happy for millions of women to take these hormones every day, sometimes right through from puberty to menopause”.

Belinda A Plezer & Hubery H Kerschbaum – “50 years of hormonal contraception – time to find out, what it does to our brain“, 2014.

For years, I have taken care of my own hormone balance using natural means suggested by a well-reknowned Harley Street expert in this area (now retired) because of early-onset osteopenia triggered by fibromyalgia, but it occurred to me lately that I had become oestrogen dominant again (a common modern phenomenon so its easy to do). For exactly a decade, I have used a natural bioavailable progesterone cream (not progestins; they are not the same – the former is synethetic, the bioavailable version derives from a type of yam) to modulate the effects of oestrogen dominance and bone loss but two things had happened lately, one being menopause which has, no doubt, thrown my hormones even more off kilter than before. Another was that I became susceptible to a belief broadly “out there” on the internet that progesterone is “no good” and should be avoided for Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, making connective tissues too soft and worsening the condition. So, without actually stopping my daily dose, I certainly became more haphazard and hesitant about using it, just when I probably needed it the most.

So, I played around with a higher dose for a few days, for the first time in a few years (and the very first time since menopause) and have actually found the increased softness has mitigated some of the most intense kinds of pain I was previously experiencing (an effect suggested by a pain therapist on one of the EDS forums to a bunch of worried people afraid to try progesterone cream) in a way that makes it potentially worth the, yes noticeable, increased laxity of joints. Other people with chronic pain are also writing about this. In my own case, I can recall it helping hugely in the days of my most excruciating jaw and facial pain, which was tension-worsened (thankfully, flare-ups of those are rarities for me now) and it always helps with migraines. I’m now finding increased evidence from studies that progesterone shows promise for more general pain management in preference to opioids, even to improve therapy outcomes for covid recovery in men (conversely, higher oestrogen levels have been linked to covid survival rates in women but I still wouldn’t rush out and get HRT, personally; however, this see-saw suggests to me that oestrogen protects beforehand and progesterone soothes afterwards). The way my intense, very hard to mitigate or ignore, pain of last week and most of the month before has “softened” these past few days has been an affirative for me. It came as a welcome relief to suddenly have all this fluidity back where rigidity and pain had been for weeks; but now to make sure I didn’t over-extend myself or overdo it (which increased elasticity can encourage)!

Of course, too much laxity and I am in a different kind of trouble, the kind where limbs don’t work appropriately, to the threshold of subluxation (very grateful that I’ve never had an actual dislocation), or my bladder loses its grip (not good), I can even find that I become too dreamy and abstract to do very much, so I have to be careful as my executive functioning can take a further nose-dive. Oh and it seems to worsen PoTs, resulting in low blood pressure moments and dizzy spells. It can even make me borderline depressed or certainly more teary and pint-glass-tipped-over than usual if anything “goes wrong”, so that’s also something to watch out for, although the plus side is that I can go deeper into my spiritual abstraction and mediation gets easier (as long as I’m not too distracted by all those heightened emotions that get unleashed to settle my mind down…).

By the way, progestins, which are a man-made “chemical” mimicker of natural progesterone, are now known to be far more prone to such negative effects than natural progesterone; from experience, birth control pills messed horribly with my emotions and, I would say, personality when I was in my 20s and I now realise that this highly-sensitive person should never have gone anywhere near them; they feel like the subplot of my worst-ever decade for poor judgement and copious regrets. Worth knowing that those original reports of positive effects from progesterone supplementation done back in the 60s used natural progesterone for the studies but then, as they couldn’t patent that, the version that was rolled out for the next few decades, ongoing, is a synthetic concoction with very different qualities; its actually a close relative of testosterone. Those that don’t have this effect, taken by a much smaller portion of the population (around 17%), are known to have an anti-adrogenic effect as-in to make those who take them more feminine than they would otherwise be but none of this chemical cocktail could be said to support, or even allow, natural balance.

So what I am interested in here is the balance of my natural hormones yet, as soon as we start trying to tip the balance one way or the other, even of these more biocompatable versions, what results might not be anything like “natural” balance because of our interference. Truth is, the whole of modern life with its exposures is one giant form of interference so its very hard to refind that balance outside of a campfire existence. What I am reminded of once again, after further experimentation with my classically exagerated body (experimentation being something you have to dare to keep doing if you want to take responsibility for your own health), is that neither natural oestrogen nor progesterone is a “saviour” nor “wrong” (at least, not in their natural biological, human-compatible, forms (when I mention oestrogen, I mean that I use food sources of phytoestrogens, such as legumes and herbs, to keep the other half of my see-saw in shape).

Rather, there is a particular hormone balance, somewhat like the holy grail, that is in deep support of the endocrine and all the other subtle, sensory, emotional, chemical-balancing systems of the body to be found; one which is quite particular to each person and no doctor or scientist has the exact or person-specific answer, nor the full grasp of how many minute aspects of being a healthy human this balancing act influences during the average human lifetime (far more than “just” reproductive matters or now, no doubt, surviving covid will get touted by the backers of HRT), nor will they ever, in all likelihood. There really is no “one-size fits all” dose to be doled out so ham-fistedly…thus I am still busily finding mine, which will, no doubt, continue to alter the exact location of its pivot-point over and over again as I continue to age, so I can never take that balance state for granted. Life, as ever, is a continual balancing act, not something we can set and declare “done”.

One other thing I want to add is how I notice, vehemently, that progesterone makes me more receptive. In March 2011, I had what I refer to as my spiritual breakthroug or “wake-up” experience but that wasn’t the only thing that happened that week.

The other is that I took my first dose of progesterone cream (and have taken it ever since).

After that, it was as though my mindsets and attitudes, everything about me, softened its rigidity and entrainment patterns and suddenly I was open to the entire universe. My spiritual expansion began with a “bam” that year and nothing was the same again as I was no longer trapped in a subjective perspective of “victimhood” but realised I was the active participant in a design for life that might deliver challenges…but was never “against” me. Compared to how I was before (especially all those years I was on the pill!) which felt tight, constricted, defensive, beset with anxities and the need to do more and more to survive and as though there was no way out of the prison cell of an ill-fitting life, the rebalancing effect of progesterone was profound (regarded in hindsight). I am left wondering if I would have been one of those bed-bound people with chronic conditions without it, such has been its assistance with keeping my head above the waterline of perception.

What I shared above is a reminder that there’s certainly no place for complacency when it comes to achieving good health and the modern trend for handing all responsibility for your own body over to some so-called medical professional who gets to decide how to dose you with this or that, without having an informed viewpoint or say-so of your own, does not feel like balance…at all. We should all be involved, as a primary player, in our own health evaluation and maintenance.

So, yes, one thing I consistently find out about that balance point is that it requires of us that we take responsibility for ourselves. We can’t just truck along in the grove of some belief-system that tells us “this is the only way” or follow the crowd. We have to dare to be contrary and to stand up for our own needs and traits; and to get to know those traits intimately since we are each our own expert. And we have to be vigilant, conscious, aware…prepared to tweak, to adapt and adjust. It takes, emphatically, staying present, ever-attentive to this moment. This is no place for sleep-walkers through life. Its not where we will find the masses; it is a rarified place where you are just aware enough of everything around you…no, not hypervigilant and paranoid (those are a case of severe misbalance!)…but enough so that you can walk your own path in a poised way, looking forward, standing tall, relaxed yet responsive.

This is a truth I find played out in my own body when I take its hypermobililty for a walk. I really don’t do so well in all those tight elastic supports they recommend for holding joints together in the case of hyper mobile joints; I find, in using them, that I lose my own sense of innate balance even more, surrendering it to lycra. Rather, when I go out, over rough terrain and in mud and water, as I do every day, wearing barefoot shoes as I prefer, which feed back all of the texture and energy of the earth beneath my feet, I defer to another form of support and its an insider job, yes, made up of balance. Because, as I walk along, I know from hard experience that if I don’t pay attention to how I hold my body, ramming my hands lopsidedly into pockets or gripping a camera in one hand rather than keeping them swinging and balanced at my sides; if I allow my hip to open too far or lock my knees hard as I over-reach or tackle some unevenness rather than planning the move, keeping the joints soft, I will suffer the consequences later!

Its a different kind of strength and it comes from some other source than the externalised kind that has become so popular, advertised by gym-bunnies and the favoured ground of corporate achievers pushing towards their deadlines. This kind of strength has nothing to do with the brash, left-brained kind of confidence that will (it is hoped) deflect an attack or win the race. My kind of strength comes from believing in my body, encouraging the gifts of its hypermobility (rather than focusing on its weak points) and listening to its needs, measuring my successes according to quality of experience “in the moment” over some far reaching target ticked-off.

Instead of the old way that I used to move, eyes fixed ahead, tense in my body or so terribly distracted I might as well not have been there (I passed several people like this yesterday) I find my strength from remaining soft yet core-strong. I take small calculated risks of movement but not reckless ones, adapting them to the circumstances (dancing has helped with this enormously by strengthening my previously not-so-good proprioception). I keep my spine straight, my arms of equal length and moving freely (or, I use Nordic poles) and I keep my neck and head stacked appropriately. Oh and, of course, I roll my foot from heel to toe but then the vivobarefoot walking boots help with that (see their short video on how to walk…so many adults don’t know how)! I wear layers and keep my neck warm, even on misleadingly sunny days, and I always wear a hat for head protection, even though its style alters throughout the year. I don’t tense but I allow myself to feel strong as a feeling, gain that strength from the smooth rhythmic gait that covers ground almost effortlessly and, whilst I sometimes love to stride-out a little more, I don’t push it hard or race along. I allow nature to slow me down and there is always room to stop and enjoy the stillness of a view, a moment watching the birds, being present with other creatures who, I find, stay close when we are there whereas I notice them scatter when other humans come along. I suspect this is because balance in action is a language nature responds to, speaking it fluently!

I even find balance being amply demonstrated, in clear view, right outside my window where the goldfinches I invoked into my garden last year through my goldfinch-themed art (we used to have one or two a year, last year we had regular flocks!), have now started to build a nest in the old seed head of our neighbour’s overhanging cordyline australis tree; an interesting choice but I have read online of goldfinches liking this particular tree (they certainly enjoyed its fruit in the autumn). The timing is uncanny since, just a few days before they began, I started work on twin goldfinch watercolour paintings which have been propped on an easel right next to the window pane outside of which I have the nest in my line of vision. I couldn’t have wished for a better chance of more intimate engagement with this, my favourite (once rare…I had never seen one until three years ago) bird than this view straight into their living space from four of my windows, but then I do, repeatedly, find birds reward states of balance with their proximity; they will only stay where they are most comfortable.

Watching the goldfinches has been a fascinating business because they never seem to tire of nest building all morning and then sing and chatter their hearts out together in the adjacent trees (there are quite a few of them, presumably all nesting close by) all afternoon long; what a great balance of work and play. How big this particular nest will be by the time they have finished I can only imagine since it already resembles an upturned felted hat big enough for me to wear. I glanced out of my window before I began my yoga one morning at 6.30 and one of them was already there, wielding a piece of white fluff so big it was struggling to push it through “the front door” of the flower head into the nest and then began the usual combing and teasing of the fluff, distributing it so thoughtfully into the fabric of the nest’s weave. Several days later, the process continues. Honestly, I have never seen a nest more soft and downy in all my years and all I ever see in their mouths, when they return from a forage, is this soft white lint they are bringing in from somewhere (a discarded sofa or deckchair, or is someone going to find their garden cushions dismantled?) So, in their case, softness is the name of the game, yes…but only because those eggs are so brittle, fragile they need all that cushioning, and besides rearing a young family in a hesitant springtime can be a hard business; so, achieving balance, yet again. Neither one without the other would do. If the highly-protective egg along the mother’s diligent attention on top of it is the ultimate symbol of an oestrogenic impulse (the things we associate with easter or “ostera” – linked to oestrogen) then the downy nest is progesterone; they work together in harmony to assist in the birth of newness.

When those goldfinches completely disappeared late one afternoon into the following morning (call me supersticious but) it felt like a signal of my loss of balance because I did…for quite a few hours…quite markedly lose my balance. Somebody popped up in my world that I hadn’t heard from for quite some time and, for a couple of reasons, this threw my balance into complete disarray, a most perfectly-timed example of how lost-balance can feel, how sudden it can be too, ready to be included in this half-written post. I was able to notice just how many emotional and physiological effects this lost balance had on me; I was all over the place for a while there (perhaps my hormonal tweaking was part of the effect…) and, meanwhile, no goldfinches to be seen. Then it occured to me that perhaps they would return if I could only get my throughts and feelings back into proprotion, back to feeling like “me” and not some earlier format that this old contact had jolted back into animation like a Frankenstein version full of anxieties. A little while later, feeling much calmer from a gentle start to the day, reading the short story I refer to below, I looked up and one of the goldfinches was on the fence looking straight at me, head slightly tilted, as if to say “quite right, glad you sorted yourself out”.

There’s another side to this: if it took an increased softness (aided by progesterone) to release old emotions that needed to come out and see light of day, there is a kind-of balance to that too. A reminder that, in nature, our hormones and our rhythms aren’t fixed but ebb and flow with the moon and all of nature’s other cycles, allowing for both contraction and release in equal proportion, like an in breath and an outbreath.

None of this is a new “lesson” nor a rocket-launching one, in fact it may sound very obvious plus we are all familiar with it in our own ways. I have faced the issue of balance head-on many times in my life, not least over all these years of testing health conditions…but then I have also had to relearn it many times too; a person could never declare themselves an expert without risk that life will do its utmost to quickly prove them wrong. Each time I have found myself heading off-kilter again, after some highly promising start on my recovery, I have been forced to admit that, in some way or other, perhaps quite subtle, I had lost my balance again which is easy to do. It can be done by losing your sense of humour, by assuming “your way” is the only way, becoming over zealous, turning on all of the old ways without stopping to appreciate that not everything that came before was unworthy or a mess, even turning on the future because of some misplaced idea that all the halcyion days of old have been replaced by a horror show. In fact, nothing ever is that heinous mistake we spend half our lives worrying about…there are no mistakes, really only gifts…but when we draw the conclusion that, now, we are right and, then, we were wrong, or vice versa, we (guess what) quickly find ourselves out of balance. Its something I see happening on the fringes of every promising new movement, from spirituality to feminism; people throwing the baby out with the bathwater to become as one-sided or dogmatic as anything they profess to abhor.

So, see how easy it is to not be in balance; how quickly and readily it becomes the default mode? Take it from one who has become so micro-sensitive to imbalance that one iota of if in my body or routines can cause severe pain and disability. I can’t bear the cold but if I get even slightly too warm, bam, I’m in intense discomfort; I need movement to keep my joints from seizing-up (and because my soul is vigorous and demands it!) and yet, with the slightest bit too much, I have quickly overdone it, with extremely exaggerated effects. In other words, I’ve been forced to pay attention.

Why do I seem to have to expend so much time and attention “consciously” trying to stay in balance instead of it coming naturally? Its a question many people with health issues end up asking themselves but, perhaps, most of us get to it at some point because life itself provides its question mark, challenging balance at every step.

Could it be true that perfect equilibrium seems to people like a kind-of death, do we subliminally fear it? That’s another question I’ve found myself asking, many times.

With such perfect synchronicity, I just finished reading a genius short strory by Ted Chiang called “Exhalation”, in the anthology of the same name, and it spoke to this fear in me so directly it almost gave me shivers. There were just so many synchronistic layers of enquiry in this one short story, for someone so deep into considering questions such as “what really drives me, what is neuroplasticity, why do I get so stuck in my thoughts, why do I hold certain memories so strongly but not others, what am I beyond my thoughts, memories and this body-conundrum of mine, why oh why do I feel like I’m caught in an air trap and can’t breathe some of the time..?” (and many more). There are nuggets of gold in this story for two groups of people in particular, I would say, being those who ponder the very nature of consciousness and the universe and those who struggle to hold health equilibrium to a very dire level without really knowing why, such as people with chronic health conditions (so that’s me on both counts). Its also a beautiful story, with a coherent and uplifting ending.

One passage jumped out at me:

“in truth the source of life is a difference in air pressure, the flow of air from spaces where it is thick to those where it is thin. The activitiy of our brains, the motions of our bodies, the actions of every machine we have ever built, are driven by the movement of air, the force exerted as different pressures seek to balance one another out. When the pressure everywhere in the universe is the same, all air will be motionless and useless; one day we will be surrounded by motionless air and unable to derive any benefit from any of it”.

Ted Chiang – “Exhalation”

It occured to me on reading this (hard to refrain from spoilers so please omit this paragraph of my post if you plan to read the story yourself) that, as per the story, we are experiencing two different “air zones”, the internal and the external, which seek to reach equlibrium as per everything in the universe. This makes the outside world seem to be runnning faster than it once did but really there is just a balancing taking place. As the world around us “irons out” into more balance, the loss of external pressure results in lack of momentum, in fatigue, in limbs that grow harder to move, in sluggishness, as per the story.

“We may then try to slow our thoughts so that our physical torpor is less conspicuous to us, but that will also cause external processes to appear to accelerate. The ticking of clocks will rise to a chatter as their pendulums rave frantically, falling objects will slam to the ground as if propelled by springs; undulations will race down cables like the crack of a whip”.

Ted Chiang – “Exhalation”

Sounds horribly like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, leading to my increasing hypersensitivity; is this why the feeling of dread that can underly chornic conditions, as if you are onto something “happening” that no one else is noticing yet? So perhaps this is an inevitable process, albeit a long one, as the universe heads towards its inevitable conclusion of perfect equibrium restored, as per the moment before it was first created…but not in my lifetime or yours; just something to ponder and be aware of, this existential panic in the face of balance, should we happen to dial into it (and find ourselves then, unconsciously, resisting balance as though our lives depend on it, even when we say we want it).

What I have learned, to my joy, is that the more you find this place of balance and stay in it, using the best possible tools you can muster to recognise imbalance…defuse…soften the learned responses and move back into that balanced place of potential, the more you start to live there, most of the time and then the choice of being in balance, or not, is yours (instead of a state inflicted upon you by circumstance). From that core of balance you can choose when and how to eliven yourself. I heard someone say just yesterday that they had had two what you would call “enlightened” people stay at his house and, rather than being rather flat and boring, lacking in personality or vivre, these people were the most lighthearted and lively he had ever hosted, so quick to burst into laughter or play around with childish enthusiasm, because their external concerns had been disengaged, they had no baggage from the past or fear of the future but could be fully themselves…yes, I dream of being more like that!

This brings to mind the character Ketuk, a Balenise medicine man, in Elizabeth Gilbert’s autobiographical novel, “Eat, pray, love”. Gilbert becomes overly fixated upon finding balance, ending her romantic relationship prematurely, but Ketuk reminds her:

“To lose balance sometimes for love is part of living a balanced life”.

Elizabeth Gilbert – “Eat, Pray, Love”

So, the more balanced, thus healthy, I become, the more I am (very) likely to engage in some of the excesses of my highly colourful and enthusiastic personality and that’s fine, its good, its a choice we each get to make. I don’t plan to take up cross-stitch and sit by a window every day for the next 30 years, though I can if I want to (and probably will some of the time). Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that balance isn’t an end-game but a beginning point.

Back to neuroplasticity again; find that balanced place, even a little bit and, suddenly, you are in a rarified zone where more balance can be (as it were) manufactured by choosing new habits and then strengthening them. If those new habits are designed to be balanced ones from the outset, more balance becomes your “new normal” and so things become much easier thereafter; so, its a self-propelling, momentous process that unfolds exponentially, in stark contrast with just how stuck, or pendulum like (swinging back and forth…) you felt before.

It’s what I have been doing with my health this year, using The Gupta Program, which consists of some powerful tools designed for doing just what I have described; as in, breaking out of old stuck patterns and resetting myself from a place of balance. On the back of it, I am already noticing some fascinating things, like the fact that some of the foods I thought I “had” to give up forever or triggers I couldn’t be around can now be tolerated…in balanced moderation of course…because my body’s over reaction to them has withdrawn. That last example is just the tip of an iceberg of a range of new, balanced, habits I am making my own using the various methods of the program and the result is not only there as my improving health plus the softening of some of the most ingrained “bad” habits of my five decades of existence but also the fact that some of my old health-related fears are starting to get into much more proportion, then starting to dissipate one by one. I feel so much more balanced in my core…that is, both my physical body and my mental and emotional states are each benefiting, so the unified effect is to feel more together as a whole.

Of course, it’s an ongoing process and, really, I would say, the process of finding balance is a lifelong task we each face, each and every day of our lives, for as long as we live; yet it only starts in earnest once we realise its importance and that part is up to us…some people may never realise this, for as long as they live, but we each have our own journey to take. In my case, I would go as far as saying it is the most important thing of all; the very crux of my human existence, to prioritise and learn the ropes of balance to the best of my ability, from which point I can better withstand the extreme vagaries of the world, plus truly start to enjoy some of the complexities and apparent paradoxes, the most unusual gifts and flights of fancy, of my colourful personality (whilst remaining grounded in soundest health). Getting there in a, mostly, balanced way.

Disclaimer: This blog, it’s content and any material linked to it are presented for autobiographical, anecdotal purposes only. They are not meant as advice. They are not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or prescribing. This article does not constitute a recommendation for the treatment or choices. Please consult with a licensed healthcare professional if you have or suspect you might have a health condition that requires medical attention or before embarking on a new treatment plan.

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The power of life review

I’ve been diving into a deep pool of nostalgia lately as quite the powerful (actually) catalyst to conducting a sort of life review across so many levels. Its turned up some incredibly powerful insights about myself and, in my “switched off” from thinking time, as-in when I dream or meditate, its as though I am now busily reconnecting and ironing out long-absent or badly distorted parts of myself from the sense of who “I Am” as they surface from the annuls of this personal history.

Some of the most powerful mechanisms for conducting this exercise which, by the way, didn’t begin as an “an exercise” but its as sure as anything turned into one, have been deep-diving the particular music I associate with various eras, re-reading old letters and diaries and also going through old photos and videos. I’ve talked about the music aspect before, in particular those playlists I’ve compiled (an ongoing project) to dance to as part of my daily routine and “feel good” exercises. I now have playlists put together for the first three decades of my life and they act like a soup seasoned with the very essence of who I was and what was “going on”, in those eras; in fact, a surprisingly nutritious dish that I now serve up for myself at times when I need them, not just when I’m dancing…though not quite so much that third decade, which is the noticeably spartan playlist so far (something which I find quite telling in its own right), but more on that in another post. I have no doubt that the marriage of these memory “soups” with dance is a therapy that is helping me to move some energy through my own memory banks and release, not to mention whip up, some life-affirming feelings whilst shifting any blockages though none of this started as a plan; it has just taken shape organically.

Lately, on a mission to clear out cupboards, I’ve also been trawling through old photos and scanning them in (or at least the better ones), throwing many out and boxing some of them up for my daughter, should she want them. I also dug out all those old video cam cassettes from my top shelf and, after an aborted attempt to transfer them myself, using software and leads that didn’t seem to want to play ball, I sent them all of to a professional who returned 28 cassettes that had been taking up copious amount of room…now transferred onto one single USB stick!

So, when these got returned to me on Monday, I held my nose and dived feet-first into the dark mire, hardly knowing what to expect but the effect was far more pleasant than my braced nerves had ever imagined (I’d put this task off for years, assuming it to be an abhorrent one).

I mentioned a few weeks ago (in my other blog, I think) that I had watched one of these videos on the actual camera it was found in, with the powerful effect of reminding me that I was a far more animated, “together” and hands-on parent than I had allowed myself to imagine across all the years of holding myself culpable for all the mess-up of my first marriage. These other tapes were a mystery as I no longer had the correct sized camera on which to play them back but, given they were from the very early months of parenthood, when all I tend to recall is a feeling of drowning in horribly distressing circumstances regarding the state of my marriage, I wasn’t particularly hopeful that I would enjoy them. Its true, my marriage was a flimsy excuse for a supportive relationship at that time and I was in dark despair in that portion of my life but I think I tend to tar all those times with what I have come to realise about all that in hindsight, more so than what I was consciously thinking about day and night at the time…bearing in mind that I was mostly preoccupied with my little daughter and all that entailed. I think, when we are more circumspect, we can really surprise ourselves with just how much we can actually cope with when we are “in” a situation and its the later analysis that can shock us rigid (take the horrors of childbirth, for example, which we do get through “at the time” even though, in hindsight, we wonder how we survived it).

As a result of tarring all those years with this “it was all bad” brush, I had, in effect, cut them off from my timeline, thinking this was OK for me to do, like deciding to sever a badly wounded limb and expecting myself to hobble around without it from now on, but now I realise my mistake. Now, I see the importance of having that limb reattached, in whatever shape it happened to be in, because…actually…it was stronger than I knew and is part of who I am today but it just needs reanimating!

Because the effect of “chopping off” this part of my past has been to leave a giant gaping fissure in my life, extending from mid twenties to, well, mid thirties and that’s really quite the chasm, one that I can’t help feeling has something to do with the state of my health ever since, so this is important for me to address.

For the first part of that decade, I don’t have video coverage but I do have the photos, albeit absent of me (apart from, quite literally, one or two) since my ex never pointed the camera at me…but those photos do serve to take me back, nonetheless, to the very memories I had been keeping at bay…of trips to Scotland and the lake District, getting our first dog, buying our first house, the occasional social gathering, birthdays and outings. And I think it’s something a lot of us tend to do, don’t we, after the divorce…thinking we have to rip up all the evidence of that entire era as though it never happened; but what, as in my case, the relationship lasted for 12 years? This is a time chunk I can’t afford to loose and I would rather make amends with it now than at the very end when I am facing my maker (far more useful to me this way too).

And, of course, I did have those two VHS videos of my first wedding just waiting for me to dive right into the era.

So, as a total afterthought, I sent off those to the video guy with all the mini cassettes and, of course, back they came on Monday with all the rest. And is it now telling that they were the first 2 that I sat down and watched from beginning to end, out of a choice of 28? Perhaps I just felt the need to establish the chronology in its correct linear format. That decision, after all, to marry came first, before the one to go ahead and “have a family”, as the phrase goes though, for a lot of years, it felt a bit lean to consider what I had as a “family” given it mostly felt like my daughter and I against the world (there is a telling segment in one of the videos where my daughter kept calling our dog “daddy” as her real one was never there). However, at the time of that wedding, I clearly envisioned having two children, ideally a girl and boy.

In fact, there is a segment in the video, a moment I remember (but couldn’t recall it being taped, I think one of the kids must have got hold of the camera…) of me talking to my lovely Aunty Margaret, who is long gone from this world, towards the end of the reception, in which, prompted by her, I describe what I envision…a move to a more rural “spot”, how many kids, all my aspirations for the future; I am so lit up, so on to something with my passion for this envisioned life path as I talk that its now fascinating to me to watch “her” (me) and wonder what happened to all that. When did things get so taken out of my hands with divorce and ill health? Is all that I can take from that the belief that life is shit and then you die? But then I have NEVER succumbed to that kind of thinking, even now, so how do I reconcile such optimism shining in my face that day, knowing that I began to crash just a couple of years later?

I can recall talking to Margaret on the phone, a surprise call she made to me (we never normally talked by phone; we wrote letters) after I announced to her I was getting a divorce and she brought up that conversation to me then: “You really knew what you wanted, Helen, with such optimism and such a powerful vision of the future…I had no doubt you would achieve it because you shared with such conviction, such enthusiasm in your voice, I was so impressed by you that day, everything looked bright…” Thankfully, she wasn’t saying she was less impressed with me that my marriage had failed so soon, but she was (I could tell) deeply disappointed for such vision having been “derailed” and wanted, fervently, for things to work out for me again. Impossible to miss all the sheer pathos hovering around as I recall all this and yet that doesn’t make it too painful for me to behold, although perhaps it did for a long time. What it does is remind me who I was in that video, talking so animatedly, and of the fact I am STILL that person not so very deep inside. Yes, life has its curve balls and can have its rough and ready way with us but these things, such as what animates us and our intrinsic passion, never go away and, in fact, often grow stronger, polishing-up all the more for all the friction that life doles out and this reminiscence has been one of the strongest exercises to come out of the videos (so far). I still identify with that person sat there in the gold dress (yes I wore a gold silk…with gold brocade and flashes of purple lining up the long back slit… self-designed, self-beaded with colourful glass droplets, beautifully crazy dress that only I would have come up with and that uniquely creative and confident person is still alive and well!) so I claim her back now, newly dusted off from life’s bumpy ride.

I was also struck my just how many people, first off, made all that effort to BE at my wedding, from far-flung places and busy lives. Whilst the marriage didn’t last, the feeling of deepest gratitude for that remains intact because they were here for me, not for “the marriage” per se and this in itself is important to sift out of time’s abrasive effect. My husband asked “what on earth do you want to want to watch those for? I can’t imagine anything worse than watching my first wedding play out, blow by blow!” but he was missing the point. I was revisiting the part of myself that was there on that day, having spent months putting my all into a meticulously planned event that was as quirky as it was a great party with a Beatles tribute band in attendence and, besides, these were all people that meant something to me and, in many cases, still do…that proviso being because quite a handful, some older but some not so old, are no longer alive and that was quite the sobering count-through. One woman, my mother’s best friend from years back, with whom I kept in touch for well over 20 years after my mother passed, only died recently, sad news I received in the post over Christmas from her husband. Simply taking in that she and he, and just so many others, came all that way “just for me” was a sobering realisation, perhaps more appreciated by the me that is 52 years old and knows how much upheaval is involved in travel and overnight stays, than the 30 year-old I was at the time. I found myself fervently hoping that I went around and individually welcomed and thanked every single person there, though I know all too well how carried away people get on “their big day”, how it all turns into quite the blur as to what you did and said and to whom…which is why video footage can be gruesome as well as nostalgic. Thankfully, I found mostly nostalgia!

I was also taken aback at just how many people there are friends that I have completely lost touch with or, at best, have infrequent and often only surface-deep catch-ups when we once ran much deeper; and if you had told me that about these people, at the time, I would have been astonished. This has been for a whole variety of reasons, of course, but one of the biggest, there is no doubt, is that I became just so isolated and “cut-off” from everything in the years of that marriage and the aftermath of divorce, leading straight into chronic illness. There is nothing quite like the effect of a personal disaster scene to act as a forcefield that keeps you out of all but the sturdiest social connections. Conversely, I see in those videos a handful of individuals that were to truly stand the test of time, one of whom I chat to almost every week, for which I am so grateful. Its a measure of that friendship’s resilience but also the fact we still recognise in each other worthy qualities that we each had way back when and sometimes this kind of mirroring effect can help to ground us in our sense of self and to hold steady through the tough times, as-in, when me see ourselves reflected back in the eyes of a resilient friendship it helps us to believe we have not lost our sense of self and that it endures and is worthy, whatever else unfolds.

Important also to take on board that not all friendships are meant to last forever; I prefer the analogy that we are often just ships passing on their otherwise diverse routes and that more ships will pass up head. Perhaps its the Asperger part of me but I tend to regard most people’s expectations of staying friends “forever” a little bit odd and rather limiting if some of those friendships are not suitable to be tied together as our lives evolve and unfold in new directions yet some people are still tied to these old, ill-fitting obligations. I prefer to hold to the vision, and I do, of other friendships up ahead that I have yet to even imagine but, as I said, I truly value those that have stayed the distance and feel so deeply “myself” in those as there is already the continuum in that history that has otherwise been missing in my thinking (as above) and there is often something special that occurs when you have been intimate for that long through thick and thin, so a mixture of both is my ideal. I would much rather have a few quality friends than enough for a sizeable wedding party but perhaps that is an inevitable reflection of the age I was then compared to now (for the record, when I remarried, we had just two friends, our two children and my husband’s parents there at the quiet country manor it was held at and it was, in its own way, perfect and very beautiful for its intimacy).

Moving on from those wedding videos into those taken when my daughter was born, yes, its hard to sense in my voice just how weary I was (seen also in my face of the handful of photos taken with me and my daughter over those first few months…I was parenting as though alone though people “saw me” as having a husband’s support, which is a dire combination) but then you could say this is typical of early parenthood. Also, in hindsight, I believe I had more than a touch of post natal depression, of course not helped by feeling emotionally abandoned, and bullied, by my husband (which I was). Yet, something interesting now is, I also see in his face a range of telling expressions, over and over again…and they tell me he was also in some sort of post-natal depression of his own; I guess this also happens to men too, if less reported about. Whilst I chirup on in the sing-song voice, doing what mothers do, in the rare footage when he was around (in which he appears as a somber faced, sunglasses and leather jacket wearing persona, mostly adopting the aloof demeanour of some sort of security guard in attendance or blankly ignoring us two from some ceiling-gazing position on the sofa) I now see a hardness and blankness that potentially belies an inner terror, a feeling of falling or of having taken the wrong turn in life. With the objectivity of over 20 years having passed, I can allow that he realised, almost instantly she was born, that he had made a terrible mistake becoming a parent and it left him feeling spun out of control, landed in the wrong life and with a sense of walls pushing in on him at every turn.

This isn’t to excuse him at all; after all, its not as though the decision was an accident, we had discussed and then planned it for years, but to say that he didn’t know the strength of his own unresolved trauma around his own abysmal childhood (which he had confided in me years before and around which, knowing both of his parents, I could well believe the scars he carried…he remained, very much, the little boy abandoned inside and now he had competition he couldn’t deal with for my attention). He went in to this “plan” blindly optimistic we could rewrite all that history, and also knowing it was what I wanted or I would have married someone else, but instead he clammed up and became hard…harder and aloof than I had ever known him…which confronted me with a choice, either me and my daughter or this marriage; and for the sake of (mostly) her at the time, I chose the former. Again, facing up to this and allowing the relief of accepting we have each had our pain load to carry has been cathartic this week, allowing a rivulet of healing to start leading where floods may later follow (easier to do now my daughter is all grown up).

The biggest gift of all, and I have hardly skimmed the surface, is that I have been introduced to the me that was the busy and animated, often funny and always so on the ball person pre all those years of chronic illness and this feels so timely. As I work so hard at reprogramming the glitch that has embedded as those health issues (courtesy of The Gupta Program…still going well) it feels important to have a sense of that person alive and well …and, yes, so animated…at my core. Somehow, after just an hour or so of footage, its as though I have got one of my wheels back into the train track of me and there is a sort-of course correction taking place at the subliminal level; its as though parts of me “are back” through enhanced familiarity of what that looks, sounds and feels like. I feel there must be an analogy I could use, something from biology or stem cell engineering but the reminder of how I thought, acted, moved, even span my high energy out of myself into a room in such a way that it engaged other people with my enthusiasm and creativity, yes my joie de vivre, all those years ago is influencing the me of now through direct contact with it, a sort of transference process, allowing “lost” parts of me to be brought back to life through this highly visual means (and, given I process in such a visual way, a typical autistic trait, I would say super-power, this part is important). Seeing through my own eyes, though my engagements (how did I spend my time, what sort of things did I make happen), through my highly animated feet and hands, through flashes of the colourful clothes I wore, is helping to reconnect me with aspects of me without the distortion that has been ill-health. I’m so grateful now for all the many times I decided to reach for that camera with one hand…tacitly, to record memories of my daughter but they appear to have also captured important memories of, as well as for, me.

And, oh, the love for my daughter that comes flooding over me when I reacquaint myself with her 1, 2, 3 and 4 year old self; how could I ever doubt that I was a good parent, allowing myself to think I didn’t do or love or protect or anything enough…I see now how much I loved then and feel how much, even more so, I love now and it is the most powerful incentive for being alive and well to feel this mother-daughter charge run through me as the biggest gift of my life bar none and to want to be here for her, with her, for many more years to come.

This is made all the more powerful, in a sense, from the fact I am the one holding the camera as I move around and talk, without seeing myself (as per real life) because boy do I talk. I now appreciate why my daughter is the highly animated consciousness she is if she was immersed in me giving my full attention to every nuance of parenting like I apparently did, with so much experiment and fun (there are scenes of entire rooms being turned into paint-by-feet experiments, for instance), so much pointing things out, prompting her to notice, asking what she thinks or feels about things, encouraging her to process in new ways, to think outside the box, question why, explore…and oh what a live wire child she was, always on the move, giggling, exploring, in to everything and so bursting full of affection, wanting to hug everything from strangers to every kind of creature we encountered from chicks to goats to snakes and lizards, all the same to her. And boy did we go to some places, so many farms and animal sanctuaries, trips to Cornwall and Devon with just me, her and Buster (my Rhodesian Ridgeback) crammed into my little blue Uno, riding welsh ponies up hills when she could barely get her legs over the saddle, sleep overs and B&Bs with our friends, a spontaneous trip to Venice with my friend and her son and, for her, dancing classes and local playgroups. If she was chock-full of energy and enthusiasm for life, I was apparently matching it inch for inch back then…in fact, we were (and are) a dynamo for each other and this reminds me what an absolute gift parenting has been for me. She is still the one person who can inspire me out of the very worst crashes to want to be full of vivre again in an instant and it is from that deep wanting to be fully alive that I have always found my bounce-back factor.

When I have looked back to those years I have tended to, most unfairly, recall the hard times when coping with the transition phase of the divorce and almost losing my house (it was precarious for a couple of years) forced me to office work and farming her out into the care of other people who sat her in front of the tv screen with the sugary snacks I had to keep telling them, repeatedly, not to give her (I had never felt such guilt as when she had to have four “baby teeth” removed under general anaesthetic in hospital because of sweets doled out by a minder while I was working full-time). I’ve held onto memories of not coping with the juggle, of being snappish, of having those melt-down moments that all parents have at some point.

My mistake has been that I have tended to “make large” that relative blip of time, mostly overlapping when she was in school most of the day, compared to what was actually four solid years of me being the full hands-on, completely dedicated, highly attentive and responsible parent, making the full-time job of it from the day she born…I was, frankly, awesome…and re-owning this, reattaching it to myself, has been MASSIVE in terms of my sense of self, also my sense of “what I have achieved in this life” (women are conditioned to be so very poor at acknowledging their parenting achievements as amongst the most important things they could have spent their lives doing…). Its so very easy to look back and judge myself for not having had that successful “career” but what about this important work, ongoing but never more important than all that I put into it back then. That was when I put the solid foundation down, for both her and, yes, and for myself too as I settled down into learning the ropes of parenthood from scratch, having had very different precedent from the way I was parented and having no one else around me for support, guidance or even an extra pair of hands. On top of which, I now know about my Asperger’s as a light shone on why I simply didn’t relate to so many of the approaches to parenting I heard about from other mums in my postnatal circle…I just knew I had to invent my own way and trust in that and in my daughter’s ability to meet me half way, as she always did (she has since thanked me, profusely, for my unconventional parenting as it has made her into the self-assured individual she is today). In short, I did really bloody well!!

And now I own it. In fact, I own all of it, all of this, the whole history of my life, even the mistakes, and looking it all in the eye is such a big part of it rather than just giving lip service as before – “I’ve made peace with it all” – but really it was because I was averting my eyes, being selective, filtering out the harder bits.

Ironically, what I find is that “the harder bits” were not as hard, or should I say rewardless, as some of these more recent times have been struggling with my health; all the physical pain that feels manifest out of some previous, if more abstract, sense of struggle that came first. Again, I can’t help feeling that if only I can get over this sense of past hardship weighing me down like a concrete breeze block, all that can self-resolve too.

You could say, and some people do, that there’s no merit in winding back the clock to delve into our past histories but I would suggest that the more strongly a person shrugs this need off, the least comfortable they feel at the prospect…and, thus, perhaps they, above all people, would truly benefit from getting curious about why that is, why the big avoidance, the shrugging, the averted gaze?

These uncomfortable feelings left as residue in our energy bodies can haunt us, though we don’t yet know it (and perhaps never will make the association) as issues with our health, unresolved feelings that hover for years and years, as sore points or avoidances around certain topics that make us flinch, or as the various stuck patterns that play out in our present day life. We don’t need to do deep analysis, I’ve found, to get to the root of these since the subconscious will do most of the work for us when we start to explore but, in my case, just recognising that there was a closed door with a “do not enter” sign hung on it around some of this territory and, gently, prising it open to let in some light has been extremely powerful for me, already (and there’s more to come as I go further into these tapes and at least one more giant box of photos plus a load of albums).

I used to question the merit of video recorders and find them a bit “naff”, that is until I became a parent and now those tapes of my daughter’s unmistakable giggle, of those soft curvy arms and that tussled yellow-blond hair that I can almost touch and smell, are the priceless gift of all priceless gifts to me (they have now been backed up multiple times so I never lose them again!), there is medicine in every moment I spent with that little person, who can never be lost, since she is inside of my heart for as long as I breathe and her essence is still in the grownup person I speak to almost every day. I remember they once told me there was nothing like a mother’s love for her a child…I now realise I have spent 22 years unpacking the marvel of that discovery and am so grateful for the miracle of it, no regrets, no talk of hardship or juggling, no room to complain left in there any more and I know this year of enforced separation has driven the message home like never before. I am so thankful for the life path, with all its foibles, that showed me this unmatchable joy because not all parents seem to realise it.

Even if there are no tapes to be had, digging out old photos, old music, or just allowing the mind to go soft and to wander down long closed-off corridors can be a lead into this kind of “re-attachment to yourself” and “making whole” practice. Not so long ago, I surprised myself by “thinking myself” back into my childhood home during a spontaneous mediation and, impressed by all the fine details that came up (I’m sure these have increased lately on the back of the nostalgia exercises I’ve been doing, especially listening to certain songs, as they can transport me in an instant to particular moments in childhood…the radio on as my mother cleans the windows on a bright sunny day or the feeling of our sitting room on a chilly February morning when the fire had just been lit, etc) by taking a little wander around the house to see what else I could see. What I discovered was that I could walk from room to room as though I was wearing a virtual reality headset, it was in 3-D and had such incredible detail it was as though I was really back there.

So, I take in the wallpaper around the fireplace, the way the sunlight hit the yellowish curtains, see the paint scuff on the sitting room door, feel and almost smell the metal door handle as I turn it, feel the tread of the carpet in the hallway, notice the light through daffodils in a vase on the hall stand, the bumpy wallpaper, then turn to go up the stairs, past the little shelf that I used to climb on, around the corner and on tip toes to look out the window towards the main road with its buses going past, go into the bathroom with the “Wedgwood blue” bath fittings, see the curled wallpaper below the sink, the smell of the soap we used, reverse out and into my bedroom, the exact feel of the floor, how it had a raised patch in one corner near the boiler pipes, the number or paces between the bed and the chair, hear the creak of my wardrobe, the feel as the catch released, the musty smell of old wood inside and the “secret compartment” where I hid my diaries, run my finger along familiar books on the wooden bookshelves my dad built over the sealed-off fireplace, go into my parents room next door, always painted yellow, and bounce belly first on the creaky sprung bed, try to stand on it like jelly and feel through my legs how I always wobbled precariously as I did this, the very noise it made and jump back on the floor…you get the picture. It’s all intact, every nuance, stored up in there for life and we carry it around with us, whether we own it or not!

By owning it, we make ourselves more whole and we cease denying parts of ourselves, or indeed others we are irrevocably connected with. In fact, we soften towards them all, releasing the kind of tension that only every hurts us in the end, because we can see much more clearly why we are connected at the bigger scale, you could say in the bigger “plan” that led us to where we are now. These countless stories we carry are no longer splintered off from the idea of what we are prepared to accept as our truth because they are no longer seen as negating that truth. Instead, it is all “truth”, as in, it happened and so it must have been necessary to “make me who I am today”. That oh-so important person, the me of here and now, gets to feel the completeness of it all and this is then reclaimed as the source of so much sense of personal empowerment, replacing what came before it, which was most-likely a much more vague yet infinitely more dangerous sense of having been fatally wounded by life or of having “messed things up”. Yes, we can finally let ourselves off the hook and allow that things are perfect just as they are; which is more likely to show itself once we stop being in such a wrestle with what was. We might not be able to change all that…but we can change how we react to it!

Really, there are no messes just so long as we are comfortable with who we are at the core of all the incidentals than come and go and its so much easier to sense who that core person is when we allow the continuum of experiences that, for all it flips back and forth between “good times” and “bad”, always had this one thing in common…steady and unwavering…and that is who we are at the consciousness level, that part of us watching the show or, you could say, this is our essence. My own sense of essence has grown so much stronger and more resilient of late, even more so this week as I continue to open up this even-more visceral box of memories to explore. The array of feelings that have been jogged out of deep-freeze has been astonishing, I have watched aspects of me that I forgot I even had reanimate, almost without skipping a beat, including more youthful (which is a state of mind…) and optimistic, dynamic feelings stirring inside of me but most of all, if I had to label it, the most resounding feeling that has come out of it all has been love….love for everything and everyone I have ever had in my life, deep resounding love and gratitude for my daughter and, yes, deep love as-in appreciation and knowing and unconditional acceptance for myself, which is the most important ingredient of healing that there is.

JUST REALISED today is my 10 year anniversary of writing this blog! There could have been no more apt post than this one. And within 5 minutes of posting, the doorbell rang and beautiful flowers were delivered from my daughter for Mother’s Day…now that’s timing!

Posted in Consciousness & evolution, Health & wellbeing, Life choices, Life journey, Menu, Personal Development, Recovery chronic illness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Who or what are you holding yourself together for?

How do you measure who you are, what makes you feel core-strong regardless of what else is going on, and how does this manifest in your physical health? This feels like a big post, as originally published on Living Whole my health blog, and far too central to everything else I share here not to repost.

Who or what are you holding yourself togeher for? It’s an interesting question; one that has popped up for consideration several times over the past 16 years of my health adventure and perhaps even before that.

There was a time I felt like I held myself together for my daughter, my family. There have been times I’ve done it for a parent, to see them through cancer and beyond, no matter what my problems…just keep on trucking, being there, holding together. I’ve done it for friends, for a job I “have” to keep doing, come what may, to keep that wolf from the door. I did it, for a lot of years, to “seem like” I was coping and fitting in to an alien-seeming world, to not rock the boat and not disappoint other people.

Yet many times over the 16 years of chronic health conditions, I have had this question pop up quietly, unexpected, perhaps first thing in the morning, as happened today on my yoga mat.

I had a very deep sleep last night; a heavy one, the kind that seems to stop my Ehlers Danlos Syndrome blood flow or, more accurately, pool it around my stomach and just under my heart so that, when I wake up, it feels as though a stone has landed in my guts or a weight landed on my torso, met by a hard contraction of muscles that feels like tight knots. And when I stood up, to scurry off (somewhat late) to my mat, that reservoir of fluids just seemed to drop, without ceremony, into my legs so that the first ten minutes of more felt like shingles in my pelvic floor, my feet and my thighs. I thanked the stretches I did over the bolster and face down on the mat for the reconstituted comfort of a stomach slowly remembering how to stretch out and go back to some sort of normal….and then the remembrance of the night’s dreams hits me.

Last night, I dreamt I was at an airport saying goodbye to my daughter, who was heading off on some sort of trip with people she hardly knew, to do something serious, some sort of laboratory experiment (it seemed like) because her suitcase, which refused to stay shut, seemed to contain test tubes and lab coats. There was a lot of waiting around for her flight to come up on the board and, of course, there were storms, the sky was dark, the wind was howling. I had that gut churn of a parent sending her child off into the unknown while the child herself was reassuring, eager and (my biggest concern, of course) naive…I felt like I wanted to stop her, to cradle her under my arm, in safety.

I knew where the dream came from, of course. It was the remnant of two summer’s ago, when my daughter actually did fly off on a jumbo jet, all alone, to Canada, to work with young people she had yet to meet on another continent, yes an experiment in experience. Only a few months earlier, she would routinely phone me for a lift back from the shops if the dark bus stop unnerved her; I was finding it hard to mentally encompass this massive leap in her confidence. If I’m honest, the tight cheesewire of anxiety in my stomach had started to crank tight from the moment she had first suggested the idea, months before. Of course, I supported her all the way and waved her off so proudly as she left but my innards were rigid with white fear; that day and all the other days of her three month sojourn, hidden in a place I wasn’t; even thinking about labeled “nothing I can do about it” but, in hindsight, it was there until she came home. Even when she phoned me up to tell me it was going well and especially when she didn’t, some part of me felt stretched over an ocean, energetically spaghettied day and night. 

Looking back, I didn’t even admit to myself, at the time, how much I had to hold myself together (what felt like) for her at the time, but which was really for me too, but I couldn’t tell the difference, because we had been energetically and proximally enravelled for so long I didn’t know where she ended and I started (do all parents feel like this; do I simply have visceral, powerfully metaphorical, effects where all parents go?). She was absolutely fine, having the time of her life…and I was the one in pieces, like the carefully crafted safety shell I had created around us both for twenty years had shattered on the floor.

I hadn’t realised how much that shell also incorporated me, had held me together, until that point; how I also felt like it was this thing that held me together and defined me, gave me my purpose…my raison d’être, the state of parenthood that had become the point of my life. Just as other external states, even that disastrous first marriage and the heavy neediness in him that had filled some sort of absence in me, had been used to define me for so many years that I struggled to end it. Where was I in all this? Why did I always give myself over to other beyond the point of expectation, as though I was nothing without it?

She and I had had it extra intense, of course, with that first marriage the way I have already outlined it was in other posts; so we became a huddle, a joint buffer against the world from a very early start, even before she was born when things already felt harsh on the outside but, in making things safe for her, I somehow found myself a little more substance. Looking back, it was as though my purpose was to give to her what felt absent from my own childhood; the contact, the deep intimacy, the exceptional allyship. By the way, I have since discovered all those things sustain, even grow stronger, once you have found yourself a little more as the starting premise…but , for a lot of years, I didn’t seem to grasp that.

The degree to which I had focussed all on holding myself together for this, for her, for this idea I had of parenthood had escaped me until my spring clips seemed to fall off one day, which they didn’t do in an emotional way…oh no, I still felt pretty stoic, so very calm and cheerful the whole time she was away, in fact I could have sworn I was in a really great place….and perhaps I was, maybe I was just starting to realise I could let go and relax my white-knuckle grip on controlling outcomes. Whatever it was, one month after she left, I had my first episode of major EDS collapse, as though the hinges that joined my legs onto my torso came loose and almost fell off (as I’ve shared before) and I spent three months in extremely compromised mobility and a lot of pain.

It was the episode that showed me I had EDS and the beginning of accepting I am autistic at long last, so quite the monumental milestone actually, and one I am deeply grateful for…but how interesting that, until this point, I had held myself together through years of one health crisis after another, never allowing myself even so much as two days of bed rest on the trot…on what? Sheer determination to hold myself together because of a deeply inbuilt sense of “I must” and, I suspect, that sense of imperative was less to do with me than my sense of responsibility for others, combined with a primarily externalised benchmark of myself, as in, I couldn’t let myself seem to fall apart from the outside…I just couldn’t bear that idea, having worked so diligently at my outward projection of self for all of my autistic life!

This I realised this morning…without that outward projection, I felt like I would literally disappear into dust on the ground!!

Its a feeling that is still trying to be ingrained in me, or at least hovering, but I’m working on it…and, I suspect, is a very big key to my healing because, all the time, I was missing the point that my true identity, you could say my authentic self, and my strength come from the inside, and they have been living in the shadow of all these externalised imperatives for most of my life.

Also, in the light of my last post on the topic of interoception (or lack of it…an autistic thing) I suspect that my body couldn’t just show me that I was more emotionally vulnerable than I had admitted for years. Oh no no, it had to go all the way to force me to realise it by causing an actual physical collapse to coincide with this time of major re-jig regarding my very sense of who I am, so that I really paid attention for once. Perhaps it had learned I simply don’t pick up on the more subtle emotional clues or, even more readily, sweep them under the carpet or fail to stop and prioritise them, swallowing them back in case they might interfere with my ability to remain calm, stoic, capable and to keep my uber ritualised autistic life together, at least externally. This world of “seems like” that has bearly wobbled for all I have been so unwell for years, far more severely than even my siblings can comprehend, there being so little external evidence, hence the big drama whenever I seem to “let them down” in some way (but would anyone glancing at my Facebook feed ever know it?). I was faced with having to “let go” of my daughter so my body “let go” as some sort of metaphor to get me to process that emotionally…for once; and to accept that change was upon me, like it or not.

As I mentioned in that last post, I now realise that, due to my interoceptive shorfalls, strong sensations I have in the body are often to do with strong emotions that I am feeling that just don’t know how else to express: heat as anger or frustration, freezing cold as fear, or a sudden emotional impact can cause my already low blood pressure to tank out in a bout of dysautonomic dizziness with buckled knees, as though I am in toxic shock. Just yesterday, I read a comment in a forum that really triggered me and I was suddenly in such intense nerve pain I told my husband I would have to take a day of rest and not join him on the walk today; but then, a short while later, realising it was the emotions I felt to do with this objectionable comment, that felt personal even though it wasn’t directed at me as she was attacking something important to me and with a certain amount of aggression in her tone (she was insisting that autism “only affects the brain” and has “absolutely nothing to do” with the limbs of the body in a group discusion about the link with EDS) had hit me as intense electrical sensations and so I was able to recognise them as intense frustration in order to clear them away and go for that walk after all. So, yes, my body talks to me in physical symptoms…so how much better can it get if I learn to pay attention, to translate if necessary and respond much sooner?!

So when my body went through all those abrupt-seeming shifts in 2019, it was like a physical manifestation of an emotional awareness that had been trying to come to the surface, and to terms with itself, for months. Not caused by this, I hasten to add, but used by it to “speak”. As in, I may have underlying hypermobility but the way, and degree, to which it presents symptoms seems to have a definite rhythm to do with my emotions, so how much dare I suggest that it is a “means” by which autism speaks in some people’s cases? How much earlier would I have collapsed had it not been for holding it together as a parent for so long, I am left to wonder; so, in a way, this externalised sense of myself that had kept me busy and so-occupied for so long had indeed helped to keep me strong (and I know that my chornic health would have been a very different picture if I had, say, lived on my own). But also, this sheer determination to stay physically strong, for all I could sense the underlying, possibly genetic, weakness, has helped built a very high degree of rigidity into my body as overcompensation (= chornic pain) and this is no small part of what I am now working to soften using the Gupta Program (and, if so, I require other resources, an alternate source of strength, to be waiting on the inside to sustain me). The inability to process emotions in any other way becomes an epigentic factor that drives the EDS; so, I really need to work on this inner emotional resilience to step forwards.

The very fact that reconfiguration of “how needed I felt” was (and continues to be…) so very impactful on my physical strength makes me realise that I have been putting far too much weight on externals and not starting from the premise that, before all things, we each need to be intact, sturdy and self-defined ON THE INSIDE. When we have this as a baseline, everything else can be built upon its foundation…otherwise, remove the external raison d’être (which could equally be a job title, or a marriage) and we risk falling apart. Yet, in struggling to make my way as an autistic person in a dominantly neuropotypical world, my entire masterplan for survival had, so far, been to be here for others and now…well, now I was at liberty like never before. It should have thrilled me but, there’s no denying, part of me felt as though it had lost its backbone.

Did I even know how to define my strength, my worthiness, my reason for being from the inside out? Even in all the years of deepest, darkest fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue I now see I was largely trying so very hard to show up for my family, in spite of this perceived failing, the flaw in my fabric, that I felt was letting them down. I would drag all my limited resources together to try and be here for them on the dates they most needed me…for that trip, the school concert, for Christmas…only to flounder two or three times as hard or as long for all the extra effort that would take, yet nothing would induce me to let them down, not even once. If I had to scrape myself off the floor and reconstitute myself into a human being, almost pouring myself into the vessel of my clothes to try and normalise myself into a human shape, for long enough to do normal things then I would do that, just to be there for them in the right place and the right time with the appropriate facial expression. I’m so glad those heaviest days are behind me now and that I’m in such a better place overall, though I feel sad for the compromised parent I so often felt I had to be and look back over those happy photos, trying to recall the bits that didn’t bare photographing, and am all too aware of the stark contrasts.

I don’t share this proudly or with any sense of martyrdom but in an attempt to try and gather in my hand, to examine it the better, that terribly fragile part of me that drove the behaviour, that put everything else first, that lived through others and felt it had to be strong for outside reasons but which didn’t know how to show up for me. This part of me was such a small voice, crying at the end of a very long corridor, that I dismissed myself as an irrelevance. Meanwhile, I had lost all sense of my own emotional core strength. Yes, I could be strong, even fierce, as a wife, a parent, a friend but for me…I don’t remember many examples. I told myself it was enough that I got this extended “holiday” to recover, to paint when I felt like it, to take it easy if I had to…but I didn’t hear out those emotional needs, or act the friend or counsellor to those parts of me that were trying to gain a sense, all these many decades later than perhaps non-autistic people process this, of “who I am, why am I here?” beyond all the trying to conform to my perceived idea of normal. I was treated by myself like a pot plant: sit here, relax, take in the sunshine…but there was a deeper consciousness that was gasping for air. I guess, when the shift in my parenting responsibilities hit me like a sledgehammer, some part of me realised it was time to, finally, get down to work on all this and the shifts, two years hence, have been MAJOR, continuing. So it crashed me right back to baseline and, from that zero point, I now rebuild myself, from the centre outwards.

There I have it in that phrase: “emotional core strength” which, surely, underpins physical core strength. I can remember writing and researching a lot about the psoas muscle years ago, arguably the most important muscle in the body, being a long-running muscle that is well known by physical therapists worth their salt to be a link between physical and emotional strength (or weakness…). Both my husband and myself had massive breakthroughs through having our psoas worked on by the skilled myofascial therapist we used to see; he cried like a baby and spent half a day sat in a field declaring he didn’t even know who he was or what motivated him anymore after his first session and the array of shifts he has made in his life ever since are too many to summarise. During mine…well, the therapist said she had never felt such intense HEAT come out of someone as when she released what felt so entangled in there. That was a long time ago and there were physical benefits for me afterwards, for sure, but behaviour patterns are deep, engrained and often bounce back if we don’t know what stuck habits we are looking out for. I may very well have cleared the decks at that point but, if you just keep on going with the same behaviours and belief systems, nothing ever changes for long…

My stuck point, and maybe it’s an autistic thing, seems to be that I don’t know how to START with my own core emotional strength. I have got somewhat better at adding it into the picture since I began to process through blogging ten years ago, but it seldom comes first. Mainly, my idea of it so easily defaults to being this external thing, something I sense in proportion to how much I am NEEDED by others, of how much impression I make on the world. Nope, strength has to be within us, somewhere about our centre, emanating from there and unconditional, as in, it just needs to be what it is…not “because of” but because it just is. It’s the deepest, most ethereal, yet most resilient and supportive structure in our lives and, yes, it will manfest externally too but, first, it has to know itself without all those mirrors to reflect itself back. An interesting realisation given all I shared about “mirroring” the outside world as my inner experience the other day and yet…herein is my problem…I so seldom see myself out there!

So, I clearly need to look elsewhere. As in, within. First. So when something happens, I need to check that inner domain as priority. Especially when it has a physical effect; the body is clearly speaking, so what do my emotions have to say, what do I need to process. Stop looking for outside “reasons” first Helen; but, also, don’t so easily default to something “going wrong with the body” because emotions are just temporary, they are energy passing through…if you let them be that!

It’s been a big realisation, coming to me softly but surely, these past 2 years, that this is the case. Because of it happening just on time, and unlike many empty-nest parents, the change in gear of my parenting role didn’t, actually, floor me in the end but has taken a great deal of pressure off me, for which I am so grateful, nor did I turn to addictive behaviours…a bottle of wine per night or shopping for Britain, a mid-life crisis or a divorce. But in my case, the body got to catch up on itself with a lifetimes worth of messages all arrived at once, like post that had got held up at the sorting office, and suddenly I was drowning in sackfuls of mail repeatedly telling me I was measuring my strength in all the wrong ways, I was defining it in terms that wouldn’t sustain me, I was making it about matters that turned me into a shell and not the beating heart of the person I need to be to thrive and be alive. My essence. Who I would be if all else disappeared. Who I would be if I was afloat in the universe with stars for company. Me.

Looking back, it was the start of wanting…no needing…to move more which led directly into daily dancing. That was my way of, softly softly, exploring who I was in my deepest insides and learning to say those things out loud, at first with hand gestures and gentle torso movements and now, well, now I have spoken conversations with all the different parts of myself, a daily audience that is long overdue, courtesy of The Gupta Program. Its helping…a lot!

As someone with autism, I still consider this impressive and extremely game-changing, even though it took me to my 50s to get here yet such headway in inner awareness, and the openness to deal with things as they crop up, is huge…no more stoic behaviour, or burying it all in “duty” and habits (as, by the way, my mother did to a tee). I see so many people, not even on the spectrum, fail to get to this point of inner awareness, or open-forum dialogue with themselves, all their lives…so they take it all to the grave, these faulty ideas they have about themselves and who they are, built upon having “done the right things” or “worked really hard” all their lives; but what about them, what would hold them up if all that stuff happened to melt away, who are they really? I can’t help thinking this is the root of just so many health conditions because, when we don’t manifest attention for ourselves deep inside, our bodies will manifest internal things for us…to gain our attention, to bring our gaze forcibly inwards, to focus the eyes and the mind on parts of us that were nigh-on invisible to us for decades. For some, this can be transformative just in time, which is why chronic health conditions have this way of transforming a person’s life (and I heard such a testimonial just the other day…it brought tears to my eyes for being so relatable) and sometimes, sadly, it doesn’t.

In summary, I could say that, in my case, I’ve noticed that a physical meltdown often precedes a major realisation…but it would be great to get there via a more direct route and I’m working on it!

And, by the way, until you check in with who or what you are holding yourself together for and find, core to everything, that the answer is yourself then you are likely to run into problems.

Photo by Miha Rekar on Unsplash

So, I consider myself lucky to have been through all I have been through as it was apparently necessary to grab my attention inwards, and with the finishing touch of forcing me to notice how I had measured myself, for just so long, by “how I showed up” externally, how much I worried about others, how much I took on their pain and problems (which, yes, I do to a tee…oh boy do I do that!) by literally reeling in those feelings and making them my own, to the point of extreme pain. This only makes me a sponge for other people’s emotions, even in cases when I don’t relate…yet I still feel their energy of distress and go into pain and overwhelm that I really have no business having and all the worse for not being relatable to my autistic perspective and priorities (the difference between sympathy and empathy is that you don’t even have to agree to feel it). And when, even for a moment, I don’t feel sustained by who I am “out there” its as though all my spring-clips fall apart and my structures collapse, with more and more physical evidence as I get older.

So, thank you my body for making this “impossible to ignore” metaphor out of my symptoms…at last, I hear you and, on those days I “go extra soft” in my structure, I look about me to ponder what is it that I’m responding to but, most importantly, I go inwards to see what’s going on in there too…who do I think I am today and, if I seem to have lost all context, if I have lost my footing with “me”, I don’t avoid it but do the work to re-find myself….yes, me, Helen, the one that never goes away, that needs her voice, her expression, her dance and her art, these early morning blog-rambles (that maybe someone will relate to…but, ultimately, that doesn’t actually matter since what I share is authentic and exists, regardless of concensus). I talk to my parts and I do the work…and then, suddenly, I notice my strength has returned; my yoga is back to being sturdy and centred, my easy smile and sense of humour is back, I can appreciate tiny things and I can be all alone, no need for external validation in order to be who I am. These things are now my sustenance; they are the root stock on which I continue to grow upwards and out.

Of course, its work in progress but its a slow and steady transformation, from being so externally fixated for the course of a lifetime (extreme torture to an introvert!) to becoming deeply centred on the essence of myself which, actually, allows me to show-up even more for those around me. Parenthood never ends, I discover to my joy, and I am needed…constantly…I know that now without question, but I am able to show up in ways that don’t feel so disorienting or unbalanced. She benefits hugely from this and so do I, plus we meet in the middle more (she gives equal support to me!), so the relationship has never been healthier and the same with my husband and my friends (whilst those for whom this was never going to work, who were used to coming to see me to drain me of all I was prepared to give, or who expected me to show up in a format of “me” I have now outgrown but which they felt more comfortable and familiar with, have tended to sidle away this past couple of years). What remains may be leaner but it fits me and I am starting to feel so much stronger, inside and out, and that…from the perspective of the past few years of rocky health…is one hell of a strong starting point!

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

Nature’s power hour

For the past just-over a week, I’ve been getting up at 6am to start my Power Hour routine and today was no exception. As I shared in my last post, I really love these early morning starts, which has really taken me by surprise. Today, I woke even earlier (no alarm required) which gave me the chance to do a couple of guided mediations in the warmth of my bed before getting up at the usual time to do my asana practice, meditation, dancing etc. routine.

What wasn’t so usual today was that, rather than just the solitary robin trill from the tree to the left of my yoga room window, I caught the unmistakable melody of a blackbird…my favourite…and then noticed he had the full backing group with him, made up of sounds so diverse yet seamlessly blended it was as though the bird-residents of our little corner of the world had rehearsed for days.

© Lord of the Summer Song, 2018 – Helen White

With my head out of the window, I was thrilled to be able to soak in the full orchestral effect of a proper dawn chorus, it was truly awesome in the least overused version of what that refers to. I kept the window ajar for the whole of my asana practice, despite the chill. It was still dark outside. The London basin level of commuter traffic on the roads was all the louder for the open window but my focus was on this, not that.

How many hundreds…thousands…of times do I miss this? Sometimes, on summer mornings, I happen to go to the bathroom with its window ajar and there it is, just audible enough to go back to bed and try…with head slightly raised off the pillow…to continue listening. Rarely, though a couple of hands would suffice to count the times, I have been out there walking my dog when it happened. Those winter month trills from a solitary robin under streetlamp remind me, as per my previous post, of early morning starts that have scarred me, being the stomach-twisting ones on the way to some office job or other, especially in those early days of a long commute to the City. A rather more tragic indictment of my life to date, it’s also a sound that reminds me strongly of airports and continental travel, not because of that travel per se but because of the time we tend to set-off to get there!

Even though I know how affecting it can feel to be awake at this time of day, gilding all the days to come, as though having slipped through the cracks into some alternate reality for a while… Even though I still hold the feeling of such encounters in my body as treasured feelingmemories, yet as though they are, somehow, pearls that I do not deserve to take hold of on the more-mundane days of my life… Even though I tell myself, frequently, I will “try” to get up to be outside somewhere waiting for the sunrise one day soon…I have not made the effort to experience Nature’s power hour anywhere close to enough times in my five-plus decades of life.

(And if life was suddenly known to be drastically shortened, how much more readily would I suddenly grab onto the pearl, slip through the gilded crack, make that small effort?)

Yes, this magical thing happens more days than not, even in its most pared back versions off-season, but how often am I around to appreciate it? How out of touch have I been with one of the most awe-striking, rarified, freely available, unlegislated and wholly unrationed joys of life?!

There it has been, this ethereal “performance” that seems to straddle dimensions of reality…and I have mostly slept through it, for years. How long have I been feeling this other power hour, Nature’s power hour, urging me to synchronise? How many years have I ignored the electric tingles that charge through my body just before dawn, that “annoy me” for making it hard to sleep; rather than receiving their message promply, “time not to sleep anymore”? How long was I going to go on with learned behaviours over natural ones, calling me to be part of this rarified time of day; to experience it, to (in my way) take part in it, not once for the holidays but as part of daily life?

Today, with the chill air of a blustery morning that had wind chimes joining in with their melody, I soaked it all in; every last drop; this (not quite…yet) power hour of the birds to mingle with my own power hour on the mat. It told me that Spring is almost here, that the birds feel it through their feathers, that its time to reach for new beginnings, to accept the baton of that ever-forgiving reboot offered so tirelessly by Mother Nature and I was a little shocked that I had rebuffed one of its most exuberant signs for all these many years.

Not anymore.


The Dawn Chous – for some useful outline information on what the dawn chorus is, when does it happen and other fascinating details, such as why some birds sing more than one melody.

Posted in Consciousness & evolution, Health & wellbeing, Life choices, Meditation, Menu, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Choosing where to dwell

If I’ve been a little quiet over here in Spinning the light for a while its because my attention has been elsewhere, as touched upon more over on my other blog Living Whole.

Because, as of a couple of weeks into the new year, I have been enrolled on a brain retraining program for chronic conditions called The Gupta Program, which uses a range of techniques to reprogram parts of the brain that can get stuck in unhelpful cycles of response. This, I hasten to add, is not to say that chronic illness is a figment of the imagination but that very real, physical symptoms can can be tackled using the premise of neuroplasticity, which is an approach I have had faith in for a considerably long time and now I have my retraining vehicle. For more about how the program works, there are videos and studies freely available on its website where you can also sign up for a 28 day free trial.

Old dog new tricks

Whilst getting my feet under the desk of that process, I have felt I needed to keep myself much more to my own lane so have largely focussed on the program, doing some writing to do with how that is all going (shared on my other blog) and my art. Mainly, the process of “retraining” has taken over my life because it has spilled right out from the structures of the program to influence nearly every aspect of my life, in the most organic of ways. As I am about to share; but not so much from the health perspective here as from the way that I have learned that we all have the potential to harness neuroplasticity in our daily lives, whatever our situation and regardless of how old we are, because its a highly influential state of mind yet, possibly, the most powerful tool we have in our possession…way more influential than what’s in our bank accounts or anything else we may currently believe is affecting our quality of life.

So, in this space, where my main focus is not so much matters of physical health, one of the main take-aways I want to share, as a not-so indirect outcome of the program, is that it feels like I have chosen an entirely new place to dwell (and no removals vehicle necessary). I sit here on the same sofa writing material for my blog in much the same way as ever I did whilst sipping tea and yet something quite fundamental has altered since I last wrote in this space.

I choose the word “dwell” here, as in, we choose where to dwell whenever we focus our thoughts on certain preoccupations (what we dwell “on”), and I have changed mine, quite a lot, so far in 2021. When we do this, our minds and bodies become a different place in which to dwell as in “to live”; like an energetic make-over project or even fully moving house…so that, to varying degrees, its like we now live “in” a different place sitting “on” different furniture. We are, literally speaking, no longer dwelling on what we used to dwell on so the inner-outer views have changed. This can have far-reaching effects…and then some!

So, this retraining experience has served to emphasise how important “what we dwell on” is for all of us; regardless of whether our issues manifest as physical symptoms. We all hold this latent power to manifest a very different reality via our fixations, priorities and attitudes; and also the way we respond when self-defeating behaviours occur. Do we notice and change those behaviours or do we allow them to perpetuate? The most common assumption is that we “can’t do anything about” our circumstances so we don’t even try.

Somewhat like other posts I have written of late, cultivating joie de vivre and refocusing how we spend our time, the very structure of our day, can have unimaginably huge impacts on the life that then starts to shape-shift around us. The sheer scale of shift that is possible from this is paradoxical given most people seem to assume they have to go out and aquire/win/force something to make such shift and grossly underestimate these simple superpowers we all possess….and yet they are missing out on the main “trick” for reinventing your core experience of life, that inner place where we spend 24/7 looking out of the windows at life.

Room for manoeuvre

We may tell ourselves our circumstances are stuck and that we have no room for manoeuvre, but I would say to you that NOTHING feels more stuck then when your body is failing you in almost every imaginable way, so you can’t do what you want or eat or relax like other people, when even breathing in and out can be a pain or when you have really good days or weeks…only for those to crash and burn, suddenly forcing you back into invalid mode for no apparent reason, which can be so bitterly demoralising after many years or relentless ups and downs. If these things can be shifted by a change of perspective then anything can.

To a higher degree than ever before, people are feeling desperately constrained by life, as though trapped inside a small space that is just so cluttered, no room left to do what they think they really want to do, their hopes curtailed, or they feel hemmed in by circumstance, other people, too many demands, its all a mess and they now (metaphorically or in real terms) so bitterly regret that they never did add that attic conversion or move to the country…lockdown has imparted that feeling in some very literal as well as psychological terms.

However, we all have some room for manoeuvre and it starts with these “small” focusses of the mind, inch by steady inch, reprogramming our focus over and over again until it becomes the new habit. Then, in remarkably short time, what began as a new, consciously designed, daily practice starts to manifest as new routines and structures to the rest of your daily life and other things start to shape-shift, until you wonder why you didn’t do them sooner!

Resculpting time and space

This past couple of weeks, I’ve completely reinvented the same-ness of my days by altering the time (and routine) for how I go to bed then the time I wake up. So, now, I wake myself around 6, meaning I have time to do my Gupta guided mediation in bed before getting up to start my daily power routine, which is something I have done for a long time, though I would usually make it to the yoga mat at around 8! Now, even though it starts much earlier, it has evolved to incorporate my Gupta retaining exercises plus 20-30 mins silent mediation as well as my usual energy medicine process, yoga and dance, so that I am downstairs ready to write (if I want to write…) even before breakfast and then the morning seems so much longer, my days (say, if I also want to paint after my walk) so much more feasible. Its like I have gained another quarter of a day for this relatively minor adjustment and, I find to my amusement, I really like these mornings… a lot. I feel like I have literally s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d time and gained far more space, all through this simple change of routine and attitude.

Yes, I LOVE this new routine because I find that, after all, I am naturally a morning person…even though I conned myself for years that I wasn’t because I had come to associate early-rising with the dread of going in to the office. How many years was I brainwashed into dreading, thus surrendering, my best time of day by the learned behaviour and its associated feelings in the body; convincing myself a lie-in was the greatest decadence when, really (if I’m honest) I always loathed to lie in, even as a child or teenager; it would make me feel all “yuk” in my body for the rest of the day to be that sedentary once the daylight came. Even though I have seldom got up later than 8.30 or 9 at the weekends as an adult, I can now see how that whole habit has been against the very grain of me for all those years I associated early-rising with knots in my stomach to do with “work”. More recently, it’s been more to do with trying not to get in my husband’s way when he gets up and uses the place we call the “yoga room” (automatically putting myself as second-fiddle to his needs) and also assuming that, as someone with chronic fatigue and pain, I needed more bed rest but why assume anything? I seem to be doing just fine on these early starts and, if I want to take some time out later, who’s going to stop me?

The reality is that that, in itself, that old belief about my preferred behaviours was no more than just more more mind-programming and, really, I get the best out of my day in the mornings, especially at this time of year as the days get lighter. In fact, over-staying my welcome in bed can trigger a lot more pain whilst setting me off on the wrong foot.

In the old routine, and by the time I had done my not-so-short power routine, any truly inspired ideas I had for writing down would have largely drained away by the time I got downstairs…putting me in an irritable mood if I woke really inspired…and my morning, and the rest of the day, would seem to disappear in a blink. Now, I’m out out of the yoga room even before my husband properly opens his bleary eyes to take it over and have the house to myself to get down to some un-interupted writing if I want to.

Added to the gratitude diary I now diligently write (as well as my usual journal) and the addition of a weekly planner where I can jot down down ideas of what I would like to achieve, I am suddenly much more productive…in ways that support me and my interests, whilst everything else seems to fit around the edges. In fact, I’ve made some of life’s “chores” more routine so I can just get on with them in the gaps that are left between all the stuff I really want to be doing. One thing I can see, in retrospect, is that when time seemed to be running away with me, I was more inclined to think “oh well, not enough time to paint so I might as well do something mundane like the laundry and clearing the kitchen before dinner” (and, suddenly, it felt like I had spent the whole day doing housework) whereas now the painting or whatever gets full priority and I load the dishwasher whilst making a cup of tea in my break. Life simply isn’t mundane like it used to be anymore and I can’t wait to get started on my various projects most of the time. I no longer feel so overwhelmed or resentful of those other tasks because they aren’t “stopping me” from what I really want to be doing day after day. I hardly think about symptoms or pain enough during such a day to do as much Gupta practice as I feel I should since it is all about applying the tehcniques as the thought patterns arise, but then this in itself tells me the program is working!

The effect of all these shifts is that I feel exactly as though I have gained more rooms inside the domain of “me” in which I dwell; as though its sprouted an extension and more windows, different places I can sit at varying times of day and a whole new floor with a skylight.

On the back of it, I took some online art tutorials, which I’d never done before (thank you to Anna Mason Art) and, after three practice runs with watercolours, one shown here, have now started painting my own subjects (see peonies below) with an entirely different medium to the last 16 years of being entirely self-taught in oils, acrylic and digital. This was a medium I thought I would never bother to master because it requires such attention to detail but I now find I am really enjoying it, as a result of which I have some completely refreshed projects up my sleeve.

On top of being in the midst of revamping my online presence by building a new “shop” for my art (there’s a new permanant link to my art store in the side column, with the much more memorable url helenwhite.store if you ever want to explore) and creating designs for an ever-expanding range of products on there, I am up to my ears in projects. The word in common across the board is that everything is looking quite “different”, I’m off in “different” directions, trying “different” methods, using my time “differently” and these are just the external clues hinting at inner shifts. It feels like an entirely new trajectory that I am on, in more ways than one, and this is just the beginning.

Full of promise

What this effectively does is reclaim an aspect of my nature and of life that was, in essence, “stolen from me” by all the years I allowed myself to get sucked into a mindset of stress and anxiety around early mornings and daily structures designed to meet the interests of others but not generally fit to suit me. Also a world where most of us tend to allow our thoughts to be hijacked by outside concerns and other peoples expectations and demands of us. I was so miss-fitted for the conventional worlds of school and work that they left years of scars inside of me to do with my resistance to rising early, being set targets, having to have such fixed routines that were often quite illogical and being put into environments where I was suppose to “show up” and function well, presenting my best self, even though I struggle in noisy crowded places and working in groups or on demand. Those worlds were so mis-fitted for my autism, my sensitivity and my deep introversion (I now realise) that, even though I have not had to live in them for a long time, I was still recoiling from the ingrained effects. It was apparently enough that my husband was still attached to such a world to keep me somehow tethered there too and has, therefore, been profoundly liberating for us both that he now works from home. I had been missing rich opportunities to cease reacting (to what is certainly no longer there in my case since I have no work demands, working entirely for myself) and start creating something new that celebrates how I prefer to live my life, spend my days, focus my mind.

By claiming them back as aspects of self that I actually enjoy, I have unleashed all that childish enthusiasm for life that used to be in there at the beginning. Can you remember the feeling when you got a new diary for Christmas or they handed you out a pristine new planner at school; how thrilling it would be to set to work on that, to make that first mark on the blank page, to set about making something out of all that fresh unsullied potential of a leaf turned over, just like the excitement when you got your new pens and books at the very start of the school year? Remember when that all started to turn sour with the grim reality of what an enforced life was really like when you got there (not so pristine), all the pressures of “the system” in all its varying forms and, of course, the morning commute? Now, claim the feeling back…it’s yours and reclaiming it, feeling into it, is how you make where you live feel better, wherever you happen to be, even if you only think you have an hour to yourself to spare per day at the moment…use it, differently!

Its this exuberant and creative approach to life that fires up in me, most, in the early mornings, at a time of day when anything feels possible but, if I leave it too late to act on, it goes flat like a soufflé left too long with the oven door open; timing is everything. Now, I rise early enough to capture it and harness the feeling for the ride of my day because, if I can get on that wild bareback feeling even as it sets off on its first canter around the meadow at dawn, I can stay on for most of the rest of it.

And it can only expand from here. In a few weeks, as it gets warmer, I plan to be out in my garden by the first rays of sunshine or out on an early walk to take photos in places I can get to easily from here and with more art-inspiration in mind because, also these past handful of weeks, I have taken up a whole different paint medium and am off in a different direction. Now, I have projects in watercolour in mind…not my usual niche…only not to be done in a conventional way, being me, so I can’t wait to see how this comes together but it will take gathering inspiration, so there’s more excuse to get out on walks and to gardens. Yet its the simple fact of the early morning rise that means I have time to do this and then still paint, work on my new designs and my online presence (and maybe still write for a couple of hours…), when did I become such a fountain of longing to fit so much in? Perhaps I was always this way and most, if not all, of the “pain” has been to do with trying to hold it all into acceptable, or “realistic” boundaries of expectation. Maybe I just broke out of those bands and set myself free!

There will be clues

What I really love about doing this early routine is that its still dark when I go into the yoga room…or at least for the next few weeks…though the very idea of that was one of the most off-putting things a few weeks ago; contemplating yoga in the cold and dark almost made me give up before I started but, now, its the only thing that feels right to me (I’ve even done it at the weekends). Without fail, though I land in the room at variable times between 6 and 6.30 (I don’t use an alarm…just set my body to wake up and it does) the robin that sings from our tree bursts into his trill, just after I switch on the salt lamp, like a fanfare for my arrival, how can I not feel encouraged by that? These subtle, yet highly synchronistic, clues can be a sign you are on the right path…for YOU…and yet, paradoxically, it can take pulling right back from all those other distractions and the white nose of your old life to start to pick up on such synchronistic messages from the universe reassuring you that you are in fact (contrary to the cultural narrative) most sincerely loved, valued and fully supported by life. Nature has a space for you! In other words, life has your back…you just have to shift your perspectives to notice that, if you are not seeing it already.

I find it really powerful that the first daylight breaks through as I go through my mat-work or dance or, sometimes, I close my eyes to meditate in the dark yet, by the time I reopen my eyes, daylight has flooded the room. In a few weeks, this won’t feel early at all and I might even be tempted to make it an even earlier start to keep abreast with the dawn, as I did a couple of years ago when I had a midsummer phase of walking my dog at sunrise while the owl was still on her rounds by the river; a time I look back as eerily magical, almost like a heavenly dream, did I imagine it? Yet I know it can be mine again soon, if I want it.

We have so many more choices than we tend to think; almost as though we like to consider ourselves stuck, tied up in rigid bands of constriction, “just like everyone else”, but simply allowing ourselves to realise we have many more…perhaps tiny-seeming…options available to us can be the start of manifesting something much bigger. Because those first baby steps of enthusiasm or belief in our ability to change something about our situation can be the first niche of light coming into the dark cave of circumstance and they resculpt our highly neuroplastic minds, which then start to go off on a light-seeking mission, gathering more daylight from anywhere they can find a little bit of give in life’s seeming rigidity or a higher frequency of possibility than the one you have probably been putting up with for some time. A bit like giving a sniffer dog its new instructions by holding out a miniscule sample of whatever we are looking for, it is enough to set the process in motion, as in, if we reprogram our minds to know shift is possible, it will bring more and more of the same potential back to us, over and over until we are experiencing something quite new.

Shifting your value system

I heard what I am describing described in a really great way just yesterday in my weekly Gupta webinar: Why not “shift your value system to focus on the small things in life”….you know, to really appreciate the bird singing in the tree on your walk, that more spring-like burst of sunlight that angles through the window for just a couple of minutes…then allow yourself to fully be with it, to be what you might think of as “lazy” or what you once might have called being “bored” for a while in order to stay full present with these small details of life, because that can really help us with our nervous system and that’s where the entire neuroplasticity things starts to happen; we become creators out of that so-called absence of action.

It always astonishes me that people have to be coached to pay attention to the birds because its something I do all the time these days; our walks are never very brisk as a result and I spend much of my day engaging with, or commenting on, the various types of bird in my garden. But then, I know, not so many years ago, I was one of the ones who walked on by, missing it all in the flurry of achievement- (or survival-) based activity that kept me charging along at a very different pace to the one I have now adopted. If I still sound busy, I should point out that the fact I have so many projects runnings does not mean I do any of it at a rapid pace; quite the contrary, its slow and steady wins the race, which is perhaps why watercolours suit my current mood; they have, necessarily, slowed me right down to where the entire process is like a meditaton in patience, attention to detail and being fully present (often, listening to those birds in my garden as I do it) and I love it!

The chocolate box effect

One of the wonderful side effects to slowing down and changing routines, to really put time on your side again as something you can sculpt to suit the habits you would really like to cultivate rather than the things you feel so time-pressured to do against your will, is that life regains that chocolate variety box factor; you know, where you get up and there’s almost too much possibility, too much that you really want to try; so where do you even start, what do you pick? Yet it’s one of those lovely choices when it’s mostly all equally “nice” stuff and those other things, the ones you call chores, seem to slot into the gaps rather than taking over so much, the way you innately knew as a child how to fit your homework in between playing outdoors and curling up with a good book. I vividly recall having that “what shall I pick next?” fizz in my stomach in the early portion of my life, with all my passionate interests and hobbies, but it’s an attitude to life that has a way of being sidelined as a result of culturally contagious pressures…yet can be “got back” with a relatively simple change of attitude, priority and routine.

Looking back at the very few weeks since the year turned, I can clearly see that I have moved monumental mountains in that relatively short time-span. Mountains made up of my most fundamental attitudes, the way I feel about myself and my health, my base optimism for right now and the future, and that gushing torrent of enthusiasm and creativity that is now charging as though from a springtime glacier that has suddenly thawed its load and turned into tinkling cascades of excitement for my art, my writing, for reinventing my flower border and going after shots with my camera that will turn into the new kind of art I envision creating just as soon as those first blooms open since I plan for this to be, very much, a garden year with many visits up my sleeves. These are the things that make me tick: so what makes you tick? Dust them down, change how you do them, reclaim some more time, pick a fresh routine, cultivate a shift in attitude and be surprised at how reinvented life can feel in relatively short time. Perhaps drop all rumination about whatever tends to worry you unless you can actively change the situation by converting that concern into direct action; otherwise, just let it be, notice when and how often it happens and be the highly conscious one that puts the breaks on the thought pattern to reclaim the precious time and space in which you truly long to dwell.

Posted in Art, Art purpose, Art transformation tool, Consciousness & evolution, Floral art, Health & wellbeing, Life choices, Menu, Painting, Personal Development, Recovery chronic illness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Peaks of joy

The sense I get is, once this has progressed a little further, there will be so many pockets of space inside of me that, being no longer stuffed full of so much stored information, I will be at liberty to sit back and allow energy to flow freely in and out of them, the way the sea fills gullies and rock pools on the beach, leaving its subtle imprint yet so easy to flow out again, experienced by me as moments of inspiration and peaks of joy.

From my most recent post on Living Whole – Helen White

These are the concluding words on a post shared yesterday on “my other website”; words which I didn’t think about so much as allow to come through as what I am sensing happening in my reality, right here and now at the start of 2021 (contrary to so much gloom in the world).

I wasn’t intending to duplicate this post, writen for my health-related site Living Whole, in this blog but, on first waking this morning, I really knew I had to. The very fact posts written for one or other of my two blogging-outlets are increasingly valid on either of them tells me my right and left hemispheres are moving closer together, the apparent gap between them closing. The whole post, in its entirety, is shared below this introduction.

Its a post that links (or follows on) from my last post here, Cultivating joie de vivre and though its about how dancing has helped with autism, backed by my own experiences and research relating to how and why, its about so much more than that.

It’s really about changing a paradigm, from a world where competition and suppression of joy have become a way of life. And it’s about discovering how to open up that joy potential again; daring to disregard what mainstream has to say about these things and then daring to go your own joy-filled way.

This is very far from being a post “just” about autism and, besides, I suspect many more of us are neurodiverse than currently allow themselves to contemplate because of the way this is portrayed as “something going wrong” by so many mainstream sources; perhaps especially those of us who have long felt they are living in the wrong paradigm.

If you are one of those people prone to peaks of joy, to burst of enthusiasm and, yes, natural joie de vivre but who feels trapped in your body (or rather, your head) yet it feels somehow unnatural to have to be so cerebral, or like you have had to dial your natural exuberance down, to politely hide it away or curb it for your own safety all your life, locking so much surplus energy into your body, where it has this habit of “blowing” all of the inner circuitry, bit by bit, this post is for you and maybe now is your time to let it all out!

Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

When I was a kid, looking back through clearer eyes than I generally had during so many years of chronic fatigue and so much pain I was like a piece of wood, I think I had an enormous amount of energy and exuberance in me…but I quickly learned that it wasn’t considered appropriate to express it. I can remember feeling quite a free spirit, and fairly self-assured in my own way, in very early childhood, pre-school. However, the more I spent time at school, after a few early experiments, the more it seemed safest not to express these high spirits at all, in case it got me into trouble or drew unwanted attention…and I was very-much a child that wanted to deflect attention except to please people and have them think well of me. 

So, thinking back there were very few people that ever got to see that exuberant side of me because, even with my mother, it got toned down such a lot because we just didn’t do that stuff in our family; there was as sort of unwritten rule about over-expression. We were a crowded household: me, mum and three older siblings, plus my retired dad, yet whilst there was noise, a fair bit of arguing, there was seldom what I would call outward expression of joy. It would be a relief when anybody else laughed at, say, something on the telly and I would laugh along, not so much because I found it funny but because it was a welcome outlet to be like that for five minutes. I think that got me into a lot of trouble, for instance when I laughed at jokes that were clearly aimed at adults and I wasn’t meant to get them (things like Benny Hill) and then I would get teased by my brothers and hated the attention it brought. Cat calling or being belittled was the most likely outcome of times I was exuberant, there or at school; everyone seemed so eager to get one over other people or have the last laugh and I didn’t really get the rules. All in all, curtailment seemed the name of the game, to fit in and get by.

Living rigor mortis

So now I can see how “life” was a minefield I learned to navigate by holding myself more rigid, holding everything I felt in, not unlike how I learned to breathe really small because the girl who bullied me began a thing of saying I was a noisy mouth-breather. I didn’t really know what I was doing wrong so I practiced breathing with my mouth closed and in really shallow breaths so you could hardly see my chest fall and rise at all. That became the source of bad breathing habits all my life, ongoing, and it was the same with the rigidity. I became extremely cerebral while my body became this underused part of me. Once I was too old for scooters and bouncing balls against a wall, skipping games and that sort of thing, mostly played on my own because I really was that loner and, especially, once I got into the mindset of excelling in class or passing exams, my limbs became this superfluous part of me. It wasn’t helped by how my spacial clumsiness attracted sooo much derision from awful sports teachers who loved to make an example of people like me and so I did everything I could to duck out of anything that looked like physical activity and became this walking head, tied on to the top of a body that I struggled to relate to, apart from hating how it looked in a mirror. By then, I had learned not to speak my inner truth either, though different people got snippets of it; no one seemed to really know how to handle the full me (my best confident became my mother, once the older siblings had moved on but she died when I was just 28). Looking back, no wonder I built a high degree of rigidity into myself that later became a real problem…and chronic pain…later down the line. Its interesting: I pondered the topic of rigor mortis, as a living state in my pain-riddled body, in a post here, just a couple of years ago…

Thankfully, in my twenties, I found my outlet on the dance floor of certain nightclubs I frequented, assuming I could persuade my friends to go with me. I didn’t need them there to keep me company so much as to have the confidence for me to get through the door and, once I was on that dance floor, I felt safe or autonomous enough, and frankly oblivious to everyone, so that I could dance and dance until closing time. Feeling somewhat better for the outlet, I would return to my daily life of going to work, doing my best to be sociable as I had learned, though my surplus energy, from all the parts of me that remained unexpressed, would feel more and more cranked inward until the next time. After that lifestyle stopped by late twenties (coincidence?) my health issues began to occur; odd pains and electrical nerve signals gone haywire in my limbs, sensitivities to all sorts of things, endless rounds of vulvodynia and cystitis, major back problems, having to have loads of physical therapies that never seemed to help. It was the beginning of the era that lead straight into fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue a decade later, followed swiftly by multiple chemical sensitivities, electrical hypersensitivity and mast cell activation syndrome. My body was rebelling over the way it had been made a second-class citizen to my brain and could hold it all in no longer.

An autistic survival mechanism

At this point, I want to explain a few things I’ve observed about the way my body seems to function and how I have come to associate this with my underlying autism, which I only confirmed a couple of years ago. How I see it is that my body is as important to me, for cognition, as my brain and yet the system in which I was raised was heavily brain-centric. Between the amount of information I was expected to retain in order to conform to this neurotypical (NT) model of life, through school and higher education onwards, plus the sheer amount of additional information I have always had to store inside of me, specifically required for surviving an NT-devised world, I live in a constant state of information overload and this began very early on in life. The result has been that my body has been used as a storage vessel, not just for emotional memories (which, to a point, all humans do) but for surplus information I have had to retain for “quick access” on a daily basis.

When I say information required to survive, I mean, in any given situation, say at school, I would have to learn the task presented like all the other kids but also study other people around me in order to learn the appropriate NT way to approach or respond to this learning situation (in other words its social or collective context, which I seemed to lack access to). I learned that no information was ever presented in a neutral way; teachers always had unspoken expectations or agendas when it came to what you were supposed to gave back to them (for instance, a favoured tilt to the information, conforming to some pre-decided stance they structured their entire teaching model to) and then the other kids also had expectations for how we (collectively) dealt with the learning situation (classroom behaviours, which often eluded my comprehension). My only way through was to make a study of the teacher and their belief system, make another study of the kids and what they expected, and then set about mimicking them all whilst finding a viable middle place where I could please everyone and remain under the radar for unwanted attention.

If this also happened to be a group learning situation, as in, working in teams or pairs, there would be whole swathes of other, unspoken yet assumed, expectations to be met; so I had to watch out for, and model all of these, too (the reason I have always abhorred teamwork). None of this came naturally to me: my wiring made many of the behaviours and responses to situations I witnessed incomprehensible to me, or at least fairly illogical seeming, whereas to other kids they were apparently innate or, as it were, held in some sort of “cloud” storage for easy access, so they didn’t have to learn, and store on their hard drive, all the appropriate steps. Meanwhile, I had to lug all this data around and it felt overwhelming at times.

Bear in mind, I was also a child that was desperate to blend in, to do well, to shine intellectually (as there was no question I had that ability, if wired somewhat differently), to please and to not seem as though I was struggling. So I never (ever) asked questions of the teacher and did my absolute utmost, and this was all the way through the education years and in every single job, to appear utterly serene, as though gliding effortlessly through, always delivering good results. Imagine how hard that must have been, how bombarded with information from every conceivable angle I must have felt, both as a child and in adult life, whilst still trying to shine as someone who was doing as well as possibly could be, mingling appropriately, and with not so much as a hint there was an underlying issue occurring? The challenges I have described here are extremely typical of girls, and women, with Asperger’s!

So, as I said, it has become apparent to me that I have stored a lot of this surplus data in the body and have become chronically accustomed to using my body as some sort of overflow memory bank. Aided by the fact I am visual in my learning style, and that I have routinely used sensations attached to those visual memories to help me to recall information at short notice (I used the same technique to get through exam revision), attaching certain memories to body parts is an innate skill I have…if one turned against me in this paradigm of trying to cope in a world paradigm devised by NTs. So, every time I have undergone a trauma, even a minor one such as a social situation no going so well, or an exposure to something (such as a food type or chemical) that has thrown me off kilter, this information has been diligently stored up in the appropriate body part; a process that continues each day, from the moment I wake up. Thus, the body (or, this autistic body) has become a rigid stronghold or giant safety deposit complex. Having been taught at an early age that expressing too much was out of the question, its as though that expressive part of its potential was decommissioned then turned, instead, into a stronghold of memories deemed essential for survival in a harsh, often unfathomable, world. I’m left wondering whether, in some alternate reality, a whole other version of me is fluid, expressive and wholly unconcerned with burdening its body cells with retained survival behaviours or culturally appropriate responses, and whether that version of me has realised what it feels like to enjoy all the many gifts of neurodiverse wiring!

I wanted to set that context since it feels so powerfully connected to why I have found dancing so incredibly beneficial (see my last post Cultivating joie de vivre), on a whole range of levels, including the lessening of the more problematic autistic traits I was experiencing prior to starting the daily practice. In fact, these days, so many people are really starting to notice how helpful dance is for people with autism that there are anecdotes and studies appearing all over the place:

“Parents report that their children with autism enjoy musical activities and show more positive interactions with others through greater eye contact, smiling and speaking after engaging in a dance and music program.”

For Some Children With Autism, Dance Is a Form of Expression: Researchers are studying how movement helps children with special needs improve social communication and motor skills – New York Times, 19 Nov 2019.

Since taking up the twice daily practice myself (two lots of about 20 minutes, on my own, with headphones in), I have to concede, I do feel as though I find expressing my natural exuberance comes easier, in general, and my speaking tones are always far more naturally varied these days than they might otherwise be; in fact I sound pretty animated all of the time these days, to a degree even I have started to notice. This, in contrast with how I have had phases in my life, especially when my fatigue and pain levels were particularly chronic a few years ago (some of those time periods were quite prolonged) when my voice’s default was hardly ever varied beyond “flat”, or, when achieving more up and down speaking tempo (as I of course realise is required for social engagement) has taken every last ounce of effort I can give to it, resulting in deepest wipe-the-floor with myself fatigue after even the shortest of conversations trying to modulate my voice into sing-song sounds like that. The other thing that I can tell has altered is my ability to make eye contact and hold it for longer, a life-long challenge even with loved ones (I can assure you, it has nothing whatsoever to do with lack of sincerity or feeling, whatever people might assume, but I have always struggled in this regard). These days, since starting a daily dance practice, its as though all my vocal expressiveness has become much more fluent and natural, I can look directly at people for long spells and remain so much more present, offering more of myself to the conversation than just wooden responses learned by rote…a natural spin-off, I have no doubt, from spending all that time moving my arms about wildly, gyrating my body without a care in the world and generally having such a good time; no more imperative to hold myself into a rigid prison cell of a body, at least for a few minutes.

It feels like my life has been a long-running “all or nothing” dilemma; I couldn’t let out that kind of variety, exuberance, enthusiasm and so on (all forms of deepest self-expression) in my speaking voice or body behaviours whilst still holding so much emotion and trapped energy under lock and key, deep inside my body.

Photo by Kelli McClintock on Unsplash

Something had to give to enable me to be me…and the last few months have provided that very breach in the dam of stored up energy. Having started the process of letting it all out, it is all getting so much easier to be me day by day, and so I find that my “wiring” is no longer such a problem as it had become in recent years (burnout!), reverting to somewhat how I was in my earlier life only, this time, it doesn’t feel so much like a supreme effort, or as though I am faking it, when I cooperate more with various neurotypical behaviours going on around me. More to the point, I’m no longer trying to coach myself to fake it, or telling myself I have to learn to be neurotypical myself (I really don’t believe so!) but am remaining very much myself from now on. So, I can be more expressive…in my own unique way, and with far better amounts of confidence underpinning it, because of whatever neurological rewiring the dance practice is affording me, which includes a far higher and more integrated degree of fluency throughout the body. I really do urge you to read my other post Cultivating joie de vivre for much more on what grounding in the body can feel like, using the dancing method, since it is quite unlike other grounding methods you might try, such as meditation, and feels much more of an ideal fit to the autistic (or, this autistic, since I can only ever speak from own experience) model of “beingness” where body awareness can be quite acute and even advanced yet, in many ways, misfiring. Dancing is helping me to dig out those gifts and loose some of the unhelpful foibles.

Agent of transformation

Right at the very core of the power of dancing to transform is the way it contains the frequency of “joie de vivre”; the exuberant joy of life. There have been many times in my life when I have come to catch glimpses of how living with joie de vive is my most natural state…yet one that is not always well-received by the world (it can be “too much” for some people to handle when people are excessively joy-filled), yet the way this dance practice makes me feel, compared to how I know a lot of people are deeply struggling right now, helps me appreciate how (quite aside from being misunderstood) I am also the lucky one and that this base quality of mine is a survival benefit, one that is a very much needed quality in the world right now (again, see my previous post Cultivating Joie de Vivre for more on this). It is self-generated, harmless, loving yet powerful and I have already come to appreciate how healing and transformative it can be. Right now (and not for the first time in what has been a challenging life), this quality at my core is like a support float I am able to hang onto in a choppy sea.

Its healing potential comes from the fact that it helps me to re-engage with a body I largely cut myself off from in the early portion of my life and, in ways described in more detail in that previous post of mine, it grounds my energy into the cells of that body, making me more whole and more accepting of the various ways that I am so cognitively skilled via the body (I wouldn’t be so painfully sensitive if it wasn’t for the fact I am highly aware throughout all of my body senses), thus allowing me to integrate these skills alongside the presently over-dominant cognition portion of my brain (the Great Overthinker). In fact I would say at least half of my awareness comes from my body, not my intellect, and yet I have spent far too many years studiously ignoring that because its not deemed normal or typical. When I merge these two faculties together (left and right, masculine and feminine…), I become far less clumsy because the body ceases to be in constant comparison, or loggerheads, with my intellect and gains confidence. It then comes forth with its own skillset, minus the constant overwhelm of “too much going on” or the need to hoard emotional, survival-fixated, memory-data in tissues that are designed to be more fluid and intuitively responsive, in the present moment, than that (our bodies don’t want to be planning ahead for worst case scenarios the way our brains have taught them to be). Twice a day at least, I am the one driving the physical sensations, they are enjoyable and so I start to trust that “being” in the body is a joy and not a terror to be avoided. And, frankly, I don’t care what other people think when I dance; this practice is expressly for me and I fervently believe its power comes from its non-social context; at least at this stage of my self-driven therapy. I like doing things by myself, alright…time I stood up for that, the clue is in the title (aut= autos, alone), I won’t have that preference made wrong any longer!

Worth adding here that there is science emerging to suggest that more “social” dancing activities can be of benefit for autistic people because it helps to develop mirror neurones (there are numerous studies linking mirror neurones and behaviour mimicry), leading to stronger skills in mimicking others behaviours. Whilst its interesting how this is being explored as a positive therapy for severe autism, one of my challenges (as I have written about several times before) is over-developed mirror neurones, probably as a result of a whole lifetime spent so closely watching other peoples behaviours in order to try and fit in. Thus, when I go off to dance, I am doing so expressly in order to detach from the need to meet anyone’s expectations but my own and to explore that whole lush new territory of self-development. The question needs to be asked, is a therapy designed to help the autistic person to cope better with life in their own unique way, or is it designed to help them become more neurotypical; and, if the latter, (I am not alone in fervently declaring) I want nothing to do with it. Expecting autistic people to change their innate wiring and behave like people with completely different wiring is tantamount to labelling us faulty rather than fairly appraising that (not all but) so many of our handicaps stem from not “fitting in” to a dominant world paradigm. Coaching us out of our traits is no different to how left-handed people used to have their dominant hand tied behind their backs whilst being forced to use their right one, with the entirely predictable outcome that they did this alien thing rather badly when they could have been allowed to continue doing things as well as the next person, if in their own innately wired way. As above, different does not mean wrong!

As a result of making this dance practice a daily priority, yes, I feel “less autistic” because what people label autistic tends to be those behaviours that don’t measure up well against NT benchmarks or expectations. Those traits show up less when I have spent a lot of time dancing because I’m no longer locked into the territory of, intellectually, trying to fit myself into a way of being that is never going to be my way (square peg round hole); rather, I am far too busy excelling at my own way of being to worry about where I put my next foot, therefore the most typically overt (mostly social) “problem traits” cease to show up so overtly because I am happily in my own zone. The short answer is, I relax.

The conclusion of this study confirms similar, albeit this relates to adults with far more severe autism than mine but I can place myself at the thin edge of that same wedge:

“Our experimental study seems to suggest that combined dance/movement and music therapy could be effective if used regularly for the improvement of autistic symptoms in adults diagnosed with severe autism.” 

Effect of a combined dance/movement and music therapy on young adults diagnosed with severe autism – ScienceDirect

The fact is, my traits as stand-alone features (outside of a context where my body has got into some sort of existential panic lasting for over 50 years, hoarding data like its going out of fashion) are NOT a problem…except in comparison with neurotypical traits where, of course, they always come up lacking since I lack some of those NT responses and modes of being, including innate social skills, certain controls over “excessiveness” (including excessive enthusiasm, excessive joy) or the constant priority given to “head” over body. That’s because I have many of my own, unique, responses and modes of being which, I would argue, are equally valid and worthy. However, had I let them out at school, I would not have coped well with the way lessons were structured to be so desk based and repetitious or how feelings and expressiveness, even flexibility to routine, were deemed to be so inappropriate in just so many situations. I did well at school, or rather, I did well at playing the game of school though, meanwhile, this whole other part of me never got a say.

Free movement was trained out of me

Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

Looking back, I can see that requiring children to curb so many of their tools for self-exploration and self-expression, so very early in life, is less than ideal across the board. What are we left with, other than follow the leader writing and learning tasks, highly structured musical performance and competitive team sports as a physical outlet. For an autistic child, this feels tantamount to cutting off a main limb or forcing them into a straitjacket until they conform to the NT way of being. Not having the regular outlet of more expressive movement on the curriculum was particularly stifling for me; we spent nearly all our time in the classroom, forced into dreaded teams or doing gymnastics using metal climbing supports (a nightmare for me with my poor coordination) but there was no dancing or any kind of fluid, expressive, movement factored in and, even during story time, we were reprimanded for not sitting up straight on the mats. I can recall just one brief spell of learning country dancing in a round at primary school and a term’s worth of expressive dance when I was about 13, by which time I was so self-conscious in a leotard, thus utterly mortified to have to prance around, in front of all the parents, that all joy was replaced by my abject horror at such self-exposure.

So the stark absence of non-team-based movement from the curriculum, during my childhood, was a sorry one, though at least we had access to percussion instruments and these were natural turf to me, whether you handed me a xylophone or a tambourine, I was on it with natural flare. I was also at home with listening comprehension of pieces of classical music, where we were allowed to speculate what feelings the music had been intended to convey; pieces that often stayed with me until adulthood from just one or two listens. Other kids seemed far less moved than I was and would use such lessons to chatter or mess around; but, for me, the time was almost holy.

The fact is that nearly /all/ children have an inherent love of learning about and making music. From singing to dancing to playing musical instruments, kids of every description and from every walk of life just naturally seem to gravitate toward music. But who really seems to get a giant educational benefit out of music? The very beautiful, very special set of promising minds that make up today’s growing autistm community. I started out helping children make music and found at one point that among my best responders to educational music programs were my absolutely wonderful students with autism.

Music Therapy and Autism: Does it Work? Yes! Here’s Why (and How)– Patty Shukla

All too soon, music became a thing for choosing as an exam destination, otherwise you had to drop the subject completely (and, honestly, I lacked the bent for turning it into something academic; I was all about the “experiment”and the “feeling” of it, in the moment) whilst dance was already nonexistent on the curriculum. I suspect (or hope) that things have improved somewhat since the 1970s and 80s, when dance was apparently deemed to be a primitive, extra-curricular, thing you picked up in your own spare time (unless you went to “posh” school and learned ballet). This is one of the reasons I offered ballet and dance lessons to my daughter from an early age; they were there for her as long as she wanted to pursue them, partly because I couldn’t, and I can still clearly recall myself watching her with such bitter-sweet pangs of sadness for the “me” that never got to have a go.

More than just that, when my daughter was little, we danced at home….and we danced a lot, just for the fun of it. Quite often, I would just swoop her off the floor, holding her to my height, or she would stand on my toes, and we would dance, twirl and laugh our heads off till we were dizzy and delirious, something I’m pretty sure she still looks back at as amongst her happiest early memories. We sang a lot too (she still does!) because it was a no-holds-barred kind of environment in our home; I wanted none of the constriction that I always felt was there in my childhood, where I was always scorned or shamed by siblings or peers if I let out these kinds of things. Both she and I agree (and we have talked about it many times) that such expressiveness is essential to our mental and physical health and she would, frankly, go nuts if she didn’t have that outlet to sing or cavort around with the people where she lives.

Playing all the right notes…not necessarily in the right order

Do I feel I am drawn to dance because my rhythm, tempo and spatial abilities are particularly good? Actually, I feel like they are somewhat challenged, at least in “ordinary” life situations. Whether its the necessary pacing required to interject appropriate words into a conversation, to navigate around an obstacle in the room, choosing the speed at which to tackle an activity so that I don’t burn myself out, or even the speed at which I should talk to people without risk of scaring them half-to-death with my intensity, these things are not my natural forte, even after 50 years of diligent practice. Put me on a hillside with mildly rugged edges and I feel extremely unsure of my footing and my left and rights can get in a real muddle in some everyday situations. Rhythm and timing, in fact, come into everything, as alluded to in the following paper on autism and dance, in which Pat Amos comments 

Everyday descriptions of social interaction are rich in figures of speech that derive from rhythm and timing in general, and dance or music in particular…Encountering socially maladroit individuals, we describe them as having two left feet, being out of step, being off beat, or stepping on our toes. “Timing,” we declare, “is everything.”

Rhythm and timing in autism: learning to dance – Pat Amos, Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience

Amos continues:

The recognition of movement difficulties, however, has not necessarily led to accurate interpretations of their nature. A persistent belief is that sensory uptake at the level of the primary sensory organs must not function accurately; people with autism are sometimes described as unable to receive basic sensory information from their environment. To the contrary, a significant body of research confirms that the sensory systems function properly at their initial tasks of registering input (Minshew and Rattan, 1994), including the proprioceptive sense of limb position (Fuentes et al., 2011). It is the ability to make reliable, intentional use of this input that appears to malfunction…

Rhythm and timing in autism: learning to dance – Pat Amos, Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience

I can relate; its not that I lack sensory input (on the contrary, I seem to be bombarded with it) or feel that proprioceptive skills are lacking (having considered this many times, I don’t believe this either) but that, to quote classic comedians Morecambe and Wise, “I’m playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”! There is a sort of maverick quality to my timing and tempo which, as an artist and the writer of speculative theories in my blogs, or even the participant in long-and-rambling conversations about metaphysics with anyone prepared to indulge me, often serves me well and has a certain genius to it but, in a world where I am expected to pass myself off as neurotypical, it can often leave me lacking in social and other “collaborative situations” (since even a chat with one other person is, really, a collaboration of sorts, thus all about timing and tempo, as per Amos’ quote).

Yet when it comes to responding to music I am, magically, far better at coordination…in fact, one thing I notice is, even when I am in severe pain, its as though that pain-body magically disappears when I dance and I am, for a few minutes at least, in a completely different body that works far better. To quote Patty Shukla again:

Q: When is a kid with autism not a kid with autism?
A: When she’s making music. Then she’s just a kid!
And it’s true. When they’re engaged in learning and making music, children on the spectrum are all but indistinguishable from any other group. We all laugh, dance, clap, sing and enjoy together. Nobody “stands out,” and nobody’s left out – we are all just one big, happy group engaging in something truly wonderful.

Music Therapy and Autism: Does it Work? Yes! Here’s Why (and How)– Patty Shukla

Harvesting my own neuroplasticity

Therefore, the benefits of visiting that much-more coordinated, far less compromised, body on a regular basis are huge; and the positive effects compound over time as my body learns to form new memories from dwelling in it, for up to an hour each day!

There is something about the way music engages with my nervous system that feels familiar and which affords me the confidence to claim a degree of mastery when it comes to mimicry of the beat and tempo, by internalising them as the very synaptic impulses that control my own (usually a little more discordant or effortful…not so you’d notice, but that speaks more to my degree of concentration) body movements. In the same way that I am a sponge to sensations, often playing them on loop internally until they become the source of sensory overwhelm, I can quickly learn and integrate a tempo and turn it into movements that looks like I half-know what I am doing in a dance. It is a kind of inbuilt musicality that gives me the edge. Included by Amos in her paper, this direct quote taken from another reference she draws upon, as cited below:

It is funny how we are considered strange or different, even though our recollection of complex patterns, memory for precise detail, and overall capabilities many times exceed those of the people who are pointing or staring.

Young S. (2011). Real People, Regular Lives: Autism, Communication, and Quality of Life, quoted by Pat Amos in the above paper.

I know, when I keep working at this daily practice, that what I am really working on is my neuroplasticity and this is also something Amos alludes to, not least in her conclusion, which summarises optimistically:

Documenting such plasticity, and identifying the types of supports and accommodations to which it responds, would be a significant step toward improving praxis so that people with autism can more effectively realize their potential.

Rhythm and timing in autism: learning to dance – Pat Amos, Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience

Patty Shiva, similarly gushes about music-making activities:

…there’s firm science behind making music and neuro organization, attention skills, full-body relaxation and more. And the possibilities are nothing short of amazing.

Music Therapy and Autism: Does it Work? Yes! Here’s Why (and How)– Patty Shukla

When I refer to this innate musicality in myself, I don’t mean I can easily become the maestro on an instrument, though I have self-taught a few instruments to an enjoyable, if rudimentary, level (but am hopeless at learning the “given” way, via finger positions and sheet music, since I just can’t seem to follow those kinds of instruction…the same with knitting patterns). What I mean is, I can quickly learn a rhythm and reproduce it, inside of me; and have been a life-long foot-tapper, finger drummer etc (a primary form of stimming in my case), so dance is somewhat related to that. Replication, as in, an ability to remember a piece of music from just one hearing and then continue to play it, over and over again, on the inside, is a strong area of mine (and, sometimes, a source of torture). Anyway, somehow, “I just know” how to move in sync with music and I don’t really care what it looks like (though I doubt its that bad; but what I’m saying is this isn’t done to woo other people), since its main purpose is that it allows a key part of me, that otherwise remains largely unexpressed and often locked up in the body, to slide out of tangled and highly constrained nerve ganglions that have probably spent decades trying to hold me into some sort of acceptable neurotypical shape. Its then as though pure exuberant energy is newly released, full of all the joy of self-realisation. So its fair to say, dance movement uncoils me at a very deep, emotional, possibly even existential, level enabling me to speak the inexpressible, doing the work of a thousand therapy sessions without a single utterance. The music, as it were, lights me up or turns me on!

Am I the only one so turned on, so to speak, by disco, specifically asked within the context of autist traits? It took just moments for me to unearth an article entitled How disco helped my autistic son in The Guardian newspaper in which his mother relays:

The great thing is that his dancing has helped him in many ways – it taught him how to socialise and how to deal with success and failure; his reading, writing and maths improved. In short, his brain’s wiring, which had been so horribly twisted in his early years, started to straighten itself out. “It’s transformed his life,” Sheila says. “Jimmy was the most profoundly autistic one, whose future I feared most for. Now he’s planning ahead, has broadened his dancing range, and hopes to go to ballet school.”

How disco helped my autistic son – The Guardian, 3 April 2010

So, is it having so auspicious an effect upon me and my coping abilities? Well, without its outlet, it sometimes feels as though an entire universe of sensations is caught up inside of my body, bashing against the outsides screaming to be let out; and the wooden, polite, highly rehearsed movements of everyday (neurotypically approved) human behaviours, interests, topics of conversation etc are like a very narrow doorway that is just too rigid to allow even a portion of all that diversity and enthusiasm through…more like a socially inept stampede if I were to give it the go ahead…so this calls for an outlet far more organic and expansive; dance. I tried with paint but the perfectionist part of me really doesn’t like abstract “splodges” and it simply wasn’t enough to move my energy through. Sports are out of the question: I don’t enjoy the competitive premise of them and I lack the coordination. Dare-devil activities are way beyond my spacial challenges or capacity for even more high adrenalin. My writing can be an outlet to a point, but so much of it has to be tweaked to make it accessible for others to follow (yes, I do write also for myself but, like the art, it only shifts small amounts of energy, slowly). Dancing, for me, is it!

Of course, by 52, I have become extremely adept at keeping that stampede from the door, but at what cost to my health? People that consider they know me reasonably well may say “you seem fine, normal or even on the quiet side, you don’t pass as autistic at all, you’re just like everyone else…” but they have no idea what it takes out of me, the extra preps, internal checks, the hypervigilance, post mortems and anxiety that go on behind the scenes; yes, all the extra, highly subconscious, exertion that seems to knock the stuffing out of my nervous system for weeks following any kind of socially-oriented event (even a dentist visit or zoom call). Its now hard to believe I once had an active social life and held down a demanding job but then I have allowed myself to let go of all the hard learned behaviours doing all that demanded of me. Almost forty years of all that is what almost wore me out to breakdown point. The result: chronic pain, deepest fatigue, such heightened sensitivity that the list of things I am sensitive to grows year-on-year. This is no life or, should I say, was no life, before I recalled my love of dance (you could say) in the very nick of time last April (one of the gifts to come out of the stir-crazy feeling of lockdown). The benefits of it just keep on giving.

Peaks of joy

By choosing the right tempo to dance to; by hand picking the rhythm that feels right for my mood, I become (at last) the master of skills that elude me in the most everyday of social situations and so I get to climb down from my cerebral prison and live in the body for a while. The more often I do this, the more whole and grounded I feel, so no wonder my other “grounded” social skills, including more variable facial and voice expressions, making eye contact, remaining more present with people, etc., become stronger after such a practice. I am no longer “sent to my room”, up in my head, because it feels safer to avoid social contacts (a lifelong learned habit); rather, I am coaxed out of my cerebral “room” for long enough to decide that I might actually want to stay down here and be part of the world, at least for a little while longer than I used to. 

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

I remain, and will always be, the autistic person with high sensitivity and such definingly introverted traits that I don’t expect (or want) those to change, but I am able to mix those factors up somewhat more with the socially engaged skills, the more day-to-day kinds of animation, a more grounded kind of awareness without being so overwhelmed by too many sensory signals, a sense of having more control and many more choices when that kind of overwhelm comes my way, plus a wider base of interests that look somewhat more involved in the world than they used to. I am “off into my own world” less than I was…or, at least, some of the time…and my ability to switch tasks or change tempo to suit the situation is getting stronger; I don’t need so much warning to take part in collaborative tasks or to deal with the unexpected. All of these skills are getting stronger but strongest of all is a sense of becoming, more roundedly, “me”…as in, the person I always was, held in potential, without need to suppress or apologise for parts of me that are as intrinsic to who I am as anyone else’s natural born traits. No more straitjacket, no more repression of emotions or hoarding of learned behaviours and “useful” information (just in case)…thus so much more freedom and space. 

The sense I get is, once this has progressed a little further, there will be so many pockets of space inside of me that, being no longer stuffed full of so much stored information, I will be at liberty to sit back and allow energy to flow freely in and out of them, the way the sea fills gullies and rock pools on the beach, leaving its subtle imprint yet so easy to flow out again, experienced by me as moments of inspiration and peaks of joy.

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