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 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.

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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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Cultivating joie de vivre

…has never been more important, or elusive-seeming, so how do we conjure up, specifically, grounded joy, rooted in the body, during such challenging times?

(As doing the research that led to my retrospective post the other day reminded me) a relentless sense of my own joy of life has always been one of my defining traits, as it were, rescuing me from some very hard times, even way back when as a child feeling quite helpless in situations that traumatised me. As an adult now dealing with chronic health challenges, I have come to regard it as an utterly essential ingredient of life, so much so that I cringe when I watch so many people loose their grip on it (not that I blame them in the circumstances) because of perceiving themselves as victims of those circumstance, knowing as I do that unless we take our own personal steps to summon up a deep joy of life, we are lost. As in, we are left with nowhere else to go but “out” of life, albeit mostly as a very slow process of gradually dying on the inside, inch by sorry inch, first through loss of engagement with life’s many gifts, as though we can no longer perceive them through the smog of worry and then, so often, via health issues that drastically curtail our lives.

To halt that process and take the reins back, we must take charge of our own joy quota and do whatever we can to embody it, not to idealise it as a state beyond all care, outside of physicality as though joy is what we refer to as heaven, but in a physical sense hung around with all our most human traits. Thus the phrase joie de vivre has it covered for me, as in, referring specifically to “the joy of life”; a kind of joy that is because of life, not separate from it. People say how can I have this when “things” are so dire and I would say go after it, make it happen, yes from your soul, but then once you have found ways to bring it into your body, those outside circumstances will start to change!

And if we really have no clue how to do this, if it sounds unfeasible, I ask you to refer back to when you were a child because, as children, we knew how to do this far more innately than we tend to quickly recall as adults…though its possible to bring that recollection back, to make it more accessible, oil it through frequent use, by starting to reconnect with our inner child.

Learning your own personal “joy tools”

In our house, we cultivate joie de vivre as an essential; so, when one of us loses it, someone else is ready to pick them back up with a nudge. Be it via laughter or fooling around acting our shoe size more-so than our age, taking the time to appreciate the minutiae of nature or food and marvelling out loud at things rather than letting them be taken for granted, deep diving pools of nostalgia to find other times when we were particularly joyful, plunging into our interests with no apologies for the degree of obsession, sashaying around the kitchen to a favourite song, flipping each other with tea-towels or play-fighting, marvelling at birds or clouds or raindrops, going off into really great ideas we can’t wait to elaborate and bounce off each other, losing ourselves in harmless fantasy and make-believe, reviving our favourite comedies and programs from when we kids until we feel we really are again, playing games together and being creative alone, stomping in puddles and chasing around the garden, plus at least a dozen other things I could mention, we have found…repeatedly…that the vibe of life’s joyfulness is highly contagious; an investable quality that quickly pays dividends. Most importantly, that when we make the effort to cultivate and maintain it, we are protected from the worst of the slings and arrows of life that come at us. It’s as though we form a bubble of positivity around us; one that can never let us down or be taken from us because it’s an insider job so you don’t just sit here waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Of course, you learn your particular tools for cultivating this thing; it doesn’t always arrive fully fledged and you have to want to make it your reality. When there’s at least two of you like this, you can take responsibility for nudging the other out of the doldrums before their bubble dissolves and, in that way, you manage to keep both of you riding a few feet above the grittiest of “realities”. If you do happen to be on your own, there’s still nothing to stop you from learning your joy-tools and making it a daily priority to draw on them; and we each have our own so the key is to look back across your life and identify them, and use tools to take you back there. This is where the non-linearity of life becomes a superpower because you can go back to a time when you were plugged into joie de vivre and, as it were, live there for a while; as I have been doing on and off lately, with remarkable results. Its one of the prime reasons I don’t feel so sucked into the plughole of these times…because I can be elsewhere on demand. Some people are far too quick with their scorn when it comes to indulging in nostalgia, as though it is to seek to live in the past more than the present, but the difference here is that you are merging elements of both times to help you to ride over the bumps and, in my experience, it feels like the more circumspect “me” of now is also “going back” to play an instrumental part in that earlier part of my life in ways that now make perfect sense to me…times when I felt I had an angel looking over me, only, perhaps it was my future self!

Its not about losing touch with who I am today: I have never been more present, but there is such a strong sense of being able to dip my hand in a great big bag of tools and pluck out the very best implements for the job, once I stop feeling like the victim of now and regard all of my lifelong experiences as a power-pack that is mine to make the most of. I can shape-sort that lifetime into its varying frequencies and pull out the joy vibe to make more of it, once I regard life in this way. This instinct in me reflects the premise that life does not unfold in a strictly linear sense (as we have been conditioned to believe) but is subject to a series of wave like movement. From that perspective, the time we are in now might, from an individual’s perspective, have more in common, thus bare comparison with, a time (say) 40 years ago so, when we make that link in our mind, it can become possible to navigate the necessary breakthrough far easier, more adroitly, than if we hadn’t garnered that previous experience of working with “the darkness” that seems to present, by heading straight for the lighter frequencies that helped-out before and then amplifying them (more on that later). At this point, I will refer you to a recent article about the non-linearity of human progression along timelines by my mentor in all things Nine Waves of Creation related, its author Dr Carl Calleman.

On-topic words from Lee Harris as I write this post: “It’s really important to find what lights you up and to find that moment, because it is going to be a slow process, this dismantling, but if you remember that and if you are able to go, “Okay, yep. There’s some crazy stuff going on in the world, and if I’m expecting the world to look like it did 10, 20, 30 years ago, I’m not going to get what I want. But if I’m willing to look at what can I do today? Who can I be today? Who can I help today? What can I receive today? What can I be grateful for today? And can I remember that today I’m alive?” ⁣

Embodying joy

Its all very well to draw on the qualities of serenity and peace to try and navigate hard times but sometimes they just don’t feel vital enough, as in, they lack the feeling of blood pumping through flesh, of the sheer dynamism it takes to assert that you really want to be alive and to thrive in an animated human body, in a very real and practical “day-to-day” sense. Being the serene monk on a mountain is all well and good when you have a remote mountain to sit upon but it really doesn’t look much like an embodied life so much as “I’m out of here, tell me when the worst is over”. To make a difference and assert we really want the world to continue, albeit in a more positive vein, we have to stake our claim to our humanity, made of flesh and blood.

The thing is, so many of us have become jaded with embodied life because we are convinced it is all about pain and overwhelm, victimhood and hardship. We might not feel this so much if we at least tried to embody Who We Really Are in that flesh and blood part of us that struggles all the time, but that seems so impossible to do that we stumble at the first hurdle. Our highest aspect would make easy work of so many of the things that challenge us “down here” on a daily basis, we know it; yet we don’t know how to bring that part of us down into the flesh, or, we think we have to go “out there” (wherever that is…) to meet our spiritual selves. Nope, not so…not any more. Newsflash, our Spiritual Aspect loves to experience laughter and exuberance, fun and games, sweat and movement, awe and flowing tears…in fact, these are all things it longs to experience through our human qualities. So how do we go about bringing it down to ground?

It’s important to try because we do ourselves no favours choosing to evacuate our bodies at this time. To survive and thrive these times, we really need to be fully in our bodies, not “out there” somewhere or high up in our heads, forever residing in the top floor of the building as I tend to think of it (where we tell ourselves we are more comfortable or safe). Living, all the time, on the top floor can make us very unbalanced in a worldly sense; meanwhile, we have a whole lot of other floors sitting vacant and to ignore them is to invite a whole lot of health issues. So we become perilously disconnected from our bodies and then complain when they seem to let us down. This is where cultivating joie de vivre comes in. The high frequency of it can entice our highest aspect down to ground, to merge with our body’s cells, and we know this is a marriage made in heaven because, well, it feels so darn good!

It also happens to be a healing elixir like no other.

One sure-fire test for whether you are drumming up enough exuberance and joie de vivre in your life, check in with the animals you live with. If you happen to have a dog, they will always respond to it, instantly (and it can’t be faked with a put-on tone of voice). My white-muzzled boy (not my husband…) is really showing his age these days and our walks are fairly gentle but, when I have a real spurt of joie de vivre coursing through me, he gets so excited, charges around, races to the finish post, leaps in the air and corners like a dog half his age. It’s wonderful to see because it fuels even more of the feeling back into me…ample demonstration that pure and uncomplicated joy breeds joy wherever it can be found.

The importance of grounding

If you are highly sensitive then hopefully you have come to realise that sensitive empowerment requires that we acknowledge and feel our emotions and sensations with compassion and love. In order to acknowledge we are having these emotions and sensations, we first need to notice them by bringing them into the body and this takes a grounding activity such as standing on bare earth, spending time by flowing water, meditating, doing yoga or anything that encourages us to be fully present, especially out in nature. However, when those emotions and sensations feel bigger than we are, as is often the case with high sensitivity, it sometimes takes a bigger practice than those listed to both register them in the body and then PROCESS them THROUGH in a way that we can handle (given our high sensitivity) and also use to our advantage (since we are so ungrounded that it serves us if we can at least notice times when we achieve better grounding than normal). Better still, if we find we enjoy the process, this encourages us to ground our emotions and sensations much more often, which leads to less overwhelm and far better health. This is where expressive movement comes in.

As an autistic person, I find there is a definite link here between my particular wiring for high sensory processing, which can make me feel more overwhelmed than some other people might be in the same situation, along with a tendency to live in my thoughts way too much, plus also the need to actively process those senses though my body in such a way that the body fully registers them, but without overwhelm, on the way through…because, otherwise, I can tend to bypass the body altogether. Not least because of issues with chronic pain, learning to bypass the body can become a really big issue. Also gentle grounding activities, such as letting energy passively drain through me into Mother Earth, doesn’t feel quite enough. I tend to need to actively participate in the processing part in order to remember what my body is for…and that it is important and useful for me to have one, which is where the power of dance comes in for me. Dancing, quite literally, puts me back in touch with my body and helps me to remain more grounded for a long time afterwards. Yet whilst this especially applies to someone like me, as in highly sensitive person with autistic wiring, I suspect it applies to anyone that lives in their head and has become detached from their body to a very high degree…which is more common that you might think; a typical modern phenomenon.

For much more about the benefits of dancing for autism, please see the post that links with this one, Peaks of Joy.

Its not all happening in the head (whatever we may think)

So, pause for a moment to consider, where does your voice come from; you know, the voice that never stops talking inside….where is it located, how loud, what tone does it have? Meanwhile, when you feel with all your senses (which is to receive and process information “as it happens” in the moment, forgetting all about your intellect as commentator for a moment), where does feeling-cognition (akin to intuition) and awareness happen? In other words, when you take in all the data that life has to give you, via a whole multitude of different senses, where does that information land, is it still mostly in your head or, if you feel it in your body, is that a pleasant sensation or does some part of you rush to shut it down as “disturbing”, “uncomfortable” or “nonsense”? Do you try to ignore it by distracting yourself with even more thoughts? In the average day, how often do you allow yourself to receive, process or express without using your head as the prime agent? Does your body, as a prime implement of awareness and expression, ever get a look in or does it mainly do the bidding of your intellect?

How many of you found it was all happening as if in your head, or, found this a challenging exercise and what does this tell you about how grounded you are in your body? When was the last time you checked in with each and every part of your body to really concentrate on the sensations going on there, or to ask why they feel so unpleasant, alien or even numb?

Important to remember here: joy is a whole-bodied thing, not the state of mental titillation we have come to expect. So if our bodies are so dialled down, we are probably missing out on the larger part of our joy potential.

These are very real problems in the modern human; we live in our heads, we deny or shut down our feelings, and we get so easily overwhelmed by what feel like unpleasant, external (often quite cerebral…”the news” is seldom happening in our own living room but people behave as though under real and present danger because of it) sources of experience rather than taking the reins of our own exposures whilst using all the unique and incredible ways our bodies are wired to receive powerful frequencies of joy that inform, heal and motivate us.

We are here to experience it all, yes in all of the body…not to be the brain-centric, easily triggered, victims of circumstance we have become.

Bringing it down into the body

Just as our voices now need to land back into our bodies, where they can be used to speak our truth (not just by speaking or singing but by expressing the truth of who we truly are in a myriad of ways because everything we do is a self-expression, including living the example of our truth…and I heartily recommend Lee Harris’ latest audio Your Voice and How it Creates Your Future for so much more on this) our feelings need to be grounded in flesh and blood in order to strengthen our resilience, re-establish proper balance and to enable us to fully show up for these times. Yes, a hard ask if what we are feeling is so painful, either emotionally or physically; but once we bring what we are experiencing down into the body and allow the body to do what it does best (getting out of our own way!) it’s amazing how the body can help us to process through lifetimes of health issues and trauma, via highly intuitive movements and by listening to our sensations. Given the floor (and that could just be a yoga mat to lie down on for half an hour as we pay attention), it just knows what to do!

Exactly like with our voices which, when brought down into our heart and stomach areas (our core) seem to develop more resonance, power and gravitas, backed by the immensity of Who We Truly Are, it has the same transformative effect when we bring our feelings down into the tissues of our body. Rather than pushing them upwards to our heads and beyond, where they can become an ungrounded, ever-circling sense of overwhelm, over-awareness of things beyond our immediate sphere of influence or heightened sensitivity to everything in our environment, we can switch on the kind of joie de vivre I’m talking about. To me, it has something to do with an innocence or child-like quality that the body has retained over all the eons that the brain has been working hard to become so terribly serious and driven. That’s not to say the body is any less wise than the brain, but it gets far less hung-up on the details and remains open to reinvention and creative play. When we re-animate our feeling-cognition (which is still cognition…just of a slightly different kind), we remind the whole body (head included) that life is joy-filled, a sensory pleasure, something to get excited about, and it’s amazing how we can transform our whole experience, coming back into balance.

At this point, I always like to remember that the vagus nerve, the most important nerve in the body, connecting the brain with the stomach-brain (the very core of our feeling-cognition…we all know how we get uncannily accurate gut feelings, right?), is a two way street. It can be just as important for the brain to let go of what it thinks it knows and allow the body to process information as it is for the stomach to send information up to the brain as though to assume it always knows best. Not so, the brain doesn’t always know best, I’ve learned the hard way; in fact, the body holds far more ancient wisdom than any other part of us, plus its been through times far tougher than these…and survived!

In other words, we can spend YEARS trying to rationalise our way through a health crisis, or, we can hand it all over to the body and say here, process this but please be gentle with me. Then, we listen very intently to how the body responds at each step of the way (perhaps using intuition, dreams, metaphor and visualisations…though to stay present whilst doing any kind of gentle movement practice, such as yoga, walking or dance, is enough) and we make the process pleasant, unpressurised and fun, going whichever way feels the best at every choice point, in other words allowing the body to lead the way. We laugh, kindly, with ourselves and we celebrate the small triumphs until, inch by inch, we make powerful headway, processing layers of pain and trauma that flummoxed us for all those previous YEARS!

Meanwhile, we become powerful, intuitive beings and we upgrade our consciousness whilst becoming more balanced and whole than ever.


I’ve found this out…sooo powerfully…for myself since I took up dancing back in April last year. Before that, my feelings were completely overwhelmed by life; I was over-sensitive to nearly everything I came into contact with, to the point that even a high-vibe burst of really positive energy could floor me as much as bad news or a panic could bring me down. My body was so used to assuming that any increase of tempo meant an increase of adrenalin, thus, something to be alarmed about that it could quickly crash me to the floor if people suddenly started laughing, cheering, being extremely noisy or frivolous nearby; what a sad state of affairs!

Now, after months of daily practice, tuning in to the exact rhythm and tempo, the very flavour, of the music I feel like moving to each day, I’ve got to where I relish the more uptempo music most of all. Now I’ve woken up my body to the joy of movement, the feel of blood rushing through veins and the draught I create when I move vigorously around the room, not to mention the enthusiasm and endorphins that charge my system when I dance, my senses no longer assume the worse when the tempo increases. Now, I notice how my highly-sensitive body can feel like fireworks of wonderful sensations go off when I’m out in nature, feeling the breeze on my skin, laughing or listening to music on headphones, even watching a dance performance or hearing people applaud; I am at one with all the best vibrations of exuberance and they fuel me just like they fuel my dog. I can certainly cope with more noise, more high-spirits, more variation of tempo in my daily life. Plus I’ve gained all the benefits of my sensitive wiring back (as they used to be, years ago) instead of being constantly subdued by the negative stuff; in fact, I can tip the balance away from all those negative vibes that try to come in and overwhelm me by turning to one of my energy blasting devices, such as dancing or listening to up tempo music to neutralise the negative effect.

Of course, sometime I feel quiet, more in need of calm, some inner time, slower pace and I still have some fairly major dips into chronic fatigue and pain. However, now, when I have a crash, rather than automatically succumb and draw the blinds, I am far more likely to take myself off to the dance floor first thing in the morning…believe me, it works like magic…and I feel far more in control of my destiny, having learned how to TRANSFORM on demand (dance is full of that regeneration dynamic referred to in my last post). Afterwards, having danced myself into a better state, I feel more grounded, more settled and centred, ready for my usual calm and creative day, BECAUSE I have engaged with high spirits, allowed them to course through my body, to express through my limbs, welcomed into my body. I feel far less head-centric throughout the day; far less prone to forgetting I even have a body, and usually eager for more dance in the evening. I’m more generally animated, engaged with other people, verbally expressive, present and wonderfully aware that I have MADE more energy through my efforts. This is a powerful realisation to have since it reminds me that positive energy is not in a state of lack but, rather, abundantly available and that we, each, play a part in invoking and amplifying it out into the world…once we cease the habit of viewing life through the eyes of perpetual shortfall and personal helplessness.

These are the kinds of days that start out well and attract more positive outcomes to them, because of spinning joie de vivre through my system. My nervous system feels more relaxed because my thoughts have been given a welcome break whilst I allow my body fullest expression (as the day’s priority…not like the old days, when my intellect used to set off from a running start as soon as I woke up) and my inner child has been given more than a bit of attention and outlet!

“I’ve got the music in me…”

So whilst my dancing playlist is extremely diverse, please don’t laugh (well, you can if you want to, I do!), I seem to have found my happy place with the feel-good disco music of the 70s and early 80s. Cliché though that may sound (and perhaps more than a hint at my age-bracket), I’ve realised there’s method to the nostalgia because, as I came to understand on a tidal wave of epiphany one day, probably while I was dancing, I had used this very music before, to dig me out of a very dark hole. And while it was never my music of choice to just sit and listen to for pleasure, I have recently discovered how deeply it was apparently embedded in the soundtrack of my life, from times when my normal music, which tends to be more singer-songwriter, folk, prog or rock based, or even opera and classical, would not have been uptempo or sheer exuberant enough to “rescue me” from life’s downward spells (sorry but true, some of those folk lyrics can be quite maudlin).

I have always had an extremely strong, intimate reaction to music and it affects me enormously; rhythms get in my head and, as a child, would play all day long at school, becoming associated with whatever challenges I was having to deal with or, sometimes, helping me to get through them like a positive mantra. Some of the slower mid-70s ballads that I associate with the era when bullying was taking place can transport me straight back to those times and still make me shudder but disco cut through all that, like a hot knife through butter. Its up-tempo riffs and natural joie de vivre somehow purged the dark times for me, as though to break the hold of a rather dour, defeatist spell that was causing me to feel utterly unsupported by life, which is never strictly true; we always have something on our side. Against the backdrop of everyday “austerity”, disco burst in like a flamingo-plumaged diva, marking a distinct change of tempo in the collective, or so it seemed to my nine year-old self. I can’t help feeling that we need something equivalent to uplift the music scene right now instead of all the rather tired, derivative output of mainstream that I have paid very little attention to for the past decade or so. In its time, disco was like a much-needed firework going off because of its joie de vivre energy.

In fact, I want to add one more observation about disco; looking back, it seems to me that it was the natural offshoot of those first stirrings of the Age of Aquarius begun by the hippies a decade earlier. You could also look at it in terms of the imminent arrival of the eighth wave of creation (as per Dr. Carl Calleman‘s theory), which makes for a whole other spin-off topic. Some of the mantras included in its lyrics are extraordinarily powerful and high-vibe, alluding to the unity consciousness that lay waiting beyond the eighth wave (if still presented with an overt “feminine” tilt): “Good times, leave your cares behind…”, “We are family, I got all my sisters and me”, “I feel love”, “The dream that came through a million years ,That lived on through all the tears…”, “Love is in the air, everywhere I look around”, “Lovely day, lovely day….”, “I feel free…”, “It’s high time now just one crack at life, Who wants to live in, in trouble and strife, My mind must be free, to learn all I can about me, uh-hmm, I’m gonna love me, for the rest of my days…”, “There’s a new me coming out, And I just had to live, And I want to give, I’m completely positive…” (you get the idea). Having just watched the film “The Last Days of Disco” with its most memorable parting shot “Disco will never be over. It will always live in our minds and hearts. Something like this that was this big, and this important, and this great, will never die. Oh for a few years, maybe many years it will be considered passe and ridiculous…” it seemed to me that disco was turned over by the establishment; not unlike the psychedelics of the 60s which, only now, are being reviewed for their immense benefit to mental health. Similarly, the music was brought down, almost overnight, by being heavily tarred with the brush of drugs and extreme hedonism by the establishment supported media, almost as though it was feared for being too darned cheerful to keep the status quo and I do feel its Aquarian flavour has yet to sing its last song, by far.

Anyway, although it had been around for a year or two, this music first appeared in my consciousness back in 1977, when I was 9 years old, during the final peak of the longest run of being bullied and, somehow, it miraculously helped lift me out of those dark times, just by brightening my spirit and somehow giving me confidence that everything would be alright. I am extremely high-energy, inside, but was having to work so hard to keep all that energy under wraps (no small part to do with my unrealised autism and my efforts to “normalise” in order to stay under people’s radar) but it was as though this up-beat music matched my frequency and, when it played, I was able to let some of that energy out without being singled out from the crowd because everyone was being made more uptempo and upbeat by it. I suspect a world with this music playing out of the radio before I left for school, its rhythms on constant re-run in my head, felt like one in which I felt more at home, more supported, less like I was suffering from “wrong planet” syndrome…a better match. I had found my frequency, or at least something a little more like it!

Whatever the magic effect was, I can clearly recall that, by the end of that year, the dark feeling had started to dissipate and 1978 went on to be the absolute favourite year of my pre-teens. It was as though I was now a completely different person, coping in a whole new way, making better friendships, flourishing in the things I liked to do such as writing stories and art, gaining attention for them, without feeling I had to hide these parts of myself away. Deeply interwoven with the profound feeling of transformation having taken place is the music of the era (that year’s hit parades are like a memory book of happy feelings and flashbacks) and its those highly uptempo disco tracks that particularly shine through, encapsulating the feeling of a sort of rebirth I underwent from struggling to enjoying life. So, if I have managed to bottled the feeling up in the music, why not use it now? It makes perfect dance music for recultivating the feeling of joie de vivre, on demand. Aside from being up-beat enough to really get the blood pumping and body gyrating, it also keeps me from taking myself too seriously (perish the thought) and puts a great big grin on my face, even before the day has properly begun.

Each to our own…the effect is the same

So while dance (or disco!) might not be for you, I hope there is some food for thought in what I have shared. Why not feel into anything that triggers feel-good memories, rouses exuberance, brings you that animated kind of joy that is filled with the distilled substance of life force, the energy of propulsion. I suspect this is the kind of energy we most need right now; like the “ultra” fuel version at the petrol pump…something with some va va voom to kick start the regeneration process I spoke about in my last post. Even if its “just” a daily belly-laugh, digging up some episodes of a favourite comedy, or ceasing being so serious and “grown up” all the time, why not consider it. Perhaps a daily “shaking meditation” with your partner could get you both laughing and the body moving in a more vigorous way. Go for walks, slowly, stomping in puddles or watching the water glisten on the edge of leaves. Watch tv reruns from decades ago that transport you back to when you were a kid, laughing at the hair-dos, recalling feelings from the days when you went off to bed utterly carefree, with your parents in the room below. Or drag out those old board games and instigate a games night (we have) and make it really lighthearted, allow yourselves to regress. Don’t underestimate these simple things, they might well be amongst our most valuable commodities right now.

When you’ve found what those things are, and perhaps it will take going all the way back to childhood to reclaim them (since we are so often entrained to give up such behaviours and interests in our adult lives), why not see if you can package them up for yourself in a kind of memory box or experience “kit” that you can call upon at short notice, reach out for in a crisis, dial up the volume of when you feel down, and so on. Learning to do this for myself in early 2020, and now reaping the massive benefits of it, is one of the main reasons I sailed through a tough year with relative ease and am full of remarkable optimism and energy to start the new year with. Its honestly made all the difference! And when we each take the time to dial into our own joie de vivre, I have no doubt, we contribute this to the collective, compounding the joy-frequency for the whole world…which feels like the very frequency we need to regenerate this planet.

To finish, I want to share something posted (with perfect synchronicity…of course) by a friend yesterday, from Rumi…a reminder I should really get into the habit of opening my copy of”Rumi Day by Day” as part of my daily routine:

If you put your hands on this oar with me,
they will never harm another, and they will come to find
they hold everything you want.

If you put your hands on this oar with me, they would no longer
lift anything to your
mouth that might wound your precious land –
that sacred earth that is your body.

If you put your soul against this oar with me,
the power that made the universe will enter your sinew
from a source not outside your limbs, but from a holy realm
that lives in us.

Exuberant is existence, time a husk.
When the moment cracks open, ecstasy leaps out and devours space;
love goes mad with the blessings, like my words give.

Why lay yourself on the torturer’s rack of the past and the future?
The mind that tries to shape tomorrow beyond its capacities
will find no rest.

Be kind to yourself, dear – to our innocent follies.
Forget any sounds or touch you knew that did not help you dance.

You will come to see that all evolves us.

That Lives In Us – Rumi

Oh, one more thing…I feel I must include this story as the word “Joy” literally jumped out of the headline in this email the moment I had finished posting to my blog. I recently added the to a collection of charities I support every month and when I receive from them joyful news like this it fills me full of joy, reminding me that giving can be a very effective means of cultivating joie de vivre, not just for myself but for others at the same time!

Joy is spreading through Chibwana Village 
 Until recently, clean water felt like a distant dream for the 1,312 people who call Malawi’s Chibwana village home. Most used what little water they had for cooking. Handwashing wasn’t a priority—not even during a pandemic.But now, thanks to a drilled well, all of that has changed. 
 Malita “Before the borehole was drilled in our village, the community had risk of spreading and contracting the coronavirus. With the drilling of [a] borehole, the water has come closer to our household, and we are able to wash our hands with soap.”– Malita, community member  
 Our local partner described Chibwana village as “jubilant” now that they have access to clean water. Supporters like you made that joy possible! As a member of The Spring, you’re providing sustainable water, sanitation, and hygiene solutions for communities like Malita’s. We are so grateful for your partnership in this important work.
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My word of the year is regeneration

I haven’t chosen a word of the year for a while and, when I do, don’t brain storm but let it come to me, softly. This one came to me as though through the window while I was dancing this morning.

It feels right because I can already sense it happening, inside, out and in the spaces between.

That is, inside of me (rebooting my health, details in other posts); outside in “the world” (when I trust myself to feel past all the panic and spin); and in Nature. Truly, Nature as neither inside nor out but both at the same time, yet I feel it happening there; like a bridge to wholesale regeneration, its benchmark and its orchestrator, simultaneously. And Nature know all about regeneration.

This practice has power because, when you choose to focus on a particular word for the whole of the current year, you spotlight and commit to it. When you veer off its path, you ask yourself why and you pull yourself back towards its steadying influence. You stay more aware of daily variances in belief system and come to recognise what is old patterning dragging you backwards, compared to what is new, opening doors of perception. More and more, you crave the latter and dismiss the former, under the auspices of this one guiding word.

Looking back, this is something I have been doing these past weeks even before I chose the word…as in, whenever I notice I am veering off the path of my belief that regeneration is happening, I bring myself back to its possibility. When I doubt it because things “look bad”, I quickly allow that they are merely showing signs of instability ready to reformat, as per regeneration. When odd feelings occur, I allow myself to entertain that this is how repair and reformatting feels, from within the experience, as new healthy cells form, new animation sparks to life; thus I marvel instead of fearing.

Then I self-correct before sleep and I remind myself in the morning. I bring the feeling of it to mind at many points throughout the day and I meditate upon it. I notice, and celebrate, every minor improvement, every turn for the better. I drift off into reveries about how wonderful it is to be alive to experience regeneration occurring in such a major way. This is how a word becomes powerful; a talisman to healing and, yes, even more regeneration.

So I invite you to choose your own word if this exercise resonates. We are far more powerful than we know and our words are here to help us refocus our minds and our energy, keeping to the path of highest potential; let’s use them.

Posted in Consciousness & evolution, Life journey, Menu, Personal Development, Recovery chronic illness, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Reframing success (and the universe always has a plan)

Yesterday, I happened upon an old journal dated 2007 in which I had entries written from mid December of the previous year onwards. It’s odd that I should have so synchronistically come across a dairy from that particular era, tucked away in a “secret” hidy hole that I often rummage through looking for things yet had never come across this particular journal before. When I opened it, saw the date, and read the rather grandiose opening entry on 15th December 2006 – a title “Prologue” followed by “(or is that too pretentious”) – it made me smile and I was pulling on my glasses, perching on the bed to read on, in no time.

As the journal recounts, “something in me” had “just made me want to start a journal again, picked up from Waterstones” where I’d gone on an urge to buy books because I had “a reading mood coming over me”. Why was this interesting? Because, once the avid reader since early childhood, the timeframe from late 90s to, well, about 2007 was a lean reading phase for me…a sign of how messed up I had become, I never seemed to have the time, or the urge, to read or write anymore, as though that part of me had shut down. Clearly that was about to change, not least because (akin to now) I had suddenly found myself with much more time on my hands, especially time spent at home, exactly like now, and was looking for ways to occupy myself…and oh how many great things did those heart-occupations (reading, writing and yes painting) lead to in the years that followed, making the hectic yet barren years prior to that seem like a wide dessert I had trudged across wearing heavy boots. However, the time frame of late 2006 into 2007 is interesting to me, mostly, because it was when everything dramatically altered direction in my life, feeling decidedly unsteady as those changes took effect, and I had no means of predicting how this would look in a few months or how to navigate the territory…entirely comparable with where we all are now, you could say.

So to find a coherent account of the very era of my life when everything last felt so unsure and yes, to a degree “broken” out of its familiar routines is very interesting to me. The very structures, routines, priorities of my life were so altered that year that it was as though it all swizzled on a hair pin and I was now facing a completely different way…a way that lead into some of the most auspicious (if unconventional) years of my life, during which I became an artist, had my spiritual awakening, changed the way I ate, how we lived, the way we raised our kids and the order of priority we gave to everything. Auspicious times indeed; ones that shifted the whole trajectory of life…subtly at first, but with massively positive long-term consequences. In my own personal way, it marked an entire paradigm shift.

Because, at the end of 2006, I had been forced to leave my job and also to give up plans to open an interior design business due, primarily, to ill health but also (I can’t deny it) a strong feeling that I was in the wrong places facing the wrong way and that to spring from the corporate job to an all-consuming retail business (even though that had been a dream of mine a decade of more earlier) was only to jump out of the frying pan straight back into the fire.

For what felt like the whole of my adult life, and in fact upper school years, I had never stopped moving in some direction or other yet, also, never really felt convinced I was on the right path…though the fear-induced “necessity” to keep going always seemed to be chasing my coat-tails, nipping at the back of my legs too relentlessly for me to stop and reconsider.

However, 2006 had been a “crash” year and a breakdown of sorts. When my health began to slide most badly, around Spring of that year, with symptoms I could hardly describe let alone give name to, it felt like a free-fall and all I could think about was getting out of that corporate office whatever way I could. From ingrained habit, I assumed I “had” to have something ready to jump into if I left and, having decided I was unemployable (having spent years being self-employed before this one corporate job that tipped me over the edge) I decided on the interiors project; an undertaking that was as ambitious as it was foolhardy in hindsight but I poured myself into it for months, leasing premises, ordering stock, until a major logistical snag regarding those premises foiled the entire project at the eleventh hour. So, by the end of 2006, I was out of a job, my project had just flopped, I was also not particularly well still and thus utterly without traction for the first time in my life since starting school. It was a void that should have been welcoming but was really quite terrifying; not unlike these times, because I had no idea what was next; all the old premises I had built decisions on felt like quick sand to me, I could hardly gain momentum with anything.

Meanwhile, at least while I took a break, I had hoped to concentrate more on becoming a full-time parent to my 7 year-old daughter after years of feeling like I was making her a very poor second to my “career” and the need to survive. My finances were a mess and, though my partner had moved in with me early that year, we were barely managing to make the mortgage and all the other payments and yet I was now without an income and being told by him to take my time to sort myself out (what a rock he was, and is) so we were living on a shoestring. Yet I hoped, at the very least, to make some friends locally and become a more integrated parent at the school and in her life, not least because my daughter had not been thriving in class and seemed to be locked up into herself, not wanting to take part in lessons and, for reasons I had yet to get to the bottom of, quite unhappy at the school I had fought tooth and nail to keep her in when I went through my divorce two years earlier. To be honest, the way she was responding to school reminded me all too much of myself at that age; when I was the misfit in class and went very inner, often the brunt of bullies and not even, really, understood by teachers, for all I was bright, because my kind of brightness did not fit the mould (it was to take another 50 years for me to realise I was on the spectrum).

As it turned out, she was being manipulated and bullied, though I wasn’t to find that out in full detail until she opened up more, many months later. I could just feel there was something amiss and wanted to get to the root of her lack of confidence, also why teachers seemed to give up on her (I went to a performance by her class and was told she wasn’t in it because she didn’t want to be; no effort made to give her a non-speaking part…and when I told her teacher my aspirations for her take the assessment for grammar school at age 11, I was laughed at to my face, though I knew she was incredibly bright). There was huge guilt backed-up in me that I hadn’t been around so much to deal with these things while I worked but, the reality was, I was often the last parent to pick up because of my commute and the long hours I had been putting in. Somewhat as alluded to in my last post We still have a lot to learn, I had become that typical parent, preoccupied, tired, begrudging of parental tasks, distanced from my own child by the fact of having bought into the culture of subjugating that whole part of her educational and even pastoral upbringing to teachers and “the school”, but now I was going to bring the responsibility home and play my part, come what may.

I really hoped that my being around for her, at least for a handful of months, would make everything right as I had been so thinly spread for the past two years of doubling up a demanding job with self-employment and commuting. At that stage, I was still imagining a bounce back to so-called normality a few months down the line, when some suitable job came my way, meaning I would resume the typically modern dynamic of parenting plus career, both at the same time (such is the ingrained blueprint for female “success” these days…) but, for now, I wanted to make amends for my mental and emotional absence and really make this whole parent-school dynamic work for both of us, including getting to know some of the other families in the village in the process.

However, my daydreams of making friends at the school gate had quickly turned sour just before Christmas when one of the parents, whose daughter had been bullying mine (which I only learned about much later), decided to spread a vicious and completely unfounded rumour, in fact a barefaced fiction, about my partner and I amongst other parents, after the daughter came to our house and was verbally told off by my partner for her bad behaviour towards the other children; her way of getting me back for a grudge she harboured over an unrelated matter. So, not only was my daughter now experiencing friendship issues on top of not thriving in class but I was getting the cold shoulder at school, being whispered about and pointed at by other parents; a shocking demonstration of how bullying more-than exists amongst adult cohorts as well as between the very kids we should be modelling far better behaviour to.

This extremely nasty episode, towards the end of 2006, drove a shockwave through my social confidence in school-scenarios for a long time afterwards; I never again ventured very far into making friendships out of other parents at school and this only added to my isolation for the next few years, without a conventional job where I could meet people, since I was never part of those kinds of friendship groups that neurotypicals form around parenthood. Knowing what I now do about my Asperger’s traits, my compassion towards myself, over that exceedingly painful episode, is now enormous and I understand completely, realising as I finally do how much I already struggled to mingle and the gigantic effort it takes to consider whether I am doing or saying the right things in social settings.

I can also, in hindsight, observe at work in that episode the pitfall of an old tendency of mine to over-confide in people, giving them too much, too soon, often before knowing if I can trust them; being my attempt at following the neurotypical version of intimacy I had long studied from the side-lines and thus often tried to mimic, only, it never seemed to pay off for me. Instead, my confidences were often lapped up only to be used as material for laughing at me behind my back or used against me. People would get to know my vulnerabilities and, if I did anything to upset their apple cart (for instance, pointing out their child’s bad behaviour) they would know exactly how to get back at me, with a degree of thirst for vengeance that perpetually eludes my understanding as someone with Asperger’s. So when I look back at that 2006-07 era, I can also see it was when I began to draw these conclusions and, as it were, prepare to go it alone much more…though, as I said, it was to be years before I realised it had so much to do with my autistic wiring. This in itself has been valuable to review, in hindsight, given how much I have recently come to understand, and have compassion for, these undeniable autistic traits in me.

So, in summary, I was out of a job, or a plan, on scarily limited income, my child wasn’t thriving, I had been given the cold shoulder in the community, my health was in disarray…what else was there? I was facing a giant void in my life and have tended to look back at that time as very dark and bleak and yet, what did I find when I unearthed the journal? Was it like that at all? Was it a story of woe?

On the contrary, what I read in those pages wasn’t down in the mouth at all, nor do I find evidence of chronic illnesses in any of the words I shared, for all I have labelled that the time when my health went “wallop” overnight…in fact, not even one mention of health across two month’s of diary entries. Nor do I find a single downbeat or defeatist attitude in there but, rather, such optimism and can-do positivity glowing out of the pages it was an inspiration to read. There’s no crying over spilled milk (I allude to the school-episode passingly followed by “that’s not worth retelling – either I will will recall that instantly if I ever read this or, if not, its not important and part of last year anyway”). Instead, I talk about feeling as though “I am back!”, continuing…

“Feeling strong, remarkable, creative, attractive, a good person and mother, a lot about me that is interesting and a deep well of creativity to draw upon in ’07, its just waiting for me, I can feel it and my smooth amber orb of life-force is pulsating gently, strong and steady. I’m ready for it all, and I intend to enjoy every moment. Already a year of rich colours, bring it on!”

If the orb bit sounds bizarre, it’s worth mentioning that I had been going for some hypnotherapy sessions around that time and it was a visualisation she often used with me. Yet I have been all too easy to dismiss the years before my spiritual awakening, in 2011, as the “before” era of my life, devoid of a highly awake conscious awareness that was somehow yet to spring to life, but what I find in my 2007 journal clearly contradicts that rather presumptuous surmise. Oh yes, I was all there alright, and clearly had the means to teach the “me” of today a thing or two, especially in those moments when I allow things to close in on me enough to snuff my own light out because, back in 2007, I wasn’t having any of it!

So, its been monumentally powerful to reintroduce myself to my 2007 self via this journal and to find that I was so intact back then, in spite of a several harrowing years of abuse, divorce, struggle and stress so recently behind me or continuing, and this has been one of the biggest gifts of unearthing the journal (plus huge encouragement for continuing the mostly daily practice of journaling or writing for myself since it can be sooooo retrospectively powerful!). Ive been taught this truism many times over, and this situation serves as a good example; the reason we write is primarily for ourselves, even if others happen to gain benefit along the way. Also, we are each our own best teachers, if only we are prepared to listen to the deep inner wisdom we might only ever say to ourselves…so, journaling is a great conduit and often this information comes through best in a non-linear fashion (for instance, I have been taught very much indeed, as a bewildered adult, by tuning into my child-self via old journals or pockets of memories held in fragments of music and other prompts that serve as catalysts to epiphany). It’s all there, waiting to be plundered from our stash of treasures; as long as we are open to the wisdom that each of us embody.

The other thing I have been taught, repeatedly, is that good things organically grow from the kind of positivity I had just found, in spadeloads, in my old journal. When we dial into that kind of frequency, magic just seems to happen, as was about to happen in my life when I started this dairy in 2007; perhaps even because I was taking the time to put it all down into gratitude words. Even as has happened as I have sat here typing up this post; good, even great, beyond the realms of possibility wonderful things have happened in the past day of drafting these words for my blog (my husband just walked in to deliver the most astonishingly good news a moment ago); because its all good energetic ju-ju and, when we express it, it then feeds back into its own root-stock to grow even more of itself!

Meanwhile, back in early 2007, I was clearly finding pleasure and deep-lasting joy from all the little things, the ordinary and domestic moments with my family over an extended Christmas and New Year compared to all the years when I had been at work. I was experiencing oodles of appreciation for having the time, at last, to be so-much more present with them all than the previous year, when I had been on leave for just a pitiful handful of days over Christmas and New Year (during which time I also had gastric flu), no doubt distracted with work-worries the whole time I was home, before heading back to even more stress at my corporate desk. This time I was relishing fish and chips on the December beach, the time to take the kids to the pottery cafe…twice, to go on long walks with the dog, teaching my daughter how to knit, playing Monopoly, eating great food, describing myself at the end of the day as “replete, glowy and happy. Perfect!!!”

My evident, undimmable, brightness of spirit and sense of trusting that “good things” are always possible, that they might be just round the next corner (perhaps because you believe they are possible), rings out from every word, for all the lack of logical “reason” for it. You could say, it’s a belief that the universe always has a plan; which is what has got me through these times, lately, too!

Which is exactly what came to pass because, by my final entry of January 2007, “that thing”, by which I mean a minor miracle, had already occurred…though quite impossible to predict or plan for… by which I mean an answer came to all my prayers and everything changed, or started to change, for the absolute better on the back of it. Perhaps what I am about to describe is not such a big-seeming thing from the outside looking in but it was a HUGE thing for me, my daughter and the way things turned out for us as a a family and with far-reaching repercussions in terms of the life my daughter got to live and the way she turned out as an adult.

Because a chance conversation with my not-yet father-in-law when we visited over New Year 2007, following a lively lunchtime conversation where my daughter had become uncharacteristically animated and chatty with these new grandparently people, met only once before, as a result of which he got to thoroughly appreciate what a bright little button of potential she was (when not hiding mutely behind my coat-tails) led to to him pulling me aside in private to ask for a frank account of how things were going for her at school. For once, I could really tell this person was truly wanting me to serve him up the absolute facts of the matter, not the polite answer (he and I have since learned that we speak the same language when it comes to our shared characteristic of extreme directness) so I gave it to him.

Of course, newly fired-up by recent events, not so much the social exclusion for me but the way the school had overlooked and ceased trying with her, I curbed none of the spleen that came up when asked. “I feared as much” he replied and, when asked if there were any other local schools she could move to, being told she was on a long waiting list, he followed up with “leave it with me”.

I could tell I had moved a mountain by the end of that conversation and, though I didn’t yet know in what way it had been moved, the mountain came to me a few days later when a letter landed on our mat declaring my prospective father-in-law wanted to undertake to pay my daughter’s school fees to the small independent school that my step-son already attended and for the remainder of her school career until she was 18. This decision was quite astonishing to me in so many ways, quite aside from being one of the most moving and generous things anyone had ever done for me or mine. This man had no evidence whatsoever that his son and I were committed enough to stay together in the long-term (though we did…in fact, we got married later that year and are still VERY happily together) nor did he have any need to treat a prospective stepchild to his son the same as he treated his other grandchildren, but he did..and he has…and continues to do so. In short, our world altered, in so many ways, overnight from that one act of inclusion and generosity. Suddenly we had an alternative choice and I could prevent history repeating itself, as per my childhood, as she was moved to a school where emphasis was on individual attention, bringing out confidence and working with each child’s inherent and expectably unique traits (which is quite unlike the common denominator stance taken in state schools). To quote my journal, “There were tears and a stunned sense of ‘I’m sure my life has just changed dramatically but I’m not quite sure how, or how much’”.

What happened over the next few days marked the start of it all and not least in terms of how much it, very quickly, began to alter my daughter’s trajectory from the locked-in gloom of the previous couple of years. I can clearly recall telling her the news, sat on my bed that evening, not really able to anticipate her response to moving school so abruptly (would she be sad at leaving her familiar school, changing her routine since she used to dislike changes of any kind) or even whether she would truly understand the importance of what had just happened. Yet she clearly did because….as my journal relates…she spent the next couple of days researching everything she could about the new school on “the web” (remembering she was only just turned 7 years old, that now seems incredible to me) and also “preparing for the taster day, choosing her outfit, like it was a job interview” (I can also remember that so vividly; how she was stood in our bedroom doorframe ready to go before we even got out of bed). She was offered a place and had been kitted out in uniform from their thrift shop by the end of that day and started a day later; it was all a complete whirlwind but she never looked back. Within a month, I had a very different-seeming, bright and unstoppably chatty little girl on my hands; she had so much animation, it was a true transformation before our eyes. The journal account is so moving to me to read back now, reminding me how much this was everything I had been silently hoping for without even knowing this was an outcome I could have hoped for; I just wanted so desperately to see her thrive and become herself and it was happening.

So, this was a different kind of success to what I was used to measuring life in; this felt like a true success of the heart, one that kept giving over all the years I watched her thrive. Looking across the timelines, though I seldom did, I could hardly dare to imagine how things might have continued where she had been, languishing in a classroom where she used to face the wall and have black circles around her eyes however early I sent her to bed. In my journal, I wrote:

“She’s animated, she’s curious, we have amazing in-depth conversations in the car between school and home (Romans, slavery, journalism, stock market whereas she more or less used to stick her fingers in her ears before! There’s been a few issues over shyness…but she’s also had an award in assembly for hard work and she’s up to 6 or 7 housepoints, mainly for PE or art-related. And in a way I can’t really pinpoint, its really ‘brought her on’ in just 3 weeks”.

By the end of that summer, she had joined the choir, taken up singing lessons and was a soloist in front of an audience by Christmas. She went on to take the lead in several musicals, perform at countless musical festivals and pass numerous singing, violin and music theatre exams, not to mention becoming an accomplished artist and an incredible all-rounder across the full range of subjects, plus one of the most captivating and kind people you could meet.

One thing that comes to my mind about that time, though its not in the journal. I can clearly recall sitting down to talk to her, around that time she changed schools, about trajectories and making the most of them, explaining how one small alteration in direction can lead to a massive variance in outcome further down the line…using two balls rolled across the sitting room floor to demonstrate this with a tiny nudge to one of them to show how they landed in completely different places. To my astonishment, she has quoted this memory back to me many times and I know its something she has never forgotten the value of. Our chats with one another, putting the world to rights, exploring into the crevices of everything, really began about that time and, as my journal relates, it was as though she began to really pay attention and want to discuss a whole range of topics in the car journeys to school; we began a ceaseless dialogue on unlimited areas of interest that continues to this day. Back in the old school, she hated that I tried to encourage her to think and question as she said this made her stick out and get picked on more; now she felt it was the culture of her school and new friends to be inquisitive and find things out so she wanted to be part of that…and it altered everything, not least what she went on to achieve, which was considerable.

So, did she never encounter difficulties at school ever again, especially regarding bullies? Well no but each time she had that problem reappear (and it was always handled swiftly through involvement of the school), it was notably instigated by a child that moved from the state school system into her school. If I sound biased then maybe I am on the back of how I had such a dreadful and life-affecting time with relentless bullying all through my schooling at state-operated schools; and all of the closest friends I have ever made in my adult life seem to have that same track-record in common. Its like a particularly aggressive attitude adopted by certain individuals, a sort-of toxic contagion, that gets into the flow of behaviour; a degree of hard-nosed competitive behaviour that includes complete annihilation of anyone that is deemed to be different or gets in the way of their path to supposedly being on top, including this whole belief system around the idea of “disrespect”. Point in case, yesterday’s headlines included news of an autistic boy stabbed to death by school peers from the very secondary school my daughter would have attended had I not moved house and prior to events taking her a different course. I hear it was instigated by his ex-girlfriend, who felt disrespected when he dumped her, thus recruited other boys to attack him on her behalf. I’m not suggesting my daughter is autistic just because I am but, akin to the rest of my family, she was certainly not so very run-of-the mill and yet, in the right hands and environment, she has utterly thrived. This, again, I count as a success that I had some small part in as her parent and most fervent source of encouragement.

To reiterate that point I made to her using the two balls, one small nudge in circumstance…and that nudge can be as minute as a subtle change of heart, a tweak of attitude, taking a broader outlook, putting more focus on the positive, or yes changing the environment that a person deals with every day… can make for a very different outcome further down the line. It feels important to hold that truism in mind, in fact more so than ever, as we head into 2021!

After all, I had just done this very thing with my relentless positivity at the start of the 2007; upbeat and optimistic, grateful and open to unexpected solutions appearing, even though “everything” had looked like a pile of rubbish from the hard logistical details of it all, the set of circumstances that looked grim, at the end of 2006. Yet I had grasped onto the present moment with all its riches whilst holding onto a tangible, glowing sense of hope deep inside me, fanning that small flame into life with my gratitude, even though I had no demonstrable reason for feeling such a thing…and then, suddenly, the mechanism for this entire change of trajectory simply appeared on the horizon and we made the jump.

What came of this one “small” change in circumstance almost took things out of my hands, regarding my so-called career, making retrospective sense of why things on that score had remained so hard to pin down or gain any traction with in the months beforehand. Had I already tied myself to a new job, the logistics of the new school wouldn’t have worked at all because someone had to get her there (none of the school buses came near to our village), school started extra-early and then finished early, there was prep to be helped with (a big part of the school culture was that parents were expected to play a much more hands-on role with this, every single day), they were also encouraged to come along to watch matches and performances on a regular basis and, in the fullness of time, there were school-related concerts and practices after hours, so many other things to get her to, plus I became a volunteer behind the scenes of theatrical events. Yes, it was a full-time role from now on…as, with the beauty of hindsight, it feels like parenting is truly meant to be, not this whole modern mentality of just hand the kids over at the school gate and let the teachers get on with it.

Also, thinking back, her life might have been precarious, many times over, without the long daily chats we had on school journeys, where she felt comfortable to air all the kinds of perplexing things that I was left to mull over, unsupported and unheard, as a child of her age. There were numerous times when I just knew that our unfettered conversation in the car had really made a profound difference (and she has confirmed as much many times); so I wouldn’t have missed those moments for the world. How many of my own issues, growing up, stemmed from the fact I really had no one to talk to about what seemed like my wholly unconventional thinking on so many deep topics; how much would a mentor on hand have helped me with that and led to different outcomes, where I could have come to appreciate and trust my own thinking rather than alienating it as different thus “wrong”. Even during the secondary years, I felt needed and justified in the degree of availability I offered to my daughter so that, even if my health had been up to it, I doubt I would have wanted to go back to full time work. As soon as the change happened, I could see this was the way things would be from now on: my words in the journal describe how I was kept awake with insomnia for quite a few weeks while this change took place (and this might well be the most powerful section of my journal-entry):

“filled with thoughts of ‘what do I do now?’ of feeling I need to justify my existence, feeling I should get a job or start banging out paintings every day of the week…This, in spite of the fact I am now very much a full-time parent doing 2 hours driving to school a day, getting her through homework and times tables, being more ‘hands-on’ as a parent than ever before. Just getting the uniform ready can be a feat in itself and there’s no rushing with things now, none of the last minutes stuff, especially in the mornings, the consequences of being late or unprepared are just too messy. It is (and this occurred to me in the car journey I’ve just done between the last two sentences…) a subjugated life, I am subjugating myself to my daughter, to give her the best possible things, be it education or experiences, openings through doorways and opportunities. That’s not to say there’s nothing in it for me – there’s lots. It’s an indescribable feeling, being able to do this much for your offspring, give them the best possible start, things you didn’t have and many you feared would be lost as the price to pay for a ‘career’. There’s a deep deep well-spring of happiness in me right now when I do these things, when I’m making things better at home for my family, in countless different ways”.

Sounds like I had found myself; all should have been perfect then…and, in many ways, it was, plus now we were on track for something better than before. So what brought it down? Well, believe it or not, I continued to self-berate for the lack of a career or even a job, even after my health took a turn for the worse (which really happened after two operations, including an ectopic pregnancy, the following year) and the long slog to get back onto an even keel which, in many respects, continues today. In fact, had we not trimmed our cloth to allow me to be the full-time parent the year before, my sudden tip into chronic illness in 2008 would have hit us far harder but we were, in a sense, ready for the further adjustment, having tailored our lives to a whole different set of priorities by then. Since that time, via the path of my health challenges, I have come to deep-dive the personal traits that, I have come to realise, reflect my Asperger’s wiring, exploring their many gifts and challenges, and so I fully accept now that I am really not a good multitasker (at all). This helped explain how I am not able to give my best as a parent whilst immersed in a career, both end up becoming poor offerings, nor do I want to be doing that when art and existential questioning are really what light me up; so, I would rather model to my child how making the first choice of whatever truly fires and inspires you is always a valid choice, whatever society says.

That aside, I never let go of that feeling of having to apologise for, or justify, the fact I didn’t go out to work in a conventional way (nobody seemed to take my growing art career seriously, even now I was regularly exhibiting and making sales). I could feel distinct wafts of coldness around the topic when it came up with certain friends and family, after they had inevitably asked “what are you doing now?” or “when do you plan to go back to work?”. I would find myself overstating my health symptoms, real as they were, as a sort of buffer to such questioning and its hard not to wonder how much that may have reinforced the need for them; to have that excuse in place when really I should have needed none of it to justify my entitlement to choose the lifestyle that best suited me in every way, taking into account my artistic traits, my parenting stance, my introversion and my (latterly discovered) autistic qualities. I had no socially acceptable job-identity to offer when people asked, so I ended up with a health-identity instead!

Its despicable, really, that our current society (and women are often the worst, most judgemental, culprits) demand that things be this way!

By now, my husband (as he had become) had made his own career change and things were working out much better for us on one reliable income stream, the jigsaw pieces falling into place in some surprising ways (which, again, I attribute in no small part to the degree of optimism we brought to them), so the pressure simply wasn’t there for me to go back to work as before. We didn’t have a grandiose house like many of the other families at the school but we also didn’t feel the trade off to get such things was worth it; our priorities were very different to many of those we rubbed shoulders with at school events. I was reassured by my husband, countless times, that it served us all far better for me to be at home and yet I felt this awful societal judgement wave enter the space whenever I engaged in conversations with other people. You simply weren’t deemed to be playing for the team of life, or were assumed to be lazy, rich or codependent, a fluffy-headed housewife, if you didn’t have that very urge for “a job”. Whereas, for me, it felt like discovering this whole other possibility…living to be alive, not to be some sort of input-output machine (where, based on my old life, the costs of working often gobbled up most of the hard-earned income, not to mention the time, energy and creativity to pursue my numerous interests). When I had a good run with my art, I took us all on a great holiday or contributed to improvements we made to our house, and this felt wonderful, but I didn’t output art primarily for this and never have.

So, on and on, this self-doubting, self-judgemental, societal belief system “thing” turned in on me as the price to pay, it seems, for our wonderful new tilt of life. It became softer, I’ll admit, after my spiritual wake-up in 2011 but the problem remained that it is a belief system so universally applied “out there” where peoples’ opinions lurked that I could still feel these judgements bouncing off me whenever I mingled. So, in a way, it became instrumental as yet another way that I felt separate from other people, devoid of local friends, whilst allowing myself to feel less-than in some regard, until such time as I realised how silly this was. Really, was I going to hang my head apologising for this stroke of luck until I reached the age when everybody else was retired? Not on your nelly…I began to laugh it off from then on, and also to stand up for myself more, but it has remained work in progress.

Never so more than now, at the start of 2021, as I review current events and how everyone’s attitudes to work and home priorities have been shaken up in the space of a year, catalysed by that other new year back in 2007…what have I got to impart to those people that live in fear of somehow losing their identity if they can’t go out to an office every day, dress up in a suit, network in a bar, all the trappings of modern selfhood that are deemed so very important by our society? I would say, relax and see what else is in there for you; what other gifts are ready to surface, ones that might make your old life look quite hollow by comparison. Who knows, it could be the beginning of an epiphany happening for you…

The start of 2007 is such a long time ago, so much water under the bridge, my daughter now a highly accomplished young adult studying for a degree that truly fires her up with creative enthusiasm at a top university yet still crediting so much of who she has become to the quality of parenting she got from me. Am I ready to redefine success, at last? Am I prepared to own that I have had it all along, that every step of this journey speaks of (yes, unconventional) success in so many areas? In owning it, can I bear to admit that modelling this different way, being who I was for all that time I spent as the hands-on parent, is giving back to the world as much as, or more than, anything I could have been “doing in a job” for all those years, if not to any of you then certainly to my daughter, who cites me as her strongest, most inspirational influence (to be passed on to her children)? Now, can I wind back to some of those positive attitudes of 2007 and truly own my chosen state of jobless self-definition, as in, I choose to be defined by nothing except for Who I Am (which has nothing whatsoever to do with “what I do for a living” or any other material factor); with no apologies or further explanation necessary? Here’s to setting that intention for 2021.

As it turns out, parenting has been (and continues to be) the most fulfilling task I have ever set myself, yes even though I have long considered myself to lack maternal qualities in the clichéd sense, and turns out to be my true life’s work, still in progress; to which art and a handful of other left-field accomplishments roll in at a secondary position every time. When I look back to the start of 2007, I see in myself just the seed of what was to become the realisation of all that…and which, had things turned out just a fraction differently, I might very-well have missed since I doubt very much if the art career, or the blogging, the self-seeking or perhaps even the spiritual epiphanies would have occurred had I been so outwardly focused; perhaps a nod to how these forcibly inner times might well be the very catalyst to self-realisation (as in to realise your fullest potential) so many of you have been waiting for, perhaps looking for in other places, all your lives. Well, they might be…if you remain open and optimistic, curious to what might be around the next corner, full of gratitude for what is and holding space for all the unexpected ways that things might suddenly shuffle into new positions, ready to work out for the best.

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

We still have a lot to learn

Today’s post was my fairly spontaneous response to this headliner in my newsfeed today, which I suspect needed to be said. It set me to thinking: There must be, and as ever I look for them, some positives to this break in the continuum of schooling “as it was”.

My first instincts are this:

The left brain is getting a much needed breather.

The exam machine is getting a long-overdue hiatus.

For too long, and pushing harder each year, the schooling machine has been whipping our kids through an examination-driven system more like the Grand National than an academy of life, geared at expelling productive economic units more so than rounded or wise individuals poised to conduct lives that contribute to the health of humanity and the planet.

My daughter is no longer school age (though, like most modern parents, I feel like I deserve a medal for having so recently escorted her through its minefields) but, rather, limping through the disarray of higher education with all the structure of her highly hands-on course blown to smithereens. And there are no longer any teachers in my family…though there used to be several… but still a weary few amongst my friends.

Their exhaustion and deep despair at the ever-increasing pressures to toe the lines of bureaucracy over actually doing what they do best…bringing out the gifts of each individual child in a rounded way; now so often sacrificed though sheer lack of the time or energy to perform such a role, plus the relentless insistence upon treating the student cohort as a unit measured by the common denominator (a characteristic often no more exotic than “they are this age; this is what they are supposed to achieve by term-end”)…was and is palpable. Perhaps (economic and logistical hardships caused by covid aside; which is not to dismiss them) they are gaining a few extra moments of space to reconsider their priorities and all the once idealised reasons they joined the profession, not least at the leadership end of the school spectrum. There is so much that is good about the modern teaching approach…but the system is so out of whack. Perhaps kids themselves are learning things about humanity and life that will serve them far better, in the long run, than class lessons in geography or maths.

Perhaps the seed of awareness that survival is not ever something to be taken for granted; that consumerism as god comes with bitter consequences; that families, community, art, literature, feelings, diversity and nature can teach us important things, are thus precious and deserve respect (every bit as much as more goal-oriented mentors or fixations); that we are each responsible for our own actions and that what we do has ramifications far and wide; that there is an “outdoors” too and that contact with it can make us feel so much healthier; that there is life beyond “what we can get” and “getting one over the competition”; that “ecology” and “virology” are much more than just textbooks terms…and a whole lot more besides…is being planted deep within the biology of our best hope for the future; our kids.

Back in those school years, my daughter and I would put the world to rights in the car journey to get her there and she, as much as I, would articulate all her frustrations at this so-obviously broken system that exists to feed statistics, not to educate individuals. We watched those teaching staff that were most inspired, like unforgettable mentors in some old-style movie, going that extra yard to bring out the best, finding the gift in even those kids who were most lacking in confidence, get chewed up and swallowed by the system. Sooner or later, unless they toughened and assimilated, they would crack under the pressure, their faces suddenly ghostly; then they would disappear without goodbyes or through the teeth-clenched smiles of some unforeseen end-of-term send-off, their job offered to others more prepared to play the game of “the system”. We would have to fight every inch of the way to be seen as individuals with variable learning styles and diverse traits thus needs, both her as pupil and me as parent. The common sense of just so many situations defeated us as these youngsters…our future…were coached in how rules, however nonsensical, were their god over inspiration or innovation. So often, we would ponder aloud how this might evolve, what might it take to crack its unbreakable momentum and let in a shaft of light. We never imagined a pandemic.

Let’s face it, things will continue to be disrupted in the schooling system for quite some time…but when they settle down, please let it be that we have all learned something far more important in the interim.

Posted in Consciousness & evolution, Conservation, Culture, ecology, Environment, Health & wellbeing, In the news, Lifestyle, Menu, Nature, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

All connected: navigating the tricky, sticky first experiences of realising our collective oneness

Waking today on January 1st 2021, I was presented with all I needed as a reminder that we are all connected as one; one body, one giant energy field. My New Year’s Eve was quiet, mindful and enjoyable. We laughed all evening, playing board games and I had a wonderful conversation with my daughter across the distances. Before that, we’d been on a lovely walk where we stood watching a pair of young deer and spotted a buzzard, many kites and a myriad of other birds. By late evening, I’d sent messages and spoken to a handful of close family and friends. I’d also taken a sauna, danced, meditated, set positive intentions and done everything in my power to keep my spirits lifted and my body light in the run-up. No alcohol, no sugar, no trigger foods that day and I felt…quietly, serenely…optimistic as I put the dog to bed and climbed the stairs just after midnight.

But by morning my body felt toxic in the extreme, every part of me hurt and there was an energetic sludge moving in my veins that might have tricked me into thinking I had had way too much to drink…if I had (though I hadn’t, not unless you count water). I knew the ropes, having been here before, so got straight up without the temptation to stagnate under the duvet or slip into overthinking it, and got to my yoga mat, spent some time in mediation and with my oracle cards, urged myself to dance (clicking on the very first thing that spoke to me at a glance, Nessi Gomes’ beautiful “All Related”) and then lowered myself gently into a detoxing clay bath.

So, I’m aware I’m taking you into the sludge with me in this post, which is probably not what you think you want on New Year’s Day (though I promise it’s not where this post will end up…far from it) but sometimes that is necessary. Just as we have to put our hands into the compost to feed the seed!

Feeling much better after my bath, having eaten a light breakfast with some herbal tea, I checked and replied to some mostly positive messages, glanced through some posts from my favourite artists, watched the birds in the garden and prepared for my morning walk…which was lovely, I really welcomed the cold sting against my face as a purge to the still burning inner inflammation…but I can still feel it there in my body, this sensation of toxic energetic waste wanting to hang around in my field like a sticky glue. Not a day for being too lethargic today, I can feel I need to keep taking steps to move the body, change the posture, reset the thoughts, dial up the love frequency…again, all part of knowing the ropes of being a highly sensitive empath but perhaps I’m not the minority anymore. More so than any other year, I am hearing people speak about similar responses to the collective energy from people who are as surprised to be asking such questions about something so bizarre as I am unused to hearing them mention such things.

When I spoke to my daughter late last night, she said the very same…though she and her housemates had prepared for a celebration, she had decided it was not a night for drinking much as she could feel “everybody else’s emotions” hanging there, like a heavy burdensome feeling in the air that she noticed building all day, not at-all meaning those in her house, and she is aware enough to know this is not a good combination with alcohol. Just as I had felt coming over me, building all day, it was like a hangover feeling before you even started. Instead of the usual flippant toasts across the airwaves, she and I spoke quite seriously, just before midnight, about how to handle it when you are tuned in to the collective heaviness so much it seeps into your own energy field…and stays there, feeling like your own down-mood, even dark depression or, if you get it more profoundly as many sensitives and empaths (like me) do it can feel like a full-blown stomach migraine, fibromyalgia and flu.

Worth noting here is that my dog (not for the first time) also seemed to feel the off-energy yesterday, was really down in the dumps, unsettled and so sickly-looking (he was actually sick after his food, which is extremely rare) that I had to keep an eye on him all evening and came down to check him twice in the night. This morning he was slow getting up but is pretty much back to his old self and it wouldn’t be the first time he has responded acutely to an influx of very strong energy only to bounce back the next day (dog’s have the advantage over us that they don’t over-think they “whys” as to their sudden illness).

In my case, I am so keyed into this that (as always happens at NY) I could tell when the first parts of the globe had passed through the 2021 threshold without even checking the time (a sort of spike in the energy field detected via the much increased intensity of my clairsentient cues) and then the very last, when the pacific side of America must have been passing through midnight at about the time I was trying to get myself up this morning. For a time after that, there was a sort of energetic lull as the Americans crawled off to their beds and then I felt the field stir again as people local to me started to rise from their sleep, perhaps hung over, turning to cooked breakfasts and anticlimactic thoughts; so, in me, I had a renewed sort of heaviness and exhaustion, along with headache and an acid in my stomach that didn’t match what I’d eaten. I know these symptoms well as I feel these effects, to a degree, every New Year, but never more so than this year with its energy bomb of emotions: so many hopes pinned on the idea of a new page turned (how many people hoped they would wake from the nightmare as if by magic this morning…), so much dread of “more of the same”, so much loss, sadness, loneliness, despair heaped onto an already charged time of the year.

As if to bring that home, a friend messaged me about just having been summoned to her mother’s care home to say her final goodbyes, following months of restricted visits; how heartbreaking after what I know has been a really tough year for her. Another one, who lives alone, told me she has spent the whole year by herself, working from her kitchen table, no one she can see or meet up with in her locale and not a fan of social media; it’s hard for me to imagine what that feels like, almost a year later, spent in solitary confinement. These are the energetics, like seasoning of sorts, that are being poured into the collective soup of hope and dead that is new year this year and if any of us think we don’t dial into all the flavours they add, or get affected by them, we are sadly deluded.

Because we are all, and never more apparently so than now, one giant organism…as connected as we have been made to feel disparate and separate for SUCH a long time and now, ironically, that we seem even more separated than before, we are only proving it to ourselves and each other more by feeling these often uncomfortable awarenesses stirring in our own cells. If this is new to us, it may come as some shock. If it is old news because we were born sensitive then, for all our lifetime’s experience of it, we may never have been through more robustly sensitive times than this, like we are being put through our paces, and so we have to KNOW our stuff on boundary setting, letting go of what we can’t help, dialling into our own highest achievable vibration and sending love, compassion…and high intentions loaded with good manifestation ju-ju…out into the field. The more we visualise what we really want, not what we are stuck with, the closer we all get to a more comfortable place, together.

Meanwhile, what one feels, we all feel and though some of us may experience that more viscerally, through the symptoms in our body, than others, the same truth underlies all of our experiences. We may shove away or hide these feelings, buried under a great big pile of outer distractions and a concerted effort at numbing or not noticing what we are subliminally aware of, but the reality is that we all feel the energy of “other” and there is no watertight way of holding it at bay, for all we work on our boundaries, especially during a dam-buster event such as New Year’s Eve. Until we sort out our relationship with, and responsibility for, one another, realising that what happens (or what we dole out) to others also happens (or is done to) us, we will continue to go around in circles. Which means we ALL have a vested interest in getting this planet sorted out now; there is nowhere we can hide from the collective situation we are in, and this will only become more apparent the more connected people FEEL that they are…as their feelings, inevitably, wake up to it!

The short version of that is: If we keep on doing what we did, we will keep on getting what we got.

Photo by Jordan Wozniak on Unsplash

So that’s the harsh-seeming reality, one that any sensitive or empath will be more than familiar with, but there is an upside and that is that we are forced, at times like these, to take collective responsibility, plus we are now really motivated, like never before, to “be the change”, once we realise we are only harming ourselves and our loved ones if we sit idly by, determined in our detachment from the problem and the renewal momentum (they come as a pair). Even if that idleness amounts to nothing more than feeding the sense of hopelessness, muttering about the inconveniences, wallowing in the woe, being in denial that these things are really happening or blaming others for situations we simply wish weren’t happening at all, as though we are separate from them and personally victimised by them. When we step up into our sense of collective responsibility, we can get straight to work with pulling together as one, and it starts as a grass roots thing, like not putting other people at risk by mingling and not wearing masks, or doing what we can to support local business, or using this time to make significant lifestyle changes to help the ecosystem to recover. Perhaps smiling at people over the mask, being the one to ask after a neighbour that is on their own, donating our surplus to a food bank. There are a zillion ways to pull together and generate positivity.

And even if it is a manmade construct (since Nature’s annual cycle really turns around at the solstice) there is no time like New Year to fuel a new sense of momentum, as we the turn collective idea of “a page” onto a pristine new sheet of blank paper just waiting to be filled in a new way. That collectively shared construct is useful to us here because we get to harness the powerful symbology of that page-turning event, happening globally, to effect a massive change of attitude or a sense of rebirth, right across the planet.

And so we leave 2020 behind, tenderly cradling the pristine potential of 2021 in our cupped hands, almost too scared to make that first mark on the page. Meanwhile, I’ve heard a lot of people, these last few days, hurl abuse at the very idea of 2020, as though it has a persona that they can blame for everything that has happened (how people love someone to blame); calling it all sorts of childish names and declaring “good riddance” but, for goodness sake, why shoot the messenger? Truthfully, 2020 was what it was because of us; it was the pool of all that we had collectively become as humanity, one decade into the new millennium, and so it simply mirrored back to us the state of our own affairs. If we don’t like it, we really don’t like ourselves, and that is no place from which to begin the process of healing and renewal.

First step to any healing: see what there is to see and then, where there is a problem, address it…with compassion and without judgement. If we don’t like the way something is, blame will only tie us to its leg all the more securely. So as we turn this metaphorical page onto the pristine white sheet of a brand new day, it’s where we place our thoughts that really matters…as in, to create more matter, the substance of a new reality, a new mark upon the page of life, we need to pick our colours and our instruments carefully.

If there is one last glance back at 2020 required by me, and I have done quite a lot of that lately in my earlier posts, its to ask why it was that I have been simultaneously so uplifted and filled with optimism, even by a sort of relief, whilst also floored by its effects and all the human devastation going on.

A post I happened upon today from the wonderful musician Marketa Irglová (who I wrote a post about quite some time ago) nailed it for me:

“During the most recent health crisis we have globally faced as people of this world, I, like most, had experienced a time of more stillness and quiet than I ever had in my adult life. In fact I can only remember the feeling of such ease in memories from childhood. I questioned my inner peace which seemed to contrast the general status quo of the world, and examined my personal sense of calm on the backdrop of collective panic and anxiety. It occurred to me, that I had felt an undercurrent of anxiety for years, watching the world self destruct in slow motion. Seeing the poisoning of our natural world and all of us with it, too busy in our own bubbles to notice it happening. Or seeing it all too clearly and feeling powerless to stop it. Waiting for our leaders to lead us, and for enough of us to wake up from our slumber. It took a virus to sweep across our world to give us an opening, a crack in the stone. Something that the lords of this world could not control with their money and their power. A glitch in the system if you like. The veil that keeps us under the illusion of being separate from one another had grown thin, and I could not but hope, with all of my being, that this was it. Our chance. Perhaps our very last. To turn this ship around. To take this sinking boat and point it home”.

Marketa Irglova

These words are her introduction to, and inspiration behind, the beautiful song Quintessence recorded last year, which she describes as follows:

“Quintessence was a song I received during these strange times to pass on to the world. A thread to follow and see where it leads you. A journey worth taking.

Inspired by my dearest of friends Mary Reynolds, and her movement The Ark, it is also a love poem to Mother Nature. To find out more about this non profit organisation focused on amplifying nature’s call for help and offering empowering guidance to those with ears to hear, please visit Without Nature we are no more.”

Marketa Irglova (follow link to hear the song and read its lyrical story)

So, what is my take-away from all that and from 2020 itself? Hope. I take away from 2020 one hugely revived and far more realistic stash of hope than I had any prospect of summoning this time last year when things felt so stuck in their bad habits. Far more than before, when the world seemed to slumber on in the deepest sleep of all its planet-endangering ways, I am quietly full of hope and renewed optimism now; based not just on the fact that I have woken up in time but that many of us now have and, in order to reap the benefits of that, we need to cease blaming or stirring the slurry and just get on with rising from the mud as the collectively embodied new shoot of a far brighter new day held in potential. As Marketa put it, not only is this our chance but it may be our one and only chance.

The key to even starting upon this daunting process out of where we are right now, here today on this (if you live in the northern hemisphere, quite dark and uninspiring January 1st) is not to be so quick to label the sludgy feeling that is likely embedded all around our leaden-seeming feet right now as “just more of the same”…because, if we do that, we will surely make it thus. The key, rather, is to recognise the detox process for what it is – that feeling that any one who has ever undergone a cleanse will know; the feeling of getting worse on the way to getting better. We are already getting so much better than we are probably able to see so clearly from down here on the ground looking up at “the big problem” but, I sense, from the vantage point of looking down at how we are really doing (from which point we can also see all the brightly lit-up and optimistic, the determined, creative and innovative souls ready poised to pull together and build this world anew), I think we would be pleasantly reassured at how far we have already come. Let’s not blow it!

For a final encouraging note, I happened upon this poem by John O’Donohue on Instagram, posted by one of my followed accounts, the delightful @andthehare, and it fits so perfectly that here it is to round things off:

For a New Beginning

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

John O’Donohue
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On a golden flightpath

It must have been shortly after last year’s New Year that I began work on what was to become one of my most defining artworks of 2020, being Charm on Blue, a painterly composite work which grew out of goldfinch photography from my own (at the time) sparten collection plus collected insight from some short videos of goldfinches in flight that I watched on YouTube (needing to get right those birds on the wing), put together with a sunflower from some other source I had been saving as inspiration. Its the very nature of composite artwork to almost collage together the various factors that you want and then paint into the work to make it cohesive and to add missing details, exactly as you would with paint on a canvas, only using digital means. So, as you can imagine, this was an engrossing piece that went through many versions for a number of weeks, on and off, and my mind was firmly on goldfinches that whole time. They were everywhere in my imagination, as though flying about in my head.

The end result was this version plus some other colourways for fabric and a more traditional take on the scene (much more like a painting)…but it is this final version made for design applications such as fabric that I prefer. Since creating it, with a view to printing onto a square silk scarf, its also ended up on prints, interior fabrics such as canvas and oilskin, lampshades, cushions, bags and purses, journals and notebooks, shoes, even a velvet kimono which a friend in America took delivery of just before Christmas (you can explore the collection here). In its way, the design took flight from that original concept and became my busiest of the year.

Charm on Blue, © 2020 – Helen White

The thing is, when I decided to create it, goldfinches were very-much the rarity in my life. Time was, it would be the highlight of summer if just one or two landed in the tall tree visible from our garden for long enough for me to grab my camera, maybe just once per year. We had had one or two more sightings, for slightly longer, in 2019 but they still remained the exotic rarity, making the sparrows seem as though they were in their dress-down Friday’s the moment they arrived. As such, they became the symbol of the real high-points for me because, was it coincidence but, they always seemed to arrive when the frequency felt the highest, on the kind of days you could just feel a rarified note hanging in the air and then their distinctively animated song that sounds like chatter chatter chatter “beep beep” would, as it were, solidify that etheric note into a trill, their gold and scarlet regality making them seem like the emissaries of a higher dimension come for a visitation, peeping through the fabric of the sky.

So, I began my year on that focal point, thinking back to the previous summer with its handful of afternoons when a goldfinch would settle in the tree just outside my garden and regale me with its song to the dazzle of afternoon sunshine while I closed my eyes, transported though the crack between dimensions for a half hour or so….visits which, though few in number, left behind the remnants of a frequency that stayed with me long afterwards and now demanded to become art.

And I guess I must have said it outloud, because I surely thought it more than once, “please come back this summer, bring your friends, let their be goldfinches this year”.

So, guess what happened…this year they came in droves, entire flashmobs of them, filling first the trees on the right of the garden as they nibbled off the nectar of newly opening leaves and then the trees to the left to do the same, perched where the dazzle of afternoon sun turned them, mostly, into silhouettes yet I still managed to zoom in enough to capture the kind of shots I had previously only dreamed of, so small and elusive are they. Then there they were on my walks, poised for the camera in places we had never seen them before. Once or twice, they even came into the garden to peck at dandelions on our “lawn” or to see what all the other birds were making such a fuss about but, by and large, goldfinches don’t do gardens unless there is niger seed on offer; remaining independent and aloof, the contrarians that bestow their visitations like royalty and who would blame them, being not so easily bought by food on a feeder…I like that about them and would have it no other way.

So to have them still here this winter is yet another first and feels somehow connected to my invocation of last New Year since we can hear a lot of the time these days in our new normal, the cheerful soundtrack to life, “beep beep”. Then we walk right under them frequently on our routine stroll onto the common next door (them chattering up in the high branches, extremely hard to see even at this leafless time of year) plus, when the mood takes them, they swoop down between the horses legs, with their friends the pied wagtails, tiny yet distinctive in their red and white outfits. This is mostly when the sun is out and the wind down…and seldom when I have my camera with me…but yesterday I did have it and captured a few shots from a viable distance. We also got to see them from our garden yesterday morning, straight after the full moon (a trend I’ve noticed before) and them all in such high spirits, chattering away, their reds and golds gleaming against a winter blue sky as I stepped out into the frosty morn to feed the other birds.

It was then, with the new year right upon us, that I suddenly got into thinking how it had very much been The Year of the Goldfinch for me, as though occasional bursts of golden frequency, once the high-flying rarity in previous years, had suddenly grown and multiplied in number, flying right into the secular world boldly now, as the concerted flock of a higher reality experience where my garden became, somehow, transformed…not in a third-dimensional way so much as the feeling became more rarified than I had ever known it. Now this version of reality had taken to landing here so very much more often within the commonplace reality and everyday trappings of old, and all on the back of the invocation that was those early weeks of such focused goldfinch-inspired creativity in January. Another thing I’ve now noticed with a smile, the colour yellow with flashes of red is newly everywhere in my life since, where there have been choices, I seem to have chosen this colour theme over and over again and how much does it make me smile, uplifting me where life could so often have become dour this year? So, all coincidence or the result of a trick we so often miss? Because, don’t we all know by now that what we focus on we get even more of? Our thoughts like seeds not to be thrown carelessly in the gentle garden of our lives (unless we should want weeds and stranglers to gather there)? I had put out the call, and they had answered.

So, as we turn the page of another year…a year that’s been far from easy in so many ways yet with so many unexpected gifts attached to its underbelly (see my other post of today You may have gained more from 2020 than you’ve yet accounted for? for more on that) it felt like food for thought for all of us. When we make conscious what we focus on, choosing what to immerse ourselves in, allowing ourselves to be the prime orchestrators of what we spend our time thinking about, we become the manifestors of so much more of that which would bring more light and joy into our lives…not a complicated theory that needs any further elaboration really, except to add (a message straight from these golden birds) that we are the pilots of our own flight path, or destiny, much more so than we often realise or admit.

Wishing you a bright and optimistic New Year wherever you are!

Posted in Art, Art transformation tool, Birds, Consciousness & evolution, Life choices, Menu, Nature, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Imaginal” us and harnessing the creator potential of Christmas

I don’t know about you but I’m finding myself appreciate Christmas even more than usual this year. Not in some of the usual ways, agreed, but from the point of view of really noticing what really shines out as just so important to my heart (over my head). Like, I stop in the doorframe of a room as my gaze falls on the fairy-lit green garland around the fireplace and my eyes (and heart) are completely arrested by the scene, so a deep love and appreciation for “home” and all it encompasses washes over me along with a stillness and depth that speaks not of emptiness but of the fullness of all that matters in life. There is no doubt in me that, when things become more open again, there is a part of me that will be ready to unfurl the wings of being-ness “out in the world” even more so than ever before, but it all begins here rather than this being some sort of obsolete, cancelled time; a parody of its former self. In some ways, I sense this year is being allowed to get even closer to its original purpose and this more inner-focused bent I am noticing is at the very heart of it…

For me, when I respond so to that domestic view, as though it is somehow holy, its because its layered with all the memories of family times spent as the children were growing up around that very fireplace and, rather than allow myself to plunge into grief that they are not with us now, I feel myself ignite with the glowing certainty my daughter and I are planning to video call each other (again) later today…and (again) tomorrow morning when we open presents; that we hardly seem to get through a few hours these days without “pinging” cheerful, or heartfelt, messages to each to other and, even when quiet, there is a developing telepathy that only this year could have highlighted, since the noise of life all-too easily drowned it out in all the years before. Yes, the more we are so-called apart, the more we have opportunity to explore the virtual realities of our connections to one another, the outside-of-linearity psychic wavelengths that take us deeper than the small talk; and I notice this now with many people in my life. There is a good handful of people not seen in person during the whole of this year that are even more real and present in my consciousness now than they ever were and for that I am so very grateful. See how we grow new skills when we are cornered? This is how we are, its not all about the physical presence and never was.

So, as my daughter wrote in her tear-pricking Christmas card, we feel closer to each other than ever this year…paradoxically…yet we still, also, have all the memories so that she is always “here” with me when she is “there”. To dwell on them isn’t, for me, to feel morbid or retrospective but to appreciate deeply in the here and now. It’s like I’m unpacking, slowly one-by-one, all the many nuggets of memory made in such a rush when they “happened” only, this year, I have had them all over again, slowly savouring them, polishing them off, melding them into the essence of “my life”, full of love and precious things, and which is current; the very fuel of the fire that is the “me” that I now offer to the world as I am. It gives me stamina and belief, a deep trust and optimism to hold this fire within me, so to allow myself to plummet into jadedness would be to damp that fire down and deeply disrespect all of those precious times that are still held inside my heart since, in having them, I know I am fortunate indeed. Nothing, no external circumstance, could ever alter that inner reality; it is all part of my fabric.

So, the fact some of the external rudiments of life have been curtailed, again, doesn’t send me into tailspin but allows me to go deeper into the gratitude and appreciation of what I already have, which includes a time-layered love that is always “of the now.” Even love that was expressed ten, fifteen years ago of more, is still mine “now” because love never dies, so I can dial into that and bask in it; can use it to raise in me the powerful frequency from which I manifest my very next steps forwards.

As I enacted the annual ritual of having a “big baking day” yesterday, on the day before Christmas Eve as ever, it stuck me more than usual that the reason I do this, which is not my around-the-year norm (to spend several hours with my hands in flour, processing edible creations in and out of the oven, one after the other, on some sort of manic production line, singing all the time as I do it) is that it makes me feel so close to my mum, even though this will be my 25th Christmas without her. It was something we always did together, even when I went away to university and came back for just a handful of days, yet she would always save for me the task of decorating of the cake and we would make batches of mince pies and sausage rolls as we chattered in the kitchen to the warmth of the oven and the music on the white-floury cassette player. Now, no Christmas cake (a tradition I had to give up with most of its ingredients) but making my version of things we used to make together is like a portal through time as I play my Christmas music and wipe the occasional tear whilst laughing and hamming up the singing, smearing pastry mix down my face (my husband is used to the scenario).

As ever, yesterday, I could feel her right beside me and frequently felt my eyes prick with happy appreciation of that link between me and her, my daughter and I, and all three of us together in our wonderful similarities (and glorious differences…), though those two never met. Somehow, I’m getting closer to the rootbed of such timeless feelings this year than when there was a lot of other distraction going on and they are immense, and expansive, offering such a powerful sense of how we are bigger than “all this that is going on”….yes, we are all SO MUCH BIGGER than it all, though we so quickly allow ourselves to feel small and defeated when we get carried away by all the sad and hopeless stories that are relentlessly hurled at us in order to keep us down; when we measure our lives in busyness, “normalness” and tradition and our idealisation of “things” when its the state of beingness that underlies them that really matters. Right now, I am being the best version of me and those that I love are being the best version of them and we feel connected in an unconditional place; that’s all that really matters. I won’t say its perfect, I have my down moments, things can be so challenging and I am a worrier when I let myself go but, mostly, I can sense all the ways that I have expanded in consciousness (rather than becoming more constricted than usual…) this last year. I have learned, amongst many things, that until we throw off bitterness or sense of victimhood at any level, we can only affect the outward impression of freedom, whatever our circumstances and, likewise, the reverse is true…we are entirely free just as soon as soon as we know this to be so.

The thing is, when we are, in many senses, locked down into a more constrained version of our lives, it’s not really a prison unless we say its so. I only have to think of Nelson Mandela (and I often do in this context) to KNOW its not so. Our best times yet lie just the other side of such a period, just as long as we don’t succumb to all the misery and woe, the popular mindset of “its all crap, cancel Christmas because its not really happening to our expectations” that we hear on the grapevine by those lamenting busier, more “normal” lives. It is most certainly happening, just as long as we say it’s happening and I, for one, won’t let anyone else decide that for me, since it’s a matter of the heart and a personal state, not a product to “have Christmas”. Winter solstice has long been my spiritual time, when I embrace all the mystery and potential of the universe, and Christmas is above all about love and deep appreciation, a celebration of what I already have, of family and home, a time for kindness and beneficence, of gratitude for all the precious little things that come so freely from nature and which, without the renewal of such gratitude, are all too easily taken for granted or destroyed. No one can take those feelings away from me; they are part of the very fabric of who I am and I take them all too seriously to consider allowing them a year off because of material circumstance.

Perhaps its because I have always preferred a quieter life, finding most value in that, that I struggle less than some people but its also this deep knowing, as follows…When we embrace going deep into what seems like a constricted state where all seems dark and limited, the very thoughts and images we have from within that state fuel our next iteration; like requests sent out from the full menu of the universe into the crucible of creation. Not a day goes by when I don’t send out the request for my own healing and the healing of this entire planet before I go to sleep at night and at many other opportunities, and I piece together in my mind and senses images and feelings of what that reality might look like, as best I can, to send forth with my request. That, combined with the fuel of so much love and gratitude for people, nature, a moment’s winter sun glinting off wet leaves on my walk, all the birds that come to my garden, the way light and shadow transform the familiar, a zillion little moments of wonderment and joy that come from keeping all my senses open, the sheer awe of noticing how my body regenerates, how things grow back, how nature renews and thrusts forwards, basically feeling so much appreciation for all of life, every minor miracle of continuation and renewal, makes a powerful basis for what I refer to as “imaginal behaviour”.

Because, when we do this, with trust and surrender, what we spark into life are our imaginal cells, just like the caterpillar has this very type of cell at work (look it up!), busy recreating its entire form into its future self, even as it lies there tightly bound and all-but imploding into wholesale darkness and mess inside its cocoon; only, the dismemberment of familiarity occurring inside there isn’t its doom taking shape, but the beginning…of what? Of something entirely new. When we spark those imaginal cells to life with our appreciation, the authenticity of our hearts and our LOVE, its as though we project the very essence of what we imagine, from the higher frequency of those places, onto some sort of vision board that starts to manifest as our future world; by sparking into life dormant DNA codes that were just waiting to be called upon. Just as the caterpillar summons to life new codes of beingness from the mass of disintegration that it has been undergoing during its darkest hour, we also summon forth new brightly colour wings on which to take to the skies, making our old land-lubbing world seem drab and so limited by comparison. At that point, will we still cry for the old “normal” or will we be so glad we kept going with our “unfounded” optimism through the mire?

But first we have to believe in this potential. First, we have to know…and I mean really know and TRUST…that our thoughts and focus make up our future. When we sit here licking the thorn in our paw for too long, the grim world of disappointment, of loss, of jadedness, of defeatism becomes our reality with all-too concrete-like qualities which, having found those prepared to join us in our woe, are only confirmed to us by the consensus of opinion we surround ourselves with in our daily conversations and newsfeed confirming that “these are all the ways life is now vile and stuck; life has lost all its meaning and joy”. Or, we go into our selves, our inner world and our domestic world, our heart and hearth this Christmas. It always fascinates me how “hearth”, such an enigmatic word, is a combination of both heart and earth, as in to draw our lofty heart down from the realms of the idealised (unrealised) so as to transform its visions into our manifest reality (realised); there is no more powerful, alchemical place for shifting worlds than that in which we spend all our time living and loving day after day. So we count all our blessings, noticing all the little things, seeing as with new eyes that are really the same eyes we always had, only now we have had the time to clear them, blinking away the slurry of a life too rushed, too external, too materially fixated in order to see clearer what is really and truly of value to our hearts, beyond any question of a doubt.

As we upgrade our perception of the world, so it upgrades its perception of us because it is as though we ourselves are reimagined into different form, different setting….one that feels almost immediately better and which starts to manifest, well, who know what just the other side of this darkest before the dawn moment, but lets not close down the sun before it starts to rise on a brand new day. Christmas, after all, is all about (re) birth.

Wishing you all such a peaceful, heart-centred and quietly rejuvenating Christmas and New Year.

Posted in Christmas, Consciousness & evolution, Life choices, Menu, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Counting these 2020 blessings

As we cross the threshold into a new phase, I’m doing my gratitude appraisal of the year, as ever…but with, perhaps, even more appreciation than ever. I think we all agree, its been an “interesting” year and yet there’s part of me…and not just me but (I think its fair to observe) many of those close to me…that is more robust, self-knowing and somehow worldly-wise, in the broader sense, than ever before.

For starters, we have been encouraged to get to know, and to stand by, our authentic selves more than ever this year and that makes me sit up and take notice. As does the fact I’ve been through such physically hard times on the health front and yet, after weeks of the most difficult time eliminating certain ingredients that, I have come to understand, have been potentially causing me severe health issues for years, I seem to have turned a corner with that detox process, whilst finding it impossible to ignore the mirror factor with how we have all, in a sense, been purging ourselves from unconscious lifestyle factors which we hardly noticed were doing us all harm until now. Better still, every hard experience I have had to endure in that health regard, this year, feels like it had a point to make so I find myself more aware and much more informed and responsive to my own specific health foibles now, with a new degree of joined-up thinking, and that also feels important, going forwards. Again, I sense that collectively, for all the hardships, we have come to know ourselves and our pitfalls somewhat better out of what has felt like a dark night of the soul. One could simply call it an increase of consciousness to what was already there or going on, but perhaps unnoticed or unacknowledged until it was spotlit by the year’s events.

There is, simply, a new state of calm and a sort of “preparedness” for the next phase in me now, without having to know what exactly I am prepared for and I imagine that “not having to know” factor is key to the turning of ages, leaping into the unknown yet pristine territory of a brand new era. Why do I keep going on about new eras? For that you will have to refer back to my earlier post Preparing to Meet Earth’s Higher Self regarding the momentous astrological line-up on 21/12 and, on the premise “as above so below”, we could say we are all preparing to meet, or realise, our own higher selves in the coming phase, hence the collective if rather messy detox process.

Just a few week ago I felt almost in a panic that 21/12 was nearly upon us yet I didn’t feel in any sort of good order to make the transition. Now, in perfect timing, I feel as though I can let go of such doubts and just allow myself to be ENOUGH as I am, ready to make the transition. I feel truly calm all through my system like never before. Perhaps we have all, in our way, reached that point of enough…a sort of tipping point in which we have each played our perfectly scripted roles this year (even at times when it felt like a badly rehearsed pantomime) and now we just have to show up at the threshold of change and declare that we are ready to step through it. Even though the Aquarian age won’t drop into groove overnight, it feels like we are ready for a fresh start of sorts (in a way that couldn’t have been said 12 months ago when so many were still invested in “the way things had always been”) and, for that reason, this year, with all its ups and downs, has been so important.

In my own little world, as I said, it feels as though I have now turned a page and, though its not as though all my health ardours are over, they are calming down and I don’t feel so out of my depth. There are times when I feel so markedly better I can’t recall when I last felt that way, like a bolt of light through dark clouds. Not only on the physical health front but on the emotional side of things, including the fact that (regarding some very old baggage) certain quite interesting circumstances have come about of late to allow me to purge some of those old wounded areas like never before, bringing a degree of closure that I would never have foreseen. As a parent, with both four bonus months spent together and even more months forcibly apart due to lockdown conditions, I have never felt more fulfilled as a parent or on such an intimate wavelength with my daughter and that brings me so much heartfelt joy, I can hardly articulate.

I am daily brimful of gratitude for the handful of individuals with whom I consider myself close and who are treasures more valuable than prize-pearls to me, nestled in the ever more gold-gilded setting of my life. Golden, not because of economic riches or even idyllic circumstances (no such conditionality here…) but because of a certain quality of radiance that tinges so much of what I am able to dial into via the little-everyday moments I spend appreciating nature, interacting with a handful of others on such deep and a meaningful level and being so acutely aware of frequencies including some that are remarkably high these days (skills I have had all my life but never so profoundly owned or valued). I was born inherently optimistic, come what may, and it is serving me well.

Lockdown Love album, 2020 (click to view)

This spring was a point in case. As the world plunged into lockdown and desperate confusion, I was one of those people who calmly chose a different path and now, I discover, there were quite a few of us (for evidence, see this recently published book The Consolation of Nature: Spring in the Time of Coronavirus, this article in Emergence Magazine from which I will insert a quote or two below, all the many nature Instagram-ers who concertedly increased their posts in 2020, the 2000% increase of people who turned their attention to nature podcasts run by the UKs 46 wildlife trusts and bigger audiences all round for nature blog and vloggers). Mark Cocker, who I follow on Twitter and Instagram (we chatted just the other day about our love of starlings!) tweeted on 18 April: “I’m posting an uplifting image each day till this thing is done. No coronas, no Covids, but possibly corvids” (hint to his books, Crow Country). Chris Packham and stepdaughter Megan, already favourites in our house, became regular personas over breakfast in the morning, breaking my no-viewing before evening rule as I tuned into their nature updates before setting off on one of my daily walks.

Lockdown Love album 2020 (click to view)

Collectively, we decided to love and appreciate life more not less and to take advantage of quieter roads and the glorious spring weather to share daily photos and insights into our beautiful natural world. What resulted, in my case, was over 30 consecutive days of photos shared on social media (and not just one picture per day…when have I ever been able to limit my enthusiasm thus!) and then a more adhoc continuation of that into what became a sizeable album Lockdown Love, now consisting of nearly 1000 photos of stunning 2020, shared on Flickr. Even after the “photos every day” urge had run its course, I continued to use my camera to dial into the appreciation vibe more often than usual, noticing things with more gratitude than ever, meaning that my camera roll now shows evidence of a TREMENDOUS year of nature engagement. Looking back, this year seems more radiant and richly-travelled than any of the years when I hopped on and off planes or travelled more often or farther afield…even though I have mostly remained within 3 miles of my home!

Lockdown Love album, 2020 (click to view)

On that topic, looking back, I do so with some personal satisfaction when I realise that, as a household, we have hit most of the criteria recommended for contributing to a greener future. No plane travel (and we intend to keep that the case for at least the next couple of years); hardly any use of a car (we have “filled up” no more than 4 or 5 times in a year!); along with eating a vegan diet, eating seasonally; shopping local and more frugally; wasting almost no edible food, composting what we can; switching to a green energy provider; carbon offsetting as many of my business practices, such as print service and delivery, as possible; wearing clothes for longer and washing on shorter, lower temperature cycles using eco products; using only eco washing and hand sanitising products; cutting free from fast fashion outlets (along with that entire “disposable” mentality!) whilst supporting well-made eco clothing options for our minimal requirements; thinking very carefully before sending things to landfill; recycling and donating so many of the things we sorted out of storage this year; line drying all our washing (we don’t even have a dryer any more!); turning the lights and heating down where possible and shifting our pensions and investments fully into the ethical market. In fact, though some of these initiatives had already been started prior to 2020, it’s been a milestone year for us on all those fronts.

These are great accomplishments but I also take seriously that they need to be a permanent way of life, so (with the help almost a year of deeply embedding them behind us like an apprenticeship) we are now thinking that way…onwards. After the hard-core trial of it all, coming to appreciate and make use of what we already have…more…including our home, when farther afield isn’t an option, it really doesn’t seem that bad, or too much to expect in return for a planet that is still here and thriving for our grandchildren!

Painting outside in 2020

On the art front, I have enjoyed a sweeping return to actual painting…with a brush!…after years where I had succumbed to the perfectionist part of me by indulging in digital art, using similar techniques as painting (yes), but always knowing that the outcome will be so much more pristine than is ever possible with paint. This year, pristine outcome seemed far less important than the process and I really NEEDED the escapism that painting can bring; knowing, of old, how it had got me through the darkest days of my health more than a decade ago, and of course I was right.

Not that digital art is now “dumped” but my desire to purse it is overshadowed by that familiar old fizz of excitement in my stomach, telling me its a good day to pull my chair into the light by the window and get those paint tubes out. And not that that has been much the case either since, most of the year, I was able to paint outdoors (from March until about mid September, some days shading myself from glorious sunshine and, others, wrapped up warm under cloud cover…both equally enjoyable in their way). These were some of my happiest, most contented and spiritually productive times for a LONG time. Imagine, two to three hours lost in all the nuances of colour and light on canvas, otherwise spent listening to birdsong or, sometimes with headphones playing wonderful music (which I have never appreciated more than this year, as per my last post), equally content to feel the draught of their wings as they flew right past my head to get to the feeder… there could have been no more heavenly way to spend my time and it fed deep into my psyche and dreams, my general sense of optimism and wellbeing (I am still drawing on the riches of those sensory memories from the “outdoors months”).

This was not just me being in denial or hiding from the world. While I still heard, though I tried for my own stability not to get too drawn into it, that so many people were in meltdown and strife “out there”, I chose to stick to my own lane for my own mental and physical wellbeing, knowing it to be crucial that I keep my precarious health steady and that I would be no use to anyone if I fell apart. I sent my compassionate thoughts, shopped local and independent where I could, gave away what I could in my clear-outs and played the listening ear where needed…but mostly I kept from the mainstream news headlines with their finger on the dial of everyone’s emotions, and I pursued these daily rituals of painting, walking, photography and, oh yes, dancing!

Dancing was the big promise I always made to myself, finally delivered….how many years had I told myself that I still had some dance in me left? It began the day before my birthday, way back in April, with a tentative jiggle around to a song that particularly spoke to me and, since then, it has evolved hugely and I have danced virtually every day, often twice in a day. Even at times when I have had one of my Ehlers Danlos flare-ups and been in extreme pain, even when the stability and resilience of the very joints that hold me upright was in question, I have often managed to do some sort of movement to music that helped me to process through the pain and to keep my spirits up-spiralling, my body from locking-up. It has been nothing short of tremendous, one massive affirmation of my fullest-ever commitment to keep working at BEING in this human body of mine until I am a very old woman, regardless of the daily challenges and quite undefined by them.

The Foil for High Walls, 2020 – I really wanted to allude to what it takes to soften and transform the very high walls we tend to live with and surrounded by in our world and this flamboyant, somewhat unruly, creative and colourful floral display, which still has a cohesion all of its own, really did it for me. For contrast, imagine how such a high brick wall would look without it. and now consider how this applies to our world, both literally and metaphorically. In what ways could we soften our walls?⁠

The way light tends to be so attracted to natural, organic forms and then held thus amplified by them does all of the metaphorical work for me in this painting. While there are still undeniable depths and shadows, these only contribute to the overall effect and then, of course, the door through the wall is seldom covered over; in fact the organic so often leads the way towards it.⁠

There is something of that same spirit in the reason I returned to painting over digital. That perfectionist part of me, a long-time tripping point, is (at last) more comfortable with its human imperfections and limitations because they only highlight another layer of beauty via the vulnerability that is prepared to be authentic and sincere in its expression, warts and all. No longer reaching for the pristine, I am finally prepared to accept that, though I may still possess limitations, I can always reach for the very best that I can deliver, whether in my dancing, my art, my contributions to the world or my interactions with other people…just by simply offering up my best in that very moment. The result is so often a kind of beauty that, by design, eludes perfection because it is born of the human quality, and it is just such a quality that is now coming into ripeness, ready to be taken through the portal into the new era. We were never designed to become some flawless and uniform species, like mass-produced robots, as we step into our more futuristic selves (whatever the agenda driven advertising trends may try to impart to us), but to become more accepting of and gracious in the delivery of our sincerest human individualities and quirks. Painting unleashes my quirks and speaks most authentically from my heart, which is good for me and sometimes powerful for others, which is a bonus.

Light Will Always Find You, 2020 – what I wanted to get across was that light always has this way of coming to us, wherever we happen to be. The interior is meant to look quite shadowy or gloomy, a half-light in the middle of the day, yet that only makes the window’s radiance shine out all the more.

It also uplifts me, I won’t deny it, to register that more people have engaged with and purchased the products of my art this year than had been the case since I took the leap to leave high street galleries and put my business online several years ago (when my one favourite gallery closed and I realised I had lost the stamina to engage with any others…they can be notoriously hard work and commercially aggressive to deal with, which is not a good fit to the way my art is inspired). I won’t deny, the interim years have been a struggle and reduced my art back down to the level of a hobby but this year has seen a slight uptick and that tells me something about where people are putting their focus now…not so much towards the “trendy” aspirational but, perhaps, considering what they really value and want to surround themselves with on a daily basis, in their homes. When I create art, the driving force is to help people see a little bit of the beauty and radiance that I see in the world and, when that intention is reciprocated, it tells me that other people are also eager to see the light-tinged edges of this reality, which is so optimistic for me to notice. Though I won’t deny that 2020 themes have coloured my painting themes, its not been in the way you might expect and my optimism, as ever, shines though as per examples here.

Golden Breakthrough, 2020 – What came through was a desire to depict a kind of crack in realities and a first glimpse of a new golden reality, as it were, spilling in over the edges of the old, like molten gold. Obviously, its a view of dramatic clouds from a high up place but there is also a sense of looking down through clouds towards a golden earth, so you can have it either way…the main premise is one of great optimism and its interesting to me now that I painted it during a time of great fear and uncertainty in the world.⁠

This has also been the year I got my act together to open a more coherent online shop for my various art-related products and prints and that has gained some steady orders…not loads, but more than I had a year ago. Whilst I don’t do this expecting to gather a fortune or huge attention, nor are those things even a top ten incentive, it helps to be validated in your efforts by some sort of positive feedback and that seems to be coming, also via the licensing sales. It always fascinates me to see which parts of the world are responding most to my art; seems Germany is a hot-spot along with the USA more so than the UK but at least it is getting out there somewhere, plus I continue to receive some heartwarming feedback, and that is all I have ever wanted to do…put my positive spin out there into the world.

I could go on; there is so much good to say about 2020 though I know its not a positive stance (though a very common one amongst introverts, autistic people and highly sensitive types, some of whom have thrived in the slowing down of pace and ability to withdraw to the much-preferred domain of home over office – see some examples below). Certainly, for me, there has been an element of remembering to “come home to oneself” more often and remaining centred, this year. The world, as it was, seemed to be so dominantly geared for spinning us off our axis with all its distractions and demands and its a timely reminder, even for those who resisted the pull-back, that it all begins and ends with ourselves, our one true home, true north, the place where we create external realities with our attitudes and preoccupations. Some of us suspected this all along and, for us, it was a chance to newly thrive, with far less pressure or expectations from the outside whilst getting to work with what we do best; creating from our hearts.

The thing is, as a time for pause and recalibration (whatever we happen to think of it) I suspect its been a necessary year and though I haven’t lived in a bubble or had head in sand, I also haven’t chosen to allow my vibe to be dragged down by the news, have kept out of other peoples’ tail-spins, knowing these are more infectious than the virus itself and I have reminded myself, often, that I can only do what I can do. This is important to know: sometimes, just being the one to hold-up the positive vibe is THE most important thing we can contribute and very highly necessary in these unstable times. All too easy to join the majority plunging down into the mosh pit of panic and negativity, but to do so is to give away all of your power whereas holding up the light helps make sure there is still a brighter world to step into when we are all ready for it. Though we are a way from things slowing down or seeming less chaotic on the world stage (I give that at least another couple of years to run its course!), I do strongly suspect we are about to get into a different groove and I’m ready and eager for it….hoping we can all join each other there.

Some quotes from other 2020 thrivers:

About The Consolation of Nature: Spring in the Time of Coronavirus – Michael McCarthy, Jeremy Mynott and Peter Marren

Nature took on a new importance for many people when the coronavirus pandemic arrived, providing solace in a time of great anxiety – not least because the crisis struck at the beginning of spring, the season of light, growth, rebirth and renewal.

Three writers, close friends but living in widely separated, contrasting parts of the country, resolved to record their experiences of this extraordinary spring in intimate detail, to share with others their sense of the wonder, inspiration and delight the natural world can offer.

The Consolation of Nature is the story of what they discovered by literally walking out from their front doors.

The Coronavirus Pandemic and the Invisibility of Nature – Michael McCarthy

“Yet perhaps the most significant way of all in which nature has come back to us during the pandemic is that people have turned to it themselves. This was very noticeable in Britain, where, in a remarkable conjunction, the first lockdown coincided with the loveliest spring that has ever been recorded in the UK. The British spring of 2020 had more hours of sunshine, by a very substantial margin, than any previous recorded spring; indeed, it was sunnier than any previously recorded British summer except for three. It meant that, just as working life in the human world was hitting the buffers, life in the natural world was flourishing as never before, and this almost certainly intensified the renewed interest in nature from people seeking lockdown diversions. Their numbers, it is clear, were substantial.

The gift of lockdown for introverts:

For some of us, nearing half the population, we really do “do better” when we have more peace and quiet around us, less outside interference or demands and the chance to follow our own musings, from which we often do our best work.

Why lockdown is a gift for introverts like me, Jim Duffy:

Having spent decades having to put up with noisy people, this period of confinement is absolute heaven. I don’t believe that being an introvert is a handicap or ailment. No, it’s just a different way that we are wired up that leads us to seek the shelter of our own space and our own heads. And noisy, loud and extroverted folks cause us great pain. Not in a toothache way or slip and hurt a knee fashion. No, it’s more like a teacher scrapping her long nails slowly and deliberately down an old style blackboard that screeches at high pitch. This noise creates a judder right down the spine and almost makes one shiver. That is what it is like being on a train with loud and extroverted people. Excruciating.

There is method in the madness to how an introvert seeks solace in public spaces. They will of course be quiet and observe people or read or quietly listen to private music. No loud conservations on mobile phones like extroverts do, chewing the fat with people who are not even in the coffee shop.

Lockdown gift for people with autism:

I was overjoyed to shelter at home – Danielle Sullivan:

The pandemic has certainly been stressful for my family in a lot of ways, but it has completely reinvigorated me personally. I spend less time worrying about everyone else and more time on a schedule that I like…How could I fail to be grateful for such an opportunity?

…The world has slowed down to a pace we finally feel we can manage, after lifetimes of constant overwhelm….But before the virus, before isolation, I spent so much energy trying not to drown in a world that isn’t built for my energy style, and my sensory needs. There were so many obligations to other people that there wasn’t enough time for me.

Lockdown gift to HSPs:

Thriving during a pandemic as an HSP can be frought with challenges and may depend on whether you have family or trusted ones close to you and/or whether you get caught up in feeling all the increased agro and fear of uncertainties that is going on in the world outside your immediate surroundings. I have at least one HSP city-dwelling friend who felt overwhelmed and quite paranoid about going outside her door, even for walks, due to her sensitivities to all the negative vibes unleashed this year. However, in similar ways to the introverted personality type, there can be huge benefits to pulling back in to the home, as described by the HSP parent in this post An HSP mom turns covid surviving into covid surviving:

Being a Highly Sensitive mom can be overwhelming and exhausting when I have to be mentally available all the time. But this period that I’m able to spend with my family at home is allowing me to take a breath of fresh air and bring our lives down to a slower pace. Although we are not perfect at sticking to these new routines, it is so nice not having to be rushing out to soccer practise, or swimming, or any other of the commitments we all fill out lives with.  We get to just be home, play games, blow bubbles, and watch the sun go across the sky, and best of all we get to enjoying being a family.

The gift of lockdown to creatives:

The legibility of loneliness: Why the lockdown has been a gift to this designer of book covers. Describing his process, book cover designer Ahlawat Gunjan could equally be describing a truism of all of life’s dilemmas; they all come back to the subjective push pull and for that we really need valuable time alone, whether we are an artist or someone who would benefit from time spent getting to know themselves and their true purpose and priorities in life:

I realised that whether it’s work or real life, the real battle during designing a cover is the one you fight with yourself. And you have to do it, all alone. Every time I sit down to start a new project, the real dilemma that I face while designing is totally mine. There is a lot of internal push and pull between the variables.

The gift of lockdown for nature:

How lockdown as been a gift for Ganga (and there are many such stories):

The coronavirus lockdown may have forced us to stay indoors, but it’s been a boon for the environment. With industries shut and people staying indoors, nature seems to be in rejuvenation mode. Studies show how air qualities have improved and rivers are cleaner.

Nature got us through lockdown. Here’s how it can get us through the next one:

The natural world was available to us, even at such a traumatic time. It had not been thrown off course, it had not been knocked out by the pandemic, by this great world-historical event that was making 2020 a lost year in human affairs. At this time of chaos in the world of people, nature was a constant. The Covid-19 virus had wrecked, if only temporarily, so many human artefacts; it had stopped business, trade, travel, sport, education, entertainment and social gatherings of all kinds – but it hadn’t stopped the spring. In nature, 2020 was not a lost year. Just the opposite.

The lockdown gift of letting go of FOMO (fear of missing out):

This is a uniquely modern source of stress that my daughter mentioned to me during the time she locked down with us. She observed that she felt calmer and even happier because not only was she leading her chosen introvert lifestyle but she no longer felt subliminally anxious that her peers were doing things without her and that she was somehow out of the loop. During her school years, when she also preferred to be at home studying, pursuing her hobbies etc rather than endlessly out on the town with all the other girls her age, she had been plagued with dread that she was the odd one out but now she was able to relax that she was really no different to everyone else, for once.

Had things really got that superficial in the pre-lockdown world? Well, yes and the endless social media hosted comparison games of projecting yourselves “living your best life” to all and sundry had only fed the fire of it. Described in this article ‘Lockdown Relief’: Why some people are thriving during the pandemic:

There is also a group of people who are just feeling what experts have labelled “lockdown relief”. These are people who, pre-COVID, felt they had to constantly keep up appearances, demonstrate productivity, they had to be at every event, it was necessary for them to be seen, and found themselves feeling relieved that their internal need to perform was now moot.

Because they have been given permission to do what they want to do, they’ve discovered that this way of life was exhausting and unnecessary.

So many younger professionals who have been feeling happier during the pandemic say they have way less FOMO (fear of missing out), which is making it easier to focus on their own happiness and prioritizing their own interests.

Some families who lived an extremely busy and complex life before COVID found that the reduction in running around to various extra-curriculars was a major relief.

If all of those people who have felt, in various ways, some degree of relief in 2020 are to be accounted for, the world as it was clearly did not offer a true reflection of…or a place for…all these people, many of whom felt pressured into faking it in order to get on with their lives, but at what cost to their wellbeing and long-term health. As for nature, the very fact that human beings’ loss has been nature’s gain speaks volumes!

One feels there is so very much to learn from all of these “other sides of the coin” and, if we can all do that, pooling the information and building new methods and priorities from it as we reconstruct our post covid world, we will have gained very much indeed from what has been such an unforgettable year.

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