Virtual adolescent on summer break

— For Fran who is as fascinated as I am by this subject, and anyone else who sees a reflection here.  Perhaps surprisingly to myself anyway, I wrote most of this several weeks ago, and the messages/learning keep coming.

About a year ago I wrote a post called ‘Virtual adolescent’.  I reflected on how internet life and interactions are new to us still and evolving. We are all adolescents online at best, and it often feels like we are children.   If anything, I’ve got a little younger online since then.  Sometimes I find the vulnerability of life on the internet breathtaking.  I think we develop coping strategies in 3D life and may be disarmed virtually.  Uncomfortable maybe, but on balance a good thing. 

This year I had the first summer break since I was a student.  Not planned, just the way things worked out.  When I was a student, summer break meant working in a department store, restaurant, or office.  I liked these short-term arrangements, they were so different from how life was the rest of the time, and they gave a window into other ways of living.  I met new people, got things done, made money, socialised, read the books I wanted to read, and had fun.  Somehow life seemed simpler if also more superficial.   The superficiality was ok because I knew it was for a self-contained time.

I felt free to connect with people and experiences in these summer breaks, knowing the connections would be short-lived, so consequences were unlikely to matter much or at all.  These assumptions were largely unconscious and not necessarily correct.  Occasionally they backfired.  Things sometimes went wrong, but not in a big way, and they were almost immediately overcome and apparently forgotten when so-called ‘real life’ resumed in the autumn.

Interacting in the virtual world can be like being on summer break.  In the virtual world we can behave in ways that we might choose not to, or think better of, in our embodied lives.  In our lives off-screen, we make different choices perhaps because the protocols are different and we’ve learned how to behave, to respect others and ourselves, or maybe because we know we have to deal with consequences.  To some extent at least, I like to think we’re grown ups. 

In the virtual world, people make quick connections and equally there may be quick unconnections.  We come and go as we like, we delete our own and others’ comments, we can react quite suddenly, both warmly and fiercely.   You can get a rapid high in a virtual interaction, and almost immediately a sudden plunging low.  It’s a little like a roller coaster.  You can feel you know someone quite well, and then realise you hardly know them at all.

All of these phenomena have their counterparts in embodied life, but online the rich fabric of human interactions is reduced to a kind of virtual starkness.  We are all strangers in a strange land with our sometimes few, often many, virtual ‘friends’.

Those of us who inhabit a virtual world are making our own choices about how we navigate connections and separations, what we consider care and courtesy, what we find acceptable.  We’re making up the rules as we go along.  We might be happy about our own intepretations, but others might have a different view. 

My various online experiences this summer and autumn have led me to reflect on what I wrote about Virtual Adolescence last year:

‘Do I trust those who might come across me online to behave with respect and care? Do I have real relationships with the people I know online only and with some of whom I discuss issues of the deepest importance to me? I think I do, but these are relationships that can be discarded at the flick of a switch without any real consequences or repercussions in daily life. People you think you are connected with can disappear or just suddenly not respond, and you are left hanging/wondering. You could say this is a lesson in learning how not to be attached – but at the other extreme it might become an experience of carelessness towards others and even perhaps oneself. The ambiguous and uncertain status of these connections must have some effect on the psyche and on how we relate to others and ourselves. I don’t quite know what that effect is.’

Now I think I know better the effect – it can cut to the quick, and it does leave me (you too?) feeling vulnerable.  Some people would say, as if to an angst-ridden adolescent, ‘get a grip!  What is all the fuss about?  It’s only a trivial online exchange, it isn’t real life.’  But I think there’s more to it than that.  Online exchanges are as real as we let them be, and the phrase ‘real life’ is pretty meaningless.  Everything in life is as real as anything else, isn’t it?

And experiences of trusting and feeling let down are as real online as they are face-to-face, it’s just that you can pretend to yourself they are less important because you don’t have to look them in the eye.

Trust is not something you turn on and off like a tap or faucet. It is there until it isn’t, or not there until it is.

In the virtual world you have none of the texture of embodied interactions to reassure and help you.  You have the intonation of a Facebook comment to give you an insight into who you are with.  You can pin a lot on a word or a ‘like’, and you can feel total rejection through a deletion or a blanking of your comment.  All the quirks of who you are, your past experience and innate tendencies, can be activated.  It’s a great opportunity to observe these and try and separate your Self from them, and it can be uncomfortable.

For me, it has become an interesting exploration into the relationship of freedom and connection.

I don’t mind feeling like an adolescent again, maybe even being one.  It certainly makes me more awake deep inside; and it reminds me of questions that I have apparently grown out of.  Those questions are still and always there. 

Posted in connections, friendships, groups, internet life, yoga | 6 Comments

In the shadow of a moment

— For Madhu and Viv

Sometimes, in a life, there may be a single moment out of time, when a connection occurs that is breathtaking.  It leaves you speechless and you feel your will bows to something greater than itself.

A moment so remarkable that it makes you stop in your tracks and rise out of your self. 

This is a moment when the psyche connects with itself and also with something/ everything outside of itself.  You could call such an experience a moment of impersonal awareness.  It is so awe-inspiring that you cannot forget it.

If you have had one or more of these moments, then you’ll know what I mean.  And if you haven’t, then just think of a time when you’ve been struck or commanded to deep reverence and silence.  The energy of such moments is very special.  For some musicians I know it might be the moment of a deep connection with their music and  their audience.  Or it could be a time of connection in nature.

There is a particular energy in such a moment – it is hard to put into words, but you feel it inside of you and all around you.  In my experience, having such a moment in mind, the energy lasted for hours, and even now several years on, I can reactivate the lingering reverberation.  I felt a separation between my awareness and my body in this moment of connection – and as my body moved away, carried passively by the car I was driving and somehow could not stop, my spirit stayed and part of me is still there.

I would not be without such a moment.  It brings a different quality to your life. 

There are moments of such experience of different intensity – some mild and pleasing, others moderate and stronger, some intense and even overwhelming.  This last category can be so potent its effect lingers for a very long time, possibly even a lifetime.

Who would not be without such moments?  If you have had any experience at all like what I am describing, then you will know how difficult it is not to become attached to such an experience, let alone overwhelmed by it.  This is particularly true of the most potent variety.

It gives you a feeling of certainty, of connectedness within and without, of direction and support.  Without thinking or meaning to, you invest what was within that moment – the place, sounds, smells, feelings, people – with an importance that cannot be denied.

You can build a path forward from such a moment, which keeps that direction and support alive.  You trust in its inner rightness, you have an inner faith.

But then, fast forward.  The world gets involved in the conversation.  You start to suspect that the experience might have been an illusion, possibly the fruit of your seeking psyche in need; or that the experience may have given rise to further illusions.  Does that matter?  Does it affect the integrity of the experience itself or the reaction it has triggered? 

The world and your mind get in the way to undermine it, like taking in a pure gold ring to be valued and finding out it’s really cheap metal.  All this interference is like rust on a ring, that obscures its original purity and light.  You are no longer as purely connected to that experience.  The memory is still there to be activated, but you find it hard to maintain your faith with all these increasingly resistant overlays, layers of paint covering the original walls.

So you feel a little uneasy and disappointed, maybe cheated.  Over time these feelings are likely to intensify rather than diminish.  You might feel devastated, deeply disappointed,  even abandoned or deceived.  Ultimately you may feel bereaved, as you will feel that you have lost something so precious.  Something that you were not grasping on to, and trying to preserve, but something which was just there, just something that happened.  You did not seek it or chase it, it came to you, as strong and steady as a glance. 

It is hard not to feel such strong emotions when you have invested so much, involuntarily, in the response to this unplanned, unexpected treasure of a moment’s experience. 

Perhaps you invested too much, because it was only a moment.  Yet moments out of time, extraordinary moments, are hard to treat as mundane.  They have a larger than life quality that commands your obedience and respect. 

How can you hold on to that essential feeling even when you see that the moment too has its shadow?  Should you even try?

Indeed the shadow of the moment is where you reside.  From the shadow you can see the light, in the light you are simply blinded.

However, if you stay in this place, this dark and disappointed place, you can only become diminished.  The person you are, the awareness you felt you had connected with, is suffocated and killed.  You end up feeling less than you were.  You and it are lost.

It was your experience, it still is.  No matter what else, it always is.  Only if you can realise that the essential integrity of the original experience is unperturbed, unruffled, untroubled by the noise of everyday life, maybe even by truth – then, despite the rust, overcoming doubt, you can perhaps still unlock the door to the secret garden.

‘It was the sweetest, most mysterious-looking place any one could imagine.  The high walls which shut it in were covered with the leafless stems of climbing roses which were so thick that they were matted together…All the ground was covered with grass of a wintry brown and out of it grew clumps of bushes which were surely rose-bushes if they were alive.  There were numbers of standard roses which had so spread their branches that they were like little trees.  There were other trees in the garden, and one of the things which made the place look stranges and loveliest was that climbing roses had run all over them and swung down long tendrils which made light swaying curtains, and here and there they had caught at each other or at a far-reaching branch and had crept from one tree to another and made lovely bridges of themselve.  There were neither leaves nor roses on them now and Mary did not know whether they were dead or alive, but their thin gray or brown branches and sprays looked like a sort of hazy mantle spreading over everything, walls, and trees, and even brown grass, where they had fallen from their fastenings and run along the ground.  It was this hazy tangle from tree to tree which made it all look so mysterious.  Mary had thought it must be different from other gardens which had not been left all by themselves so long; and indeed it was different from any other place she had ever seen in her life.’

                          –    from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Posted in connections, dreams, Jung, special places, yoga | 17 Comments

A birthday gift: a lesson in karma

I had the most unexpected and wonderful birthday gift arrive late on the evening of my birthday.  It was almost over, strictly speaking.  I am not a huge birthday person, I think it’s in my genes from my father.  Anyway, I was checking my e-mails and there was one called ‘Happy Birthday’ from a name I didn’t recognise.  I was intrigued but not very, having received a strange birthday e-mail earlier in the day from a hotel in the Middle East.  That took me back in time but not nearly as far as this one.

The mysterious e-mail was from one of my oldest friends who I’d fallen out of contact with nearly 35 years ago.  I couldn’t remember much about why this had happened except I’ve gradually fallen out of touch with most people from those days over the years.

What really moved me was that my old friend remembered my birthday after all this time!  Her message was brief and to the point, and for me there was a lot of emotion in it:

‘I was thinking of you today because it is your birthday.  I think of you from time to time and am wondering why we lost touch.
If you wish to write me back, it would be nice to catch up briefly.
I hope you are well.’

For me this was the best birthday gift I could ever imagine – to receive this message from someone I had been close to, from my past.  I felt reconnected, I felt somehow that I still existed, all over again; that this person should have remembered my birthday after such a long gap!  My response was all about me.

 

I have had those feelings myself about others – ‘wondering why we lost touch’.  Sometimes because it was a difficult situation, it was easier to ‘lose touch’ than discuss the difficulties.  Other times just carelessness or…what?  Losing touch means we never have a chance to say goodbye to what was, if it is goodbye, or carry on with what now is.  I dislike that phrase ‘people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime’ – it’s too pat and simplistic, and also very dismissive, as another friend and I were discussing only recently.

When I thought about my old friend, I remembered things, they flooded back in images.  I remembered listening to Carol King, James Taylor and Carly Simon in her bedroom when I went to visit.  Her family was better off than mine and she lived in a nice house in a nicer neighbourhood.  I remembered her father who everybody loved, he was such a kind man, a rabbi.  I remembered the rest of her family too, as I got to know them quite well.  Her mother quite evidently came from a wealthy background and, although well-intentioned and gracious, I found her stern good manners intimidating. 

Specifically I remembered my friend’s handwriting which was large and loopy, quite flamboyant and exuberant.  We wrote each other long letters nearly every day during the summer holidays.  I remembered the much older man she was in love with, it was all very complicated, and I remembered when she went to see him on the other side of the country surreptitiously.  I also remembered her writing in my yearbook something about us having grown apart but still always being friends.  I just vaguely remembered some distance developing between us, we were moving in different directions.

She wrote me some words in her next e-mail about what she remembered – the name of the son of an old family friend, music, school, where I lived.  I suggested that we expand on these words and memories as they were overlapping but different and it would be interesting to compare; to explore what we chose to remember consciously and what we unconsciously chose to forget. 

She wrote back that she remembered our letters too (how could we forget our epic efforts?), mutual friends, our respective loves, and the name of a madrigal: ‘April is in my Mistress’ Face’.

Then she wrote:

‘I recall that you and I lost touch and you suddenly did not reply to my letters…at least that’s my memory.  I had a feeling it was quite intentional, and have wondered all these years what precipitated it.  I know we were not as close later on but I have fond memories of the years that we were and all of our antics and shared passions… I remember your laugh, your handwriting, all the talks about your weekend in Palm Springs …and so many other things, including, obviously, your birthday.

‘I would love to know if you had a reason for cutting off our communication because truly, it has befuddled me these many years later and was at the time very painful for me to be shunned.  I figured I must have done something unknowingly upsetting to you.’

I was quite horrified to read this – the perfect gift had a sting in its tail. 

The language stung me – ‘it was quite intentional’, ‘very painful to be shunned’.

I read her words and thought first and I still think: There was no reason.  Or if there was, it wasn’t important enough for me to remember.   Or I’ve blocked it because it made me uncomfortable.  The truth is that I don’t know what it was that I did or why I did it, but I know I must have done something.  I remember vaguely just feeling the connection wasn’t there anymore.  And I reflect that this is a pattern, something I can see has happened more than twice, and also that others might recognise it.  If a connection subsides, I just move on.  I let myself be carried away.

 

 

I know I’m not the only person to ‘manage change’ in this way. 

You might even recognise this pattern in yourself.   

However, the utter selfishness of this behaviour struck me in the face as I read this e-mail from someone who had mattered so much in my long-ago past.  What commitment or compassion did I show this friend to whom I was so close for a time, and with whom I shared so much?

My friend still felt some painful effect, after 35 years, and enough to have wanted to contact me to find out and solve the mystery.  Was she aware that her birthday greetings had an unpleasant underside for me? I felt the overriding need of her wanting to heal her wound, a wound that I had thoughtlessly caused and long since forgotten.

I feel ashamed – but not devastated. 

This sting in the tail might have a silver lining.   It’s a lesson in karma – ‘what you sow so shall you reap’.  Timing is everything and in a way I’m pleased to have been given this ‘gift’ of uncomfortable feedback, maybe taking some of my own medicine.  With this friend at least, I have a chance to change the situation, leaving it resolved differently and/or transforming it into something else.  And with others?

The pattern of moving on when it suits, remains tempting.  It always will  – it’s an escape route, a relatively painless exit strategy.   Yet we all make our choices, and I won’t do it again.

Posted in connections, friendships, Jung, Uncategorized, yoga | 6 Comments

Coming or going?

When you are going somewhere you love and you know it’s the last time, you look at it differently, with great care and attention.  You want to take it all in.  You want to imprint it on your mind’s eye so you can savour it later.  Maybe you take photographs, hoping that they will capture some small element of the sense and feeling of the place. 

But life is not a photo album, and pictures may become a way of grasping at past experience, trying to hold on to it.

I had this experience recently when I went to a garden for the very last time.  Now I know I won’t go back because it’s closed forever.  And even if in the unlikely event it opens again, it will be a different place.

I knew I wouldn’t go back when I arrived, there was no uncertainty and I was prepared, so I wasn’t exactly sad.  But it was a perfect day, the sun was out, no clouds in the sky, the roses were all in bloom.  It was quiet, with only a few other visitors.  So there was a feeling of saying goodbye to something that was as close to perfect as you could imagine.  Even with a few faded blossoms, it could not have been anything more than it was.  I would not have changed a note, a colour, a leaf, a blossom.

And I felt in that moment a strong longing mingled with quiet acceptance.  I could say goodbye – without sorrow or holding on to the past.  Maybe take a few pictures, though I would rarely look at them.  Like other gardens I have visited, it would be there inside of me to remember with deep fondness.  And in remembering it, I would be in that place of beauty, peace and near-perfection just for a moment. 

Every time you leave someone who matters where there is a risk of it being the last time -perhaps an elderly parent – you brace yourself and maybe give the farewell that extra edge of attention, care and love. Or maybe you don’t.  Every time I hang up from my weekly phone call with my father, part of me wonders if I will speak to him again. And, invariably, I am conscious of the gross imperfections of our communication, what I don’t say to him and how I say what I do, as well as how he communicates. It will never be much better and sometimes it’s a lot better than other times. It is as it is, much as it always has been, good enough, with the characteristic quirks that any relationship develops over time.

I don’t know if I’m saying goodbye till next week or Goodbye. I always remember the last phone conversation I had with my mother before she died and what she said and the tone of her voice. Nothing out of the ordinary, but the last time gives it a special resonance in memory anyway.  And I remember wondering then, is this It?

When something or someone really matters, perhaps you always have that edge of awareness that ‘this could be it’.  You’re not taking it for granted, you’re valuing it, even if that internal valuing doesn’t always translate into words or behaviour.  You’re on that knife edge, wondering.  You’re not over-anxious that this is it, you just feel it might be.

Sometimes you go somewhere and you have the feeling that it might be the last time even though you really don’t want it to be.  You don’t know why.  For reasons you don’t fully understand, you feel that it might be.  And then you realise it was the last time already, and you missed it, something has changed.  You feel there is something else there, as palpable as another person, in-between; things that will not be revealed or discussed, now complicated by the interventions of others.

And when you arrive, it all goes wrong, or that’s how it feels.  Or maybe what happens is right.  It isn’t the last time, but everything is not all right – is it?

It just is.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.


Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half heard, in the stillness
Between the two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always–
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

   –T S Eliot, Little Gidding V

Posted in connections, Jung, special places, yoga | 6 Comments

Ego attack

Some people have panic attacks, asthma attacks, an attack of hay fever, even terrifyingly, heart attacks.  All people have ego attacks.   It’s the human condition, it’s unavoidable.  Sometimes life seems like one perpetual Ego Attack.

These other ‘attacks’ tend to have a start and a finish.  We are all subject to ego attacks and, arguably, they go on forever, perhaps intermittently and sometimes continuously.  It’s hard to tell the difference, and it’s probably when we think we’re most free of them, that we’re suffering most.  Maybe, sometimes, ignorance is bliss – that is if you want to stay stuck in the mire.

The truth of this came home to me recently.  I was observing some other egos quivering and pulsating in quite an unattractive manner (the image I have is of internal organs throbbing).  I even got caught in their crossfire, and then, suddenly, I saw my own, provoked by something on the side – just when I thought it was a little bit more manageable and even on the mend. 

The slippery ego, it gets you when you’re not looking.  Looking back on it now, I can see that it was coming on, creeping over me, lurking, like when you’re getting ill and you don’t notice the symptoms until you can’t ignore them any longer.  That little catch in the throat becomes a full-blown sore throat and a hacking cough.

Every time my ego rears its head I try and sit on it or ride out the storm.  It’s a first impulse, to curb the ebullient ego, but sometimes I think it’s better to give in, to go with the flow.  If you can’t fight him, join him, just for the moment.  The ego is quite a controller, he likes to run the show.  But his moment will pass.

Laurel Long

The indomitable ego – every time you try and shoot him down, he gets up and walks away again, intact.  He is irrepressible, like the Incredible Hulk.

Sometimes I like to think of the ego as a ‘he’ – that makes me (my ego) feel better, it gives me a surge of strength.  But other times I am quite sure the ego is a ‘she’ and, I shrink back, the word that comes to mind is ‘shrew’.

In the middle of an ego attack, you feel it deepest in your gut, but it also corrodes your heart and agitates your mind.  It has an all over body-mind-heart effect.  When you get stirred up by the ego, you can really let it engulf you, you feel sucked into a churning vortex with no bottom, kind of like a dream where you’re falling and you never hit the ground.

And every time you think it’s gone quiet, it gets agitated again.  The rational part of you knows this is ridiculous, but that has no effect. 

The feeling of ‘I am’ is irrepressible. 

While we need our ego to function in the world, unchecked it connects us with our lower urges, our hopes for material satisfactions and our insecurities.  Yet stirring up the ego to let it not win, is the only way.

‘Only to the extent that man exposes himself over and over again to annihilation, can that which is indestructible arise within him. In this lies the dignity of daring.

Thus the aim of spiritual practice is not to develop a state of harmony and peace wherein nothing can ever trouble him. On the contrary, such practice should teach him to let himself be challenged: assaulted, perturbed, moved, insulted, broken and battered – that is to say it should enable him to dare to let go his ego: his futile hankering after harmony, surcease from pain, and a comfortable life in order that he may discover, in doing battle with the forces that oppose him, that which awaits him beyond the world of opposites.’

from The Way of Transformation by Karlfried Graf Von Durckhe

In order to let go the ego, you have to be with the ego through all its pulsations and tortuous writhings.  Accepting it isn’t easy, there is a brutal honesty in acknowledging these feelings of the grasping and bruised ego, which takes a lot of strength.  Sitting there in the moment with those feelings which really you would rather suppress and ignore, isn’t pleasant, it isn’t easy, especially when there are contradictions and conflicts within, the giving up of something in the hope of something other. 

‘It is not easy to understand that the purpose of spiritual training is to help the human being to control, to diminish the ego…The taming of the ego is a painful process.  It is a crucifixion.  One does not lose anything, or get rid of anything.  “You cannot become anything else but what you already are,” said Carl Jung.  We just learn to control our lower self and it becomes our servant, not our master.  The master is the Real Us, our soul, and the real wisdom is in the soul.’  (Irina Tweedie, introduction to The Serpent and the Lover by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee)

The ego is the trickster.  He has a kind of blatant and sometimes latent guile.  He is not subtle, though he can seem to be subdued or even absent.  It’s then he will attack. 

The ego can be a great teacher, but only if you realise you can’t fully trust him which leads to an uneasy relationship or truce.  You can learn a lot but it’s never comfortable.

The ego is the shadow.  Hans Christian Andersen wrote a fairy tale where the ego becomes the leader and the self the follower.  This can happen if we give too much of our power over and become unconsciously enslaved to the ego.

Analysis cannot soothe the ego.  Sometimes you can see beyond the ego’s moment, but when you’re in it, even with that double vision, if his grip is intense, it can be hell.

Is it possible to befriend the ego?  Or is that a dangerous notion?

The golden eagle by Lilo Fromm

Can you stroke his ruffled feathers, can you use compassion to comb through the tangled responses, can you realise how petty and meaningless the provocations are? Even if the ego were satisfied, the outcome would be temporal and of no lasting benefit. 

Ego has the will to survive, he is Darwinian, and he operates competitively towards ‘survival of the fittest’.  Ego is most provoked when his capacity to survive and to be on top is threatened.  He feels most safe when others suffer.

And yet it is possible to feel great tenderness for the ego, for my ego and for yours.

The Good Ego

The ego may be a doorway or a gate to something other, as the ego is connected to a deeper sense of wholeness in the self.  I believe this because I have experienced it.  Perhaps ironically, the ego’s own resistances can protect and connect us to a deeper sense of Self.

‘When ego is aligned with the objects of the world, there is a veil of attachments which blocks the realization of the Self. When ego is aligned with the Self, that same ego is a tremendous source of determination for realization of that Self.’

– Swami Jnaneshvara

Posted in connections, Jung, yoga | 4 Comments

‘The Time Garden’

 

‘The garden was long and rectangular, and every bloom of June brightened its borders.  Fragrance hung on the air, birds sang, and from somewhere nearby came a drowsy, humming sound.

‘”The murmur of innumerable bees,” said Ann, who was liking poetry and big words that year.

‘”Though I don’t see any immemorial elms,” said Roger, who was the family nature-lover.  “That’s a copper beech.” He pointed to the end of the garden.

‘Beyond the copper beech was another opening in the boxwood hedge. And in the opening stood a sundial.

‘”Look,” said Ann, going closer. “There’s something written on it, down at the bottom.”

‘”Don’t bother,” said Eliza. “It’ll just say ‘It is later than you think.’ They always do.”

‘”If they don’t say ‘I count only the sunny hours”’, said Jack.

‘But Ann and Roger had never seen a real sundial before, and Ann had to be shown how it worked, and Roger, who had read all about sundials in a book, showed her. Then they bent over the base of the pedestal. The lettering was old and crumbly and hard to read, but Roger finally made it out.

‘”It says…” He broke off and looked at the others. “It says ‘Anything can Happen!”’

‘”That isn’t all,” said Ann, who had wandered around to the back of the sundial. “The lettering goes on, around here. It says…” She leaned over to make out the final words. “It says, ‘Anything Can Happen When You’ve All the Time in the World!'”

from The Time Garden by Edward Eager

A garden is a place where I feel I have all the time in the world, where I feel just maybe anything can happen – the place where I feel most peaceful and a sense of contentment.  Contentment on the edge, so very different from complacency. 

Not just any garden, but many will do.

No illusions here.  I am not really a gardener, just as I am not a painter, but I appreciate the fruits of the gardener’s labour just as I love to look at art. 

The other day I found myself with spare hours in a town where I did not really want to be. By chance I had seen that a large garden nearby that I knew well was closing to the public in two months.  Up until that time it would be open every day, unattended….an irresistible invitation, with time on my hands.

I had a hunch it would be nearly deserted and my hunch was proved correct.  Not having been there for a few years, I had to follow my nose to find it.  As I came up the winding drive I remembered the day there had been a kingfisher flying round and round the lake.  No sign today.  The place was still.  When I got to the car park, there were two other cars there and as I sat and wondered, a woman with a dog appeared, got in one of the cars and drove off – so just me and the gardener’s van.

Going in through the hedge arch, the roses were all still there – a little drooping and blowsy after the strong showers and blustery winds but scent intact and buds just opening, promising a good season.

I made my way through each room, comparing it in my memory’s eye with how it had been in the past, in full glory.  Then up the borders and up the steep stone steps to the grass walkway above. 

And then the short woodland walk, pushing upwards to the clearing and the footpath which I knew would make me lost if I followed it beyond the garden’s boundary.  Two more amazing lakes, moorhens and swans – and not a soul in sight!

The place had the feel of an ending.  It was semi-deserted – only a gardener in the far distance.  All the plants and flowers were not just past this year’s best, but past the garden’s former glory.  It was tended minimally, no longer with the zeal that had once been evident.  The loving care was fading.

This all appealed to me.  I made my way back to a wooden bench I remembered in the thyme garden near the chives and sat down to read.  I was tempted to eat a chive flower, but I felt that would be stealing.  A few pages along I could no longer concentrate.  My eye was drawn to the waving stalks around me, the clock on the house above me, the sun chasing clouds higher still.  The corner where my bench was felt perfect.  I could have stayed there all day only I had to watch the clock.  Another minute or five…I knew it would be a rush when I left, but time stood still while I was there.  I felt I had all the time in the world, and nothing would happen.

The garden here reminded me of other gardens I have loved – Burnt Norton where there also was a deserted rose garden.   

Ickwell Bury which was the most peaceful garden I have known, and which went to rack and ruin within a year of being reluctantly and resistingly left. 

Rousham which somehow keeps its feeling of untouched solitude.

 

And wild gardens in Los Angeles stretching down to the sea.

”From where they stood a bank led down to the sea, and the bank was all covered with little flat creeping plants that flowed over rock ledge and turned boulders to flowers cushions, for the plants were studded all over with tiny starry blossoms, purple and lavender and white.  The smell of the bank was like all the sweetness and spice of the world mixed together.  And it was here that the innumerable bees hummed.’

As I sat in the large deserted garden, soaking up the windy atmosphere, I appreciated the warmth in and around me. I realised it was a special feeling. I love fields, I love the view from a hill – but perhaps I am too domesticated a creature at heart. Sitting in a protected nook in a garden is for me a more reassuring place to be. Here it is possible to find contentment: ‘the ability to be comfortable with what we have and what we do not have’ (Desikachar, the Heart of Yoga, commentary on Yoga Sutras, 2.32).  The ability both to hold and let go both.

In the moment of observing it, it might lapse towards complacency or edge towards anticipation and anxiety as the clock ticks above me. But just in that moment is a feeling that ‘anything can happen when you have all the time in the world’.  And that nothing can happen too.  And that they are equally alright.  There is no desire, no grasping, no need.

What are the qualities of these gardens that hold a special place in my heart?

They need not be large gardens as those I mention here happen to be.  A small garden can have as potent an effect.

The gardener’s dedicated and loving effort, their close attention and care, are evident in all these gardens.  This is an essential ingredient.

These gardens have history and this gives them depth.  These are gardens that have grown up with patience over time, not quick or brash growth that has been forced, and not for showy effect.  They have colour but subtlety.  There is a sense of deep rootedness and the willingness to wait. 

I warm to gardens that are past their prime, that may be suffering benign neglect or even moving towards indifference.  The care that once was there is still visible, but they are not being closely tended.  They may be a little overgrown and there is a feeling of going to seed – yet not quite gone.  There are plants still thriving, some may be struggling; plants that have outlived the gardener’s plan, and are into their afterlife.

All of these are for me essential qualities to create a place where I can feel contentment.  In such a place I can consider what is and what is not, and take it as it comes, or doesn’t.  In such a space I feel acceptance, and I also find my best ideas come to me without effort.

Such a garden is a magical place.  I feel that nothing needs to happen yet anything and everything can happen.  I feel a pull not to leave, not to move, just to be and absorb.  I feel expectant without having any expectation.  This is magic.

‘But in the garden the sun still shone.  The innumerable bees hummed.  The scent of thyme hung on the air.  But only the Natterjack was there to breathe the fragrant essence of it.

He and the garden were waiting.  They were waiting for more children.  They didn’t care how long they waited.  They had all the time in the world.’

The Time Garden – The End

 

Posted in special places, yoga | 14 Comments

Throw away your secrets, throw away yourself

‘Anything concealed is a secret. The possession of secrets acts like a psychic poison that alienates their possessor from the community.

All personal secrets … have the effect of sin or guilt, whether or not they are, from the standpoint of popular morality, wrongful secrets.

All of us are somehow divided by our secrets but instead of seeking to cross the gulf on the firm bridge of confession, we choose the treacherous makeshift of opinion and illusion.’

Carl Jung, Collected Works – volume 16, pp. 55-60

If you come to know something about someone – either the future, or the past, or some other things – give help where it is needed and then forget; throw it behind you. And do not disclose it; otherwise it will be taken from you and the self will never go. And if the self remains there will be no spiritual life. But, by throwing away, you are not the doer. … Throw away everything….

‘…forgetfulness is the great qualification. Not in the sense of forgetting what one needs to know in the moment, but in the sense of forgetting what ought to be forgotten.’

Irina Tweedie, Chasm of Fire

‘Write injuries in sand, kindnesses in marble.’
~ French Proverb

‘Spiritual development starts where individuation ends.’ This is what Irina Tweedie says somewhere, and this is what someone I don’t know and will never meet again said to me as we were walking out of a seminar together. I had to think hard about it, and still am thinking. It makes more sense to me day by day, and is changing my view of self-development.

Individuation is about developing a healthy sense of self, along with self-respect. Most people endorse self-respect as an important goal, yet there is a view that it may prove an obstacle in spiritual development, which is potentially quite shocking. Most of us value and endorse well-being, self-respect, and self-esteem. It can be unsettling to see them in another light.

This post is about remembering and forgetting, it is about secrets, whether to tell or not to tell, and their effect on the psychological and spiritual development of the self. These are a group of thoughts that have come together, not completely clearly, in my mind right now.

Memory – having it and losing it

When you have a good memory, especially when you’ve taken it for granted over a lifetime, then forgetting is hard. It’s hard when you forget involuntarily because you’re not used to it, so it shocks and scares you. It’s a precursor of oblivion. You feel like you’re losing something vital. We use the phrase ‘losing it’, the ‘it’ being your sense of self and ultimately your life.

So forgetting voluntarily seems like a crazy thing to want to do. It isn’t a life skill that we’re trained to develop, although we might easily parrot ‘forgive and forget’, but there’s often a self-righteousness in that admonition. You’re not really forgetting, you’re just taking the higher moral ground.

People talk about having ‘purges’ – they throw away all their clutter, and then they go out and accumulate more. They fast to clear out the system for the next intake. Similarly they collect memories, as they collect objects, as a kind of barricade against oblivion.

Forgetting is easier said than done. It is all too easy to have the occasional lapse and forget what we need to remember, in functional life, in the moment. Yet it is rarely easy to forget what would be better forgotten: the things we know, have been told, have inadvertently discovered, that hold us hamstrung in the moment – the things that sometimes perhaps we would be better off never knowing.

In psychological self-development, memories are a rich resource, raw materials from which we make sense of who we are, why we are as we are, and ultimately who we want to be and become. In spiritual development, memories may be an obstacle, something that holds us back simply by reinforcing our sense of personal self.

Throw away everything

The admonition ‘throw away everything‘ is a radical step beyond and out of the pattern of accumulating and disposing.

Can you ever throw away everything?

In life, can the self ever go – for more than passing moments? Memory is one of the defining qualities of the self. Can we let go all memories while still in this world? A smell, particularly, can bring back so vividly another time.

We treasure our memories, and sometimes are haunted by them. Often we hold onto even our painful memories. My memories are what makes me ‘me’. They define me; and yet I also know they hold something back.

While there is memory, the personal self remains. Most waking moments I do not want to lose my personal self.

Or do I?

Why would you want to lose your self?

Losing yourself

‘…When you don’t lose yourself, a fly can fell you

When you lose yourself, elephants fall before you

When you don’t lose yourself, you’re a cloud of grief

When you lose yourself, mist and fog parts for you

When you don’t lose yourself, the beloved turns away

When you lose yourself, the sweetest wine comes your way

When you don’t lose yourself, you’re as dispirited as autumn

When you lose yourself, your January is like spring’

– Rumi

Secrets – to tell or not to tell

Jung suggests that psychological wholeness cannot be achieved if secrets remain undisclosed. Secrets are powerful memories, unshared. The principle of openness is fundamental to psychological health and development. Confession is set against illusion and opinion and, by implication, deception.

Confession is a principle deeply embedded in the Western psyche – the need to confess, the virtue in confessing, and the rewards that lie beyond confession. Confession may offer the reward of absolution of guilt and shame.

Confessing is set against withholding. What about another polarity – confessing and forgetting? Or does that challenge our moral code too deeply?

Surely there are things to forget, about ourselves and others. They are there. If you tell someone what you wish to forget, what would be better forgotten, you offload and you burden, and then it sticks with you as well as becoming part of them. You can’t be free of it. You may tell to shed and share, to clear the decks, confess and move beyond – but, paradoxically, the act of telling means it stays with you even more. Repeating something is deepening the groove of remembrance.

If you don’t tell, maybe we can forget.

‘What I wanted to forget was emblazoned on my mind – like a mark on the forehead. It was always there, what I had been told, what I had not wanted to hear but could not refuse to listen to. Perhaps it was etched deeper because I had had to listen so carefully to absorb it, and there was no written record. The effort of a memory not quite as skilled as it once was, nevertheless left an effect that could not be removed.

And then I became aware that everything I had heard and remembered about the other, about the future, was also about my self, about my past, about the present. I could lose the other in my self, just as I could lose my self in the other. Everything that I wished to forget about the other, was what I wished not to see – to forget – about myself. My fear of the other was a fear of myself. In remembering all this about the other, I was forgetting my self.

This was not the right kind of self-forgetting. A better term for it was self-deceiving. It was not throwing away everything. It was storing everything in cardboard boxes in the basement and feeling happy that the house was empty – having a nice clean office with drawers crammed full of unorganised papers. I could only keep up the pretense because I didn’t have to go down there very often.

So, in the first stage, this was about the shadow, and me projecting my shadow onto the other. But then, at the point beyond, it was about me somehow letting go my memory of what I had been told of the other and what I knew about myself, and in so doing, losing my self.’

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Testing, testing 1, 2, 3

What I love about a home concert is that the musicians just turn up, set up, have a quick rehearsal, and then they play.  There’s no testing, no sound checks, no fussing with equipment.  Everyone trusts each other to make it happen, it stays simple, and it works.  The Fay Hield Trio were a perfect example of this when they turned up the other night, bringing the beautiful weather with them and creating another memorable evening for all.

This simplicity of approach is especially appropriate for folk music which comes out of an oral tradition where the musicians travelled from home to home to sing and play.  The music in many cases was not written down and it has only been collected relatively recently, as people have become aware that it might be lost otherwise.  For musicians, there is always the question or test of how to stay loyal or true to the tradition and how to make it their own. 

Many traditional folk songs and fairy tales are built around a structure and theme of testing – often the testing of integrity, strength and constancy of character. 

The folk song ‘Kemp Owen’ is an interesting example of this.  Kemp Owen is a “sword’n’sorcery ballad from 19th century Aberdeenshire, with links to Icelandic sagas and the usual fairy story themes of transmogrification and wicked stepmothers ‘ genre” (Brian Peters, Sharper than the Thorn 1997).  This ‘weirdest of weird ballads’ (Frankie Armstrong, The Garden of Love 2000) has a familiar structure where the young girl’s mother dies and she is destined to serve her evil stepmother when her father marries ‘the very worst woman that ever lived in Christendom’ (lyrics from Fay Hield, Looking Glass 2010).

The evil stepmother curses her stepdaughter and turns her into a worm with ‘strong’  (bad) breath and impossibly long hair twisted three times round a tree.  She hides in her den and can only be found if the king’s son, Kemp Owen, comes to the crag to kiss her on three separate occasions.  He must not touch her other than give her these three separate kisses.  In return, she offers him first a sword, then a belt, and finally a ring – this is the order in Fay’s version although it varies in some others. 

Painting by Seema Kohli, via Penelope Hill

Each of these objects offers protection of an increasingly personal nature, and it is thought each object had a special designated power to protect, although that detail has been lost over time.  If Kemp Owen passes each test, then he can never be hurt and he gains possession of each item.  However if he fails the test and touches the worm, each item offers guaranteed destruction. 

These may be tests of the positive quality of his character – his commitment to his people and land, in his efforts to rid his land and free his people from the worm; or his wish to free the daughter from the evil spell.  Equally they may be tests of his possessiveness and greed.  We aren’t given this insight, but we do see that he has great strength and determination to be able to come so close repeatedly to such a repulsive creature.

On each successive occasion, as Kemp Owen stays true to the rules and passes the test, the wretched worm’s hair is twisted one less time round the tree, until after the third occasion when he gains the ring, her hair is ‘no more twisted round the tree’.  Her breath is sweet, she is freed and predictably transformed into ‘the fairest woman you ever did see’. 

 

Kemp Owen asks ‘Was it a werewolf of the wood or was it a mermaid of the sea?’ that imprisoned the daughter.  She explains that it was her cruel stepmother who is then bound into unending misery as penance for her evil. 

Kemp Owen differs from some folk and fairy tales, at least in this version, in that  the king’s son and the beautiful freed daughter don’t get married at the end.   He passes the tests through his own self-focus and determination to do the right thing for whatever reasons.  She is simply set free.  Who knows what happens next?

Tests often come in threes in fairy tales, and perhaps also in life.  Once is not enough to be sure, twice is coincidence, three times gives confidence that it’s not just a fluke.  The good characters in a fairy tale don’t often fail a test, and they are usually rewarded for their strength of character.  They are often poor or cursed, yet their goodness immediately or eventually shines through as does a will to live. 

“Ah! madam,” said Felicia, “a poor shepherdess who has nothing to lose does not fear robbers.”

“You are not very rich, then?” said the Queen, smiling.

“I am so poor,” answered Felicia, “that a pot of pinks and a silver ring are my only possessions in the world.”

“But you have a heart,” said the Queen. “What should you say if anybody wanted to steal that?”

“I do not know what it is like to lose one’s heart, madam,” she replied; “but I have always heard that without a heart one cannot live, and if it is broken one must die; and in spite of my poverty I should be sorry not to live.”

— from Felicia and the Pot of Pinks, collected by Andrew Lang

Before and through the tests these characters are given, they suffer; their spirit is strengthened, and they not only survive but prove themselves, and so in some fairy tales if not always in life, they are able to live, and sometimes even happily ever after. Sometimes they are transformed through testing, on other occasions they rescue and transform others through the tests, and so they sometimes but not always reap rewards. Testing is a form of alchemical transformation. It purifies the metal.

In life we are given tests too, and we don’t always pass them.  Learning comes at least as much from falling short of the mark as it does from meeting it. 

Without change the world would be boringly predictable, yet we know that too much change is unsettling and bewildering. We need touchstones for direction and support, however we need the right touchstones. So testing as a practice is understandable and useful.  It is a necessary and reassuring activity even as it also highlights and intensifies a lack of certainty. It’s a search for what remains constant, trustworthy and reliable in the midst of change, and for what or who is a true touchstone or guide. More fundamentally, it’s also a test of the trustworthiness and reliability of oneself.

Yet how to know when you’ve tested enough, been tested enough, or passed the tests you’re given?

We give each other tests, consciously and unawares, and we don’t always understand the rules of the tests we are giving or receiving. We test each other through our behaviour, the way we treat each other, as well as what we expect of each other. The unconscious tests are in many ways the most powerful.

The people in life who stand up to the tests we and life give them, are the ones we trust most, even though we may sometimes take them for granted. And the people we care least about, as well as the ones we care most about, are sometimes the ones we test most.

Perhaps the most challenging test is how we respond to testing and being tested.  It is tempting to become cross and irritated, to turn away from tests before we give ourselves a chance to find out what they might offer.  Sometimes we can’t choose to avoid, as the test is imposed on us and is inescapable.  It becomes a condition or feature of our experience, as when for instance someone loses their job.  This is a test of resilience and the ability to maintain equanimity even in the face of seeming disaster. 

Each test is an opportunity.  In this situation it is useful if uncomfortable to observe the process of response the test provokes.  Feelings such as resistance, disbelief, anger, frustration, desperation, fear, unhappiness, are all some of the typical initial responses.

The deeper test is whether we can detach from these emotional responses, and see them as they happen without letting them overwhelm or discolour our experience.  Being detached or dispassionate in this way is perhaps an intermittent experience more than one that is effortlessly sustained.  Like any practice, the more you do it and the more actively you experience it, the more its fruit becomes available to you. 

Whether this means you pass the test, is anyone’s guess.

Posted in connections, Jung, music, Uncategorized, yoga | 5 Comments

Relationships, freedom and berries

1

My friend told me a story the other day.  She said, what if you’re hungry and you know that red berries are easy to find, they will always be there? Blue berries are much rarer and more elusive. Maybe because of that, when you do find them, you get that extra burst of flavour and delight.  Which do you prize more, the red or the blue?

How do we value what we receive?  We may value the red berries for their reliability and steadfastness, the blue berries for their unpredictability.  Perhaps we take the red berries for granted, we can take or leave them, they may lose interest for us just because they are there. We eat them to survive. The blue berries may inspire greater attachment and sometimes even addiction. Both bring joy to life and, of course like anything else, it is possible to become addicted to joy.

Where is that fine line between caring for and about, and attachment, that may even border on addiction?  These are some of the questions that came up when reflecting on berries!

I’m torn between blue and red berries myself, when it comes to life. I like them both – not equally but differently.  Life would be depleted without either, and unsurvivable without both. 

We cannot be totally without preferences, without responses, without ego, nor would we want to be all the time; this is what makes us who we are, this is what gives us life – and yet how do we make sure our responses are healthy and life-sustaining?

Even birds have favoured seeds and berries – hence the current research project to discover the seeds that turtle doves prefer in order to preserve and grow their dwindling population.

So, turn the berry into a person, and that defines relationship. Some people are there for you, you feel they will always be there even as you learn that everything can change; yet you prize and value them for that Thereness which they offer you right now. You may be attached to them, but in a kind of loose, undemanding way. Is that because you believe there’s no risk to their Thereness?

Other people are here and there now and then, sometimes with you sometimes not. They are delightful and energising when they’re there. The question is – how does their intermittent Thereness affect their pull for and on you?  Do you get hooked on the uncertainty or do you get fed up?  Does absence make the heart grow fonder?  Can the uncertainty be used consciously as a tool to identify, expose and even intensify attachment?

Through practice and self-study, it is possible to observe the patterns in yourself, in others, between you, and move closer to a dispassionate state, a more flexible state of greater freedom from being affected by external circumstances. It is possible to survive on any berries or without berries – for a time, anyway. You can fast, or you can feast. 

Can you be tenderly amused by it – the response it prompts in you? And can you take it seriously, without getting too heavy about it?  Do you care, with a light touch?

Or do you go off in search of honey berries instead? (These are berries that gradually ripen to blueness, from Siberia, rarer still, and meant to be this year’s most desirable crop.)

2

I’m not pixels on a web-page

Nor a ghost in your machine

I don’t sit inside your mind-cage

Nor keep your conscience clean

I am a real live person

You could call me on the phone

I stand beneath the same sun

And I call my life my own.

– Vivienne Tuffnell, shared on Facebook

Life on the internet is strange.  However, I have come to realise Facebook is my friend. All the names and faces, the little avatars, are just different manifestations of informing spirit. Facebook isn’t just the delivery channel, Facebook is an informing spirit. Who else could bring Thoreau and Jung together, cheek to jowl, on my News Feed?

“The pendulum of the mind oscillates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong.”

― C.G. Jung

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”

–Thoreau

These two Facebook voices were unconsciously dialoguing with each other, or so it felt to me, and I derived meaning from their exchange. 

I love the juxtapositions, the unexpected and bizarre conjunctions, amidst the rest.  As in real life, so it is on Facebook. There are the red berries and the blue berries. You know what you can expect, and do you devalue it because it’s certain to be there? Is it the blue berries who get the special attention, the leap of the heart, the burst of mental energy?  Can you really tell the difference between what you might take to be a red berry and a blue?  Maybe we need to be reminded sometimes.

How do you feel when the red berries don’t show up?  If you get wind of that, do you try and stockpile fuel like when the tanker drivers threaten a strike?  Maybe the red berries need a break sometimes, maybe they’re busy, or they feel like going on strike.  Maybe they experiment with being a blue berry sometimes, to see and show you what it’s like.

Can a leopard change its spots?

The Tree of Scarlet Berries

The rain gullies the garden paths

And tinkles on the broad sides of grass blades.

A tree, at the end of my arm, is hazy with mist.

Even so, I can see that it has red berries,

A scarlet fruit,

Filmed over with moisture.

It seems as though the rain,

Dripping from it,

Should be tinged with colour.

I desire the berries,

But, in the mist, I only scratch my hand on the thorns.

Probably, too, they are bitter.

– Amy Lowell

3

The games people play….Eric Berne’s famous work needs an update and expansion to include internet games. Beyond the meaningful randomness, that’s another reason why the Facebook Newsfeed is such a rich tapestry of life.  You have everything on it from factual updates about the world picture and the minutiae of someone’s life, to someone else’s humour that might also be your own, to sincere wishes for life improvement, to attention-seeking strategies, to pleas for help from victims to rescuers,  even persecuting comments such as threats to ‘defriend’ …. to genuine exchanges, sharing of items of mutual interest,  thoughtful reflections, quotations, art, music, poetry, offered without the interference of ego.

Eric Berne’s games are serious, and people can get hurt.  I have friends who won’t use Facebook not because they think it’s superficial but because they find the anxiety of whether someone in particular, or anyone, will respond to their post or their comment too intense; their ego feels battered and rejected if no one does.   These feelings come and go, they are rich material for self-study and practice, and you can get past them.

Whether the ego feels a little overlooked or undervalued in a moment doesn’t matter in the greater scheme of things, and staying with those feelings is powerful.  What does matter are the underpinning relationships, and they are as real as you let them be.  Conducting them with care, respect and reciprocity is a responsibility and a gift.

Interestingly, as I’ve written this post, I’ve seen someone enquire over the disappearance of a Facebook friend saying they were ‘Facebook-worried’ about this person – as if it wasn’t real concern, or somehow they felt sheepish or embarrassed about it, because it’s only online.

That makes me think of Viv’s poem.

‘I’m not pixels on a web-page

Nor a ghost in your machine

I don’t sit inside your mind-cage

Nor keep your conscience clean

I am a real live person…’

Maybe sometimes we forget this, the reality of our online connections, just as we may take for granted our three-dimensional relationships in life.  We tread on them, making crushed berries. We scrape our hands on the branches in our desire to get the fruit.

Yet the berries are there, and they are as sweet as we let them be.

Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;

And, in the isolation of the sky,

At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make

Ambiguous undulations as they sink,

Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

Wallace Stevens, from ‘Sunday Morning’

Posted in connections, friendships, groups, internet life, Jung, organisational life, writing, blogging, yoga | 6 Comments

In a right place

I experienced my first Facebook bereavement the other week.  It was quite shocking.  A man who had written some interesting comments on posts – not just mine – had been quiet for a few weeks, and I suddenly felt prompted to look at his page.  I felt a little foolish wondering, even worrying about his absence.  Probably he was on holiday.  He lived in Belgium and I knew he had family in the US.  It was a very strange experience making my way backwards on his Timeline.  First there were comments from friends and family which sounded like he might be away or travelling.  Then there were just some ‘x’s and ‘o’s.  And then there were some poignant comments, from memory they went like this – ‘I went into your flat and I saw your shoes waiting for you by the door’.  ‘I went through your papers today, I know you wouldn’t have liked that intrusion into your privacy but I had to and it made me feel closer to you.’  ‘I miss you….’

I experienced a dawning feeling of horror as I scrolled down the page through comments of shock and sadness from others, and then finally reaching confirmation of the by now obvious news.  I felt peculiarly unsettled by this experience, and almost like an intruder, as I had never met this man.  I hardly knew him.  And yet his death was also a loss to me – admittedly not a huge loss but one just the same.  When I pause to think about it, why shouldn’t there be deaths and losses on Facebook as in any walk of life?  And why should they be less important or impactful, or even less real?   We trivialise our internet connections as part of the whole social pressure to ‘not take things too seriously’. 

Although I had never met this man face to face, I respected his comments.  He felt that people used Facebook in the most banal ways.  He introduced a different type of comment onto his page which was thoughtful and well-received.  He prized courtesy and good manners – not as unthinking rituals  but as signs of care and respect – and he re-posted an article another friend of mine had shared about how the ‘niceties’, saying ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’, were falling into disuse.  (The article wasn’t all gloom and doom though as it talked about how new conventions for showing gratitude and making connections, were emerging.) He was a role model who did his best in small but important ways to make a positive contribution.  He had a faith in being human.

So I missed him.  I got over it – faster than if he’d been someone I knew in a more complete sense.  But I do think about him and the little glimpse I had of his character and life.  And somehow it made me feel all over again that whatever and however the connections we make – whether face-to-face or on Facebook -, they are meaningful and an important part of the fabrics of our lives, even if they are slight or passing.

A curious relationship

I had another more direct  encounter with death a few days later.  I went on a a familiar walk which requires me to cross a field that is sometimes occupied by grazing cattle or sheep.  On this particular day when I got to the entrance, a large group of cattle, maybe 30, were huddled near the gate.  I had a bad feeling, but they all legged it to the other end of the path so I thought I’d go in as turning around would have added a half hour I didn’t have to my already moderately long walk.  They were down near the cattle grid that I needed to cross so I decided to give them a wide berth to give them time to move on.  The opposite happened, and the next thing I knew all 30 were racing towards me.  I shouted and clapped but this only seemed to excite them further, so I sized up the situation and realised if I didn’t turn and run to leap over a fence, I might regret it.  They chased me and I just managed to hurl myself over the fence before they were there.  They raced past me to another far end of the field.

Having a fear of heights, I couldn’t get back over the fence without the adrenalin rush.  And I needed to re-enter it to get back on track.  So I rolled under the fence with the cows a good distance away and – I couldn’t believe it – they raced at me again!  I ran over the cattle grid as they pounded past me on the other side, and made my way home.

I felt shocked but strangely triumphant, which seems a strange response.  I still can’t help but focus on the achievement of hurling myself over a fence that I can’t climb, rather than the fact that I came this close to being seriously injured if not trampled.

At another time I might have focused on the darker potential outcome.  But right now, I am feeling in a right place.  It is a feeling I can summon just by thinking about it at this moment.  The incredible lightness of being – you really feel it as you throw yourself over a fence!  I guess it’s a feeling that is always there, but for some reason it is more available at this time.  I don’t know why.

 

I sat in a spring garden just coming to life last weekend, in between two wonderful performances of 18th century dance tunes by Boldwood, and thought:

Three times in three weeks I have been at talks and conferences and I have felt in the wrong place.  That has felt really good!  Feeling in the wrong place has been accompanied by a feeling that I am really in a right place even as I am indifferent to what is taking place around me.   A lot of things have just fallen away, and it is confirming to hear these people talking around me, and think no, this doesn’t mean anything to me right now, it is a space- and time- and life-filler. 

This feeling of satisfaction or contentment, holding the germ of excitement (nothing like complacency), is unlikely to last.  Maybe it’s spring, or a new financial year, or the fact that at last there is rain, or a line that has been drawn, or the fruit of a practice – I can’t say.  Just a feeling of balanced clarity and a happiness at having shed some of the load. 

Bird on a wave

Posted in connections, friendships, internet life, Jung, walking, yoga | 6 Comments