Spiritual schizophrenia?

I feel like a spiritual schizophrenic. I am the wee scared self (wss) who needs her plans. I am the Witness who whispers “Nothing wrong”.

wss is scared of missing out, being left behind, of delusion. She makes plans for a future that does not exist, broods over a past now gone. She does not know who she is without a plan, how will she get out of bed? She loves her problem solving mind, her analytical skills that are failing her now. She is the needy girl, face pressed against the window, even now, even here, begging “Let me in”. Her only question was always “Why?”. She needs to know, she can’t let go until she knows.

Her need to know feels like a tantrum now, wss is a toddler throwing a fit, shaking her fist towards the heavens, hot tears streaming from her eyes, her face red and scrunched in pent-up anger. The anger of being misunderstood, ignored, sidelined.

The Witness Susan Self ( WSS) watches with compassionate love , scoops wss into her arms and asks tenderly “what do you want, my darling?”

wss sobs “I want to be loved, I want to be free, I want to be seen, to run and jump and play. I want you to look at me and see who I am”.

Who am I?

Who am I without my plans? Who am I without the solid ground of everything I took myself to be?

Who is this I who wants so desperately?

Who is this I who sees?

I want to know the answers and I want them now.

WSS soothes my fevered brow, brushes hot sweaty hair from my eyes.

“You do not need the answers, not yet, not yet, yet”

“But I want them”, wss wails.

A storm is raging inside me, against a paradoxical background of peace and joy. A hurricane of pain and longing  is blowing through me, created by a S/self that both knows and refuses to know.

I am a spiritual schizophrenic. Two tracks playing their simultaneous songs.

There is nothing wrong/I am losing my mind/There is nothing wrong/I am losing my mind/There is nothing wrong/I am losing my mind/There is nothing wrong/I am losing my mind.

WSS says “Relax and enjoy the storm, let it blow right through you without resistance, you will soon smell the ozone in the crisp morning air.”

wss says “You are losing your mind, you need to stop right now, go back to where you came from, you were safe there. Everyone thinks you are crazy, you are making it all up. Why can’t you just be normal? Who do you think you are? You are going to lose everything and everybody.?

I am losing my mind. WSS applauds in the background.

“At last”, she says.

“Be brave,  my love, come home”

wss is terrified. WSS just smiles.

Talking to myself

This feels like the bravest post I have done to date. I have written about the spiritual experiences I have had since I experienced burnout. I have become aware of a Self that observes everything that happens, as well as another part of me that is scared.

I decided to set up a dialogue between them in order to get some insight and this is what emerged. I feel vulnerable as hell posting this. I have used wss (wee scared self) and WSS (Witness Susan Self) which makes me sound crazy. Oh God I am judging myself so harshly.

wss: When I burned out last year, I could not believe I had gone from a 6 year struggle to regain my health, to getting my degree, becoming a teacher, getting a promotion to a job I felt born to do, then losing it all again. Everything about that is just plain wrong.

WSS: Nothing is wrong, my love. Every experience you chose was tailor made for your awakening.

wss: How? What was the point of it all?

WSS: To wake you up and prepare you for the work you came here to do.

wss: What is that?

WSS: To be a teacher, of course. But not of Mathematics! You chose situations to develop capacities you need – how can you sit with the suffering, if you have never known what it is to suffer? How can you be a light in this world if you have never known darkness?

wss: I am so scared I am just making all of this up. That I am delusional or mentally ill. That I am losing my grip on reality. Am I just parroting the words of other people whose books I have read? How would I know? I read it is dangerous to overstate one’s level of awareness. Is that what I am doing?

WSS: Firstly, those that are delusional would never ask such questions or have such doubts. You are losing your grasp of your perceived reality in order to grasp Reality. This is a very good thing.

wss: So why am I so scared?

WSS: You aren’t!

wss: Do not dismiss my feelings!  I am terrified of being misunderstood, excluded, mocked, laughed at, criticised. I want to be loved and to feel safe.

WSS: You have already created the conditions for you to feel all those things. You can lay them all aside now, you know that.

wss: I am still scared

WSS: It is only the vibration of what you thought you are. The ripples of it are far from your centre now. Watch them go. Stay in the centre. What have I told you?

wss: There is nothing wrong

WSS: and……..

wss: Relax and enjoy?

WSS: Yes. There is no more fear unless you choose it. Do you choose it?

wss: No.

WSS: There you go. Nothing more to do or be except what is arising now. You have already written about waiting for the impulse to act to arise. That is all that you need do. Don’t live in the past, in remembered pain or in the future in imagined pain. Relax and enjoy the ever arising now. Everything you need is here, now and now and now. Not everything you THINK you need, just everything you need.

Always, now.

[Pressing publish before I lose my nerve]

On quiet

Quiet is the gift I found at the bottom of the abyss of despair.

Its only voice is “there is nothing wrong”. The chatter of plans gone wrong is silenced in that truth.

Who am I without the story of things gone wrong?

Woman in chair, puppy by her side, the rain on the window, the rustle of my husband’s newspaper, all is happening in quiet perfection.

My hands still above the keyboard, waiting for the next impulse.

Quiet.

The rumble of lorries at the sawmill, emerges from the quiet, dissolves back into it.

My mind has stopped clinging, stopped grasping, for now.

My hand moves to scratch my chin, out of the corner of my eye, my husband lifts his teacup to his lips, a flash of colour.

Quiet.

The tick of the clock, raindrops.

Quiet joy.

On explorations of the soul

In Little Gidding, T.S. Eliot wrote:

“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, unremembered 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 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 thing shall be well

When the tongues of flames are in-folded

Into the crowned knot of fire

And the fire and the rose are one.”

What does it mean to “arrive where we first started and know the place for the first time”?

Perhaps it is that our explorations change our point of view. When we release ourselves from the thoughts, mindsets and perspectives that we have collected from childhood, some of which we realise are not our own, we see the world with fresh eyes. There is beauty in the most ordinary of things, a peacefulness and joy that comes from the first morning sip of tea, the feeling of the body stretching and relaxing into our yoga practice. We watch the world, of which we now know ourselves to be a much loved part, with the eyes of compassion. We see God blaze through the eyes of our lover, our children, our pets, the homeless man in the street. We see the inherent dignity of all beings and a silent Namaste blooms in our hearts. We arrive at “a condition of complete simplicity”, which costs us everything, every defended position, every ego-filled want, every childish fantasy of control. We gladly relinquish these as the certainty dawns, that despite outward appearances “all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well”.

On recovery, being present and hope

The process of recovery has led me to living in the present moment. I have slowed down the planning, scheming monkey mind and wonder what place hope has now.

When my life was spiralling out of control, I had two choices: either sink under the anger and depression that threatened to engulf me or surrender to the reality of my situation.

When I was unable to get out of bed, I wrote this:

“She believed the lie she had been told for most of her life. Be a good girl, work hard, put others first, do your best. Her whole life was built around this lie. She had tried hard to secure her place in the world, to secure their love.

She hid her sadness, her aloneness, her sense of being different and tried to fit in. She presented her happy, helpful, perfectly made-up face to the world as she had been taught to do.

But, one day, a cold wind of change blew through and uprooted her carefully constructed life.

She raged against this injustice “Why me?” she cried. “I don’t deserve this!”, “I always tried so hard”.

Day after day, she tried to rebuild her life. She had all the tools: yoga, meditation, counsellors and advisors, the latest spiritual books. Her constant mantra: “I must try harder”.

But try as she might, she could not go on. Every time she smiled and said, “I am fine, thanks” was another lie. Every downward dog she pushed herself into an affront to her fragile soul.

On the very day she gave up striving, she thought she heard a song. At first, she caught only the softest grace note, but as she began to slow down and listen, she heard the tantalising snippets of an ancient, long-forgotten melody.

“You are loved, just as you are.”

“Nothing to do, nothing to strive for.”

And finally, the one that made the ears of her soul prick up: “Relax and enjoy”.

She took to her bed, unwilling to get up until she had understood. She thought she was going mad, hearing voices in the wind. She decided even madness would be preferable to the constant striving. She wanted to know the truth.

She noticed the light streaming through her bedroom window, the breeze causing the branches on the trees to dance. She saw the birds gliding effortlessly through the sky, the buds on the cherry blossom tree that always appear at Easter. She watched it happening, without effort.

She breathed in and out, and as tears poured down her cheeks, she realised she was being breathed. Each breath was a gift she did nothing to earn.

For the first time, in a lifetime spent trying to achieve, she notices it is enough to lie on her back and watch herself being breathed, watch the trees being blown, the birds being flown, the buds being born.

It is all there is.

It is enough.”

As time passed I was able to get up and slowly, slowly, slowly by listening to my body and the whispers of my soul rebuild my life.

Poet Ntozake Shante wrote:

” I found god in myself

And I loved her

I loved her fiercely”

So, what now, of hope?

A year ago, all my hopes were to be well, to have energy, to get back to my teaching career. All hopes involving pushing myself toward a future imagined by my mind.

I no longer have such hopes. This morning, I am unable to locate any feeling of hope for anything that is not already here.

I cannot control anything in myself or in the world. Everything happens without my consent!

The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 13

“These three remain

Faith, hope and love

The greatest of these is love”

Perhaps this is the spiritual journey. First, faith in an external God who will save the day, changing us and our world, sorting out the mess we have made.

Then hope, that situations will improve, that we will somehow become the ones we know we could be. And, finally, love, for all of it, for the world in all its beauty and horror, for ourselves and others, in all our messy perfect imperfection.

On being honest

 

I am learning to be honest but the journey is not an easy one. Girls are not taught to be honest, we are taught to be good, compliant, helpful, pleasing to others. What a price we pay for this.

When I burned out, in order to recover, I had to look at all the ways I had abandoned myself. Why did I neglect my own needs? On the surface, it looked like I was doing everything right. I worked hard, was motivated to give my pupils my full attention and my best work. I tried hard to be a good wife, good mother, good daughter, good sister, good aunt, good friend, good person. I thought that was what I was supposed to do : be a loving, productive member of society.

One day, I read a poem, Wild Geese by Mary Oliver. In it she says

“You do not have to be good………

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves”.

These words stopped me in my tracks. My whole life was fuelled by the desire to be good. Being good had led me all the way to burnout and I had no idea what the “soft animal” of my body loved. My body was at the mercy of my mind, that cruel taskmaster who brooked no weakness.

I learned that burnout burns the whole edifice of the self to the ground. When all we know ourselves to be is gone and the body collapses in exhaustion, there is a sense of falling into a void, where only being honest will save you.

This honesty is painful.

Who am I when I have no job, no useful role to play in society?

Who am I when all my plans lie like dust at my feet?

Who am I now when my whole way of being in the world led me to this?

Slowly, as the tears of loss and grief dry, a new realisation begins to emerge from these questions.

Who am I without any labels?

Who am I when I do not try to be good?

Who am I when I do not try?

What does the “soft animal” love?

I sit here in the soft morning light, pen spilling its purple ink secrets onto the page, coffee by my side, the smell of fresh air through the open door. Puppies chase each other in the garden, birdsong fills the air, trees sprawl green and luscious above my head. Just this, now, is enough. This I love.

The realisation that I belong to the world, as it belongs to me. I do not have to be good, I do not have to earn my place.

Mary Oliver concludes her poem:

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely

The world offers itself to your imagination

Calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting

Over and over, announcing your place

In the family of things”.

Unfolding like a fern

Samye Ling is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in SW Scotland founded in 1967 by Trungpa and Akong Rinpoches.

There is a palpable atmosphere of peace as you walk around the grounds, as if the energy of a million meditations permeates the air.

I spent 3 days there recently, attending a yoga retreat, staying in a small room, with bed, desk and sink, eating meals with monks and nuns and other visitors.I was struck by the simplicity of life and noticed my thoughts slow down as I entrained to those around me.


It was easy to be present to what was arising in the moment, without the usual distractions of internet, TV and mobile phone.
I noticed I had no desire to speak to or interact with others, while also being open to being spoken to. I noticed that my usual impulse to make friends, to make a good impression on others was absent.


The retreat I attended was called “Unfolding from the inside”. The teaching, led by Hanna Casement, was focussed on coming into the body, as it is today. Rather than trying to force ourselves into a yoga posture we have seen in a book, we were encouraged to allow the practice to flow from a central place within us, like a fern unfolding.


I was reminded of the Anais Nin quote :

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”.


The tight bud is the prison of my own thoughts and perceptions of reality. All the opinions I had about the way I should be/you should be/the world should be.


I am seeing more and more clearly how painful this is. In the sanctuary of Samye Ling, supported by the yoga practices, it was clearer to me how I keep myself stuck. Easier there to notice that everything I need is given to me, moment by moment.


Like the fern, I began to unfurl, everything arising from the still, silent awareness that is at the centre of all things.

No pushing or striving, no preconceived ideas of how it should be. A falling away of trying to be anything other than who I am, in this moment, with a gentle and deep compassion for everything that has led me here, to this body, to this breath, to this life.
Coming home again, my promise to myself is to embrace this gentle, compassionate unfolding of my body, mind and soul.

 

Song of the Mother

SONG OF THE MOTHER

Go slowly

Nestle under my wings

Breathe my breath

And sing my song

Love what is arising

All pain and sorrow

Are your lost children

Re-emerging

To be loved at last

You are the one

They waited for

To love them

Embrace those discarded children

Whose behaviour you didn’t like

The lonely one

The angry one

The misunderstood one

The isolated one

The rejected one

The girl with the light in her eyes

Who hid herself away

Each one steps forward at last

Brave enough now

To offer themselves

To your loving embrace

Greet them all

Your beloved children

Braid their hair

Sing them songs of love

Oh my darlings

You are home

Welcome at last

Just as you are.

Fierce Grace 1

FIERCE GRACE

I swept into your life

Destroying all your carefully made plans.

I know you loved your achievements.

I know your intentions were pure.

But I heard your prayers to bring love to the world.

I took your offering at its word.

How could you hear the cries of a broken world

If you had not been broken?

How could you stand with the lonely

If you had never felt alone?

How could you speak with the powerless

If you had never known what it was to lose your own power?

Let go, my love, into the abyss of exhaustion.

Let go into the realm of everything gone wrong

Let go of who you thought you were

And become who you are

Deep in that abyss, I will meet you.

Swirling around you with my fierce, love-soaked grace.

Whisper my words

There is nothing wrong, there is nothing wrong, there is nothing wrong.

Soothe your mind as it barks its objections

Soothe your weary heart

Cradle yourself as your own beloved child.

Rest.

Feel.

Cry.

Listen.

Nothing to do, nowhere to go

Nothing to be.

Except who you are

Now.

My fierce grace is emptying you

Of all your striving

This fierce grace

Manifested in you, as you

Will illuminate a suffering world.

Fierce grace 2 – a villanelle

FIERCE GRACE

Do not be afraid of the fierceness of Grace

As she razes your house to the ground

She comes to reveal your original face.

 

As you blink back tears in this strange, new place

She will not leave you where you were found

Do not be afraid of the fierceness of Grace

 

She comes to teach life is not a race

No winners or losers on this holy ground

She comes to reveal your original face.

 

She breaks you down, she slows your pace

Frees you where you were bound

Do not be afraid of the fierceness of Grace

 

And in Her silence, you will find the space

Where peace and joy abound

She comes to reveal your original face.

 

Until, at last, there is no trace

No you, no Her, newfound

Do not be afraid of the fierceness of Grace

She came to reveal your original face.