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 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.

 

There is nothing wrong

Can you see it, my love?

I know you are beginning to wake up.

Can you see what we have done together?

You are ready to trust.

Can you see the perfection of all the things you fought so hard against?

The pain of losing it all, the loneliness of chronic illness, the stripping away of all you thought defined you. You are beyond definitions.

The joy when the mind agreed that it was right, the pain from thinking things have gone wrong.

There is nothing wrong.

Nothing can ever go wrong in this perfection.

You are standing, now, on the threshold, knowing that your arrival here is inevitable.

In the quietness of your mind, in this vast still place, where you belong, from which you came and to which you return, you know the truth.

There is nothing wrong.

I will whisper it, in songs of love.

I will shout it , through screams of pain.

There is nothing wrong.

The heart slows, the mind stills, the eyes (our eyes) open, blinking in this new reality, as old as time.

Trust all that comes, love everything that arises as though you chose it.

You did.

Oh my sweet girl, there is nothing wrong.

You are free.

Down among the broken ones

 

DOWN AMONG THE BROKEN ONES

 

Come down among the broken ones

Who gave their hearts away

Who tried to help, who tried to love

All those who came their way.

 

Come down among the lost ones

Whose way of being died

Who gave their all, till all was gone

And darkness lit their way.

 

Come down among the lonely ones

Who tried so hard to please

Who noticed when in need themselves

That all had gone away.

 

Come down, my love, and don’t be scared

For nothing is as it seems

Here in the depths of loneliness

Is the medicine you need.

 

Come down and feel your beating heart

The breath between your thoughts

Cradle your fragile, tender soul

And notice where you are.

 

The life you knew is over

Shed tears for all that seems lost

But notice too the birds and trees

You were once too blind to see

 

You had to lose the life you had

It hurts, I know, but soon

You will find yourself standing in the light

Of who you really are

 

117 days of Yoga Revolution.

On January 1st I started the 31 day Yoga Revolution with Yoga with Adriene. I wrote about it here http://www.susantelford.com/2017/01/07/tool-for-recovery-part-1-yoga/
I began with the same excitement that accompanies every Monday when the new diet begins, every New Year when the new life begins, in fact every plan I have every forced myself to do.
I rationalised that this will be the ONE, the one to shift my exhaustion, boost my energy, pull me out of the pit of despair I found myself in last winter. I was still operating under the illusion that the same striving, pushing mentality that got me into this mess, would somehow work to free me from the chronic fatigue that had ended my career. The trouble was I had no idea of how else to be.
My strategy “worked” for 17 days http://www.susantelford.com/2017/01/20/the-seductive-pull-of-the-plan/ but far less than boost my energy it led me straight back to another relapse.
On day 18, unable to get out of bed, I felt a range of emotions. Mainly, what the hell is wrong with me? Why can’t I get better? Will I ever be fully well again? Is the life I took so much for granted now over?
I felt like a failure, I had had M.E./CFS before, recovered and gone to university and worked for 7 years as teacher. But somehow, I had managed to recreate all the conditions that had led me to becoming ill in 2000. I had worked hard, taken on more and more responsibility, given my whole heart and soul to the school.
The realisation hit me like a ton of bricks. I was applying the same Type A mindset to my recovery and even my yoga practice.
I had never stopped to consider what my body wants.
The truth was I had no idea. Literally not a clue.
I didn’t know whether it was best to rest or try some yoga. In 54 years of being on the planet I had NEVER asked my body what it wants. MY body was an appendage located south of my over-active mind and my mind called all the shots, like a warped sergeant-major, barking orders to get out of the bed and get things done!
As I had not managed to sustain the daily practice of Revolution, my mind, of course, had written it off as a failure.
My next step was to look around for the next plan, you know, the one that would be the ONE!
But, some deeper, wiser part of me would not let go of Revolution, even as I lay in bed unable to muster the energy to roll out my mat.
Then one morning, several weeks later, as I sipped my morning tea in bed, a voice inside me said “Mmmm, I fancy doing yoga today”.
So I got out of bed, rolled out my mat in my study and did day 18. This went on all through February, March and April. I waited for that still, small voice that WANTED to do yoga and I did the next day’s practice. I realised when I don’t push myself, the impulse to do yoga naturally arises.
117 days after I began,I completed day 31.
The theme for day 31 was “Follow your intuition” and Adriene encouraged me to listen to my body and allow the practice to flow, tapping into what my body actually needs in the moment. I cried my way through that practice as I realised that my body is much wiser than me and does, indeed, know what she needs. It was such a fitting end to my journey, which is paradoxically only beginning.
So over to you, dear reader. Do you listen to the needs of your body? Do you have a still, small voice that rises up when you stop pushing yourself? Or do you, like I did, keep pushing yourself on and on, expecting your body to comply with the demands of your mind and thinking burnout will never happen to you? Please leave a comment below and let’s start a conversation about slowing down enough, even in the midst of our busy lives, to take care of ourselves.

The body knows

After last week’s Write into Life post, I have been thinking more about the wisdom of the body and how it always knows the truth, despite how many hoops the mind pushes it through. I wrote this poem about it.

THE BODY KNOWS

The body knows

The lies you tell

The headache blooms

Where love is blocked

The wrong path

Knots your stomach

With the nausea of self-abandonment

The fear of being seen

Your precious life energy

Exchanged for acceptance.

You push on

Too busy to notice

The birds gliding effortlessly through the sky

The flower buds gently opening

The return of the spring sun

These masters showing the way home.

You push down the truth emerging

Still trying to be good

Forgetting your own innate perfection.

There is nowhere to get to

Nothing to strive for

Everything is a gift you rejected over and over

Until now.