December reflections Day 14 – 10 years ago

10 years ago I was 45 and a mature student in 3rd year at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, studying for a BSc in Mathematics with Teaching.

Anyone who knows me was astonished that I was studying Maths. At school I had favoured Arts subjects like English, French, German, History, Music. But, in 2004 my daughter was studying Higher Maths at school and I was unable to help her with her homework, not having studied to that level myself.

At a parents’ meeting, I expressed my disappointment at this to the teacher and he suggested I could go to the school as an adult returner and study the course in a different class to my daughter.

I discovered that I loved Maths and soon I was helping the kids in the class with their homework too. The teacher of the class suggested to me that I study Maths at university and become a teacher.

As I had only been working part-time after recovering from my first burnout, I thought this was an excellent idea and based on my school qualifications and a pass in Higher Maths I was given a place at Strathclyde.

I loved being a student again. I had gone to St Andrew’s University to study French and German when I was 18, but had dropped out after one term. I was delighted to have a second chance at a university education. There was a small group of mature students on the course who became great friends and the younger students were friendly and welcoming of us “oldies”. I have many happy memories of the Student Union!

Although I had a flat in Glasgow during the week for most of my course, in 3rd year I travelled  by train, as for some of the year I was doing teaching practice in local schools.  I have fond memories of the 06.30 train , it took 2 hours 20 mins to get to Glasgow, calling at every whistlestop along the way. I had the best marks of my university career that year as I studied all the way there and all the way back!

I wrote this memory recently:

“I am sitting in the Barony Hall with the class of 2009. I am 47 years old and about to graduate with a BSc in Mathematics with Teaching with First Class Honours. Only 6 years earlier I had been almost completely bed bound, felled by both CFS and a painful back problem that would require surgery. I rarely ventured out and then only with the help of Oramorph and my husband pushing me in a wheelchair. The sense of pride in my recovery and achievements brought tears to my eyes. I was starting work as a Probationer Teacher in my local high school, 5 minutes from my home. I was filled with excitement at the possibilities that lay ahead. The future was bright.

Little did I know that only 7 years later, I would be back where I started, in bed, exhausted, frightened and alone.”

December Reflections – Day 13- 5 things about me

  1. I am a left-handed Gemini.  When I was young, I wanted to start a club. I was going to invite Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan!
  2. I have a borderline obsession with cashmere. My idea of a perfect outfit is pyjamas that can double as outdoor wear, cashmere socks and a cashmere sweater!
  3. I have been a waitress, a bartender, a receptionist, a civil servant, a conveyancer, a wedding celebrant at Gretna Green, a library assistant, a mature student at university, a course leader, a psychotherapy trainee, a teacher, a writer, but I really, really wanted to be an opera singer. In my next life, I want to be an Italian soprano!
  4. I am a highly sensitive person, extremely intuitive, bordering on psychic! I thought I was an extrovert, but discovered during my recovery that I am an introvert who needs lots of time alone.
  5. I LOVE eggs! If I could only eat one food for the rest of my life it would be eggs, particularly brought to me on a breakfast tray by my lovely husband, with a greedy cat grudging me every bite!

Dear Jane

 

This is is a piece I wrote in a recent writing class. The brief was to write an encouraging letter to a young writer.

 

Dear Jane,

I have been wondering how I could reply to your last letter. I have waited so long to receive it, though I knew one day it would come.

Strangely, since I read it, I have been taken up with thoughts of swans.

I agree that, as a child, like the Ugly Duckling, you were different to those around you. Even in your own family, you felt as if you didn’t belong. You struggled so hard to fit in and be accepted. I watched you spend yourself trying to please everyone, trying to fulfil the expectations of others.

The light I saw in your eyes had almost gone out.

Almost.

But now, the dreams you had as a girl, that were set aside amid the frantic pace of your life have come tapping on the window of your soul once more.

I hear in your words the longing for something more, something you can barely name. You speak of lives you might have lived. But you say the alarm is set for 6, there is no time for dreams.

Yet I hear the longing in every word you write.

You say you are writing again, a journal, words full of longing and despair, words you say you will show no one. Words you wish you could share with the world.

Listen to that voice, Jane. The longing inside you is beginning to speak.

This longing will not let you go because the world needs YOUR voice. We need your love, your pain, your loneliness, your belonging, your joy, your sorrow, the light in your eyes, the tears streaming down your face. We need to read about how you became a swan. For swan you are, Jane, ready at last to take your place in the world.

It won’t be easy, Jane. There is that old fear of rejection, the sense that others have done it better, written words more eloquent than yours could ever be. But I have learned in my 70 years on earth, that the Grace that placed the longing in your heart will fulfil that longing if you let it. You need only consent to come out of hiding, to allow your light to shine to remind us of our own.

Without your voice, the song is incomplete, the poem unfinished, the longing in so many of us unexpressed and unresolved. Your longing, expressed as you, will heal us all.

My dearest Jane, give yourself to the Grace that waits to hold you. You will find yourself, as Rilke said, like the swan, at home at last in the water, “unmoving and marvellously calm, pleased to be carried”.

 

With love

Aunt Sue.

 

Swan reflections

 

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.