Sunday, 6 December 2015

The Year I Broke

This year I’ve fallen apart. Everything I once held dear has been torn down and ripped away. My beliefs have been shattered, my sense of spiritual connection has disintegrated and turned to dust, and my physical self has crumbled with ill-health and disability. The story of my life unravelled as everything fell apart; I broke. It's not easy to admit any of this as the truth is rarely easy to face. Yet, I've reached a point where I'm no longer able to hide behind the relative safety of my keyboard or to wax lyrical about the joys of pain and struggle. Life isn't all fluffy bunny and marshmallows; sometimes it's gut wrenchingly difficult.

I’ve been standing precariously close to the edge for quite some time looking into the murky depths below, wondering what’s hidden in the mist and trying not to let my imagination run riot. I clung tightly to the edge until the day I couldn't and I fell. This year I’ve been falling, just like in those nightmares of my childhood when I’d suddenly lurch backwards into freefall, waking up in a blind panic, feeling nauseous and trembling. It felt like the nightmare had shifted into reality as I turned to face my ‘what is’ head on. Yet, this makes it sound like a conscious and willing choice, but I was dragged to this point and pushed into a corner leaving me with no escape route; I’ve had to face my reality as there was nothing else left as all of the facades, false beliefs, hopes and various levels of denial fell away. In hindsight, reaching such a point was inevitable, after all, no one can keep putting on a brave face, smiling and pushing on forever.

As the storm clouds kept coming, their relentless and tenacious determination ensured there was nowhere left to hide. There was no shortcut around the storm, the only way was through. This meant facing my shadows, facing my reality and facing up to myself with a lot of brutal self honesty. I guess I'd always believed that life is a journey, and, as we evolve, we step from one room to another, carrying with us new insights, new wisdom and new awakening. Yet, in a slightly whimsical kind of way, I hoped my point of breakthrough would be akin to walking in to a new room, turning the light on and starting afresh. I thought I would simply start seeing the world with fresh eyes and a new perspective, and keep striding forth as I've always done. However, life had a very different plan for me. Admittedly, I tried hard to cling on to what I had, even though I intuitively knew I couldn't carry on as I was. I felt a kind of safety in denial, it was an uncomfortable comfort zone to me, yet I didn't want to let it go. 

There is a lot of wordage given to the concept of awakening, breakthrough and acceptance. I myself have written a great deal about this, feeling a deep sense of awareness of the process of my own personal evolution, as well as a sense of collective awakening. Of course, I, like everyone, am on a continual path of growth and learning, but it has always been a more palatable option to believe that breakthrough and, indeed, breakdown, were, ultimately, immensely positive experiences. Who was I kidding? 

As I gazed around at the debris scattered all around me in the aftermath of the storm, it was undoubtedly hard to feel a sense of positivity. In that moment, I felt grief, anger, despair and desolation; positivity was conspicuous only by its absence. I had been forced to a point of breakdown and surrender, and yet, although it took me a while to see through the blurry haze of my tears, I was aware that my perception had shifted as everything looked different. Every sound, colour and smell was somehow more vibrant, as though I had opened myself up to a new layer of awareness. Initially, it felt as though I had no skin as I couldn't filter out the intensity of the shifting vibration all around me and within me. However, despite sensing a shift, I kept on resisting and denying as I couldn't bring myself to face the truth that everything had imploded and fallen apart. I kept on resisting until my resolve was smashed and there was nothing left standing between me and, well, me.

By being forced to a point of surrender, I had stripped back the facades I had clung on to for so long and I was left naked and bare facing my ’what is’ with total honesty as there was nowhere left to hide. The intensity of the chill in the cool air was undeniable, yet, at the same time, it felt refreshing as I could breathe freely for the first time in years. Spiritually, emotionally and physically I felt able to expand and, although the pain of falling apart was exquisite, the sense of reconnection I sensed would rise up within me stirred my curiosity and spurred me forward. However, reconnection wasn’t the default setting that emerged at the point of breakdown as I found myself in a kind of numb voidal space: not quite here, there or anywhere.

I felt as though every atom and cell of my being had been shocked and broken open; like an egg being cracked apart. Through those cracks poured a lifetime of ‘stuff’ and it was immense. Perhaps breakout is a better description than breakdown as although I definitely fell apart, I sensed a profound and intense feeling of indescribable release at the same time. 

I've often pondered why this was the year for my falling apart. I’ve faced a lifetime of challenges, so why now? I’ve spent my life trying to be the best me I could possibly be, I’ve embraced self-healing and spiritual teachings, and I’ve worked so hard trying to heal myself in order to free myself from the ties that have bound me to ‘ought’s’ and ‘should’s’. Yet I’ve pushed my own self-destruct button as I wouldn’t pause; I wanted to keep on keeping on just in case everything fell apart if I stopped (even though my fragile house of cards had already fallen apart, I wouldn’t accept or acknowledge it). My head became a logjam of thoughts, beliefs and fears, and my soul became saturated as I built layer upon layer of facades. I stored up years of uncried tears for all of those experiences I wasn’t fully present for and I allowed the cracks in my physical health to become a gaping chasm as my body buckled and crumpled. 

I fell apart this year as I could no longer keep on keeping on, trying to cling on, trying to push on. I fell apart as I tumbled into the gaping chasm I’d created and landed in a heap on the cold ground below. It wasn’t a soft landing but, in that moment, everything stopped, frozen and raw as I saw the truth of myself in all it’s glory. It wasn’t pretty, yet it was also beautiful at the same time as my awareness was fully in that moment and I realised that, despite my best efforts, I’d spent most of my life focused on what I hoped was ahead of me; I'd never allowed myself the opportunity to step fully into the present moment, and it was this denial and resistance that finally broke me. 

My overloaded mind, body and soul needed to fall apart in order to fully get my attention. It was time to express the pain, sadness and the disconnection, and it was time to allow my true self to step consciously into the here and now. I found myself staring into that big hole, so beautifully described by John O’Donohue as, ’the precarious broken threshold of my own heart and soul’. I needed to let those uncried tears flow freely and I needed to let myself breathe, rest and take stock of my reality. 

I guess it is somewhat ironic that in the process of trying to find myself, I actually lost myself. I looked so hard for the truth of me, I failed to notice my reality. I have long been dealing with health issues, but it was only when they escalated and I fell apart, I realised that I wasn't accepting my 'what is’, I was doing quite the opposite. Integrity, authenticity and acceptance are crucial steps on the path of awakening, yet all three involve a willingness to see beyond the facades we've created in order to stop trying to be anything other than what we are. Although I believed I was in a space of acceptance and surrender, I wasn’t. Of course, I would have preferred a little nudge to show me the error of my ways rather than a devastating tsunami tearing me open and ripping me apart, but, in truth, I’m rather good at ignoring nudges. 

I’d love to say that the sun then rose and everything was well in the world as all the pieces suddenly fell into alignment and I felt a deep sense of peace. Entering the chilled darkness in the depths of my heart and soul pushed me to the point of extinction as every ounce of foundation fell away. There was nothing left to cling on to as hope was absent as I was made to truly face everything I had denied, repressed and ignored for years. My sense of spiritually, of inter-connectedness, shattered and I felt so angry and abandoned. The intensity of the pain rising up from my depths left me feeling isolated and alone, scared and confused. At the time I needed my spirituality the most, I turned my back on it as it felt hollow and without sustenance. This was of course a reflection of how I felt: disconnected, desolate and barren. 

Although I’ve spent my whole life in the dark believing I was already in the light, reality shook me into consciousness and I remained fully awake and aware in that dark, cold place for months. I had days when I longed for death and I had days when I longed for life. I felt frozen in paralysis, not having the energy or strength to do anything other than be fully aware of where I was. Denial takes a phenomenal amount of energy but acceptance takes much more. I stayed there until the day I didn’t. I can’t say I had a powerful moment of revelation or insight, I just felt a weight lift from my soul and a light re-ignite from the core of my being. It was as though someone finally flipped the light switch on in that room I’d been pushed into on the next stage of my journey of evolution. It took a while to adjust my eyes and, in truth, my soul still feels jaded as I recover from the devastation. Yet, I find myself grateful as I feel as though I’m finally home: I’m present and the facades and falsehoods have fallen away. Of course, more will surface as that’s a part of being human, but, for now, I feel a glimmer of hope rising from deep within me as I'm tentatively exploring a deeper and more enriched connection to my mind, body and soul.

I'm still coming to terms with my physical ill-health and disability as its changed my life from the inside out and this involves grieving, anger, compassion, allowing and accepting, all of which churn up layers of emotions and belief patterns. Of course I have days when I'm angry about my reality but it passes as I know I'm the only one who suffers as a result. Awakening is an on-going process but I finally feel ready to be here now. Maybe ‘awakening’ isn’t the right word but it’s hard to extrapolate an apt description that suggests a positive to a period of utter devastation. I think I’ve been awakening for years and I’ve realised it’s not ‘being awake’ that matters, it’s noticing or paying attention. It’s the same as being alive: being alive isn’t the same as feeling alive as the former suggestions existence but feeling alive suggests a conscious interconnectedness. It’s only now I can say, hand on heart, that I actually feel alive. It’s painful and raw, but I’m wholeheartedly feeling every emotion, feeling and sensation. I’m feeling a growing sense of the true essence of me as I breathe deeply into my heart and soul. The threshold of my heart and soul that I’d feared for so long is still fragile but I’ve dived in and now fear isn’t the force that’s holding me back or shaping and defining my life. 

I, like so many of us, have experienced breakthrough over the last few months after years of spiritual, physical and emotional upheaval. I had to breakdown to reach a point of surrender and I had to have every one of my many escape routes cut off in order for me to stop trying to out-run and out-wit truth; not to deliberately live an ‘un-truth’ but in a somewhat futile attempt to relieve the discomfort of being human. It’s taken a while for me to assimilate the process in order to articulate the essence of the changes within me as I find myself with a brand new vocabulary and a brand new perspective as a result. 

In truth, I’m still adjusting and I’ve given up trying to condense and distil the experience in order to try to make sense of it as it’s beyond my logical and rational comprehension. Thinking about it gives it structure and it has none. My wounds are still raw and my soul feels weak and, although I intuitively know that falling apart was what I needed, I know it’s my willingness to be vulnerable, genuine and real that is setting me free. My essence shattered, but spiritually I feel more whole than ever before. It's  certainly complex and confusing!

So, this was the year I fell apart but it’s also the year where echoes of possibility began to ricochet down the long corridors of my soul, tickling my consciousness and re-igniting my desire for life. I haven’t, as yet, given shape or form to these possibilities but I can feel them stirring within. For now, I’m resting in the moment, allowing myself to breathe fully as I slowly begin to open wholeheartedly to the process of healing; I feel weary from the battle, but the whisperings of hope keep the flames of my optimism flickering gently in the darkness. 

The definition of healing has changed for me as it no longer means ‘being fixed’ as that's unrealistic in terms of my physical being but I haven't given up and I now acknowledge I'm not broken or 'less than'. Healing is re-establishing balance as an imbalanced person in an imbalanced world. Perhaps healing means ‘coming back together’ again but I’m changed; altered forever. I cannot go back to the person I used to be and I don't want to. I have no idea who I am becoming, but for now, in this moment, I am me; not only is that enough, it is exactly as it’s meant to be…

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Embracing Our Fragility

It’s not always easy to accept being the author of one’s own life, after all, that means taking responsibility for choices, decisions and paths followed. It also means taking responsibility for our unlived lives as well: those choices we didn’t make and those paths we didn’t walk. Life is rarely a case of either/or as we are constantly faced with a plethora of choices at any given moment, including the choice of ‘non action’.
The incredible John O’Donohue once said that: ‘our unlived lives travel with us in a world of implicit, latent, held over possibility’. Of course, we do carry it all with us, sometimes in the form of regret, sometimes ‘what if’ or ‘if only’. Often we’re not even aware we’re carrying it at all, its only when we reach a point of challenge in life that we usually go within seeking answers and come face to face with a lifetime of ‘stuff’. For some, such points create an atmosphere of overwhelming emotion, others reach a point of emptiness. Some try to push it away, trying to keep on keeping on, others buckle under the strain, some seek resolution and others become lost in a kind of ‘in-between world’ which lies in between the spaces in life.
There is no set place that one reaches where it can all feel too much as we are all unique individuals, each with our own perspective on life and each with a unique collection of coping skills. Despite our tremendous resilience as a species, the result of being strong for too long can lead to an imbalance within our hearts and souls. Yet, despite living in the twenty-first century, it’s still so hard for so many to admit to struggling, as showing any apparent signs of weakness is still frowned upon by so many. But why? We are sensitive, complex and in a state of constant flux and change. We are inter-connected bundles of life, filled with emotions, thoughts and a sense of being a part of a seemingly incomprehensible whole. Isn’t it only natural to experience highs and lows, too feel fragile and to feel a teeny bit broken at times? Isn’t that a part of being human? To deny this is to deny our humanity and to therefore live in a state of disconnection from the full spectrum of life. We can’t have the sun and no rain, day and no night, joy without pain.
Many spend their lives asking what the point of life actually is. Many more, never even consider the question. We live, we love, we cry, we rage, we pray and we grieve, and sometimes when we leap wholeheartedly into the pit of rampant uncertainty and unknowable destiny called life, we can get lost and slip into the cracks in-between the cracks in the pavement. Yet, when we fight it, we get stuck in a falsely created world of disconnection and denial which often leads to collapse. This seems to be at the root of what’s wrong in the world. Instead of accepting our fragility, vulnerability and fallibility, we fight it and try to convince ourselves that we can buck the trend. Yet, if we face it, love it and accept it, perhaps we can realise these are not weaknesses to be fixed or pushed away but a part of being human?
Loving and accepting our weaknesses is not the same as giving up or giving in but it’s a willingness to gracefully lean into life rather than pushing it away or trying to fix the unfixable. If we were able to change things we would but when we can’t it’s important we don’t bang our heads against the brick wall of life in denial or resistance, raging at the inherent unfairness. Life often doesn’t make sense and sometimes things happen that are unthinkable or unspeakable and out of our control. The only thing ever in our control is our response. Sometimes we need to allow ourselves to feel vulnerable and to experience difficult emotions as this is the pathway to home, to our middle ground. Living on the edge and pushing our boundaries is important for our evolution but there are times when we need to rest, recover and rebalance.
It’s a part of life to experience ups and downs, highs and lows, but its important to honour these in order to move through them. Each moment passes, nothing is permanent. Yet to fight or deny the lows denies us the full experience of life as they are no less important than the high’s. In fact, perhaps they are more important as they give us context and reference enabling us to truly savour and give gratitude for the highs when they come.No one ever said being human was easy but when we stop fighting ourselves and instead embrace compassion, love and tender kindness, although the experiences themselves don’t change, we do and this allows us to accept the completeness of the human experience and to thrive as a result. Whilst we will inevitably have periods of challenge, disconnection, fragility and of despair, those are a part of life but intuitively we know that, like the day follows the night, these too shall pass…