The one about…the moon!

Belief, it’s an interesting concept, something we often dismiss because we’d rather understand and control; we’d rather have proof and logic than just seemingly ‘whimsical’ belief.

It’s fifty years since man first landed on the moon. There are people who don’t believe it to be true. There are whole websites, probably books, maybe some peoples’ life’s work devoted to the arguments for and against the first moon landing; conspiracy theorists looking to prove it a hoax and Nasa scientists devoted to proving it true.

My mum was twenty six when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. She was working nights, listening to the news broadcast on the radio in the nurses station as she and her colleagues staffed the maternity ward. She tells me that she remembers that night so vividly, looking out of the window into the darkness, seeing the glow of the moon and whispering “they’re walking on you right now”. She describes the wonder, the awe, the incredulity of the momentous occasion taking place. She believes. As that incredible event took place, around 238,855 miles away from where she stood, right there in the rooms around her women were giving birth to tiny human beings that they had grown themselves, hidden for months in the womb and then released into life on planet earth, to eventually take their first steps on our incredible planet. We’re not short of things to believe in.

Sure enough both the moon landing and childbirth can be explained in rational scientific terms, some would say its not rocket science but one of them clearly is and the other possibly requires a nursing degree to fully understand the intricacies of the finer details of conception, growth and birth. We can talk about each event in a rational, logical way but there’s something about our logical, reasoned explorations into space and our ability to reproduce that is overridden at some point, for most people, by sheer awe, wonder, mystery and magnificence. What if it’s in those moments of mystery we find that joy and hope are rekindled?

So as we watch the replays of the moon landing this week and are reminded of that ‘one small step for man’ let’s not lose sight of the gift that it is to believe. Perhaps over the next few days, as we catch a glimpse of the moon for ourselves we too might stop and just for a moment lose ourselves in the mystery and the wonder. What if we were to find joy in choosing to simply believe? What if there are more opportunities for belief than we’ve ever really appreciated? What if the rediscovery of belief, wonder and ultimately hope is the ‘giant leap’ mankind now needs to take.

 

The one about…moving (part 2)

It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by details. The primary school doesn’t have places for two of the three children that need to go there and while the secondary school can offer places to our three secondary aged children, it can’t offer two of the GCSEs that our eldest has been studying for the last two years.
It seems that nothing is ever “easy”, maybe life would be dull if it was but sometimes I’d like to be given the opportunity to find out. Sometimes I’d like to at least be given the option of ‘easy’, or maybe I wouldn’t, I’m not actually that good at decsions. It’s safe to say that I don’t really know what I want, so I tried to write a list.

  • I want to live by the sea.
  • I want to live in Peterborough.
  • I want to run.
  • I want to sit and read.
  • I want to stay up late and lie in.
  • I want to get up early and write.
  • I want to live in a tiny cottage.
  • I want to raise my family.
  • I want to only buy clothes from charity shops.
  • I want to recreate my wardrobe completely from H and M.
  • I want the children to stay little.
  • I want the joy of watching the children grow up.
  • I want everything to stay the same.
  • I want to be living an adventure.

Do you see what I mean? I don’t know what I want and I don’t even want the same thing all of the time and sometimes I want two opposing things at the same time. Complicated? Confusing? There are a few directions my thoughts have gone as I wrestle with the confusion.

Firstly, I do want to be a full time mum, it’s all I’ve ever really wanted. I remember telling Sid that fact the second time we went out together and then getting home and wondering if it was the right thing to say to a guy I’d only just met?! I’m so blessed to have not had to work since we had children. We’ve never had two incomes; when Sid was a student I worked full time, then we had children and he’s worked, and because of that we’ve never taken on a lifestyle that we can’t sustain. That does however mean that my identity has become completely absorbed in family and as they grow up I’m left with less confidence and belief in who I am and what I can do. I’m sure I’m not the only full time mum to feel like this; to feel vulnerable, confused and scared of re-imagining life as the children begin to need me less or in different ways. I’ve been parenting preschoolers for over fifteen years, that’s a long career to have to stand down from, especially when I don’t really want to. Then we plan to move to a new area, for Sid to start a new job, as our youngest starts playgroup, and I’m left slightly bereft of a life I’ve loved and slightly unsure of who I am in it all.

The second thought my exploration of “I” led me to was a reminder that although I am still Deb, sixteen years ago I chose to be ‘Sid and Deb’, we got married and my ‘I’ became a ‘we’. That means that any decision I make now needs to be made in light of the promises I made then. Over time “we” has expanded to the nine of “us” and I can’t just do what I want, instead I do what we think is best for all of us. So, while we all maintain a right to our individuality, we are also family and I know that sometimes decisions have to be made that are for the good of ‘us’ not just for one individual. Marriage, family, and individual identities within that are hard to navigate and lately my “I” has been shouting loudly and stomping its feet, asking “what about me?” and that’s hard, that leads to tears and confusion and that is hard to reconcile when the life that we have created is being changed, relocated and redefined when there’s so much about it that you just want to keep the same.

My final thought was about how the ” I/we/us” concept also, for me, includes a spiritual element and that somewhere in all my musings the God character features. I was reminded of a quote by Paula D’arcy, she said, “God comes to you disguised as your life.” Could that possibly be true and what would that really look like? How would God, love, that force, that cosmic energy, the otherness I look for to help me reframe and reconnect with myself and ultimate reality, appear as my life? What if ‘God’ appears as those instances, people or events that seem to disrupt my otherwise comfortable, ordered existence? What if this somewhat painful exploration of where I’m at in life is in fact the divine breaking in to remind me that there’s always more. What if in the midst of all the fears and worries, the attempts to make sense of who I am, ‘God’ is simply saying through people, music and moments that “this all belongs”. What if I don’t have to worry about the future, or know exactly what it will look like because today I know what I have to do, today I have all I need and every time “today” appears again I find the same to be true. So while there are days where I’m overwhelmed by the details, days where I’m fearful and unsure and days where I want to hide out in a cottage by the sea, there are also days where I remember how blessed I am. There are days where I’m able to hold it all in perspective and days where the light seems to shine a little brighter than the day before and somehow I know that this will all make sense.

The one about…questions of identity.

‘You’re not my second choice, it was fifty fifty and my mind was everywhere. I was looking at you, I was looking at her with split seconds in between, it was a good date but I woke up this morning and realised I can’t put all my eggs in one basket…’

That was his basic argument, a great way to convince a girl you like her after the girl you really liked decided she preferred someone else! It seems that Lucie prefers Joe to Tommy so now Tommy wants to convince Amber he was never really that into Lucie while Joe is still slightly hurt that Lucie even agreed to the date with Tommy. Atleast that’s what was happening on Wednesday, who knows who’s with who now! I’ve only watched twenty minutes of Love Island but it’s enough…enough to know that there’s a question they’re all asking.

Who are you and why are you here?

It’s a good question and in the context of the show the answer seems obvious: ‘I’m Tommy and I’m here to find love’ but who are you really Tommy and why are you actually here?

There’s a story behind the question, it’s a story with a number of variations, but they all follow the same general pattern and it goes something like this:

Thousands of years ago there was man, a rabbi, a master teacher, a scholar; the kind of person you would go to when you were struggling with the deep mysteries and challenges of life.

One day this rabbi was walking to his home. While he was walking he was in deep thought, which you might expect from a master teacher. Since we was in deep thought he failed to take the path toward his village. Instead, he kept walking in the wrong direction. It wasn’t until he found himself at the gates of a Roman Military fortress that he realised he had missed a turn.

He then heard a soldier yelling at him from the the top of the gates. The solider asked, “Who are you? And, why are you here?” The rabbi needed to buy himself some time so he replied, “what?”

The solider repeated himself asking, “Who are you? And, why are you here?”

The Rabbi replied by asking, “How much do they pay you to ask that question?”

The solider replied, “Five drachmas a week.” The Rabbi responded, “I will pay you double that to stand outside the door of my house and ask me those two questions every single day.’

“Who are you? And, why are you here?”

It’s a question that probes our understanding of identity and purpose. It seems the more the question is asked the more difficult it becomes to answer.

I answered the ‘who are you’ question and it went something like this: I’m a wife, mum, daughter, sister, aunt and friend. I’m a runner and a blogger and I’m a little bit crazy.

Of course there’s a problem with my answer, a big problem. What happens if or when my relationships breakdown or end? What happens if I can’t run or write? That just leaves me crazy! (probably a clinically diagnosed crazy!) Do I lose my identity?

Yet all of our relationships, encounters and experiences feed into our understanding of identity, just as being ‘second choice’ shapes who Love Islands’ Ambers thinks she is. Our experiences and encounters all in some way define who we are and influence what we believe we can do. Sadly for some what we believe about who we are isn’t always positive and the two Love Island suicides are a sorry reminder. So how do we hold the stark reality that to be defined just by our relationships and abilities leaves us vulnerable to loss of identity as the seasons of life change, along with the knowledge that living through all those seasons has made us who we are?

Maybe who we are somehow needs to be rooted in something outside of ourselves, something that exists beyond our experiences and encounters, something that holds true even when what we thought was true fails us?

What if the ‘something’ that holds true is the story we find ourselves in, a love story, a metanarrative at work in the world which holds all things. A story bigger than our own that enables us to live our own story, one that enables us to experience each encounter and relationship while placing those experiences and encounters safely within a bigger narrative and validating their importance. In the same way that light ‘isn’t what we see but that which enables us to see’, so the bigger story isn’t our story to tell but the one that enables all stories to be told. It’s in this metanarrative that we find out who we really are because our story is able to continue within it even when relationships come and go, jobs change or people move away. This means that our identity can remain true, uncompromised and authentic no matter what we experience. It means we can have integrity as individuals no matter what encounters we face. We’re not defined by what we can do or who we know but by knowing that our story is held by the bigger story and that everything we experience simply becomes part of the bigger story and belongs.

What if this means that, as we look back through history we see billions of people who, through their own story, have shaped the meta narrative; people who have moved the whole story of humanity forward towards unity? What if every individual who has ever existed has, in some way, contributed to the unfolding story of humanity? It seems that some stories have been more prominent, for good and for bad, and that they, in their own way, have influenced what we know to be true. Yet the majority of stories go unseen; individuals living out their lives seeking ways to bring unity and peace, to love others and the planet and see something good occur in the world. Billions of people who have raised children, taught children, cared for relatives, cared for the sick, grown a business or worked tirelessly in offices, factories and fields to contribute something towards the good of humanity. Billions of people who have smiled at a stranger, held the door open, offered help, welcomed, included, shared, given, simply been there, all living out their story, doing their “thing” while encouraging others. What if that is what this thing we call life is actually all about? Some people, in doing their ‘thing’ have made money, or acquired fame and power; this has sometimes been used for good, but sometimes has been used to exploit others or make them feel inferior. It seems that even those who have acquired the most wealth, power or influence still don’t get out of here alive which demands the bigger question: ‘why are you here?’ Reality TV might have us all believe we’re here to acquire wealth, status, power or fame but what if our real purpose has more to do with seeking out peace, finding ways of increasing  understanding, hope and joy? What if experiencing love, a true love that’s more about others and our planet than about competition or comparison, is what were here to discover? Maybe that’s more interesting, maybe that’s something we can all take part in, maybe that’s something that moves the whole of the story forwards towards ultimate peace and goodness. Maybe that’s something worth living, and even dying for.

You can find my interview asking ‘Who are a you and why are you here?’ on the Prodigal Collective web page www.prodigalcollective.co.uk or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/theprodigalcollective

 

 

The one about…beginning to ask?

Across the globe, tribes and cultures tell stories of the origins of their species. Oral narratives exist wherever people are found, a way of understanding and explaining the beginnings of time.
One of the most dominant stories told has been passed through generations and recorded in the ancient Hebrew writings of The Torah.
This story tells of a divine force or energy that brought the world into being. For some this creation story is a literal explanation, a seven day description of the origins of the world. Yet the account is more easily read as a piece of poetic prose offering an insight into humanities’ connection with something or someone beyond itself; a consciousness which exists outside of space or time and ultimately holds all that we know to be true. Some call this a divine spirit, others recognise an ‘ultimate reality’ and others might use the name God.
This spirit, force or being talks of our humanity as good. This poem recognises the core of who we are, the very essence of our being, as worthy.
It is from this place that the story unfolds. A story that can be traced back thousands of years. The ever evolving story of humanity. This is the story we find ourselves in.
Every story that’s ever been told finds it origin in this story. Every fairy-tale, every moral fable, every myth, every movie ever made speaks of this story, of what it is to be human and every story ever told is an attempt by humanity to give a voice to the passion, love, loss, pain and purpose we all experience.

We too have a story. Our story is often told to us by our parents or our immediate family. Our story has been told for generations before us; it is reinforced by our tribe, our community; the people we grew up around. The story defines who we think we are, it holds what we believe we can be and it is replayed just enough to remind us who we have been.
The story, more often than not, isn’t a bad story, it usually begins as a love story, the coming together of two people who desire to see something good birthed in the world. As with many love stories, reality plays its part and love can be hard to give and receive when those involved are slightly damaged by their own realities. So often we find ourselves entwined in a story, obliged to continue it, as though it’s a generational mantel that we must carry forward.

Our story is a story that has held us, one that has enabled us to carve out a path in the world yet it might also be a story that has hindered us, a story that has held us back and stopped us being all that we can be. It might have been a story told with the best of intentions but what if the way we explain it or the way we replay it isn’t actually how it really is? What if there’s another way to understand our story? What if we’ve always focussed on one way of telling it at the expense of another interpretation? What if we were to take a step back from our story and review what it is we believe about ourselves?

What if we were to start to ask the question “who am I and why am I here?” What if we were to answer that question for ourselves rather than with the answers our family, our community or our culture insist are the answers? What if, in starting to think about that question we start to ask some bigger questions about what it means to be alive; about our real identity and our true purpose? What if it’s OK for that question to be a tricky one to answer and we find that there are multiple layers of answers to identity and purpose and that those answers change depending on the season of life we’re in? What if there is no wrong answer but instead the question actually needs multiple answers from everyone in order for us to catch a glimpse of what it really means to be human and share life on planet earth? What if one person isn’t ever going to have the definitive to answer? What if it’s only together that we can make more sense of life? What if it takes a collective humanity to give meaning to our experiences? What if we need unity and unity really is the direction we’re headed in?

(You can how follow the “Who are you and why are you here? project on the Prodigal Collective website http://www.prodigalcollective.co.uk by clicking on ‘vlog’)

The one about…it meaning something!

“I can’t do this anymore”. I lay down, closed my eyes and stared intensely at the back of my own eyelids hoping for inspiration; a picture, an image, an idea…nothing, just darkness. I sighed and rolled over. It was going to be a long night.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt trapped like this, don’t get me wrong, it’s not an awful place to be trapped, we’re ok, we’re living life. We can’t stay where we are though and we still can’t see a way forward. It feels a little like I’m in one of those horror movies where there’s no way out and the space is slowly filling with water; something has to make sense soon or I am going to drown.

There are occasional glimmers of hope, possibilities that might come to something but nothing ever seems to be straightforward. Yet in the midst of all the job applications, interviews and conversations about our future, the ‘everyday’ takes place; the real demands, joys and sorrows of raising children, seeing friends and sharing life with each other happens; life happens.

It’s easy just to sit and write about love and hope and adventure; to be passionate about the divine, soul and mystery; it’s at this point though that it has to mean something. It has to mean something when life is hard, when there isn’t a plan, when you can see those around you hurting and you can’t fix it. That’s when all the whimsical theological theorising actually has to be true.

This is where I have to believe that this story, the one I find myself living in, makes sense in a bigger story.

This is where I have to decide to love; to be kind and patient with those around me even though other feelings overwhelm me. This is where I also have to choose to love and forgive myself when I don’t love others as I would like to.

This is where, when fear taunts me, I acknowledge it’s existence but I don’t let it take the steering wheel. It’s where, when grief engulfs me, I allow it to do it’s work but I also take a deep breath and dare to keep hoping.

This is where I have to acknowledge that I can’t meet all the expectations placed on me by myself and others, where I admit I don’t even want to meet some of those expectations. This I where I accept that I don’t always cope and that it’s OK not to.

This is also where the tension between science and soul exists, where the logical reasoned approach to life meets the mysterious whisper of what could be and leaves me torn, not really knowing which route to take. This is where I’m left clinging to the belief that it will all make sense despite the fact that sometimes all I really want to do is hide under the duvet and stare at the inside of my eyelids!

So, this is where I choose to believe in the Divine; in a force that holds all things and where I admit that I believe that same force will renew, restore, refresh and resurrect all things, even my story.

This is where what I write means something. Right here, right now!

The one about…expectation!

Life was spiralling out of control. It had been a year since she’d left home but her understanding of who she was and where her life was headed was not becoming any clearer. Her eating habits were becoming more erratic as she desperately tried to have control over something. She’d failed to gain a place at university for the second year in a row and she had sixteen rejection letters to prove it. As she neared the end of her ‘year out’ she was very aware that life wasn’t going as she’d expected, not only had she failed to meet her own expectations she knew she’d pretty much failed to meet everyone else’s. That’s when the cutting began.

Maybe no ones actually got it together, despite appearances. Maybe we’re all living with expectation in some form or another. We don’t expect relationships to require so much work, we’ve been brought up with the fairy tales full of “happy ever afters.” We expect that we’ll find a job we’ll succeed at and enjoy, after all we’ve spent so many years in the education system surely that’s what we’re entitled to. We don’t even expect our loved ones to die when they do, even though we know it will happen to us all eventually, we never really expect death. We’re not really prepared for what life expects of us and sometimes we don’t cope with that!

Maybe we should be taught to manage our expectations; maybe then we’d cope with those feelings of anger, grief, frustration, sadness, loneliness and fear a little better. I imagine though, if we did learn to manage our expectations, that we’d also manage out the joy, laughter, hope and excitement and life would become incredibly monotone or mundane. So we’re left living with the challenge of expectation! Maybe if we could understand expectation our understanding of what it means to cope, or not, would make more sense.

Often in the ordinariness of the everyday we deal with a whole range of emotions because that what life invites. What if intertwined somewhere in those ordinary emotions that we all experience we also juggle that set of expectations placed on us either by ourselves or by others? What if just below the surface of our lives, we’re constantly managing those expectations? Like the pressure from the media to look a certain way, eat certain food or shop in a certain place? Or the pressure from our own family, friends or belief system to live up to a particular way of being in the world. We expect, or are expected, to cope and when we don’t we’re left somewhere between bewildered and depressed.

I know many people grow up with a strongly ingrained set of beliefs and a fierce loyalty to family. When we break away from that and find ourselves “free” of parental control or tribal constraints we take on the challenge of living those expectations. There’s a whole new world to explore. Many of us carry with us throughout life the expectations of the family that raised us, it acts as our moral compass, our marker for how to be in the world! For some that’s intertwined with “religious” belief, for others it’s simply family values. The expectation we get a job, earn money, buy a house, find a partner maybe even have children. Even if we feel our family don’t expect much from us there’s still social expectations that we’ll supposedly conform to. Somehow we learn to cope with those expectations but sometimes we find the demands of them stifling.

Here’s the thing, what if there’s some value in not coping, in not conforming, at least for a while? What if mental or emotional lapses, where we “don’t cope” actually are moments where we discover more about ourselves? What if some breakdowns in stability, some rebellion against societal expectation, or some failure to meet familial goals, are opportunities to reconnect with ourselves, to actually discover who we really are?

It seems that some of the greatest musicians, lyricists, writers and artists often struggled with depression or other issues which compromised their mental health. Some of the most beautful, creative and inspiring work is borne out of that place of pain. What if not coping provides opportunity for creativity to flourish? What if in those moments there is a deeper connection with soul, with meaning and purpose?

What if to some extent we need to celebrate our inability to cope rather than rush to find a quick fix? What if, when the temptation to meet all those expectations takes hold along with the stark reality that we either can’t or simply don’t want to, instead of adopting our usual coping strategies we take time out, to listen to ourselves, to reconnect with who we are and learn from what we’re experiencing because it is actually teaching us something! What if that’s really the role of religion in the world; not to place more expectation on us but to provide spaces and places to reconnect with ourselves and others, to encounter something more and share in the story we find ourselves in. What if then we find we’re better placed to navigate all that life asks of us? What if there’s something about being more honest with ourselves and others that allows us all to realise everyone’s just figuring it out, no one is completely sorted and everyone else is doing today for the first time too?

The one about…coping.

Alone, she sat, the silver blade pressed against her arm. Slowly and deliberately she moved the metal across her skin, the gaping flesh making way for the trickle of the thick crimson blood.

She tried hard to work out how she felt as she watched the blood ooze from the wound. There was no anger or fear, she didn’t feel any pain, it was something else….relief, she felt relief.

Relief that she was still alive, the blood was proof of that much. Relief that she finally had something that was hers, something secret and special, her own way of retreating from the world. Relief that she could still feel, the tears had long since run out and she wasn’t sure she was capable of feeling anymore but for that moment she felt peaceful, content and alive.

The warm blood ran down the inside of her arm and for a while she watched in awe of the beauty, the colour, the warmth, the pattern it made as she traced the lines and then, very calmly she picked up a tissue and pressed it over the gaping skin, she lay back in the bed and for the first time in a long time she genuinely smiled.

She wasn’t sure how long she lay there for, or if she slept but when she did finally move she very carefully tended to her wound. It never crossed her mind that it might heal better with stitches, or that it could get infected….all that made sense was that now she had something to care for, a reason to look after herself and probably for the first time, something about herself that she loved.

The cutting continued for months, not every day and rarely as a result of anger. It was her secret, her moment of punishment and protection, penance and passion, revulsion and tenderness, a tangible expression of self loathing and yet also a reason to love herself. A living articulation of the great paradox of life; a way she could express, hold, contain and release some of those emotions she struggled to otherwise give language to.

She knew people judged her for it, labelled her as mentally ill, maybe she was but maybe most people were! Maybe they just chose the more socially acceptable methods of processing their emotions.

Those days, months, years were not my finest, not moments I’m proud of but I equally don’t regret living life that way. I guess I do regret the pain I caused to those who loved me, the worry and the disappointment they felt but I hold to the belief that those years shaped me. I also know that still, when life is overwhelming and the myriad of emotions that confuse any given experience seem to take over I think about finding a blade. I never have. I stopped cutting over fifteen years ago when I realised that it had become a habit rather than a release. I guess I’ve found other ways to understand, hold and express how I feel.

What I’ve also come to realise is that when those emotions dominate and all I want to do is hide away or distract myself from the intensity of feeling they demand, instead of employing yet another coping mechanism I’m now more able to name that emotion and mark it as holy! I know! Sounds a little crazy right!

Here’s how I now understand all of this: we all face times in life where emotions surface. Sometimes stirred by a song or a film, sometimes evoked by a smell or a sound. Sometimes storming to the forefront of who we are because of words spoken or words left unsaid; a response to our own or others actions. There are occasions of immense sadness and grief, others that cause us to fear or to doubt, some that just make us angry. Yet there are also times where a deep sense of joy and connection to something more releases feelings were not sure what to do with. I know now that there are many ways of releasing, burying or ignoring emotions; that extra glass of wine, an intoxicatingly wrong relationship, another evening spent watching pointless television or indulging in that extra piece of cake. Some of those ways we use to cope aren’t healthy, aren’t the best for us and others are deemed more acceptable, like an addiction to exercise or work. We all find ways of coping. Other times we don’t “cope” and we find ourselves reeling from the shock, embarrassment or disappointment of another outburst.

Yet what if we choose to name those emotions that hold us so violently. Fear. Doubt. Loneliness. Anger. Anxiety. Confusion. Grief. Hope. Joy. What if we draw a circle around whatever it is we’re feeling and allow it just to be. Not good or bad, just holy.

What if it sits in that holy circle either until the intensity passes or until we’re ready to deal with it, or more fully enjoy it? What if we listen carefully and calmly to what it’s telling us about where our life is at but we don’t allow it to push us into unhealthy behaviours or dependencies. What if we dare to stay awake, fully present in our own lives, in tune with who we are and where our lives are headed? What if some moments are simply holy, set apart as unexplainable, and uncontrollably beautiful? What if we have the courage to embrace that! What if that’s what it means to be fully human, fully alive? What if it all belongs? What if in that place we can truly know what love is?