Archive for the tag “spiritual living”

Walking With Odin

A few years ago I found myself in a troubling situation.  A big ball of conflict rose up in my life that left me reeling and forcing me to reassess many aspects of myself and beliefs.  At the core of this was my beliefs about conflict itself.

From when I first understood what conflict and war was, I didn’t like it.  As a very sensitive child, I found the violence and anger in my own home difficult to deal with and rejected it, tending to withdraw.  I decided early on that I was a pacifist, that I didn’t agree with violence or going to war under any circumstance.  However, in the absence of positive example I also spent a lot of the first part of my life feeling that I had no clue how to deal with conflict in an effective way and was terrified of challenging people.  I tended to simply shy away and submit or to swing to the other fearful, angry extreme to push away people I felt threatened by.

Over time I learned assertiveness and started to force myself to raise issues in a calm way.  I was surprised to find it usually worked!  This may not be news to many of you out there, but to me it was a revelation!  Of course there would always be people who were difficult to deal with, but I started to realise how assertive I could be when I needed to.  It further ingrained my pacifism and desire for a peaceful world, a peaceful life.

Then that year came along and with it came challenges.  I found myself under attack in my workplace, in a position where I felt under pressure to do something I believed was wrong.  I tried my normal methods of communicating, calmly, reasonably, persisting when knocked back once, twice, three times.  I really believed that I could resolve it that way, through talking, using reason and negotiation and compromise.  I kept trying.  It didn’t work.  Core parts of my life were under threat as a consequence to continuing my challenge.  The situation was making me ill with stress because I couldn’t resolve it.  What to do?

We are marching, through the hills

We are marching, an army of steel

We will not stop until we find the weak

Till we destroy the soft and the meek

We are marching

Well, perhaps I could have become the aggressor and embarked on a course of action to personally disempower the other people involved.  This would have turned me into something I didn’t want to be though and would have resulted in an ever escalating battle for power.  Any principle involved would have been lost in the desire to ‘win’.  That wasn’t an option.

We are hiding in the caves

We are hiding in this secret place

Guarding the flame that burns strong and true

We cannot fight so we will run from you

We are hiding

Perhaps I could have walked away from the job and the situation without challenging.  In the past that had often been my response to conflicts that appeared unresolvable through other means.  Sometimes that is the right thing to do.  Tai Chi taught me that there are times when yielding is the most powerful response. However, there are also times to resist and in this instance yielding would have meant walking away from a situation where it was not simply a difference of opinion.  Walking away when I felt that something wrong was happening that could affect others would have left me feeling that I had indirectly colluded.  It would not bring me peace.

We are watching from the trees

We are watching the human disease

Where one must win and the other be lost

What hope remains, we all bear the cost

We are watching

Or perhaps I could have simply backed down, withdrawn my concerns.  I could have let it all be swept under the carpet, bemoaning how dreadful it was but doing nothing about it.  I could have martyred myself to an illusion of peace through silence and submission. I could have remained in the situation doing something that would have eroded my sense of integrity and self-respect.  I knew from experience that this would not be a viable long term solution either.

Freedom comes to those who learn how to fly

My great wings they circle in the sky

See yourself as I see you

Look inside and feel for what is true

Am I marching?

Am I hiding?

Am I watching?

I found myself in an odd limbo with a strong sense of what would not work, but struggling to grasp what to do.  I needed to find a way to deal with the situation in a way that allowed me to defend myself and my integrity without becoming the thing I was opposing.  It was a difficult moment when I realised that I was going to have to fight…not as an aggressor, but I was going to need to be much more active in defending myself, and once I started I was going to have to see it through right to the end.

This realisation did not sit well with me at all.  It meant that I had to accept the level of breakdown in these relationships and that the people involved were not willing to listen or resolve the issues.  They were prepared to sustain harmful interactions until I sat down and shut up.  I had to recognise where my natural empathy and compassion was hindering rather than helping me, becoming tools in the hands of others for psychological and emotional abuse.  I had to let go of my desire to be accepted and liked by the people I had been a part of for several years.  I also had to confront an enormous amount of fear and distrust in myself that was telling me, slightly hysterically at times, that I couldn’t do it, wasn’t strong enough, wouldn’t be supported.

Perhaps the worst of all there was the continuing niggling doubt as to whether it was okay for me to fight at all.  A lot of my spiritual beliefs over the years had encouraged me to look at situations like this and ‘accept’, ‘to go with the flow’, to look at anything that would demand conflict to resolve as one of those things needing ‘the serenity to accept the things I cannot change’.  But in this situation this felt a lot like ‘hiding’ or ‘watching’.  What happens when what is in front of you is something that you cannot accept, cannot walk away from, and cannot resolve through repeated attempts at reasonable discussion and negotiation?  What then?

I spent several months considering this as the situation went on.  My partner has an interest in military history, and I found myself watching documentaries about various wars that I would have otherwise probably avoided.  Remembrance Day came around and I found myself drawn to watching TV programmes about WWII, footage of RAF pilots going into battle, stories about D Day and Normandy landings.

Watching the footage of WWII was incredibly moving.  Far from being able to launch a weapon from hundreds of miles away for a questionable political agenda as so often happens today, this was extensive face to face conflict that was fought to stop the sweeping wave of a very real, perniciously toxic force that was cutting across Europe.   If the people and armed forces of the allies had chosen to ‘hide’ or to ‘watch’, the history of this country and others would have been very different.

Resistance to the invading forces of WWII was at least partly driven by the ability to see a bigger picture and the consequences of failing to respond – the ongoing loss of millions of lives through ethnic and cultural cleansing with many nations condemned to live indefinitely under a viciously oppressive regime.

Despite the necessity of resistance, there’s no doubt that WWII was a horrific experience for everyone on the front line. This is born out by the heart-breaking casualty record.  It is estimated that over 60 million people, both military and civilian lost their lives as a result. Many more sustained permanent physical, psychological and emotional injures. That is an unimaginable number of people, families, communities, nations broken and stripped of their loved ones.  That is an unimaginable amount of grief across the planet. That cost is the greatest possible lesson for the human species about the need for the world to learn to work together and listen to one another with open hearts and minds rather than create the circumstances that lead to war.

Obviously I am not remotely comparing my situation to WWII!! However,  I found my reflections on it helpful.  if we are ever in doubt as to whether it is okay to stand up to a personal  bully…a person, group or institution who actively attacks our rights and personal freedoms, who attacks our ability to live with truth and integrity… then the lessons of conflicts fought to defend the right to life and freedom can teach us something:

  • They help us understand what is important to us and how we value ourselves and others.
  • They help us to resist injustice by standing uncompromisingly in who we are and the positive truths we hold.
  • They teach us that nothing and nobody can prevent us from speaking or acting if we are able and willing to accept the consequences of that.
  • They inspire us to dig deep for the courage and strength to assert and maintain our boundaries.
  • They teach us that our actions and responses have consequences and that we are responsible for the impact we create on others and the world, both positive and negative
  •  They ask us to consider the consequence of not responding at all and the passive choice that represents

In entering any situation where we assert ourselves in this way, we must accept the possibility that we may not succeed in defending ourselves in the way we hope for.  We risk losing whatever our stake is.  But if we simply ‘hide’ or ‘watch’ then we have already surrendered.  That passivity is what allows bullying to flourish.

In my situation I stood my ground and followed the avenues and processes open to me, kept on presenting the evidenced truth.  This was my way of maintaining my boundary and holding onto my integrity despite the number of threats, personal insults and refusals to acknowledge any evidence that contradicted the fabricated ‘reality’ that  were being thrown back.

I spent over 18 months maintaining my position, my boundary. The level of stress involved was immense under sustained heavy fire. However, I followed it through to the end of the process.  I was still met with blanket denial.  I had not given ground but we had reached an impasse and at that point I sensed my own health needed me more than this situation.  So this was the time to walk away as a positive choice for my own wellbeing.

Did I succeed?  Well yes and no…

  • Yes because I did not allow my integrity to be compromised regardless of the consequences.  I did not say or do what was demanded of me when it conflicted so completely with my own inner truth, or to keep the peace for others’ convenience.  I didn’t ‘hide’ or ‘watch’, I came out to actively resist the force that was ‘marching’ against me without adopting it’s behaviour.  I just kept telling the truth.
  • No because ultimately I lost my job, temporarily lost my health and my life was thrown into chaos and breakdown.  Also, the situation did not change as far as I know, though the issue was now formally raised on record.

However the soulful, creative life  I now lead was the ultimate outcome of this painful process.  That ordeal ignited the courage to follow through on what I really wanted to do with my life. Though hard won, I would not go back for a minute. It seems so often that the battles we fight in life are catalysts for internal liberation, the overcoming of the fears that hold us back from the life we feel truly called to live.

Perhaps where bullies are concerned though, we must also accept that we, as individuals, may only ever win a battle, not the war.  Most bullies simply move on to new targets. However, our own ground remains sacred, we have not accepted the unacceptable and passively allowed it to take up residence and space in our life and heart. We have protected our inner world from corruption, deceit and abuse.  This makes whether we ‘win’ or ‘lose’ irrelevant.  We may be overpowered or reach a dead end in mundane terms, but by refusing to participate or validate, refusing to be turned into what we are not, refusing to accept an identity or role that we know to be false or harmful to us, we defend and maintain our ground.  We stay in possession of our life and our spirit.  At the end of the day, these are the only things we really  have. They are worth fighting for.

(Words in quotes from song ‘Freedom Comes’ by Beth Rees – all rights reserved)

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The Unveiling of Spring

However long I follow this spiritual path, it never ceases to amaze me how each season continues to reveal different aspects of itself. Previously unseen lessons and mirrors of reflection present themselves with each turning of the wheel. This year Spring wants to talk to me about becoming visible in the world, an idea I have struggled with for most of my life. As a child making myself visible or noticeable wasn’t a terribly safe course of action.  While I have learned to overcome this to a certain extent in pursuit of my passions, the unsettling sense of vulnerability lingers, raising it’s head whenever I push up against the edges of my comfort zone.

Pursuing a creative education and career has challenged me in so many ways in terms of visibility. Anyone who has been through the art education system will know the ordeal of having not only your finished work but also all the mess that happens between an idea and that finished piece scrutinised, assessed and judged. I have often thought that art education in the western world is a kind of emotional endurance test…it asks you to make yourself vulnerable, to make your inner workings visible and manifest and then grades you. It can feel very validating if you are deemed successful, but soul destroying and shaming if you are found wanting.

tightrope

Having said that, learning to separate ourselves from what we create is a worthwhile exercise. Releasing attachment frees us to look honestly at what we have brought into the world and to learn from it, to accept that the majority of what we create embodies a journey rather than a destination. It is also necessary if we are to survive emotionally as a practising creative of any kind in the world – we cannot avoid criticism if we choose to put our work in front of a wider audience. But I find myself asking what is the cost of learning that detachment in the painful way we so often do? Do we make ourselves less visible? Do we learn to hold back? Become focussed on an end product to please others rather than feeling free to take risks and explore the infinite ways to experience and express the authentic voice within us?

The structures and systems of our society do not tend to help many of us in making that deeper internal connection that open us up to living an authentic life regardless of external opinion.  Insidious messages about every aspect of who we should be and what we should aspire to flow towards us relentlessly from the modern world.  Our media, government and corporations work hard to orientate us towards external criteria as a measure of our worth.  We are not often encouraged to seek out what is meaningful or true for us as individuals and the social penalties of stepping outside of these accepted values can be difficult to deal with. It can take a significant amount of motivation and courage to walk our own path and be truly present in our life.

headshop

When it comes to creativity, many people never recover from the school system. I have lost count of the number of people I have spoken to at various events who have pointed to my work and said “I would love to do something like that but I was never any good at art at school” At some point in their early years someone measured them against a narrow set of criteria for a narrow range of creative outlets, found them lacking and defined them. The result was a belief embedded in a young consciousness that they were ‘not creative’ and did not have permission to pursue those activities. The joy and inner connection that they may have experienced through these activities was not relevant to the grading system.

I myself was labelled as someone who ‘couldn’t draw’. It took many years for me to realise that there are many different ways to draw and make marks and that they are all valid.  It was only as I came to understand that my beliefs about my creativity came from an external voice and did not speak for my heart that I was able to give myself permission to reach for what came from inside.

When I learned that it was okay to express myself in ways that I felt genuinely connected to, that made some part of me visible and tangible, I found I could tap into something that felt altogether different. Though I still sometimes have to remind myself that I am the one who gives myself permission to create, nobody else.

pearl

I guess what I’m getting at here is the way in which, for so many of us, the fear of judgement (whether from others or ourselves) and the desire to avoid the emotions that those judgements provoke in us, can send us scurrying back into our shells, our thick defensive skins, rather than risk being visible, vulnerable, authentic. However we came to take on that fear, however we came to believe that an external voice is more valid than the voice in our heart that longs to speak for itself, for many of us it’s a very real sensation. It can feel overwhelming when we start to break out of our limiting beliefs and thinking. We might even self sabotage in the pursuit of our dreams to give ourselves an excuse to run back to the comfortable shadow of anonymity. But it’s important for our own growth that we keep pressing up against those self imposed boundaries and limitations, asking  ourselves “does this belief that is holding me back really belong to me?”

The thing is…life doesn’t wait for us. Spring is shouting that message loud and clear at the moment as the wheel turns once more. Everything in nature is getting ready to unleash it’s potential, to create itself, to become visible. We too have potential to release, parts of ourselves that long to be unveiled, empowered with self-direction, given life and breath. In many ways we are no different to the seeds, filled at our core with the knowledge of who we are, with everything we need to manifest and express our true nature. The plant kingdom provides us with tremendous examples of entering into the flow of that unfolding. A dandelion honours the blueprint inside itself, it doesn’t question whether it has the right to be a dandelion or whether it should be trying to be less like a dandelion and more like a crocus! We are in the world to be visible, to be present, to grow into the fullness of who we truly are without shame or fear. And like the seeds, those hidden parts of us have been dreaming of themselves through a very long, cold winter. They have been waiting for this moment, for the return of the sun to awaken them and make them fully alive.

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