The Road Trip of a Lifetime

Recently I’ve been feeling ‘stuck’. Right now, it’s like I’m parked in a Walmart carpark procrastinating about where to go next. Perhaps there are some great Walmart carparks out there, but you probably wouldn’t choose to hang out there for long. I’ve foolishly let myself run out of gas and this body of mine, my vehicle, keeps breaking down. This frustrating state of inertia urges me to reflect back on an awesome family road trip we did last summer and use it to contemplate my own inner journey.

We finally did it, the family road trip we’d been dreaming of, and it was magic. The Pacific Coast Highway opened up in front of us, jagged cliffs and wild sea interspaced by stretches of golden sand. The salty smell of the ocean air and broadness of the horizon in every direction gave us all a sense of openness and adventure. My husband and I shared the driving, our eight-year-old son, Theo, in the back.  We took turns to pick the soundtrack, choices ranging from classic road trip tunes to sing-alongs, audiobooks, or just the sound of the journey‑—the smooth engine humming and the rush of the ocean breeze past the open window.

Our vehicle, Midnight, was a black Chevy Express V8 with ‘ramblin’ vans’ written in neon-yellow writing down her side. She was pleasingly chunky, with perfect dimensions, subtly striking and just so thoughtfully kitted out. She oozed adventure and fun! As our travelling companion and home for 10 days, she exceeded our expectations. Her back seat folded down into a double mattress and she had a pop-up tent that sat on her roof. Neatly stacked in her boot was everything we could have possibly needed: bedding, deck chairs, a table, stove and propane with matches and lighters, pots and pans, cooler, washing up equipment, bin bags, a five-gallon water container fully loaded—you name it, she had it. There was even a Tupperware full of herbs and condiments.

Our first stop was Port Orford where Theo and I jumped breakers on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, and I swam. The bracing cold water, summer sun and gentle ocean breeze soothed and revitalised us all. Just ten miles down the highway, we leaned our bodies against the howling wind at Cape Blanco, the western most point of the USA, wrapped up warm in our coats and woolly hats — a world apart from the nearby cove.

A few days later we camped under the magnificent canopy of the Redwoods in Northern California. Trees, some over two thousand years old, towered over us, reaching up to over 300 feet, their trunks so big we could all fit inside a hollowed out one, with space for a handful more. Their serene majesty filled us with a sense of wonder and awe and made our existence seem insignificant.

My mind returns to the present…

As I walk under the autumnal deciduous canopy of our local woodland in southwest London, I contemplate my inner road trip and how to resolve this feeling of ‘being stuck’. It comes to me that Ned, the name I’ve given to my mind by the way, is in the front seat and he’s behaving like an adolescent teenager. At times he can be smart, fun and reasonable but recently he’s been so demanding, sulking and giving me ultimatums. Right now, he’s riled that I won’t let him drive.

To be fair I used to let him drive a lot, so I can see why he’s feeling ousted.  But I’ve come to understand that he kept taking me to dead-end places. Often, he’d take us on scenic routes and we had a lot of fun along the way, but the destinations were always underwhelming and left me feeling that I was on the wrong track. I’m at a place now where I sense I need to centre and navigate my true direction, and Ned’s not happy about that.

And then there’s Kendra in the back, who’s usually pretty chilled but she’s been impatient and irritated recently. She’s my emotional body and when she takes the driving seat it can be a bit of a rollercoaster. She can be wildly fun, but we might just end up in a ditch. She tends to sit in the back seat now and is normally pretty quiet but when our Midnight breaks down, this fragile body of mine, she finds it challenging. We’ve been breaking down an awful lot recently and Kendra’s not happy. Like a busted tap spluttering water, something’s blocking her flow.

And me, that little spark of soul that’s doing its best to shine, I’m in the driving seat. Now I know it’s where I’m meant to be; for too long I’ve been letting Ned drive. But I still feel like we’re going nowhere. I’m doing my best to appease Ned, whilst knowing the direction he suggests is unlikely to serve me. I’m simultaneously trying to calm Kendra, whose frustrations, often linked to Midnight’s constant breaking down, I’m unable to resolve. I’m up to my eyeballs with this situation. I’m no mechanic and I’ve taken it to so many experts with little avail. Try as I might I know that on my own I still haven’t mastered looking after this body of mine. I’m sore and achy—ragged with exhaustion and pain.

Oh, and I almost forgot, my Beloved spiritual guide, he’s sleeping in the back. I mean I know he’s there and I do check in on him fairly often. But I guess my attention has been so focused on Ned and Kendra and trying to work out a solution through appeasing them, that He’s taken a back seat and is having a snooze.

Again I reflect back on our family road trip…

We had a multitude of challenges, large and small along the way. When we arrived in the US, we were so tired from the ten-hour flight, we left a bag at the Portland airport. With Midnight to pick up and a tired but over-excited eight-year-old to cajole into sleeping, the thought of retrieving it weighed heavy. But we did, and the airport staff were lovely, so that picking up the bag couldn’t have been easier. Later, in Port Orford, I became unwell, so we had to change our plans and navigate the US medical system. But there was a thrill in the spontaneity, and we were rewarded by seeing two Grey Whales, spouting joyously in the Ocean just off Coos Bay. We nearly lost Theo when he went for a wild pee on a wooded clifftop overlooking the sea and slipped (we won’t dwell on that). But it reminded us of our mortality and sparked a gratitude in being alive.

On our longest journey, through Grant’s Pass, from the west coast Redwoods to Klamath Falls, smoke from the raging forest fires to the south tickled our nostrils and dried our throats. The scale of the devastation and destruction in stark contrast to the splendour of the forest we had savoured brought an appreciation of the fragile balance of nature and the inevitability of change. Somehow the challenges seemed to melt into insignificance in the bigger picture of an awesome adventure holiday. On that journey with a destination and a goal to chill, we lived in the moment and had fun along the way.

My mind returns again to my present walk in London…

I breathe deeply and soften, centering myself despite the noise, despite the pain. From deep within, a spark of inspiration rises to the surface and the solution comes to me. I need to take control of the places we have in the van. From now on, Ned and Kendra are in the back. They’re a part of me, so it’s not like I can turf them out. They’re in for the long haul.  But hell, I don’t want them in the driving seat any more, and not even riding up front. I’ll listen and engage with what they have to say. I know they can serve me well and I love them dearly.  I soften my gaze inwards and tap into the love that will turn my Beloved towards me. From now on, I need to keep his attention, because I want him awake and up front by my side.

This notion takes me back in time again…

Towards the end of our family road trip, we were awed by the depth and clarity of Crater Lake as we headed to our final camping place alongside the volcanic obsidian flow of East Lake. We bathed in the lake under the pink and golden hues of sunset. Theo invented a game of football for the three of us which we played in our plot amongst the trees. We savoured our last camp-side dinner together, sharing stories by the campfire. In the morning, hummingbirds frolicked joyfully by our side as we delighted in our breakfast in the sunshine. Our next stop was Bend where we returned Midnight and stayed with friends. A new phase of our adventure had begun.

Back in the London park…

At long last this ‘stuck’ feeling begins to shift. It’s like I’m finally driving out of the Walmart parking lot. My inner road seems unfamiliar and I falter, but my Beloved, sitting beside me now, smiles encouragingly. As we lock gazes inside, I’m reminded that if I keep Him close, He will flawlessly guide me through all terrains: When I take the wrong turn, He sets me back on track; when I’m breaking down, He gives respite to my pain; when I’m running on empty, He tops me up with gas, and when I let him be chief navigator, His direction is always true. He shows me that I have all the tools I need inside of me. He is the Master Mechanic and is slowly, patiently, teaching me the magic of His ways.

This inner adventure is truly the road trip of a lifetime, and it is not always easy. Whilst I recognise I haven’t mastered the art of driving this inner trail yet, I am blessed with a Master co-driver, and He assures me that ‘I’m on my Way’.

Emergence

The acorn, locked in its hard encasement,

Pushes down roots holding it fast,

To the dark dirt of the earth.

In blind effort it forges strong foundations.

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Image: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH

The caterpillar, ensnared in its chrysalis,

Constrained, contained, yet of its own making.

The guise of outer stillness belies the inner metamorphosis,

A deep surrender to the unknown to come.

 

The chick, locked inside its hard eggshell,

Dark, safe, secure and warm,

Outgrows the comfort of its entrapment.

The strength to break free wells up from within.

 

Urged on by the warm glow of the sun,

A vibrant green shoot pushes up into daylight.

Through resistance it finds its strength,

A journey of becoming a magnificent oak.

 

Stretching its wings against the wet chrysalis,

A startling azure blue butterfly takes flight.

A new lightness and grace to its being,

As it glides and flutters across the spring sky.

 

The soft tap of the chick on its shell,

Becomes more forceful, more pointed,

Until it bursts out of its former refuge,

With the courage to face a brand-new world.

 

Ready to leave the blind comfort of the known,

I learn to spar more playfully with my limitations,

As I challenge the very fabric of my conceptions,

And surrender ever deeper to each resistance.

 

I step out of the carnage of my own making,

And dance and twirl in the fields of creation,

Unfolding inwards to the wisdom, power and love of my Beloved,

I grow my wings and begin to soar.

Today I Walk with the Divine Key in my Pocket

Yesterday I wandered too far,

Striving for something I forgot I already had.

Fog descended, smothering the trail.

Disorientated, I stumbled, twisted my ankle, grazed my knee.

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Lost and alone, bruised and bleeding,

Waiting for the mist to lift.

I sensed the haze close in

Becoming thicker and heavier.

 

In well-thought-out plans of escape,

I became further entrapped.

Until I remembered the key you gave me,

And softened to seek your guidance within.

 

  A spark of clarity burned through the haze.

This impenetrable fog, I now see,

Is of my own creation.

And  you’ve graced me the key to its unmaking.

 

Today I walk with Shabda in my pocket,

A rare pearl charged with our love at dawn.

A love so powerful it sets me alight and radiates out.

Graced to be a vessel, divine purpose refound.

(Shabda: power of divine love in expression)

Be The Ocean

I am a stagnant pond

Entrapped by binding reeds.

Boulders bar my flow,

Whilst thick green algae

Blocks the sunlight and suffocates my essence.

Glistening ocean

                                                                                                                                                 istock

My water is murky, my vision impaired.

Stuck in the putrid stench, I flounder.

Drowning in illusory impressions

Of what and how life should be.

 

You gracefully dip your swan wing on my surface.

A beam of clarity ripples through my being.

I sense in the spaces between the muck and mire,

A burning desire to be something other, to be free.

 

You lift me up and show me your vista.

Verdant pastures and tinkling brooks,

Flowing merrily into rumbling rivers

that tumble effortlessly downstream.

 

You fly on and show me the ocean,

A great sea of love, pure and clear.

Glistening, sparkling, its reflection dazzling,

Its divine radiance igniting a spark in me.

 

Tenderly you whisper ‘You are the ocean’

And I feel a surge of power and love glow inside.

Gently you place me back in my pond

But graced by your vision, now I see.

 

That when I turn my face from the reeds they no longer ensnare me.

When I dwell on You, your rays of love burn the algae away.

When I behold the boulders through your gaze

They soften and erode into nothingness.

 

In truth, I am no pond, no river

But a shining spark of the great ocean Divine.

Your wisdom, power and love become me

For I am the radiant ocean of love within.

 

P.S. If you enjoyed reading this post, I’d so love it if you left a comment to share what resonated with you (or didn’t) and/ or any experience of your own inspired by this poem. My intention is that this blog becomes an interactive experience. Thank you!

An Ode to Autumn

 

I am a Sycamore tree

Branches laden with leaves of woe

Painful memories of past misdeeds

Of grief, anger, fear and greed

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iStock

Broad leaves of undue attachment to mind’s desires

Illusory concepts of how marriage, motherhood, work, health, should be

Spiky leaves of criticism and self-reproach

Heavy leaves of negativity that drink my life force and stifle my being

 

You take my hand and show me their colours

This motley collection that is part of me

Their beautiful autumn hues of deep painful crimson

Burnt hopes of orange, hints of fading joyous green

Slivers of dying angry brown, undue highs of yellow

Tinged with golden reflections

 

And I see the magnificence of their purpose

The divine blessing their pain reveals

How the agony of their revelation

Is only a calling to go home

 

A calling for this yearning soul to open and soften in divine surrender

To let go of these burdens, allowing them to flutter away in the wake of your Grace

To be stripped bare of all that was, to rest in your arms and bask in your love

An empty vessel, yours to endow, with a love so deep to bid only your will

 

Baraka Bashad

P.S. If you enjoyed reading this post, I’d so love it if you left a comment to share what resonated with you (or didn’t) and/ or any experience of your own inspired by this poem. My intention is that this blog becomes an interactive experience. Thank you!

Jack the Puppet

I’m on my knees delving through the contents of our childhood toy cupboard when his cheeky face catches my eye. I lift him up gently, admiring his stripy leather shoes, cute denim dungarees and blue and white gingham shirt. Huge eyes glint naughtily at me underneath a baseball cap, while a mop of curly brown hair frames his grinning freckled face. I smile, remembering the hours of joy he brought me as a child.

Then I see his tangled strings.

“Oh it’s Jack” my sister pipes, glancing in my direction. We’re clearing out our old play room in preparation for our parents’ house move.

I had even forgotten his name.

Jack the puppet pic

I remember the elation I felt when my Godfather Charles gave me Jack the puppet. I must have been about nine years old. The prospect of my Godfather coming to stay always gave me a tingle of excitement, not least due to the wonderful presents he gave. A red diabolo juggling toy which I spent ages trying to master; an alluring set of nature books with stunning drawings I would pore over; a pair of huge white china cats whose bright blue eyes stared at me from their preeminent position on the mantelpiece in my bedroom.

I’d be hovering impatiently around the front door awaiting his sparkling clean, leather seated BMW to purr around the corner and draw to a halt. An altogether different beast to our mud splattered 1970’s style farm Land Rover, the once padded back seats long since removed to accommodate sheep and dogs as well as us children. Godfather Charles, an old family friend of my father, was a bachelor and lawyer who lived in London. His city life seemed as exotic  to me, growing up on a Northumbrian farm, as his car in our drive.

I had only visited London once. A whirlwind trip of bright lights and excitement. The long-awaited highlight of the visit, a theatre trip to see Annie, the musical. The words of the songs still alive in my head today. And the much anticipated first trip to McDonalds. An encounter we vowed as a family never to repeat. The processed burgers and soggy, tepid chips a marked disappointment after a diet of home-grown meat and vegetables.

When Jack the puppet was unveiled from the beautifully wrapped parcel Charles handed me, my heart could have burst with joy. Of all the wonderful gifts he’d given me, Jack was surely my favourite. I whiled away hours pulling his strings to help him walk, or wave, or dance. Best of all he was mine. A fabulous new toy just for me. A toy that my sisters yearned to play with, but they had to ask me first.

For years Jack had pride of place in the middle shelf of the toy cupboard, his hanger placed neatly beside him. His presence there would always lift my spirits. However, with time his strings got tangled. At first it was one or two and I would try and untangle them myself. Sometimes it would work, but they always seemed to get snarled up again. As my frustration mounted, Jack would no longer be laid gently back on his shelf in pride position as favourite toy. I’d put him away in the cupboard rather more carelessly, which of course caused the strings to cross and tangle all the more. With time Jack was relegated to the far back of the cupboard; smothered by other toys; abandoned.

I set him in my lap and try and loosen the knots, but the strings appear irrecoverably enjoined. I know my son would enjoy Jack, but I’m not sure I can untangle the strings. I try for a while. Perhaps I have made it worse? Yet surely if the strings became tangled, they can become untangled?

I wonder if this is a metaphor for life. Is it that, as children, we have clearer channels to our inner selves to move through our days more gracefully, to live our own truth more playfully, hearts bursting with joy? As we get older does this ability becomes less spontaneous, less clear? Perhaps as our karmas unfold, the strings that hold us true to ourselves gradually tangle. Maybe the expectations of family and society, even of our own minds, can twist our perspective.

We may try and untangle these strings of undue expectation, of misplaced greed, attachment or anger, these complex threads of relationships ourselves. But more often than not, do we not tangle ourselves up more? Is it not usual to bind ourselves to people, to houses, to jobs, to beliefs, societal expectations and perspectives that solidify and shackle us? Until if we’re not careful our true self is shoved further away into the depths of ourselves, as our minds take over running the show. And like Jack the puppet, our true selves, the beautiful souls that we all are, are shoved to the back of the cupboard, smothered by layers of illusion, crushed by our passions and desires. Perhaps, much like I had forgotten Jack’s name, we could even forget that they are there?

I look down at Jack with remorse. I was the girl who had tossed him aside.

I breathe in a breath of gratitude for my inner Beloved. I too have felt my life to be a tangled mess, been frustrated with each new attempt to untangle my karmic threads. How blessed I feel to recognise that I am not the puppeteer of my life. What a relief to know that my only role is to love and play with my inner Beloved as best I can, trusting that His grace will untangle my karmic knots and set me free.

It’s not as easy as I make it sound. It can be pretty uncomfortable, this untangling process. There’s a reason I’ve ignored these knots of pain, or shame or anger for so long. And hey, I’m pretty fond of some of these shackles I’ve created. There’s a security, an ease, of doing or being in the groove one is accustomed to. I feel my resistance continually. My mind wants to fight to take control. To be the one that sorts out my problems, no matter how large or trite. To take credit for being the organiser, the helper, the achiever, the good mother, wife, sister, friend, daughter, teacher. To reign supreme over my being and be the creator of my life. All this fight, this undignified bluster, despite the tangled mess it’s left me in time and again!

Yet when I do surrender to my inner Beloved, when I do let go of the strings of control, and sink deeper into his vast orbit of love, I’m infused with grace. And this is when miracles occur. Through letting go, I’m gifted a stronger connection to my inner self. A clearer perspective; a deeper insight; a simpler resolution; a glimpse into an easier, more joyful, more loving, more truthful way of being.

Much like Jack’s tangled strings, my karmic strings remain far from untwined. But, despite the fight in which my mind persists, I do realise that the only way to be untangled, to become truly free, is to reach deep inside, hand over the control and leave it be. And to do this, to fully let go, one must deeply trust in the inner Beloved and allow his Grace to be the divine orchestrator, the great untangler, the Master Puppeteer.

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The Grace of Fall

Events can conspire to restrict you, or so it may seem. Having your arm in a cast is hardly conducive to breaking new horizons, one might think. Yet nature shows us its beauty in all its seasons, so perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s autumn when I start writing. When the trees, a beautiful haze of gold, orange, yellow, red, green and copper, are yet to release their beautiful leaves to the ground.

Theo and Tana facing

Photo by Simon Groves

A suspected broken wrist and a new puppy have drawn me to embrace and appreciate this season like never before. Every day Ember and I head out to play. We start in the garden where I have to lift her over the paving stones onto the lawn because she doesn’t like the cold feel of stone on her feet. She makes dens in the passionflower, in blossom now and bearing fruit. She buries her nose in the sedum’s purple florets, and shakes up our bamboo. We rest a lot in the den too, her tiny body warming my tummy as she sleeps whilst I chill out, watching films, listening to music and allowing a more contemplative, reflective vibe to seep into me. My right arm is in a cast, three fingers stuck in a claw so I’m unable to do much of my usual household chores or train for my new role as a Pilates teacher.

I’m still high on the love from my spiritual teacher’s latest seminar a few weeks back, and I feel so full to the brim that I know I need to release. So I write. It’s slow going at first, my clawed fingers sensitive to the pressure of a keyboard. But a particular story has been brewing in my mind for some time: Last winter, I learned to use imagery to ski a black diamond run more gracefully, and this helped me meet the challenges in my life. The tale pours out of me, a natural feeling, like it was always meant to be. A while back a friend of mine, Lesley, who shares the same spiritual teacher and whose writing I admire, had offered free advice on writing. This feels like the perfect moment to take her up on this opportunity.

My adventures with Ember progress to walks on the street. At first she is tentative, just sitting on the front doorstop, gazing at her surroundings and sniffing in the new scents. So we sit together enjoying the warmth of late summer. The next day she makes it to the end of the street, inspecting all the plants along the front gardens of our terraced street as she goes. As the days unfold her confidence grows and we become more adventurous together. True to the spirit of her name, Ember seems to ignite a warm glow in most people we see. She greets everyone and everything with her tail wagging and a gentle curiosity, and I find my world expanding too. Before long we’re making connections with dogs and their owners, parents and children. Well, to be honest, anyone and everyone around the neighbourhood, so indiscriminate is Ember in giving out her love.

“I think you may have found your calling,” Lesley writes over Facebook having read my second essay. Buoyed by her encouragement, I find myself waking earlier and earlier so I can write after my spiritual exercises. I reach deep inside myself and write the story of how tuning in to the loving vibe of my spiritual teachings has helped me through challenges in the past. Not just small challenges but huge, undignified challenges where, without the hand of grace at my side, I may well have crumpled in a ball of shame or fear. It’s like I’m being emptied, the words pouring from my fingers as I type.

Theo, my six-year-old son, is entranced by this new preoccupation of mine and so enthused that he wants to join me. Soon he’s tapping away on the iPad beside me as I write. This is fun, but not so conducive to my own writing.

“Mummy, how do you spell treasure?” he asks, eager anticipation in his expectant face, his tiny fingers poised for action. I dutifully spell out each letter for him.

“Mumma, how do you spell surprisingly?” he pipes, a mere one second later

I gently suggest he may be able to store up his questions and ask me every five minutes, but he’s simply unable to restrain himself.

“How about every minute?” I relent, smiling, impressed by his enthusiasm.

But still his questions, whilst writing his Indiana Jones-inspired tale, come thick and fast. We’re so absorbed, the two of us, that it’s all of a sudden a rush to help Theo to breakfast and prepare him for his school day, Ember chewing at my heels all the while.

A month later, during half-term, we take Ember into Richmond Park for the first time, Theo and I. Theo makes a tree into a hotel, and Ember and I check in as guests, burrowing ourselves into the rabbit holes and indentations in the ground, our designated rooms. We order room service, and Ember enjoys inspecting the leaves and stones we’re given as our evening meal. It’s enormous fun, and it’s hard to tear us all away. The weather glorious, warm sunshine on our backs, all three of us revel in the play. The Park is magnificent; acres of long meadow grass sway in the breeze, while majestic trees drip with the richness of autumn leaves in all their glory.

I send my husband, Tim, one of my essays, a story about a health challenge we faced together the year before. “It made me cry” he texts, on his commute back from work. “I’ve got a few comments to add.” And so we frolic in the field of creation, all of us. Playing make-believe with Ember and Theo, and juggling words with Lesley, my husband and my son, I wonder if this is what it feels like to jam in a band. A wonderful co-creation of love flowing through my veins.

Like autumn leaves fluttering to the ground, I see our pieces of writing as love notes released into the wind. Still feeling lit from the love of the seminar and the ensuing weeks, I wonder what it would feel like to have released all these revelations that have been building up inside of me. Would I feel like a tree in winter, bare branches exposed to the elements? A feeling of lightness pervades my body as I imagine myself as a tree, having shed my beautiful leaves of the year. Light and free, roots digging further into the ground for winter, I reach inside for a deeper connection to the great aquifer of love I feel rising within me.

And where do these love notes go? Who are they for? Should I send them out into the world, hoping for attention and reward? No, that doesn’t resonate. It is not me that is the protagonist here. Love is the hero of this tale, rising up against all odds and triumphing over other passions as they raise their ugly heads. I wonder where LOVE would like these love notes to land? Would Love encourage a gentle breeze to flutter them onto fertile ground? Perhaps, but Love wouldn’t have any expectation as to the result of this, and I see then that nor can I.

P.S. If you enjoyed reading this post, I’d so love it if you left a comment to share what resonated with you (or didn’t) and/ or any experience of your own inspired by this essay. My intention is that this blog becomes an interactive experience. Thank you!

The Gift of Pain, part 2

That night, despite the relief from the osteopath, I don’t sleep. I know that I have to be on form to look after our son and be there for my husband the next day. I have to try a different tack. I think back to how I used to deal with the pain before the responsibility of jobs and parenthood. I’d relax with friends, sometimes with a drink, sometimes a smoke, but really it was the deep sense of friendship that helped me relax and allowed me to sleep. How to conjure up that sense on my own. I head downstairs and open up my laptop and put on some music. I choose carefully, uplifting tunes with lyrics that appeal to a sense of grace, a growth of love. Neil Diamond’s “Pretty Amazing Grace”, Jeff Buckley’s “Hallejuah”. I begin to compile a playlist. I sing along, letting my body sway to the music. As dawn breaks I sneak back to bed and drift off for an hour or so before my son awakes.

dancing

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I may be severely lacking in sleep but I feel so grateful, so elated, so free. That sense of love and grace from the tunes has pervaded my body. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t slept, that my head still aches, for a while the pain and fatigue have been  transcended, without drugs or drink, but rather with a feeling of compassion for myself, of love, of grace and joy. Oh boy do I need more of that feeling.

My husband calls. He wonders if it’s appropriate for Theo to visit. He’s been put in a ward with elderly people. Some of the sounds and sights are quite distressing. The man beside him had passed away in the night. His daughter had popped out and was distraught to have missed his passing. My husband had hugged and comforted her, telling her his passing had been peaceful. It’s beautiful. To be able to bring such comfort to a stranger at such a poignant time. Both Tim and I feel deeply humbled by the experience. Another man is very distressed and crying over his relationship with his estranged daughter. She lives overseas and they haven’t spoken in years. A kindly nurse is encouraging him to write to her.

Theo and I take a taxi to hospital and gingerly make our way up to the ward. Tim’s bed is at the far end by the window. Some patients are sitting up, others sleeping. One man is grunting and groaning in pain. My husband, in his 40s, must be the youngest by at least three decades. The man opposite him is being spoon-fed by his wife. Theo sees his Dad and runs over to greet him. He looks grey and exhausted but happy to see us. We hug and he talks us through the extreme pain of the spinal tap, the other various tests he’s had and the ones to come. I take out the plump farm fresh strawberries we brought and pass them round to the others in the ward. My husband’s new neighbour is a retired greengrocer with a glint of cheekiness in his eye. He remarks on how our visit has lit Tim up. As the sun streams through the window, I see how our five year old boy, so full of innocence and joy can spread love and warmth to all those around. I share a few words with the lady spoon-feeding her husband. I see the love and hope in her eyes as she gently attempts to coax the food into his mouth. Again I feel humbled by the sight. I’m so glad we came into the ward. We pop out to the canteen for a cup of tea, Tim leaning on my arm for support. Before long I see the greyness come back into Tim’s face and I help him back into his bed. He’s ready for us to leave.

As the days unfold Tim strikes up a relationship with the others on the ward. He’s the baby of course, and is teased for this. But I know his lightness, his easy manner is an asset to that small group of souls, so many at the end stage of their lives. The doctors haven’t found anything but he’s still unable to stand without swaying and he has a huge headache, partly a side effect of the spinal tap. He has a complicated medical history and is on the case load of both a cardiologist consultant and neurological consultant. We feel pleased that many possible causes are being investigated. By the sixth day he asks if he can continue these investigations as an outpatient, and he’s allowed home. Tears well in the eyes of the lady opposite as we say goodbye. Her husband still isn’t eating. She knows he’s near the end. Tim enfolds her in one of his big hugs, and I watch her melt a little. The greengrocer keeps up his cheery banter as we share out the remaining fresh fruit from beside Tim’s bed with those we leave behind. Tim leans on my arm as I help him out, Theo holding my other hand.

The next day Tim is exhausted and rests on the sofa. He finds it excruciatingly painful to lift his head. We’re due to go on holiday the following day, our first two week holiday together in nearly four years. There’s no way he’ll manage the plane journey to Spain. I change our flights for a few days later, contact the B&B in Spain we’d planned to stay at and explain the situation. Though we had both been so looking forward to the respite of a longer than usual break, it doesn’t matter that we miss the first few days. Those days of reflection as Tim lies on the sofa after his hospital visit are restorative for us both and richer than any holiday.

And my pain? Oh I still have it. The intensity has eased a little but I still feel fragile and achy and am not sleeping well. But something has changed. I reflect that my usual tactic of distracting myself from my pain by becoming busy does not help to loosen the grip the pain has over me. Rather it’s a sense of relaxing into the vibes of grace and love that really brings relief. It’s a similar deeply humbling nature of grace and love that we both felt through our hospital experience. Similar too is the vibe I’m blessed with during my morning spiritual exercises, when I truly connect. A vibe that softens me inside and links me to the only true provider of balm. My heart fills with gratitude as I turn in and give thanks to that teacher inside of me. I see with more clarity than ever that to truly live within that vibe of love and grace is really my only desire. And I know that to do that, every physical and emotional pain and woe that I carry, every urge and need of my ego will have to be released.

Three days later we cross the departures lounge in Stansted Airport. One of my arms supports Tim who’s struggling to walk. He wears a huge sombrero to protect him from the dizzying effect of the airport lights and steadies himself on the wall on the other side. My other arm pulls our hand luggage, with our son gleefully riding his Gruffalo Trunki. It’s slow progress, and Tim is exhausted as he collapses into a seat for some breakfast before the flight.

To an observer it may not seem like the ideal start to a summer holiday. The travails of the past ten days have brought us both to our knees. We are leached of energy on all fronts, our physical bodies still ailing from our separate challenges. Our plans of travel and adventure in Spain have been scuppered. Yet I know that for me, for us, this moment, and all that has led up to it, is just perfect. Through the veils of my own pain and the humbling nature of seeing the pain of others, I’ve been gifted with a deeper connection to love and grace.  Gifted with a greater urge to go inwards and link to that teacher inside of me, that strong vibration of love which has carried me through. Gifted with the knowledge that this deep connection is all that I need.

In place of the active holiday we’d envisaged, we now share a deep need to be still, to deeply relax whilst embracing Theo’s natural sense of play…….and to recharge. A softer, more gentle vibe of tenderness and compassion envelops the three of us. We share a smile, and I feel blessed.

P.S. If you enjoyed reading this post, I’d so love it if you left a comment to share what resonated with you (or didn’t) and/ or any experience of your own inspired by this essay. Thank you!

The Gift of Pain

My head aches. The all-too-familiar sensation of heaviness and compression pervades down the left side of my skull. The usual pain throbs from the top left of my neck making my occiput tender to touch. Tension knots my shoulders. My spine feels rigid, my sacrum bruised, a dull sensation penetrates down my left leg. I’ve had a relaxing evening, a hot steaming bath, rubbed in some anti-inflammatory lotion to my aching muscles and taken some ibuprofen. This is my third night of enduring pain and I know that until I get myself to an osteopath, and allow myself to rest, sleep will be hard to come by.

It’s the beginning of the summer holidays for my five-year-old son, Theo. We’ve driven north out of London to the haven of my cousin’s farm. For me and my animal-loving son it’s a place of dreams. A menagerie of rare-breed farm animals set amongst fields of burgeoning fruit trees and bushes, and of vegetables ripe for the picking.

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Shutterstock

My warm-hearted cousin and her generous husband fill our bellies with delicious home cooking from fresh farm produce and seamlessly enjoin us in the best of the farm chores. We feed the piglets, collect eggs from the hens, pet the horses, play with the dogs. We fill punnets of rich juicy fruit from the laden cherry trees, blissfully savouring the taste as we go. We happily unburden the strawberry bed of plump ripe berries and untangle aprons over tea in the farm cafe.   We coo over their ten-month-old son, smiling at his chubby cheeks and his huge endearing eyes. It’s a happy day of catching up and enjoying being, and I’m pleased that I’ve distracted myself from the pain.  I enjoy a glass of wine for dinner. I feel it go to my head, as my voice becomes louder than usual, my conversation too free.

This is my third night of sleeplessness, and with each ensuing night the physical pain becomes harder to bear, my emotions more fragile, my composure more on edge. Let’s face it, I’m wired. Thoughts race through my mind as I frantically try to think myself out of this unbecoming situation. After over two decades of grappling with this pain, it angers me that I’m unable to manage it more gracefully, that I don’t know myself better than to allow myself to get into this situation again. This anger fuels the thoughts that race around my head, the blocked energy that stifles my body. I pull out my phone and listen to an inspiring talk, hoping the loving teachings of my spiritual teacher will ease my pain. They don’t.

By morning I’m so brain dead I feel like a zombie. Today I have to drive home to London. It’s only around a two-hour drive but it feels reckless on so little sleep. My son awakes early full of joy. I’m glad of the distraction but have little energy for play. I guiltily set him up on the iPad so I can treat myself to another soak in the bath. We come down for breakfast and I attempt to make tea for everyone…but I’m so tired and on edge that I can’t remember all the different tea requests. There’s only four of us! My head hurts with the huge effort it takes to think and do anything. Theo is lovingly swept out to join in with the morning chores whilst I go up to pack and make an effort to cry. I’m not good at crying. It’s not one of those things that comes easily to me. But I sense a need to release some of this emotion and try to encourage the tears to roll down my cheeks. My cousin pops in and we share a hug.

I potter over to the farm shop to stock up on food for the coming week. Farm shops are one of my favourite places to browse, and this is a great one. I choose some lovingly home-cooked meals, meat from their hand-reared animals and fresh home grown veggies. I pick out some treats for us and presents for others. I add these to some of the fruit we had picked the day before. It’s more than I would usually buy but I’m too tired to choose and I love to support this family business.

My cousin’s husband is at the counter and asks how I am. How to explain that nothing is really the matter though everything seems to be bothering me. I’m so fed up with not being able to manage my long-term chronic pain. Will I ever learn how to cope with it better? I feel disheartened by having a husband who works all hours at building his company, leaving little time for play. I feel lost after giving up my job to raise our son. Gone is the daily gratification of being good at a job that supports those with mental health problems, the comradery of being part of a passionate and talented team and of course the monthly pay cheque that goes with it. I feel misplaced and outmanoeuvred by moving to a different area of London, reluctantly swapping a much loved traipsing ground with a supportive community for somewhere that feels alien, yet where we can afford a terraced house and garden near a good school for our son. I feel worn down by managing extensive renovations whilst living in a building site and nurturing a toddler, with little support at hand and no one I know well close by. I’ve somehow lost me in the process. Tears well in my eyes as I fail to articulate what feels true. My words tumble out in a haze of fatigue and pent-up emotion.

As I start the car to leave, my phone rings. It’s my husband, Tim. He lovingly asks how I am and I don’t need to say much for him to know my state. We’ve been here so many times before. He encourages me to book into my osteopath as soon as I can. Then he tells me he’s had another dizzy spell. He collapsed on the pavement in central London and his colleague helped him into a taxi home. I know it must be bad. He’s due to present at an important meeting up north today and little would tear him away from that. Over the last few months his dizzy spells have been becoming more prominent, rising from occasional spells which he’s always had to episodes that happen multiple times a day. I encourage him to go to the doctor but there’s no way he can manage the ten minute walk to the surgery.  He decides to call a cab to take him there.

This emergency is exactly what I need to pull myself together for the drive home. Tim is laid out on the sofa as we arrive. The doctor wanted him to go straight to hospital but he can’t face the bright lights and bustle of a busy Accident and Emergency department. He’ll wait until tomorrow. Typically he’d prefer to be at home to make sure I am okay. I make him tea, unpack our bags and look after our son, stepping into a new zone of energy I didn’t know I had. Despite the delicious food I’ve bought, Tim doesn’t feel like eating much. He looks grey, his slim frame shivering despite the summer warmth.  When I come down from putting Theo to bed I catch him struggling to heat up some soup. He can’t stand without holding onto something. I sit him down and gently help him to his dinner.

After another night of little sleep, I go to the osteopath and feel an instant release as my joints are manipulated back into place. But I’m still fragile. I know it’ll take a while for the headache to release and to regain my energy after the gruelling few nights. Tim is laid out on our bed. He can’t stand without feeling dizzy. Our son regales us both with his effortless sense of play.   It’s early afternoon by the time Tim takes a taxi to hospital. I’d like to drive him but we both know it would aggravate my neck, and one of us needs to be on form to look after Theo. We know it will be a wait but expect him back before nightfall.

In the early hours of the evening, he calls me. The doctors want to keep him in hospital overnight. They’re concerned that he has a large insect bite on his leg from a recent weekend trip to the New Forest and think he may have Lyme disease. They need to do a spinal tap, also known as a lumbar puncture, a diagnostic procedure which takes fluid from the spine in the lower back through a hollow needle, as well as various other tests to assess what is going on. I’m just in the process of putting our son to bed, and we decide it will be less disruptive for Theo if I stay at home. He calls his sister who’s able to come in to hospital, bring him a change of clothes and be there for him. We’re both surprised at the turn of events, but also pleased that after a life time of dizzy spells, they are finally being taken seriously. Perhaps we’ll have a reason for them soon.

To be continued…..

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The Thrill of a Mogul Field

The biting wind burns my cheeks, butterflies dance in my tummy and adrenaline courses through my veins as I dig in my edges to stop and catch my breath. I’ve just made my way down the beginning of Le Grand Couloir, one of the most notorious black runs in the heart of The Three Valleys in France; the largest ski area in the world. I’ve attempted to snow plough down the initial stretch, a narrow ridge flanked by two equally hair raising drops on either side. My legs ache from maintaining the huge pizza slice shape of a wide snow plough. My upper body is twisted upwards to face the mountain in an effort to waylay the descent, and ensure that the ensuing fall is more likely to be up than down.

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Le Grand Couloir is a piste that strikes fear into the heart of many skiers and boarders, and I am no exception. The clue is in the name as to the nature of this slope: Having completed the approach, a narrow, steep and ungroomed corridor of moguls stretches out before me. The only way is down. I take a deep breath and, clutching my poles, horizontally traverse the slope as far as I can. Being ungroomed, the moguls are the size of small minivans and I end up clumsily side slipping over them to avoid turning. When I finally steel myself for the inevitable turn I find myself lurching clumsily from one mogul to the next, my legs aching from trying desperately to regain control before beginning the whole fiasco again.

I used to prefer the smoother blue, green and red runs, where I could cruise along the crisp white snow, taking in the stunning alpine vistas and enjoying the clean mountain air. Or I’d glide down pretty alpine paths, surrounded by snow-clad pine trees and the hush of deep winter – or simply enjoy the adrenaline rush of speed. Black runs are hard work, a challenge to overcome the fear and an affront to my technique.

I take a break where I join the red run Combe Saulire and look back to admire the steep, seemingly indominatable narrow couloir of moguls I have finally descended.  My legs shake like jelly from the exertion. I know I will feel the aches in my body later. But I am elated that I’ve actually made it. This elation ignites in me a passion for skiing Le Grand Couloir and its like, but also a desire to descend these challenging runs with more elegance and grace. I recognise I need a teacher to help me improve my technique and ski moguls with more aplomb.

The next time this fiendishly difficult black run stretches out before me I’m apprehensive but full of hope that my instructor will impart some insights to help my descent become slightly more elegant. He suggests that I look at the mogul field and follow the way that water would go. I survey the piste in front of me and see the first few turns in my mind’s eye that the water would take. I proceed to take my turns as I imagined, my skis now pointing downhill, my turns closer together. I only do a couple of turns before coming to a halt but soon realise that it’s easier to keep the flow going, no matter how slow. I find myself enjoying the challenge of following the flow of water and begin to approach my turns with joyful anticipation rather than apprehension.

The imagery of this technique is enormously useful to me; not only for skiing, but also in life. Instead of water, I think of love. What way would love choose? Of course I recognise that ‘I’ don’t know what way love would choose. That is a ridiculous suggestion, for ‘I’ am not love.  I acknowledge that I am a jumble of emotional, mental, physical and soul bodies, all vying for attention.

But I do aspire to be love.

I am so graced to feel this divine presence inside me which is love, and when I ask my inner Beloved the way, well, the way often becomes clear. Or at least less hazy. I make it sound easy, but I don’t find it so. I have a terrible tendency to forget to ask, and then my mind attempts to choose the ‘right’ way and I find myself in a pickle of indecision. But I so love it when I do remember and the ‘true’ way becomes more apparent. Much like taking a smoother turn on a black run, it’s an easier ride.

Often when I ask, an obvious way doesn’t appear. This can be frustrating. I’m coming to learn that, much like snow melt blocked by a rock may have to wait for a greater volume of water to join it before bursting over the top or having the force to go round; I need to reach in to my Beloved and connect with more love for the way to appear.

A tingle of excitement shivers through my body as I survey the corridor of moguls that is Le Grand Couloir. I breathe deeply and ask my inner Beloved to help me see and feel the flow as I descend. Seeing the first turn ahead of me in my mind’s eye I glide slowly towards my chosen mogul and complete my turn as smoothly as possible. I have an idea of where my second turn will be but I recognise that this may change as I try to keep the flow. I’m loving the sense of fluidity, the feeling of being fully present to the needs of the current movement, yet primed for the next. My heart bursts with gratitude for being gifted the opportunity to feel this awesome sensation.

Now, I’m not deluded. My technique has vast room for improvement and I’m still far from being a pro. I aspire to ski with so much more grace and flow. However I do feel my style is becoming more fluid, my movements a touch more graceful and that using this imagery, I continue to improve.

As the pull of gravity lures water down that black mogul field, into rivulets, streams and rivers towards the sea, my Beloved is also luring me. I am beginning to find that when I partake in this game of catching the love and following the flow, this black mogul field called life, becomes so much more fun.

P.S. If you enjoyed reading this post, I’d so love it if you left a comment to share what resonated with you (or didn’t) and/ or any experience of your own inspired by this essay. My intention is that this blog becomes an interactive experience. I look forward to hearing your feedback. Thank you!