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!