Metacogknitting

…Almost the active verb derived from ‘metacognition’, but with a few extra ideas thrown in…

Metacognition, as just about anyone reading this post will already know, is a wider knowing – those inklings, impressions, fleeting ideas and gut feelings that supplement and complement ordinary common-or-garden cognition.

Needle, Knit, Hand Labor, Hobby, WoolAs for knitting, though…  I’ve always loved any kind of textile work and there is something almost alchemical in transforming a single strand of yarn into a complex and beautiful garment, using just two simple sticks and one’s own hands.

For me it can be almost a meditative practice – busying the body while freeing the mind, and creating a unique physical item as I do so.  I like to weave in different textures and colours as I go.  I like to think about how every stitch is a vital part of the whole, while appearing so tiny and insignificant; rather like ourselves, really.  Drop a stitch and the whole thing can unravel.

And how (and why?) am I combining the two into a newly coined word?  you may ask.

Well, for me, the last six months has been a grounding experience.  I’ve been heavily caught up in physical, practical day-to-day matters.  They have taken up almost all the time I might otherwise have spent pondering, writing, dreaming and wondering.  There’s barely been time or opportunity for reading, blogging, chanelling or long, rambling, metaphysical discussions with cherished friends.  There’s barely been time to miss such activities, even.  Instead I’ve been stuck firmly in this mundane human skin-suit, supporting, surviving, problem-solving and grafting away.  (The only reason I’m not digging bramble and stinging nettle roots out of my daughter’s massively overgrown garden right now is the heavy rainfall outside as the English summer fragments into autumn.)

What I have come to realise, though, is that throughout the whole process of rescuing my little family from disaster, helping them back onto their own feet, rebuilding their confidence, dealing with the practicalities of re-homing them and helping to make that home habitable, the metacognition skills I’ve been noticing and developing over many decades have become knitted into the very fabric of everyday life.

Metacogknitting is living human life and grounding ourselves entirely in the physical dramas, effort and heartache that entails, while always allowing those extra strands of ‘Knowing’ to permeate every planned action and thought.

It’s only now, as I reach the final weeks of my stay far from home and see things here settling down and being almost sorted out, that I can recognise how the pattern or blueprint of what I wished for them has come to pass.  It felt absurdly optimistic that I would be able to help to turn a desperate situation around in just six months.  The idea that these frightened, traumatised and hurt people would have a new home, close to relatives, and settle into their new environment seemed next to impossible, but I’ve learned enough, over the years, to know that holding firm to that idea and believing in it was crucial.  With deeply valued help from the wonderful Cheryl and Higgins, I learned to put that Big Dream out there, to trust that it would arrive in time and to focus on the tiny steps we needed to take, to make it a reality.

One stitch at a time, the garment grows.  Every stitch is vital.

Without all those years of practice, I could easily, in all the mayhem and stress, have forgotten to take note of the faint and fleeting metacognitions.  There was so much else to focus on.  At such testing times, though, they become more vital than ever.  I would wake at 3am, Knowing what new fears were surfacing in my little grandson’s mind, and how best to help him with them.  Later in the day, he’d pull me aside and share those fears and I’d have my response all ready and waiting.  A ‘chance’ unexpected meeting with someone would set me on alert, wondering Why now? Why this person?  What purpose do they have in this drama of ours?  There always was one.

Helping the family to integrate in their new community, I went with them on Monday to a village fete.  I managed to resist the urge to brush aside the young man asking me to buy raffle tickets for his stall.  He’d singled me out.  The metacogknitting reminded me that there’s a potential purpose behind every apparently random situation.  Sure enough, he called me that evening.  I’d won the prize.  When I went to collect it, we ended up chatting over a coffee at his kitchen table about his business and my daughter’s.  So many similarities and synchronicities.  They could help each other.  I’ve put them in touch.  Whether they act on it or not is their pattern, their blueprint, of course.  My step or stitch there was just to form a link between the two.

And that, of course, is what metacogknitting is all about.

 

 

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An Open Letter to The Universe

Dear Universe,

Here we are then – another morning, another day in the Life.  Let’s decide how this one is going to go.

I have to give you credit.  I opted into this particular Lifetime in order to expand and learn through experiences and requested from you that I should have some, er, interesting scenarios to work through in order to achieve that.  You, dear Universe, certainly delivered.

Here I am in the middle of one of them.  It’s arguably the most complex, challenging and painful of the lot.  Am I learning from it?  Certainly.  Is it allowing me to expand my consciousness and understanding?  I suppose it must be.  Am I flailing about, totally out of my depth and panicking for much of the time?  Definitely.

So back to basics for a moment.  Life does not happen to me; I happen to Life.  It’s very easy to forget that when I’m in the middle of a Life drama.  It’s easy to sink into victimhood and wallow about there yelling, “This isn’t fair!  This isn’t my fault!  Someone else caused all these problems.  I didn’t choose them.”

Woman Desperate Sad Tears Cry Depression MWell no, in everyday terms I would never have chosen to have people I love suffer what they are going through.  It is all too easy to blame the perpetrators.  If those people hadn’t done those things, Life wouldn’t be this way.  If those people hadn’t done those things, I wouldn’t be here, having to deal with the fallout, day after day.  If those people hadn’t done those things… something else would have shown up in my Life to allow me to learn and expand and find ways of dealing with the issues here, because that’s what I asked for when I began this Lifetime, and that is true for everyone involved.

So let’s dispense with all the victimhood and blame and anger – the easy stuff – and move on to happening to my Life.

This is what I’m learning, you see, Universe.  You’ve given me some real humdingers to deal with in the past and I’ve often seen myself or – worse yet – people I care about, suffering, and been willing to blame others for that.  It is hugely difficult to see that every single individual concerned acted from what he or she considered to be a reasonable or practical perspective.  They each carried out what they considered to be the best or most expedient response to a difficult situation.  It’s not my task to question their actions or to blame them.  It’s my task to take steps forward and move myself and my loved ones into a safer, more secure and comfortable situation.

My little family – the woman, the child and the toddler – are in a safe, though temporary, home.  We are making plans to move them into a relatively safe and secure permanent home.  We are taking steps to make that permanent home safer and more secure, but that is still not reaching to the nub of it.  Security devices, high fences and locked gates may help to protect against physical intruders, may help to make people whose previous home has been violated, whose lives have been threatened, whose trust has been destroyed feel slightly better, but the real work is to build up inner protection.

Tunnel, LightEach of them is traumatised.
The smallest is terrified by loud noises, raised voices or passers by who remind her in some way of the ‘bad men’.
The child has just built himself a dreamcatcher – a wooden pop gun beside his bed that ‘shoots’ nightmares into a hoop, from which they are projected into a baked bean tin across the room.  For him this is serious work – serious self preservation.
For the mother, who seeks to protect and nurture the little ones while dealing with her own loss, grief and traumatic stress, there is a long, slow and painful journey.  I can see the glimmerings of a stronger, wiser, truer woman emerging.  I can see tiny steps towards the rebuilding of shattered self confidence.  I can see a brighter, clearer future that far surpasses the web of lies and deceit that were lurking and waiting to sabotage the past.

My task is to hold that image and project it to you, Universe, because then you will mirror it back to us.

Yours in love and gratitude,

Jan

 

 

Absence explained – a bit

This is a very short post, aimed at those dear people who visit this blog and follow my long, convoluted posts from time to time.

I haven’t been here much over the last month or so.  I have shared the reasons for this with a couple of very special people whom I speak to often on WordPress and in occasional emails, and their response has been heartwarming and so helpful.  Huge thanks to both of you for your care and kindness.

I’m not going into any details here and now.  Perhaps one day in the far future, when things have settled and life has moved on, I’ll share some of the growth from this massively challenging episode on the blog.  Now is not the time, though.  My family and myself are working through some extremely difficult life changes and that’s where I need to put my energy.

I was advised and empowered to use intuition and insight to take small steps towards a favourable outcome.  I’ve taken that very literally.  When faced with the next seemingly insurmountable problem, I make myself relax, tell the Universe, “OK, I now need this, this and this to happen, so that we can achieve the next step.”
Sure enough, the events occur in just the way I’ve requested.  Even the most mundane problems are solved that way as people and solutions are drawn to me, or I wake in the morning with a perfect idea fully formed and waiting to be acted upon.  No one could call our disaster miraculous, but the solutions and opportunities we receive certainly are.

The next step for me involves a move to a distant part of the country for several months.  I’ll be setting up a new, temporary home close to the people who need me most, so that we can work together to transform a difficult situation into something positive.  While that happens, the blog will be on hold, but once I’m established there, I know I will long to reconnect to my friends and acquaintances here.

My kindest regards to all of you until then.

Jan x

Vitruvian Lines: Part 1

 The Structure of Society and Autistic Perception

Architecture, Modern ArchitectureWithout wishing to get political, Western Society and its offshoots around the world are structured in a particular way, and have been so in one form or another since the writing of records began.  It involves having leaders, supported and advised by a cluster of experts, who dominate, control and care for the masses of ordinary people.  It doesn’t matter, for the purposes of this argument, whether that structure is a nation, a city, a company or a school.  It doesn’t matter whether the leaders are elected, self-imposed, benign or despotic.  It doesn’t matter whether they are loved, loathed or feared by their people.  All that matters is that this is the structure we, and all those around us, were born and socialised into – so much so, that we the people find it difficult to visualise our way out of this system.

Think of the number of times – even in modern history – when a hated dictatorship has been overthrown, only to be replaced by a very similar system, because that is the only way people can imagine society working.

So what has this to do with autistic perception?  Well, such societies, with their triangular power system, rely on the few controlling the many.  Clearly, that has inherent challenges.  To maintain the structure successfully, the leaders and their enforcers must keep the masses as ‘mass-like’ as possible.  Through the ages, free-thinking, independent and unusual individuals or those showing abilities which might challenge the status quo have been punished, ostracised or supressed.  We have extreme examples of this scapegoating in witch-burning, religious persecution, homophobia etc.

‘Divide and Rule’ is a highly successful strategy for preserving power.  It is in the interest of leaders and experts to keep people from deviating too much from the norm.  ‘Norms’ are far easier to control than a diverse range of individuals.  Thus we have an education system which attempts to produce clones with just enough skills to be useful to society but not enough to allow them to question it.  We have a medical system that attempts to produce in everyone enough health – mental and physical – not to be a burden and to medicate anyone who shows features that don’t fit the norm.

In the Victorian era, being left-handed was considered threateningly deviant by the authorities.  Such children had their left hands strapped down and were forced to conform to ‘normal’ behaviour – using the right hand – which often resulted in stammering, nervous tics or other responses to this barbarity as their natural tendencies were supressed.

Today a so-called ‘savant’ – an individual who can perform superhuman feats, like playing a concerto after hearing it once, drawing an accurate representation of a scene after one glimpse or one who can perform incredible mental calculations – is somewhat feared by the experts.  They can’t account for that person’s abilities, so they go to great pains to emphasise the ‘negative’ aspects of such people, such as a perceived lack of self-care, social or inter-personal skills.  Such people are not, by and large, welcome in a society which seeks to reward complicity and punish autonomy.

Similarly, people with psychic skills are often treated with disdain, branded charlatans and fraudsters or laughingly marginalised as weird or eccentric.  Although the police, corporations and government intelligence systems utilise the skills of such people, this is kept very quiet.  Publicly, they are ostracised.

Da Vinci Vitruve Luc Viatour.jpg

So in our present society, ‘Square Fillers’ (see this post for an explanation of that term) are marginalised, put down and attempts are even made to ‘normalise’ them with drugs and psychiatric interventions.  Their non-typical way of interacting with others is often given as the justification for this.

Admittedly, as society’s reliance on computer technology increases and the natural ability of Square Fillers in this area becomes increasingly obvious, they are becoming rather more tolerated and even admired than was the case twenty years ago.  It’s something like the way in which the USA gradually began to appreciate and accept their black citizens as their skills at sport provided the nation with a kudos which couldn’t be reached by the white population alone.

I know I’ve laboured this point rather, but the attitude of the ‘experts’ rubs off not just on the typical members of society, but on those with autistic perception as well.  Like the little Victorian left-handers, they can easily see themselves as deviant and wrong, and embark on a tremendous, difficult and ultimately unwinnable battle to live up to society’s standards of normalcy in order to be accepted.

It is often, in my experience, this pressure to conform to patterns that don’t fit their natural way of being which cause the secondary problems that beset so many Square Fillers – anxiety, depression and other psychological difficulties.  These are NOT a symptom of autistic perception in themselves.

Making Peace with the Enemy

Poppy, Flower, Red Poppy, Blossom, BloomNot sure what prompted this – maybe all the poppies and remembrance day events, standing in an entire city brought to silence on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour…

Anyway, this story is about another war – one that raged inside my father until almost the end of his life.

Tony was a young man in his twenties when the Second World War broke out.  He joined the RAF.  He serviced planes and was posted to some little island in the Far East – some little island that the Japanese army overran.  He became a prisoner of war.

I don’t know much about the details of his detainment.  He wouldn’t speak of the worst things to any of us.  I know he saw all his close friends die.  I know the camp staff would open sacks of mail, read out the names of the recipients, wave the envelopes before them, then toss them on the fire.  I know he grubbed in the ground for peanuts to add to the meagre rations of rice they had.  I know when he came home he looked more skeleton than man.  That was where his war began.

It raged throughout my whole childhood.  He was a sweet, kind, generous man as a rule, but if that button was pressed, heaven help anyone nearby.  The fury was astonishing.  Nothing made in Japan was allowed in our house.  Any passing reference to the country on TV or radio was instantly turned off, amidst angry mutterings.  When a neighbour mistakenly referred to my best friend (Chinese) as ‘that little Japanese girl she plays with’ they were shocked by the fury unleashed in Dad.

In my teens (oh, the foolhardiness of youth) I took him on one day.  I tried, calmly and reasonably, to point out that one couldn’t hold an entire nation responsible for the behaviour of a single group of sadistic prison guards.  I pointed out that a whole generation of Japanese had not even been alive during the war.  My mother and younger brother cowered in the corner as he lashed me verbally – and very nearly physically.  I came close to being disowned by him that day.  It took weeks to reestablish a relationship with him and I didn’t try to raise the subject again.

Many years passed.  Dad’s war continued unabated.  He reached retirement, moved to a new area – Glastonbury – and developed the closest friendship he’d had since I’d known him, with a man of similar age.  This man was sweet, wise and gentle.  He invited Dad to visit his home regularly and taught him all about his new area,  He told him legends.  He showed him the wonders of ley lines on maps and walked them with him.  He taught him about Bligh Bond and Wesley Tudor Pole and the heritage of Avalon.  Every time I visited, Dad couldn’t wait to share his new discoveries with me.  It was beautiful to see – like a flower, so long in the bud, finally unfurling.  He was happier and more peaceful than I’d ever known him.

This friend, though, had one further gift for Dad – the greatest of all.

“Tony,” he said one day, “There’s going to be a change in this house.  We’re going to be taking a young lodger.”

He went on to explain, very gently and patiently, that he and his wife had some dear friends abroad – people they’d known for many years.  This couple had a daughter who was very keen to visit England and work here.  Her English was good, but the culture would be very different to what she was used to.  Her parents were worried and had asked if their English friends would take her into their home.  Willingly, they had agreed.

“Well of course,” Dad said.  “I’d have done the same.  Good for you.”

“Yes,” his friend smiled, rather sadly, “But I don’t want this change to drive a wedge between our friendship, Tony.  I value your companionship very deeply and I very much want you to continue to visit our house and spend time with me as usual.”

“Well of course-” Dad spluttered, but his friend interrupted him.

“The young lady is Japanese, Tony.”

 

Girl, Asia, People, Happy, Young, SummerIt took more bravery than he had ever showed for Tony to make that choice.  He, too, valued this friendship and determined, despite all, to continue visiting his dear friend.

I wasn’t there to see how the visits went.  Perhaps he was cold and reserved towards the girl at first.  Perhaps he ignored her.  He was battling an entire lifetime of bitterness and hurt.  All I know it that on my next visit, he described the young lady to me in the most glowing terms.  He praised her gentle, sweet nature, her grace and charm, her kindness towards him, and he shook his head wonderingly.

I hugged him and felt such overwhelming gratitude towards the Universe – and his wise friend – for providing him with this wonderful opportunity to lay down his arms and finally experience peace.

 

When My Two Worlds Collide

Summer is the time I connect with family.  Some come to stay with me, while I head off to stay with others.  It’s been a crazy few weeks of checking dates and train times, bustling about, packing and unpacking, making up beds and sorting menus.

Space, Universe, Outer Space, PlanetThat’s not the hard bit, though.  The hard bit is trying to live between my two worlds.  It’s been harder than ever this year.

My accustomed world is here – full of long, rambling, enlightening conversations with like-minded souls, either in person or on my computer.  We ponder the metaphysical and wonderful, the numinous and semi-visible, the psychic and arcane.  There are conversations over coffee about sacred geometry.  There are conversations over Whatsapp about probability.  There are articles about consciousness to read and references to check and ideas to share.  Even as the mundane carries on around me, my mind rarely strays far from this world.

In the other world there are grandchildren and aunts, cousins, sons and daughters.  We go out for meals, wander the grounds of stately homes, discuss jobs and houses, share memories and plans, sightsee and chatter.

I can manage both.  I enjoy both.  I need both.  But they are mutually exclusive.  I’ve learned – the hard way – to keep them well apart; yet this year they moved too close for comfort.

I was trying to work on both levels at once with an elderly relative.

Figure, Man, Stand, Back Pain, SciaticaThis amazing lady has enjoyed excellent health and vitality for almost 90 years.  She still lives independently and works – a complex, computer-based job that requires a flexible mind and sharp intellect.  Just recently, though, she’s been in tremendous pain.  Her physiotherapist seemed unable to help.  Pills, Medicine, Medication, MedicalThe GP arranged blood tests and X-rays, shrugged and put her on 30 tablets a day (a terrifying mix of painkillers, along with all the pills to cancel out the side-effects of the others) and told her not to sit for more than 20 minutes at a time.  She’s 89!  She still had the pain.  She had to give up driving because of all the tablets and she was – understandably – at the end of her tether.

From my accustomed world, my response was to send her distant healing and to ask my friend Will (a splendid medical intuitive) what was causing the pain.  Armed with only her name and a rough geographical location, he correctly identified the affected area and told me the pain was caused by bones in her back ‘breaking down or weakening’ and that there was something wrong in the stomach or lower torso area which might or might not be linked to this.

In the other world, I arranged to go and spend some time staying with this relative, told her a friend’s mum had symptoms similar to hers and used that to share the diagnosis Will had given, and discussed not-too-wacky alternative treatments, such as acupuncture.

Acupuncture, Herbs, AlternativeIt all went well to start with.  Like me, she has a deep distrust of Western medicine’s way of papering over the cracks, so decided to cut down on the painkillers except for the ones that seemed to be helping slightly.  She made an appointment with an acupuncturist and demanded an appointment at a pain clinic.  Her results came back from the doctor.  Osteoarthritis.  All other results normal.  “Oh good,” she said, “I had been worried that it could be cancer, because I do have some digestive problems.”

Full marks to Will!

Then she looked very hard at me, with those piercing, alert eyes and said, “But what is it YOU are doing?  Ever since you arrived, I’ve felt so much better.  The pain is far less.  It’s getting better by the day.  I think you must have some sort of – magic.”

She wasn’t joking.  It wasn’t a trite remark.  She was puzzled and confused and she wanted to understand.

What was I supposed to say?  My family don’t do weird.  They don’t believe in energies, psychic phenomena, anything that can’t be seen, poked and physically examined.  I tried a bit of logical common sense:  ‘You probably feel more relaxed having someone else around the place.  Chatting with me takes your mind off the symptoms and so you’re not dwelling on them like you do when you’re alone.’
All true.  All acceptable.  But she didn’t accept it.

“Yes, maybe so,” she said impatiently, “But that’s not what I mean.  When you’re around me, I can feel something happening in my body and it’s really making a difference.  Explain that!”

 

Meditation, Spiritual, Yoga, MeditatingSo, feeling deeply uncomfortable, I explained aspects of my world to her.  I told her that, to my way of thinking, we are far more than our bodies and brains.  I told her I believed that when we get out of balance in some way – too tense or anxious or angry or lonely, for example – it can spill over into the body and cause physical symptoms.  I told her I believed that we can send healing energy to one another by using loving thoughts and clear intention, and that that was what I’d been doing in the days before I’d arrived and – in a more focused way – now that I was there.

She was very quiet for a very long time.

“And there’s more that you’re not telling me,” she finally said.  “There are other things you can do, aren’t there?”

I told her I’d probably said far more than I should.

“You know you’d have been burnt as a witch if you’d lived a couple of hundred years ago?”

I nodded and suddenly the tension was broken we both laughed.

“Well I don’t pretend to understand,” she sighed, “But please keep doing it.  It helps.”

So I do.

 

 

 

Always will.

Glass, Shattered, Window, DestructionTen years ago, I was just finishing the most terrifying, exhilarating, exhausting and arguably the most successful year of my life as an educator.

I’ve spoken about it before, but not for a while, and a few things have happened this week (like the message from D) to make me want to look back at it.

Briefly:  I worked in a primary school at a time when everything was controlled by THEM – the curriculum, the standards, the targets, the methods.  As educators we were under stupid amounts of pressure to conform and jump through all THEIR hoops.  The alternative was Special Measures.

Ours was a smallish school and – as sometimes happens – in that particular year, we were struggling with an above average number of, um, challenging pupils.  The reasons for the challenges weren’t hard to fathom – parents in prison, parents who had died or were seriously ill, parents with substance abuse issues, violent and abusive siblings and step-parents, family break-ups, history of sexual, physical and emotional abuse.  Those are just the bits I can remember.  There was also peer influence and imitation; children would pick up on the behaviour of others and copy it.

Run Riot, Anarchy, City, Urban, GraffitiEvery class in the 7-11 age group had a few hard-core rebels and several who copied their behaviour.  Teachers felt their standards slipping as they struggled to deal with daily disruption.  Some were refusing to teach certain children or to have X and Y in the same class.  Exclusion of these youngsters wasn’t an option.  It was frowned upon by THEM, and anyway, we wanted to help these kids.

As a senior management team, we pondered long and hard on how we could organise classes for the next academic year.  No combinations worked.

Until I had my crazy/wonderful idea.

I opted to teach a mixed-age class of just 16 pupils, containing every one of the challenging children and a few others who had their own issues and difficulties, despite not being disruptive.  My conditions were that the National Curriculum would not be followed, testing would be optional – and then only at the very end of the year, targets would be replaced by frequent ‘look how far you’ve come’ reviews, the education would be holistic, with a different programme of study for each individual based on their personal circumstances and emotional needs as well as the educational ones.

Luckily, I had a brave, supportive head teacher and some brilliant, visionary and courageous support staff.  I was also able to buy in help from a very talented play therapist/counsellor.  Annoyingly, the local authority insisted on adding in its Behaviour Support Team, who tried to get me to run the class along the lines of Pavlov’s dogs or Skinner’s rats.  Not helpful.

My curriculum was, very broadly:  Term 1 – learn to tolerate and begin to like yourself.   Term 2 – like and take some responsibility for yourself and begin to tolerate one or two others, so you can manage to work in a very small group.  Term 3 – take responsibility for your own behaviour and actions and begin to tolerate and work with larger groups and the whole class.

Girl, Boys, Children, DevelopmentEach of the 16 who stayed at the school (such families travel around a fair bit, so some moved away) went on to rejoin a normal mainstream class the next year.  All of them opted to take part in the end of year tests and did as well or better than expected.  In the final term they did a whole class project and cooperated as well as any group I’ve ever taught.

Obviously the hardest bit – so hard I still have to fight back tears as I remember – was to get these lovely young people to tolerate and, later, like themselves.  Once that was achieved, the rest flowed relatively easily.

As I mentioned earlier, several synchronicities have turned up recently, drawing me back to 2007.  Some will have to wait for another post, but I will mention D.

He was one of the oldest in that class – an intelligent, painfully sensitive, deeply troubled young lad who somehow transformed during the year from having always been the class weirdo to becoming an excellent and much admired role model for the younger boys in our group.

Last night – as he does from time to time – he messaged me.  Said he hoped I was doing OK.  We chatted briefly.  I told him what was happening in my life; he told me a little about his.  Then we signed off.

“Thanks for remembering me,” I said.

“Always will,” came the reply.

I’ll always remember him, too, and the rest of the class who taught me that once you can like yourself, there are no limits to what you can do.

 

 

 

 

Trying to Re-Member

There’s a group I attend from time to time here in my town.  Each week they provide cups of every kind of herbal tea you can imagine, biscuits or cake, and a speaker.  The talks range over many areas and subjects, but they must always be positive.  That seems to be the only rule.

Abstract, Background, Pattern, ArtisticI’d never heard of that night’s speaker, but his subject was ‘The Eight Elements’ and partly because I’d been pondering on elements for quite a while and partly because he was speaking as a follower of Krishna – a Truth quite new to me – I decided to go along.

The gentleman stood calmly before us, looked around the room at the sea of faces and announced, with total certainty, “I’m not the only person in this room who has been to the breaking point.  I’m not alone in having reached a point in my life where everything I lived for, everything I believed, everything I cared about was swept away, leaving me lost, broken and utterly alone.”

All around the room, heads nodded slowly, solemnly, mine included.

The talk was excellent.  Krishna’s take on the elements was oddly familiar and linked in well with the Egyptian, Greek, Shamanic, Medieval and alchemical ideas I’d been reading and thinking about.  What I was left with above all, though, was that idea of the breaking point – the need to go through what feels at the time to be a crisis, a disaster, a destruction of all you’ve held dear.  It is the tower card in the tarot – the card I used to fear above all others, back in the days when my life was settled and sorted (although very far from perfect).

I thought of the many friends and family members I’ve seen hit that point, whether through a sudden incapacitating illness, a financial meltdown, a job loss, a relationship breakup or what’s commonly called a nervous breakdown.  Often – as in my own case – it’s a mixture of several of these.  Like the body of Osiris, we are broken up, hacked into pieces and scattered in the waters of Life.

Shell, Broken, Empty, Close, LeaveThere follows a time of the most awe-ful emptiness.  We shut down.  We exist from moment to moment, day to day, with no clear idea of how or why we are still functioning.  This is the time we need to hide away, to withdraw from everyone and everything, knowing at some instinctive level that we require peace, and that healing will eventually flow from this.

Despite the kindness and ministrations of others, there’s ultimately only one place that healing can come from.  It comes from within.  It comes from our soul-selves – the part of us that is, and has always been, whole and complete.  Slowly and painfully, we begin to re-member ourselves – to put ourselves back together.  This time, though, we will be different.  We will have shed the limiting beliefs that we are not complete without money/ health/ family/ possessions/ career/ home/ friends or whatever we relied upon for stability and identity in the past.  That’s not to say we won’t regain or rediscover some of these, but they will no longer take centre stage.

Now we will have re-membered who we truly are.  We will recognise that we are whole and complete in ourselves.  We are not – primarily – parent or employee, partner or owner.  We are infinite aspects of the great I AM and as such, we have no limits.

“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self. Therefore, trust the physician and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility.”

Kahlil Gibran: The Prophet

 

When Worlds Collide

People, Bus, Commuting, Public TransportA three hour coach ride passes so much better when you find yourself seated next to someone interesting to chat to.

My neighbour yesterday was, it emerged, travelling to London for a brief, bittersweet half day with her daughter.  It was the girl’s birthday.  She’d booked herself into a posh hotel in the West End.  They were to have champagne, then lunch somewhere luxurious.  The daughter would unwrap her presents then – ‘a comfort sack’ with such items as a thick duvet, pillow and covers, hand warmers, hot chocolate mix…  Tomorrow the young lady will take all her spoils and return to Greece, where she works for the UN, caring for the refugees.
“It’s so desperately cold there, Mum,” she’d told her mother. “Just so desperate”.

Lesvos, Island, Mytilini, GreeceI wondered how it felt for that young woman to move between those two quite different worlds – her opulent English lifestyle and the squalor and tragedy of the transit camps.  How must the smells, the sounds, the sickness and pain feel to someone who has grown up in such a different culture?  How, indeed, must it feel for the inhabitants of the camps, wrenched from their lives in such violence and terror?

 

“And you?” my neighbour enquired.  “Why are you going to London?”

“Oh,” I said, with a slight smile, “I’m probably going to enjoy a few hours in the British Museum.  And I might be meeting a friend.”

Well it was a long journey, so gradually my story came out too.  If we did meet, it would be no less shocking and difficult a transition for my friend than her daughter’s move to Greece had been.

Sport, Exhausting, To Clench TeethJust as the refugee camps would seem overwhelmingly disgusting and sickening to us – their sights, smells and emotional charge far beyond what we feel able to cope with – so our world is, for people like my friend.  For him, and so many other super-sensitive people who live with autistic spectrum perception in its many and amazing forms, our world – in all its raw, visceral physicality can be almost too much to cope with.  Their senses are easily overwhelmed by what, to us, would seem trivial.  Their anxiety never sleeps.  Their fears grapple constantly at their throats with sharp, threatening fingers.  Small wonder so many would prefer to remain in the insular, relatively safe surroundings of the worlds they have built for themselves.  Why – given the choice – would they venture out into the uncertainties of our unfamiliar and terrifying world?

The answer is the same as for the young lady working for the UN – compassion, humanity, generosity of spirit.  They want to help us.  They want to build bridges.  They want to reach into our world and show us their perspectives.  If they manage it, we will be so much richer for it, but if they don’t, we have no right to criticise them.  Every single day, they struggle to do what they can to reach into our world.  And there will be days they just can’t.

When I reached London, he was still at home, holed up in an agony of indecision.  If he managed a meeting, it would be the first for many years.  The least I could do was to make it as easy as possible for him.
‘No rush,’ I messaged.  ‘I’ll head for the museum. Text me later if you feel able to meet somewhere.’

An hour later I was a stranger wandering in the world of the Abyssinians: huge bas-reliefs of Kings and courtiers.  ‘Spirit helpers’ with the heads of eagles and small handbags held objects like oversized pine cones against the backs of the humans’ heads.  Why?  Pineal gland connection perhaps?  What was in the bags?  What favoured realm had these beings descended from, to help their human counterparts?

Then my phone pinged.

‘I’m going to come.  I’m in central London.  Shall I meet you at the British Museum or elsewhere?’

‘The museum’s crammed with people,’ I told him, when I’d had a moment.  ‘Let’s meet in one of the squares nearby.’

On my way out I paused to stare in awe once again at the Rosetta stone, that magical jigsaw piece that had given the modern world a way into the world of other races at other times.  For me, at that moment, the stone became a talisman, allowing my world and my friend’s to come together for a short while.

Seat, Iron, Metal, Bench, Seat BenchBloomsbury, like much of London, has many lovely, peaceful squares – small oases of calm and greenery amidst the hubbub of traffic and commerce.  I selected a calm, pleasant open space where I felt he’d be most comfortable, sat on a bench and waited.  I sat at one end and placed my bags beside me, knowing he’d need more body space than most would consider normal for lifelong friends.  I remained seated when he arrived.  No exclamation of delight, no bear hugs or grasping of hands.
“Alright?” he said simply.
“Yes,” I said quietly.  “And well done.”

Old friends.  Old friends.  Sat on a park bench like bookends.
Paul Simon’s song echoed in my mind from another of my distant worlds.

I’d written much of what I wanted to say on paper.  He finds the written word easier to handle than speech – less unpredictable.  So for the first few minutes he sat and read in silence.  Then we talked.  He kept his eyes fixed straight ahead; body language and facial expression are confusing for him, so it’s easier if he cuts them out.  Still there were deep discussions and moments of humour, with both of us laughing out loud.  There were connections and shared memories of times when we’d spent so many days and hours together.  It was wonderful.

And because I know he finds transitions difficult, I made the decision on when to leave.  Or perhaps the weather did, as the rain that had been threatening all afternoon eventually began to fall.

Neither of us said, “See you soon.”  Who knows?   And what does it matter?  Our worlds had come together for that short while without any explosions or disasters and we are closer for that experience.

Not very

Mural, Girl, Balloon, Heart, GraffitiI can’t remember when our last meeting was.  If you don’t know it’s going to be the last time, you don’t take particular note of it, I suppose.

I remember my last meeting with his mother.  It was in the hospice.  That meeting is easy to recall, because we were both all too aware that she’d have moved beyond her body within a few days.  We had a rather surreal conversation about this and that – mostly her plans for the funeral and what she wanted me to do to help care for her little boy.  I kept asking whether she was tired and would prefer me to leave and she kept saying, ‘No.  I don’t want you to go yet.’  But eventually she was tired and she did need to sleep and we hugged and cried a bit and said none of the things people usually say when they are parting: ‘See you soon’, ‘Keep in touch’, ‘Take care of yourself’.  It was an adieu moment, not an au revoir.

When I last saw her son – the little boy who had grown up to be a man and who had become just like one of my own children to me – he DID say, ‘See you soon.’  I distinctly remember that part, although I can’t quite remember where we were.  He was waving me off on a bus or a train or something.  He’d been anxious, awkward, twitchy – more so that I’d seen him before.  He’d kept wheeling around and looking suspiciously about him, as if he expected an assassin to come lurching out of the crowd.  He’d looked awful.  There was an unhealthy pallor to his skin and much of his hair had fallen out in untidy clumps.  Alopecia, he told me.  Stress, the doctor had told him.  It might grow back or it might not.

He didn’t see me soon, nor I him.  The months became years – probably six or seven.  I feel I should be able to remember.  Each time I suggested meeting, there was a flat ‘No.’  If I pestered for a reason, I’d get, ‘Can’t do it’ or ‘Too stressful.’

Last week, I suggested it again.  He’s been coming out, I feel, agonisingly slowly, of the deepest slough of despair, social anxiety and depression.  His texts and emails have been far more chatty and even shown flashes of the old sense of humour.  He accused me of being paranoid about something, adding, ‘And yes, I know that’s rich, coming from me.’

He didn’t say ‘No’.

True, he didn’t come anywhere close to saying ‘Yes’, but he was far more concerned that he wouldn’t be able to commit to a meeting until the day itself, and that as we live far apart, I might have a wasted journey to London.

I told him I love London – in small doses – and that I’d enjoy a day trip there in any case.  I told him I’d plan a trip to the British Museum, another old and much-loved friend.  I told him that if he felt able to join me, that would be great, but I’d have a great day in any case.

You don’t get sighs in texts, unless they’re intentionally written in those silly little arrow things (<sighs>) but I could feel his as he replied, ‘That’s up to you but I don’t want to get your hopes up.’
London, Lantern, Big Ben, RiverSo my coach ticket is booked.  Next Saturday I’ll begin the 3 hour trek to London.  I’ll be caught (as happened so often, when his mental state waxed and waned throughout his teens) somewhere between assuring myself that he’ll be there, in order to manifest the reality, and stoically preparing for a pleasant day wandering through the delights of the museum, just in case.

Whatever happens, though, I’m jubilant.  When I asked how likely he was to be there, he replied, ‘Not very.’  That’s a long way past ‘Not at all’.  There will be other chances, other days.  Just as his mother begged me, all those years ago, I’ve never given up on him, never thrown in the towel, and nor has he.  I’m proud of us both for that.