Living Upside Down

When I was a child I would lie on the floor in front of the open fire and watch the flames dancing and devouring. To me, they seemed like fantastical vegetation thrashing in the wind; trees in a storm, beckoning me to enter and explore this magical landscape. The hot coals appeared as rocky portals to glowing caves, daring an intrepid adventurer to journey where no one had gone before. I would imagine that I was very small and immune to the searing heat and off I would go, leaving the family sitting room behind. First I trekked across the flat plains of the hearth and then clambered up into the enchanted world of the fireplace itself. I would pick a route around white orange boulders and across rivers of volcanic lava, marvelling at tall canyons whose walls towered above my head. I just knew the caves held untold treasures of magic and mystery. I would head for a likely entrance and step across an ethereal threshold, convinced of the wonders I would discover inside.

My childish sojourn would normally be interrupted by my mother, who disapproved of inactivity. “Have you done your chores?”, she would say. I got the impression that I had been caught escaping and was being marched back to prison. Somehow I always expected to be shot.

Another favourite escape into the world of imagination was when lying on my bed looking at the ceiling. It was not a modern flat ceiling, but had interesting slopes and angles, and the remains of a wall that had been knocked through to make two rooms into one.  In my mind this would become an assault course to be conquered SAS style.  I would scale the walls of derelict buildings half buried by the desert and abseil down the other side. Trudging up hills and galloping down dunes in a flurry of sand were all part of the fun.

I could answer the call to adventure in my own personal upside down world whenever the ‘real’ world gave me the opportunity. Looking back, exercising my imagination in this a way as a child could well have strengthened my mental flexibility in adulthood. Being able to swivel three hundred and sixty degrees, in your imagination, round a problem or concept gives one a distinct edge over those with more rigid thought processes. We all know how ‘looking’ at something from a different angle can produce an innovative answer to a question or solve a problem.

I believe my imagination is a gift that I was born with and I like to think of it as a sort of ‘superpower’. However, learning to manage and control such a power is not always easy and takes a fair amount of practice. Spiderman, for example, followed a steep learning curve and had acquired many bruises before full mastery of his gift was achieved. These modern myths always include a dark side. It is a fact of science that light and dark are interrelated cohabitees and being a child of Nature  I was not immune to this phenomenon. The polarity to my fun, day time adventures was night terrors. Fear was an integral part of my early childhood and night time was fraught with lurking monsters and unseen indescribable threats. Although I have no memory of my night time activities, my mother indignantly recounted stories of my yelling and hitting out when she came to settle me. I would often be found walking in my sleep, so to prevent injury bars were fixed to my bedroom window and a locked gate was in place at the top of the stairs. At such a tender age, I had no idea that others may not be experiencing their own version of these troubles. I stubbornly pursued survival, as life is born to do.

My parents, on the other hand, came to the conclusion that I needed fixing. I was taken to see ‘an expert’. To this day, for me the word ‘expert’ has a suspicious ring to it. My parents probably paid a fair chunk of money for my diagnosis: “She has an overactive imagination” he said.

Propriety and respect for the written word prevent me, at this point, from fully and graphically expressing my outrage on behalf of the little girl that was me. My parents, naturally deferring to the authority of ‘an expert’, took this diagnosis to mean that I was incurably defective. Clearly my birth had been some kind of horrible mistake that could not possibly be allowed to reflect on them. They treated me accordingly; it was my fault not theirs. My affliction was so alien to them that they must have thought of me as some kind of human cuckoo. I was different from them. Perhaps I had been mistakenly swapped with someone else’s baby at the hospital where I was born. They must have worried that my disease was contagious because from that time on they were reluctant to allow me to spend time with my twin brother. My fate was to be a receptacle for all of the family woes.  As a child I learned to carry the weight of The Scapegoat, but my mind with the help of my imagination was to prove equal to the task.

Today, the child I was is still with me, but I have learned to protect and encourage her.  As I sit here writing, I feel overwhelming gratitude for my ‘overactive imagination’. I am in no doubt that it is one of my greatest assets and a gift that I have been able to use to my advantage in many ways throughout my life. It has spurned an interest in the workings of the mind and an appreciation for the arts. Maturity has taught me to honour my ‘overactive’ imagination and to continue to use and develop my own personal ‘superpower’. The ability to come up with creative solutions, conceptual ideas and works of art requires the ability to view a subject from all angles, especially upside down.

Capture

Photo by Diana Babbage

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What’s love got to do with it?

pandoras box

Parents love their children. The proof is all around us. Disney tells us with its happy family films; we see images of happy family Christmas; pictures of happy families playing together; happy secure children; loving mummies and daddies. All the evidence is there, society provides it. It is inconceivable that your parents don’t love you.

So therein lies the conundrum. As a child you cannot believe that you are not loved, so you take what you feel and assume that is how love feels.  You go out into the world, still a frightened dependent child. It is natural to look for love, but you are unable to recognise it because what you believe to be love is actually control, selfishness and weakness. Your instincts are injured, you cannot tell the good guys from the bad guys. You were never able to grow up because every time you tried you were put down, ridiculed, criticised, stunted, crushed. You never really feel like you have the right to live at all, let alone with happiness.

Your new relationships repeat the pattern, but now you are supposed to be a grown up too. So you neglect and repress the sad child that is still inside you, just like you were neglected and repressed. You think this is how it has to be. You think it must be you that is wrong because that is what you were taught. They had to be right because you were just a kid and they knew better. They had all the power.  You make mistakes and that just proves they were right all along, there must be something wrong with you. You believe this with all your heart. You think if you could only be perfect, everything will be all right. You try so hard to be a good person, but you just become a wimp. If you can become a good person perhaps you will feel like you are loved, but life trips you up and you make more mistakes. You get angry and frustrated, but you can’t let on because you have no right to complain. If you do complain, they don’t listen because they know you to be a bad person. You can’t figure out why you are so unhappy. The anger turns to depression. Sometimes the depression prevents you from coping, but you have to pretend everything is ok because you can’t take any more accusations. Anyway, who would believe you? You had such lovely parents and a great childhood.

“Of course we love you, don’t be ridiculous.” she said. She lied. It would have been more honest to have said, “Well actually I didn’t want to have children and your father only wanted a boy to carry on his genes and his name. We didn’t really factor you into our plans, so you’re kind of redundant. I suppose now you’re here, we may as well make use of you. After all, people like the idea of twins, it will look good. We can pretend we are real parents, no one will ever suspect. I have a really good idea; we can use you as a trash can. That will be great because then we won’t have to take any responsibility for our own shit, we can just pay it forward. You won’t mind will you? We can blame you for our inadequacies and when your brother messes up we can pin that on you as well. After all your brother must be perfect because that’s how we want it. And don’t think your brother will love you because we can teach him not to. We can take away your confidence and self-esteem, so you can’t defend yourself. Nobody will ever believe what you say because we will have already convinced them there is something wrong with you. They will never know the truth.”

The Truth is I am human, just human. I am not a bad person and there is nothing wrong with me. I have a big honest heart with no lack of courage. I don’t have to be perfect and I no longer apologise for being me. I am warm and creative, intuitive and passionate. I have used up half my life on a quest for the Truth. It has been a long and difficult journey that continues to this day, but I have been blessed with help along the way. I have fallen down and got up again so often that I have come to know the Earth as only a wounded person can. I have learned amazing things and I feel such gratitude for my talents and gifts. I now know love and that is the greatest reward of all. The love that found me is in direct contrast to the lack of love before. It is honest and strong. This is not a half lived, wasteful life. Mine is a life of living not sleep walking, although I have done that too. I know there is a lot more living to do and I am glad to do it. I feel all the pain and the love in the World and I am thankful for feeling it. Now I know the Truth and I know Love. Now I am awake.

Those of you who were raised by parents who were incapable of loving you undoubtedly bare  a heavy burden. It is your role to try your best to stop or dilute the spread of the damage caused. It takes courage to open your eyes, see the truth and find appropriate help. There are many layers of understanding to be revealed before you can get back the life you were supposed to live. Be gentle with yourselves and never give up.

This largely unacknowledged phenomenon touches all of us because the damage it inflicts spreads like a disease from one generation to the next. The fallout from lack of love as a child can produce a myriad of human dysfunctions: depression, self harming, underachievement and excessive narcissism to name but a few. Even if it was not our personal fate to be raised without love, we will inevitably come across its toxic legacy in our everyday lives: at work, in the high street, next door. When you experience rationalisation, passive aggression, selfishness, lack of empathy, excess competitiveness, be alert. Learn to look below the surface and when you sense strings attached, secret agendas, irrational logic and vague explanations, dig deeper. When there are questions you instinctively know you can’t ask without some form of resultant punishment, run like hell. This is the face of antilove.

 

How may we serve?

How May We Serve?

I was reminded today of the words of John F Kennedy: ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country’. Perhaps the time has come to let go of the emphasis on the ‘personal’ and shift to an emphasis on the ‘universal’.  A more appropriate question for our time would be: ‘Ask not what the World can do for you, ask what you can do for the World’.

We are living with the destructive results of ignoring community in favour of individual ambition; we are suffering the anguish of disconnection from those generations that came before us and we are paying dearly for the rejection of wisdom stretching back into the mists of time. We have forgotten our place in the Universe and disrespect the responsibility and privilege of cooperating as a branch of The Tree of Life. Slowly, we have forgotten the teachings of our ancestors who lived in harmony with the ebb and flow of the seasons and responded to the whispers of Mother Earth. Somehow we have come to believe that we are superior to and separate from Nature, that we are gods, exploiting and controlling the planet for our own amusement. We have become a cancer on the face of our own beautiful home.

Now, at the eleventh hour, we are becoming aware of our collective shame as no generation before us. Like children, we recoil from the responsibility, unwilling to expose ourselves to the pain and horror of our march of destruction across the planet. We point the finger and lay the blame at others’ feet, believing we have no power to change reality. We distract ourselves by any means possible to avoid considering the implications of our way of life, by building cities of fantasy and walls of denial around ourselves.

Our hearts know the truth and our consciences keep pricking us, but still we continue to dump the burden on our children and their children yet to be born. It is time to bravely face the challenges of our generation, to think collectively and dissolve the partitions of separation. The truth is we are all products of the interconnected web of Nature. We are not simply on The Earth, we are of The Earth. All of us, each with a unique set of attributes and talents can play our part.  No matter what our colour, race, IQ or financial status, we can choose to follow the signs to find our perfect place in the body of Humanity.  Just as the cells of an embryo are born ‘knowing’ their essential part in the developing organism, so we as individuals must follow our inner guidance to fulfil our unique contribution as a member of the family of Nature.

If we just take the time to sit still long enough to listen, we will hear Mother Nature’s gentle instruction. We can all learn to feel the rhythm of her beating heart and move to her tuneful voice. We must step up and step out of our comfort zones; throw off corporate control and manipulation; search below the layers of conditioning and illusion that rule our lives until we can see with clarity.

Find yourself and you will find your true work for this life.

Garden Beauty

My garden's beauty

Isn’t it amazing what you can achieve with the technology of today! I took this photo on my mobile and then played with it in the computer. It is a close-up of some flowers in my own garden, so all I had to do was walk out of the back door with my phone. The result was a cute piece of art!

The Special Place

Montana valley and foothills grasslands

She went to the special place and called Wolf. He appeared almost immediately and seemed pleased to see her. She sat down with her back against a warm rock and he settled next to her, turning to affectionately lick her cheek. Together they surveyed the stunning scene from their elevated viewpoint in the high foothills. Long green grass waved light and dark down the slope from where they rested, swaying with the rhythm of the gentle breeze. A harmony of insects hummed their approval while they went about their business. Far below to the left a silver river meandered through rich meadows, bathed in the summer sunshine. Her gaze followed an irregular pattern of trees across the wide valley to a range of wooded purple hills in the distance and, for just a second, she was transported in her imagination to look back from their perspective: the contemplative woman and her wolf companion, at one with the landscape.

Such serenity. From his remote vantage point, he sensed the moment of connection. Then it was lost and he turned away, knowing it would come again.

She took a moment to absorb the warmth and fill her lungs with the pristine air.

Wolf rose and trotted away down the hill. She followed, not wanting to be left behind. He disappeared behind a grassy knoll and she caught up with him to find the entrance to a tunnel, leading underground. Instinctively she put her hand on Wolf’s back and they followed an earthy path that wound down in a gentle spiral, leaving the sunlight behind. Not far down Wolf stopped and she noticed a tree trunk growing in the soil at the side of the path. She knew that its roots were tunnelling into the ground below them, absorbing moisture and nutrients. She imagined the trunk reaching up toward the sunlight, gently breaking through the topsoil and stretching branches and leaves for the life-giving light above. She touched the trunk, feeling its rough surface and gaining a sudden awareness of its enormous strength and determined patience. A feeling of calm and security flowed through her. Suddenly she saw herself also reaching towards the sky; a vision of her feet firm and stable on the earth and her arms extended above her head, fingers absorbing the light.

Slowly returning to the moment, she gradually became aware of patches of something nestled in the bark of the tree, slightly luminous in the gloom. What were they? She couldn’t work it out. They seemed like small cocoons or chrysalises. She sensed life, hidden and protected by the great tree, gaining strength and waiting for the perfect moment. Something was growing and transforming there in the dark. Something miraculous.

The things we say to our children!

Success

“Just do your best dear” or “you can only do your best” and other variations of the phrase are familiar words to many of us. This cliché is often used by those in control of our lives when we are young, but what does it mean? I think it is one of those sayings that, when analysed, seems rather condescending and is probably less than helpful advice to the recipient. Superficially, the phrase seems encouraging and supportive, but is it really helpful? Advising someone to “do their best” is, by default, introducing an alternative possibility. Are they suggesting that you may choose to not do your best?  Are they hinting that ‘your best’ is not likely to be good enough? Are they saying that someone else will definitely be better? Are they anticipating your inevitable failure and kindly attempting to cushion the blow of your disappointment? Do they doubt your strength or ability to achieve?

As an exercise I shut my eyes and imagined someone telling me to “do my best” with regard to this piece of writing. The result was unsettling and unexpectedly powerful.  I found myself doubting that the subject had any worth. I quickly decided that my point of view was ridiculous and invalid and I began to doubt my ability to communicate altogether. I stopped writing. I felt quite shocked by my own feelings and surprised at the speed with which my confidence had disintegrated. Observing my response to this personal experiment was uncomfortable, but extremely enlightening. I had actually succeeded in undermining my own efforts simply by using my imagination. Luckily, I am also endowed with a fair helping of determination and have a few years of maturity and personal development to support me.  I made a cup of tea and thought about it for a while, then picked myself up and carried on.

I don’t think we really need to be reminded to do our best. I think we are all “doing our best” all of the time. I don’t believe children ever set out to do less than their best. I have never met a toddler who didn’t want to learn. None of us would ever learn to walk if we didn’t strive to “do our best”, we would fall over the first time and never bother trying to walk again. When we take those first wobbly steps and fall over, that is our best. It is not particularly impressive if we compare it to the best of a marathon runner, but it is the best we can do at that particular moment. In those early days we are never defeated, we cannot wait to get up and try again. We do not compare ourselves to other toddlers or decide that walking isn’t our forte and give up.

How do we or anybody else judge what exactly our best is?  The best of yourself only comes from within, not by comparing your efforts to those of others. Perhaps the problem is expectations. Lack of regard for variation in personality, interests , learning style, competitiveness, or rate of development can put us under so much pressure that we mentally give up before we even start. Self-worth and confidence in our ability to handle any outcome is the best motivation. We cannot force the best out of a child; the best of you only comes from within. Competing with yourself to break your own records, surprise yourself, expand your own boundaries, and strive for improvement will produce pride in your achievements. We cannot force the best out of a child by words; we must build them up from inside by helping them to build solid foundations of self-esteem, one step at a time. Children will follow what you do, not what you say. Be a good role model, set standards of honesty, integrity and determination for them to follow. Perhaps instead of telling them to do their best, you could say: “I know you’re the best, go out there and practice!”

A Good Summer

A Good Summer

We are enjoying an above average summer this year. I know this because I am a ‘cold person’. Sometimes I have actually wondered if I am part reptile as I appear to need an outside source of heat when the temperature gets to below around 10 degrees. When it’s cold, I don’t seem to have enough blood to reach my extremities and I get lethargic and unproductive. However, this summer I have actually stopped considering whether to take a cardigan when I go out. My feet are warm when I get into bed, so I don’t have to wear socks or put the electric blanket on. This means it must be warm.

The garden has flourished in its natural way, secure in the fact that the lawn won’t get mowed too often and the hedges won’t get trimmed. The butterflies have been appreciating the variety of flowers – some unenlightened people would call them weeds – growing prolifically and unchecked around the edges. Bumble bees seem to be having a particularly good year and ‘our’ birds are looking decidedly podgy. The few meaningful downpours of rain have kept everything looking lush and green.

We have been making the most of nature’s bounty. The yellow raspberries grew prolifically, even in places they weren’t technically supposed to be. We gathered the harvest to try our hand at homemade wine. Flushed with the apparent success of this new venture, we have done the same with the blackberries. Of course we will have to wait for quite a while before discovering whether our wine is actually drinkable, but the early signs are positive. There is something extraordinarily satisfying about picking your own fruit and making things from it. Not only is it free, but satisfies the hunter gatherer instincts we have inherited from our ancestors.

The tomatoes are also looking fantastic. We decided to give a home to some baby plants that had been left behind in the garden centre. Not having a greenhouse, they have had to brave a storm or two, but are rewarding our charity by producing copious numbers of very healthy looking fruits. Being late starters, the ripening is a little later than some of their local cousins, but we are happy with our newly discovered green thumbs. The flavour of home grown tomatoes is to die for, I am sure the supermarkets torture their tomatoes until they give up the will to taste of something. Of course if we find ourselves knee deep in tomatoes, we have a backup plan gleaned from the internet – a tomato wine recipe! I am now anticipating those cold dark winter evenings to include a nice glass of wine or two. There is nothing like a bit of anticipation to keep you going on the less than spectacular days.

The birds seem to have come to the conclusion that our garden is the place to be seen. At the beginning of the year, our shiny new bird feeders had a steady flow of sparrows and starlings. Obviously we love all God’s creatures equally. However, we were hoping for a little colour and a touch of glamour to be hanging from our well stocked feeders. A few months down the line, the feeders are looking lived in. We are enjoying a steady stream of Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Tits, great and blue, as well as what appears to be the counties entire population of House Sparrows and Starlings. The Wood Pigeons and Dunnocks clear up underneath and the Robins and Mr and Mrs Blackbird appear to appreciate the currants I intermittently throw out for them. I have been scanning the populations of sparrows for a Tree Sparrow or two, but no luck yet. We still have a long list of hoped-for visitors and are hoping to add Bullfinches to our collection, perhaps in the winter.

A good summer!

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