Becoming authentic through living the questions that life poses

Earlier this week, I pondered on the paradoxes of hope.  I wondered if there can truly be false hope.  I promised to be a scientist of the heart and to experiment in the laboratory of life, via the medium of dating.  Well, it has been painful, fruitful and utterly confusing but I am here to report that having taken the risk of being vulnerable and opening up my heart, I am stronger and wiser.  There are still no answers, and what remains are possibly even more questions than before.  But having expanded my heart by being authentic and real, I am remembering what it feels like to be most fully myself – alive, wild, courageous and luminescent.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Rainer Maria Rilke


Return of the mountain tiger

The practice of pain is a lonely one.  Mentally dealing with physical pain and emotional anguish is most often a solitary endeavour. It takes so much energy; and when in extreme pain, it can be difficult to physically speak.  Then, when the pain subsides, there may be no words to describe the suffering that has been experienced on every level of your being.

At some point, the separation between physical and emotional pain can be lost and their colours run together so that emotional pain is felt physically. 

I’ve found that pain can become a mental habit, too.  Expecting life to be painful, one reacts to it as if everything will hurt, regardless of what is actually happening. It’s pretty disempowering. So I’m trying to relate differently to life. It’s a practice of many steps, starting with the present moment – again and again.

I read something recently which resonated very deeply.  Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book True Love, writes about what happens when meditators leave their community.  He likens it to what happens when a tiger descends from a mountainous jungle, in order to wander the plains.

“A practitioner who leaves the sangha is like a tiger who has left the mountains and gone down to the plains.  If the animal does that, he will be killed by humans; and if the practitioner of meditation does not take refuge in a community, in a sangha, he will abandon his practice after a few months. Thus a sangha is absolutely necessary for continuing one’s practice.”

Part of what I’m doing at the moment is reconnecting to things which nourish and sustain me.  I’ve realised that I cannot live in isolation anymore.  Even if I have no words to describe my past experiences, I urge myself to remember that each new day offers the chance of renewal. Each new day requires me to make a choice about how to live right now. 

Today I went to a gathering at my faith community.  I felt like a tiger leaving the barren plains, drawn to the mountainous jungle by brilliant flashes of lightening around the summit.

Fed with loving kindness today, may I find the courage to live once more amongst this community on the sacred mountain. May my heart grow in its capacity for trust and love and friendship. If I ever get lost again on the plains, may I always find my way back to this blessed sangha.


Learning to swim, again

I’ve washed the chlorine from my hair, my skin. Quiet now, away from the chatter and the splashing. I had my first swimming lesson today and am feeling shaken up, a snowglobe upside down.

Before my body’s travails, I was an okay swimmer – at my peak I could do up to about 40 laps…nothing elegant or technically proficient, but I could move through water without thinking too much about it.

I’ve mentioned before that about 6 years ago, my body was completely undone by a terrible sequence of illness, severe stress and injuries. The pain alone was so intense I thought I would die. I had to relearn how to walk, climb stairs, move my arms and legs together, all the things I had taken for granted before.

It was frightening and there were times I wondered if I would ever be able to do things like take my son to school, go to a cafe for lunch, go into the city on a train or even drive a car.  Slowly, slowly I regained many normal movements and most of my strength.  I have never ‘been the same’ – of course not. Though I have come a long way since then, emotionally and physically. But I’m aware on so many levels that I’m still stuck in the past. I’ve not yet moved beyond the safe but now unsatisfactory limits of my known world.

So I’m shaking things up as best as I can; trying to write new maps of the possible for my body and mind. Learning to swim again is part of my process of conscious growth and becoming.

After today’s lesson I do feel emotionally shaken. I was surprised at how much trust and courage it took to get into the pool and ‘start again’. I am an absolute beginner once more. The heart-body memory of trust and safety has been erased. So the physical act of giving myself to the water, trusting that it would support me, was very challenging. Today’s lesson was spent learning to float and how to propel using different devices, working with my body as it is and accepting it as it is. Slowly, slowly. No rush, just persistence and curiosity.

How I wish I could abandon my many fears beside the pool of life and just dive in; if only I could re-write the map of my brain and my being so that I could be a person with deep trust in the shifting waters of life. Perhaps all it takes is the courage of making that decision not once but again and again. Perhaps each moment fear arises in me I can learn to be still, be curious, be open to fear without freezing or fleeing.

Apparently the word ‘courage’ derives from the Old French word ‘corage’, meaning of the heart and spirit. It reminds me of that man in Tiananmen Square, standing in front of a tank during the student uprising, and moving each way the tank moved. How present he must have been with fear in that moment. For me, his example is a reminder to find the strength to rest in the heart even when facing my deepest fears – failure, rejection, abandonment, physical pain.

I know that I can no longer accept my inaction in the face of fear. Standing and facing fear, may I not run away. May I look into the eye of fear and say: “I am here. You are here. I am here with you. We are not enemies. We are not separate. You are welcome to be here with me while I do what I must do.  Please, show me the places in myself that are not yet open to life as it is. Be patient with me while I relearn how to trust. Thank you for being here with me. We are not separate, but you do not define me.”

I’ve read somewhere that courage is the magic that turns dreams into reality. Today, may I have the courage to bring deep transformation into my life. May I surrender to life as it is, without resistance. May I accept what I cannot change, without the need to control things. As frightening and disorienting as it is, may I completely reorient my life towards magic and possibility. May I farewell the shores of certainty and enter the shifting waters of life, even if fear is my constant companion.


Making time for whimsy

I’m back at work, after a delightful time last week of dreaming, walking, writing and taking photos. On Monday morning it was really hard to put on my diving bell, my lead vest, my professional masks, my oxygen tank – all the banal but necessary accoutrements of a job which leaves me feeling lifeless in deep, dark water – as though real life is happening ‘somewhere else’, perhaps on the surface of a vast sea which catches sunlight with each wave and then throws a billion diamonds into the sky.

I heard about this performance on the radio this morning while I was driving to work… a man and 200 others let go of 10,000 paper planes inside the vast reading dome at the State Library of Victoria.  For him, the planes symbolised ideas and inspiration flying through the air in this space which has fertilised the minds of so many writers and artists before him.

The vision of this artist, a courageous dreamer, spoke to me. I knew I had to watch it before I started work, as a way of keeping the spark alive in my heart during the day.

Please, watch it.  Perhaps we can all float a paper plane in the air whenever we realise once more that the need to make time for whimsy.

Photos, Reflections

Facing the waves of fear

Earlier this week I wrote about leaping into life and moving beyond what I know. With beautiful and mysterious synchronicity, where the outside world reflects the inner world, the edge of my known physical world was today submerged by water, with surging tides devouring the entire beach at several points along the bay.

A small pier was swallowed by water; a large marine buoy was ripped from its moorings and thrown onto the shore; my favourite beacon point was engulfed by the bay, which was uncharacteristically acting as though it was the untamed ocean.

The ferocity of the wind frightened me, howling and screeching whilst ripping away any words I tried to speak. Seabirds I’ve never seen before shuddered along the coastline, held aloft in strange patterns. It was otherworldly.

As the storm came, I turned to flee in my car. But I challenged myself to stay, facing down the terrible waves; I waited to see what would happen. After a few minutes, the storm blew past and sunshine fringed the horizon once more.

I drove further along the bay, and descended the cliff to an inlet where I was amazed to find the water full of surfers delighting in the unusually turgid bay waves. At that moment, I realised that what frightens me is not frightening to everyone.  This means it cannot be inherently frightening.  That is a lesson I need to remember every time I want to run away from what scares me.

Wild again after my wanderings.