It was already infected when it came our way but the world gambled and played on at the game of life. We were halted in our tracks, leaving muddy footprints on the elderly, the vulnerable, the carers and the poor. We come out of this year knowing that all lives matter, and that there isn’t just one deadly virus but many and unfortunately, there is no vaccine for prejudice, ignorance and fear. For these afflictions, we must inject ourselves with tolerance, hope, and love. May forgiveness and unity be the gifts we give each other this holiday season.
I am a seeker with a gypsy soul; adventure is the sum of my parts. Yet, it is always a kind of amiable pastime to dwell on the possibility of finding a place to call home. As the years roll by and the past recedes into a collage of faded photographs and occasional flashes of memory, I wonder what home means to me. Is it a country, a house, a family or merely a thought construct to tame my wandering soul?
For many people home means a family unit living under one roof. We grow up in our parents’ house with siblings and call it ‘home’. When we move out and make a new family unit, we call that home. I know several adults who always refer to the place they grew up as their home. I stopped that when my mother passed away, seventeen years after my father. Home left me and memories faded, no longer compounded by family get-togethers which invariably led down rural byways to childhood, enhanced by the passage of time into faded sepia photographs. Sometimes I dream in colour and I see the vividness of summer days spent on the farm of my childhood, tossing the hay, picking fruit, playing hide-and-seek with my sisters in the hay barn. Ironically, when someone presents me with a colour photograph from my youth, I recall the memory in black-and-white, a kind of foggy moment captured on camera. But my best memories are moments that no lens could capture, my reaction to the microcosm of nature, of life; tiny shells glistening like treasures in the sand, a butterfly emerging from its pupa, a bumble bee intent on tickling the extended fronds of a flower, tadpoles wiggling in a pool of water, endless moments in close proximity to unfolding life. Life birthing every new moment from the one before, like a telescopic event where years, seasons, days and moments in time recreated a new one especially for me. To me, this was home.
Decades on from my first close encounter with a ladybird tickling its way across my chubby fingers, I have witnessed many habitats and ecosystems on my travels and crossed paths with more poisonous creatures than my three-year-old self would ever care to witness. However, it is only when I return to the land of my youth, when I register specific smells and delight in the microcosm of local habitats, that I realise that I too, am a specific flower of this ecosystem. And this is what home means to me.
Clíodhna In Irish mythology, Clíodhna is a Queen of the Banshees in the Tuatha Dé Danann (A pantheon of gods). Clíodna is a powerful banshee that rules as queen over the fairy women of the hills. Irish legend has it that her mournful cry can be heart at midnight before the passing of a loved one.
Étaín is derived from a diminutive form of an old Irish word for passion or jealousy. When Midir, an elder of the Tuatha Dé Danann ( Celtic pantheon of gods) falls for Étaín, he marries her much to the ire of his rejected first wife. In her jealous rage, she casts a spell on Étaín.turning her into a beautiful scarlet fly. Midir is unaware of the enchantment on his beautiful young bride. The magical winged creature becomes his constant companion and he loses all interest in other women.
In Irish Mythology (pron. Sive) was cursed by a dark sorcerer of the Tuatha Dé Danann. If he couldn’t have her, no-one would. He transformed her into a deer where she lived in the wilds for three years, trying to evade the hunters’ spear. A servant of the sorcerer took pity on Sadhbh, and told her how to break the spell – If she set foot in one of the forts of the Fianna (Mythical tribe) the spell would be broken. Bounding through glens and forests she made her way to the home of Fionn mac Cumhaill (leader of the Fianna) where he was out hunting with his warriors. Thanks to Fionn’s magical hounds, she was spared. These hounds were also under a spell from their original human form and recognised the deer as a woman. Fionn and his party led Sadhbh back to his home and as soon as her hooves touched the ground within the fort, Sadhbh shed her deer’s hide and revealed herself as a beautiful woman.
As coronavirus rips through our nations taking too many lives, the shock wave of illness and death is grinding slowly to a halt as fear about the financial implications takes over as the foremost consequence of this killer pandemic, demonstrating that after the threat of death, financial ruin comes close behind.
Every country moves at a different rate out of full lock down, each one looking to the next to see what is working and what is not, balancing re-opening the economy while minimising the risk of a second spike in covid-19 cases. I don’t envy world leaders their difficult task. While coronavirus exposes underlying health issues and mercilessly robs people of their loved ones, so too does it expose world leaders who did not make their nation’s health a priority. Some countries, such as Taiwan, New Zealand, South Korea and Germany moved quickly to prioritise the nation’s health and while they had fatalities, it was a fraction of the countries who favoured the economy over the elderly, finance over front line workers.
Here in the UK over 35,000 people have died since mid-March. A shocking loss to the country. These are not statistics but lives, hopes, dreams; voters who went to the polls last December and voted for their political leaders. The issue of the day was getting Brexit done. Few focused on health care and the repercussions of an underfunded NHS (National Healthcare System). The election running field was pretty much one sided with the Tories galloping home. Fast forward three months to early March and the onset of the pandemic; the Prime Minister fell at the first hurdle, and the rest of the field scrambled to avoid disaster. Sadly, they did not succeed. Britain is not the only country whose political hierarchy were exposed by the pandemic. Capitalist leaders who begrudgingly enforced a lock down, too late in many cases, demonstrated that administrations value money over lives.
I wonder what we can learn from our leaders, not just in our own country but from the leaders around the world. Do they reflect aspects in all of us, part empathy, part materialistic? How often do we weigh up the monetary cost above the social or civic cost? The mental health implications arising from not just the lock down, but from the national and international loss of life, will be great. We humans have more in common than we have differences. One thing that unites us is our emotions, our ability to feel happiness and joy, grief and sadness. The months of coronavirus have cast a long shadow over humanity, which may take years to lift.
Our leaders are really just a reflection of us, our light and our shadow, only they are the ones in the spotlight, the ones we abdicate responsibility to. Maybe it’s time to put ourselves under the spotlight, to asses our empathy, to see if we favour finance over health, and comfort over caution. We are all in this together, and it is up to us to keep taking steps towards a better future. We can’t continue to put responsibility for important issues in the hands of government and blame them when they get it wrong. While it is up to us to hold those in power accountable, we can’t fall into a comatose state in front of the TV and then rail against our world leaders for the state of the world. We must educate ourselves on environmental and health issues, and the long term implication these have on us as humans and the rest of the planet. If humanity is to survive, we the people, are its only hope.
This is the first of a series of poems I am writing based on Celtic goddesses. In Celtic mythology, Fand takes the form of an otherworldly sea bird. In her sea bird form, she flies with a flock of enchanted birds, with each pair joined together by a silver chain. As goddess of the sea, Fand offers balance between the inner and outer states of consciousness. She helps us heal our emotions as we seek to understand of our deepest truth.
In Irish mythology, Cana Cludhmor created the harp from a dream. She is often referenced as an Irish goddess of music, inspiration and dreams. Late one evening, she left to take a midnight stroll to clear her head. She heard beautiful music on the wind and was lulled into a deep sleep on the beach. When she woke up the next morning, Cana realised the wind had created the music by blowing through partially rotted sinew still attached to a whale skeleton. She based her design for the harp on this.
Grian is dedicated to the Celtic goddess of the sun. In the modern Irish language her name literally means ‘sun’. Her power awakens earth’s fertility; she sanctifies the land with her love and bathes the children of the earth in a warm glow.
There is an allure in dreaming of personal glory, to believe that perfection exists in some distant landscape known only to our future self. Whether it be a perfect job, relationship or a house on acres of grounds, the dream sustains us in the unfulfilled present. Our brains are wired toward future fortunes. It is a struggle to keep retraining our mind to observe the present, for the timeless present is the seed of what we have yet to become.
Then there is nostalgia; the desire for what might have been, regret over missed opportunities and a wistful feeling that your best days have are gone, only to be relived in the songs that form the soundtrack of your glory years. The present is seen as a place that pulls you away from youthful possibilities, forcing you to take responsibility for your circumstances. It is a karmic landscape from which there is no escape – except to an impossible future. It is impossible only because it is based on denial and non acceptance of the present moment. The present moment is the culmination of your life history to date. It is the account of all your thoughts, words and actions.The karmic law is simple – you reap what you sow.
The shades of the past set the tone for our future. The darker the shade, the deeper our dissatisfaction with the world. These shades on our soul consciousness create a painful present, therefore we seek to escape to the more colourful future where we are happy and content. But as days, months and years advance, the sun still sets on the same dull landscape.
Nothing changes unless we see to it. Wishing, hoping or dreaming does not create the foundations for reality. Reality is based on our thoughts, words and actions. These three building blocks are held in place by emotions. Feelings are the mortar that keeps us caught in the rigid structure of our conditioned lives. Feelings frozen in time set hard, trapping a portion of our consciousness with them. Our soul consciousness, which in its natural state is expansive and fluid, sets like a sculpture to represent our painful experience, a memorial to every cut and wound, every heartache and every unshed tear. But we cannot remain in a mausoleum to the past, we must keep moving forward. To do this, we have to break every frozen statue to release the essence of soul consciousness trapped inside. Feelings set in stone must be melted down for our real journey through life as a whole integrated being to continue.
The feelings that sting most are those that remain longest in the psyche, every other cut bleeds from this wound. It is these emotions that pull us back, time after time in various ways, to relive our unresolved pain. We are conditioned to quell the uprising of emotions and hold fast to reason and logic. However, reason and logic can only be built on a foundation of clear expression, a direct link to the present moment. By releasing historic emotions in the current of now, the long shadow cast over our future can be lifted and we can live a fulfilled life here and now. To quote Joseph Campbell ‘We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us’.
I recall events from my twenties, with a kind of abstract vision, as if the memories were somehow implanted in my brain without emotion. It seems like the decade of my twenties came and went with a numb participation. I began the decade working in central London, and the party lifestyle that goes along with been a young twenty-year old with disposable income. By the time I reached thirty, I was restless, bored, unhappy and looking at a way out of my marriage of three years. The intervening years were a fog, it was like an unknown tenant took over my mind and I fell into a coma. My thirties and forties were all about evicting that tenant.
I was thirty-three when I had my first real break through moment. I was travelling for work when I pulled over by the river to eat my lunch. I was reading a passage from a book a friend gave me after my divorce, a spiritual book which at the time, passed over my head. I sat looking absently at the water when I felt my chest open, my heart seemed to be expanding. At first, I was frightened, thinking it was cardiac arrest. I pulled my mobile phone out of my bag but there was no signal. I heard ‘Just Breathe’. Where did that come from I wondered? I closed my eyes, waiting for the inevitable heart attack and I heard it again ‘Just breathe’. And so, I focused on breathing, in and out, in and out, rapidly at first, then I fell into a slow pattern of breathing and I relaxed. My mind fell completely silent for the first time ever and something wholly pure and still emerged from that silence; it was the ‘I’ that had been asleep for all those years, while the tenant wrecked the joint, leaving a trail of wreckage in her wake.
The doctor checked me over and told me I had a panic-attack. He recommended I see a counsellor to unravel the past. The tenant moved back in and said ‘no way’ and off ‘I’ fell asleep again… but not for long. I realised I had to face the mess made by the tenant, after all I opened the door of my house (mind) when she knocked with a suitcase full of my karma. She was going nowhere until the suitcase was unpacked. For much of my thirties, I lived with the tenant (ego), only now I was aware of her. I knew there was no getting rid of her until I unpacked my karma. That, as they say, is easier said than done. I tried to avoid particularly painful memories stored in the karmic suitcase, which had the effect of giving the tenant the upper hand. The old ‘me’ would return with gusto feeding off the karmic resistance and so, I had a parallel existence, one of meditation, healing and reading spiritual and self-books, while the other one fed off her friends’ dramas, work dramas and taking no responsibility for any wrong-doing. My house (mind) was full of clutter moved from one pile to another pile awaiting a proper clear-out.
About five years after my initial awakening by the river, I had another breakthrough. After a brief relationship, I noticed that the mental turmoil was more acute that the emotional fallout. I realised I hadn’t cried over a relationship, or any other ending for several years. Instead of crying, my mind went into overdrive with nonsensical thoughts, obsessing over trivial matters. As I lay in bed at 3 am with no sign of sleep, I began to rant at the universe, or whoever was ‘out there’. Having nothing to lose, I figured if it worked for Neale Donald Walsch (Conversations with God) it might work for me. Once again, my chest started to expand, only this time I wasn’t afraid, I recognised the sensation. My heart was releasing pure emotion, that is, feeling that was not attached to thought, just pure sensation. Afterwards, I fell into a deep sleep and had one of those dreams where you are soaring above the earth. It was an incredible feeling of freedom until just before waking, I landed knee deep in cow dung outside the cowshed on the farm where I grew up. A clear message from the universe where to clean-up first.
I realised that Neale Donald Walsch was on to something, and so I began journaling, a journey into my subconscious, writing down my frustrations, fears and anxieties as a way to unravel the unfelt emotions within me. For the next couple of years, I went through half a dozen A4 pads and countless boxes of tissues as I wrote, and felt, my way out of the past. I unpacked my karma item by item, sometimes it was too much and I had to wait until I felt stronger to face it. Little by little, I unravelled the secret of karma, the universal Law of Cause and Effect. By feeling the effect of my past actions (Cause) I was able to regain consciousness, to see, hear, feel the world around me with new clarity. It wasn’t easy, there were many painful endings as I had to let go of relationships and friendships made by the tenant, and leave a job that made me unhappy to face an uncertain future.
If I were to give any advice to my younger self, I would tell her to take responsibility for her actions, to honour her emotions, that the brave thing is to cry, and to be kind to others. I would tell her selfishness is a poison, as is jealousy and gossip. I hope she’d listen, more importantly I’d hope she’d act and steer her course towards empathy and compassion. But alas, I can’t go back, but if my twenties thought me anything, it is this; you can’t live your life without consequence, if you ignore the cause of your actions on yourself and others, your ability to express emotion and think clearly becomes impaired, leaving you continually anxious and devoid of empathy. This is karma. You will find a stranger in the mirror, someone who replaces your true self. This tenant remains until every last impact of karma is felt, until humility replaces arrogance and joy replaces guilt.
It’s a work in progress, but I am the sole occupier of my mind, and one day when this body becomes ash, I will take to the sky and tell a broken, lonely soul sitting in a car by the river, or standing on the ledge of the abyss, to ‘Just Breathe’.
It is our existential right as humans to define what life means to us. As adult humans, we have freedom to choose how we want to live our lives, who we want to see, what we want to do, and where we want to go within the parameters of the law. That was up until five weeks ago.
Up until the global pandemic forced us indoors, people based their decisions on rational facts despite living in an irrational universe. Suddenly, rationality has become irrational. Calling round to our parents or friends house is off limits. Our Sunday stroll in the park or driving to the beach is taboo, and meeting up socially in bars and cafes is strictly off limits. Within a few short weeks we have to completely redefine the parameters of our existence and what life means to us.
In normal times, we perform a list of activities that form radials into the outer world. Now, these lines fanning out from our core are contracting and moving inward. This brings frustration, isolation and may trigger deeper traumas leading to abuse and addiction. Without our usual outlets we find ourselves truly alone with our thoughts. This brings us to the existential meaning of life. If I am not my job, my activities, my routine, who am I? Am I afraid of dying, or am I afraid of living?
As the radials that form the outer aspects of our life continue to contract, our life is no longer lived solely on the surface, but starts to sink deeper on the vertical, to the core of our being. This is a golden opportunity for us as individuals and as a collective species to question our existence; Why are we here? What purpose do we serve? Are we here just to satisfy our basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter? Surely we have surpassed our basic needs at this point in our evolution. We live is a society where the basic needs have been far exceeded. We have come a long way in terms of living conditions and technology from our Hunter Gatherer fore bearers. Our basic requirements to live a simple life have long surpassed rudimentary housing, organic food and hand-made clothes. That changed post-war during the mid-twentieth century. Our tastes as a society require home comforts, processed foods and high street fashion. Most of us don’t stop there, we change our décor every few years to keep up with the latest trends, our fridge-freezers are packed to capacity and we send our wardrobe cast-offs to the recycling centre and charity shops every season so we can buy more clothes. Our precious gift of freewill has been compromised by fear and desire. Fear of not having enough, and desire for more than what we could possibly need.
We are an evolving consciousness. We are a way for the universe to become aware of itself. With physical evolution, a natural change in environment prompts a species to evolve to adapt to the change in order to survive. As humans, we have brought about an ‘artificial’ change in our environment leading to climate change. The earth has responded by restricting human movement. To adapt and escape the confines of lockdown we need to change our thinking, how we relate to our environment. This is the evolution of consciousness required if we are to remain in harmony with the planet. It is up to every one of us to take responsibility for our thoughts, words and actions as they relate to others and our precious earth. As Gandhi said, we must be the change we want to see in the world.
As we enter a further three weeks of lock down in a national and global effort to halt the spread of coronavirus, people are beginning to wonder if there is any end in sight. Loneliness and isolation are having an impact on people’s mental health, so too is close proximity to spouses, children, parents and siblings for longer periods of time that in normal circumstances. The lonely, long to be near friends and family, and those in family groups or dysfunctional relationships, long to be left alone. Being alone with our own thoughts and the shadows they throw across the mind is a daunting prospect, something I can attest to but so too, is living in close quarters with a person who is controlling and manipulative. In both scenarios we must either face up to our thoughts and feelings about the situation or be consumed by them. The war against the virus has become the war against ourselves.
One thing I know for sure, life is transient and this current situation will pass. It is our underlying thoughts and belief systems that can leave us feeling victimised and overwhelmed. Depression casts a long shadow across our inner light duping us to believe life is unfair and hopeless. But despair not, there is a way through the darkness. When I found myself in such hopeless circumstances eight years ago, surrounded by damning thoughts, which in turn attracted hostile living conditions, I realised no one could save me but myself. Having a victim mentality only gives others power over you, particularly a controlling personality. No matter what the intentions, whether to exploit or to advise, giving someone control over your emotions leads to high emotional anxiety and mental agitation. The way out for me was by owning my emotions, the anger, the grief, the guilt and the despair. The underlying unfelt emotions fuelled a barrage of difficult thoughts which in turn darkened my view of myself and those around me. Owning my feelings, no matter how painful, led to a release from my emotional and mental imprisonment, which in turn set me free from a toxic living arrangement.
Depression goes undetected in many people, it is only when there is a threat to life that it is diagnosed. The unfortunate effect of depression in some cases is the alienation of family and friends. In many cases, the person is unaware of what is happening to their mental and emotional state, their fear of pushing away loved ones causes them to bury their feelings. Tragically it is only after a suicide attempt, the gravity of mental illness is highlighted to family members.
In many ways, we are all trying to flee from our damning thoughts through our busy lifestyles. When that is suspended due to the current worldwide pandemic, we have nowhere to run. We can try to fill the extra time with chores, gardening, Netflix, alcohol and food. As the time drags on into further weeks of lockdown and possibly months, anyone affected by dark thoughts and anxiety will have to face the cause. The cause is unfelt emotions lurking in the subconscious from past fears and trauma.
Set your intention for healing and awareness, for mental and emotional well being. Spend quality time alone, try not to avoid loneliness, rather try to understand why you are lonely. Listen to the inner voice as you would a loved one. Putting someone else at the centre of your world through dependence leaves you weak and vulnerable. It takes time to change a habit of a lifetime. Take small steps toward your liberation, by sitting for ten to fifteen minutes each morning in a meditative state. Thoughts will come and go, some mildly looking for attention, others aggressively trying to take you away from inner peace. Let them be. Sink deeper into the feeling body, feel where the sensation arises in your body, this is the fuel that causes thought. Be with the emotion as long as you can, by giving full attention to the feeling it will be released. This may be experienced as deep sobs or a sharp sensation, either way by releasing the emotion, it can no longer fuel shadow thoughts.
By putting ourselves at the centre of our world we can best be available to others. Be kind to yourself. How you treat yourself sets the bar for how others treat you. In the words of Ram Dass, ‘We are all just walking each other Home.’