A flash of home

I am currently holidaying in Melbourne, just for a long weekend. I go home tomorrow after what has been a blissful four days. It’s made me think of what home is – home is where my beautiful, wonderful family are, home is the city in which I grew up and whose very essence runs through my veins. When people ask me, I say I’m from Melbourne. This city, of coffee and food, of music and an arts precinct which makes my blood sing, of bleak, grey winters and searing, oppressive summers – this city is my home and when I stride its streets I feel taller.

But tomorrow I am leaving Melbourne to return home, to Newcastle on the northern NSW coast. To return to the city which I have made my home. To the flat in which I have learnt safety, which has become my haven, my sanctuary. To the coastline and the cliffs and the quiet strength of the Hunter River and the kind, compassionate, loving and loved people who, despite my best efforts, slipped in under my defences and became friends.

I was devastated when my now ex-husband informed me that we were leaving Melbourne to move to Newcastle. I curled up in bed, hugged the cat and cried. Then I got on with things. I determined to make a go of it, but I did not expect that Newcastle would become a home as much as Melbourne still is. Now, in my freedom, I have chosen to remain there. Tomorrow, I will leave a place and people I love, and fly back to a place and people I love. I will leave my home, and return to my home.

In a time in which homelessness and rootlessness in all their forms are almost universal, I am profoundly aware of how blessed this makes me.

Inflatability

I had a whole thing worked out to write but have just spent the last hour watching the wonderful, funny, incredibly intelligent Adam Hills on the telly. So I will simply paraphrase his brilliance:

All people are inflatable and deflatable. You can tell when you’ve inflated someone because they stand a little straighter. You can tell when you’ve deflated them because they look diminished. If you inflate as many people as you can, you’ve led a good life.

Can’t really top that. So I won’t.

Thinking about self-doubt

So I’ve been thinking about self-doubt ever since writing yesterday’s post. Thinking about that little voice in that back of your mind that tells you how useless you are, what a waste of space, how laughable. How nothing you do is worth anything, how even those things you do that you’re proud of are just flukes, or because of someone else’s skill or grace or generosity. That nasty, insidious little voice which knows just how to press our buttons, just how to hurt.

But it made me think – what does that little voice want? When I worked in primary schools, it was always the kids who were hurting the most who lashed out at others. The kids in the most pain were the ones who caused others the most pain. The ones for whom safety was a rare commodity were the ones who were the most unsafe to be around.

What if that nasty little self-doubt voice is just like those frightened and frightening children? What if all that self-doubt needs is some TLC? What if, instead of giving it a good slap, I take it out and give it what those poor vulnerable hurting children craved: attention and respect and safety and, dare I say it, love. Maybe my self-doubt needs to be taken to the movies, given ice cream or chocolate mousse, allowed to express its hurt and fear and anger, and then put safely and snugly to bed.

I don’t know. It might be a stupid idea. But I might give it a try – it can’t hurt. And it’s certainly a damn sight easier to do than it is to take something I can’t quantify and give it a good slap.

On Sylvia Plath and self-doubt

The big caveat I’m starting with is that I know almost nothing about Sylvia Plath. She wrote poetry, and she wasn’t very happy. But here is something she said:

The worst enemy of creativity is self-doubt.

Yes, I’m on a creativity kick (that’s been tough to tell from the last ten posts) but I think that this very wise comment can be generalised. The worst enemy of just about anything we do is self-doubt.

I’m not talking about modesty or humility. I’m not talking about the natural and healthy caution which says, maybe you should check out the depth of this puddle before you jump in. Maybe you should dip your toe first. Maybe you should learn from the wisdom and experience of people who are smarter than you, or have been to this puddle before you. Maybe you should make sure you have a spare pair of socks in case the puddle is much deeper and muckier than it appears.

Self-doubt, on the other hand, is the insidious, quiet little voice which says, are you serious? You honestly think you are able/clever enough/worth enough to do this? Maybe you should just not bother because you’re going to look like an idiot when (not if – when) you fail. Maybe you should just shut up and keep out of trouble, you useless, worthless bla bla bla…

It’s self-doubt that stops me doing a lot of things. It stops me expressing my opinion over lunch with friends. It stops me showing people my writing, or singing to my full capacity in rehearsal. It stops me putting myself out there and allowing people to see my skills and failings. It stops me going out on a limb and asking the hard questions that at times I should ask. It stops me being the person I was created to be.

Like most bullies, self-doubt is a snivelling, pathetic little weakling standing behind shadows, trying to appear bigger than it is. Despite what it would have us believe, there is exactly nothing it can do to hurt us. But there’s stuff we can to do hurt it. And it probably just needs a good slap.

Bereft…

So my ten (well – eleven, really) days of writing about the basic principles of creative spirituality are over. Suddenly I have an empty white space on the screen in front of me and the capacity to fill it with anything. I don’t know what to do. The part of my mind in which blog ideas live is bereft, devoid of the structure of the last ten posts. What can I write?

And sitting here taking an inordinately long time to formulate and type a sentence, I am reminded of those first weeks after I broke free and formed a life of my own. Suddenly evenings stretched out in front of me, pregnant with possibility and no longer limited by someone else’s desires and demands. I could do literally anything I wanted. Read. Watch the telly, or a DVD (although I brought a grand total of one DVD with me when I escaped!). Cook or potter around doing gentle domestic tasks. Write in perfect silence. Listen to whatever music I wanted without the demand to “turn that shit off”. Look up interesting stuff on the Internet. Draw or sketch. Journal. Possibilities overwhelmed and I was relieved when the telly broke down.

The capacity to decide for myself how I spent my evenings was such a small freedom, but a frightening one. Even now, almost ten months into my new life, I sometimes become overwhelmed by the choices available to me. I take refuge in routine and have to remind myself that I get to choose how I spend my evenings. And how I spend my life.

Freedom is frightening. Exhilarating, invigorating, exciting – but frightening. And I still take great pleasure in being able to choose a CD to listen to in the evenings.

On the tenth basic principle of creative spirituality.

And here we have…(drum roll)…NUMBER TEN!

Our creative dreams and yearnings come from a divine source. As we move towards our dreams, we move towards divinity.

Wow. That’s sort of the antithesis to what I’ve always thought: self-denial, and focus on loving and caring for others, moves me towards divinity. Suddenly, I am reading that it is moving towards my own dreams and values which moves me towards divinity. And this makes sense. One of the things that I am required to espouse as a social worker is that we cannot care for others unless we are caring for ourselves. We cannot give to others out of our own resources if the resources are not there in the first place. How much more true is that for internal, non-quantifiable resources?

Here is a quote from the Work of the Chariot: “When a man takes one step toward God, God takes more steps toward that man than there are sands in all the worlds of time”. Non-gender-inclusive language aside (and yes, this is an ancient text), I actually find this a frightening concept. The Source of all love and compassion, the ground of Being, moving towards: me. Why? What value do I have, that the Creator of the Universe should move toward me? Should cover me with terrifying, profound compassion and love me beyond human understanding? Should, when I frantically shut the door to It and pretend I’m not home, simply come in through the window instead. Am I that important to God?

And yet, in exploring the person I am, in using the creativity I was given to become more the person I was created to be, I am taking steps towards God. Single steps; faltering ┬ábaby steps, painful stumbling steps – but steps nonetheless. And as I move towards the Divine, so the Divine moves towards me.

Better brace myself, then.

On the ninth basic principle of creative spirituality.

So yes, I missed a day. Dear friends who stayed ’til gone midnight, all of us enjoying tea and biscuits and each other’s company. How very blessed I am – but yes, I missed a day.

So making up for it: here is number nine!

It is safe to open ourselves up to greater and greater creativity.

Wow. Where do I start? Once, about a thousand years ago, a friend asked me, “Are you safe at home?” It was a pretty gutsy question, considering that the answer was no. My response, though: “Safety is such a nebulous concept”. Pretty much the exact opposite of gutsy!

The problem I have with this principle is that safety is not actually a nebulous concept. It’s pretty binary, really. You are either safe, or you aren’t. I’m physically safe now – no one hits me, or threatens me, or holds me down with sheer greater strength. No one’s so much as raised their voice at me in over nine months. My body is re-learning physical safety. Now I am exploring the limits of my emotional and mental and spiritual safety. Part of that also involves exploring the limits to my creative safety. And that involves opening myself up to be who I really am. That involves me opening myself up to the gentle, vulnerable, terrifying strength of the Creator – and the Creator’s compassion. And, right now, that doesn’t feel safe.

There’s a world of hurt inside my head and my heart and my soul. I’m working on it, working with it, learning how to acknowledge it without being overwhelmed by it, learning how to remember without re-living. That’s hard, because frankly, there’s some pretty shitty stuff to acknowledge and remember. Remembering causes pain. And, to quote the wonderful Joss Whedon (or one of his script-writers), “pain is scary”.

Yep, pain is scary, and opening myself to compassion makes me face the pain and that makes me feel unsafe. That doesn’t mean, though, that I’m not going to do it. I am going to do it, because I can only learn about safety by proving it to myself. I am going to do it. It will just mean that I eat half my body-weight in chocolate afterwards.

That’s ok, right?