Zebra-crossing Namaste.

I was driving along today – in a bit of a hurry to make it on time to a meeting – and I arrived at a zebra-crossing about a heartbeat before a pedestrian. I could have kept going, and it would have saved me a bit of time – I really was cutting it fine to get there at the appointed hour. But I stopped, because I like to think (most of the time) that I’m a courteous driver, and I let the lady walk through.

She was an interesting-looking lady – long grey hair hanging down either side of her face; baggy, once-stately clothes; a string shopping bag hanging off one elbow and a ratty beige plastic-y raincoat clutched under one arm against the possibility inherent in a cloudless sky. She could have been equally at home in a darkened hovel surrounded by tens of cats, or sleeping rough in a doorway, or behind a university lecture-hall podium. And she moved slowly, walking as though in pain, or contemplating the bitumen beneath her feet. Potentially late, and already flustered, I was mindful of the fact that I could have quite legally driven through before she reached the road’s edge.

Just as she got to the middle of the zebra-crossing, at what could most kindly be called a solemn pace, she stopped, and turned deliberately to face me. String bag hanging from one elbow, and raincoat clamped beneath the other, she placed her hands together and ceremoniously bowed to me in thanks.

It made my day. When I waved to acknowledge her, I was grinning. I was still smiling as I started driving again, and when I arrived at my meeting my heart was just a little lighter.

My spiritual director – an amazing Sister of St Joseph who I’m privileged to consider a friend – often farewells me with the word “Namaste” – in Hinduism it means bowing to the Divine in each other, celebrating and honouring the Sacred which dwells in each of us. I have no idea what motivated the zebra crossing lady to bow to me – other, of course, than in thanks – but in that gesture I was reminded of Namaste. In taking that moment – a bow rather than a quick thoughtless wave – she acknowledged me as a fellow human being. Whether she knew it or not, she acknowledged the Divine in me. And I was reminded of the Divine in her; I was reminded of the Divine in all creatures.

Not bad for a ten-second zebra-crossing encounter.

Namaste.

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Meditation and silent screaming.

Something I’ll do tomorrow, and something I do most Wednesday mornings, is attend a Christian meditation group. Based on the teachings of the desert fathers (or, if you’re one of the three people I know who have read An Alien At St Winifred’s, the dessert fathers, with their dedicated ministry of sweet pastries…), Christian meditation is about moving beneath and beyond the chattering, daily concerns of life, away from the mental and cerebral, and deeper into the self. It is within the self that we discover Other; it is within us that we discover the Being who created us. And, in resting in that Being, we learn to be.

That’s the theory, anyway, and it’s something that resonates within me. It’s something I’m drawn to; it’s something that I need to do, a spiritual imperative. This is the manifestation of my yearning for my Source.

It’s hard though, and at times it’s scary. In meditation, my mind quiets, and I manage (sometimes) to move below the regular mundane tumult of thought and mental to-do-lists and questions and worrying and planning…and when I do, I feel. There’s ten years worth of feeling there, and often it’s painful and often it’s scary and it’s only when my blathering rationality quiets that there’s room for feelings.

Sitting in the group, in the silence of meditation and in the company of other meditators, I’ve felt a scream build up inside me. Starting deep, just below the very bottom of my sternum, its grown and strengthened until I’ve felt that only opening my mouth and giving it voice would bring any sense of relief, of release.

I haven’t, of course. I am a person for whom self-control is a basic and valued attribute, and the idea of actually shattering that sacred silence with a scream of – what? Anger? Fear? A straightforward build-up of too much emotion over too many years? – simply wouldn’t be an option. But the scream is there, and it means something, and part of the journey to within my self that is meditation is working out what that means, and how it’s a part of the healing I’m still journeying towards.

I’ve thought about just bunking off – tossing meditation, like marathon-running, into the useful-but-not-for-me basket of things I’d once thought I’d like to do. Putting it aside until things are easier, more comfortable. But I can’t. As I seek my Source, the Source within me reaches out to Itself, and draws me ever closer to Itself.

Spirit will unfold, and doesn’t seem to care that I’m digging my heels in. I guess I can trust that Spirit knows what It’s doing.

Wellsprings.

One of the things I love is to pick the brains of creative people. Nerdy, yes – but I long ago decided that nerdy is cool.

I was talking to my oldest friend who is one of the most incredible people I know: she’s a talented artist, and creativity flows out of her like light; her intuition and spirituality naturally shine out of her. She’s an inspiration, creatively and spiritually and intellectually and simply in who she is, and amazingly, she’s my friend.

Anyway, we were talking about creativity, and I asked her where she feels that her ideas come from. Her answer: there’s a wellspring within each of us, something we can all access. It all comes from the same Source.

And here’s an interesting thing: as I’ve been learning about prayer and meditation, and delving, even slightly, into spirituality and meditation, I’ve discovered the very beginning of learning to delve down into the depths of my self, below thought. I have no idea what it’s like under the sea while a storm’s going on, but I imagine that there’s a sense of stillness beneath the tumult (I’m prepared to be proven wrong on this; it would be very interesting, and I am a nerd, after all). It’s that stillness, beneath the tempest of my daily thoughts, that I seek.

I’m learning – haltingly, stumblingly – to move beneath the chatter of the everyday, and dwell and be within my self. I’m learning that it’s within the depths of my self that Spirit dwells, and from where Spirit reaches out to Itself in what becomes prayer. It’s within my innermost being that I discover Spirit, the Source of my being, the genesis of my Creation, and, apparently, the origin of my creativity.

It’s why, despite the difficulties, I need to continue – hesitant, stumbling – on this journey of learning to meditate, of learning to pray. I need to learn – or re-learn – to be safe within my spirituality. To be cradled within the love of the Creator of compassion, the Source of love. I have to trust that my self holds not only the wellspring of creativity, but the wellspring of the Creator. I have to trust my self, and I have to trust the Creator.

It’ll make me a better writer, and it’ll make me a better person, but more than that – it will make me a whole person.

I’m not going back to being half a person.

Nightmares, a common denominator and being a good person.

One of the realities of living with post-traumatic stress disorder is sleep disturbance, namely nightmares. It’s spectacularly inconvenient and unpleasant – things can be rolling along quite smoothly, only to be interrupted by sleep-disrupting dreams which leave me unrested and uneasy the next morning, and which often tint the following day with their own insidious brand of anxiety. The really difficult thing about this particular manifestation of PTSD is that there’s no managing it: there are no nice neat strategies which help to reduce their severity.

Sometimes the nightmares are quite overtly horrible: being raped, or fighting for my life in a crowded place while people calmly walk past, or the common-garden-variety horror-movie murderers and monsters. Those ones I can often stop from lingering; I can tell myself that it’s only the random images of a battered mind continuing to seek healing, and I can often return to sleep.

The one I hate the most, though – the one from which there can be no returning to slumber, the one which lingers like a miasma the next day – is the nightmare in which the people who love me respond to me in the same way my ex-husband used to. The same agonising illogic to arguments; the same shocking, soul-penetrating insults; the same threats; and finally, the same searing flare into actual blows. The dreams are vivid: I can feel the seat beneath me, hear the world around me, and the first touch of violence feels the same as it ever did in my waking life. The thing that always brings most horror though – not the insults or the abuse, not even the words of someone who hated me coming from the mouth of someone I know, in my waking life, loves me: the worst horror is the sudden realisation I have in the dream, that since someone else is treating me the way my ex used to, then I must be the common denominator. It must be me. Actually, I must really deserve such treatment.

It’s a shitty realisation to come to, and it seems just as brutal when it comes from my own dreaming mind as if it were a waking reality. It’s a devastating fear to sit with: do I really deserve such a thing? Am I really the horrible person my ex thought I was?

The more time that passes, the firmer I am in the belief that I didn’t deserve it, that I do deserve to be happy, to have friends, to be treated with respect and love as I treat those around me with respect and love. I’m strengthening my resolve in that, and learning to see myself – maybe – as I hope that others see me, and to hope that I’m the good person I want to be. And, of course, it’s a work in progress: but part of being a person is working towards being a good one.

Half or whole.

A long time ago, someone fairly brutal but also brutally honest called me half a person. It was done with the best of intentions, and it was pretty accurate, I thought, but it stung a little. She followed it up with the words “You’re all head and no heart. That’s not how you were created”.

Ouch.

Here is what I’ve realised: I’m not half a person. I’m a whole person. It’s just that, for the longest time, I’ve not particularly been in touch with half of myself. The feeling part. The intuition. The spirit, and the spirituality, of my self.

I’m probably not fully in touch with it yet. I still struggle with emotions, and I’d still prefer the dry, safe rationality which comes with being a thinking, not feeling, being. For me, the primary means of engaging the world is still the mind: I live in my head, and I always will. I value my intellect; I value my capacity to think clearly and to analyse and interpret the world around me, and my own responses to it. I value the fact that I can retreat into my head when things get tough: it’s a skill that got me through some hellish situations – beatings and assaults – and it’s a skill I know I can rely on again if I need to.

It’s not enough, though, and that’s what I’m realising. Writing the book, learning to rely on my creativity and intuition, has taught me that. The realisation that I relied on my intuition to escape my marriage has taught me that. The experiences I’ve had on my haltering forays into the realm of spiritual practice have taught me that.

I don’t like feeling. I struggle with it. I struggle with the fact that I am starting to have to sit with what was done to me, and the fear and shame and grief and anger around that. I struggle with the fact that, in the quiet of my spiritual practice, I have to sit with being what I am: a soul, nothing more or less, not hidden behind research and rationality and competence, and I have to let that be enough.

Thinking is easy, and comforting. Feeling is not. Feeling is painful, and scary, and even exuberance can bring trepidation and the shame that comes with abandoning myself to a sense of happiness that I still struggle to see that I might deserve.

But whether I like it or not, I’m a whole person, not half a person; and to be honest, life as a half-being doesn’t actually have all that much to recommend it.

It’s slightly more convenient though.

Blood flow and why you can’t be creative in a war zone.

This is why you can’t be creative in a war zone: in a war zone, you simply don’t have enough blood flow. It sounds odd, but it’s true. When there are bombs raining down around your head, you spend most of your existence in fight-or-flight mode. Blood flows from non-essential parts of your body to where its needed most; and while creativity is not a physicality within the human body, its inherent enough a part of who I am and how I’m made up for me to use the metaphor almost literally. Not that there were ever bombs raining down around me – by sheer accident of birth I don’t live in Baghdad, or Gaza, or Damascus. But for ten years, I lived in the war zone created between two people. I lived with the constant volatility of unpredictable and at times dangerous violence; I lived with the constant drip-drip of undermining, of words and insults used against me as weapons, of the capricious handing out of affection or abuse. I lived in an environment where safety was not a given, not an automatic right, not something to blithely take for granted. In fact, it was the opposite: violence and hatefulness was what I learned to take for granted – and it was drummed into me (to such an extent that I still half-believe it) that this was exactly what I deserved. So I went into survival mode. Endurance mode. I stopped paying attention to what was going on, what was being said. There was enough self-preservation, enough self-worth, for me to finally tear myself out of that precarious situation – but for the most part, I put my head down and simply kept putting one foot in front of the other. And that’s the problem with endurance mode: you switch off all those things that make you who you are. You shut down all those gentle, fragile parts of yourself which can make you vulnerable, and you bury them deep for their own protection. Not that you realise you’re doing that – with no sense of future, no sense of hope, what’s the point of trying to protect an insubstantial treasure for a time ahead you don’t have? It’s more a loss than a deliberate act of preservation: you simply forget about those parts of yourself that make you who you are, and you cease to feel them, in the same way a body part devoid of blood flow becomes numb and essentially dead. And like a body part devoid of blood flow, the rebirth is excruciating. A big part of coming out of survival mode – literally years after my Emancipation Day, that ill-thought-out, precipitous pre-dawn escape from an increasingly perilous marriage – has been watching and feeling the blood beginning to flow to that stagnant, dead-seeming phenomenon that was, and now is, my creativity. And the Universe – or Spirit – unfolded in such a way that I ended up writing a book, one of the more interesting experiences of this time of healing. And now the world contains one more book, and the fragile creature that once was my battered creativity is a little bit like me – scarred, sadder and wiser for the experience, but very much a survivor. Kind of cool, really.

A forty-kilometre drive and being a poet.

I had to go to Sydney for a meeting today, and part of that involved driving forty-odd kilometres to what is now my most convenient railway station to catch the train with colleagues. I like driving – it’s good thinking time – and I like long drives, so I wasn’t averse to the drive, but I hadn’t anticipated how beautiful it would be. I was driving through mist-laden, rain-soaked farmland, and then into state forest. I was surrounded by trees and grass and fields of peacefully-grazing cattle, and by moist tree-ferns and what I guess would be classified as rainforest, overlooked all the while by the wildness of Mount Sugarloaf. Countryside like that – half the reason I moved to the rural outskirts of Newcastle – makes my soul sing.

And I found myself wondering, why is it that I’ve been so long without doing much writing at all? Especially poetry – I’ve just written a book of the stuff, and yet I’ve barely set pen to paper since I finished the edits. What’s going on?

Obviously, I’ve been busy, and distracted, and the day-to-day realities of running a busy human life (and getting sick) have got in the way. And that’s got to be ok, because the alternative is that it’s not ok, and then I start to feel judgemental and grumpy with myself. But there’s also a sense in which I need to regain my mind’s capacity to make poetry out of what it sees.

So I decided, simply, to do that. I looked, properly (within the realms of safe driving), and I allowed my mind the space to play with words. I held the words gently, and I tasted them, and I relished in them, delighted in them. I allowed myself to be elaborate, to use words as more than tools for drawing up a mental to-do list; I played with words in the same way my artist friend plays with colours and paints, with nothing to lose and only beauty to gain. I painted the view, and the feelings, with sentences, metaphors, descriptives, and I remembered what it is to play with words, to have fun with them. To delight in them. I became a poet again. I became, again, what I’m increasingly convinced I’m created to be.

I was driving, of course, and perhaps part of the pleasure of that drive this morning was that there was no capacity to capture my word-sculptures. They probably wouldn’t have been much good for a full poem anyway – what was important about that drive this morning was that it reminded me that I am in fact a person of words. A poet. It’s what I am, and I was reminded this morning of the joy I take in that, and the importance of claiming that for myself.

Although, it also made me think: I must buy a dictaphone.