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.

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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.

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.

A boring blog post, and inter-species love.

I’m tired and on the edge of grumpy, because one of the really shitty things about living with PTSD is its unpredictability, and last night was a tossing-and-turning, sleeplessness-followed-by-quiet-horrible-nightmares sort of night. Which is funny (funny-strange, that is; not funny-amusing) because I had a perfectly ok day and a pleasant, peaceful evening and when I went to bed I felt reasonably at peace with the world.

And then the insomnia came, and then the nightmares.

It seems a contradiction to have both insomnia and nightmares in the same night. And it hardly seems fair.

But that’s the way the cheese crumbles.

Right now, though, I’m sitting at my desk in a quiet house (one of the joys of living in the country is the utter silence. It forms its own sort of music), wearing spotted pyjamas and woollen sleep-socks, and I’m typing this and watching my cat quietly munch her way through a bowl of cat biscuits (she carefully avoids the green ones. I haven’t quite got to the bottom of why). I know that odds are, when she’s finished her snack, she’ll come and sit on my lap, and she’ll purr and put her warm, soft head under my chin, and I’ll kiss her head between her ears (I’m sure that spot on a cat was designed specifically for humans to kiss), and she’ll hum with contentment and feel cherished, and I’ll know that she loves me, and I love her, and in that interaction the very Creator of love will be present, and alive.

And I’ll (hopefully) sleep knowing that because of this warm, solid scrap of being, there is a little more love in the world, and that despite our differences, we can communicate and share that love, and that where love is, there also is God.

And that’s it, really.

Suicide Prevention Day, small things, and a little flicker of light.

I was going to write a post on a whole different topic tonight – it involved liquorice – but today is World Suicide Prevention Day, something I (to my slight shame) only discovered when I logged into Facebook just now.

World Suicide Prevention Day.

I’m tired, and it’s only Wednesday but it’s been an incredibly long week, and despite my best intentions, a book and wine happened, and so my washing-up is still piled on my sink, and my laundry is still in a pile (depending on your definition of the word “pile”) on my bedroom floor, and as of tonight there’s a smell in my fridge, and all I want to do is sleep for a month, and I can’t think of anything profound or meaningful or inspirational or beautiful to write on a day which, it turns out, is deeply pertinent to my experience, my narrative, my life.

Because I was on that cliff face, watching the waves beneath me dash themselves to pieces against the patient rocks, and feeling the sun on my face and the breeze playing with my hair, and knowing that I should stay alive for so many reasons, and desperately not wanting to. Desperately wanting to cast myself to the waves, the rocks – I craved the peace of freefall and I wanted my life to end, because for me there was no way out of the brutal and life-draining and spirit-withering and identity-stealing and terrifyingly secret captivity of a violent marriage.

I didn’t step off the edge of the world, and most days now I’m glad of that. And I hold quietly the knowledge that my reason for not stepping off the edge of the world was small – minuscule, in the scheme of a life: Palestrina’s Missa Aeterna Christi Munera, the silvered polyphony, four- and five-voice harmonies weaving around each other in painful, exquisite beauty. One day, I’d like to thank Mr Palestrina.

It’s the small things. So often those big, broad, sweeping reasons to live – family, love, friends, beauty, hope itself – are too abstract, too far away. People for whom you would walk through fire without a second’s hesitation: in that depth of darkness, they are no longer real. Nothing is real inside that utter bleak, dreary, soul-destroying lack of hope. It’s the small things which are exactly the right size to cling onto: one stranger’s smile; an adored and adoring animal waiting at home; a coffee date; a football match; a beautiful Mass setting to be sung that bleak and sunny morning, that I didn’t want to miss out on.

It’s the small things. And we can be small things too.

Reach out. Don’t be scared to ask the question: Are you ok? Does he hit you? Are you thinking of suicide? What’s wrong? So often we don’t even have to have an answer – most people don’t need others to sweep in and fix things for them. Most people just need someone to notice. Someone to step inside the darkness with them, and to have the courage to stand witness to it. To wait with them within it.

A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it. St John’s gospel doesn’t say that the light barges in and saves the day, and beats the shit out of the darkness, and they all live happily ever after. It just says that the darkness doesn’t win. And the reality is, you only need a flicker of light to remind the darkness who’s boss.

Shall we hold that light for each other?

Untouchables, and WWJD.

I work in mental health, with some of the most disadvantaged, vulnerable, vilified and misrepresented people in the country. People living in poverty, simply because they have a mental illness; people who face judgement and persecution, so subtly that it goes unnoticed even by them. “The mentally ill? Aren’t they dangerous?” – if I’d a dollar for every time I was asked that question I wouldn’t need to work at all. Nut jobs, freaks, crazies: the woman you don’t make eye contact with because she’s muttering and gesticulating to herself in the supermarket; the man whose gaze you don’t meet when you think he’s drunk at ten o’clock in the morning, because he hasn’t touched a drop in years but his meds make him slur his words. Maligned, misunderstood. Untouchables. People. Souls.

My boss and I were sharing a quiet moment of despair today, and she said to me, “How do you touch the untouchable?” It was a good question and I love that her questions make me think, but this time I didn’t need to think: I had the answer, and I heard the conviction in my own voice.

How do we touch the untouchable? By making eye contact. By smiling. By listening, and really hearing, and allowing what we hear to touch us. By sharing moments of simple humanity. By showing up when you say you will, doing what you say you’ll do. By showing courtesy and respect. By refusing to be fearful of what you don’t understand. By acknowledging that some people – most people – are fighting a battle you can’t see, and to which you’ll probably never be privy; and by honouring the privilege of being let in to the deep fears and darknesses which dwell at the heart of each of us. By letting the very presence of these people on the planet change us.

I’m not usually one to ask the What Would Jesus Do? question, because I think it’s bandied around and used to justify actions that I’m tolerably certain Jesus would never have taken. But in this case I have to ask it. How did the itinerant, ritually unclean, rebel teacher from a dusty backwater of the Roman Empire – the same rabbi who showed us what it is to be of God, who carried our darkness and drew death into the very being of the Creator – touch the untouchable?

He did it by acknowledging them. By holding out a hand, by allowing them to reach out to the hem of his garment without pulling away. By meeting their eyes and refusing to allow litigious ideas of cleanliness to pull him back. By holding hope, and roaring out the reality that each person he touched – each person he still touches – is a shining fragment of the Divine.

How did he touch the untouchable? Simply: by touching them. How do we touch the untouchable? Exactly the same way.

Loss, and finding, of sanctity.

Intuition is a funny thing. I was asked by my sexual assault counsellor today to name, without thinking, what it was that my ex took from me in ten years of violence and abuse, and the thing that came to mind was this: sanctity.

Every being is holy; ever soul is sacred, created in the image of the Creator. Every creature – the cat on my lap as I type this, the spider I took outside in a water glass today, each human being with whom I share this planet – is a manifestation of the Divine. I am a manifestation of the Divine: my soul, like billions of other souls with whom I share life, is sacred. Sanctified.

If you deny the sanctity of something holy, though, if you deface it and sully it and treat it in ways which reject its divinity – well, mud sticks, and eventually that thing relinquishes its beauty, its being, its holiness. The divine becomes soiled and impure, and while the Creator never loses sight of the beauty of Its creations, the creations themselves can easily lose sight of the consecrated nature of their own being.

Ten years of abuse – of beatings, of fear, of rape; of hearing, day after day, of my own worthlessness – resulted in my forgetting the sacred nature of my own soul. I lost sight, in those years of darkness, of my own existence as a creature of the Creator, loved, a part of the unfolding of that very Creator in the universe. As well as innocence, and safety, and almost life itself, that’s what was taken from me: the knowledge of my own sanctity.

That’s changing now. Each step I take away from that darkness is a step towards strength; each decision I make in the still-new miracle of freedom is a re-assertion of my own worth, of the beauty of my soul, of my own right to existence and to the space I take up in the world. Every memory of the events of the last ten years which re-surfaces in my mind (and there are thousands) is an assertion of my right – as a creature of the Creator – to live in safety as the sacred creation I am.

I tried to think of some sharp, snappy ending to this blog, but I’m tired (I’m always tired after counselling appointments) and I can’t think of anything. Other than the prayer that the souls of all living beings – from human to cat to spider and everything in between – might held, in respect and worth, as the divine manifestations they are.