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Playing trust games with life

You may be familiar with trust games, from school or team building or some other facilitated group experience. A common version is where you stand on a chair and fall backwards and trust the group to catch you, and they do, and each time they do, something inside you melts and opens.

I have been playing this game with life itself for about three years now,and I finally feel I’m getting to the point where we don’t need to keep playing the game any more. I get it, I get that life will catch me and I can stop throwing myself of chairs for no reason!

What do I mean by life? I’m talking about everything that is, inside and out, existence itself. You might call it the universe, you might call it other people, you might call it Gaia,  you might call it the Dao, you might call it God, you might call it my Self. I’m talking about that which is, moment to moment, as I experience it.

Now we’ve cleared that up, what about these games? Have I really been throwing myself off chairs for three years? If ‘life’ is catching me, does that mean the ground? Is that really catching? How’s my head??

It’s a long story, but I will try to make it short. It began, as these kinds of adventures often do, with an experience of being faced with something bigger than I could comprehend, cope with or control. A force like a tornado was moving through me, a force that had somehow been unleashed from my heart and was wreaking havoc on my entire environment and sense of self. Over a period of twelve months, this tornado  (which was me, inasmuch as it was coming from inside me and acting through me) whipped away my relationship, my grandmother, my home, my cat, my business (almost, physically, in the end I let go and it continued in a new form), my sense of self, about half of my body mass, most of my belongings and most of my cash.

To be clear, I take total ownership for and feel utter gratitude for this tornado – and- it was a seriously disorienting and rocky ride as much as a magic carpet. I could not understand or explain it to anyone at the time, and so I did my best to rationalise and normalise my choices which were in reality driven by this molten fire inside me that was just burning away all the structures I had created to limit and  control my existence. Anything that I would grasp onto for safety was torn from me, and if I clung on to it my angel would transform into some kind of a demon and start to wreak havoc internally and externally until I let it go.

This tornado required my utter compliance, my utter surrender. All I could do was to stay in the still centre of it, where the air was clear and sweet and the colours were eye wateringly vivid. If I tried to walk back out of the centre to what had been, or off the path the tornado was taking, I began to be shredded and fragmented by its whirling force and was ultimately spat back out into the centre, more or less ragged depending on how hard I had fought.

So in the end, I stopped fighting, and I started to sense that perhaps I could trust this. I realised, that the still calm centre was expanding, and wonderful experiences were entering into that space and emerging from the ground beneath me, the longer I stayed present there. I realised that fear was what drove me into the storms and caused the clinging, and that trust – trusting life, myself and other people – allowed me to move with the tornado in safety and ease.

As these feelings and experiences came with a heightened visceral and physical experience – of energy, of emotion and of my senses – my body and felt sense became my compass. I would navigate by sensation, which would let me know where I was rooting myself, in the stillness or the storm. I could feel contraction in my chest and solar plexus, and closing down and narrowing of my sensory field and a dulling of the beauty I could perceive, when I was plugged into fear. In trust, in love, everything expanded, lightened, warmed and brightened internally and externally.

Why not follow that, I thought, why not try just following that. I had read so much about folowing my bliss and living from the heart, now this tornado had me by the heart and gave me little option, and much encouragement, to try it. Live it. See for myself.

So I did. I chose to make decisions only from trust and love, not to choose or act from fear. I would walk up to edges and throw myself off them, trusting. Trusting most of all myself, and this felt sense of what was right for me in the moment. The more I trusted, the more that apparent fears would melt away like mist as I approached them. The more I trusted, the stronger and clearer the internal signals became. The more I trusted the more I was met, by people and situations. With generosity of heart and warm welcome.

Each time I came to a big edge, I still felt the butterflies. I still thought: “what if this is the time where I fall on my face, where I realise they were all flukes before, and I had it all wrong…” I knew in those moments, that if I stepped down off the chair, the tornado would have me. I would be lost in the vortex of dark clouds and debris. I could only keep going, keep following the stillness in the centre as it moved. So I would stop, and reconnect with that stillness, and then move with it. Time and again.

An example of  such a moment that I often share, is when I found myself in the passport office in London, with a flight out of the country in 8 hours, no passport and no money.

I was following the still centre from Gran Canaria to Istanbul, via London. What had seemed an impossible feat had somehow lined itself up and I had been able to source funds, book ludicrously cheap flights with short notice and a tiny window AND get an appointment for a same day passport renewal to allow me to enter Turkey with more than 6 months validity. When I arrived to London I found that the funds coming in for my new passport had not yet cleared and would take  two days more. No problem, a generous friend would sub me for a few days.

So there I am in the passport office with my ticket number waiting for it to pop up on the screen and signal for me to approach the counter, three minutes from my allotted 5 minute appointment. I’m musing on the strange sensation I had felt travelling there by tube in rush hour, crushed against strangers in the humidity and noise. I had felt a distinct sensation of entering a tight squeezy tunnel, like today was some kind of birth canal. Peculiar and visceral.

A text message pops up on my screen and catches my eye. My dear friend who has subbed me to get my passport. Oh. Deals off. Something came up. Right. Of course I write back saying “No problem, have a great day”. White noise fills my head and my forehead prickles.

No problem.Right…. My number appears on the screen above my head. The quiet centre moves me forward to the counter, unprecedented high winds whipping behind me. “Here’s my application for a new passport. Thanks” She takes it. My freedom to roam the planet tucked away in an envelope and popped into a trolley. “Ok now go to the next window to pay.”

“What if I can’t pay?”

She looks at me, impatient and flat eyed.” You are going to pay now.”

“Yes but what if I can’t?”

“Madam I don’t understand, you are going to go and make payment at the next counter.”

Well, she seems pretty confident, so on I go.  “Hi I’m here to pay for my passport”. I pop my card in the machine and enter my pin, in a surreal kind of surrendered state, dropping backwards from the chair into emptiness…

Card declined. Oh god. Oh god oh god. This is the time when I just hit the floor isn’t it. This is the edge of my foolish delusion. This is it. Game over. Shit.

I must be spacing out because she speaks firmly and clearly and leans close to my face. “Madam, take this pen and paper, go ask someone to help you to pay. Write down the details and bring them to me.”

“…Thaaanks…” I wander away, utterly in the fog of evaporating belief…

“Madam!” I turn around. “Don’t forget this pen and paper, you need it to write down the details of the person who is going to help you.”

She is looking me dead in the eye and holding out the pen and paper, she looks so confident and so kind. I take it from her and walk away.

Crash. Crash. Crash. Stark waves of “reality” batter my self belief. In a way I feel a kind of safety in this momentary helplessness. There’s nothing else I can do, I have to surrender to the situation, and see what comes of it. I can’t do anything else right now. I begin weeping and getting ready to call my parents and tell them I’m sorry, all my talk of self belief and following my heart and something more in life… Crazy talk all of it, I was wrong, you were right to worry about me, I have lost the plot big time. I was ready to be at their mercy to either help me to carry on, or call me home, or get my head examined or whatever. I was ready to surrender all agency.

As I sat  in the corridor waiting for the tears to subside so I could speak on the phone. A man passing by stopped and looked at me with kind concern. “Are you ok miss?”

“yesfinethanks” I squeaked, tears streaming.

He kept looking at me, kind and slightly amused. “Are you sure you are ok??”

Then I realised what was happening and what I was pushing away. Life was coming towards me to help. I needed to let it in.

“No I’m not ok!” I blurted out the whole scenario and he listened, calmly, til I had finished.

“My name’s J. I’m the manager of this office. If you can get the funds you need any time up to 5:30pm when I finish work, I will get your passport to you today, no question.”

My heart cracked open another notch and I poured with gratitude, he smiled and walked away. Then my phone pinged, it was my friend in Istanbul. “Hey I found you a place to stay with a beautiful friend of mine and her family of dogs and cats, she is really excited to be hosting you and we are all looking forward to your visit.”

Angels. Everywhere.

Ping! Again. A message from a dear friend at the project I had been working on in the Canaries. “How’s it going lovely, got your passport and on your way?”

I wrote back and told her what had happened.

“Oh easy, here’s my card details, get your passport and get your flight and pay me back when your funds clear ok?”

I took the pen and paper, I wrote down the details of the person who would help me to pay. I got my passport as J had promised. I had brunch in the sunshine. I got my flight, I didn’t hit the floor. Life held me and kissed my forehead.

There are many such stories, but this post is already a “long read” so I’ll save them for the book (!).

I realise now, After three years of teetering on chairs, that I no longer need to keep taking myself to edges to see if I will be caught. If I find myself at an edge, and I still do often, I know I can keep going and walk through the swirling fear with my still centre, but now – life and I – we have a decent and mature team dynamic going on, and we can cocreate together a smoother ride which is a little less hair-raising  while still expansive and enriching. No more games now, time to get on with the work.

I can direct the tornado a little more now, it’s path is not so veering and unpredictable. I recognise that I AM the storm, that I am not just in it. It is in me, and so my still centre and I move through life, and my swirling edges clear any debris and fear blocks that they encounter, and all of it is me.

If you have read this far, and you think that I am in fact crazy. Please console yourself with this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rusk

Tied up in pretty cellophane
shining sesame crowns
a treat you look
like Christmas food
or something from Austria.

But you and I know
That inside you are sucked dry
Inviting, coquettish, but hard as stone
No soft mouth pillows
Only hard edges.

You clang on the edge of the bowl
Refusing to sink into my soup

Then slowly
Lapping at your edges
Massaging and releasing the crusted grains
She seduces you to softness.

You dissolve, sinking, falling apart.
Only sesame tears mark your passing
into the murky depths
of pea and mint.

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“Whenever nobody is talking about power, that is where it unquestionably exists, at once secure and great in its unquestionability. Whenever power is the subject of discussion, that is the start of its decline.” ~ Ulrich Beck – via Adam Kahane, Power and Love

We willingly submit to each other and trust, are of service to each other out of love. We seek to control each other, or be controlled, confusing love with power, seeking the security of power or the safety of powerlessness. We  let go to expand love out into the world, we crush love with control. We  give away our power, and thereby step into our power.

We become empowered, become able to truly love through surrender. Watching the dance between giving up and letting go, between control and flow, between power and love. The power and the love lie in the paradox.

When we find ourselves time and again climbing Sisyphus’ hill. Why not stop and let the boulder roll away, sit down and enjoy the view for a moment, appreciate the hill itself. Trust that if we really need it, we will find another boulder at the top of the hill that doesn’t need pushing up. Don’t give up, just surrender, let go and carry on.

“Giving up means abandoning our effort to cocreate new social realities and so reverting to either aggressive war or submissive peace. Surrendering means acknowledging that we cannot calculate nor control the outcome, and plunging into carving our way forward.”

~ Adam Kahane, Power and Love

“When you begin to let go, it is amazing how enriched your life becomes. False things which you have desperately held on to move away very quickly from you. Then what is real, what you love deeply, and what really belongs to you, comes deeper into you. Now no-one can ever take them away from you.”

~ John O’Donohue, Anam Cara

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“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” ~ Mary Oliver

Glancing sideways into your window as I pass on no particular business, a glimpse like a cannonball of the warm hearth within. Not for me this rich tapestried chamber, not for me this flickering firelight, not for me this shelter. I must make my peace with the storm.

This is harder than I thought a hard thing could be. The fire is so enchanting… Do I need to follow this pain to the ends of the earth until it becomes a treasured friend or falls away like old skin?

I’m resting in myself, nestled in the crook of my own heartbeat. Warm home fires burn, cleansing fertile flames.  Keeping safe from dungeons and dragons, making light what has felt so heavy. That’s not the way we ebb and flow, not the way we learn and grow, not the way we are…

The sea finds the shore by being still fluid, allowing the rhythmic sway of the moon to send soft ripples of energy through it, propelled to meet the land in perfect time.  The distance between two waves of the whole never closes until they disintegrate on the shore and return deep to the belly of the ocean to be born anew.

“To love purely is to consent to distance, it is to adore the distance between ourselves and that which we love.” ~ Simone Weil

I love this man sitting before me now, because I do not possess him and he does not possess me. We are free in our mutual surrender. I need to repeat this dozens, hundreds, millions of times, until I finally believe my own words.” ~ Paulo Coehlo, Eleven Minutes