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Self care

I’m pre-menstrual
The silence is deafening
The blank page blinding

I’ve stumbled out of the forest into a clearing
And I don’t know what’s supposed to happen here.

I managed to write about the benefits of plastic pipes
Yet I’m terrified to write anything about me.

I believe for a moment in the need to offer
Only a shiny sellable self.

I don’t believe, for a moment, in the
Self that sits here and shakes.

I have a dog now.
He believes in me, I think.

I don’t want to talk about me
Because I don’t have the answers to
The questions that will come.

I’m blindfolded walking a precipice.
The only compass I have is trust.

Following the tiny sparks where they flicker
In my heart.

Dare I believe
That if I look after myself
My self will look after me?

 

 

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The not-so-new 30s dating paradigm, am I missing something?

As a single woman in my thirties I feel like the options I have for healthy and fun relationship these days are stiflingly narrow, where does that come from? Where are the heralded brave new frontiers of human relationships dawning? My experiences since turning 30 are leading me to the conclusion that my socially sanctioned choices are as limited as marriage and babies, casual/tinder, “Polyamorous” divorcees or lesbian. I’m not loving it.

Men who want children and marriage are few and far between at this point, and they really want it, to the extent that it feels not ok to date them if I don’t definitely want that. Men who definitely don’t want that, appear terrified of my fertile womb and optimism about love, and tell me with patronising looks, that they “know deep down what I really want” and write me off as a panicky uterus with claws. Often the ones who I am actually aligned with just refuse to believe me when I tell them what I want, which is insulting.

Strangers who are married with kids love to remind me uninvited as I peacefully sip my tea in a cafe that I “have all this to come” as they wipe the puke out of their hair with a napkin and their partner sinks deeper into candy crush saga hoping it will all go away for a moment.

Also, I’m great with kids and love hanging out with them, which is deeply confusing for people who feel that if you like children then the logical thing is to make several and devote your entire life to their care. I like a lot of things that I nevertheless don’t want as the dominant theme of my existence – doesn’t make me like them any less.

About once a year I go on Tinder for 1-3 hours and that is about as much as I can hack it. I feel myself slipping into the kind of dislocated torpor I used to enter as a child flicking through the Argos catalogue, a truly horrendous distortion of the beauty and complexity of human connection. It’s like going trout fishing and being hit with a freaky cyclone of goldfish lurching up out of the lake.

The Polyamorous dads club is a genre of their own and I actually really admire these guys because they are unabashed about being clear and upfront about what they want from a relationship. They’ve been through the emotional sausage machine of marriage and they just want fun and sex on tap with zero demands. They come to realise over time that having multiple casual relationships with real humans is even more demanding than monogamy unless you want to be sloppy about it and live in an episode of Eastenders with one eye on the window at all times.

Not easy for them either to find a woman who has the energy and freedom to play with them and will not expect them to call for a chat or take active interest in life outside of the bedroom. I think this woman is a mythical creature and I am often confused with her because I appear to be free and a bit wild, and self identify as a unicorn…. Needless to say it doesn’t work out for long.

I’ve noticed women my age spontaneously or intentionally opening to relationships with other women after previously only having relationships with men. Perhaps they come to realise that emotional connection, intuitive intimacy and nurturing communication are available to them here in spades, and with less presumptions loaded on top. Perhaps they simply fall in love and are open and sovereign enough to claim it.

Is it possible to have a relationship that is fun, healthy, interdependent and also has depth and shared purpose outside of marriage and babies? For me, growing, learning and exploring together and supporting each other in our full expression and purpose is a beautiful intention for relationship. This, and all the sweetness and joy there is to be found in being two humans with bodies that like and trust each other bumbling through the day to day pleasures and pitfalls of life. Let’s start  with play and dancing and not be so scared of what might come next…

It’s been suggested to me that it’s my own ideas about relationship that are too narrow.  Am I missing something? Is it just me? Shall I pop this on my Tinder profile?

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Reading the signs: getting clear on connection and commitment

I’ve been repeating a pattern for a chunk of my life which involves getting attached to people who are, for one reason or another, unavailable for the kind of relationship that I’m interested in at the time. Or any relationship with structure or commitment. It usually begins with them telling me so and me nodding, and ends with me in floods of tears wondering why on earth they won’t just love me in the way I want them to and what terrible character flaw I possess that makes me so deeply unloveable.

Most recently, after falling head over heels for someone who had expressed clear disinterest (for good reason) in forming a committed relationship I found myself almost a year on licking my wounds and trapped in the pain of unrequited love. Pushing it down and kidding myself that what was on offer was enough. After finding myself in an Airbnb on the other side of the world for work, mooning and missing this person and writing to tell them so, and feeling utterly unmet by the response, the blackout curtains of denial fluttered open for a moment and I saw the light. We were in different places, he had been right all along telling me so as I sing-songed back my totally-fineness and utter lack of attachment, deceiving myself totally, and him by extension. It had to stop.

So I wrote and told him so, with as much kindness for the both of us as I could muster, in the middle of a tear-soaked coffee stop in a day of walking the streets for money (not like that – I collect data for a living, sometimes). After about 20 minutes (quite the anomaly) there was an answer back. He had suspected as much and was truly sorry but was not in a place of being willing or able to commit to a relationship, as stated, nearly 12 months ago… I’m trying hard to be kind to myself right now as I write, about how long this took me to truly grasp and to him for not nudging me a bit harder, against his interests perhaps, to wake up – though nudge me he did. I stormed with grief for the rest of the day, flooding the streets with salt water and stamping my pain into the Tarmac. Howling into the wind and the faces of passersby and singing out my sorrow to every pop power ballad I could summon.

Almost 2 months on, it has taken daily courage to keep walking away, step by step. I’ve had to turn myself back around several times, as I find myself metaphorically stood knocking at a closed door again. My good friends have listened to me talk myself back into a world of delusions and self abandonment and back out again more times than I’d like. I’ve sent messages I regret, made myself feel vulnerable, worried I’ve hurt his feelings. I’ve received beautiful listening, compassion and friendship from him. I’ve met silence and confusion. I’ve raged, fantasised and broken apart. I’ve doubted myself and derided myself and watched with detached disbelief as I disentangle myself from the affection of a wonderful human being.

Breaking my own heart, for my own good, is the weirdest experience. Emotionally it’s like cutting off your leg to get out of a bear trap. Hideous analogy but anyone who has experienced the withdrawal pains of breaking free from this unilateral pattern of relating will know that in the most arm-gnawing, hair-pulling, eye-scratching moments, it is true what science has shown us – the emotional pain of a breakup is experienced in the brain in the same area as physical pain and is hardly distinguishable by our nervous systems in the moment.

It is in those moments of anguish and disorientation, when just dropping them a text or going back for just a cuddle would make it all stop, that it is hardest to uphold the courageous choice to walk. In the moments when my head is clear of anguish and ambivalence, and I am not pacing around clutching my mobile waiting to receive the response that will never come, I know the choice was the right one and that I am healing a pattern that does not serve me or anyone else. Repatterning feels very disorientating and sometimes I find myself experiencing a sort of inner scrabbling for ground, clutching for false anchors, seeking out a shelter I have dismantled, and I know I’m on the cusp of building new ones that will stand.

I know I’m not the only one to go through this. People choose, at certain times of life or perhaps for their whole life, not to be available for deep emotional commitment. It is a totally valid choice to be respected like any other. The difficulty comes when these people, still wanting to connect and enjoy the company of those they are attracted to, lay this out dutifully and clearly and… for psychologically complex and I’m sure totally varied reasons… the other person just does not hear it/believe it/accept it and gives the go ahead.  Maybe we think it won’t be a problem for us, maybe we think it might change, maybe we just flat out don’t understand what they mean. On we go hurtling headlong into heartbreak.

As a woman, I know that my brain chemistry works in such a way that as soon as I am physically intimate with someone, then my brain releases oxytocin and gets me nicely bonded and emotionally attached to this person. The more this repeats, the stronger that attachment becomes. I might think I have a handle on the situation but all of a sudden I am playing out all kinds of attachment behaviours and my capacity to think rationally about the situation is going fast out the window. I’m in deep, and getting myself out activates the same regions of my brain as heroin withdrawal. So just know yourself. Know what’s happening in your body and brain, know your attachment style, know your vulnerability.

I believe in loving whole heartedly, I believe in going all in, and because of this I need to take better stock of what I’m getting all into, read the signs and read them again til I am clear what I’m signing up for, and what I’m not. Work on understanding the beliefs and desires that cloud my vision. Get clear on what my own vision is for relationship, and be brave to say no when what’s on offer doesn’t fit.

 

 

Stories

Check In & Baggage Drop

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As I sat rocking on the bathroom floor, unable to stand from the agonising twists in my belly, sweating and pale and vomiting from pain, I knew that all I could do was sit with myself through the intense waves and know that they would pass and I would be OK. I couldn’t move from where I was, or do anything to stop the pain. At the points where I felt that I would pass out and perhaps I could not after all cope with the level of pain I was experiencing, I came to the conclusion that I had no choice but to cope. I was not in any danger just having intense sensation, and there was nothing I could do to change it in the moment so I just had to accept it and ride it out. Time was gone, the intense physical experience demanded my complete presence and filled the entirety of the moment. I just breathed and cried and surrendered.

September a month of much letting go – of old stories, traumas, delusions, dreams, attachments, plans, a home, a base, a lover. So much that comprised the little house of forms and ideas and assumptions and safety and comfort I had built around myself has gone this month. Much grief has been surfacing, rising in waves at inopportune moments, demanding my embodied presence. Perhaps predictably, I experienced the most intense bout of menstrual pain I think I have ever experienced as my womb released all it had been carrying. I could do nothing but bleed, cry, groan and allow the waves to pass through me, I could keep nothing down to numb the pain, my body gave me no choice but to feel it and let it be.

That night, after the physical pain had subsided, a wave of emotional pain passed through of similar magnitude. Grief, rage, fear, catastrophic aloneness, confusion and a sense of being totally at sea and disoriented took over my entire space. I wanted to do things to numb it. Play out patterns, reach out for reassurance to where I know I probably wouldn’t be met, chase delusions of intimacy, cling, adapt, try to make myself the right shape to fit into someone’s pocket, guess the right choices to be adored, surf social media, write angry poems, convince myself I don’t need anyone, find a valley to hide out in, do something else, anything else but feel it…

As I began to fear the feelings of desperation and loss would overtake me completely, feeling increasingly lost and disoriented and alone, I remembered my earlier experience and that all I had to do, was just to be there and feel my feelings, in all their overwhelming intensity, and know that they will pass and I will be ok. To know that they are releasing now because I am strong enough to allow myself to feel them. To know that my system is cleaning itself and nothing is amiss.

I can feel a deep swirling tide of emotion wanting to come through. It leaks over the breakwater every night. I have been busily lining up retreats for myself where I can get deep enough out into the countryside to let it rip, let it tear through. I feel a need to take myself deep into nature and solitude so I can roll around and roar it out like an injured animal hiding out to heal.

I remember this morning, vomiting from pain until there was nothing left in my stomach at all. In the end I was drawing up dark blue/green bile from the depths of my being, like nothing I’ve ever seen. I thought of the word bile, and of anger. I thought of how the liver holds repressed rage and grief. I knew this was coming from the deepest place in me, literally. I realised what was coming out of me, and why I had to let it go, and that I really needed to stop holding on. I remember saying to myself “ok I get it, I get what this is about….surely that is is it now, is that it ??” retching myself inside out as the biggest wave yet of pain racked my body…. And that was it. As abruptly as it had all started, the pain stopped. Just really stopped happening, the cramping stopped, the nausea stopped.

To end the month, we had a second new moon, known as the Black Moon, in Libra – the sign of balance and relationship. I decided to let go of the pain I was literally carrying around with me and continuing to relive again and again.

When I moved out of my home and bundled my belongings into storage, I decided on a whim to keep and carry with me some journals from a time in my life where I experienced major rejection, betrayal and a series of events which devastated my confidence and sense of self worth. To protect myself from this pain I had framed it for a long time as a series of valuable lessons in non-attachment and unconditional love. This is true, I learned alot about those things for which I am massively grateful, I also experienced a lot of trauma and pain. Which I could barely admit to myself let alone anyone else.

I felt attached to these journals and like they held so much that was of value and that it was important to hold onto these experiences. It felt so necessary to treasure all the pain as learning experiences. I felt like there was a story that held value and had to be told and never forgotten. Again, this is partially true. There has been much learning and there are stories to be told. I realised on this new moon, that I had brought these stories with me to release those that no longer serve. To let go of the pain, the anger, the self doubt. To keep only the gifts from those experiences and let the rest go.

So I sifted through them, page by page, feeling into each passage of writing for what it was carrying. Some carried hope, joy, a sense of expansion, enlightenment, love, clarity. They stayed. Some carried stories of my own smallness and the most magnificent giving away of all of my power. These went. Some carried raw pain, repeated on a loop, helpless, blinded, thrashing and frantic. These went too. Shredded by hand and gone from my space.

In a way these stories, and the anger and grief attached to them, were also forms of security. They were the structure around which I oriented my sense of self and the blueprint for relationship. They were not serving me well in either of these roles and it was a painful realisation.

With so much now gone, I face the void again. Knowing that the cave I fear to enter holds the treasure I seek, doesn’t make it any more enticing. Having been here before on such a precipice, wrestling with so much Unknown, surrendering so much to the flames, doesn’t make it feel any safer this time around.

“Our Descent starts with disillusion and ends with dissolution. There is no escaping the process, and it can be hard. The Descent is a time of helpless wandering, of grief, rage and alienation. There is no quick way through. But the destruction which takes hold of us is required to initiate us into the mysteries, to set in motion the long, difficult game of transformation. In staying with the dark, we gather the strength which we will need to find the way back to our path and to face the rest of the journey ahead of us. In that place of destruction, gestation and rebirth, we begin to learn the answer to the biggest question of all: if we strip away everything we are told we must be in the Wasteland, what is left? When everything we once valued is taken from us, what then do we become?” Sharon Blackie – If Women Rose Rooted: The Power of The Celtic Woman

Image: from a collection of photos by Jon Crispin of suitcases left behind by inmates of the Willard Asylum in New York

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Call from an old friend

I received a call today.

From my body

And from Mother Earth herself.

“I’ve sent so many messages

Through so many messengers.

I love you.

I want you to come home.

I need you to keep me safe.

I invite you to cherish me more.

Honour me more.

Show up like a mama lion for me.

Soothe me with your touch when I am stressed.

Stop everything and put me first.

Listen long and lovingly to my needs.

Delight in meeting them.

Because you love me.

Don’t hand me over to someone else

To do it for you.

Instead of you.

Don’t abandon me when I feel unsafe

Stop everything and put me first.

I need to feel your presence.

All the time.

Always.

Put me first.

Honour me with your choices.

Put me first.

Honour me.

Listen to my every tiny desire.

Welcome and adore my desires.

Delight in pleasing me,

Nurturing me,

Lighting me up.

Treat me like a goddess,

A temple.

I am you.

I am that.

Act like it.

Come home.

 

Reading this message back, it feels like the deepest call of the feminine in me, to my masculine energy, which has been so active, doing and thinking and striking out. Building and shaping and directing….

In so many ways this call for union has been resounding in me. Even now, as I am here writing a blog post hunched at the desk, a wild little puppy is tearing at my ankles – “Hey!  I am life embodied, I am the earth in motion, be here now with me.” So I’ll end here, and go roll around on the rug by the fire.

 

 

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Portrait: a digital nomad living outside the tribe

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Much discussion around the rise of digital nomad culture is focussed on the hubs and tribes, the clusters of nomads finding community wherever they find themselves, in co-working spaces and deeper connections through co-living projects scattered across the globe.

What of the nomad without a tribe?

The solitary wanderers and techno-hermits tucked away in all corners of the globe, creating vast online platforms that bring us all together. The paradox of digital work finds many nomads, by choice or by circumstance, alone in their hotel room, or tucked away in a cabin, bridging continents and creating virtual communities through their computer.

So what is it like to choose this path? I made a date with Ed Dowding, creator of Represent, a digital democracy platform which facilitates transparent, non-partisan, real time peer to peer polling and generates a clear and representative collective voice from scattered and distorted political debate in the UK.

Our interview begins with a classic digital nomad scene. After shifting times around a little we connect through skype, quick hello then robot sounds… Connection drops. Battling an intermittent wifi connection in a cafe and fielding calls to the mobile office take a little time and some creative problem solving. We shift channels, I am renting a UK local rate landline number which diverts to the landline of the retreat centre I am working from in Greece, which he can call from his mobile in Bristol. Ten minutes later with a clear line and a warm “hello” we dive into Ed’s story.

Ed made the shift to a nomadic life in 2002, four years into his career as a digital entrepreneur, arriving finally at a point where he felt confident that he could do his work entirely remotely.

“I realised that I was already effectively working remotely, so I might as well work remotely from the Alps! Technology makes it possible, so why not do it? I feel the same about paragliding. Our ancestors must have sat on mountains looking out and wanted to fly, now we can, so why would you not?”

His first step as a nomad was to move into a soft-top convertible he bought in Edinburgh!

“It was horrible, a colossal pain in the ass. I knew it wouldn’t work in winter and so I would have to leave before then. It served its main purpose, which was to get me out of there ”

Over a decade later and he now enjoys the relative luxury of a ski-in ski-out apartment in the Alps where he spends about three quarters of his time with the remaining quarter in the UK bouncing between meetings for his digital democracy platform Represent.

“A ratio of 30 days here in the Alps to about 10 days in the UK works well for me. Sometimes I cluster meetings more and it’s 60:20 but then the balance gets out of synch and a bit unmanageable with more activity and meetings and less time for follow up. It does depend I guess on how big a team you are working with.”

Ed also does occasional month-long house-sits in France and the UK for a bit of diversity, but makes clear that he is not one of the wealthy digital nomads with an easy residual income, rather one that lives outside the UK largely to save money, as well as  investing more time with fewer distractions in an online start-up.

As a solitary nomad nested in the midst of a transient crowd of holidaymakers and lots of snow, I was curious to know if he was at all drawn to the booming community of Digital Nomads in balmy locations across South East Asia:

“It’s sort of interesting, I know a few people who are there trying to work it out, but Asian Hoxton is not my style. Chances are that if a whole bunch of people are doing something and think it’s “cool”,I won’t.”

So what kinds of communities does this independent and deeply focussed entrepreneur identify with?

“As a wilful outsider I am quite ephemeral between communities – core friends, working relationships, interest groups, local connections – and at the same time I know very few people in France, it’s a resort not a village, most people who are there aren’t there the next week.”

Unlike many digital nomads who cluster in co-working spaces and co-living communities, hungry for collaboration and cross-pollination In Real Life, Ed seems to relish most of all the sense of connection he finds with nature:

“The giant mountain beckons you to the top of it without much resistance, walking through pine forest and nice mountain parks and gorgeous views. It is incredibly uplifting being at the top of a mountain for sunrise, watching the stars fade out and the colours come across the sky, it’s glorious.”

He speaks also of the challenges and quirks of these spells of solitary existence:

“If we exist largely in the eye of others, it’s other people’s reflection of us that help us work out who we are, so unless we consciously take time to think about who we are, then that doesn’t happen so much, to the extent I can sometimes look in the mirror and realise how very different I look, compared to how I feel.”

Most important to Ed, and the focus of the majority of his time and energy is his mission, the evolution and roll out of his digital democracy platform Represent:

“I’m pretty sure this one is my life’s purpose. If I can make this work, then it will be the most important thing I ever do.”

Spending most of his time at a distance from the UK, insulated from and not immersed in the daily reality and scale of the system he has tasked himself with transforming furnishes Ed with sufficient “delusion and belief” to support his mission focus. He seems to need only his own core belief in the value and importance of what he is doing to fuel his committed effort.

His philosophical reflection on purpose is sweetly representative of hours of undisturbed immersion in a a curated and theoretically dense cornucopia of podcasts and Sci-Fi audio books – the Utopias and dystopias of “social anthropology played out”:

“It’s incredible how many people believe that what they do is the most important thing they are doing, and from other people’s perspective it’s quite rubbish. Some people go to work because of the why, and some go despite it. It’s like the people who go to war not to fight for a noble cause, but because their friends are going and they want to help them. Perfectly mad.”

The flip-side and the challenge of such absolute mission focus, in Ed’s experience, is the ever-present risk of becoming “quite annoying, mono-thematic and single-minded”. Being relatively solitary he finds it easy to forget how people think and how to communicate ideas. This is especially hard when there is no shared understanding of the topic to begin from – so perhaps a like-minded community of digital nomads and entrepreneurs has its uses after all!

It is evident that there are many benefits and challenges to the solitary path of a digital nomad, just as there are in the close knit communities and cliques where we gather and grow together.

I personally find balance in moving between the two. For the last three years I have alternated  extended periods of solitary, simple, grounded living in remote valleys of Devon, Greece and Gran Canaria,  with creative whirlwind summers amongst my scattered global community, bouncing from couch to camper van and moving every few days to a new adventure. This summer however I’ll be renting a room for six months in the city as a base to put down my bag and move around from, as the “right  balance” for me changes and I move with it.

Each person’s balance will be different, and it just goes to show there are as many ways to make the nomadic life work for your as there are nomads doing it. Make the road your own! What’s your perfect balance?

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Teaching what I need to learn

I’m stepping out further into my whole truth.

I’m showing you what I am made of, and what you are made of.

Becoming visible to myself, through the mirror.

Connection from the ground up.

Dwelling at home.

Digging where I stand.

Rooting to fruit.

Knowing that the myriad changes and transformations on the outside.

The spinning world of form

Is a reflection of the world inside

That now becomes clearer.

The external things are rearranging themselves

To reflect the true blueprint within

Which is lighting up.

All the dancers coming into constellation within me

And without.

The clear light of the masculine.

The deep red earth of the feminine.

Take time

For there is an inexhaustible supply of it

Really.

All of which is present

Here now.

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Suddenly it’s easy

 

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How do I know what to write? What to say? What to do?

How can I have more energy? Simplify my life? Discover my purpose? Fulfil my mission?

Be more real. No effort required.

A beautiful human once invited me to work on a project with him, I wanted to say yes, feeling his trust, but I was concerned that I didn’t have the requisite skills. His response was simple, sincere and powerful:

The only skill you need is realness. If it’s not working out, be more real.

Encountering a real human, who refuses to step out of their own truth to enter yours, can feel challenging. There can be a moment of feeling unmet. Likewise standing before another in the truth of who and how I am right now, and not shapeshifting to meet their expectations or fit into their comfort zone, can feel stark and abrupt.

This is the starkness of reality, the sledgehammer of truth, the blinding light of authenticity. It feels quite phenomenal.

Do or do not. There is no try.  ~ Yoda

Trying to be real is not it. It is what happens when all the trying stops. Stepping into my truth is not it. It is where I find myself when I do not step out. Becoming authentic is not it. It is my capacity to just be and to realise nothing more is coming.

It is being at home.

It is really easy.

What is true for me when I am at home in my self? Whatever my question, this is the answer.