from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Sunday, 4 November 2012

shadow of the heart

I woke this morning remembering the beginning of a poem that has stayed with me since I first read it in 1998. It's called 'In the Dark 2', and it's by Lizzie Spring. It can be found in an anthology edited by my ex-colleague and friend Jay Ramsay: TRANSFORMATION: the poetry of spiritual consciousness.

The beginning goes like this:

'It is necessary
to do that which
the inner journey dictates.
To do otherwise
is to fly
into all the faces of adversity
towards certain death
without choice of transformation.
It is necessary to submit.
These creasing aching breaking
will force one
out of the    old skin
                   old bone
                   old body
the old pattern pulverised.'

It is a New Age cliché that every crisis is also an opportunity. And it's a cliché precisely because it embodies a truth, which is that a crisis is notice that something is out of balance. We see this on the macro level every day. What the crisis brings, though, is a chance to address the imbalance. This is the journey to wholeness.

The imbalances out there in the world affect us all, both knowingly and on an unconscious level. The way in which we arrive at and deal with crisis is also a reflection of our relationship, or potential relationship, to the whole; and in a tiny way adds to the collective sum of humanity's learning.

Here, I want to speak a little about my own personal experience, right now, of crisis. I'm posting it as I know I'm not alone with attempting to deal with these issues, and it's always reassuring to me to read of others making this journey, this struggle towards being more conscious, this reaching for the light; so I hope there's something of relevance here for others.

What we react to, what we admire, envy, or fear, or hate in another is a very good indicator of what in ourselves needs developing, or is hidden and unconscious in us (which amounts to the same thing). In Jungian psychology this mechanism – seeing in another what we are not conscious of in ourselves – is known as projection, or the Shadow. It's prevalent in all our relationships.

I notice that I find people who appear to be disengaged – from me, from others, from the world and its problems, maybe even from themselves – challenging. They really press my buttons. This is, clearly, where my learning might happen. More in a minute.

What has happened for me recently, as some of you will know, is that many many years of stress and of ignoring my deeper needs for rest in a life that has been very full and very 'out there', have somatised into a potentially serious 'heart condition'.

According to the holistic viewpoint, once the lifelong patterns of thought, belief, habit manifest physically they have become chronic and entrenched, and the body's somatisation of these is the densest form the unthought structures we subscribe to take. In the West our way of dealing with them is to throw fast alleviation at the symptoms without looking at the causes.

My heart now needs serious physical care. I can treat the symptoms: I am accepting some of the allopathic remedies of Western medicine to help the immediate situation, and refusing others as I don't want to have to deal with the possible long term effects.

I take the view that a symptom is also a symbol. In looking at it like this we're offered a channel for exploration. It may not be as simple as a direct correlation of cause>effect, subtle>dense, but chances are there is at least a corollary on the subtle plane.

I can support my mind and body's deeper needs, so I am doing that too. In terms of the latter, with the generosity of good friends, I'm taking various measures, as I've said here before. I'm taking herbs that will strengthen my heart muscle, normalise its rhythms, and bring my blood pressure down. They're not cheap, and they take longer to kick in than allopathic drugs, but they are gentle, safe and effective. I am continuing with dance, walking, yoga and meditation, with support from acupuncture and osteopathy.

All this is hugely beneficial; but if I don't look at why my heart rebelled in the first place the possible causes haven't really been addressed. So I can look at what my heart is telling me. I can look, too, at how permanently, pathologically, I'm addicted to being 'engaged', and what that costs. I can look at wearing my heart out through too much caring about everything.

The big thing for me is that I live on full throttle. I do work that I love and believe in, I have friends and family whom I deeply love, I have many interests and passions, I love the life of the mind and the heart, I experience huge joy out in the natural world, I do what I can I for environmental causes. In short, I love life, and engage with it wholeheartedly.

I am also over-responsible, over-conscientious, and almost incapable of saying no. I also believe I have to save the world.

Trouble is, I don't really have an 'off' switch. So while I'm capable of feeding both body and mind, and give both exercise and stimulus, and routinely offer what I have to give to others, what I know almost nothing about is simply resting and looking after myself. I don't know what 'downtime' looks like, and despite my espousal of Eastern wisdom about the need for being as well as doing, I seem almost pathologically incapable of actually just being. I have routinely worked very long hours for an income that is ludicrously small. I have refused – to the extent that one can, living in the West – to buy into ideas of 'must-have' consumerism. As a single parent really struggling simply to pay the rent for many years as a result of choosing a path that has meaning but is unconventional, I've always lived close to the edge. I know the edge, and I know it's addictive: creative and exciting and rewarding.

And in consistently overriding the needs of body and mind, treating both as if they were invincible machines, I have come perilously close to falling off the edge.

And what is even more relevant here is that, despite my decades of writing about living with heart, teaching it and talking about it to others, my acknowledgement of the needs of my heart is all theory. Until very recently I have consistently denied my heart in the last few years a regular dose of much of what it really needs: self-love and gentle care, time to enjoy deep friendships, birdsong, animal company, dance, poetry, sea, wilderness, time out. Solitude. Rest. Rest. Rest.

A break from saving the world. A break from saving others. A break from the hubris involved in thinking it's my job to.

But until I can learn to really listen with the ears of the heart, really see with the eyes of the heart, really be open to the gentle and difficult messages of the heart, then nothing I do on the physical plane will make enough difference. It is so easy for me to rationalise away the little quiet voices that ask me to do things differently. It's so easy to be 'pulled out' by my perception of the needs and rights of others.

So here is where I can learn from those people who are disengaged: I can learn to be truly more reclusive (I think that I am, living where I do and not being involved in a social whirl, but actually I am still always doing).

What does it mean? It means recognising my own needs to only be in touch with the human world, whether that's actual or virtual, when I want to, not when I feel I 'should', or from neediness. It has meant cutting back on all e-communication. It means a lot less doing, mentally at least as much as physically. It means stepping back where I would usually step forwards. It means not caring if others don't like that. It means listening to the many often contradictory messages from my heart and following the one I know to be the truest, the most authentic. It means saying no, including to my addictions and cravings – not least, my thirst for being in touch, in communication, in connection with others. It means simply switching off and not being always on standby, available to anyone who wants my attention and any and all distractions. It means stopping feeling I need to be all things to all people all the time. It means trusting that what I have to offer, when I have it, will be enough. It means simply – giving up, giving in to what has to be.

It means, above all, learning to rest, and to let that be enough. And OH! how hard: 'It is necessary to submit.'


  1. Wishing you strength and support on your journey and your endeavours to find balance in your healing and, ultimately, in life.

    And thank you for writing this - I'm on a not dissimilar path as well and your thoughts and words resonate with me and are very helpful.

  2. mm - thank you – again – for your generosity. And - all strength (and rest?) to you too.


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