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, 22 December 2013

christmas cheer and baba yaga

– Well, you know. Christmas has its down side as well as its up. There's a lot of pressure. (Is it fourth on the list of stress-making factors, after war/death/serious illness, divorce, housemoves?) Ms Nice and Reasonable here can spit and snarl too, she has found after all these decades of Trying To Be Good, and despite all that solstice and Christmas sweetness and light (or maybe because of), and all those decades of 'working on myself'.

Gotta invite the Bad Fairy to the feast or she'll eat you up anyway. That's where the king and queen went wrong in the fairytale – was it Rapunzel? Or Snow White? Or...? – The one with the spinning wheel.

In Jungian thinking the Bad Fairy is the Shadow – all the bits of ourselves we're not conscious of, or don't like, or Someone In Authority when we were little didn't like, or an institution like the Church didn't approve of, etc. They're all the bits that we think make us unlovable (if only we knew!). Robert Bly says we spend the first 20 years of our lives stuffing all those bits away into the subconscious, the realm of the Shadow, then the rest of our lives trying to pull them out again. Thing is, in keeping them buried we also suppress a great deal of our life-force, our vital energy. It takes a lot of energy to hold these things down out of sight so we won't hurt, offend, displease or disappoint another, or our own internal judge, or Good Father/Mother.

What's more, it stops us being authentic – with ourselves, with another; and holds up the process of our integration, our journey to wholeness.

As some of you know, my physical heart, always steady and reliable (and so we count on it being), told me in no uncertain terms towards the end of last year that my life had to change.

Just after that, around this time last year, I was also presented with a major fork in the road. Path A was to follow the raggle-taggle gyspy who's always lived in my heart, has sometimes manifest itself as a 'him' out there in the outer world, and one way and another has mostly directed my path, which has been exciting and adventurous, fulfilling and inspiring, and utterly-burnout-exhausting.

In this case, Path A would have meant out there again to the edge, the unknown, the precarious but exciting, and probably the West of Ireland and a lifestyle that more closely fits my own natural predilections with a special someone who shares many of my deep interests and where our means and dreams would be closely matched. That path sang to me so very strongly.

Path B would take me to a digging-in of myself more firmly here, my lovely partner's beautiful self-built house, where I have a difficult but rewarding relationship with increasing amounts of laughter and tolerance with an unusual man, a great deal of affection and, for the first time in my life, a modicum of security and cushioning against the living-on-the-edge that has become my norm, and where we have established a green lifestyle and can share the work of tree-planting and veg-growing that is essential to us both. The downside is that it's in a house that will always belong only to him and his children. (While that's reasonable, it's tough if you are as independent and autonomous as I'm used to being.) And we're very different people, and don't always 'get' each other, even if we share a lot of love.

The added tug to putting roots down more firmly here, this time last year, was that I had the chance of buying a very beautiful and magical small piece of land adjoining our home, made possible with a small inheritance from my mum. As the universe would have it, simultaneously I was offered for just a bar of a song a very beautiful chestnut Arabian horse – again, a massive magnet for me, horse-person that I've been all my life. The land and the horse (and whatever companion I found for him, such as a Dartmoor hill pony), would allow me to bring into the world the other aspects of my dream in relation to my eco-psychology work with horses as collaborators in a stunningly gorgeous just-right private location that would be mine, but next door to His.

The tension between the two choices nearly broke me, at a time when I was already more stretched than my heart could take.

The story is mine but not just mine, and the rest of it is private. However, I let myself gradually recognise that my place, at least in the foreseeable future, is here, meeting the challenges wholly. As it happens, I lost all the other options, horse and land as well as Path A; but what unfolded brought me to where I need to be.

There's a consolation in knowing, deep knowing, that both Path A and Path B are 'right'; each takes us where we need to be, but by different routes, with different gains and losses, and similar challenges, ultimately, since we bring ourselves with us wherever we go.

I increasingly found that my heart needed to challenge everything I thought I knew about myself, and all the ways in which I was letting myself be over-ridden by another's needs, by being too nice and understanding, by not standing my ground, by not even knowing what was reasonable as regards my rights. (This took shape in several areas of my life, by the way, where I was not standing up for myself for fear of rocking the boat too hard, upsetting another, experiencing too much conflict; and in allowing my head to be understanding while my heart was feeling betrayed and therefore being split, ambivalent, unclear, etc.)

On the way, I started to lose sight of my true values.

What's hard to admit was recognising in myself a certain predisposition to let the universe/fate/destiny/the gods/karma/coupledom/the other determine my direction and response in a way that wasn't always helpful, and allowed me not to take responsibility (me, Ms Responsible, couldn't see how I could possibly be doing that, for a while, but I sensed I was, and it was a revelation when I did see).

On the other hand, I needed to let go of constantly having my hand on the tiller in an unhealthy way. This is and was a difficult balance, and is really about ego being strong enough to weather the storms of the psychospiritual journey, and knowing when it's time to put the ego in the service of the soul and Higher Self.

Over and over we come back to what it means to live with integrity, authenticity, congruent with one's values.

Relationship therapist David Schnarch speaks of the fact that any long-term relationship will eventually bring you up against what he calls a 'two-choice dilemma' (yes of course that's tautology; he emphasises the 'two-choice' bit deliberately). One choice is to bury your needs and who you are for the sake of the other and the relationship. The other is to be who you need to be, whether or not Other likes it. In other words, to choose between being authentic, and being so accommodating of other we lose sight of ourselves.

Ideally, of course, we'll be able to bring the two together, but not without some bumpy patches. Well, this year I've embraced the bumpy patches; mostly by discovering my inner Baba Yaga, Kali, Inanna, Bad Fairy. She growls. She snaps. She knows how to nip. She's not above wiping her nose on another person's sleeve. (Well, OK, maybe she is – but only just.) She knows about boundaries, which is very healthy indeed. She knows now what's OK and what's not, and she'll shout about it if she has to. Even if it's Christmas.

And my resolution for 2014, should you wish to know, is to carry on being authentic, and carry on learning how to love another, and others, wholeheartedly. I wish it for you too.


  1. And my over-riding impression of my last workshop with you ('Stranger than Fiction') was the permission it gave me to let out all those dark, buried bits (rather dramatically, I'm afraid).
    I love the idea of the importance of inviting the bad fairy to the feast. Perhaps I should welcome my migraines instead of railing against them . . .
    I absolutely LOVED the Baba Yaga stories as a child (in 'Old Peter's Russian Fairy Tales'). She was funny as well as terrifying.

  2. Thank you, Belinda. Never any need to apologise for those bits when they cause no harm to others! It's hard, isn't it, brought up in our culture to admit to being anything other than a Good Girl (or maybe a rebellious Bad Girl) - we have so few models of real, whole, perfectly imperfect women, lovable JUST AS THEY ARE... Glad you could relate to it. Well - my own migraines did have something to tell me when I let myself listen - and - hey! - I no longer have them... Rx

  3. Was it something specific that your migraines had to tell you, or just change in general? Was it a revelation or gradual shift? (Forgive my nosiness - I've been looking for an answer to migraine for 35 years.)
    So pleased that yours have gone. What an achievement.

  4. Belinda, a couple of things: one is food intolerances - I've cut out wheat and cheese, and have to watch red wine. Mostly though it was addressing stress by cutting back on work and learning to rest - and keeping my blood pressure down (low dose allopathic meds but regular herbal medicine and acupuncture has done it). They usually happened the day AFTER a v intense work period, and I find I simply can't cope with endless work pressure any more. Part of the lifestyle/mindset change. I know yours have plagued you. Rx

  5. Thank you so much for your helpful reply. I won't go on about mine, but I definitely relate to what you say! Bx


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