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

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

psyche & soma

This blogpost picks up where the one about the course in Cornwall leaves off.

NB: I'm writing this not to 'navel-gaze' or in self-pity (nor requesting pity), but to explore with you all via my own experience a far-too-common dissociation in we human beings between mind (/heart/psyche) and body, in case it's a useful reminder for you too.

'Another day we walk the coastpath past the astonishing prehistoric Ballowall Barrow to Porth Nanven. Some say that the name is a corruption, or possibly an older form, of my surname; my family has come from this area in the very far west from forever. We stop to picnic on 'dinosaur-egg beach', footing the sub-tropical Cot Valley, with its huge creamy rounded boulders, and the glass-green sea just barely rolling its waves dreamily back and forth on the white sand beyond the boulders. It’s mesmerising and soothing.'
So I'm sitting with the lovely group of writers, gazing out quietly at the sea at Porth Nanven.

I think of how my father loved this place, and how much I miss him. 18 months on and I still haven't started to touch my grief at his dying and death (followed just a year later by the shock of my ex-husband's sudden and untimely death; the father of my daughter).

I'm at 'that age', like many of you who read this blog, I know. It's the hard 'night-sea journey' of midlife. Is there perhaps some comfort in the fact that we all have to cross that night sea?

I have been far too overloaded by the distressing and taxing nature of both Alzheimer's and vascular dementia respectively in my parents, followed by their and several other deaths in the immediate family, other severe family illness, not to mention the loss from my life of someone important and significant to me, plus (ultimately positive) big changes in personal situations, in the last decade to do anything other than take care of those who needed it, and get by myself.

Much of the grief and recuperation is still ahead of me, though I am on the path now, beginning to mourn and making my way back, so to speak.

Here, on the rocks (actually and symbolically too I guess), I have a brief moment of being flooded, in my openness here in this place that means so much to me, with too much grief.

And then it happens – I fall backwards, seawards, inelegantly, like a beetle, with my arms and legs in the air, and hit my lower back hard on a rock; a curved rock, like a seal, but still a rock, and a granite one at that.

This puts paid to any further long walks; I can barely move now, and walking the mile or two back to Boswedden is excruciating, and involves my taking tiny steps, as if hobbled.

I’m good at trying to make sure everyone else is OK. I’m terrible at taking notice of my own needs, or even being aware I have any. Because the last year alone has brought a number of huge life changes to me, some of them really tough, even the ‘good’ ones take some extra energy at the moment.

I also know that, in order to ‘give back’, we have to learn to love and nurture ourselves.

The very things I ask people in my groups to pay attention to are the things I ignore in myself. I have a lifelong history of having something very distressing, very painful, happen, and picking myself up and carrying on as if nothing had happened; forcing myself through it and suppressing the trauma. 

If I were my own therapist, I’d be shocked at this. I’d ask how I was supporting myself through the recent losses and pain; if I wanted to be New Agey I’d point out that lower back pain symbolises a lack of support, and if I-the-client said, as I would, that I felt supported by the others in my life, I-the-therapist would ask whether I also support myself, which would lead me to an unequivocal ‘NO’.

Why not? would be the next question.

Because I don’t know how, would be the answer. 

I know how to monitor myself and my habitual ways of thinking, being, doing. I know how to recognise and take back projections and shadow material. 

What I don’t know is how to recognise and attend to my needs in present-time, and – like many women in particular in a Judeo-Christian patriarchal society – I don’t know how  to validate them, and how to put them top of the list on occasion. I feel ‘selfish’ if I do, even though I recognise rationally that it’s essential to be able to. How can we love and nurture, be intimate with, another if we can't do it for ourselves?

And I also don’t know how to simply stop.

Thing is, if one doesn’t take notice of messages from the psyche and take hold of our only-too-familiar defences, reactions and responses before they become habits, they become so dense, as it were, that the body plays them out. Once this happens, our habits have well and truly taken hold of us, have fossilised.

Of course we can’t really separate out body, instinct, mind, heart, intuition, soul and spirit, despite the indoctrination of our Western rationalist culture. And of course we do so at our peril.

Every part of us has to work in synergy for us to function optimally, to lead an authentic life, to give from the core of ourselves, to have a chance at wholeness. And yet very few of us work from a base of being truly in tune with ourselves; few of us know what it feels like to be whole, with all aspects of ourselves working together.

What is so very helpful is the conscious, committed and continuing daily – moment-by-moment – practice of bringing awareness to ourselves and our processes, as well as to others, human or other-than, and to the wider picture (a version of this, as mindfulness, has become hugely popular recently, for which we should give thanks, although actually the practice, rooted in Buddhism, particularly Zen, goes back many hundreds of years). Missing out any of this has implications.

In my own situation, it’s very clear for me that, quite apart from all the traumatic situations, the fact that I’ve injured myself severely twice in the last six months, and that I’ve had episodes of incapacitating labyrinthitis four times* ditto, suggests a serious lack of balance in my life. These have worked together to forcibly stop me; any movement becomes painful at best.

And my pattern is to take the absolute minimum of rest if I absolutely have to. This basically means once I’ve stopped actually throwing up from labyrinthitis-induced nausea, or have overcome severe physical pain enough as to be capable of moving myself upright, no matter what it costs me, and, immediately I can move, albeit in a staggering or hobbly or one-armed sort of way the last few months, to get going at the next brilliant idea, the next piece of writing, the next commitment, the next workshop, the next moment of stress to earn an income, the next tacit pressure from the veg garden or animal companion for me to be ‘responsible’, the next request from someone else for my input/help/association, or offer of an exciting new project.

Yep, stupid, isn't it? Even I can see that, written out like this.

So this time, this time, I shall take note. Now everyone’s gone home safely, I’m going to spend a few weeks mostly reclusively, resting, reading and writing, and allowing myself the processing and healing that this just-gone time and place has helped enable in others.

Time to turn round and face the shadows again; if we don’t, they hunt us. Better to go out of choice.

As for the rest of the week, my Poetry, Place & Pilgrimage retreat, I had a wonderful level of support from the participants which enabled me to continue. It was a good lesson, too: the thing is, a ‘pilgrimage’, as I see it, is bringing attention to our own personal process and aspects of being, our inner life, simultaneously with being aware of the ‘out there’. It means bringing intentionality, observation, respect and care (as I’m fond of saying in groups) to everyone and everything we encounter – and this means ourselves too.  

So my own therapy and healing has to begin – again. In my mind, driving home, full of relief and joy that the week has gone so well and everyone’s so happy, and also, it has to be said, full of physical pain now and releasing tension from goodness knows how long, I sob and sob. (This is not helped by finding an injured badger on the lane near home.) I needed to weep.

At the moment, I'm hurting, physically. It's getting better, though, after a week's quiet. Plus I'm experienced enough in monitoring my own processes as to trust that this situation will in the long run be another gift.

'What doesn't kill you', etc. Sigh.

* One of these was after an emergency session of Alexander technique for my back, ironically.


  1. Oh Roselle, my heart goes out to you, you are such a generous giver but it's time to focus on yourself. Remember the little skull Sharon found and she wrote on it that quote from, I think, Hemingway, 'We are all broken, that's how the light gets in' those words have stayed with me and the skull now sits on my desk in Skye. Sit with your light. Big hugs, C. xx

  2. Thank you so much, C. I really value your words, though I truly didn't mean to convey self-pity! Hope Skye was lovely, and nurturing. We are, indeed, all broken; and yes that is also how we shine... Love, Rx

  3. You are right about how we treat ourselves. The worst thing is how cruel we can be to ourselves when we get caught up with trying and doing. We're human and we sometimes expect too much - 'counsel of perfection' was how my boss described how we should relate to work clients. So I wish you all the very best, that you're able to lie in your hammock and relax. Spend time with friends and those who are close. Of course, I identify, have lived a similar path or couldn't say this. love, Marg xxx

  4. Ah Marg the 'counsel of perfection' is a big stick, isn't it? There's a self-help book out there, 'Addiction to Perfection' (is it Marion Woodman?) and another, 'The Cinderella Syndrome' (or perhaps it's 'Complex', both of which look at this in relation to the woman's psyche.

    Thank you for your empathy and your kindness. Down here, there's no sun for a hammock, but I am taking an hour at least to read a book each afternoon (mostly!) and only doing work that nurtures me for this little while.

    Love to you, thank you, and see you on Iona! Rx


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