Do you feel like you’re going nowhere?

If someone asked you where are you heading, what would your reply be? Might it be going nowhere?

That’s not intended as a frivolous question, though many right now might feel tempted to reply with variations around “get lost!”. It could be something around, “don’t ask me questions I can’t answer”. Because such is the state of the world right now that there don’t seem to be answers and many people feel incredibly uncertain and anxious about the future, and even focusing on the immediate can be really hard work and tiring.

What’s your state of the world?

In the UK, there is a decision pending about Brexit, but there’s no sense that things will get better and if anything could get a whole lot worse. In other countries, there’s a lot of unrest, even in places a sense of near-revolt, or continued concern about President Trump or whoever, or a general dissatisfaction with one’s lot, or a wondering if you will get by. Then we hear of the dire state of the climate and how humanity’s future could be in doubt if we don’t change course. We read of stock market crashes, the rising price of fuel, the risks of a trade war, or disasters of one kind of another. The mind, once aroused around fear, will quickly focus on more things and we start to catastrophise, like something dreadful might happen, or going through “what if” scenarios. Just to check, ask yourself: have you over the last week been predominantly optimistic or pessimistic?

One way such uncertainty can show up is in how we feel, like feeling tired, exhausted, low energy, low morale, or struggling to get motivated. It’s like pushing water uphill and not having a sense of achieving anything, going nowhere again. Some report waking up at night feeling very anxious, but with no particular reason.

Disempowerment: not being in control

People don’t feel like they can get on with their lives. It can manifest as a sense of disempowerment, or, to borrow a phrase much used at present, “not being in control”. Anger can spill out every now and again, like the Gilets Jaunes protests in France. People need to express it somehow because otherwise the powerlessness gets channelled internally.

I used to work with this state a lot in organisations going through major restructuring which could seriously impact people’s jobs, especially when awaiting announcements. It was the “not knowing” that really did it for them. They’d feel like they were going nowhere. It was hard if not impossible to plan ahead, to get a sense of direction. People would experience a loss of purpose, even of competence and self-esteem. They didn’t feel valued.

I used to call it a “limbo” state, being in limbo.

It also happens when people are awaiting a health diagnosis. They know something is wrong, but they don’t know what it is or, crucially, what is to be done about it. Will it be serious – or not? Will they be OK – or not?

It’s the not knowing, the state in between, a void, which we try unsuccessfully to avoid. Going nowhere

Afterwards, it’s different. Once people know, they can plan, prepare and get on with their life. Now they at least know where they stand. It might not be that pleasant, but at least they can get on with things.

What can you do?

So it’s important to remember that this is a passing phase. It does not last. Life goes on. Remember the famous John Lennon quote,Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Or the Buddhist understanding that all is impermanent, all in process, and that nothing stays the same. So too, we move on. If we allow it.

So, if you are faced with uncertainty in some form, while it isn’t necessarily nice, you can do something. After all you are a responsible being, if you so choose. So, you can act as one.

One is to look after yourself. This is crucial, since stress levels can rocket. So breathe and meditate, take exercise, eat healthily, every day. Remember your values and what and who you love, including crucially yourself! Love endures despite all things.

Two, have options. There is always a choice, even when we feel disempowered. Find things to make choices over, things you can control. Be prepared, at least to cover possible scenarios. Once you’ve thought it through, put it away somewhere and don’t mull over it.

Three, manage your mind, deliberately, intentionally. After all, we are what we think, and life turns up accordingly. So, by managing our minds, we can keep or regain the focus we want. We can manage and let go of anxiety. This is true taking control. This means, as this blog explains a lot, pausing, stepping back from your stream of thoughts, becoming fully aware, in the present moment, letting thoughts go, being in the Now. And stay there a bit, letting anxiety shift from thinking to feeling to dissolving, so that all you are aware of is Now.

Such present moment awareness allows you to shift from going nowhere  to being now here.

In the end is a beginning

There’s a poignancy to autumn at this time, damp, wet, a chill in the air, sun shining low through golden leaves that cling forlornly to thinning trees. The summer is replaced by autumn and winter beckons. All is decaying – but then all is also preparing for the next spring. The end of October is, it is said, a time when the veils between the two worlds are thinner, at the time of the feast of Samhain. No wonder many often choose to leave. This time of ending, of closure, is a sad time, but it can also contain the seeds of new birth. How often can a person’s leaving this world also be when a new one is born, and in what form? It’s to see the beginning in the ending.

Court of the Lions, Alhambra
Court of the Lions, Alhambra, Granada

We have just had a nice break in Andalucia and went on a long-promised pilgrimage to the Alhambra in Granada. I don’t know if it happens for you but when we stepped through the doorway of the Nasrid Palaces we felt a powerful energy charge, like moving to another zone. It’s an awesome place, literally! Then, we also soaked up Andalucia, and spending time on the coast was wonderfully restful and warm.

Then on the last night we learned that a neighbour and friend had died and Akasha had to spring into action to lead a funeral ceremony. The next week was frenetic since in France funerals come quickly and there was masses to do and people to support. Now it’s over and we are relaxing back into “normal” life. Except that it isn’t. A lot has happened. And we feel sad, tired and listless, a bit devoid of direction, a bit disorientated. So what’s all this?

It can be useful to be aware of what happens, if this is something that has happened for you, in some way. According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross there are five stages to grief. Put in my layman’s terms based on masses of work with people who experienced loss, there’s very roughly a series of phases, very much depending on the individual. There’s shock; then a temporary phase of denial or minimising of what’s happened; then a period when the tough emotions kick in, like sadness and anger, and their variants like blame, resentment, hurt, pain, and so on; then bargaining, where we might avoid the truth of a situation; depression, what I often called the pits, when it really hits home over time and we have to find a way to process and move on; and then acceptance, where we start to heal, come to terms with what’s happened and find meaning and new purpose. It’s in the last-mentioned that the real potential lies, but let’s be brutally clear: you can’t avoid or rush the others, though, believe me, I’ve seen masses of attempts!!

I’d hazard a guess to say we’ll all of us have this experience in one form or another with major life events, and accidents, being robbed, moving house and many other stress events too. Death and dying though are truly existential: we’ll all have it. So we need to find ways to cope, to see what’s there to learn from it, and, dare I say it, to gain the real meaning we are meant to derive from it. I wonder what yours is?

Which brings me back to our friend and neighbour. As friends we may not be so emotionally involved, but we are impacted nonetheless. There’s a person we knew and spent time with who’s gone, is there no more. Of course it stirs up our own stuff around death, dying and loss. Then there’s the sense of things coming to an end, an end of an era, people leaving, things changing, the familiar replaced by the unfamiliar, an emptiness, nothing where there was someone, a vacuum. No longer the craic (he was Irish), the jokes, the long conversations, the plentiful supply of liquor, the warmth and friendliness, the hospitality. When it’s gone, you notice it.

Then we hear of other changes in train. Somehow other events seem to be happening. They aren’t caused by the loss, but somehow we notice it more. As a Brit in France, we are impacted by Brexit. Then there’s news of other friends leaving, people moving on. So what now for us?

With such endings, we are left with our own meanings to make. What now for our own future? What needs our attention? What have these events taught us that we need to attend to? What does it all mean? Or, as I would say, what meanings do I choose to make of what’s been happening? Where is there a beginning in the ending?

The poet TS Eliot has wonderful words about ending and beginning at the end of his masterpiece, The Four Quartets. To quote selectively:

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The End is where we start from…
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

We progress on life’s path, often unknowingly or unaware, and yet it has purpose, even if we don’t consciously know it. Each ending offers us the chance, once again, to bring what is unaware into conscious awareness, to know and feel that which is our truth, that which our soul is calling us to.

During the funeral service, Akasha asked us to reflect while one piece of music chosen by our friend was played. What happened for me was a palpable sense of love, glowing in my heart centre, and with it a contented sense of peace. Maybe that was where our friend was. Certainly that was important for me. That is what I will take from these turbulent last months of his life, a blessing on him, and on all of us.

That’s something to go for!

To make an end is to make a beginning – a farewell to our friend Mary

It’s been a bit of a week. It started with being in Dublin when Ireland was learning its fate at the hands of the EU and IMF and ended with the death of one of our friends. Sometimes life seems to go like this, a bunch of momentous events. Where we make an end of something we also make a beginning.

Our friend who just died was 82 and had just written and published her autobiography, which it had taken her 4 years to write. I was really impressed that she, Mary, chose to wrap her life up in this way. One, to write an autobiography having never written a book before, and two, no sooner was it published than she got sick and died. It’s like she had brought things to a fitting close.

She was a courageous person. Not all that long ago she organised and carried out her own world circumnavigation, staying with various women in different parts of the world under a reciprocal arrangement and despite breaking her ankle at one point. She had a gritty, gusty way that we might say characterised those raised during the Second World War, blitz and all. A gruff, reserved exterior, she could be shockingly blunt and rude even, but she was kind, caring and heart-felt in her own way.

When people around us die, it can feel strange and unreal at first, perhaps the shock phase of the grieving cycle described by Elizabeth Kubler-Rosse. One moment, there she is and the next, gone.

Of course, from my understanding, she has simply left her body for her next phase in re-connecting with the Whole, but as a human grief is a real and palpable experience, about me and her other friends, and her family, as humans coming to terms with someone going in a totally final way.

The two certainties, existentialists say, about life is that we are born and we die. They are “givens” and some say it is up to us what meaning we make of that. To them however, life ceases at that point. Not for me it doesn’t. But each death still raises once again the challenge of facing the finiteness of life in its material form. To connect with that is to face the fear of ending. No wonder so many of us fear and avoid endings.

TS Eliot wrote,

“To make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from….
We shall not cease from exploration,
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
(extracts from Little Gidding)

To me, that’s it: we need to do the journey to really know who we are, which is where we started.

So it somehow seems really fitting that right after, we got this YouTube video clip from a friend, one that is no doubt doing the rounds. Thank you, Richard for this. So I thought you might like to watch it (see the link below). Whatever your religious perspective, there’s to me an affirmation of joy in this chorus from the well-known choral work by Handel, “The Messiah,” in a very unlikely setting.

Joy is who we are. Death is sad and, sure, is feared by us but what we need to do is see beyond the fear to what it has to teach us, through the tears, about life and about what lasts above and beyond the illusion of finiteness.

For the love of our friend Mary. I wish you well on your journey. Enjoy.