Contemplating Resilience

It looks increasingly like ‘resilience’ is going to be a key word for me in all sorts of ways. I think it’s an essential part of making change, and I think it’s something best handled at a community level, not a personal level.

How do I approach things that are fragile and help them become more robust and survivable? It’s something to consider with regards to the people around me. It’s a question for social groupings, for businesses I am involved with, for volunteer outfits I’m working with, and for the place I live. It’s a wider question for us as a species and I expect that exploring resilience on the small scale will lead me to a lot of thoughts about the larger scale, too.

It’s not the first time in my life I’ve moved towards a concept that will define how I go forward. It may be the most conscious I’ve been in doing that. Without resilience, everything else becomes harder and less likely. If I can help develop coping mechanisms, support systems, more dependable and enduring structures, I can keep good things keep going. I can help good people keep going.

How do we fairly share resources? How do we support each other, practically and emotionally? What are we willing and able to pay for? What can we do if financial support isn’t an option? How can we think and act more collectively for the common good rather than feeling isolated and powerless? These are questions that open the way to more resilient ways of being. Asking what we can do for each other that makes things better is the heart of how we achieve greater resilience.

What can I do? In some of the specific situations I’m looking at, there are practical things that need to change to achieve greater resilience. Too much knowledge and responsibility shouldered by too few people. In some of the situations, the key is cash flow, and getting money moving in better ways will increase the amount of resources available and put a number of people I care about on a better footing. I need to work differently so that others will be better paid, and I’m fine with that. Selfishness is very much at odds with resilience, it isolates us and encourages us to compete rather than co-operating, which in turn makes us all more vulnerable.

What can I do to help the people around me be more emotionally resilient? This is a tricky one. It brings up questions of how much care and energy is invested in whom, and who I am willing to feel responsible for. Factoring my own resilience into the mix, I just can’t afford to invest too much of my energy in people who take a lot and put very little back in. When I look at how best to deploy myself as a resource, the most immediate answer is that I can’t really afford the people who see me only as a resource to deploy, because that undermines my own resilience. Depression and anxiety make me less effective. Exhaustion increases my risks of depression and anxiety. I need to learn how to attach my own oxygen mask first.

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When inclusion excludes

In theory, inclusion should be the default setting, but in practice often when you choose to include one person you can find you are excluding another. Here are some examples.

If you include someone who has acted abusively, you exclude their victim, who may feel they have no choice but to quietly leave.

If you include someone who takes up a lot of time, energy or other resources, you may exclude people who needed a share of that, but who are less overtly demanding.

If you include people who are always massively late, you may frustrate, demoralise and ultimately lose the people who turned up in good time and good faith.

If you include someone who is vocally intolerant and bigoted, you may well exclude people who find that behaviour unbearable.

If you include people who are exploitative and there for what they can get you exclude people who cannot afford to be treated as a resource in that way. This includes issues of emotional labour.

What happens all too often is that people who make the most fuss, who are most demanding and most able to assert themselves get what they want out of situations. It is the people who are willing to be emotionally manipulative who will demand a place for themselves even when they manifestly do not deserve one. It is easy to end up excluding quieter and less demanding people who vote with their feet when faced with things they can’t bear. Those exclusions may be invisible – it seems like they’ve just given up or gone away, not that they have been driven away.

What we include, what we tolerate, and who we allow informs who we don’t get to keep. It can be easy to lose sight of that. A community is the sum of its members, and when we prioritise the ones who are most demanding, the cost may not be immediately apparent.


The contradictions inherent in virtue

Every virtue has the seed of its own destruction inside it. Taken too far, or taken the wrong way and things that should have been virtuous and brought good into the world become dysfunctional or damaging. The problems come when we get too focused on practicing the specific virtue and stop putting it in the context of a bigger picture.

Tolerance that tolerates intolerance sows the seeds of its own destruction. When you accept that all views deserve to be heard and all comers are due a place at the table, you empower those who will take power from others. Tolerance needs to be conditional on excluding the truly intolerant. When we’re so invested in our tolerance that we’ll tolerate anything and anyone, we enable Nazis, fascists and other haters.

Modesty and humbleness, and avoiding pride can in itself become a form of pride. These are particularly Christian virtues, and the way they seed their own destruction can often be best seen in those who claim Christianity as their faith. When people become enthusiastic participants in their own martyrdom, and keen to announce how humble, modest and good they are, it’s pride in a different hat. But it’s more problematic than simple, honest pride, because it’s also self deluding.

Being kind can become profoundly unkind when it supports people in doing harmful things. If we’re too kind to tell someone that what they do isn’t working. If we’re too kind to call out an abuser, question dodgy thinking or protest at inappropriate behaviour, we enable all those things. The kindness that lets someone carry on destroying their own life isn’t very kind at all.

Often the wider frame we need for navigating here, is honour. But even honour holds the seeds of its own destruction. If we focus on how to appear honourable and how to put ourselves forward as the best and most honourable people, we won’t always do what’s needed. Sometimes what’s needed is a lot more complicated than personal honour will allow. When the laws become toxic and the leaders are false, it ceases to be honourable to hold up laws or dutifully follow leaders. When the truth around you is evil, lying can become necessary. When the system is unfair, cheating can become essential.

At every turn, you can use the seed of destruction within a virtue to act badly while claiming the moral high ground. At every turn, you can use the knowledge that every virtue has its limitations to justify not even trying, or to protest that virtue itself is meaningless. It is a difficult thing to meaningfully practice virtue in a dishonourable age.


Re-wilding my sleep

One of the few unexpected gifts from having been so ill for so long in the spring, is that I learned how to nap. I’d work mornings, and then flop on the sofa to rest, and often, sleep would follow. I’ve not been able to nap since early childhood, such that being sent off to nap as a child was distressing and frustrating for me. For much of my life, going to sleep has been really difficult, and in the last six months, that’s changed too.

Back when I was writing Pagan Dreaming, it struck me that sleep re-wilding could be a thing. When most of us sleep, and how long we sleep is dictated not by our needs, but our responsibilities. Jobs, families, and fellow denizens of the same house, school runs, traffic, the noise around us – these things all get more say in our sleep options than we do.

Imagine what would happen if we just slept when we needed to? Imagine how different life would be if the wellbeing sleep brings could take priority, not the back seat?

For some months now, I’ve been sleeping at need. I sleep in the afternoons. At the moment, I also have an option on sleeping in the morning. My dreaming has changed, becoming richer and more complicated. My thinking, now that I’m not ill, is sharper. At time of writing, I’m sleeping a lot more because there are distressing things I need to process and I do better at that when I can do it unconsciously.

Resting when you need to rest is a truly powerful form of self care. It boosts self esteem too. The person who is obliged to push on through exhaustion is being treated, or treating themselves as less important than the things they are keeping going for. It’s dehumanising after a while. The need for rest and sleep are fundamental needs, and often not taken seriously.

Resting and sleeping are normal mammal behaviour. Even mammals who have to chew a lot of grass to get their daily food rest more than humans do. We’ve made laziness a sin and industriousness a virtue. Laziness is natural, happy and rewarding. Industriousness is destroying the planet and taking all the joy out of life. The more able I become to sleep when I need to, the more I want this for everyone else. Why are we killing ourselves to go a bit faster or make someone else a bit richer? This is madness, and it is the cause of madness. Being sleep deprived will always leave you feeling inadequate and needy. Sleeping is the only answer to this, not the consumables we’re encouraged to use as a substitute.


Understanding and forgiveness

For me, forgiveness is a difficult idea. It so often means accepting what a person did and undertaking to move on from there without asking anything of them. It often comes entirely from the person who is forgiving. I have trouble with it because I see it as facilitating poor, and deliberately bad behaviour. Abusers depend a lot on eliciting the forgiveness of their victim. How many chances do you give to a person who says they won’t punch you again?

As a short term measure, and frequent solution to all things, I can do understanding. In situations of honest human cock-up, understanding is often all that’s needed. We all mess up. We all get tired and make mistakes. We all get overwhelmed and handle it badly. We all want, need and feel things that aren’t perfectly convenient to the people around us. A little time to listen to each other, and what could have been taken personally can be eased through understanding. I’m a firm believer in cutting other people slack. I have to ask for slack to be cut a lot when I’m ill, swimming in hormones, unable to concentrate and so forth.

Even when you’re trying to do empathy and be alert to other people, we all see life from inside our own bodies. We feel and experience from inside our own skin and that gives each of us a perspective. What happens to a person is always going to feel personal. It’s a natural default to understand everything on those terms. It takes effort to empathize, to imagine the same scenes from other angles. But, where we try and meet each other half way, we can do this. We can understand the regular human crapness that does not need taking personally, and through that, we can be kinder to ourselves and to each other.

When we understand each other, forgiveness isn’t required. We see how the other person got to where they were, we empathize, and we can let go. When we refuse to meet each other half way, when we can’t understand what life is like for the other person, it’s then that we might need to forgive them. The trouble with forgiveness is that it doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t require a person to change so they don’t need forgiving, and it doesn’t require the person forgiving to learn empathy, and this doesn’t create a good trajectory.

For me, the time to take forgiveness seriously, is when there is real change involved. If I can’t deal with something by understanding it, if I can’t accept the damage done, I won’t enable someone to keep behaving in a way I have a problem with. However, the person who comes back and owns the mistake is worth taking seriously. The person who is demonstrating that they can and will do differently deserves another go, if I can find the resources to support that. Forgiving someone who has put something behind them and is now doing differently can help reinforce the change. It’s a very different process to forgive the past, and let it go, than to forgive something you have every reason to suspect is just going to happen again sooner or later.


The League of Lid Curving Witchery – a review

This is a new book from Phil and Jacqui Lovesey, whose Matlock the Hare books I have reviewed before on this blog. Set in the magickal dales, this volume focuses on the history of the league of lid curving witchery – the witches who inhabit this strange and lovely landscape. While the first three Matlock the Hare books were illustrated prose, things clearly took a bit of a turn with the previous title – Upon a Tzorkly Moon – which was hard cover and densely illustrated in colour.  The new one is more in this style.

Here we have stories and illustrations, and a physically very beautiful book. It’s imaginative, and engaging. I’ve been pondering this for a while and I think the best way to describe it is to say that this is a children’s book that has been written for adults. Maybe that makes it an inner children’s book. It’s pretty dark in places – violence against those perceived to be outsiders is a reoccurring theme, and as these are witches, boiling other creatures in your cauldron is a popular choice. It’s probably not suitable for most children (if in doubt, buy it and read it first).

The underlying theme of the story is about how we square up to our differences and rise above them. Tzorkly (it’s a parlawitch word in case you were wondering) means ‘to rise above’ and this book is absolutely an invitation to do just that. It delivers the message without being smug or preachy.

One of the things I find especially interesting about the Lovesy’s work is how they handle death. This is an animist reality, everything and anything can have feelings and a voice. Everything creaturey eats. Sometimes what is eaten, protests. Everything will die eventually, and the deaths of main characters are very much part of the stories. This book focuses on three witches, and all of them die, and that’s absolutely fine. It doesn’t even feel like a spoiler mentioning this, because it’s about life. They live, and therefore they die. The human desire to extend life for as long as possible, is not helping our species or our planet. We need different stories about what death is and how it fits into our lives, and this book is just that sort of thing.

As a household, we’ve had terrible trouble with the title for some reason. Tom first misnamed it as the league of wood carving lechery, we’ve also had witch carving lechery, and last night I inadvertently called it the league of witch curving and then had no idea what the last word could be. We’re a bit splurked, and we haven’t the oidiest extrapluff as to why.

Find out more about Phil and Jacqui’s work here – https://www.matlockthehare.com/

See inside the book here – https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/584650624/a-book-the-league-of-lid-curving


Life lessons

Here are some things I’ve learned recently. Some of them should have been blindingly obvious all along, but there we go. That these are things I have had to learn is perhaps worth mentioning in and of itself.

I’m not an infinite resource. I can’t keep giving and being patient, and accepting, and not making a fuss when things aren’t ok for me. I can’t keep pretending to be ok when I’m not. If I do that, I don’t get to feel like a person and it gnaws away at my roots and eventually I will fall over.

I should expect people to care about me, and care if I am not ok. I should particularly expect this of anyone who claims my friendship. If a person is inclined to claim my friendship and make use of me, the very least I should expect is that they care about me. If I love someone, or I love their work, it does not give them a free pass to treat me any way they like. There is nothing unreasonable or demanding about needing to be something more than a resource to use.

If a person finds me too difficult, unreasonable, hard work or anything else of that ilk, it does not mean I am automatically obliged to try and make them feel more comfortable.

It is not my job to fix everything. If I cannot fix something, I need to admit defeat and own that it may not be mine to fix. I need to recognise my own limits. If I have to make myself smaller, tolerate pain, or sacrifice something of myself to fix a problem, I should really question that rather than cracking on with it.

I have some bloody amazing people in my life who have no qualms about challenging me when I’m being self-harming in these ways. I am going to pay a good deal more attention to the people who care whether I am ok or not, and who want the best for me. I am going to listen when they tell me not to do things, and I am going to take their concerns for me seriously. I don’t really know how to take care of myself and I’ve spent most of my life treating that like it doesn’t even matter, and not resisting the people who want to treat me like I don’t matter. I can listen to the people who do not want to watch me getting hurt, and I can learn from them.


Danger signs in human relationships

How do you tell when a relationship has crossed a line and become genuinely toxic rather than merely uncomfortable or challenging? When you’re in the thick of things, especially if it’s impacting on you emotionally, it can be hard to make good decisions about what’s acceptable and what isn’t. To further complicate things, a deliberately abusive person will try to persuade you of their world view in order to keep abusing you, and that can make things incredibly confusing.

Here are some things I think it’s fairly easy to spot even in emotive situations. These are danger signs. The amount of them and the context will of course matter, and people in crisis can flail about in horrible ways and still deserve our sympathy, but on the whole if it looks like this, be very careful.

Double standards – rules for you that do not apply to them, and/or entitlements they have that you are not allowed.

They can only be right and you can only be wrong unless you totally agree with them and do everything on their terms.

Not being allowed to express any kind of pain or discomfort. If you are punished, verbally or physically for expressing pain or discomfort, this is a very dangerous situation. Leave it carefully – leaving is when abusers are at their most dangerous.

De-personing you – not allowing you to think, or feel anything that isn’t agreeable to them. Refusing to hear you if you express something that doesn’t suit them. Rubbishing your opinion. Minimising your distress by telling you that you are over reacting, making a fuss, that it’s drama and attention seeking. Being very quick to dismiss you. Decent people tend to be slower to complain that other people are doing drama.

Attributing things to you that are of their making – ‘you made me angry’ and ‘you made me hit you’ are classic examples of this, but it can be more subtle. For women, the effect our bodies have on male bodies is something we are routinely blamed for and made responsible for. There’s a limit to how responsible you can be for the effect you have on other people, and this stuff is definitely on the other side of the line. Also, the same people will not take any responsibility at all for the impact they have on you, even when we’re talking bruises. They will treat these things as comparable – their anger and your bruise. Either you’ll find that if you can be heard, everything they feel is then blamed on you using that as the justification. Or, if you can’t be responsible for how they feel about you, they can’t be responsible for anything either. It’s twisted and difficult to sort through. Watch out for un-nuanced, binary thinking in which one thing is taken to mean another.

Changing the story. Now, we all change stories as our understanding of a situation shifts over time. It becomes a danger sign when the changes are rapid, illogical, contradictory, if you are clearly being lied to, and then lied to in a different way to cover the first lie, and when you are expected to go along with the ‘truth’ that the other person has at any given moment and they get angry if you can’t keep up or make sense of things. This is a mind game, and a form of gaslighting. If they treat you like you are crazy for not being able to make sense of their shifting story, it is definitely gaslighting.

This is by no means a definitive list, but I think it’s a useful place to start.


The fantasy beach body

When ‘beach body’ gets mentioned, you can normally expect body shaming and very narrow definitions of beauty to follow. Ageism is likely as well. Rather than doing any of that, I want to subvert the idea of the beach body by inviting people to imagine their ideal beach form in much wilder terms. This isn’t a totally original thought – I saw something go by on social media a few weeks ago.

I posted this notion to facebook yesterday and the responses were glorious – lots of takers for going to the beach as a dog, or with a mermaid tail. Quite a few people wanting gills and sun proofing. I also really liked the suggestions of going as a bird – for ease of getting there as well as being well suited to paddling if you go for a wader.

I’m not sure about gills for myself – in part because I fancy the idea of a long trunk, and being able to stand under the water and raise my trunk like a periscope, and just be there. Apparently I want to be some kind of costal elephant, with a hide tough enough to deal with both sun and sand.

I think properly foolish daydreaming is a good and necessary thing. I’m very much in favour of letting the mind wander around sweet and whimsical notions, and playing with possibilities. There’s a way of gently stretching my creative muscles, and playing and making room for ideas to come in. I am unlikely to achieve any dramatic revelations by imagining my ideal beach identity, but there is charm in it. If you want to speculate wildly in the comments, please do!


Freedom, responsibility and community

I ran into existential philosophy in my teens, and with it the idea that you can only have freedom in so far as you are willing to take responsibility. It’s a notion I’ve carried with me into everything I do. What it gets you, is a very different sense of what freedom even means.

All too often, people take freedom to mean selfishness and the scope to do what one will, act on whims, run off alone and generally be antisocial. Now, I’m very much with the wiccans on this one – an it harm none, do what you will. Freedom without being alert to harm is not any kind of good at all. Freedom that doesn’t care about harm easily turns into abuse and exploitation. We can think about how big companies treat the planet and living things. We can consider the freedoms the rich have and who pays for those.

There’s a lot of noise in politics at the moment about the way in which those who have should not be called upon to support the have-nots. Freedom from social responsibility for the rich is not something I understand. When it manifests, it is framed as a good thing for those being relieved of their responsibility, but what does that do? What does it mean to feel no responsibility for anyone else? No duty of care? No ownership of the suffering of others?

When we undertake to be responsible for each other’s wellbeing, we create community. When we are willing to care enough to lift up those who are less well off than us, we increase the amount of good in the world. When we see ourselves as involved with and invested with the lives around us – human and non-human alike, we are rewarded by our own sense of connection. The person who engages and takes responsibility is never alone. The person who can only care about themselves can only seek comfort in wealth and material goods, and these things do not provide comfort.

Rather than talking about freedom from responsibilities, we need to explore the very different kind of freedom you get by taking responsibility for other lives. It is an honour and a blessing to hold that kind of responsibility. It is a place of power and openness, and it lifts the person who gives as much as the person who receives.