Tag Archives: change

Taking off a skin

Sometimes growing is a smooth and easy process. However, for some creatures, growing means shedding a skin. It means breaking your exterior and climbing out of it in a new, soft skin that can expand. Insects do this a lot. Snakes of course also shed in order to grow.

It can be a helpful metaphor for certain kinds of emotional experience. Growing isn’t always a sweet and comfortable process. Growth can be terrifying, and sometimes you have to shatter what’s on the outside in order to have the room to get bigger.

Sometimes the lives we make and the ways in which we present ourselves are designed to keep us safe, but really keep us small. To be authentic, to feel real, to live your truth you may need to be something less guarded, less like a fortified building. When the walls we build to protect ourselves are too constricting, breaking out is messy. 

Sometimes it becomes apparent that the outside layer isn’t a skin. It is not your skin. It’s more like having had your growth curtailed by getting wrapped up in plastic litter. Getting out of it may prove bloody and you may need help. You are not the plastic rope that got wrapped around your natural shell. You are not the things that dig painfully into your skin.

It may be the case that your real skin is in there somewhere, under a mess of ugliness that isn’t you. Like one of those films in which a rescue dog is bathed and combed and has all the crap removed from its battered outsides, you may need restoring. And like any rescued animal that needs help, you may be terrified and the process may make no sense to you. It may not be until things are fixed that you’ll be able to make sense of what happened.

There’s a certain amount of violence in breaking open an egg or a seed. Transformation means the death of something, and death is scary and full of uncertainties. Change is natural, but that doesn’t mean it is bound to be easy.

How to change everything

Our thoughts and feelings are malleable. Given  enough time and effort, anyone can change any aspect of how they think and feel. It is my considered opinion that our first responses are most likely to be what we’ve absorbed unconsciously, and that your most authentic self is the person you deliberately choose to be. So, some notes on doing that. This isn’t in depth, it’s just an attempt to lay out the territory.

Firstly you have to notice what you are thinking and feeling. This is easier said than done. Check in with yourself, ask how you feel, pay attention. Try and notice your thoughts and responses. Focus on areas of your life where you aren’t happy about how things go for you.

Secondly, interrogate those responses. Sit down with them, examine them and ask where they come from. Why do you think as you do? Whose voice is that in your head? Where do those emotions come from?

This is also the work that allows us to identify where our cultures have fed us racism, sexism and other prejudices. This is how we find what privilege is telling us, or where we carry ancestral wounds.  This is not easy work.

Changing how you think is fairly easy. We can add new ideas to the mix. We can even break out of long held patterns of thought if we try to. There are tools for this – CBT is relevant here. Changing how we feel tends to be slower, and harder. It’s best to tackle the thinking and let that shift the emotions over time. You can practice thinking differently – write yourself affirmations, or little mantras, or statements of intent. Do some spells. If your thinking isn’t helping you, it can be changed. You can go to a therapist, or a mutual support group or find resources online. You can take control of your thoughts.

When we start acting on these changes, we build feedback loops and after the first few rounds it starts to get easier. It’s a process and it takes time to change yourself.

If you do this work, beware of toxic positivity. Learning to be more loving and patient is not the answer if you are being abused. Gratitude over things that are harming you, is not a terribly good thing. There’s a lot to be said for having people to talk to about what you experience and the changes you want to make. If your circumstances are awful, there is only so much you can do by changing your thinking – really what you need to do is change your circumstances. If you can’t do that – as is often the way with illness, you are allowed to be angry about it. Hold whatever headspace really works for you.

This week, in the midst of falling apart, it became apparent to me that I have some unhealthy ideas around the reasonableness of people punishing me, and how I should respond to being punished. I’m going to need some time to unpick that. But, I’ve seen it in action, I’ve seen what it does to me, and I’ve seen how I can change. Now, I just have to do the work.

Beavers and Behaviours

It’s easy to look at the behaviour of creatures and feel that this is how the world is – that they are in a fixed state, not a process. It’s easy to think the same things about ourselves. Once upon a time, beavers were mammals who got their sustenance from trees, and that was it. They gnawed on trees to eat them. At some point that changed.

I like to imagine a grumpy beaver waking up in the morning, looking at the leftovers from yesterday’s tree, having a moment and chucking it in a stream, and it all going from there. Behaviours evolve. Somehow beavers went from eating trees to building with trees, to blocking the flow of water to make ponds and building themselves homes. It was a process, full of beaver ingenuity, beavers learning from other beavers, and no doubt some percentage of happy accident.

Humans are similar. At some point in our history we had ideas about tool use. We started making shelters. We have changed in so many ways over time. It may be tempting to look at ourselves and imagine we are now the best that people could be. Of course we aren’t. It’s easy to mistake change for progress – and it isn’t necessarily so. Circumstances change, and behaviours have to adapt in line with those changes. One state of being is not necessarily intrinsically better than another, just better for the circumstances. The ‘survival of the fittest’ notion is one people often misunderstand because it’s not about being the ultimate best, it’s about being well adapted for the current situation. Highly adapted specialists can be exceedingly vulnerable if their circumstances change.

As individuals, we have the scope to change our behaviour all the time. We can innovate. We can be the beaver who wakes up one morning and thinks, hang on a minute, why don’t I chuck this log in this stream?

Druidry and Life Stages

When asking ‘what is Druidry?’ it may be useful to ask ‘what is Druidry to me now?’ It doesn’t mean what it meant fourteen years ago when I started studying in earnest. Back then, Druidry meant learning, above and beyond all else. I was ambitious, and hungry, and determined. I was also relatively young and I think these qualities are natural enough in youth.

For a decade or so, my personal Druidry was almost entirely about the bard path. I balanced this with work for community groups, and facilitating community ritual. Celebration and communication were key themes.

Then I became a bit of a hermit for a while, and communion became more important to me. Themes of contemplation and wandering began to emerge because I couldn’t deal with people. I became interested in the ancestors, and the spirits of the land.

I changed again, for a year of being a public facing activist, and for a while my Druidry was all about politics and serving the wider community. I burned out, and stepped back.

At the moment I’m trying to find balance between hermit-hood and participation, contemplation and action, and it is walking that is the heart of my personal practice. Next year, who knows?

How I practice is influenced by what I’ve learned, by my energy levels, and mental/emotional needs. I probably looked far more like a Druid when I started out, when a daily practice meant obvious acts of ritual. I have no idea what I look like these days and I mind less – far less ambitious, and differently driven.

The Druidry of my twenties could not be the Druidry of my thirties, and no doubt my next decade will bring new shifts in direction. We have to give ourselves room and permission to change; to pick up things we’ve previously rejected, to change our minds, and to want differently. Seeking to carve a definition of our Druidry in stone, all we do is give ourselves an inconvenient stone to heft about. I’m not sure ‘What is Druidry’ is a useful question (I used to think it was, perhaps it will be again). Right now, the question of ‘what is my Druidry right now’ seems far more important. Also, what does other people’s Druidry look like? What can I learn, how can I negotiate with the differences and how can we co-operate as we co-evolve?

Creating my own reality

We have beliefs about the ways in which, by action and sheer will, we can change our reality, and we also all have beliefs about the ways in which there is no scope for change whatsoever. Some of these are more sensible than others, and I am picking some examples that strike me as especially nuts.

A great many adult humans spend vast amounts of money on products and interventions which promise the illusion of youth. We are all getting older, that’s a key feature of being alive. Rather than accept this process and work with it gracefully, we expend vast amounts of human time, energy and resource on fighting it. This tide will not go back no matter how we shout at it.

On the other hand, we’re willing to treat human constructs as inevitable and unassailable. We’ve built a vast and complex house on the sandy base that is cheap energy. When the oil runs out, we’re in trouble, and yet we do not consider changing the system. We’ll look anywhere for answers, no matter how short term and suicidal rather than even consider the systems we built might have to change.

All too often, we don’t believe we can change our health by changing our lifestyles but will pay for pills that claim to do it for us, and never mind the side effects. Death is inevitable but we want a magic pill to chase it away.

Too many of us no longer believe we make a difference by voting, while far, far too many are happy to trust decision making to the dubious few who put themselves forwards.

We believe that there’s no money to feed and house our poorest people, while at the same time we’re also happy to believe that spending £100billion on nuclear weapons and the capacity to kill 45 million people is a prudent investment for jobs and future security.

Look at the things we seem willing to believe as a society, and the quantity of cognitive dissonance is astounding. 97% of scientists say man made climate change exists and yet we still consent to be ruled by people do not believe in it. England, if we were a person, we’d have to be medicated to the eyeballs and put in a padded room because our delusions are vast, and our beliefs so shockingly irrational.

With our beliefs, we create our reality, and by this means we shall have a vast array of nuclear weapons and people in poverty killing themselves. We shall have miracle anti aging face creams and continue to die younger than we might have done as a consequence of obesity, air pollution and road deaths. As for what we’ll do when climate change and peak oil wash away the foundations of sand – that’s anyone’s guess, but I don’t have much confidence that at such a time, we will collectively wake up and think clever thoughts. We’re just not in the habit.

And then there’s that merry band of us, Cnut-like, shouting at the sea of humanity to go back. Try something else. Irrationally optimistic that we can get people to change their beliefs. Wet feet it is, then.

Contemplating sacrifice

I’ve written before about all the reasons I don’t believe in or go in for sacrifice https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/no-sacrifice/. I come back to the issue at the end of a week that has broken me physically and left me with a very bruised mind. The latter is to a large extent a consequence of the former, pain and exhaustion being reliable depression triggers for me.

It hurts to type, but I’m here and typing the blog post anyway, because it’s what I do, and because if I stopped every time it hurts, most days  I wouldn’t get much done. Mostly I’ve learned not to notice what hurts my body, and I’ll take a fair amount of heart-hurting as well. Getting stuff done is important to me –the need to feel useful, the need to make a difference, however small.

There is a possibility that this week’s efforts could benefit me, in some direct way. There’s also distinct possibility that it won’t. Perhaps I have done enough to make a difference, perhaps not. It will be some weeks before I have any decent measure of what I have, or haven’t achieved here. There was possible scope to make a huge, positive difference. Did I do enough? There was no doubt in my mind that I had to give this my all, that I had to pour every ounce of strength, ability, passion and determination at my disposal, into what I’m doing. So I did that, and today I can hardly move and am tearful.

In a material sense, I have no idea if this was a price worth paying. I won’t know for a while. There may be differences already made that I cannot see. It’s also possible that I’ve just broken my body and battered my mind in order to change nothing. Except that perhaps, just perhaps, simply being willing to go that far and do that much of itself changes something. In terms of magical actions, that has to be a consideration.

What is a sacrifice if not the giving of something essential; life, time, blood, sweat, tears? What is the point of sacrifice if not to go beyond the ordinary, the viable, the normal and the likely to try and beget uncanny levels of change? Apparently that’s available as an option with no recourse to Gods. Simply that I have done this, and the reasons for which I have done it, changes me, if nothing else. I hurt with every last cell in my body. I do believe it was worth it.

naming the problem

For me, the spiritual life has to be about finding a viable, sustainable, functional way of life that delivers intrinsic worth. The quest for these things has long been part of what philosophy does, while we often use the methods of religion to create a sense of peace and meaning. I often find I need to poke my life and experience to try and find better ways through things.

I’ve been through some really shitty situations, and there is a pattern. I notice how reluctant I am to name and acknowledge the problem. Part of it comes from a desire not to complain, or blame anyone else. Part of it comes from the insane belief that if I keep slogging away and working hard, I will magically get there.   When there is a problem, naming it has consequence. You have moved from denial to acceptance. That acceptance implies a need for change and may well create the momentum for it. Based on experience, owning and naming the problem is often the most frightening and painful part of the process. Once that’s done, everything gets easier.
The most recent example is a simpler one because it is not tangled up in relationships with other people. It is underpinned by my whole history, though, by how others see me and see my work, by a desire to validate myself through my work and to make a point. It’s underpinned by not wanting to admit defeat or to acknowledge what I’m not. There’s a second strand, too, which was a belief that I wasn’t really good enough for anything else and that I would not be able to get a proper job anyway. Make it as a professional author, or be thrown on the scrapheap. I’d convinced myself this was all I had.
Last week I said ‘enough’. I can’t make a living as an author. It may well be this is because I’m not good enough – not commercially minded enough to be a Dan Brown, not creative genius enough to be an Ursula Le Guinn. Going through that naming process was agony. It took days, in the midst of burnout and exhaustion. I cried a lot, and I felt like my whole life was falling to pieces around me. But rather than reassure myself that somehow it would all magically be ok, I started looking hard at how I was feeling, and why, and what was going on there.
I got to a place of saying ‘this is not ok and something needs to change’. That really helped. Deciding that it is not ok to slog away, striving and exhausted and not earning enough to live comfortably and not having time, energy or resources to do the things I want to do… that was important. Recognising that I don’t deserve to be worked to death in a state of miserable exhaustion. That helped. Maybe the failure is mine. I accept that, so be it. In that acceptance, eventually came peace and relief.
After a while I started feeling able to let go of the dreams and aspirations that had kept me on the treadmill for so long. Realising that I don’t have to achieve anything specifically, was a relief. Realising that maybe I could just spend a while going after things that would make me feel better, and that I could find work that I also find meaningful – that was liberating. Once I got past the pain of naming the problem, the pain reduced. I became able to think. I started making decisions, and choices, and being able to see a way forward.
Change is scary. Owning a problem is scary because it means facing the things, people, arrangements, aspects of self that aren’t working. It can seem easier to deny the issue, and keep going as though it was all right really. Toxic workplaces, dysfunctional relationships, destructive peer groups, depressing homes… we tell ourselves ‘better the devil you know’ and we stay. The comfort and security of staying where it hurts and doesn’t work, is a myth. Sometimes the novelly of a new and unfamiliar devil is at least a bit of respite and a change of scenery, even if ultimately you do end up with the same old shit. And sometimes, the alternative is better.
I don’t default to tearing everything down for the sake of it. Sometimes though, tearing everything down is the only way to go. Then you can see the painted scenery, the strings on the puppets, the fake moonlight, and you can get out of the carefully built illusion and find something else. Maybe a new illusion, but possibly something real and worth having.

To be a better Druid

We all develop in different ways and our paths take us each in different directions. No two of us will have quite the same definition of what it means to grow, improve, or whether ‘better’ is even a relevant word to apply. Nothing in nature stays still unless it is dead, and even the dead change. Growth, change, and movement are inevitable then, and choosing the ways in which we do this can be an important part of how we approach our Druidry.

At the moment I find understanding is critical for me in a lot of ways. I need to understand my own journey, and to see how experience has shaped me. There are aspects of self and behaviour that are not what I want, but to change them smoothly rather than hacking at them, I need to make sense of how they formed in the first place.

Understanding other people is of great importance to me, too. When things go wrong, I find I need to know why. I need to understand what created that situation. If I’ve messed up, I need to know so that I can fix it. If someone has messed me about because they were acting out of their own history, fear, pain or similar I want to understand that. I have a better chance at responding with compassion if I know what lies beneath anger, or negativity. I also have a better chance of responding usefully. Some people can only usefully be walked away from, but if I can say with confidence ‘that happened because…’ I don’t have to carry much away with me as I go.

Wider things in life come to be, as a consequence of all kinds of tiny connections, threads, histories and intentions. The more I can see of that, the more able I am to work with the possibilities rather than getting at cross-purposes with others.

I think about everything, a lot. When it comes to the issue of understanding, what I have to do a lot is guess. Analysing someone else’s words or actions is not unlike analysing a poem. You can come out at the end with a really impressive theory but it might be miles away from the poet’s take on things. Speculating about whys and wherefores is an inexact science and I’ve seen people get into trouble because they believed they were better at that than was the case. And of course people change, and they can wait until you thought you had it all figured, and come up with something you did not anticipate. Like the poem, the poet/person might tell you what they thought it meant and that be so far from how you experience it as to be irrelevant.

Relationships with hills and horizons tend to be a lot easier than relating to people. It is enough just to be there. But, people are a big part of my life, and trying to make sense of what happens and why remains key to getting the Druid stuff done, for me.

Why you need to get political

This is not a bid to convert you to any political party or perspective, just to the idea of politics. I’m finding a lot of people for whom politics is ‘too depressing’ or ‘pointless’ and if that’s you, please read this. It will not contain any actual politics, only ideas about politics.

It is all too easy to see the ruling classes as some kind of separate species, whose affluence and power divides them from the rest of us. There’s so little difference between the main parties most places, that voting hardly seems to make any odds. New faces, same old shit. I have a great deal of sympathy with Russell Brand, Billy Connolly etc that ‘voting only encourages them.’

The word I want you to think about in this context, is ‘them’. If you live in a democracy then in theory, there is no ‘them’, only us. In theory, anyone can get involved and make changes. The problem is that most of us sit round wringing our hands in despair, feeling powerless and useless, and like there’s no point even trying. We switch off the news because it’s too depressing. I have been there, I have done it, I know what it is to feel utter futility and misery in the face of politics. I’ve also come to the conclusion that it really isn’t the answer.

There are now a number of campaigning groups around the world, that do not have anything to do with traditional parties: Sumofus, Change.org, 38degrees avaaz, and no doubt others. (add them to the comments if there are groups you’re keen on that I’ve forgotten.) Petitioning, harassing and challenging conventional politics, these outfits have the tyrants in the UK so frightened that they’re trying to bring in gagging laws. 38degrees is bigger than any of the UK political parties. Hate politics? Hate politicians? Sick of feeling powerless? Get yourself over to one of these groups, and make some noise, and watch the wins. These groups confer opportunities to back whatever campaigns matter most to you, to start your own, to level the playing field. They do make a difference. A blend of consumer power, public shaming and fear of what we’ll do at the polling stations gives these groups real power.

You could join a political party. There are loads, many of them small, idealistic, crazy and unlikely to win anything, but they make one hell of a good protest, and if enough of us defect to little parties, we will destroy the vice-like grip large parties have on our countries. There is still scope for democracy to work, but we need to actually vote, with our feet, our cash, and our energy. Find a lovely crazy party that you can get along with. Join it. Stand for election. Make some noise. Stand as an independent. If you prefer.

If you’re really mad and brave, join one of the big parties. They all have falling memberships, which means in theory the voice of the individual is growing. You could join, go to meetings, vote on ideas, propose policies. After all, every policy a party has starts somewhere. Why not with you?
You can. Remembering that you can is not easy. Real differences can be made. Whether you like the Greens or not, Caroline Lucas as a lone Green MP gets more news time and more national influence than any back bencher from the main three parties. She demonstrates what can be done if you have the will and the determination. Lone independent politicians frequently punch above their weight, too.

There is no need for hand-wringing and hopelessness. Pick a place to stand. One you can bear. One that feels comfortable, manageable, useful enough. Go and make a difference. I promise you, that as soon as you act, you will be making a difference. What keeps the same stupid attitudes and people in places of power, is our collective disbelief that we can change anything. History is full of public movements that made radical change. Not so very long ago most people did not get to vote. We got shot of feudalism. We won the unwinnable fight to give the poor and women the vote, when it had seemed most of us would be disenfranchised forever. We had a Labour movement, we can have another. We have an environmental movement. Other countries have managed to enfranchise their original peoples. Anything can happen.

I’m sure lots of people told Mandela and Ghandi they were wasting their time and it couldn’t be done. We do not have to quit. We do not have to accept what we’re given, and anything you do will make a difference. The giving up in apathy contributes to keeping in power those who abuse our trust. Whatever you do, give up on apathy, it is no answer. Rebel, resist, reimagine on whatever terms suit you, but do not support what you hate by letting it beat you.

Moving on and uprooting

Whether we seek it or not, change is inevitable. Even the who person clings tightly to place, property and people can find that random chance and the choices of others lead to radical upheavals. I’ve had this both ways, sometimes seeking colossal changes, and at others, having them forced upon me by circumstance. Even if we don’t have much choice about what happens to us, we always have options about how to handle what we get.

Moving home a number of times now, I realise how deeply and quickly life becomes entwined with people, properties, and objects. We build lifestyles around the things we own, the roof over our head, the location and the other people in it. A sudden uprooting from that is as traumatic for humans as it is for plants. That which is rooted in the soil does not take kindly to being lifted and transplanted, often roots are damaged and a moved plant can be set back for some time. People are not so different, even when the transplanting is needed and makes for a better life.

Unlike plants, we have the option of slowly lifting our roots, finding out where they had got to, what they were intertwined with, and gently separating out. We can find new, likely looking places to sink those same roots and maybe grow a few new ones. Perhaps some can stay in place even as we move on.

We expect to move only by choice, with time to pack and prepare, to save what is loved, let go of what was not needed and gently segue into the next phase. We might think we’re good at moving on, if we’ve only ever done that in a controlled manner at a time of our choosing. For women and children who flee abuse, it can be a case of taking your chance and running, with nothing more than the clothes on your back. Leaving is the most dangerous time; statistically you are most likely to be killed or injured when you try to get out. I’ve heard stories from so many women over the years, who left suddenly with almost nothing, because that was their best shot at getting to leave alive.

A lost job, a failing of health, a hike in interest rates, sudden bereavement, a landlord who goes bankrupt and has to sell the property… there are so many things life can throw at us that suddenly result in loss of home and security. I’ve seen so many friends knocked about by this one, too. The guys who moved out to give their family stability during divorce, suddenly renting in unfamiliar places, living in caravans and on boats to keep their children secure in the family home. The stories of people whose partners ran up debts and did not pay bills, and did not say until the bailiffs were at the door. The partners who gambled secretly, the partners who lied and the devastation that has left in the lives of people who had no idea what was coming to them. Failing mental health is another. Security is so often an illusion. We think we’ve got it because we’re too smart, too good, too careful to fall, but any of us can fall, at any time.

When you can pick your life apart gently to remake it somewhere else, be glad of that. It is a blessing, and a luxury. We’re too quick to assume carelessness and incompetence in the people we see flailing and failing, but so often it isn’t sought. The person left picking up the pieces is frequently not the one who made the mess. The person pushed out to the edges may in fact have done all the right things, for the right reasons. Sacrifices made for children, for elderly parents in need of care, come at a high price and aren’t easily spotted if you don’t know the whole story. If you can, be gentle with yourself, and be gentle with those around you whose stories you do not know.