Tag Archives: personal growth

Being broken

The most lovely beach pebbles have been rubbed and battered into smoothness. It’s not the most gentle process. Lovely things so often pass through fire, through radical change. Carved out of their original rock, or beaten and cut into shape, the process of becoming is so often a process of breaking as well.
This can be some consolation when life kicks you about. Just as the blade, or for that matter the ploughshare endures the heat of the forge, so to the mind becomes more than it was, through challenge, endurance, erosion, sculpting and other invasive experiences.

It’s not a one off thing, either. Some people seem to get more experience of being crafted by the universe than others, but it’s hard to tell from the outside. One man’s mountain is another man’s molehill, but without a few molehills, the chances of surviving the mountain unscathed are rather slim. What knocks one person down is merely a trial for another. We’re all different. Some of us show the process of being tested more than others.

There’s always the temptation to not go there. To buy off the problem, do the thing that would be easy, but intrinsically wrong. There is so often a smooth, simple path that lets us carry on as we were. Of course sometimes that one leads right up to a precipice, as we increase the size of the trial by trying to duck it. There’s only so much cheating of system any of us can do of course because in the end we die, everyone dies, the piper is paid and you can’t avoid that one forever.

I’ve met people for whom life has been – either by choice or accident – a pretty easy stroll so far. I also know people who have, out of necessity, and out of love, walked through hell. Sometimes more than once. The people who do it of their own free will, for the sake of something that needs to be done, are awe inspiring. They don’t tend to announce themselves or make a big deal out of what they do, but they work in places of pain, misery and horror, and they keep working, keep facing the hardest things in order to help, to make better. Somehow, the more it breaks them, the more they shine and the more powerful they become.

I recall reading a blog post months back (can’t remember where) talking about how, when you’re broken on the floor and sobbing such that snot comes out of your nose, you are also as powerful as it is possible to be. Because you care enough to be going through that. The only real insulation from pain, is apathy, and that’s a hideous, soul destroying price to pay for the illusion of comfort.

No snot-laden weeping here today. Just pausing to look at the strange and winding path I’ve travelled in these last few years, and to think about the burning beacons along the way. The people who were not afraid to weep. The people who walk into hell on a regular basis because life asks it of them. There’s this collective belief that strength is the absence of tears, the absence of breaking. It’s a brittle sort of strength, a cold strength at best and it can’t do much. The strength that comes in breaking, the power of being snapped open and having bits torn off… is terrifying. But on the dark days, its important to remember this stuff.

Death (it being Samhain)

“Denial of death is the route of all evil.” New Scientist, 20th October 2012. Possibly they meant ‘root’. It’s a good time of year for thinking about death, and the place of death in our lives. I read this observation a week ago and have been mulling it, on and off, ever since. The article in question argued in part that death-avoidance underpins much of our cultural achievement – agriculture, medicine, clothing, architecture, it all comes down to trying not to die. But as we extend life ever beyond our scope to make much use of it, is this a fair observation?

Thinking we are immortal can certainly encourage us as individuals to behave in bloody stupid ways that may well result in our becoming dead sooner rather than later. Interestingly though, the same article suggested that a higher awareness of death changes how we behave. Death consciousness leads to more interest in spiritual and personal growth, relationships and a life well led. Death consciousness takes us away from selfish and greedy behaviour. Arguably then, the hiding and avoiding of death so normal in western civilization, feeds collective greed and materialism.

With my quiet revolution hat on (it’s got very small bells on it) this excites me. I’ve been looking for a long time for the point at which to apply myself. Being one, small, finite and not going to live forever sort of person I’ve been aware that my scope for causing international change has never been good. Especially given my unwillingness to either enter politics or start killing people. But I can talk about death. I can spread death consciousness, and I can do it in good ways.

This may in fact, be what I am here for. That may sound arrogant, but bear with me. You see, pretty much as soon as I was able to talk, I started asking awkward questions about death. Maybe I was born death conscious. I carry a keen sense of the fleeting nature of all things, my own self included. Add in my weakness for all things gothic and my fondness for storytelling, and Tom’s dark and moody art and you may see where I’m headed.

Tell stories about death. More importantly, tell stories about death that put life into a meaningful sort of perspective, moving people from the material greed towards the good stuff. I have my calling. I feel like I have a clear sense of direction for the first time in more than a decade. Dead things, and extra teeth. Stories with malice of forethought. Revolution.

Anyone who has not wandered over to the gothic side of my life, www.hopelessmaine.com is out there waiting for you. Take a moment for the dead people today. They have a lot to teach you about the bit that comes before being dead, and how not to waste it.

The mystery of brains

Most of the time, parenting isn’t excessively difficult. Children progress in coherent, predictable ways from one day to the next as skills evolve, understanding grows, bodies adapt and so forth. Every so often there’s a sudden leap, and the impossible becomes easy, the unthinkable becomes the thought. These are always startling and tend to come without any kind of warning.

A lot of it has to do with how the human brain develops when we’re young. My grasp of the technicals isn’t superb but the gist is that the brain has physical structures, and the way in which paths are formed between brain cells shapes how we are able to think. Child development psychology flags up that there are some things young children just aren’t capable of thinking about. Then the brain changes, and *ping* you’re on a new level. It can be startling to watch. Some of the manifestations are simple – going from sky as blue line across the top of a picture to a sense of how objects exist in relation to each other is one of those transitions, but not a challenging one.

Sudden shifts in the way a child is capable of thinking are also very exciting times. As adults we tend to get this less, our brain growth has mostly settled. Perhaps more importantly, we don’t seek it. When allowed to develop naturally, children are voracious in their quest for information. They want to know everything about everything. How we support and teach them inform whether than continues or not. A child who hears ‘because I said so’ and ‘because it just is’ will learn not to bother to ask. The child for whom learning is turned into a miserable chore won’t stay inspired to learn, that natural hunger squashed. And of course children whose hunger for input is fed by television and computer games, who get a steady diet of empty noise and meaningless drivel by way of content, cannot develop much. I recognise that there is educational content out there, but when the aim is to pacify the child and make them easy to look after, the effect is…. Pacification.

From what I can tell by observing my son, and what I remember of the process myself, the sudden brain leaps don’t really register. You forget that you couldn’t think that way before, the new way becomes natural so quickly and there’s not much incentive to question it. Sometimes, you don’t notice how much your own capacity to think has changed. As adults, we’re both less likely to change, and more likely to notice it. Revolution between the ears is a very big deal once you’re physically mature. It is possible, though.

How we think, and the structures we have physically in our brains, develops over time and with use. The person who devotes a lot of time to music does, I gather, have a visibly different brain structure to someone who doesn’t. What we do with our brains shapes what we are able to do, informs what comes easily, determines where we might go next. Anyone who dedicates themselves to a spiritual path, or a path of personal growth, is very precisely working to keep their brain developing.

There are a great many people out there I could wish a mental revolution upon. I wish they could change with the sudden explosion of insight that hits my child every now and then. There are so many people who seem to have stopped thinking, questioning, wondering and growing far too early, settling into the comfort of their own narrow world view and filtering out everything that doesn’t fit. Far too many of them have also taken up careers in politics. But in adults, Road to Damascus moments are few and far between. Grand epiphanies don’t turn up unsought, eureka moments will not come to the person who wasn’t looking for an answer in the first place.

Brains are such fabulous, mysterious, exciting things. I just wish people would notice that more, celebrate the wonder that is us a bit more, think a bit more…

Be mindful of your thoughts

Mindfulness comes up a lot in Buddhism. Druids who take inspiration from Buddhism seem to mention this one a lot. It’s also absolutely central in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The more I contemplate it, the more convinced I am that mindfulness is a thing we should all be striving to achieve, regardless of path.

Self awareness means knowing what you are doing and why. Knowing what you want, how you feel about things – no repressed ideas and desires, no being driven by motives you won’t consciously acknowledge. CBT mindfulness goes further, and as part of a therapeutic process, requires us to minutely examine our thoughts. We all have habits of thought, and they influence our emotions and actions, but how conscious of those thoughts are we?

For example, I just had some really disappointing and frustrating news. My immediate thoughts are that other people will assume what happened is all my fault, that I will seem less credible, that no one will believe it was just bad luck and not some failure on my part. It takes me seconds to think this, and all the optimism of the last few days is wiped away. Seconds I could easily fail to notice. But I’ve caught it, and am trying to fight it.

Now, CBT, being  a therapy, is something people pick up after the event. It’s something you do when depression has already taken you down, when anxiety is sitting on your chest like a lead weight or low self esteem has you thinking the world might be a better place without you. Aided and abetted by circumstances, we think our way into holes. The person who has some belief in themselves and some capacity for hope, and the energy to keep going can and will prevail. The person who has taken inside every setback and criticism, who has bought into the bully’s story, or a family myth about their own uselessness, won’t fight what’s happening externally, but will instead use it as a stick to beat themselves with. I do it. Partly I do it because I sort of believe that if I can show I’m repentant and recognising my failures, I will not be beaten up quite so much by external reality. And no, I wasn’t brought up Catholic. As defensive measures go, it’s not even slightly clever or helpful. But I know it’s there. I don’t have to be the mediaeval mystic who starts hitting myself with a flail as soon as the plague comes to town.

What we think about life experience shapes how we understand what happens to us. It’s very easy to let those thoughts occur and not to think about what we are thinking. All those people who act and speak in the spur of the moment. I didn’t mean it. It just came out. I don’t know why I said that. I don’t know why I did that. Without self awareness, we cannot hope to be in control of our actions and choices. Someone else, something else, can pull our strings. We’re easy to manipulate, or running on habit, not properly engaged with what is really happening and not making rational decisions about our lives from one moment to the next.

What are you thinking?

Whose voice is inside your head? (See the blog post on hearing voices).

What are you telling yourself about the meaning of experiences?

What are you telling yourself you are entitled to do, justified in doing? Are you working up a rage, a reason to hit out, an indignant response, a ‘justified’ attack on someone else?

Are you saying ‘well done me’ at all? Or are you just bombarding yourself with criticism?

A lack of self consciousness and self awareness may seem like the easy way to drift through life. Cheerful obliviousness. Ignorance is bliss. I think this is deluded, at best. It might protect us from having to look at the aspects of self and behaviour that we don’t really like, but those who do not look, cannot change.

I’m not aware of any particularly Druid tradition of mindfulness. There are lots ways. I’m not sure that we need one. I would recommend paying some attention to what you think, step back now and then if you can, contemplate your own responses and the implications of what happens between your ears. It is entirely possible to change how you think, but to do so, you need to be aware of what you think. If you’re in a spiritual tradition looking for some kind of personal growth, I would ask what kind of growth there can ever be without proper self awareness?  Knowing how you think, and what that thinking means, is key to this. Thinking about thinking is inevitably self referential and all about the navel gazing, but ultimately, it is liberating.

The importance of messing it up

Success is not a great teacher. Oh, it’s very pleasing when everything goes smoothly and well. It can be a great sop to self esteem. The ritual that runs perfectly. The project that finishes without hiccup or error. That kind of success can encourage us to feel perhaps more competent and knowledgeable than we really are. Mostly that’s not a problem, although it can mean when we get into trouble, we’re even less prepared for it. It’s not always obvious with success as to why, exactly, it went right. Often, we take success at face value, not analysing why we got it. Failures tend to make us think more. It’s important to consider both.

Mistakes invite consideration. We tend to want to know where it went wrong or why it fell over, and from this, we learn. We also learn about what matters to us. It’s very hard to do anything if you aren’t prepared to risk error. If you don’t have the space to mess up now and then, how can you move out of you comfort zone? If you aren’t allowed, by yourself or others, to be wrong once in a while, or to make mistakes, then where is the scope for growth? I think culturally we push too hard, we don’t give people enough learning spaces, we don’t accept fallibility enough. It’s not just human to make mistakes, it is necessary.

I gather from what psychology I’ve studied that we have a locus of responsibility that we attribute things to in any given situation. Some people view themselves as all powerful, some as entirely powerless. An event happens, and we see the win as entirely of our making, or as pure luck. We get knocked down by life, and we see it as our fault, or as inexplicable misfortune. Of course you can pick and mix. The person able to see every success as proof of their own skill, genius and entitlement, and every setback as pure fluke, will be very happy in themselves, although not well connected to the rest of reality. The person who sees every success as just luck and every failure as deserved will spend their days miserable, and also will be out of touch with reality. In practice all that comes to us, for good and ill, will be a mix of things of our making, and not of our making. Anyone who wants a meaningful relationship with reality needs a nuanced approach to this, not an assumption.

How we understand our mistakes is just as important as what we do with them. If it’s never your fault, then you will never bother to learn or try to change. If you are unassailably perfect, then you have to look for reasons outside, the external locus of responsibility an essential to maintaining your illusions. And equally, if you don’t think you are capable of being better, or getting it right, or you believe the gods are going to punish you no matter what you do then there’s still no reason to bother. Failure does not have to be viewed as punishment or divine judgement. It doesn’t have to be viewed as a one shot deal, either. Most mistakes can be done over. So long as nobody died, it’s usually not insurmountable. Messing up once does not mean it’s pointless to try again. It takes courage to try again, to risk further humiliations, further hard lessons about the limits of our understanding and ability. The person who doesn’t risk those blows will never be more than they currently are. They won’t let themselves.

In Druidry this matters a great deal. Those new to ritual need the opportunity to make mistakes, to fluff lines, forget running orders and make all the errors of learners. If there’s no humiliation, no punishment, just encouragement, then there is room to grow. And for anyone leading, there needs to be a sense that perfection is not called for. Perfection in ritual is not possible, the person who has to guard against mistakes will never be as open to the awen, or the flow of the ritual. Fear of failure cuts you off from so many things. In the Bard path, room to mess up is vital. That first, nervous public performance will not be as good as you wanted it to be. They never are. Voices wobble, sweating fingers slide on strings, chords are stumbled over, words forgotten. The two seconds of pause between verses will be an eternity of hell your audience probably doesn’t even notice. But if at this point you say ‘I am a failure’ you’ll not do it again. All the great bards who share their skills at rituals started out the same way, and all of them, at some point, will have messed up in public. It is an unavoidable, and necessary part of the path.

Messing up keeps us human. It keeps us realistic about our less than godlike natures. The fear of messing up keeps us working, practicing, striving. The willingness to mess up keeps us experimenting, creating, and testing the boundaries.

Constructing an enemy

Normally, if I find someone irritating and unpleasant, I avoid them. I don’t bother spending time arguing with people who irritate the hell out of me. The people I bother to disagree with, are people I like and respect. If I disagree with them, I will be seeking a better understanding of their perspective, or trying to help them see my perspective because I think they’ve gone wrong. I am not going to invest the time that requires, without care.

However, most of us use concepts of opposition to help develop a sense of self. We know who we are, in part by being able to point at what we are not. To do this in any meaningful way, it is necessary to know the ‘other’ or we may just be indulging our prejudices. Sometimes what we hate most in others, is a reflection of the things we do not like about ourselves, so looking deeply is important or we can easily miss something.

There are arguments that you can judge a person by the quality of their enemies. You don’t get enemies by sitting round on the sofa all day munching snacks and watching TV. Pissing people off requires far more active engagement with the world, so having an enemy indicates having done something interesting. However, it’s a mistake to think that developing enmities is somehow proof of being an interesting person. Being an arsehole is not technically difficult.

How much time we invest in our enemies says something about us. How much we feed our own sense of being wronged, our anger and resentment. It can grown on the inside, developing vast proportions while out there in the real world, no one else notices or cares. Who does the anger harm? Well, the angry one, for a start. The one who clings to self righteous indignation rather than letting go and moving on, has not moved on. That’s a high price to pay, for the sake of your enemy.

There is no one in my life who I think of as an enemy. There are occasionally people who irritate me, but I don’t encourage them to stick around and I do not seek them out, nor put myself places where I might have to listen to their drivel. If you are going towards the people who make you angry, I think it’s well worth asking what you get out of doing that. Odds are, there are things inside you that need a look, and the person on the outside is far less the issue.

There are some institutions that would do well to consider me as an enemy. I’m much happier declaring war on structures and bodies that are underpinned by wrong, rather than individual humans. (Anyone see my piece in Green World?) Fighting for fairness, for justice, for a better sort of world often requires taking pot shots. But not usually at specific people, which is in many ways preferable.

Then there are rivalries, and these are worth their weight in gold. People I admire, respect, whose opinions fascinate me, but who I do not fully agree with. People I can clash with, sometimes in public-ish spaces, and watch the glorious sparks coming off. Passionate, intense exchanges with people who are fired up by ideas. These are not enemies. These are not people I would ever want to knock down or see humiliated. They are people I would protect or defend in any other arena. They turn up in all kind of places. Sometimes I find myself converted. Sometimes not. Either is fine. And in truth, I do not really want to convert them to my way of thinking. If I did, I’d have to go and find new people to disagree with.

Rivals are wonderful, exciting and stimulating people to have around. Don’t seek enemies. Seek rivals. They will make you go further, do more, shine brighter. And you can still have a cup of tea with them.

Balance and the equinox

Although I perceive the lengthening of nights speeding up around the equinox, the event itself doesn’t register with me at an emotional level as an event. I know it happens, but I don’t feel it in the way I do the solstices. As far as I know there’s not much evidence for it being celebrated historically, but it does balance the calendar nicely, so – why not?

The idea of balance is an interesting one. It can, on the surface, look like a restful, peaceful if not downright static sort of state. Physical balance like any kind of balance in life is often more about having all the tension pulling just so in different directions so that the thing in the middle stays still. Walking is the fine art of not quite falling over, in a controlled way. Muscular strength vies with gravity. One slip, and gravity wins. We talk about work-life balance and that’s not passive either, it’s an active kind of juggling.

Is balance a good thing? Is it inherently unsustainable, underpinned as it so often is by opposing forces? There is the continual potential for one of those forces to gain dominance and drag that stability off in a sudden new direction. A bit like a guy rope going and the whole tent falling over. Does balance lull us into a false sense of security, making us blind to the emotional guy ropes pulling hard on us, keeping us in place?

Looking back, I had exactly that kind of balance in my twenties. I think most of the time I was able to put on a decent public face as a consequence of it. Being stretched almost to breaking to point, pulled in many directions, I somehow managed not to fall over. To a degree I created that situation, using other demands on my time and energy to offset things that were unbearable in my life. Using one tension to distract from another. Creating an illusion of stability that meant no one on the outside questioned what was going on with me. I was just very busy, to a casual glance. But I was stable, so that was fine. Except it wasn’t.

This last year I’ve mostly lost my balance. I have entirely lost all illusions of circumstantial stability, and all ability to maintain the relentlessly good face in public. No more stiff upper lip for me, and that’s probably a good thing. From the outside I don’t look terribly in control, or balanced any more. Some of the pulls and pressures in my life took control, and now where there was something a bit like stasis, there is instead a wild, chaotic rush of movement. It’s a bit like surfing. There are days when I am on top of the waves, and days when the waves are on top of me, and despite what I’d imagined such chaos to be like, I haven’t actually drowned yet.

Coping, is all about balance. Holding some kind of stillness in the midst of the storm, staying afloat, or however you choose to articulate it. Coping is the fine art of balancing all the tensions so that you stay upright, and don’t tear apart. It’s the tent metaphor all over again. But living and coping are not the same thing. Truly living, engaging with the world, doing new things, permitting yourself to feel and express – none of this lends itself to that perfect, centred balance. In much the same way that walking is the fine art of not quite falling over.

For a while this was all just happening to me, but like a child learning to walk, I’m getting a bit more choice in the process now. How fast to go, and when to lie down, rather than having lying down happening because I’d not mastered the ‘not quite’ bit of not quite falling over. It’s very different when you choose it. And pushing the metaphor out a little further, it also means I get to choose when to run, and why.

The kind of balance I had, was soul destroying. It was wrecking me in a way that was almost completely invisible. On the whole, I like this staggering about not quite falling over stuff better. It feels good to be moving. I have lost my balance, and found my feet, found the possibility of walking, and living.

Stripped Down

About this time a year ago my life fell apart. In the months that followed I lost my home, community, sense of self, my health suffered. Those of you who have been following my adventures through the process of being stripped will already have some sense of the gory details. It’s not been pretty. There were times when I wondered if I’d come through this with anything at all, or if I would be stripped down to absolute non-existence.

A year on and my perspective on much of this process has changed too. I have a very keen sense of what is essential to me – my husband and child, my own creativity, my own emotional life. Fear of losing my man and my lad nearly crippled me more times than I count, but it isn’t going to happen. There may be institutions technically capable of that, but it doesn’t mean they will. One of the things I have learned in this last year is that reality is not inherently hostile. It is not out to punish me.

Every knock back, every loss has resulted in me learning how to get back onto my feet, or knees at least, and get moving again. Shuffling, lurching, sometimes crawling, but still moving. I did not give up. That gives me some measure of my own strength, and armed with that knowledge I am also a lot less fearful than I used to be.

I’ve also learned a lot about what has endured despite the setbacks. The many relationships that held true despite the distances involved, the people who did not give up on me, or let me down. The communities that I still belong to even if I’m not an active participant at the moment. Some of things that seemed lost turned out to be temporarily mislaid.

There are things I regret, people I wish I saw more often, lives, communities and activities I would like to still be participating in and can’t. There are opportunities that have gone and times that will never come again and I can’t help but grieve those. But there are new places to be and new things to be doing – there always are.

Finally, there are the truly lost things that are never going to come back, and that’s something I am starting to celebrate. I have lost my sense of deserving mistreatment. I no longer expect to be punished, put down, knocked back and otherwise demoralised by anyone with the power to influence my life. I don’t see authority as inherently dangerous to me any more. In the last year, doctors, police, solicitors, social workers, judges, teachers and other folk with clout and experience, have treated me with kindness. I am no longer afraid of not being heard. I am no longer afraid of being blamed for things I have no control over. I have learned I can ask for help and that most people are not offended by this. I have learned that generally speaking it is fine to say ‘no’ or to be unable, to disagree with others, and to want things just for me.

It’s strange, because it was when I started to emerge from the nightmare that I fell apart. Somehow, through very hard years I managed to keep running and hold together the semblance of being functional. But I was desperately unhappy. I have fallen apart, and that’s allowed me the space to rebuild, to create a new sense of self and to totally change how I relate to the rest of reality. The prospect of falling apart was terrifying, but the result has been healing. And when I fell, there were friends and family there to help me. There was all kinds of support from all sorts of official sorts of people. The system turned out to be a friend.

I don’t imagine this is the end of the journey. There is bound to be more to unpick, figure out and remake, but I’ve come to a point where it’s far more about going forward now, rather than looking back.


According to existentialists (forgive me, I can’t name names and cite references) freedom and responsibility go together. You can only be free to the degree to which you take responsibility. I adopted this notion in my late teens and carried it for a long way. And took a lot of responsibility.

I’ve come to the conclusion, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Being responsible for self, enables freedom. But, we none of us exist in isolation, there is the issue of responsibility to others to explore. The more responsible we undertake to be for others, the more control we might have over them. As we take more responsibility so they can carry less. If we go too far, we risk depriving others of freedom. At which point we are no longer in an honourable relationship. At the same time, when we hold responsibility to others, for others, it does impact on freedom if we are determined to behave well.

When I was blogging over at The Pagan and The Pen I was very conscious that everything I wrote would impact on everyone else. It was a shared blog space, my opinions might be taken as representing the opinion of the site. Before that, in my days as a Druid Network Trustee, I was painfully aware that anything I put out in a public space could, potentially, have an impact on a whole organisation. That was very inhibiting.

It’s very difficult to learn without making mistakes, or at least having room and permission to make mistakes. It’s hard to grow, or develop, when you have to play safe, and there is no room to get it wrong. Too much responsibility makes it very hard to take risks, experiment, or do anything radically new. One of the things I love about being a solitary blogger, is that if I do something stupid, I’m not taking anyone else down with me. I still hold an awareness of responsibility not to bring paganism into disrepute, and a responsibility not to tell people bullshit, or encourage anyone to do anything likely to harm them. But there’s a lot more wriggle room, and I like that.

It is possible to be in a responsible relationship to others, and still test the boundaries, but everyone else has to know and accept. There are places where loose cannons and chaotes can be part of the team, but it’s unusual to find one. Sometimes in a ritual circle, if you have someone calm holding the centre, the chaotic folk have space to play.

I like my freedom. I can’t imagine ever voluntarily going back into a situation where duty restricted my own need to explore and express. It took me a while to realise just how important that is to me, but now I’ve got it, I won’t sacrifice it to someone else’s cause. What I have now, is responsibility on my own terms, where I decide what duty is owed, what risks are tolerable, and what behaviours are acceptable. I draw the lines for myself, and I have not given anyone else permission to tell me I cannot do a thing for fear that it might cause a problem. I’m not overwhelmed with the desire to cause problems, I trust my own judgement. I also know I will make mistakes, but it is good knowing I do that alone, on my own terms, without dragging anyone else down with me against their will. There is no one in my life in a position to withhold permission, refuse me the scope to explore, express or create in my own terms. I like that. Now I get to ponder what kinds of relationships I can have with numbers of people, or groups of people, whilst holding that precious autonomy for myself. I think if I am entirely honest about what I am, and what I am not, and avoid fixed roles, I should be able to hold this. It will be interesting to see what happens, as I move back towards being more socially engaged again.

Conscious, unconscious

How aware are you of your own motives? What drives you? Do you find you’ve done or said things and not known why? What does your unconscious mean to you?

For a long time, years in fact, I’ve worked hard to be as fully conscious as I could be. To know what I was doing and why. To know myself. I considered that essential for self growth. I’ve got to the point of having to acknowledge that so far, I’ve not been doing a great job. There were too many things I refused to accept and acknowledge about what was then around me. In so doing, I distorted my sense of self. But it remains an aspiration to be as self aware as I can manage.

What is the unconscious? Is it the place of denial and letting yourself off the hook? Are we talking about Freud’s id, animalistic and selfish, pushing us to do things for less than honourable reasons? That’s not the sort of unconscious I want.

What about dreams? The rich and magical flows of inspiration and creativity we have aren’t tidy, controlled and known things. Inspiration flourishes in the unconscious. Somewhere, between the questing after self awareness, and the denying of some aspects of my reality, I lost track of that. I should have noticed, because for years I barely dreamed, and when I did it usually involved the same dull handful of anxiety nightmares.

I’ve been trying for a different understanding of my own unconscious, seeing it not in ‘id’ terms as something to tackle, but as a dark river that flows underneath what I do. A place of magic, strangeness and potential. Something to be open to, not something to fight. One of the interesting consequences is, having deliberately and consciously shifted my understanding, my unconscious has also changed. I’m dreaming again. Rich, vibrant, startling, inspiring, unsettling dreams full of colour, emotion, and experience. I wake up in the mornings with my head full of all kinds of strange things, and my heart lifted. When I dream in wild and vivid ways, I feel better. It doesn’t have to be obviously meaningful, so long as it is intense.

There is something in me that exists in ways I am not fully aware of. To be entirely conscious would kill it. I have learned that it does not thrive in environments where I am not honest with myself. Too much misplaced blame and having my intuition messed with did not help. Being open to the unknown within me is a whole new journey. There is so much of who I could be, I realise I do not know at all. Potential, awen, the insanity of poetic vision, the delirium of dreaming. I do not need to know all of that so thoroughly that I control it into not existing. I can have self awareness without sacrificing the magic of unconsciousness. I can dream and still be a realist. I can imagine, and recognise truth.

During the period of my life when I was trying hard to suppress and reject all the things that come from magical unreason and dreaming, I was at my least true. Rationality and reason are not the only things in a human mind that matter, and they need balancing. I lost that balance. In trying to be too sane, I became unsane. (not insane, just ill). I mention this because I fear it’s all too easily done, and if I can discourage others from going too far into wanting self control, then all well and good.

We are, I have come to realise, not supposed to know, or understand everything. The trick is knowing what to unravel, and what to keep mysterious. I’m working on that.