Tag Archives: perspective

Checking in

I’m a big fan of regularly taking stock of what’s going on. It’s the sort of thing you can do on your own, but which often works better when you have someone to check in with. I find it relevant in all aspects of life, and useful for making sure things are going as I want them to. It’s an antidote to getting distracted, losing your way, running out of ideas and getting overwhelmed.

When we check in with each other, it’s a process that affirms and builds relationship. For this to work the ‘how are you’ of standard greeting has to be meant. You have to have room to say, and hear more than an empty ‘fine thank you’ and it has to be balanced. If people really care, and listen to each other and speak honestly, that process of checking in can be really effective. Being heard, recognised, understood can do a lot to alleviate discomfort. It may lead to help or advice. It gives us all the chance to be there for each other.

We can give the same attention in non-verbal check ins with places, creatures, tools. A pause to see how things really are, and how we feel and what we’re bringing in can make a lot of odds.

Rituals provide a very natural space for a Pagan check in. In smaller groups, giving people time to say a few words about where they are and how life is for them can help that transition into ritual mode, and also help people bond and support each other. In bigger circles, inviting people to offer one word that says what they’re bringing gives people opportunity to check in with themselves and have something heard.

Any formal social gathering can include check in time. We used to do it when the contemplative Druids sat each month and I found it really helpful for getting things into perspective. Witnessing for each other also helps us make sense our own experiences as we put them in a context bigger than personal experience.

It doesn’t have to be about spiritual practice, either. I’m looking at developing a space for writing and works in progress, and I think the check in may be a good ingredient there. Having time to reflect on where you are with your work and how you feel about it can be really useful.

When there’s a lot going on, we tend to talk about it – it may take over. The check in can help keep that in balance. When there’s not much obviously going on, we may be quieter, but reflecting on the fallow patches can be enlightening in its own way, and opens us up to seeing bigger patterns in our lives. The experience of other people’s struggles and victories, busy times and quiet times helps put our lives into perspective.

We can of course do this for each other on social media, with no other framework at all.

We can also do it privately, without input from anyone else. A little solitary ritual or meditation space is all it takes to check in with yourself and ask how you are doing. If you don’t want it to be too much about you, then you can check in with something else – a house plant, a pet, or just reflecting on how things appear to be going for the people around you.

I think a reflective life is a life lived more fully and with more awareness. Conscious reflection on what’s going on, what we want, where we’ve been and where we are going is how we keep on track. It’s important to take a step back fairly regularly and look at the bigger picture of your life, and at your life in the context of other lives.

Beyond the fields we know

Most life happens at the edges, most growth is at the margins. They are often fertile places where the interplay between different environments creates maximum possibility. Something similar happens in the inner landscapes when we move to the edges.

There are three different things at work here, and they are all equally essential. The comfort zone, the unknown and the boundary. Having space – physical and psychological – where we feel safe and relaxed, is essential. I’ve tried doing this the other way, (not deliberately, it’s just what I got) and it turns life into a perpetual, exhausting battle ground. Without much of a comfort zone, there is no rest, nor peace, and if everything is allowed to become a bit other, a bit threatening and untrustworthy it’s a form of insanity as likely to paralyse a person as anything else. These are all things we learn how to construct, but might not notice ourselves making. The comfort zone, the otherness and the borders are largely of our own devising.

The author Lord Dunsany used the refrain ‘beyond the fields we know’ to allude to Faerie. I find it a very helpful thought form.  The fields we know are familiar, close to home, part of our landscape. Things can happen there that are interesting and engaging, but they fall within a predictable framework. Beyond the fields we know, all bets are off. Nothing can be relied on to function in the same way. For Dunsany, the border between the two is shifting and unpredictable as well, and that’s an important point. Where we feel familiar, and comfortable, where we feel uneasy and exposed can change and it’s not always obvious why. Our own borders and edges shift, sometimes they are easily crossed, sometimes painfully difficult.

As a walker, I have learned the enchantment of going beyond the fields we know. Even a short detour on an unfamiliar track brings a sense of magical potential. To see a familiar landmark from an unfamiliar angle is to see it anew. Going into the unknown, we can look back and get a whole other perspective on the things we thought we knew.

Going too far into the unknown, without maps or references, can result in an overwhelming, overload of experience that we can’t always make much sense of. Too much of the unfamiliar at once can be hard to take. At the point where we are lost, confused and exhausted, the adventure sours into something miserable. We have to cross back over into the place we understand. And here’s another lesson from Dunsany, because if you start out in Faerie, with that as your comfort zone, then the fields you know are other fields entirely, and Faerie becomes the safe space to retreat back to. It is not the landscape that is inherently strange or mundane, it is our experience that makes it so. In several Dunsany tales, otherworldly things return to their otherworldly places because this world is just too much for them. We who live here all the time do not notice the things that might make it wonderful to someone else.

Gratitude and perspective

It’s been a week. The lows were alarming – stressful things bad enough to give me panic attacks, and the distinct possibility that, due to a technical malfunction, I’d lost all of my photos and older work. Alongside that, a whole array of smaller trials and troubles that, by Friday, had me almost at screaming point.

Today, journeys in perspective. This time a year ago, and for years before then, panic attacks were not a noteworthy event. They were a daily occurrence and I was really ill. That I’ve come to a place where a panic attack is something to notice, marks a huge change in quality of life for me. Yes, the panic attacks are still horrible, debilitating and demoralising, but I am so glad that they are now rarer. I am better at managing them than I was, better at keeping going. I did what needed to be done.

I’ve lost a lot of things, and people along the way. I’ve lost homes and sanctuaries. Death has taken people I love. Life changes have put physical distances between me and too many people I care about. There were times when I had reason to believe that I could be deprived of the people who mattered most to me, and when I thought I’d probably lost everything I owned. I’ve been deep in debt, to degrees that terrified me, but I came through and got it sorted. I’ve been threatened with homelessness by the ‘charity’ The Canal & River Trust. I survived their bullying and they did not get to take my boat from me on the flimsy pretexts they use to intimidate liveaboard boaters into quitting the canal.

There’s an odd thing here though, because that experience has not toughened me. Other, smaller loses are just as alarming. Perhaps more so. The thought of losing all my photos cut me up. The thought of losing my work, the same. It’s not like losing a home or a person, and I would not have been so grieved; I have some sense of proportion, but life experience to date has not brought me to a point of being able to shrug off the smaller losses. Perspective does not always mean being able to shrug things off. That which I still have from former periods of my life, is really important to me. Books and clothes that date back to my teens. Kitchenware that was once my grandmothers. I smart over a large, earthenware pot of my grandfather’s which I left behind. Small friends lost along the way. The experiences of coming close to losing everything have made me value even more the things that have travelled with me.

The choice to let go of most of the cuddly toys this year, was a stinger. I’d given mine to my child, and we have run out of room. We picked the ones to keep, we let the others go. It was surprisingly difficult. Some of it may be to do with animism. I do not see inanimate stuff as irrelevant. Objects become imbued with stories and history. They become a part of life lived, and many seem to me to have a presence of their own, that is not easily dismissed. I do not give away, or throw things away easily or lightly. I do not discard people lightly or easily, either.

I have my files and photos, thanks to the awesome people at Webworks in Stroud. I shall express my gratitude to them by going back there to source all future technical things rather than searching online for bargains. They are an independent local retailer, and as I want to make sure they are around to rescue me next time, they get my custom. I find myself awash with gratitude to people who have just been lovely to me through the stresses and hassles. Small acts of kindness, fellowship, encouragement and hope. It makes worlds of difference.

As was pointed out in the comments yesterday, every setback is an opportunity too. A chance to learn something and be wiser for next time, if nothing else. A chance for other people to be noble, generous or heroic. A chance to get a different perspective. Most of this week has been shitty and hard, but I come to the end of it with a heart full of relief, deeply grateful for all the small gestures along the way, and for the good bits. Sun on a winter’s morning. Sleeping well. Mostly having the things that matter most to me. Glad that I know how to love fiercely the tiny things that are lovely. Glad that I know how to appreciate a quiet day, an easy day, a small win.

The relativity of pain

Pain is subjective. How you understand it, be it bodily or emotional, depends on what else you have experienced first-hand, and what you have seen others endure. If you aren’t very empathic or haven’t encountered much suffering, that second option will barely exist for you. The biggest pain you have ever known is the measure of how bad you think it can get (ie, that plus whatever you are capable of imagining is worse). For young children, every bump and frustration is a source of overwhelming misery.
Gradually, some of us learn new perspectives, a few of us don’t.

It can be all too easy to get into the idea that “my pain is bigger than yours, and that mine should be taken seriously, while yours should not”. I spent my childhood being told I had a low pain threshold, yet I’ve had 2 tattoos without so much as a whimper, and went most of the way through labour with no pain relief. I consequently find I have no idea how my pain relates to anyone else’s. If it hurts more than I can bear, I need help, or something to change. If I can bear it, I bear it. What else is there? What help is it to be told at that point that you’re making a fuss, over reacting, that your pain is not as big as you think it is?

It’s difficult encountering those people for whom a torn nail, the wrong actor getting the Batman role, a head cold or a bad day at the office seems like something of earth shattering proportions. I do find it hard watching the amount of energy people expend griping about what seems trivial to me. Whose perspective is wrong? Actually, it could well be mine. Perhaps I should be taking my own pain a bit more seriously, rather than assuming that I’m just being lazy or feeling sorry for myself.

Then there’s the knowledge that if any of us had been through a Nazi death camp, a Rwandan massacre, an epic natural disaster… we’d have a whole other perspective again. There are people who will get to watch their loved ones suffer and die, powerless to help them. There are people whose apparently whingey griping about pain turns out to be the undiagnosed cancer that kills them. Perspective works best when you’re looking backwards, possessed of all the facts. When you’re in pain, you probably don’t have that. You don’t know what was meant, or how much less an issue it will be than what tomorrow is going to bring for you. All you know at that point is how it fits with where you have been.

We all start out howling because the teddy falls out of the pram. We learn at the speed life sees fit to teach us. That might be a gentle curve. It might be in sudden shocks and bounds. We might coast along for forty years and then be crushed by something we were in no way prepared for. Life doesn’t always help us grow into a useful perspective before it really shits on us. Today, the worst problem is how to peel a pomegranate. Tomorrow, you are hit by a truck, but not killed.

The only answer is compassion, with ourselves, and with the people around us. No one knows what someone else is feeling, or how that fits in the context of the rest of their life. If someone is hurting, try not to judge them. Maybe you could sail through that problem untroubled, but maybe that’s because you aren’t as bruised already as they are. We don’t know. It helps to remember that.