Tag Archives: relationship

A brief history of me offending people

I’ve had some startling things come into focus for me over the last few days. I have no idea if sharing this process will make any sense to anyone else, much less be helpful, but on the off-chance there’s another person out there struggling with similar things, here we go.

On a number of occasions through my adult life, men I have really loved have pushed me away for being too much. These were mostly not romantic or sexual relationships. I’ve carried it as my failing. I’ve carried it as something hideous inside me that is intolerable and unacceptable. These experiences have made me less emotionally open with people, less affectionate, less confident about myself. I want to be honest and open hearted with people, but being afraid that there is something horrible about me, I am cautious and not open.

This week, in an email exchange, I ran into the suggestion that having to think about someone else’s wellbeing all the time is restrictive and oppressive. It was a light bulb moment for me.

I feel honoured to have people in my life whose care and wellbeing I have some responsibility for. If I love someone, there is no burden in caring for them. There is no loss of freedom in being alert to their needs and feelings and trying to do stuff that would help and support them. If I am awake, then the needs of the people I care about are never far from my thoughts. I’m finding it hard to imagine how the opposite could be true, how caring could feel like anything other than a good thing.

Thinking about variously shaped relationships I’ve had with men, for a subset of guys, this apparently is a thing. I’m seeing patterns I’d not registered before. To care about people is to think about what you’re doing – off the cuff, in the moment, careless words and actions don’t fit with that. I recognise I’ve dealt with a fair few men (and some women) for whom thoughtless, off the cuff behaviour was how they felt they most authentically expressed themselves. By that logic, to care and pay attention is not be able to be authentically yourself. For me, my most considered self, my most deliberately chosen way of being, is my most authentic self.

I exist in relationship to other people. Who I am is in no small part who I am in relationship. I do not feel less myself if I make some modifications for someone else’s benefit. I am not less myself if I have to grow, flex or stretch around someone else’s needs. I’ve done some of my best growing this way. I don’t feel entitled to do and say whatever I please and expect everyone around me to be fine with that. I look back over my problem encounters and I see a theme there – how often white, straight, physically well, financially comfortable men feel entitled to have it all their way. My needing something that isn’t immediately easy and convenient to them is an imposition, an unkindness on my part. Unfair. Unreasonable.

Many women have been raised to be alert to and care for the needs of others, whether it suits their true nature or not. Anyone who is outside the mainstream learns quickly that who they are might not be accepted. If you are queer, or Pagan, or polyamorous, or disabled, or poor, then you know perfectly well that you can’t expect it always to go your way. And how much easier life would be if the people who expected to have it all on their terms were a bit more alert to what their freedom might cost someone else.

So I’m putting down the self blame. I am telling myself a new story in which the men who found me unacceptable did so from places that were all about them. Yes, I love more intensely than is normal. Yes, I feel things keenly. Yes, I rock up whole hearted. No, I have no interest in casual, superficial, empty non-relationships. Yes, apparently that does offend some people. No, on reflection, I am not sorry at all for being as I am.

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Druidry and relationship with space

Capitalism encourages us to think of places in terms of ownership. The laws of ‘the land’ also focus on the rights of the owner, not of the inhabitant. It’s worth noting that in most places, the ownership of land can be traced back to violence and conquest.

When I wrote recently about spirits of place, I touched on the idea of ownership. Having had time to think about this properly, I realise that when I wrote ‘ownership’ what I meant was belonging. Or a kind of ownership that also involved being owned. A depth of relationship with a specific place, or places, that binds you to that place, and that place to you.

If you do ritual regularly at a specific site, you may come to feel that sense of ownership/being owned, and that can make it hard to see other people doing ritual in the same space. This is one of the big problems with choosing to do ritual at famous sites. No one has the right to own Avebury, or Stonehenge, or anywhere else on that kind of scale. As with all relationships, our relationships with places are open to possessiveness and jealousy, and what we feel most keenly may not bring out the best in us.

If you want a relationship with place that is personal, where you own and feel owned – then small and local is the way to go. You probably won’t have to share your grove in the woods with any other ritualists.

To feel belonging is to feel part of a community of place. When we belong, we don’t have to feel rivalry with anything else that also belongs. That includes other people. Any number of beings – seen and unseen – can belong to a place. It’s a more spacious idea than ownership, which capitalism has taught us to see as individual. Belonging does not free us from conflict though – especially if others come in and act like they own the place when they have no real relationship with it.

Belonging takes time and the investment of care and attention. It means getting to know the space and the community of living beings already in it. It means recognising that you are not more important than the other beings that belong to the place. It means not giving yourself instant authority by imagining you know what the land or the spirits of place really want. To belong you have to be a bit more humble, and not invested in putting human activity centre stage. Belonging means not trying to use your relationship with the land and its community as a power base to further your own ends.

Belonging is a subtle, quiet process that takes time. It is not the same as the short term excitement of finding a place resonant or welcoming. It’s what you do in the years after that moment.


If love is not a scarcity

We tell each other stories in contemporary white, western culture about love as a big, dramatic event. We are supposed to fall in love with one person, for the rest of our lives, and live happily ever after. It puts a lot of pressure on a relationship.

Desire can strike us like lightning, kicking off some intense body chemistry reactions that, for a few weeks, may give us all those feelings of drama and foreverness. This chemistry wears off, and sometimes leaves very little of use or value in its wake. Finding that it wasn’t the one big true love of our lives, we feel sad and move on. We have to stop loving one person to move on and have the next go at the love affair that will be the big one.

Imagine what would happen if we did not treat love as a rare and scarce commodity. Imagine how it would be if we considered it pretty normal for people to love other people. If it was normal to love lots of people. Imagine if to love one person, you didn’t have to first stop loving someone else.

Rather than looking for the movie style high octane life shattering romance, we’d maybe have different priorities. We might want to get into relationships with people we like – so many straight relationships seem like battlegrounds, but it need not be that way. We might get into relationships with people because we have similar tastes and interests, and get along well and suit each other – which is essential if you’re trying to live with someone. We might feel ok about having differently shaped relationships with different people who we love.

If we choose how to manifest love, it becomes an active process. Not something that happens to us, where we are passive recipients, powerless to resist. What if love is what we choose and what we do? Not some accident of the universe, but something we make, with our choices and actions?

It is pretty unreasonable to ask one person to be all the things in your life. Not everyone is good at all the things. Not everyone wants to do all the same things. Sometimes it’s useful to have a fresh perspective. If we put down the idea of the one big dramatic love, we might have a bit more room for the modest but very meaningful loves that enrich a life. It might be easier to get along in relationships if we didn’t have to try and be all the things for each other all of the time.

And then, the big love story arc tells us that we should be willing to die for love, Romeo and Juliet style. We should be willing to throw away anything, and everyone, for the prize of that once in a lifetime romance. We should be willing to go cold, hungry, barefoot if it means we can be together. This is utter shit, and does not make for a long term, viable relationship. Sacrificing everything for love puts unbearable pressure on people and does none of us any good. The room to be a bit more pragmatic is valuable indeed.

If love wasn’t viewed as a rare commodity, but as a normal part of how we interact with people, how much else would change?


Celebrating Friendship

I spend a lot of time on this blog writing about the ways in which human relationships can break down and go wrong. I think it needs exploring. However, there’s a lot to be said too about how good relationships work. I’m in the fortunate position of having an abundance of experience to draw on to write about good relationships.

Good relationships often don’t generate the same kind of drama that problematic ones do. What makes a relationship good tends not to be about massive, heroic acts. Most of us do not have to help Frodo carry the ring to Mordor nor do we have to help Harry defeat Voldemort. The material of our relationships is made of the fine details of everyday life. Small acts of care and kindness, support and assistance, generosity and encouragement.

I am in no doubt that life is better when we co-operate with each other rather than trying to compete. Life is easier when we share opportunities and resources. Life is happier when we enjoy each other’s successes rather than feeling jealous of them. If we see each other’s needs and concerns as opportunities to deepen relationships, rather than reasons for resentment, that helps as well.

It is interesting to ask how we share our lives with other people. What underpins our interactions? What do we want out of time spent together? What do we do together? Where is the joy between us? Can we talk about the big life issues when they come up? Can we laugh at life’s absurdities together? Can we hear each other? What can we share? And how often?

I have some profound relationships that are mostly made of emails and photos and shared creativity. I have people I see a few times a year at most, and it is always a delight to see them and to catch up. There are people I see every week, whose lives are increasingly intertwined with mine. There are people I see every day, and whose lives are inseparable from mine. Realities of time and space mean there are only a few people I can be totally involved with, but I am continually moved and delighted by the sheer number of totally awesome, lovely and inspiring people I know.

This weekend I will be at Asylum in Lincoln – a massive steampunk event. I’ll be seeing some of those people who I only get to spend time with occasionally. In the meantime, the blog will be populated with guest content from some of the splendid creative folk I know online – some of whom I have never met in person. As life has thrown me some curve-balls recently, I won’t be doing as much book reviewing into the autumn. I am throwing that Sunday slot open to guest bloggers, so if you’re interested, leave a comment and I’ll get in touch. If you’re unsure as to what might work, look at the categories list for ideas… As the year turns, I’ll be asking how we can help each other, who –specifically – I can help to best effect and what collective good we might do.


Good Friends

I think it’s interesting to ask what makes for good friendship. I expect a wide range of answers are available, as we all have different feelings and needs.  Is friendship a description of a relationship? Or might it be something we do for each other? You can choose to be a good friend to someone when very little is offered in return. You can choose to act as a good friend to someone in the short term to help them in some way – this may be someone with whom you will not have an ongoing relationship. How much give does friendship call for, and how much reciprocity?

While it can be tempting to think of friendship as an arena in which we can heroically practice the art of sacrificing ourselves for love, massively one sided relationships do not do anyone much good for the longer term. It can be really demoralising feeling that people stick around to help you because they feel sorry for you. A relationship based on pity, and on other people being heroic, is not a good relationship to be in. That kind of friendship can help a person feel small and stay put, or it can create weird power flows around who has the biggest crisis, the most problems etc.

For me, the most rewarding friendships are based on mutual enthusiasm – liking what a person does and how they do it, how they think and respond and how they are to be around. We don’t have to be doing anything for each other if we can enjoy doing things together. That in turn is underpinned by care and respect. I think highly of my friends, and over time, what they do justifies my belief in them. I care about them, I care about their successes and setbacks, their aspirations and challenges. I like to be cared about in these kinds of ways, as well.

There have been people along the way who clearly didn’t respect me or much care for me, and wanted me to know what hard work I was. People who have to tolerate me in some way or find me a struggle. I’ve no idea why anyone thinks that kind of self sacrifice is attractive. If you don’t like me, move on, with my blessings. I don’t need to be put up with. I don’t need people having to make a massive effort to cope with me. I’d rather be entirely alone than have that role in anyone’s life. Not that this has ever been necessary.

When we run on a scarcity model, it can be tempting to hang on tight to anyone who stops long enough to let us do that. When we imagine there won’t be many people we have anything in common with. After all, how many queer pagans with an interest in comics can there be in a small town like Stroud? (Plenty enough, in case you were wondering).  How many creative people are there in a small town like Stroud? (more than I can get to know). How many druids are there… and so on and so forth. For any of the things that matter to me, for any of the overlapping areas, I can find people. I don’t think Stroud is that exceptional. Interesting people are everywhere.

How much do we owe it to people to include them? How much do we owe it to each other to provide one sided care? How much should we make ourselves available as resources, and make what we have available? How much crap should we tolerate from each other in the name of friendship? There’s clearly no one right place to draw the lines here, but the act of drawing lines is important.

Humans are social creatures. We all have a need for care and contact. Draw your lines in the wrong place, give too much in exchange for little or nothing, and it will eventually wear you down.  No one is an infinite resource. Ask too much of the people around you and you’ll find they can’t sustain it. Accept too much of the shit and you’ll take damage. Dish out too much crap and people will move away from you. We all have hard times and rough patches, and we all need to be supported through those, but friendship requires balance. It calls for respect, for mutual concern, and for scope to take delight in each other. If we do not find joy in each other’s company, it isn’t going to function as a friendship.


Dealing with broken trust

Betrayal is a normal human experience. Having gone a few rounds with it myself, I’ve come to the conclusion that the worst of the pain and damage betrayal causes is not about the immediate harm done. It’s about my relationship with reality.

Partly this is because my sense of self is relational. I don’t see myself as a discreet unit. Who I am is informed by who I interact with and how I interact with them. Who I love, who I invest in, and who I spend my time with shapes my identity. If I trust someone and they betray that trust, I am left questioning who I am. The more invested I was, the more disorientating it is. I then have to decide whether the broken trust is somehow my fault – I know I am pre-disposed to self blame. I question whether I deserved it and what it says about me. On several occasions of back-stabbing, I’ve just had to retreat from everyone because it has left me feeling like I couldn’t do relationships with people at all. These days I am a good deal more resilient.

When we invest trust in a person, we invest in them as part of our reality. When they break that trust, it can be world shattering. I’ve been round this a few times now, and for reasons of comfort am going to focus on the oldest example I’ve experienced. I was in my early twenties, and I worked with someone for a year. At the end of that year, it became obvious that I’d been lied to at every turn, used, and compromised. The worst of the damage was done to someone else. My reality was broken. I no longer knew what was real, or what I could trust. It took me a long time to pick the truth from the lies, and I felt very unstable and vulnerable as I was doing it.

I’ve had to repeat that process several times now, with varying degrees of severity. I note that the shock to my sense of what’s real is the hardest thing to take. I watch myself flailing about trying to make a new story that accommodates everything. I doubt myself – how could I have been so blind, so foolish, so naive? Is this what happens to people who are too trusting? Should I harden myself, close my heart, keep everyone out… Each time I’ve been round this I’ve taken the conscious decision not to let whatever’s happened become the story my life revolves around. I choose not to treat anyone based on the ways I have been betrayed by those I trusted. I give other people second chances and third chances and opportunities to do better. I keep my heart open, even when openness feels like a bleeding wound. It is a choice.

Not all betrayals are deliberate, some are just awkward collisions of people on different trajectories who mean each other no harm but cannot help the damage done. It does not take long to see that in a set of experiences. The normal ending of a romantic relationship can be much that way. What feels like betrayal at the time softens with perspective, becomes understandable and easier to let go of. Deliberate betrayal is a whole other thing. It’s usually full of lies and the intent to mislead. It may well include the intention to cause harm and inflict suffering. It may want your money or other resources, it may just be in it for the pleasure of seeing you knocked down. It encourages you to see the worst in everyone.

I think back over the people who I know have deliberately betrayed me in this sort of way. I note that none of them were happy or confident, even though most presented as really sure of themselves. I note that there was a lot wrong in their lives, and where I know how it played out after me, that remains the case. I think they were all so invested in the idea of being unlovable, that they would break the person who loved them rather than change their own story. Which is tragic. Most people, given some safe space to thrive in, will thrive. Some people are so wounded in themselves that they have to fail, they have to ruin everything so as to confirm their own stories about their own identity. Of course it’s disorientating when you get caught up in someone else’s madness in that way. But, the one thing that cannot be done, is to save a person from themselves. Only they can do that.


A body in a landscape

One of the reasons I’ve not written a Pagan book in quite some time, is that my practice has changed and I didn’t want to over-intellectualise the process. I realised that I needed to get out there and try things without setting myself up to think that I was going to come back and write a book about it afterwards, and in terms of my personal spiritual journey, that’s been a really good thing. I don’t find this blog gets in the way, because there’s always stuff going on that I want to talk about.

I love words, language and communication. Which at first made it a bit odd for me wanting to go into something that wasn’t about words, and where the communication wasn’t about dealing with other humans.

It was an idea that occurred to me while working on the Pagan Pilgrimage project. I was going to write a book about that, but was finding the writing process getting in the way. I hit on a phrase – walking my body into the landscape and the landscape into my body, and beyond that statement, there was no real place for words. Mostly there still isn’t, although I’m getting to the point where I feel a bit more able to talk about what I’m doing.

Too often, the use of planned and ritualised language can actually take us away from the living moment and all that is happening in it. If we go in knowing what we’re going to say, our words get between us and our experiences. We make the spiritual experience about the inside of our own heads and not about any relationship with what’s outside our heads. Wordless and without so much agenda, there’s room for other experiences.

I’ve become interested in how sounds impact on my body. I’ve become alert to how the shifting patterns of sun and shade affect my mood when I’m walking. There are places I’ve walked often enough over a long enough time now that the shape of them, and the rhythm of moving over them is very much inside me. I don’t have much language for expressing this well. I’m not even sure I should be looking for such a language. Perhaps it is enough to offer wordy gateways, because any expressing of my experience, is only ever that, and what’s called for here is the first hand encounter between body and place.

We need to put ourselves back into the landscape. We need to stop treating landscape as a pretty background in which to do our exclusively human things. We need to get over the idea of scenery and into the idea of relationship. We need to show up, in our bodies, with our senses, and be places. Be part of places, involved with them, not casual users passing through. Not so locked into our human-centric concerns that we don’t see the wood, or the trees.

Things happen when you do this. Things that are not translatable into human words. Body knowledge and awareness. Felt things. We change, when we let the landscape inhabit us. It is a good change and I recommend exploring it.


Long term relationships

It’s easy to get excited about another person in the short term. Some of that has to do with the chemistry of sexual attraction and all the mad, glorious things that does to us, briefly. Emotional, intellectual, even spiritual attractions to people can be very intense at the exciting, beginning period, and then fade over time. We’ve heard all their stories. We’ve found out more of who they really are, and they turn out to be as flawed as everyone else. The promised magic of those early days turns out to be just another illusion.

This is something I’ve been talking about a lot with my other half, having spent most of our time together over the last seven years. We’ve both been in other relationships in the past, and this one, is definitely different.

One of the conclusions we came to is that we don’t treat our relationship as a defined, settled tidy thing. We never will. We check in with each other, and things change. We’ve both changed a great deal since we got involved, but rather than growing apart, we’ve grown together.

We make a point of being interesting, and being interested. We do things for each other and we do things together – not as some kind of special occasion activity, but as a default setting for daily life.

It is very easy for established relationships of any shape to become habit, and thus become dull and lacklustre. Once we think we know each other. Once we’ve settled into a nice routine. Once we don’t think we need to ask, or check, or discuss. When people take each other for granted, they don’t give the other person any room to change, and when the other person changes, they miss it, and it can so easily spiral out of control from there. Hold someone to the needs, beliefs, hope and desires they had when you first met them, and ten years later you will not be dealing with the reality of who they are.

Relationships that work are not boxes we make to shut ourselves into. A good relationship is made of deliberate choices – from moment to moment in every word, gesture, thought and action. A good relationship is about how we are when we wake up together in the morning. It’s what we do, and choose to do. An ongoing, deliberate process of commitment, exploration and care.


Non-competitive conversation

I hate competitive conversations. The sort that are all about point scoring, or arguing over hypothetical ideas. I am particularly unfond of being backed into the kind of corner where, having identified a problem, it’s all ‘and what are you going to do about that?’ Once it’s about imagining what governments should do, or what I might do if in charge of everything, I really don’t see the point. I am no fan of conversations where people are vying to prove who is the cleverest, by knocking holes in each other.

It is entirely possible to have exchanges that are purely about the exchange. To kick around ideas with no particular aim of proving anything, just to see what comes up along the way. Those are the conversations in which I do take on new ideas and in which I can be persuaded to change my mind. Not least because I am not then a ‘loser’ for doing so.

I like conversations where people share their truth, their experiences and stories, and witness each other, and make what sense they can of the compare and contrast options. Those tend to be both affirming and informative exchanges. They require really listening to each other, and really caring about what other people are saying.

When listening comes from a desire for one upmanship, it’s all about latching onto the points you can knock down, or twist in your favour. It’s about looking for mistakes, or places people may not be able to quote dates and stats off the top of their heads. And it means knowing all those things will be done to you when you try to speak. I find this stuff exhausting. It’s part of why I try to avoid meetings, and why I don’t do certain kinds of politics anymore.

When listening is about the desire to really hear and understand what the other person is saying, it’s a whole other process. Not just listening carefully to the words, but to the tone of voice and the body language. Not listening to see what you can do with it, but listening to try and grasp what the other person wants to express to you. It means asking questions for clarity. “Do you mean…?” “Is that like…?”

There are conversations that can only keep us on our toes, dancing cautiously around each other like boxers, watching the opponent to try and predict the next blow, or land our own. There other are conversations that enrich us and bring us into greater depth of understanding, greater harmony, greater intimacy. For some time now I’ve been trying to avoid the competitive conversations, I think I’m going to be clearer at expressing my dislike for them and my unwillingness to join in.


Presence and Druidry

What does it mean to be present in the moment as a Druid? For me, it has come to mean being in an active state of relationship and engagement with whatever is around me. That doesn’t have to mean being silent – although silence is fine. It doesn’t require me to be ‘alone’, although being the only human is workable, and some humans demand all that active engagement and make it trickier to engage with the non-human. It certainly doesn’t call for bodily stillness, inner stillness or inner silence.

I measure my presence and connection by my ability to notice and respond to other presences. This may mean noticing details of light and the shape of the land. It may mean seeing birds, wild animals, noticing unusual flowers or seeing how the season is progressing. The more open I am to the wild world around me, the more of it I see. I can hold that openness when reading a book, looking up somehow, magically, as the buzzard spirals above me. I can sit at my computer and be open enough to look up when the nuthatches, woodpeckers and other small birds are active in the tree opposite. I’ve raised my head from work to see a heron fly right past my window. I can have conversations with humans while walking and still notice the deer, and stop for them.

I don’t have to greet the world with an empty head. There can be ideas bubbling away. I may have a song as an inner soundtrack, I may be just letting random thoughts collide, but I certainly don’t need inner silence to notice the dragonflies or to spot a tiger moth. I don’t see the flow of inspiration as any kind of distraction from spiritual work – why would I? Awen is sacred. Experiencing inspiration as thought, energy and emotion is part of what it means to me to be in a state of presence and connection. I am not wholly separate from the rest of the world. My thoughts and feelings are part of my process of experiencing and participating in existence.

Quality may be an important issue. The quality of a conversation, or of silence can vary considerably. The quality of the thoughts in my head. Is my inner soundtrack a beautiful and much loved piece of music or an awkward jangle of half remembered commercial pop? What is the quality of attention I am paying to my surroundings? Do I care about what I’m doing? Care creates depth, richness, and opens the way to a better quality of experience. A person can stare hard at the world and still see nothing, can be silent and still not really hear what’s around them, can see and hear, and still not be moved.

And what is Druidry if not a thinking and feeling participation in existence?