I cannot believe it has been six months since I last wrote on my blog. It is funny, a couple of weeks ago I found myself having an etymological discussion with my four siblings about the origins and meaning of the word ‘procrastinate’. If only I had explained to them my absolute inability to summon my elusive writing muses to my desk, they would have understood the procrastinate notion perfectly well. No, we are not a family of nerds who choose lexical dilemmas as our favourite ‘catch up’ subject. We simply like to keep our WhatsApp group-chat fresh, jovial, and didactic. Otherwise, we all end up yoked by the all-consuming worry of a father battling and losing to Alzheimer’s and a mother whose precious last years are being devoured by the sense of sacred loyalty vowed to a man whom she no longer recognises and inevitably resents.
I suppose writing is like running. The more you challenge yourself, the better you get at it. Ironically too, the better you get at it, the bigger the pressure you feel to regularly oil the engines so as not to lose momentum, productivity, and quality of work. Sometimes that pressure to keep up with your own self can be so asphyxiating; it can create such a sense of dread of failure, that it is easier to just stop so as to avoid any disappointment.
Who am I trying to kid, right? We all know the real reason any writer worth his/her salt puts off writing, is because we are painfully aware that with every word, every admission, every nuance, another secret door opens onto our complex and wretched soul, and who voluntarily stands naked in public up close and personal for all to stare, scrutinise, judge or worse still, be indifferent to? You would have to be mad, wouldn’t you? Specially in this day and age where humanity takes much more pleasure in destroying, savaging, and breaking apart rather than building up, encouraging, and edifying others.
Writing when done properly, authentically, unreservedly is indeed a tremendous act of courage. And who willingly chooses to tread where the brave dare not go?
Another invigorating dawn full of promise and light. Verity had battled a premenstrual migraine for two days now and she resisted going out on the boat with her family and the couple who one day, not too far from now, would take over the business. She often succumbed to her partner’s will. She was no pushover though, but rather she was enamoured with her newly found mental tranquility and no one, not even her partner’s all guns blazing attitude was going to come between her and her hard-won new best companion.
Ten knots of wind may not seem much to a seasoned sailor, but she knew better than to put herself through any experience on the water that flooded back into her consciousness the memories of terror on the Adriatic Sea, especially in front of friends whom she was trying to impress with her dexterity in that vast untameable wilderness. Besides, she had now grown accustomed to guaranteed lush days out on the turquoise waters, bronzed skin, toned tum and legs, a vision in a bikini, wine flowing, the feeling of the water lovingly caressing her skin without expecting a reaction from her; the gentle rocking of the boat as she laid on her side admiring other fit bodies whilst being admired. She was the queen of her castle on the waves; she had now learnt to control her presence at sea rather than the sea controlling her, and no one was going to rob her of that place she had earned with sweat, blood and tears, so many tears.
Choosing to stay at home was not easy feat however, as it forced her to face other demons. It had now been two months since she had last sat down to write anything, and this weighed heavily on her mind. She was fully aware that writing, like a muscle, has a memory and the more you do it, the better you get at it, the more seamless the outcome becomes. Verity was loyal to a fault, mainly loyal to her own self. She detested anything that had even the slightest whiff of betrayal or deceitfulness. Her craft was her hidden treasure and like precious stones, no imitation would do. Her gems could only be identified as hers if born out of a purifying fire; a long process of sieving out the impurities until the real beauty of her misunderstood soul emerged for all to see. The long spells of drought in her creativity were for her the honesty she needed to honour and let breathe in order to later on produce anything she deemed worth expressing and more importantly, reading.
Initiating a writing session was for her like opening Pandora’s box or walking into a cave full of mystery and revelation; a cave where one could get lost and be confronted with the scariest of sights or maybe one which let in the sunlight; where one could see themselves reflected on its pools of water and like Narcissus be transfixed by one’s own beauty. Verity had always considered herself to be rather conservative and measured but what most attracted her to the act of writing was its gambling nature; the possibility of coming away from it a richer being or feeling completely robbed of her most guarded secrets. She loved the thrill of it, the unpredictability of it, its edginess; the way it forced her to lose herself in those pages and to explore who she really was in a safe private space away from judgement and expectation.
It is excruciatingly painful to try and feel inspired to write these days. People tell me I am a positive person, but most do not realise that although I am instinctively so, the negative voice in my head never lets up. For every positive thought that my brain labours to produce, the hooded claw bounces it back with a double whammy of negativity, smashing any hope of gaining ground; of turning a mediocre day into a day fully lived.
The truth is COVID-19 has revealed for many of us an uncomfortable truth: what are we without a purpose? Who are we if not clogs in the economy machine? What is the point of us if not to keep producing, to keep consuming insatiably? Nothing seems to make sense unless we are rushed off our feet working, striving, competing, gaining, comparing ourselves to the next person. On the one hand, COVID-19 is giving us enough time to ponder on the fact that many of us are not truly sure of who we are when you take away our social circles, our jobs, our sustenance, our communities, our freedoms. The hours go slowly and uncomfortably as we have too much time to think and realise that maybe half our life has already been wasted busying ourselves with busyness but not really living, not really being, not really participating in the miracle that our life and life all around us is. On the other hand, we agonize as news of thousands of deaths is hitting us daily; we struggle to comprehend the gargantuan effort it takes for so many to simply keep on living, prospering, growing and yet, the strife, the battle can be snatched out of our hands unexpectedly with one swift final breath, in one achingly solitary instant. What was it all for? Did we really live or was it life itself that went in and through us?
This last year has also acted as a filtering process which has set apart those who like to swim with the current and those who have enough discernment and courage to think for themselves and act accordingly. As a result, so has increased the number of people who appoint themselves as judge and jury; often individuals who lack the initiative, the bravery, and the curiosity to stand up and challenge the status quo. Instead, they sit in judgement of those who do, because it is easier to detract the attention from their own ignorance, cowardice and fear and focus it instead on those who break from the herd and follow their own path at all cost. Much has been discussed about ‘Herd Immunity’. Perhaps the real point of contention here should be ‘Herd Emancipation’.
A few years back my family and I were holidaying in St. Vincent, the Caribbean. A huge storm hit our beach resort which was located in a valley by a river leading to the sea. As the sea surged, the riverbanks overflowed and within a short period of time our resort was almost completely flooded. The resort management instructed everyone to head to the emergency meeting point which happened to be one of the restaurants on the edge of the resort right by the beach, not that much higher up than the rest of the resort. At that point, I suggested to my husband that the sensible thing to do was to go higher up. We discussed it as a family and in that instant, we knew our lives were at risk and keeping with the ‘herd’, obeying instruction was not an option for us.
We sought higher ground and managed to climb various floors within the concrete block of flats where the resort staff lived. From the balcony of the flat where one of the members of staff lived who kindly let us in, we watched in shock and horror as rain continued to pour, the river began to burst its banks, and the beach was rapidly being taken over by the sea. Hours later, a member of the management team came looking for us as we were the only residents of the resort unaccounted for. They took us down to the restaurant and we had a very mixed welcome. Some showed joy and relief when they saw us. They were kind and found us chairs and a blanket to sleep on. Not surprisingly, in stark contrast there were those who frowned and gave us hateful looks for daring to challenge authority and act based on our own judgement. We were being punished for having the audacity to think for ourselves. And so goes the human race.
Whilst we regret enormously having caused concern and worry to those who came looking for us, we will never regret having made that decision in such extreme life-threatening circumstances. As morning came, we saw the devastation caused by the storm and learnt that people had died that night right there in our resort. The restaurant where everyone was gathered was ok, but it could have been very different. They were just incredibly lucky. They could have all been swept away so easily, had the surge been any greater or the storm lasted longer.
That night I went to sleep with a clear conscience. As a parent I took the decision to challenge authority and follow my own judgement and gut instinct to protect myself and my family. If anyone wants to judge us for doing that, it is on them, not me. I would do exactly the same now with hindsight, if a similar situation ever presents itself again. I will do what I have to do to protect myself and those entrusted to me as best as I know how, even if that means breaking from the herd, going against ‘the rules’.
This global pandemic is also pushing people to their limits in more ways than one and it is revealing people’s true character or lack of. Will you be the person that sits in judgement of others’ choices and right to choose or will you be the individual who extends a blanket and tells you they are so glad that you are still alive? I know whom I would rather be and whom I would rather have by my side.
With every day that goes by I am learning that a successful life is one where we learn to live each day on the assumption, the knowledge that acceptance and rebellion are two sides of the very same process of existence. Suffering as a result of our limitations and triumph based on our unique potential go hand in hand. When Acceptance’s work is done in us, it gives way to the unimaginable possibilities of Rebellion, and on and on the cycle goes until we come to the end of our beating heart. It is hard for me to imagine however, or even accept that there can be so many visible and invisible mighty forces that come into place whilst we live, but it all ends when we die. Surely when the limitations of our finite body get the better of us, all the other forces which we can clearly sense but cannot see whilst alive, come into the fore. Indeed, it is our finite nature that dictates in us we choose acceptance, so once our fleshly bodies are no longer holding us back, what is stopping our spirit from literally soaring?
Living is like a game of tug of war, a perpetual tension of pulling and simultaneously letting go almost involuntarily, because we subconsciously know that in order to gather the strength to keep going, we have to ease off every now and then; we have to pace ourselves and put the emphasis and energy in all the right places or else we burn out before we even get a chance to discover why we are here; we have to accept that we cannot control everything and that we have certainly no power or rule over the outcome of most unexpected challenges thrown our way.
And yet, there lies the glorious part of this journey: we know we have no choice but to succumb to the inevitability of our sorrow predicament, but it is in the very act of surrendering our will that we become unstoppable forces for change, for altering the very course of events we feared were already written in the stars. The blessing comes when we come to the end of ourselves; when we recognise our insignificance; when we know our place in the infinite scheme of reality. Even though we all know where there is a beginning there most certainly is an end, our end, with every passing moment we become more present, more fully aware of the importance of rebelling against that final chapter; of making our time here count; of sieving the clatter that blinds us and deters us from being the best we can be; of getting the furthest we possibly can in our gifting, our dreams, our humanity and above all our spirituality, that dimension none of us can see but we all know deep in our soul, is what underpins everything we are and do.
I have had to confront some tough shit this week. My initial and immediate reaction was to panic, to crumble under the pressure, to be suffocated by negativity. Like I said, it is a process of pulling and tugging, of wanting to control what is way beyond our control, but then comes acceptance, surrender. Sometimes we get too big for our own shoes. We convince ourselves we are superheroes, mini Gods that go around solving every problem, creating magic for ourselves and others. In reality, we are weak, flawed, and far, far from supernatural.
Days passed and I began to pull myself together again. When acceptance comes, a huge weight is instantly removed from our shoulders. So much so, that the coin is at that very moment flipped and rebellion begins to dominate the picture. And by rebellion I mean, the fire in our belly, the ability to remind ourselves that though there is much adversity over which we have no power, the key to living is simply shifting the focus to the things we can actually do and then we move forward one step at a time, never paying attention to our limitations on any given adverse circumstance but only to our strengths or gifting, or in other words, take the good and run. Run and never look back.
Life is all about choices. It is foolish of us to choose to feel defeated about those things over which we have no real say or power. Instead, there is immense potential in positioning ourselves in such a place where our attention is only given to the things we can actually change and improve around us. At the same time, ugly stuff, evil, decay, pain and sorrow are all of our companions on this journey. We may travel together but that does not mean we have to hold hands for the duration. Rebellion is all about the fighting spirit in us, having the humility to know who we are and who we are not, but accepting the challenge and growing the courage to be of use and a catalyst for transformation in the things and areas we have been gifted with. I think each of us knows deep down what those areas are, because it is precisely when we exercise them that we feel most alive, most fulfilled and at peace with ourselves and the world.
This morning I went on my daily walk with Jakey, our gorgeous black Labrador. I flipped the coin and instead of using that time to sink further into my problems and limitations, I homed in on the goodness that flows from acceptance and surrender. I became a rebel and drew incredible positive energy from the equilibrium, vibrancy and sheer extravagance of nature. Lord knows, I am no super-hero, but I sure felt like one by the time I got back home filled with hope and the loud echoes of the still small voice quietening my soul. There are so many forces at play in the universe. Some we see, some we don’t, but the greatest strength of all will never be dwelling in our limitations, but rather in knowing exactly where our transformative power lies and owning it fiercely and unashamedly.
Here are some of the moments I fed on during my walk.
Her ship had sailed once again. “Lord, why do I keep doing this to myself? When will you give me enough courage?”, she desperately asked out loud. The walls of her house so downcast, so worn with always hearing the same lament echoing through them. Verity stood on that achingly familiar imaginary dock as she sat round the kitchen table, gazing at the intensely alluring horizon with a choking lump on her throat at the crucifying realisation that for the hundredth time she had come in touching distance of embarking on the trip of a lifetime to her promised Shangri-La. Once again, however, she had also boycotted her own free pass to a new life; a new birth; a fresh journey of discovery through which there would be for the very first time in ages, no baggage, no plans or expectations, neither resentment nor unforgiveness, no limits, just a glimmer of hope with every sunset; a nugget of opportunity to soar with every breath taken in aided by the sea breeze. She had once again subconsciously but without fail, aligned every detail of her life in such a way that yes, she would allow herself to play the game of abiding by the fire of longing, like a moth round a flame, but always with the paralyzing certainty that this ‘Odyssey of Freedom’ game she had invented, would, as it always did, come to a sore end, and that she would lose and she would lose big.
She had already resigned herself years ago to be denied a life free of duty and expectation; a life that exponentially gains momentum when not lived just for others, owed to others, shaped by others. She had given up on that a long time ago. What really buried her soul like a ton of granite and wilted it one depth further at a time; what truly permanently anchored her feet, was the painful admission that there was nothing and no one really standing in her way to entering the God-inspired life she felt so inexplicably drawn to. The only thing stopping Verity from living her unique and undeniable truth was simply herself, her paralising fear and inexcusable lack of courage.
Like an addiction, she repeatedly enjoyed embarking on that imaginary trip of the what ifs and the maybes, pushing the boundaries of acceptable possibilities and controlled risks; reaching her ecstasy but always knowing that no matter how far she pushed, how far she ventured out, when the hybrid game of fusing day dreaming and reality came to its end, she would always find herself firmly stood on that dock, defeated, ashamed, frustrated, but at least loved and validated by those whose own illusory Shangri-La depended on Verity never truly taking that final step forward from the punishing dock toward the unequaled promised land of self-discovery and self-fulfillment. A land which she had convinced herself was only destined for the truly great.