She sat there feeling defeated, sipping her coffee whilst listening to Massimo Viazzo’s ‘River Flows in you’. The irony of the title of that piece, she thought, her mind filled with visions of a life that flowed like a river: weightless, spontaneous, vibrant, free. Her spirit, however, laid so arid, almost inert gasping for droplets of hope that would then merge and cause her existence to effortlessly flow into a vast sea of yet unopened doors and passageways she felt inexplicably drawn to. By the age of 20, Esperanza had already travelled to USA, UK, Australia, and most of Europe. What happened to me? she thought. At what point in my life did I begin to regress; did I allow my hopes to be rudely replaced by all my fears?
Tears running down her face, sobbing, unable to hold it all in any longer. Maybe ‘Cry me a river’ would have been more apt, she laughed begrudgingly, maybe the purpose of all these tears is to empty out til there is nothing left. Maybe then and only then, she consoled herself, I will experience an epiphany provoked by the avalanche of the mountain of all my tears drowning out my sorrows, and the impact will be of such magnitude that it will force me to finally metamorphose into the butterfly that laid dormant all these years. Hope by name, Hope by nature. Hope was undeniably all she had left.
The problem was that when hope visited, it never came into Esperanza’s consciousness alone. She always arrived holding a mixed bag of responsibilities, a good conscience, a sense of loyalty and all the other laudable attributes we admire on others but know fully well stop us from living the life we really feel we were born to live. What an impossible mix of emotions she had been dealt. How does one live knowing they are sacrificing their dream for a peaceful conscience, when it is that very dream that helps us push on, take another step, breathe life and positivity into those under our care? How does one ingest a poisoned chalice being fully aware that the very act of salvation is irrevocably and simultaneously mired in condemnation?
The conundrum of whether life is an act of selflessness or selfishness kept her awake at night and riddled with anxiety in the day. Her mind told her one thing but oh how her robust beating heart told her quite another. She knew complete peace and stillness would only come when she breathed her final breath. And yet there was far too much joie de vivre in her to surrender into her fate just yet. This agonising battle of what’s right and what is meant was ironically the fuel that fired her soul; a quest for the hidden treasure she was determined to fulfill til she found an answer; even if it turned out it wasn’t the answer she had hoped for all along. Taking on that unthinkable gamble is what gave meaning and purpose to her life but it was also what was killing her restless spirit one bellicose day at a time.
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 sorry 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.
They do say that every cloud has a silver lining. Well, if ever in my lifetime there has been a big, dark, mean, threatening black cloud above us all that needed a silver lining, it is undoubtedly the Corona Virus pandemic.
I know it is a big cliche to point out those silver linings when trying to make the best out of a grim situation, but we would be truly foolish to ignore the blessings of biblical proportion that are being sprinkled all over us right now like gold dust. ‘Blessings???’, I hear you say, ‘Are you completely mad and stupid???’ Indeed, these are unprecedented times of unimaginable suffering, fear and loss affecting each and every one of us to various degrees. It is the very fact that most of us on the planet have been forced to drop everything and be in the moment, that makes this an eerie but unmissable opportunity for us to listen, really listen to what is not being said and see, really see what is unseen.
To me, this whole corona pandemic carries with it a heavy prophetic weight about it. In a sense, it doesn’t matter where it originated from, who or what is to blame. In these situations it does little good to seek blame, to focus our energy on lashing out, on resentment. For me, this is that moment in history when we are all collectively forced to remember, relearn how truly powerless we are in this universe; how we are a microscopic element of an infinitely bigger unfathomable reality. The mighty human being with all its evolution, knowledge and power disintegrates and falters in a split second all brought about by a microscopic cell which can wipe out in the space of days thousands of human beings and bring the whole world to a complete standstill. Our natural (or rather unnatural) order as we know it, turned on its head, just like that. If that doesn’t force you to look beyond the obvious, the immediate; to look at the bigger picture, nothing will. This pandemic has brought about an unprecedented moment of simultaneous collective mindfulness in the modern era; a moment of unprecedented spiritual awareness and reckoning worldwide.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I sense in my innermost being that this moment has been long drawn, and that we have had plenty of warnings that it was coming. I am not referring so much to the Corona crisis itself, but merely to the fact that we have known for a long time now that we are destroying the planet, its resources, its animals and vegetation, the air we breathe, and ultimately ourselves in the process. We had the science, nature and the elements repeatedly sobbing, aching, bleeding, raging, screaming at us simultaneously, showing us they were at breaking point, a point of no return, and yet, despite all of this, humanity for the most part has continued to turn a blind eye and doing ‘business’ as usual. And so, what we couldn’t bring about by ourselves because we are too selfish, too greedy, too blind and proud to accomplish, has now been forced upon us. We did not have the imagination, the courage, the vision to drop everything, take stock and realise that we are living at the 11th hour of human subsistence. This is make or break for the whole of humanity and all the other living systems around us who contribute to our well being and development.
So what are the silver linings or rather gold dust I ‘see’ sprinkled all over us through this existential crisis, this crossroads we have all arrived at simultaneously and which we know not how to navigate?
The air is less polluted! Many rivers are once again transparent, the seas fluid, free from human waste; its creatures leaping with joy as their habitat reverts to what it was designed to be. One can hear the birds chirping, communicating with each other, creating symphonies, when before were muted by the loud sound of plane engines, human endeavors and machinery. Families that have been torn apart are welded as one entity once again; its members previously isolated, driven to loneliness and silenced by the proficiency of technology and the imposition of passing trends, are once again feeling that mighty blood tie and part of an entity that truly matters; that makes sense and gives purpose and a reason for them to be alive today . I see us all having epiphanies; getting back to basics; appreciating joy in the littlest of things; joy in the most rudimentary of activities. Parents truly understanding what it means to be a parent; rediscovering what a blessing, a privilege, a miracle it is to have become one. Husbands and wives acknowledging each other, seeing each other afresh, doing all the things together they were supposed to be doing before all this, all the things that give sense to them being together in the first place. Children being children again, in awe of having the attention and care of their parents 24/7. Teenagers trusting their parents and not the internet, social media or their peers to be their role models or at least their compasses, when it comes to making the big decisions that will affect the rest of their lives.
I see that we have all been forced to look within and as a result beyond ourselves and in turn, are increasingly more concerned about the needs of those around us than all consumed by our own. I see even the proudest of men and women being brought down to their knees when they can but admit that they are beaten, even when to the world they are still keeping it together. Humanity has got too big for its own boots and providentially the natural order of things, karma, God, cosmic justice, call it what you will, has once again knocked on our door, cracked its whip and truly drummed some sense into us through all this imposed inactivity and stillness; it has reminded us of who we are, what we are not and how delicate and incomprehensible is the miraculous force that keeps the balance between life and death, order and chaos, curiosity and pride, humanity and what lies beyond.
‘Comfortable being afraid’ is something I read this morning on https://after-the-rain.org/ and it truly struck a chord deep in my psyche. I can totally relate to that notion! Years ago, a bunch of women including myself who were members of the same church, went on a ‘Ladies Weekend Away’. It was ‘advertised’ as a team-building weekend full of physical and emotional challenges designed to push us beyond our own limitations; to overcome our deepest fears; to build courage and trust. Blinded by years of indoctrination, I swallowed the bait and marched on so proud of myself for putting myself in ‘the line of fire’. I have in my later years grown very afraid of heights, and one of the very first activities we were faced with that weekend was abseiling off a very high bridge above a river. This was it. This was the one: my demon. I let others go first in the hope of watching how they went about leaping over the side of the bridge and beginning their descend. My turn came and even before starting, I was already struggling to breathe; shaking beyond control. Everybody else who had completed the task cheered me on, as did those waiting to have a turn. I put one leg over the side of the bridge, then the other and held on for dear life not daring to look down. The instructor started giving me a pep talk to build me up so I would finally start my descend, but I already knew I was not going to do it.
With every second perched on that bridge ledge came a new wave of suffocating dread. I was utterly paralysed mentally and physically. Couldn’t bring myself to move either way, even though I was already trying to get back on the safe side of the bridge. I burst into tears. I guess it was the huge release I needed to bring me back to myself; I was totally inconsolable once I stepped back into safety. I don’t remember ever crying like that before. Afterwards, I felt dead inside, numb.
As I stood there beaten, ashamed, watching others march on without any fear towards what had been for me a horrific ordeal, I heard one of the ladies ask a question to the vicar’s wife, who happened to have organised this weekend away and had been to this same Activities Centre previously and was therefore well rehearsed in all the activities and confident in her ability to ‘conquer her fears ( didn’t have any)’. I heard this lady ask the vicar’s wife: What happened to Mercedes? Did she do it?, and the vicar’s wife replied with great pride and a shockingly disgusting lack of Christian spirit and empathy: ‘No she didn’t, she chickened out‘.
I don’t know what broke me more int that instant: the realisation that I was always going to have certain fears which I would never overcome, or knowing that so many in the ‘Evangelical Squad’ can be so profoundly clueless as to use an opportunity like this to exalt themselves (not the God they preach to others about), ridicule another person, and further beat them when they are already down.
It took me a while longer to abandon the church system for good, but I know it was in that very instant that I realised the God I believe in was not to be found around those who claim to have all the answers; those who claim to have been called to leadership of any kind; those who proclaim one thing but do quite another. I realised God’s Spirit (and I use that term loosely because I accept that it means very different things to different people) lives within me and it is that voice and that alone I need to heed to and trust.
I also learnt at that very moment a huge lesson about fear. I am not to be ashamed of being scared of doing the things that others can or want to do; ashamed of letting fear stop me from taking on certain new challenges. Who is to say the challenges that are right for you must also be right for me? I do hope, however, that I never lose the ability to be paralysed when tempted to trample down on another human being in their moment of greatest weakness in order to make myself look grandiose to everyone else; to validate my self-perceived greatness. I hope that for every person I encounter in my life who is struggling in any way, I don’t use their weakness as a chance for point-scoring, but rather as an opportunity to lift them up, offer them comfort and a shoulder to lean on; to cry on.
Our biggest fear shouldn’t be not being able to do certain things; to miss certain opportunities; to fail at certain things. Our biggest fear should be becoming so caught up in our own sense of advancement, righteousness and knowledge that we forget we are just human beings not Gods. Is it really courage that makes us overcome our greatest fears or is it pride that makes us think of ourselves higher than we ought to; pride that gives us the determination to beat our own limits, because we cannot bring ourselves to accept that we are after all limited beings?
There is a reason why we experience fear. We are imperfect beings without all the answers. We are lost creatures in the midst of a vast unknown. Being fearless means losing sight of that awareness and dangerously inflating, stroking our egos; it means we forget ourselves and set ourselves above others whom we no longer see as equals but as the rivals we need to beat in order to protect our own and others’ notion of our superiority.
I am very comfortable these days being afraid. It keeps me grounded. It keeps me humble. I take risks and chances like everybody else, and of course sometimes I make mistakes, but I remain rooted in the awareness of my many limitations, and when I do attempt new scary things, I always try not to trample on others in my pursuit for self development, self-fulfillment, self-discovery.