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Herd Emancipation

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.

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The resting place

Finally, alone and unharassed her subdued persona could reconnect with her rebellious by design self; she could listen to the pangs of her longing heart and feel present and alive within her mortal body and not through the relentless latent demands and laments of those near her.

She leant back on the door frame exhausted, agonisingly searching for that support she felt was being eroded day after day; searching for a conduit that would give way to her newly found exuberance and uncontrollable fire. Her stoic backbone pushed firmly against the wood, each vertebra finding solace one at a time, aligned and secure against something she knew would never change, alter or collapse; something that would never let her down. This was the one fortuitous encounter she knew would live up to her unattainable expectations. Two surfaces coming into contact with each other; one inert but unbreakable and unchangeable, the other so alive but frozen in time like the myriad of shapes fossilized in the wood-grain never to be released, and yet so much more present, lasting and transcendent than she would ever be.

If the pig, the lance, the pelican and the hippo can be so vivid whilst trapped by countless years of growth and change, why can’t I shine with such fervor? Why can’t my imprint overcome the limitations of circumstance, uncertainty and fear? – she asked herself over and over again as she also tried to figure out why she was the only one in her large family who could clearly discern these weird and wonderful creatures, otherworldly faces and implements all over the surfaces of the family home: floor tiles, kitchen splash-back, floors, doors. What is the point of such a supernatural gift, if it serves no purpose? She wrestled.

Her anger bubbling up inside at the thought of a higher being all knowing, all seeing and all understanding who played with human beings like string puppets; their lives literally hanging from an almost invisible thread pulled from high above, enthusing them with miraculous glimmers of joy, movement and light and yet condemned for the most part to a life in a dark domestic box wondering when the next bit of ecstasy and meaning would come. She hated being toyed with by humans and Gods alike. She surrendered all of herself in her vulnerable and transparent state to anyone who could glean her mysterious alluring nature. In her universe, no offence was greater than to be lulled into a false sense of security to then be let down and done with in the most savage of ways: silence and indifference.

‘Anger and frustration lead nowhere’ – she heard the frame’s unequaled wisdom reverberate onto the back of her chest. ‘Believe and trust that you have been made to feel and wrestle like this for a reason. Keep the faith, trust your instincts’- words edged and burning on her pronounced rib cage. Rooted once again, having gathered strength and regained balance from that familiar timber refuge, she stood at ease gradually letting go, confidently detaching herself from the one place in her life where she was fed authenticity, hope, meaning and the very much needed reminder that rejection came repeatedly because she did not belong in this world in the first place.

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A case of vanity or self-love?

When you get to my age you finally learn that whilst certain external agents are necessary, vital at times, to lift us out of anxiety, depression, loss or any other soul-destroying circumstance, in the end the only thing that can rescue us from the darkness is truly ourselves.

If there is one lesson I have tried to teach my kids time and time again is this one, because I know that the biggest battles we fight in our life are always the ones we win within, wrestling with ourselves.

I have fought many of these internal battles over the years. When I was young and easily influenced, I relied on other people’s opinion of me to give me a sense of worth and confidence. As an adult, I learnt that even the closest of friends can one day become enemies and that many people who come into your life dressed as sheep are in fact foe; that there are individuals who come into your life for a season to gain something from you and then move on when they got what they wanted. There are others who also identify themselves as friends and are so for a time, but then just like the wind blows in one direction one moment and then in another the next, they change alliance with the blink of an eye and once again, you get put on the shelf or back in the shadows as they move on to the next fool who cannot see them coming. And then there are the kind of friends who genuinely see the best in you, want the best for you and would drop everything to help you out when you need it. And yet, not even those can save you from yourself.

I have learnt that what I thought was vanity is in many instances self-love. When I was younger, I was judgemental, proud, arrogant. Now I know that we all have our own reasons for behaving the way we do. I am not seeking to justify any particular behaviour. I am simply saying that in the later part of my life I have learnt to respect other people’s space and freedom to do as they please. I guess when I was younger my outlook was limited, full of prejudice and blind spots. Now, at 51 I myself have been driven to tight spots I did not know existed, and I have had to alter my behaviour in order to survive, to move forward; a behaviour that my younger, naïve self would have considered totally inappropriate or undignified perhaps. It’s funny how life teaches us time and time again to never judge a book by its cover, and time and time again we ignore that advice and we fall into judgement and rejection of others based on our own prejudices and narrow-mindedness.

I have learnt that it is not worth giving of myself to those who have no empathy, interest or kindness to open the book of my life and read through the pages of the highs and the lows that have led me to be who I am today, before they pass judgement or give their opinion.

I have learnt that the only opinion I should trust when it comes to who I am and where I am going is my own, because even when given with the best of intentions, others’ counsel or guidance is based on their own convictions and experiences, and so what may suit them, does not necessarily suit me.

I have learnt that whilst friends and family are a really important part of a person’s life, the one constant we need to thrive during our time on earth is self-love. The advice given during the safety briefing on a flight to put on your own life jacket or oxygen mask before helping others is for me one of the essential keys to safe living. Sometimes we can be so caught up in looking after others, trying to help others or gaining direction or seeking validation from others that we forget to listen to what our own judgement and gut instinct is telling us; we forget to extend that lifeline to ourselves and in doing so we spend our life wrestling, perpetuating our predicament of a square peg in a round hole.

Today I am practising self-love or vanity, call it what you will. I don’t really care. It helps me to appreciate who I am and how far I’ve come. It reminds me that I am not who or what others may think of me, but I am the truth I see in the mirror every day, warts and all! I am imperfect, unfinished, scarred, blemished and very flawed, but I am authentic and beat only to my own drum.

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Thousands of luminous stares

Spending all this time in the idyllic island of Menorca is really helping me to recognise things about myself which I choose to ignore when I am back at home in the UK, as I am constantly caught up in the frenzy of what is next to be ticked off on my ‘Must do’ list. It is undeniable that this little floating piece of land in the Mediterranean is a precious gem, with its turquoise secret coves, its magnificent sunsets and starry skies, its dramatic storms and fierce winds, its quietude and palpable spirituality; its glorious seafood and the laissez faire attitude of its amiable and accommodating people. I love coming here. I have travelled extensively to very beautiful, awe inspiring places over the years, but I do not feel the same sense of renewal and self-discovery anywhere else as I do whilst I am here.

It is that holiday feel, you may think, but the reality is that I am not really on holiday. We have an office in our house here and we work as hard as we do in the UK. There is no getting away from it when you have your own business. You never really switch off. What is different is that here my soul, my spirit is able to disconnect from the Self much more easily. What I mean by that is that I am one of those people who is constantly battling that negative voice in our head that makes us feel guilty and fearful about everything that is out of our control. It is exhausting; it depletes me of energy, and it robs me of joy every single day. And yet, the moment I set foot on this island, I literally feel like a heavy layer falls off me. When I am at home in England, I am dragging an invisible chain of self-doubt and fear. The very instant I land in Menorca the chains break loose and I get to feel and see not who I am but who I am meant to be. I guess one could call it a near religious experience. It’s addictive, life-affirming, healing and redemptive. It is the epiphany this world needs to experience on a daily basis to rid us from all the external agents we become dependent on to bring us relief from pain and anxiety; agents that like wolves in sheeps clothing bring temporary respite but drive us to a permanent whirlwind of misery and despair.

There is so much unspoilt beauty on this island, so much positive energy. Every sense is empowered, enhanced reminding us with every instant of our beating heart and the fluttering pulse of blood flowing through our veins, that life is not the dark mental labyrinth we get lost in, but every reality we have been gifted with to perceive with our senses when we shut our minds. The taste of the salty sea stinging my lips, the silky warm feel of the water on my skin, the deep colours of the flowers, the metallic glistening of the waters, the blessed miracle of such succulent food on my plate; the feel of the far away Saharan sand brought across with the storms which is a constant reminder that, despite vast distances and expanses, land, sea and life are all desperately connected and interdependent. The delightful scent of ripening fruits becomes a meal in itself; the overpowering presence of fresh rain evaporating no sooner it heats the ground, the incredible moisture in the air alerting us with every breath to how precious water truly is; to how we choose to forget at our own peril that we are the water that we breathe; the sensual perfume of tourists walking past enjoying those fleeting moments of lightness as if walking on endless clouds of freedom before they have to return to their golden cages. The commanding sounds of different sea birds telling us that this island belongs to them, contrasted by the sound of silence, makes me feel connected to whatever is out there, to the universe; to humankind; to what has been before and even what is yet to come. I feel anchored, safe, looked after, rooted and above all guided by forces that run far beyond anything we could ever hope or dare to imagine. As I gorge on all those wonders, Master Fear ebbs away until I feel blessedly weightless.

When I am here, I get to clearly see how truly fearful I am. Little me sat in our terrace on a starry night looking up to that infinitely populated firmament is the quick fix I need when that negative voice begins to whisper in my ear. One quick glance upwards and I forget myself as I see thousands of sparkly lights signalling back at me that it is going to be OK; that everything is already taken care of whether I fret or not; whether I do more or less; whether I beat myself up or not. Thousands of luminous otherworldly stares filling me with awe and the echoes of the supernatural, the beyond, the unknown, telling me to stop wrestling needlessly and to start enjoying the undecipherable and extraordinary gift that life is.

Here I am, for a lifetime!

Nobody tells you this, because getting older is not the kind of subject most people find all that interesting or engaging, but I wish somebody had spoken to me about the pluses of ageing, and trust me, there are a few and they are not to be underestimated.

Yes, it is quite depressing to see one’s body becoming less able, less willing, easing off into the undignified deterioration that silently takes place each day and creeps up on you all of a sudden one fine morning when you look in the mirror. Yes, it is also rather demoralising to lose intellectual ability, concentration skills and that eagerness of your youth to absorb all the knowledge at your reach. Gosh, I remember how in my teens I used to be able to memorise entire books of subjects I was not even that much into, like History of Art. My goal was to get the best grades and apart from the sacrifice of endless hours invested, intellectually my learning was seamless, thriving, limitless. Now, my willingness to learn, my thirst for keeping up with the world is just as eager and sharp, but the in-built tools to do so are somewhat rusty and worn out, saturated from so much use in the past; from firing all cylinders as if my ability to make any kind of impact, to matter would expire by the age of 30.

The pain of feeling the younger generation ‘pushing you aside’ to make way for their own discoveries, trends, ethos, and understanding of how to navigate relationships, the economy, professional pursuits and the meaning of life in general, also rubs salt in the wound of the ageing process. Lord knows, for those of us who have children, the older they become, the more redundant we begin to feel both to them and to the world in general. Their confidence, know-how and freshness is enough to make one forget how much we have achieved in our own life and the fact that like them, we were once young too, full of light, hope, energy, influence and limitless possibilities. Like us too, they will one day, if they are lucky to make it, ponder this very same realisation.

I read something on twitter two days ago which really made me sad. A lady, who said was about to become 65, was pleading with her audience to be liked or retweeted in order to, for once in her life, before either dying or developing Alzheimer’s, become noticed or have any kind of impact on a large scale; to somehow be one amongst the millions of grains of sand which successfully makes an indelible impression on the beach before being washed away by the waves.

It made me very sad, because there is that overwhelmingly dominant and influential opinion around that once you reach a certain age, you are good for nothing, you mean nothing, you add nothing, you offer nothing. We are an intelligent species but we can be so shockingly blind too with the elementary stuff. We are all in this together. We all go through the same cycle of life. It is in our own interest to highly value, nurture and treasure the later years of our life, because just like we all have a beginning, we all have an end. And yet, the moment we begin to age, we are the first ones to throw in the towel, to step aside, cower and hide, giving licence to the rest of the world to ignore and trample on us.

Well, I am not going to silently just step aside and let society, governments or ruthless individuals, men and women, treat me like I am done in this world. You come at me with your youth and your arrogance, and I will serve you a huge dose of perspective and a wake up call, because where I am is where you are also going, so you’ll do well to listen to the pilgrims who have traversed before you that very same road you are now on and are convinced is unique and exclusively paved for you and your own gain and enjoyment.

We can see things that you can’t yet see and have solutions for challenges that you have not yet endured. Our foot, unlike yours, is off the accelerator and we have successfully learnt how to marinade in the spices of all that life has to offer; to relish the traits in others that in our youth we foolishly rejected as irrelevant or unattractive. We have learnt to savour the moment; to discard the prejudices and hang-ups that forced us to live life through someone else’s eyes. If you come at me with your naive understanding and fake manufactured self, telling me I ‘aint no longer got it’, I will tell you that no quality is more alluring, more seductive than being comfortable in your skin and loving yourself, all of yourself; your achy body, crinkly skin and scarred soul. It is only when you accept yourself as you are; when you truly know yourself, that your life acquires the ultimate level of authenticity and freedom which is elusive in our youth. It is only then, in the later part of our lives that we ditch the baggage and learn to soar to the heights we were destined for, and trust me, I would never trade the view and full-on sensory and spiritual presence from up here for the shortsightedness, blind spots and restraining presumptions of my youth.

Our life is what our thoughts make it

This morning I found another short but devastatingly profound quote. This one is by Marcus Aurelius. ‘Our life is what our thoughts make it’. When I read these words the immediate thought that springs to mind is the realisation that amidst a global pandemic that has already claimed so many lives, the real monsters I see devouring people in society are anxiety and depression. I have never suffered from depression or at least I don’t think I have. I have certainly felt depressed on many occasions and have been close to that cliff edge of darkness often enough, but have been providentially lucky to have never actually fallen. Anxiety is the demon I battle regularly. The battles rage in frequency and intensity but I am always fighting that war. Much of it is down to how I am wired, to my genes, but a lot of it is to do with the environment I find myself in and the external agents I choose to put around me or feed from.

Marcus Aurelius statement is so simple yet it encompasses such power, one wonders how so many of us inherently know this to be the truth and yet, we choose to feed our minds with all the wrong things, the very things that are triggers for our thoughts to go on a downward spiral of negativity and self-destruction. We spend so much time of our lives watching tv, feeding our brain with all kinds of images, thoughts, behaviours, responses and attitudes. We spend even more countless hours on social media gulping down negativity, hatred, vileness, insults, threats, misinformation, sheer aggression, scaremongering and endless other sources of fear and hopelessness.

And further still, what about the people that we choose to hang around with, invest our energy in or after whom we mould our psyche, our soul, our behaviour? Why are we all so easily influenced by others? Is it because it is easier to follow than to lead by example? Why do we care so much what others think and in doing so we train our minds to suit the needs of others, when in reality the golden key to an anxiety-free life lies within each of us? If we don’t put our bodies at risk by jumping in a car with someone whose driving skills are decidedly doubtful, why do we allow others’ flawed, damaging reasoning and pathological patterns of behaviour and logic to shape our own?

I have never been a social animal. Quite the opposite: the awkward child who struggled in large social gatherings; who always felt like I didn’t fit in. But why is it so excruciatingly vital to us that we fit in in the first place? I have punished myself mentally for most of my life for being that person that always stood out for hiding in the background in awkwardness. Growing up I didn’t have the ‘know-how’ of how to get out of that rut, but over the years I have been on this path to freedom from ‘outside influences’. Medical staff wear protective equipment when fighting a virus so that the assailant does not enter their bodies. And yet, we are perilous and irreparably careless with neglecting to put a protective shield round our minds everyday. We open up the gates and let all kinds of enemies trample in and rob us of our joy, our peace, our security.

Apart from my family, I have become a bit of an island in my later years. Disillusioned and disenchanted from the very sources of hope, guidance and encouragement most of us entrust our lives and our minds to: religion, the system, politics and even friends. I have learnt to wear that mental shield every single day; to filter carefully what I feed my mind with; who I listen to and whose truth I abide by. I am not lonely, though I choose to be alone in this process of soul-building. The power to overrule the thoughts that determine my quality of mental life resides within me and me alone, so solitude is for me the biggest blessing and not a curse as I have always been pushed to believe.

My double-edged sword!

My heart is so full tonight! On the one hand it aches with guilt at the thought of so many exceptionally selfless, brave and committed individuals who are giving their all to keep us all alive, fed, and content. I am at home looking after the ones I have been entrusted with. Yes, I will be the first one to complain that it is no easy task to always think of other’s needs before one’s own, but my kindness is being extended to those closest to me whom I love and care so much about. It is quite a different challenge to give your all to complete strangers, specially when circumstances dictate that those close to you will in turn go without. Saving the lives of complete strangers; seeing to their every need whilst being torn away from those whose needs you feel compelled to meet even before they feel the need themselves. Such is a mother’s nurturing instinct and double-edged all-consuming gift.

Yet, even though the guilt tugs at my heart like a yoke round a cow’s neck, I feel my heart is bursting at the moment with the sheer joy of being alive one day at a time. They say we cannot see the light without the darkness; we cannot know good unless there is evil or joy unless there is sadness. Such is the ugliness, the horror, the chaos, the inferno that is burning in most hospitals and nursing homes around the country, I feel like as the fire intensifies, so have my senses been re-tuned and enhanced. The bigger the hooded claw reveals itself to the world, the more uplifted I feel by the supernatural around me. As the darkness around us has grown, so has the light within me.

The colours of the flowers in my garden are so much deeper and pure. Their hypnotic scent impregnates the whole of my being and lifts me into a kind of Eden where there is no pain or hurt, no death or loss, no fear, just hope and exhilaration at the thought of taking in another breath of treasured, infinitely sought-after air.

The birds are evermore present and synchronised, and I am treated to a new symphony of sheer acoustic delight and perfection every evening, as I catch the last rays of the incandescent zenith that proudly stares intently at me throughout the day, jealous, capricious, resenting its isolation; longing to be down here enjoying with me the myriad of inexplicable equations of nature that makes for a heaven and a hell simultaneously coexisting in perfect harmony.

Even the Poplars just the other side of my garden, which always stand so haughty and aloof, have thrown caution to the wind and dare to waltz in my presence, reminding me with their soothing sway that I will once again be at one with the ocean. The ocean, like me, toils tirelessly back and forth under the guise of freedom. And yet, its repetitive motion in the confines of habit reveals a soul that is enslaved and far too entrenched in its own familiar rhythm to ever brave the unknown.

Poplars waltzing!
A robin nesting outside my kitchen door. His eyes speaking right at me the words he is unable to utter!