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.
It always throws me out of kilter how we live life with such breathless intensity, with such a sense of self-importance. We strain and strive to seek purpose and we convince ourselves that we are the movers and the shakers, that the entire world will cease to be, should we stop to actually take a deep breath and savour the act of simply being alive. And yet, at a moment’s notice all that relevance, meaning and feeling that we are right where we are meant to be, comes crumbling down, is pulverised when we learn about the passing of another or their terminally ill diagnosis.
I had such news about an old friend this morning, and quite frankly, I am shocked to the core. I mean, I am a fairly positive, driven person who is industrious and eager to make life better for those around me, those dependant on me, and at various stages of my life also for strangers in need. My life makes complete sense. I am on a journey, and I am increasingly aware that to every beginning there is an inherently tragic end, but nothing prepares you for the sense of weightlessness, irrelevance even, that the news of someone’s sudden, unexpected death inundates us with.
Humans are desperately born into an existential dilemma; and unsolvable equation: in order for our lives to be maximised, to garner the utmost sense and purpose, common sense forces us to become selfish, self-absorbed, limited in our sight. We choose a lane in our journey, and we stick with it, because we know a race is only truly won if we focus primarily on what is around us, if we persevere to the end. And yet, living that way equates to applying a tight blindfold on ourselves. We enter a period of denial about our rightful place in the universe, about our irrelevance when confronted with the bigger picture. Is it safe or even ethical to live any other way, though? Can we truly live if we are permanently aware and reminded of our own finiteness? Wouldn’t that be the same nonsensical behaviour as barricading our own exceedingly small window of opportunity to live in the moment, to savour every breath, every experience enjoyed or hoped for? When I heard the news of our friend who has had a severe brain bleed and whose prognosis, if he comes round, is to live the rest of his life in a vegetative state, my sense of self just went up in smoke. What is this absurd game called life that we put every fibre of our being into taking part in and winning, if that elusive higher power can just arbitrarily and abruptly throw us out of the game? What is the point of even playing if our odds overwhelmingly point to losing before we get to the end that we strived and hoped for? Numb in my kitchen in my family’s presence, time stopped, and I felt as if I were standing in front of a mirror, but I could see nothing. No before, no now, no tomorrow. Nothing, just a fleeting shadow embodying a gradually intangible lifetime. What is the point of it all if after all the striving, the worry, the suffering, the fear, we can just seamlessly go from being the masters of our universe to the dust in someone else’s journey?
The last few weeks have been nothing short of a psychological study for me on twitter. I did not set out to do one, but psychology found me, swept me up in this whirlwind of human need, and I simply could not just watch it all happen and ignore it.
Throughout this whole process, I have screamed, I have ached and cried inconsolably. I have laughed, felt overjoyed, been loved and rejected all at once within the same day. I have despaired and felt waves of stormy anger and frustration engulf me whole. I have been reminded by well-intended friends that social media is a tricky and ferocious animal to handle; that none of it is real and nothing is what it seems, and yet, this advice came at the hands of those who breathe in social media the moment they wake up and do not stop to exhale its poisonous, dubious air until their head hits that pillow. Any advice is rendered ineffective if those giving it conduct themselves in a way that disproves their own wisdom. Of course Social Media is real; a parallel reality it may be, but a reality nevertheless. Its deceitful, pantomime-like and bordering on sinister dark corners, often remind me of a Venetian Carnival where people hide behind the most alluring and exquisite of masks to reinvent themselves and step beyond the boundaries of what they would never contemplate doing or saying in real life. The mask however does not alter the person behind it, not really. It may appear so for a while, but eventually one can truly see the gaze behind the glamour and the glitter; the cracks seeping out past traumas, deep hurts and weakening fears that though deeply hidden, betray our newly found identity & automatically exclude us from the romanticism and Utopian mirage of the Masquerade Ball.
There is much that remains a mystery to me about human behaviour, but I have been able to draw some conclusions from my interaction with a number of people on twitter. Most of all, I have been able to find truth as we often do, by simply stepping away and like a fly on a wall, watch it all unfold; letting individuals show their true character and betray their own perceived integrity when they thought no one was really paying any attention.
I have learnt that at an age when we have all the gadgets and the gizmos, when we can be on the other side of the world on the same day and social media dominates and dictates the lives of so very many, never has our need to feel included and loved been greater. There is an impossibly achy loneliness abounding in the secret chambers of the virtual world. Society, even pre-Covid, has been bleeding out and failing to live up to its definition, because the social element has been abducted from right under our feet and a poor substitute has made islands of each and everyone of us trying to find ourselves and each other. The most alarming element of this phenomenon is the fact that most of us have loving families around us and a network of friends or support of one kind or another and yet, we are the lost faces in a multitudinous crowd crying out for acknowledgement, begging to be heard and understood. There is a desperate need to matter at a time when circumstances have made us finally acknowledge that in the scale of things, between the now and the beyond, we truly matter very, very little, and so we gasp desperately trying to hold on to some sort of significance. The more we realise we are but a grain of sand on the beach, the more egotistical and self-centered we become; the more we veer towards mob mentality instead of accepting each person on their own merit and essence. And of course, the power of social media is boundless and so trends that dominate on the virtual world, irremediably feed into our daily lives, our homes, and ultimately our surroundings. Before we know it, we are turning our society into the most inhospitable place there ever was; an Eden made into a hell, and it is all of our own making.
I have also learnt that at a time when we have more resources than ever; when we are potentially more powerful than ever; we are the weakest beings we have ever been. We lack backbone and deeply rooted convictions. We would rather be a Judas than a Peter; we need to be all things to all people in order to find worth, instead of remembering that it is our uniqueness and not our tribal ancestry that defines us and sets us aside to pursue our own purpose; to make that small difference that no one else can make. We have become cowards that hide behind the group instead of standing on our own two feet when we see injustice, lies and witch-hunts. Our morality and creed blow whichever way the wind takes them. We are chameleons that change colour depending on who is watching. We take a side in an argument with our words but then our actions discredit the very point we have just made. We are in essence regressing to a herd mentality where the blind is leading the blind; where leadership stems from popularity as opposed to integrity tested in the furnace of adversity and going it alone.
I have learnt, and this is the one that has broken me the most, that there are individuals who are indeed beyond rescue. I had two uncles who committed suicide, but I have always believed that what led them to such an unthinkable tragic end was probably a lack of a supportive network or adverse circumstances. Well, I have encountered on twitter individuals who by their own admission are rotten apples, messed up and broken; they hurt others because they simply do not know how to be any other way; they carry deep scars from the past and open wounds that are beyond healing. They look up to people who are no longer around, and they live their lives through their eyes instead of their own. I have learnt that no matter how much light you see still shining within that person; no matter how clear you see the path that they need to follow, nothing will change until they make a decision themselves to break loose from their ghosts and their demons. I have learnt that being rejected by such individuals is not a reflection of my inability to be loved or accepted by them but rather their dismal failure to love, accept and forgive themselves.
It is pouring down outside. Autumn is properly on its way and I feel the exuberance and zest of summer-living gently easing off and giving way to melancholy, days of endless reflection and dampness in the air; lazy afternoons of cosy cuddling up to myself in front of a warm fire binge watching my favourite series of the moment. I love the contrast in the seasons. Spring is without a doubt my favourite season, but I also love and nurture the symbolic meaning which transpires into our daily living carried by each of the other seasons too. I love how the smell of the air we breathe changes as we move from one time of the year to another; I welcome with anticipation how my soul is predisposed to feel differently as the sun no longer dominates the days, and heavy downpours and windy days take its place. Today is the perfect day to listen to one of my favourite artists: Amy Winehouse and one of my favourite songs of hers: ‘Love is a losing game’. Here are the lyrics:
For you I was the flame Love is a losing game Five story fire as you came Love is losing game
One I wished, I never played Oh, what a mess we made And now the final frame Love is a losing game
Played out by the band Love is a losing hand More than I could stand Love is a losing hand
Self-professed profound Till the chips were down Know you’re a gambling man Love is a losing hand
Though I battled blind Love is a fate resigned Memories mar my mind Love is a fate resigned
Over futile odds And laughed at by the gods And now the final frame Love is a losing game
Every time I hear the first chords of this song, I have to stop whatever I am doing. It’s like a familiar, gratifying voice; like an alter ego or an older me counselling my inexperienced self, a blessed invisible friend gently whispering: ‘I told you so’. I have often wondered what it is about this particular piece that touches me so. Love certainly is the most complex of emotions, and yet the one we crave the most, like manna in the desert. I guess I relate on a very deep level with the honesty in the song; the candid message; the acceptance of inevitability as we embark on a relationship; the inevitability of disappointment, unimaginable hurt and emptiness. And yet, and even though we know the odds and how much we stand to lose; how acute the pain can feel, we still choose the losing hand time and time and time again. Why? Oh why?
Well, I clearly don’t have the answer but I think the message in the lyrics of another one of my favourite songs by Rebecca Ferguson ‘Nothing’s Real but love’ may have something to do with it.
Standing in a line Wonder why it don’t move Tryna get a hand Watching people break the rules And maybe the man in charge Doesn’t like my face But then this world’s not always good
And nothing’s real but love Nothing’s real but love No money, no house, no car, Can beat love
They watch us open-mouthed As we joke around like fools See who can be the worst Watch what I can do But then the door gets slammed, Slammed right in my face And I guess this world’s not always good
And nothing’s real but love Nothing’s real but love No house, no car, no job Can beat love
It won’t fill you up No money, no house, no car Is like loveLa la la la la la la la YeaaahI put it all away Holding it back for a rainy day But what if that day don’t come I need loveNo money, no house, no car Is like love
It don’t fill you up It won’t build you up It won’t fill you up It’s not love!And nothing’s real but love No money, no house, no car Is like love
Nothing’s real but love
No money, no house, no car Is like love
As I continue to try and figure out why to love and wanting to be loved is hands down a human’s deepest need and at the core of our being even though it is also the emotion that can destroy us from the inside out; it is the one experience that makes us feel so real, so complete, but also so broken and defeated, I hold on for dear life to what I know for sure: I love my dog and my dog loves me, and that’s good enough for now.
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.
The morning after is always an interesting one. It feels like Christmas morning when I was child. You get up full of adrenaline and excitement at the prospect of finding something wonderful and unexpected to remind you that you are loved and understood; you jump off the bed with just one urgent thought in mind: What’s under the tree? Yes, I admit it. What others think about me is of vital importance to me; what others think about me as a writer, that is. As with any craft and its master, I live to discover how my writing is received and interpreted by others; how it makes them feel; what emotions stirs within and thought processes it triggers, and consequently what changes in attitude or behaviour it brings about, if any. Does my writing act as a mirror to others inciting identification and change, or as the mirror they run a mile from, because the honesty it echoes is too raw, too vivid to handle?
The only Christmas present I long to find under my tree is simply a parcel. It does not matter to me whether that parcel contains coal, the rejection or criticism of my thoughts, my writing style or gold dust and precious jewels in the form of adulation and praise. It is the symbolic act of placing a parcel under my tree that fills my soul with a sense of purpose and achievement. It confirms for me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be and that, is like manna in the desert in a world where with every news piece, the sense of our sacred, untouchable habitats spiraling out of control is becoming more and more undeniable; and our souls subsequently dying by slow drought, the one and only verifiable experts’ prognosis.
A parcel under my tree tells me irrefutably that another human soul made the conscious effort, the choice, which today is no insignificant feat seeing as everyone has something to say, to visit my blog, click on the link and open the door to my life, to my soul, to the secrets hidden in the depths and the crevices of my innermost being, bubbling up incessantly at the epicentre of my soul.
That beautifully humble, empathetic, understated parcel under my tree whose gift within I am still unaware of, is for me the gift itself. I don’t need to know or care much for what’s inside. The parcel itself is the best of gifts a writer could ever hope for; it’s a moment of magical, supernatural ignition between, more often than not, two strangers whose souls have connected in an invisible dimension, even though they are ignorant of each other’s past, present and future. The fusion between the two minds is of such magnitude at that prolonged instant when the words were written by one and soon after read by the other, that it forces the two human beings like two stars thousands of miles apart in outer space, to make a meteoric journey in order to acknowledge, reach out to each other. They cannot see each other and yet at that very moment of contact, despite the emotional distance of two lives so apart, they clearly see, hear and understand what lies deep beneath their facades.
These rare moments of human love being unconditionally, freely exchanged are beautiful, extraordinary things, in a day and age of tribalism and so much hatred for anything that falls outside the perimeters of what makes up our own identity. It is bordering the supernatural in today’s existence to encounter those elusive moments of inexplicable connection, empathy and in essence exchanges of human love, where there is no need to establish who is right or wrong, who knows more than the other, who is better than the other. They are simply put instants of unconditional, divinely inspired love which act as the miraculous cure to the wounds of a very sick world.
Yesterday, I wrote an extract of what one day could turn into a novel. Every now and then I like to test the waters, feel the temperature, and see who is out there, if anyone. My comfort zone in terms of writing is philosophical reflections, personal ramblings. My writing does not get the exposure that I would like. I am not digitally competent, and so this humble blog is at present my only creative outlet competing with millions of voices out there which like mine, are desperate to be heard or at least seen.
I have attempted writing a brief chapter of an imaginary work of fiction before, but the response or lack of it is always equally devastating. Whilst my reflective posts get on occasion considerable notice within my small circle of influence, the fictional attempts painfully bounce back in my creative echo chamber. And what is most painful to the soul than finding a present under the tree that tells one that the giver put no thought or consideration when choosing it; that they gave us the gift out of a sense of obligation or in return for a gift we gave them? What’s more painful than a meaningless, thoughtless gift? Well, the most gut-wrenchingly aching moment, so much more than finding the wrong gift under the tree, is for me the total absence of parcels under that tree.
No parcels equates indifference and indifference is to the writer like the invisible virus that gains ground and devours the creative soul of joy and hope one ephemeral day at a time.
I am genuinely intrigued as to why so many identify me as a writer and give me such wonderful feedback with regards to what I write on my reflective posts, and yet even though it is that same soul and spirit that is behind the fictional pieces; even though it is that same human being with whom they had an extraordinary connection, a sense of oneness, no moment of magical fusion, of mutual recognition and acceptance takes place as a result of my fictional pieces. It baffles me.
I would gladly receive at this stage a parcel that contains a gift I don’t like. A bad gift is better than no gift. It shows at least that your creation caused some kind of reaction. The silence, however, I cannot process or comprehend. I am still the same writing voice. It is still the same spirit behind the reflective and the fictional posts, so if I am the same, everything points to the fact that at least some of those magical moments of connection that trigger a new parcel being left under my tree were disingenuous, forced, or simply given with ulterior motive. It is at that moment that I come face to face with the stark realisation that perhaps the absence of parcels under my tree is in the long run better for me as a writer.
I am all about authenticity. Anything and anyone that falls outside of that realm is like a thorn in my flesh, like a stone in my sandals that slows me down on the all important quest of getting to the place where I get to find out who I am and what I am here for. Like a prophet who has heard God’s voice and has been given a promise that will surely come to pass, I blindly and unwaveringly trust and believe that the day will come when the most cherished of gifts will be left under my tree, because it will be the one gift that has been exclusively designed to delight me, to encourage me, to let me know that the giver not only saw me through my writing but saw also the promise of everything I am destined to be and capable of becoming and overcoming.