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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have been struggling lately trying to find topics I could write about that I find engaging or inspiring. I have to feel passionate about the subject of my writing or else how can I possibly reach out to anyone reading my words? After all, whilst writing is for me primarily an escape valve for pain, frustrations and hopes, I also write because I have always felt this innate need to connect with other people on a much deeper level; to feel a ‘spiritual’ bond with like-minded individuals whose journey of discovery resonates with mine. Sharing how we truly feel and opening ourselves up to debate and being mighty challenged in our deeply rooted principles is the best way to avoid blind spots or prevent oneself from falling into tunnel vision. Truth and revelation is what I seek, not ego-stroking or adulation.
So this morning I was looking at some quotes and this quote by William Shakespeare really caught my attention. ‘No legacy is so rich as honesty’. A whole life could be summed up in those words. At a first glance, it would seem like a very tempting epitaph that looks impressive, but does not tell us much about a specific person, and yet on close inspection, the implications and consequences of a life lived with honesty with others and specially with ourselves, are infinite and forever transformative.
I often feel purposeless these days. Middle-aged woman whose two children have or are soon flying the nest. A job I fell into by life’s funny twists and turns, which far from fulfills me, but helps realize another person’s dream and in turn allows us to support other people’s dreams who are not as fortunate and privileged as we are. A love for writing that cannot be materialised because in order to do it justice and give it its best chance, I would have to drop everything and live solely for myself, neglecting the needs and hopes of those around me. Some people are able to do that, but as much as I would like to be that ruthless, I simply can’t do it. It is not how I am wired, and what is the point of pursuing the dream, if in doing so your dream becomes a nightmare because you are consumed with the guilt of having trampled upon all you have built up to that point; in doing so you trample upon the dreams and hopes of those who have been entrusted to you? I believe in the power of bringing life into this world, but I also firmly believe that with that miracle comes a huge responsibility that never goes away, should never go away. It blows my mind to think that a part of us lives on forever through those who come after us. If you are a parent, you will know what I am talking about; how there is so much of ourselves in our children that when we die, our soul truly goes on, our spirit lives on in the legacy we have left with every example, lesson, instruction, caution, warning, encouragement, wisdom, every single word we ever uttered to our children, but not just to them, to every other human being we ever came into contact with. Every single action we take or do not take, every word we say or don’t say, affects the outcome of a much bigger reality.
It does make me feel really down at times to think that I spent the first half of my life veering towards a goal, the exploration and perfecting of a passion, a gift, a calling, and the other half neglecting that innermost need and revelation of who I am supposed to be. And yet, a quote like this reminds me that we don’t live alone in this world. Life is not about me, myself and I as much as society, trends and culture today try to convince us that we are. We are inexplicably but undeniably connected to each other, generations past, present and yet to come. Humanity is a mind-boggling concept that can only be comprehended when we see it as an atomic force that only has meaning when seen as the sum of each and every single part, not when we consider each individual and their legacy in isolation. Each person’s legacy is achieved thanks to the example, knowledge and sacrifice of someone else. None of us act alone in this world, not really. We have a debt of gratitude to ‘what’ brought us into being, we have a duty I feel to honour that.
Perhaps my egotistic desire to realise my hopes and dreams was misplaced all along. Perhaps that constant feeling of frustration for hopes deferred is not due to my soul feeling incomplete because I have not reached my purpose, but rather friction in my life continues because I am not willing to accept that indeed the richest legacy I can leave behind is honesty: truly looking within and accepting that despite my dreams of a grandiose materialised potential, be it professionally, as a member of society, a lover, a friend, the simple but painful truth lies in accepting I am just another human being whose significance and value lies simply in passing on to my children the very heavy baton of understanding that we never travel alone, and we therefore, whether we like it or not, have a responsibility not just to ourselves but each other to fulfill our purpose, yes, but never forgetting that the choices we make exponentially condition the choices of others, and that we can afford such choices only because others before us were honest and humble enough to accept that a chain only has unbreakable, limitless power when every link remains deeply interlinked to another.
I can only make sense of humanity as a collective whose parts are of equal value, share equal dignity and potential. It is painful accepting that I am not the protagonist of my own story, but when were truth and honesty that palatable? People often talk about not wanting to have any regrets when they come to the end of their life. Well, I believe every single human being will have some regret at the end, because none of us have it all figured out when we start or even half way through this journey, so inevitably we will come to the end still doubting some of our choices, wishing we made others. Given that premise that we all die with some regrets, I don’t want to look back on my life and only see a Narcissus staring at its own reflection on the water, being so caught up in its own radiance that she misses out on the bigger picture, the bigger purpose and meaning of it all, whatever that is.
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.
‘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.