Who’s in charge here?
I woke up the other morning dreaming that a busy, uncommunicative parking attendant gave me a £416 fine (very specifically, £416!). In protest, I went marching through endless council offices, speaking to person after person, explaining that there had been a mistake – I’d only been there for a moment and was away buying my ticket and hadn’t done anything wrong! But no-one was listening. They just kept repeating their silly rules and insisting that I’d better pay £416 or they’d double the fine. It was so unfair and so frustrating!
Now, its said that all the characters in your dreams represent an aspect of yourself. Hmmn – so I have an inner officious, busy, uncommunicative, petty minded beauracrat, do I?… Oh yes! I recognise her well!
Years ago, when I was part of a Buddhist right livelihood team running an ethical gift shop (a job I loved, but that’s another story) I found my inner officious, busy, uncommunicative, petty minded beauracrat alright. I called her Helga. She was a big, loud, tank-like, German bossy boots who liked everything exactly her own way and for no one to get in it. (Excuse the national type-casting. I do actually relish characteristically German directness and two of my very best friends are German.)
Helga would march around her territory – the throws and cushion department – making sure not a fold was out of place. God forbid someone would talk to her, or worse still, ask her to do something else whilst her mind was on the task! Nowadays, Helga is only usually in evidence at Christmas time when I’m cooking for my guests . “Can I help with ….” “NO!” Helga barks before my poor sister-in-law can finish her sentence. “I’m better on my own!”
Bless her, my mum is similarly self-determining. Her kitchen is her domain and its best to stay clear whilst she’s busy preparing a meal. Like my mum, I love to express my love by providing meals for friends and family and want the kitchen to be all mine as I’m doing so. Also like my mum, I generally think I know best and want to do things MY way, even if it means exhausting myself because I’m incapable of delegating. You can see how this connects with ‘over-giving’ and it not occurring to me to say no, traits I also share with my remarkably generous and extremely dynamic mother.
Love Your Inner Parking Attendant
So the moral of this tale is that it pays to love your inner parking attendant, or any other het-up inner character who pipes up and misbehaves when you are under duress. Making friends with them (or even giving them a pet name like Helga) is the best way to make sure that you remain in overall command of how you behave, not them. If these guys remain unrecognised and un-named they have a habit of taking over automatically and wreaking havoc with your life.
The tricky time is when you are not even aware that we have a Helga or whoever in operation. Some unconscious part of you has been activated by a situation and off it goes pontificating or whining or bashing other people and your bigger self is powerless to do anything about it. It’s like you are possessed. Eventually, rant over, you come around to yourself again and wonder what happened. But by then it’s too late…
However, spotting your particular tendency to flip out (and the situations that trigger them) is really helpful. Even better, giving this aspect of your personality a pet name allows you to have a humourous, affectionate relationship with it. You can then give this protesting character some recognition, validation and attention without letting it take over inappropriately. It’s exactly like handling a naughty child.
And so I’ve also come to understand the good that Helga stands for. She has very high standards and is prepared to work hard to achieve excellence. Actually, she is quite talented and makes an exceptionally good job of things. She is proactive and strong and determined. (Part of my previous Buddhist name, Srimati, reflects this positive aspect. Mati can mean determination or strong mindedness).
The down side of Helga is that she is superior and up herself. She doesn’t rate anyone else or trust that they can do anything useful to help. Superiority is, in fact, a state of defensive fear – you compare yourself with others and set yourself apart in a misguided attempt to protect yourself. You don’t like what you think you see in someone else (some form of weakness or vulnerability) and don’t want to have anything to do with it because you can’t admit to your own weaknesses. However, in cutting yourself off from others (and any experience of vulnerability) you also sever your connection with your true nature which is total and absolute BLISS.
To allow yourself to be connected and intimate with others means allowing yourself to be open and vulnerable. It means admitting that you suffer sometimes, that you are fallible, mortal and fragile. It means being HONEST about your human experience and condition – that failure, loss, and pain are an intrinsic part of being alive.
Oh , Jeez, if we could only just surrender to our true feelings and honour the fragility and impermanence of all things, then we would experience incredible tenderness and joy – that we are utterly linked with one another, that there is indescribable, breath-taking beauty in every moment, that we can totally let go and float on an infinite sea of divine care.
Relaxing into the Fragile Mess
In the modern, developed world we live in a culture where fragility, unpleasantness, suffering, illness, pain and death are kept as far out of consciousness as possible. We create great armies of thought-police and institutions and industries to uphold our collective denial. We work and spend ourselves senseless and never pause long enough to breathe properly, never mind smell the coffee! And then when we get to the top of our ambition mountain – the successful husband and kids, the million dollars in our bank account, the huge house overlooking the sea – we wonder why life feels hollow, that we are not truly happy.
Have you ever wondered why ordinary people in poor parts of the undeveloped world seem so happy? Have you noticed the sparkle in their eyes, the bright colours that they wear, the connection they have with one another despite being surrounded by abject suffering? Well, I don’t know for sure, but it’s my guess that these simple people are living in a way which actually allows them to stay in touch with their true humanity in a way that eludes us in the developed world. And I wonder if the key to that humanity is to allow our natural experience of vulnerability and suffering to be a full part of our experience without fear.
Poor old Helga! What a lot she’s missing out on. If she could only realise that it’s okay to get it ‘wrong’, that the world won’t fall apart if a cushion is out of place or a Christmas dinner is late. If only she could relax and laugh and enjoy the great, chaotic play of people and events around her, muddling along, making mistakes, supporting each other, getting there somehow. She might notice that her shoulders are aching or that she’s really hungry, but there would be something so sweet about admitting that she, too, is a delicate human being. She would feel at home in this great fragile mess of perfect imperfection and finally realise that the point of life is not to strive to keep it all in order, but to let go and enjoy it just as it is.
Having just navigated my way through a few days of (rare for me) ‘down time’, its got me thinking…
What really helps when you are feeling down?
Well, the starting point is simply this:
1. Accept how you are feeling.
The energy we put into resisting our feelings when difficult emotions are bubbling under the surface is incredible. Instead, we keep ourselves zombie-like – plodding along in a low-grade half-life – not happy, but not engaging with what’s going on either.
Our habit of blaming ourselves can mean that we’d rather remain in a state of brittle denial. We can’t admit to ourselves that we feel this way as we would judge ourselves for being so. It is better to pretend that we are okay.
But if we can just surrender for a few moments – really allow ourselves to feel how we feel – yes we feel the pain more fully, but we also begin to let in a little love and tenderness. Much like we would if we were giving attention to a friend who was having a hard time.
Rather than being lost in this no-man/woman’s-land, it is better if we can NAME what we are feeling. Naming it means that we are no longer subsumed by it. Part of us is now standing outside and looking in, and we can feel some compassion for ourselves.
And having accepted how we are, we have the option of turning towards something more positive.
2. Take ONE tiny step.
When we are feeling down, everything can feel overwhelming. We don’t WANT to do anything to help ourselves. It’s all too much.
So my suggestion is this – choose ONE thing from the list below. Just one. One thing that appeals a little bit…
* have a bath
* go for a walk
* make a fresh juice or a wholesome soup
* listen to a guided meditation
* get closer to nature / go outside
* confide in a good friend
* clean and tidy up
* read something inspiring
* count your blessings
* have a nap
* hang out with positive people
* enjoy some exercise
* listen to uplifting music
* pray to receive support
* do something to help someone else
* channel inner guidance
* reflect on your good qualities
* make love or have a cuddle
* look for beauty in everything
* find the hidden gem/lesson /meaning in your issue
3. Take another step
What you will probably find is that once you’ve taken one step, you feel inclined to take another. And some positive momentum builds from there.
For example, this morning, still feeling a wee bit under par, I decided to do one thing nice thing for myself – have a bath.
That prompted me to read some inspiring words from a book while the bath was running. After my bath I did a little light housework and made a fresh juice for breakfast.
It is a bright day and I could hear the church bells ringing, so I went for a walk, pausing at the church door to listen to the congregation singing a hymn.
On the way home I popped in at our caravan in a nearby field and told it out loud how wonderful it is and how much I love it.
During my walk, all these ‘how to lift yourself up’ ideas came to me, culminating in the inspiration to write this blog. My hope is it might support you too if you are feeling less than wonderful today.
4. Find the hidden gem
There’s always a nugget of gold buried in our difficult emotions. Our feelings are trying to tell us something, bring our attention to something that will open understanding and meaning to a situation or experience.
I reckon the hidden gem in my ‘down time’ these last few days has been a) the need to rest and restore at the end of a very busy, productive year b) the opportunity to release some grief from the past (see below) and c) the prompt to write this blog and share something that might be supportive to others going through a bit of ‘down-time’.
This is my Facebook post about my hidden gems:-
“Emerging out of 5 day inner journey. Started with feeling of ‘flatness’, low energy, tinge of unhappiness, lack of customary inspiration/creativity, desire for more sleep, not wanting to do anything or communicate much…
Felt curious – was this just me being tired at the end of many months of huge activity and productivity? A bit weary after 10 days of tending to son Jamie being acutely unwell? Raw after an emotional sort-out with my husband Pat (the resolution of which was postponed around Jamie’s illness). Was astrology / weather getting me down?
Counted my blessings that there wasn’t much in the diary and I could potter on with undemanding filing and accounts. Then yesterday, it dawned on me – memories of Decembers caring for ill, dying and bereaved loved ones in years gone past, and not being too well myself.
So it seems I was just releasing a bit of seasonal grief and heartbreak, perhaps triggered by Jamie being ill again. Felt better as soon as I realised this. Better to feel the raw grief rather than the depressive blanket of nothing that holds it out of awareness.
Reminded that its healthy to feel these things, lovingly acknowledge buried feelings, that we only feel these things when we are ready to, that I must be experiencing a deeper healing around these issues than ever before.
Thinking of going along the Movement Medicine dance class this evening – a beautiful way to honour, heal and release any anguish still stored in the body. That and I think I’ll put up the Christmas tree now – to remind myself of all the many, many loving, celebratory, happy memories that Decembers have given me too…”
5. Love is the answer
Giving a little attention where it is due is a profoundly loving act. That’s all we are doing when we honestly accept how we are feeling – truly loving ourselves just the way we are.
It gives us the momentum to take a positive step, and maybe even another, and another…
And opens up the possibility of gaining some wisdom and insight from our experience, some meaning, some letting go.
And so I’ll leave you with this song sung by Aloe Blacc, Love is the Answer.
This was shared by my Facebook friend today, the very lovely Mark Bajerski. (Check out his wonderful biography, Diary of an Accidental Psychic.)
Love is the answer, that’s for sure, and we need only begin with one tiny step to let it back in to our life.