Lammas; without expectation

At last night’s gathering in New Mills, a kind soul shared the tale of her difficult day and how she had been forced to spend it in a place she hated, doing things she did not like for the sake of those she loved. The only way to get through it, she said, was to have no expectations and simply see how it would be.

I have written a lot about expectations here, particularly in the early days of this blog, but it never occurred to me until last night how letting go of expectations is such a prominent part of Lammas.

As a celebration of the First Harvest, Lammas always feels to me like the last big blow out before the end of Summer; the big party before heading back to school, that final raucous night before heading home from a holiday. For those in the past who lived by the agricultural cycles, Lammas was a chance to celebrate and relax before the hard work of the Harvest began.

As part of these celebrations they would often perform acts of folk magic to encourage a good yield on the months ahead. They might libate the fields, burn bonfires made of special woods, sacrifice a Corn King (think giant corn dolly, not an actual King!) or bake a loaf to be blessed and shared by the workers. And not just for the fun or the fancy of it all – as we with our supermarkets and seemingly endless supplies might do – but because their survival through the coming Winter would very much depend on the Harvest’s success.

And it occurred to me as we spoke last night of letting go of expectation, that the only way these historical farmers and their families and communities could celebrate at this uncertain time of year, and the only thing that would make their actions feel vital and meaningful as opposed to powerless and futile, would be to release their expectations of what the Harvest could or should be and simply accept the coming of what would be; without expectation of survival or demise but with hope, faith and determination in its place.

Some years it would pay off. Others, maybe not. Either way they had found time to celebrate, to share and to enjoy life and one another, placing their trust in themselves and the cycles that defined them. Which must have made both the rich and the lean times that much sweeter.

Beating the blueprint (or how not to manage your life in some not-so-easy steps)

I always thought I was a master at managing my expectations.

Since my teenage years, I worked hard to calculate the expected outcome of any big change or life event and how this would affect me and my life . On the outside this was a defensive mechanism; allowing me to prepare for the worst and impliment any damage control. Inside there is a slimier, more self-satisfied purpose: allowing me to revel in all the expected greatness and good that said event would surely achieve.

My carefully constructed expectations helped me build a path towards enlightenment; ticking off the steps to being the ‘best’ version of me I could possibly be.

At least, that’s what I thought I was building.

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In fact I was creating a cage; its bars made of polished pessimism and perpetual dissapointment. I was planning out the shape of my future and leaving no room for actual creativity and growth. All the magic moments likely passed me by because I was too busy bemoaning the loss of my carefuly constructed blueprint. There’s little room for happiness in a life so very ‘well’ managed.

It is so easy to forget that we are not seperate beings but an active part of Nature’s cycles and as such there is no amount of ‘managing’ that can be do a better job than She. That the term exists in our language – ‘man-aging’ – is a testament to our Human arrogance and a profound disconnection from (and some might say fear of) Her.

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It is little surprise then that when I tried to apply such foolhardy notions of control to two of the most natural experiences in my life – Birth and Spirituality – I came away baffled, bamboozled and downright disappointed; about ready to shred the blueprint and go banging on the door of some metaphysical middle manager who had apparently read it all wrong and royally screwed up all my gloriously well-crafted expectations.

But I didn’t*. Instead I took a breath, took a big, big step back and did that thing that I realise I’ve been shy and wary of my whole life… I looked at me, as I am, in the moment. Just me; with no blueprint, no scale to measure up against.

And what do I see?

I see confidence where once there was constant concern for how I was percieved, whether I was understood. And not that cheap, oily, plastic brand of confidence that they write about in teen magazines, but the real, soul-deep certainty that you are who you are and damn if that isn’t someone worth the oxygen and floor space they’ve been assigned.

I see strength, displayed in ways I could never have predicted. It may not have been strength enough to push out my well-fed 9lb baby, after 15hrs active labour, without a little medical assistance… but it is a strength that has allowed me to keep him well-fed, to hold him close and watch him thrive and to feed, feed, feed for entire days on less than 4 hours sleep.

And somehow still love him at the end of it.

I see determination in my rabid-dog readiness to fling a heavy vase at that skeevy stranger’s head if he goes near my husband or my boy one more time.

This coming from the girl who has never said boo to a goose (or any other wildfowl for that matter).

Above all I see truth; that elusive benchmark I have always reached for but often felt unable to hold on to in the face of peer-pressure or the unforgiving harshness of modern reality.

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I live a life brightened every day by my commitment to a spiritual path, walking the Wheel and holding an awareness of the awe and beauty of it all close to my heart. You’d be hard pressed to fit me into a box or under a label (even Pagan doesn’t feel quite right anymore) but that no londer feels like a lack. I wear my green spirit proudly and kindly and I do my best to let it colour all the moments of my day. It’s then that I realise that me, my life and this World are so, so beautiful.

Of course sometimes I fail. I find myself reaching for the blueprint over and over again; nervous habit. But there is a steadiness in me now that is perhaps age, wisdom, woman-ness or motherhood – or a combination of them all -that allows me to see past the supposed-sacredness of those expectations. To meet the gaze of Mother Nature head on (seeing a glimmer of my self there in those fathomless eyes) and to keep tearing strips from it until one day it will be gone. Then there will be no plan, nothing to manage, just a handful of confetti to throw in celebration.

Free at last.

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*Okay, maybe I did, for a little while but I’m over it now and feeling the good flowing ju-ju. I’m enlightened I tell ya!

Photo credits:
1) culturedecanted.com
2) Jokeroo
3) K.Tomlin
4) K.Tomlin

Want It All

I’m trying really hard to come up with something meaningful and interesting for you to read.

The Wheel is turning wonderfully, the Land is greening all around us and the days are longer, sunnier and offering up more opportunities for both adventure and repose. Things are growing, gaining momentum and as the energy builds so does the excitement; as demonstrated by the almost endless birdsong that now wakes me in the morning.

I have any number of beauties I could describe to you here; to marvel at and count as blessings to be grateful for. In this bright Spring season I simply can not deny my good fortune… no matter how hard I try.

 

It is hard sometimes to be happy. To always see the beauty and the blessings in things. It seems to take an enormous amount of energy and attention and vulnerability. For the acknowledgement of one wonder leads irrevocably to another and another until suddenly you realise that you can never, will never, be able to know or appreciate or achieve all the wonders that are possible in this wonder-full World.

And there is a sadness in that.

A sadness we don’t talk about and are often encouraged to ignore. To bury deep and hide away or to gloss over with fake smiles and empty words.

Is it a sadness born of greed perhaps; a consumerist inability to settle, to always want more. I am living proof that it doesn’t have to be flash cars or fashionable clothes that you covet, in order to swim in that strange sea of desperation and endless desire. I long for sunsets and sea breezes, vast moorland vistas and the Spring breeze on my skin at all times. I constantly crave the deep connection to earth, sky and sea that I feel when I am in the midst of a long walk, a quiet meditation or a vibrant woodland. I want to feel that full, that aware, that whole all the time.

But I don’t. And there are times when I wonder whether it might not have been easier to never see the World through well-jaded eyes. To have avoided the Wheel and the wonders altogether and found my buzz in television or chocolate or meaningless sex instead; all things I can access with (relative) ease and at a moment’s notice.

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For it strikes without warning this unusual apathy, this longing for less and more simultaneously, and I’ll be honest I’ve yet to discover a reliable cure. It often feels a bit like a systems crash; too many programs loaded in at once (joy, love, gratitude, hope, dreaming) overwhelming the hardware and leaving me with a strange blankness in my head.

Because anything I do or say or think in those moments simply isn’t enough. Can’t be enough. Because it can’t be everything.

So here I am, trying to think of something to say to you.

 

Perhaps…

 

Perhaps the sadness isn’t really sadness at all: perhaps it is actually peace. A peace born of the acceptance of one’s place in the Web of all things. One tiny spark of life amongst so many others, that shines brightly in the light but is a truly cosmic beauty when viewed as part of the greater, grander whole. To be a part of it one can never step out of it, not even to see and marvel at the wonder of it all; so I will never truly experience it fully. Instead I remain steadfast and explore the beauties that are unique to me and try not to mourn those which are not. Perhaps I can appreciate those and trust that they are – in their own way – microcosms of the awesomeness that is everything.

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This awesomeness.

And though everything can not be mine to possess I can claim it as my heritage, my lineage, my reality. Things which will last far longer than the biggest chocolate bar and will bring more comfort than the most mind-blowing sex. And when I recall this, remember this and truly believe it then I perhaps I won’t need anything more than what I already have. For even in my blankest moments I’ll know I am whole, connected, part of It All.

And I can be at peace.

 

 

I tried really hard to think of something meaningful and important for you to read. Apparently I’ve ended up with something meaningful and important for me to read.

 

Thanks for sharing it.

 

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Photo credits:
1) spiritualjounreyguide.com
2) nationalgeographic.com
3) http://peoplesadvocacycouncil.wordpress.com

The Endurance Trap

December may be the most festive time of the year but it is also a test of endurance for many of us. Mental, physical, spiritual; we all struggle to keep our energy up and our spirits high in the face of an endless excess of people, places and expectation.

This year my desire to escape it all has been stronger than usual, yet I’ve still managed to rope myself into an awful lot of socialising, travelling and entertaining. I am grateful for the opportunities to be with loved ones and to be blessed with gifts and food and comfort, but I’m also exhausted just thinking about it!

And that got me thinking about endurance and how the ability to endure has become an expected part of modern living. We’re all being sold on the merits of endurance at every turn: from energy drinks to extreme sports, from personal trainers to parental advice. Last year London was chock full of athletes who all seemed to prove that pushing the body beyond its limits will result in something spectacular and certainly something to be proud of.

 

Yet despite the buzz of the Olympics and my hardy Northern upbringing, my attitude towards endurance remains rather skeptical. I don’t have much of it, to be honest. I’m not a huge fan of physical exertion or discomfort. I like to sleep, I like to eat, I like to sit and ponder and stare out of the window and spend time with my head in the clouds or in a good book. Then I like to sleep a little more. When I’m tired I want to rest. When I’m in pain I want to stop or seek comfort. And I have learned that meeting these needs allows me to be energetic and capable when I’m doing a job or being with people. If I force my body to do without I start to flake.

And it’s not just my mood that suffers, although that can be one of the first things to go. I lose the colour in my cheeks, I lose clarity in my vision and it feels like my body starts to lose its substance. I become light, a little blurred around the edges and although this can be an interesting state to experience (from a purely creative point of view) it makes functioning in the world a real struggle.

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Ever had one of those days…

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Now just writing that I feel a little uncomfortable. A struggle? What do I know about struggle? Talk about a #firstworldproblem! It carries the same guilt as whinging about having a busy holiday season; it makes you sound ungrateful.

But it’s true! Life feels inordinately difficult – physically and emotionally – when I am lacking in my basic needs. And I would like to be honest about it but I don’t feel like this is something I can say out loud. Not to my family, not to my friends. Sometimes not even to the hubby.

 

Why? Because in the past I have been taught (by people and by presumption) that to find life difficult is the norm and to bear it with anything less than a stoic stare and a stiff upper lip is simply unacceptable. We are prompted from an early age to cultivate and practice endurance; to find ways of convincing our bodies and minds to do more and give more than they are capable.

There is of course a precedent for this kind of advice being very useful, if we think back to those Olympic athletes: none of those gold medal winners would have reached their podium without pushing themselves beyond their comfort zones. But there is a difference between breaking out of our comfort zone and breaking past our ability that I think has become blurred.

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This guy knows he’s reached a limit.

(credit)

 

If an Olympic weight lifter decides to endure the strain of lifting a few extra pounds when his or her body is screaming to stop, back off and wait till it is better prepared, then they might severely injure themselves and perhaps scupper their chances of winning gold or ever lifting weights again. So they do what they can and stop when they have reached their absolute limit. Now, we may not all be potential Olympians but our bodies can and do tell us when we are going too far; but because we aren’t lifting weights or moving mountains, just going about our ordinary lives, we assume that the same fail-safes need not apply.

We think it’s okay to work those extra few hours, to miss that evening meal or to go out for that important social engagement despite the fact that we are dripping snot, feeling nauseous and haven’t slept for three days. We endure.

And why do we do it? Because we believe it is expected.

It doesn’t help that we define the act of endurance as follows:

 

ENDURE. (verb)

1) to suffer (something painful or difficult) patiently

(found at OED online)

 

I can understand why those who choose to “suffer patiently” through life must find those of us less inclined to do so to be lacking. We seem to demonstrate no determination or strength and a poor commitment to making it through the battle that is life. Worse than that, we undermine their suffering by proving that there is another way. Their suffrage is often a source of great pride and pomposity for them and comes with the inevitable slogan:

“You just have to get on with it!”

They are often also good people, kind people who don’t actually want to suffer at all but have never considered endurance could mean anything else.

But there is another meaning, which the OED also offers if we keep reading:

 

ENDURE. (verb)

2) remain in existence; last

If life is a struggle then subconsciously we’re probably wanting it over as quickly as possible. But if we are aiming for longevity, to last, then we open ourselves up to the idea that life is actually enjoyable and something we wish to experience as much as we possibly can. To do that we will need endurance but not the kind involving suffering; otherwise we will fall into survival mode and actually experience very little. Instead we endure by nurturing and feeding our body and mind, respecting our needs and limits; thus ensuring we have the resources to survive the tough times and appreciate the good with equal enthusiasm.

This kind of endurance involves far less pain and discomfort but it doesn’t discount them. Rather it encourages us to recognise and acknowledge them as indicators of a need which our body or mind has and is trying to inform us about. An increased knowledge of the delicate balance within each of us allows us to develop and grow our abilities in a safe and sustained way, rather than dashing for the gold and then burning out.

One might argue that being able to listen to and be honest about our needs and then allowing ourselves to act upon them (despite outside pressures and incentives encouraging us to do otherwise) is a brave act itself and shows a stronger personal endurance than simply allowing our life to become a state of endless battle, resistance and struggle.

 

What do you think? A weak excuse? Or an intuitive alternative?

 

Of course we are all capable of both types of endurance, though it is likely that we’ll favour one. I’m hoping to see a shift in society towards the lasting kind that currently comes most naturally to me; to see endurance cultivated as an act of kindness and compassion towards ourselves and others. I don’t pretend to know what affect that would have on other people or our species as whole but I’d like to think it would give us the chance to experience life and those we love more fully and with more energy than our current social and cultural structures allow.

 

It would also be nice to express my need for a nap, out loud, without being called lazy.

I’m not lazy. I’m just in it for the long haul.

 

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Sometimes we all need a cat nap

(credit)

 

Accepting Normal

Despite being blessed with a relatively happy and simple life (don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my share of trials but never yet anything I couldn’t handle) I have always found myself the bearer of discontent. It can strike at any moment, or simmer in the background over days, weeks of my life and usually doesn’t make any noticeable impact. It’s just this niggling, itching thought that maybe I should be doing ‘more’ with my life. That something isn’t quite right.

Now some might say this is my subconscious telling me to get on with some serious self-exploration; that life is showing me a need for change. But I can honestly say that after a few years of moving, travelling, changing jobs and building a new life, I am actually rather ready for some stability! I even wrote a post recently about allowing ourselves to be satisfied with ‘just enough‘ and I believe every word, so why the discontent?

Because I was never prepared to be Normal.

And right now my life is wonderfully, joyously, exorbitantly Normal. I work in a Normal office, do a Normal job (that takes no special qualifications or skills) and live in a Normal terraced house (two-up, two-down) on a busy little Normal High Street. I got married to a Normal(ish) husband this Spring and am now his Normal wife. I became a rather Normal Aunt to my lovely Normal Niece and have recently become co-signatory to a Normal Joint Bank Account. I go to the local pub when I fancy a night out and I spend most evenings doing the dishes and catching up on iPlayer.

All these are what make my current life so pleasant and are a big relief from the rather fractious elements that made up the life I lived before. I am happier now than I ever was living in a Big City and trying to work a job in the Entertainment industry. But I am also undeniably Normal.

And that was never never the Plan…

As a child I knew that one day, when I grew up, I would be different. Not famous or wealthy or even particularly successful; just different. I wouldn’t follow in the footsteps of my father or mother, I wouldn’t stay in the sleepy town I was born in and work in a shop or an office; I would move away, see the sights, live and work in a completely different environment that would excite me and feed all my Abnormal needs.

I knew that I was Abnormal because people told me so. And if they didn’t say it to me then I’d hear them say so to my parents. Endlessly.

“Gosh, she’s different.”    

“Nothing like her sister!”    

“Where does she get that from?!

And my parents would smile and nod and agree enthusiastically:

“Well, she’s always been like that…always done things her own way.” 

Then I went to school and the teachers all told my parents how bright I was, how special I was, how I could do anything I wanted and how I would obviously go far.

When my parents weren’t there the other kids would tell me I was different in their own way. I knew I was Abnormal because that was the only viable reason why they would all ignore me, smirk at me, laugh at me and why some of them seemed to downright hate me. Don’t get me wrong I was never bullied too badly, never beaten or shamed hard enough to warrant intervention; but like many bright and enthusiastic kids with a dream I was deemed too Abnormal to be accepted. So I kept to the outskirts, hung out with a few of the other Abnormal kids and came to wear my difference – my Not-Normal-ness – as a badge of honour.

By college I was wearing that badge with pride, expressing my Abnormality with crazy clothes, crazier friends and diving into my dream life shaped by a rather Abnormal career choice – Acting. When I managed to get to the Big Smoke and into drama school I knew I was on my way. All the pressure, all the worry, all the expectation to be something MORE than Normal was about to pay off and it would make all the hard work, the nightmare school days and endless self-flagellation worth it.

Except it didn’t.

The career wasn’t what I wanted, wasn’t what I’d expected at all. And the lifestyle that came with it was Abnormal alright but not in a ‘cool-and-unique’ kind of way but more of a ‘messed-up-and-miserable’ kind of way.

So I left it; abandoned the Abnormal and embraced Normality with open arms. And it has paid off. I am happy now, truly happy and I have hope for the future, something that was in short supply a few years ago. That one choice has made all the struggles of a dying dream feel no less painful but certainly made them seem worthwhile.

Still I can’t seem to shake that niggling, itching rub of discontent.

And I think it’s because that 13-year-old girl, who spent her nights learning lines and trying not to think about picking teams in P.E. tomorrow, feels like I’ve cheated her out of a dream. You see, all she can feel is the pain and the anguish of being young and ostracised and alone and the only thing keeping her going is knowing that what they say to her doesn’t matter because one day, one day she’s going to be special, be different and she’ll be nothing like them. She can take it all because she’s not Normal like them.

Some days her betrayal is hard to bear.

***

This post was inspired by another post over at Eat The Damn Cake and the rather wonderful quote from author Kate:

“What is exhausting is only wanting one thing.

What is exhausting is secretly believing I deserve it.”

Those two lines basically sum up everything I’ve just said, but I wanted to share my story because it can help knowing there are folks out there who think the same (seemingly impossible) things as you. Her post is great too and well worth a read.

Copyright

All written materials and images, unless otherwise stated, are property of Kelly Tomlin 2016.

Further reading

We gather together to Walk the Wheel; to share with one another and be inspired.