Hooray, Imbolc is here; St Brigid’s feast day, the time of returning light. Here in the British Isles spring flowers are starting to show, buds on trees beginning to green, thoughts shift towards the future after the review of the past year. 2013 is now history.
November and December were not like that though.
They were dark days, with much time imprisoned indoors to reflect upon the previous months. Xmas comes to test our reserves; how well have we actually done in terms of cold hard cash? Can we reward ourselves and our loved ones with food and festivities, gifts? Does this material judgement test have real value if it falls short? Does anything we make, therefore, really matter?
My own 2013 dénouement did not go well in many ways. Financially I was struggling (though managing) to keep my head above water. Mood wise I was low, hectic summer and autumn months had left me exhausted and with a few trivial injuries that twinged every time I moved. My own worst critic, I reflected on the many ways I could have done better, made different choices in hindsight. A long term battle to defend my friends and myself had ended, favourably for us, but the relief was immediately followed with vast amounts of analysis: Why had it happened? Could I have chosen other paths that avoided it? Had I done my best?
People around me were having their own troubles, dealing with grief, with poverty, with career disasters, and crises of conscience and spirit.
I had a lot to think about, initiatives to take, and no confidence in my ability to cope with any of this; I couldn’t even afford significant presents for my daughters or loved ones, nor did I have creative powers to draw on at this time. What kind of person had I become? I couldn’t, for a while, even stand up straight due to a bad back caused by injudicious exercise (ambitious yoga). I was worthless.
So I did nothing. Well, nothing beyond my comfort zone. No important tasks for other people. Nothing where any mistakes would disappoint anyone other than me.
Not an ideal choice, when one has responsibilities to others to meet. Especially for a self-employed person. Earnings went to near zero. Everything seemed daunting, impossible, doomed.
Throughout this time, I kept meditating. Grounding, focussing on the small beauties of daily life. I was intellectually aware that my depressive state was due to events, and somewhere within my confused guilty and trouble moods I knew I had done as well as I could. The main issue I kept coming back to though; was that good enough?
Mindfully, I acknowledged this thought. Then I let it fade. In order to live, I needed to act, not overthink ever tiny detail in advance for fear of messing up. So I let the anxiety settle, didn’t worry about being worried. Got on with the domestic tasks I felt I could do; this had a knock on effect of my home becoming sorted beneath the surface. Cupboards were emptied out and rearranged. Long ignored piles of papers gone through and filed. I looked into ways I could help those injured parts of my body, with movement, posture and medicine. I kept going with the flow, as well as I could, through the bleak landscape of this time.
And as the days began to lengthen, my spirits slowly lifted. I was able to discuss my dark mood with several others, having a somewhat detached perspective on it myself from the mindful meditation sessions gave me an objective take on it. I saw it as me, yes, but not the core of me. By not identifying as it, by seeing it as mine but not Me, conversations about ‘it’ were possible. I allowed myself to accept the offer of a massage for my poorly back, trusting in another to offer their assistance to me.
The feedback of ego boosting positive comments, some small acts of kindness, coupled with a thoughtful acknowledgement of both my flaws and skills from those others (most of whom practice some form of meditative process), started my healing process. They recognised and told me how much I had done at certain points, even when I was beset by external distractions, including the support I had been able to give in their times of darkness, the practical behavioural tricks that see us through in times of troubles. They reminded me of the advice I had passed on to them from other sources:
Appreciate the beauty of the world around us. What we see, hear; those glimpses of perfect scenery. Making nice food for oneself even when there is no one else to cook for; self-love starts with basic self-care. Sleeping enough, going outside every day, drinking water. Some amount of physical exertion each day, so we can feel we have done something. Laughing, with warm humour, about the human condition, the silly things we do. Noticing synchronicities, with a casual interest. Paying attention to the things we like, instead of always only drifting back to the Bad Stuff. Making an effort to go out to meet with friends, even (especially?!) when we feel like staying in. Be gentle with ourselves. Let sadness happen; when loved ones are dying or lives changing, it is all very well to talk about the past & future to put these things in perspective but, right at that moment tears can be the only response. Live those moments fully too, or we shut ourselves away from times of joyful presence.
This is where my take on awareness meditation differs from some esoteric schools; if we merely use meditation to distance ourselves, then yes that frees us from the wheel of suffering, but it simultaneously shuts us out from the wheel of experiencing other life states. One cannot have it both ways; if sadness is denied, then joy is unreal also. Both conditions have intrinsic value. They teach us empathy with others, and ultimately they are what our lives consist of. By entering all emotional and experiential states fully, without getting lost in them to the exclusion of the rest, we can engage with this world as fully integrated persons. The fractal patterns of dual good/bad exist at many levels, with experiences measured in years, months, fortnights, weeks, days, hours and minutes all providing places for the shifting poles of the ends of spectrums; the relative nature of the answer to that eternal question “How do I feel?” often depends on comparison rather than innate position.
So, my winter was not nice. I was sad, lonely, felt incapable, distressed by many of my past and present choices. I achieved little of any worth by most standards (including my own). But that was how it was. I sat (literally and metaphorically) with that, I allowed myself to feel bad, and I learnt from that. I had times of pleasant interactions, times I enjoyed the environment I found myself in, even did a few things to improve that, when my sphere of influence had closed in to the purely domestic. I was unhappy.
As with all emotions, I knew that this too would pass.
The lifting of the gloom happened easily, without any effort; I noticed, during one evening while I was at a friend’s house, that I was talking about future plans, and felt able to do so without any pangs of fear. I noticed this casually to myself, and let that noticing be enough. And so the awareness of (and belief in) my own ability to do things well had returned, quietly and effortlessly.
This is mindfulness in action. Those formal periods of sitting and watching, are practice for the mundane moments we utilise it in.
This is living magick.
Postscript: Since that time, things have shifted in many ways. My financial situation, I have discovered, is not so dire as I thought it was. Offers to do talks during this year have arrived from several places. I have sought out opportunities for work I would never have dared imagine doing a few weeks ago. My mood is far more cheerful. I can believe in myself again, as a person of worth. I have been writing again, and editing manuscripts, with enjoyment. I still criticise myself, but lightly, as a spur to better efforts. People around me have meanwhile made their own plans and achievements, emotionally and materially they are building worlds, and of those who were down, many are pulling themselves out of their sloughs of despond as 2014 rises to meets them. Not all is totally wonderful, but enough is going well that the vicissitudes of life can be met with spirit. To all those magical meditators, including those who do not identify as such but nevertheless do this, thank you for sitting so patiently. And, many thanks to the inventors of names for times, so that we can move through this eternal now with landmarks to guide our meanderings.
The rewards of knowing, in a Gnostic sense, that we are alive here and now, prove so valuable when appreciating the fleeting passage of time, and when remembering (both looking back and forwards in time) other parts of our lives too.
Onwards. This, to quote the song lyrics, is the moment in which we can do.