Category Archives: Rites of Passage

To paraphrase…

Hello.

It’s been a while.

Did you miss me?

Right, I have some instructions for you:

1) Turn off the lights, close the curtains, close your eyes. Maybe even put some headphones on.

2) Turn up the volume, press play and… listen. Really listen. To every word.

And now, for the sake of clarity, here they are, those words:

Joni Mitchell

 

There is so much here. So much said between the lines and try as I might (and I have begun to a gazillion times) my efforts to paraphrase just sound trite.

So, in a nutshell:

1) You look at the world through fresh eyes, and it looks amazing. You dream. Big. You are filled with optimism. It’s a rainwashed street, shiny and fresh. It’s a blank canvas, full of promise. It’s castles in the air.

2) You are dealt a blow. Given a lesson. You are sobered up. Fast. You grow up. Your world becomes real. You challenge your beliefs. You change your perspective. And it hurts. Hell, it really hurts.

3) You emerge from that cave.  You understand now that it isn’t what you dreamed it was. But, and here’s the thing, it isn’t what you thought you learned it was either. In fact, you don’t really get it. You just know what it isn’t. Your eyes are open, but – now – so is your heart. And your mind. And you have lost so much. But… hey. Look. You have gained so much, too. It’s okay. Let it go.

So, look back at what you believed, at that younger, more naive and innocent you, with fondness. It wasn’t all wrong. And you know? It got you to where you are now 🙂

And, as I heard Wayne Dyer say the other day:

So many things that I did in my life, I look back and think that I would never do those things today. And yet all of my past actions have contributed to helping me be the man I am today. Say to yourself, “I had to be that person and I’ve learned from him (or her).” Forgiving yourself is every bit as important as forgiving other people. You did the best that you could, given the conditions of your life, and you can’t ask any more of yourself or of anyone else.

 

Joni Mitchell. I salute you.

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Lemons

You know that expression, right?

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”

Or alternatively:

lemons

Well, it struck me just now that there are basically two camps you can fall into when you hit a bump in the road and fall off your bike. It’s probably obvious and it’s sure to be something I’ve written about before, in another guise, some time ago. And I don’t want to get all verbose about it, since it’s really just the simplest equation in the world.

When life throws you a curveball, you have a choice.

You can add it to one of two lists.

You can add it to your victim story list: “And then, poor me, this happened.” You know the one, right? And you know when you’re on that kick because you’re not focused on what actually happened, or how best to deal with it, or how to fix it, but you’re reciting in your head how best to tell it when you next meet someone who’ll listen. And you know that you’re learning to kick that habit the moment it begins to feel less than comfortable reciting the same tired old lines; when, and I know you know this one, you’re actually beginning to bore yourself.

Or you can add it to your survivor list. You can add to the strings on your bow. You can hold your head up and say (to yourself because, come on, who else needs to hear it anyway? Whose opinion of you is more important than your own? Seriously. Whose? The number one person who needs to love and approve of you is… uh-huh… YOU) “I survived that, and this is what I learned.”

Victim consciousness is a honey-trap. You think you’ll feel better telling someone how unhappy you are and how it’s anyone and anything else’s fault other than your own. But you don’t. You never ever do. It just perpetuates the misery.

But when you take responsibility for your own happiness, it can change in a heartbeat.

Last night, watching a film with some of my family, one of my sons was, frankly, bloody miserable. From an objective perspective, I had grasped the storm in the teacup, I could see how simple it would be to forget it, to get over it, to let it go. But it isn’t something you can do for someone else. They have to do it for themselves. And it isn’t always easy. And unless you’re Buddha, you’ll still have times when you struggle with it.

In a lull, I leaned over to him:

“The only person unhappy in here,” I whispered, “is you. And you don’t have to be. You can choose to let whatever the perceived grievance is… go. Just let it go.”

He guffawed, somewhat sarcastically, but I know how it works with him. Plant the seed, walk away and let him think.

Shortly afterwards, during a particularly heavy and gruelling scene, and as though nothing had happened:

“If you close your eyes and listen to Tom Hanks in this film, it’s like Woody’s swearing. I can’t be the only one to think that, right?”

The rest of us fell about laughing and the entire atmosphere was diffused.

Because he chose to let it go.

Small example, simple principle.

Massive life lesson.


Built on sand

I found one of my boys on the stairs today. He looked… well, actually, he looked sulky. He has a great line in sulky looks. But, being his mum, I know that this is something that can often work against him. Because, very often, it isn’t hiding sulkiness at all, but some other rather difficult emotion. And he can find himself getting short shrift for being moody when in fact what he actually needs is to talk to someone.

So, once I’d told him off for being moody, walked away, and had a little flash of mumspiration (I take no credit for those. They seem to pop into the head at the right moment by way of MotherAid, and I’m always surprised and delighted that they have appeared in the nick of time. Of course, sometimes they occur after the event, which is not so useful…)

I went back. He had started to shuffle slowly up the stairs, shoulders slumped.

“OK…” I tried again. “What is it?”

It turned out that all his friends hate him. (I didn’t mention he’s also prone to exaggeration, did I? 😉 )

So we thrashed it out a bit, and it’s actually his best friend he’s having trouble with. Funny, since there wasn’t a day last week he wasn’t in and out of our house after school… But I’m not so ancient that I don’t remember those particular growing pains. The love/hate relationships. The intensity of the ‘best friend’ and apparent ease with which all that can be flicked off, like a switch.

I spoke to him about all that of course. But I remember precisely how much importance I attached to my own parents’ reminiscences of those ‘days of yore’. They didn’t understand, naturally. They weren’t me. I sighed with exasperation as I rolled my eyes and tried to listen. (I also love the cyclical nature of these things…)

But the bit that got to him, I think, was this:

“If there’s one thing I want you to know about life, to really understand, to remember, it’s this: Everything Changes.”

He nodded slowly.

“Of course, that’s pretty rubbish sometimes. After all, it also means that happiness doesn’t last forever. It comes and goes, just like sadness. If today is difficult, it doesn’t mean that tomorrow will be. If it’s raining today, it doesn’t mean that the sun won’t come out tomorrow. If you’re finding today, or your friends, or life, tricky, it won’t last.”

The trick, I suppose, is to try not to get too attached to any of those states, ‘good’ or ‘bad’… Which, I am very well aware, is easier said than done!

He seemed to take it all in.

The whole gang assembled, had their supper, got on with rather over-zealous larking. Walking past me, he stopped.

“I don’t think he really hates me.”

Impermanence. More a blessing than a curse? 🙂


What next…?

Bertie (a whopping 6 years old) is… well… I guess boisterous is the best word to describe him. A little like Bagpuss (do you remember that kids’ programme?), when Bertie’s awake, the rest of the house is awake. He wakes up hollering, goes to bed hollering and does a fair bit of hollering in between. There’s no volume switch, no brakes. Bertie hurtles, headlong, through life, stopping only when he meets resistance, and even then only if he has to. And his demeanour is almost invariably one of noisy cheerfulness.

But just of late, as so often happens at around this age, he’s pondering the bigger questions. I guess Easter throws this up a little for children – they’ve been talking about it at school – death and resurrection. And it got me thinking about how confusing, and a bit scary, these big questions can be for our smallfolk.

“Can you ask god to give you a new body, when you die, so I can see you again?”

You see, one of his favourite bedtime stories just now is “The Mountains of Tibet” which is a rather surprising choice for one so apparently oblivious to the deeper potentials of his surroundings. “Gumboot’s Chocolatey Day” is far more up his street, you’d think. But the Mountains has obviously struck a chord somewhere. Resurrection at school, reincarnation at home… It’s beautifully written and illustrated, and provokes rumination on all sorts of levels… for an adult at any rate, I’d thought.

After all, his previous command had been far more in keeping with one his age:

“Be a boy. Then you won’t have to lay babies.” 😉

I’m not afraid of death. I don’t want to die, you understand. But I’m not afraid of it. For myself. (My feelings around pain are much more ambiguous…) I have young children, so naturally I have concerns about their well-being were their mummy not around to look out for them. And I see and feel compassion for their fears when they talk about it themselves. I want to tell them not to be afraid. That it’s just a transition. That it’s all part of the design. But I know they’re a little young for all that, and that they’ll have to work it out for themselves a bit…

“I don’t want you to die, Mummy” said my 8 year-old at breakfast this morning. One introduces a theme, another runs with it…

“I don’t want to die either, darling.” I tried to explain that these days people tend to live a good long time, although we can’t rule out accidents or illness. We can’t know when we’re going to shuffle off. And I tried to tell him that if I did, I hoped he would be thankful for the time we had together, and would show me what a good job I’d done being his mummy by living as full and happy a life as he could. At that he nodded, and smiled again for the first time since the conversation had begun.

But by now I was worrying. I had this terrible vision of a young man slogging his guts out trying to be happy, to prove to his dead mother that he could be, that she had been a ‘good mummy’! 🙂

It’s a minefield, death, life, happiness, spirituality, purpose… And it’s a sticky wicket when it comes to sharing it, too. I don’t subscribe to the theory that I have the right to tell my children what to believe. I can tell them what I believe, but to my mind they have no obligation at all to feel the same way. What they do believe, they will work out in their own good time. When they are ready and the time is right. They will, most likely, embrace, reject, struggle, and make peace with all kinds of channels of thought.

And that, as it is for the rest of us, is simply their journey.


Keep going…

I heard this today:

The person who is really on the way, falling upon hard times in the world, will not as a consequence turn to those friends who offer them refuge and comfort and encourage their old self to survive. Rather, they will seek out someone who faithfully and inexorably helps them to risk themselves, so that they may endure the difficulty and pass courageously through it. Only to the extent that a person exposes themselves over and over again to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found within them. In this daring lies dignity and the spirit of true awakening.

Karlfried von Durckheim

Food for thought.

If, like me, you subscribe to the understanding that 1) everything is as it should be and 2) everything happens for a reason, then it follows that, if you are going through hell, the fires of the forge will leave a new, purified you upon your emerging.

In the simplest of terms, adversity teaches you who you are.

I have long loved the maxim:

If you are going through hell, keep going.

Don’t turn back and decide it wasn’t for you; you’d rather sit and stagnate where you were. Don’t berate the universe for your terrible lot. Don’t run for the cover of old, tired, fruitless patterns of behaviour.

Remember this: Nothing is permanent. Everything changes. Life is a journey, with all the requisite bumps in the road: sometimes it takes you through the roughest part of town, and sometimes through breathtaking scenery. Joy and sorrow each have their part to play.

So, if you’re going through hell. Keep going. Don’t lose sight of your true self. Don’t sacrifice your integrity. Stay focused, don’t attach to the story, believe in yourself, believe in the bigger picture. Hold onto love, don’t give in to hate.

And one day, basking in the light at the end of that tunnel, a little older, a little wiser, the sorrows assimilated, the joys welcomed, you’ll look in the mirror and recognise the you that has always been.

And head off into the next unknown.

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Your children are not your children

“Love is the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves, without any insistence that they satisfy you”

~Wayne Dyer

There’s something that has been bouncing around my head over the past… oh, I don’t know… I’d like to say few weeks, but it’s probably been a few months, or possibly even decades… Anyway, it’s a concept that I’ve discussed in various forms in various entries in various ways. It is so simple, so obvious in some ways, and yet so overlooked, dismissed and denied that I think it bears a dedicated line or two. (That is, of course, just my opinion) 😉

It is simply this:

You cannot live your life for anybody but yourself.

First impressions?

Selfishness? Egocentricity?

I disagree. (But you knew I would, didn’t you?)

I would say that even such folk as Gandhi and Mother Teresa did just that.

Because what I am talking about isn’t accumulating for yourself, consuming, taking for yourself, pleasure-seeking. That isn’t remotely what I mean. In fact, that is so very far from the idea that it finds itself at its polar extreme.

No, what I mean is that you have to follow your own path, to dance to the beat of your own drum, to sing your own song – however you would like to put it. Gandhi and Mother Teresa both knew what they had to do and didn’t let anybody else’s pleas, opposition, nay-saying or negativity stop them. And of course, having chosen such extreme examples, we are all aware of the adversity and difficulties they both had to face in following those paths.

Let me be clear on this, too. I am not suggesting for a moment that each of us needs such a bold and obvious mission as these two aforementioned incredible souls. What we need to be able to understand is that our daily life is our mission. Simply conquering ourselves is our mission. From the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep we have the power to make a difference. Every moment of every day is an opportunity. Every interaction is a choice. We don’t need a spotlight on us to prove it. In fact, fame and acclaim can very often cause a serious kink in the road if those who experience it allow themselves to believe it.

Acclaim is no more to be paid attention to than criticism. Seriously – what does it matter what someone else thinks of you? Especially if, in your own heart, you know that your motivation is pure, your choices are authentic and your path is integrous? In other words: Don’t believe the hype! Nor should you let the bastards grind you down. Don’t let the positivity inflate or the negativity deflate you. Steer your own course with no heed to the opinions of others (which is not the same, of course, as not being considerate or compassionate towards others). Opinion is worth less than the paper (or in this case laptop) it’s written on.

But remember this also for your children. They, too, need to chart their own voyages. They, too need to live their lives for themselves. They can’t live them for you and be happy. They need your love and approval simply for being who they are, not for doing what they do. But they also need to grow up with the confidence to follow that path whether you like it or not. Every child has the right to make his or her own mistakes and to learn from them. You cannot protect them from life. Life happens. Life is. But you can be there with a cuddle, a sticking plaster, a shoulder, or an ear when it throws them a curveball. Children are not ours to fashion into who we want them to be. We cannot enforce our opinions onto them any more than we can know what is right for them. That is something only they can figure out for themselves. A parent is not a king, a dictator or a headmaster, but a custodian, charged with getting his or her children safely to the point where they can take their freedom and fly with it.

Let me leave you with Kahlil Gibran’s beautiful poem:

On Children
Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
    They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
    They come through you but not from you,
    And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

    You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
    For they have their own thoughts.
    You may house their bodies but not their souls,
    For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
    which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
    You may strive to be like them,
    but seek not to make them like you.
    For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

    You are the bows from which your children
    as living arrows are sent forth.
    The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
    and He bends you with His might
    that His arrows may go swift and far.
    Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
    For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
    so He loves also the bow that is stable.

 


Rites of Passage: the Comfort Zone

Last week, my biggest boy began High School. He has reached the grand old age of eleven and has found himself flung upon the mercy of the big wide world.

His primary school, with its grand total of 70 pupils, was little more than an extended family and he was happy there. This is, of course, an understatement. He performed well in class, had good friends, his teachers were more like extra mummies than authority figures and there were many tears (all round) when he left in July. He was with his people.

Then High School happened, and with the natural exuberance that accompanies a rite of passage, he looked forward to it with a proper mix of excitement and trepidation. Suddenly, though, instead of a two-minute trot around the corner to school, he has a solitary walk to the bus-stop to stand with a load of older kids he doesn’t know. Instead of being that big, confident fish in a teeny pond, he’s a nervous tiddler in an ocean. From cocoon to high wind in a heartbeat.

The first day was fine: the school was only open to the new intake, so they had it to themselves. They were all in the same boat, all excited, all fresh and open. He came home confident and happy, full of beans and optimism. When the second morning came around, he was raring to go. He had filled in his timetable, organised his books, packed up his PE kit, knew where his bus pass was.

That evening was a distinct downturn. This time, school had been full of much older, scarier kids; kids who swear and swagger, who are bigger and more confident, to whom these ‘little’ ones are a mere insignificance and something to poke a bit of fun at. He no longer especially wanted to go back. Not that he had been on the receiving end of anything unpleasant, but he’d got lost on the way to PE, not had anyone to sit next to on the bus, been told he had to play rugby the next day… all of which had rather knocked his nerve.

So we sat on the sofa when all his little brothers were in bed, and had a chat.

“It’s really taken me out of my comfort zone, Mum,” he said.

My heart contracted a fraction.

“Your primary school was a lovely, safe place,” I replied. I made a circle with my fingers. “Like this, this is your comfort zone. But the new school is much bigger.”

“Mrs Hill was always telling me to step out of my comfort zone!”

“Exactly, so you just need to give it time for your your comfort zone to expand and envelop this new school too.” I extended the finger-circle to make my point. “Before you know it, it will just be a part of that comfort zone.”

At that very moment, there was a knock at the door. A friend’s post had been misdirected and she had come to collect it. We filled her in on our conversation.

“Oh, don’t worry!” She replied, ever-so-breezily. “My two were always getting lost at the beginning. You can always ask – no one will mind! And next year, you’ll look at the younger ones arriving and remember how new and strange it all seemed!”

We sat back down on the sofa. He reflected for a moment, then looked at me and said, “She was supposed to arrive, just at that moment, wasn’t she? To reassure me about it all.” His faith in the ultimate benevolence of the universe seems to be expanding alongside his comfort zone. 🙂

He went in to school the next morning, anxious but less scared. And it went swimmingly. He’s developing new friendships and he even enjoyed rugby!

The new High School may not ever be the cozy little family that he managed to find in his primary school, but my Humphrey will discover his core family once he’s settled in, and his equilibrium will be restored. In fact, next year I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he wasn’t helping the new arrivals to try to see it from a different perspective!