Archives for the month of: August, 2012

Last week I spoke of the tears we all shed during the Olympics – tears of joy, of wonder, of warmth. And only this week I spoke of some funny situations that perhaps only a transitioner would find themselves in. But it’s not always fun and games, and the tears of a transitioner are not always ones of joy.

Since my last blog post, I’ve been crying quite a lot; in fact, I’m in a perpetual state of holding back tears. Maybe it’s all that anger that the Qi Master told me, after an acupressure session, that I was holding in my stomach, along with any other emotions stuck there that are now releasing themselves, often against my will. The absence of any of my regular routines of yoga, Tai Chi or dance classes in the last few weeks since I had knee surgery probably hasn’t helped and has thrown me off kilter. My belief that getting wasted at the weekend would somehow be a good idea in this state of imbalance may well not have helped either.

A poem by Julia Cameron. Last week I finished her book ‘The Artist’s Way’, a 12 week course in unleashing your creativity (but it actually does a lot more than that). I think I’m having withdrawal symptoms!

Whatever it is, a transitioner’s tears are often letting out a whole lot more emotion than is easy to define or attribute to one particular disappointment or grievance. I cried today when my friend told me she got married. That’s not really the reaction a friend expects when giving such news (and luckily this was an online exchange so she didn’t have to know…although now maybe she does. Sorry, I hope I haven’t caused offence with such spontaneous tearfulness). Yesterday I read the poem attached to this blog post, and burst into tears; and carried on crying for a good solid half hour, my parents blissfully (and thankfully) unaware in their other rooms.

Call me ungrateful, or blind to all the good things I have in my life. But actually I have been seeing those things, and reminding myself religiously of them, every day. I have a safe and welcoming house to live in, and two very supportive parents, and some wonderfully encouraging friends. I have time to be creative, to write my blog and discover new and exciting projects to work on. But when you’re going through a bad patch as a transitioner, all these positives get pushed out by the so-called negatives; or, to use another term, those nasty little demons of anger, resentment and fear.

In my case, I start looking at the last ten years of my life. All that time spent fighting injustice and extreme poverty in various countries (or at least that’s what I hoped I was doing, but in these dark moments even that is thrown into serious doubt). The organisations I worked for with such commitment, often with little appreciation or support. The year I spent studying hard for a Master’s degree whilst living in a squat. All that hard work, so how do I find myself here, in my thirties and living with Mum and Dad? No matter how well you get on with your parents, such a situation can never feel quite right; I thought I’d grown out of depending on my parents years ago. Added to this my continuing dread every time I look for jobs – any jobs – and find myself despairing because I actually have no idea what I want to do. The self-doubt that accompanies longer term visions – mine being to write a book or to do a Phd – and which can take over if any person questions my motives or expectations. And then there’s the gaping hole that is my private life; my desire to go out and have more fun often dampened by the reality that this is not so easy whilst living in suburbia with my parents and with no income.

A cure for those emotional or creative blocks: bake a cake. I baked this yesterday – it’s a blueberry and hazelnut muffin cake.

At times like this, the transition can seem like a long, dark tunnel with no light at the end of it; and one in which everyone else appears to be whizzing past, apparently able to see the light more clearly than me, despite all my efforts at ‘knowing myself better’. Whilst others have been working on their jobs, their careers, their marriages, their children, I’ve spent a whole lot of time working on myself. But am I any wiser? Searching for my inner truth appears to be a much longer journey than I had anticipated, and not always one that brings fulfilment, or even clarity. There are days when everything simply seems terribly unfair, when one can’t get past the loneliness or emptiness of a life of uncertainty. We’re only human after all, and tears are natural, even healthy. Maybe I’m making up for all the tears I’ve held back and buried in the pit of my stomach over the years. Tears release what sometimes dare not be admitted or publicly revealed – our vulnerability, our desperate need to be loved, to be appreciated, and ultimately to be happy.

It’s been a week for odd and unexpected interactions. I escaped what I feared was a Buddhist cult after feeling uneasy by the rigid prayers and worshiping practices of its followers; nothing like the dharma of the Dalai Lama or Thai and Burmese traditions. I had a psychic screening at Tate Modern’s new, contemporary art and performance space called the Tanks, which was followed by a spontaneous discussion about personal affirmations and poetry with a participant of the performance art piece in the Turbine Hall.

English: Shibboleth, Tate Modern, London

English: Shibboleth, Tate Modern, London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I even spoke to some boys at a house party in Brixton – haven’t done that in a while! But the reason it’s been odd is that I’ve found myself opening up in unexpected ways – talking to people I barely know about quite personal matters.

Take today for instance. I visited a Qi Wellness Centre, where I was given a traditional Korean acupressure and sound massage. According to the Qi Master who saw me, I’m holding a lot of anger. Chinese medicine – and its adaptations in Korea, Japan and elsewhere – is all about finding the underlying causes of a particular ailment; trying to understand on a deeper level what is happening to a person when they suffer a physical complaint. In my case, as the Qi Master performed the massage I could feel tensions and knots most acutely in the area of my liver and intestine; which according to the Chinese meridian system, has a direct connection to my right knee – where of course I’ve had an injury for several years. Knots in the area of our bowels are associated with holding onto and repressing anger. The Qi Master asked if I felt I held anger over anything. Funny that, as only last night I was watching a programme about Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which has been responsible for thousands of deaths and child abductions in northern Uganda and neighbouring countries. This was a conflict I worked on for several years, whilst living in Uganda and Kenya, so perhaps no surprise that I would react in some way. But the emotion that arose whilst watching this programme was hard to describe; I felt myself tensing up, and although part of me wanted to cry another part of me wanted to throw something at the television – particularly when the face of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni appeared, as he is as much to blame as anyone else for the grinding poverty and injustice faced by the population of northern Uganda.

I told the Qi Master that perhaps I hold anger related to the work I’ve been doing the last few years. Although this surprises me, because actually I’m not an angry person. My reaction last night to the programme about Joseph Kony was in some ways more extreme than any I had when I actually worked in Uganda. The same applies to when I read about another Palestinian demonstrator being shot at during a protest against the Israeli occupation in the West Bank. I want to shout, scream or cry in a way which didn’t really seem to affect me during the year that I lived in the West Bank and had all of that happening on my doorstep. So yes, maybe I have repressed anger, I found myself admitting to the Qi Master.

She then went on to discuss how tensions in our stomach or bowels may be inherited, or may be a symptom of a previous trauma, or a current emotional problem. I had an eating disorder when I was fifteen, I found myself suddenly blurting out. That was a bad period for me; if I wasn’t holding a lot of anger then I was certainly holding a lot of grief and insecurity – over my appearance (a bit plump with braces) and over the fact that I was being bullied at school and had no friends. I’m glad, and extremely grateful, to say now I’m over all of that. Or apparently not, if the pain in my intestine and bowels, and by association my knee, is anything to go by! I wait to see what comes up in my next session.

On a lighter note, I have to talk about my Tate Modern experience. This is worth a mention, as usually on a visit to Tate Modern gallery one expects to see a beautiful painting, or an impressive and abstract installation. Bar a few predictably provocative pieces in the Damien Hirst exhibition (nevertheless impressive), what my day in Tate Modern was all about was communicating with strangers. The newly opened Tanks in the basement of the gallery had a room with a series of desks and chairs, separated by dividers. At each of these sat a psychic healer; if I wanted to, I could be given a ‘screening’, I was told by the bright and chirpy female usher, as if this was completely normal in an art gallery. I thought, why not? I’m a girl in transition, this time is all about new discoveries. I then found myself being interviewed by a redheaded, bohemian looking woman who, after asking me the basic question of what job I do (which, actually, isn’t the easiest question for me to answer right now), launched into a far deeper inquiry with ‘what are your thoughts on honesty?’ and ‘do you consider yourself an honest person?’ This was followed up by questions such as ‘do you consider yourself a spiritual or religious person?’ and ‘what are your thoughts on power…How would you like to exercise power’ I have no idea what all of this was about – there was no big insight or nugget of wisdom at the end of it. I was simply told that the exercise was part of a bigger creative project aimed at fusing art with spirituality and politics, and that I may be contacted again by e-mail.

Not long after that, I found myself in the Turbine Hall – the sprawling space at the entrance of the Tate Modern which is used for free installations and creative art displays. Here too, unexpectedly, I ended up talking to someone I barely knew about quite personal issues. There I was, sitting on the floor checking my phone, when I man in his sixties (who up until that point had been running up and down the hall with a bunch of other performance artists) sat down next to me and asked, out of the blue, whether I keep any special words close to me, in my pocket or my bag, to give me strength or encouragement. I found myself opening up again, quite spontaneously, telling him about the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and some of her exercises which encourage these kinds of creative affirmations. If I’d been approached by this man in the street, or on the bus, I probably would have shied away like anyone else, or worse still thought he was completely bonkers. But because he was in the Tate Modern, in a place of ideas and creativity, I talked to him like it was quite normal to be approached in such a way. It turned out he had decided to try contemporary dance a few years ago – ‘because you can be terrible at it but still do it’ – he told me. And now here was, taking part in a piece of participatory peformance in the Tate Modern.

All this suggested to me that, unlike the stiff, wary personas that us Brits tend to emulate on the bus or train, or even at a public gathering among strangers, we actually do like to communicate with each other. If we are in a safe space, where we don’t feel threatened and where we can just let go and join in, we actually open up and want to share our experiences. Says the girl who’s writing a blog….but all these incidence have shown to me how if we surrender, if we give a bit of ourselves, then we may be surprised by what occurs, and by what we get back in return.

I cannot restrain myself any longer. Now it’s all over I feel I have to say something. I’m going to join the chorus of adulation, admiration and celebration, and admit that despite all my doubts, all my scepticism, the Olympics really was an event to remember, to savour and to learn from.

I was as cynical as most of the British public, if not more so. I’d never watched the Olympics before ever; except for the opening ceremonies of the Australia and China Olympics, that embarrassing handover to Britain in Beijing with David Beckham on a Routemaster bus, and some distant memory of Daley Thomson when I was about five years old. Like many others, for a long time I was more concerned about the impact this huge event would have on London transport, the economy, and home security. On that last issue, I was particularly disappointed in the run up to the Games to not only read about the failures of that odious company G4S in its security operations, but to not read about its other disgraces, when surely this would have been a perfect time to highlight them; its role in mistreatment, and death, of asylum seekers in this country, and in illegal detention of Palestinians in Israel.

But by the time the Olympics had arrived I, like most of the British population, had grown tired of the customary nay-saying and cynicism that symbolises our culture.

The opening ceremony took us all by surprise, but then so did the entire 17 days: the efficiency of London transport despite the extra thousands of travellers, the cheerfulness of the 70,000 volunteers who were there for the love of it, despite the long hours with no pay….even, dare I say it, the friendliness of the armed forces. I’d rather have them guarding the entrances to the Olympic grounds, dancing to cheesy British pop as I saw two of them doing, than the scowling security thugs that we probably would have been subjected to with G4S.

And of course the sportsmen and women themselves. We were surprised because in this country, in the last decade in particular, we’ve been fed on celebrity footballers and racing car drivers whose lives and personalities seem so far removed from our own. Yet here were hundreds of athletes from humble backgrounds, who laughed and cried in equal hysteria in front of the camera; honest reactions which were a refreshing departure from the monotone responses from footballers under contract and unable or unwilling to divulge anything genuine. We engaged with the likes of Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, Laura Trott, Nicola Adams and even Andy Murray, because they suddenly seemed like normal human beings, despite having just watched them being anything but normal. This was also the reason, as much as the medal victories themselves, why this Games was named the women’s Olympics. I watched Gemma Gibbons, Jade Jones, Victoria Pendleton cry with both ecstasy and relief, and wanted to cry with them.

Mo Farah, after winning the 10,000 metres, greets team mate Christopher Thompson, who came 25th.

I’d have to agree with Eva Wiseman in the Observer about this; the Olympic Games has turned us all into blubbering wrecks, but in a good way. I cried when I watched Jessica Ennis accept her gold medal at the Olympic stadium. I cried when Victoria Pendleton lost so unfairly against Anna Meares. I cried when John Lennon’s face appeared at the closing ceremony and his song ‘Imagine’ started playing. In the last two weeks it’s been OK to let go of Britain’s typically stiff upper lip and have a good old cry. This hasn’t been just because a British hopeful failed to win an expected medal, or because they were disqualified from the competition. It’s also because we’ve watched the personal lives of some of these athletes play out in front of us. They’ve talked openly about what they’ve had to go through to get this far, and it hasn’t just been extensive training. The Taekwondo competitor Sarah Stevenson had recently lost both her parents to cancer, as well as suffering a knee injury. Diver Tom Daley also lost a parent last year. I was once again almost moved to tears to see Gemma Gibbons mouthing ‘I love you Mum’ to the heavens as she claimed silver medal victory over her judo opponent. These touching moments are important because they remind us as human beings we are likely to have to overcome personal struggles and tragedy in order to move forward, and that in fact these experiences can only make us stronger.

When I wasn’t being moved to tears, I was just enjoying. I myself had the privilege of going to the Olympic Stadium on Super Saturday, where I watched three British gold medals being won in less than an hour. This was a day to remember not just for its victories, but for the opportunity to be there, at the centre of the action, with my father and brother. For the rest of the 17 days, whether I was lying in bed with my knee on a pillow after surgery, working through a hangover following a euphoric drinking session, or in between writing, cooking and whatever appointments I had that day – I would always get sucked in. Suddenly I found myself taking an interest in taekwondo, or mountain biking, or synchronised swimming.

The Palestinian flag flies at the Olympic Stadium. Six Palestinians competed, including two women.

What got into me I wonder? Olympic fever – the same for everyone else. It allowed me to delight in the grace of gymnastics, or the wonder of pole-vaulting.  Even when there were no British competitors, I found myself admiring the underdogs – Uganda winning their second ever gold medal, unexpectedly, in the men’s marathon; Iran doing so well in weightlifting and wrestling; and Palestine being there at all.

It was great to see the British public cheering them on also. In fact, it was great to see the British public cheer generally, whether it was on the streets watching the marathon or the road cycling, or strangers on a train actually talking to each other.

So there, I’ve said it – I enjoyed the Olympics. Amidst whatever personal struggles I or anyone else have been going through the last few weeks, the Games allowed us to put our lives on hold, to let go of anxieties or disappointments over work, private life, world politics, the economy and embrace the moment. By doing this, and by identifying with the personal struggles of our athletes, we have become more happy, open and accepting. Long may it last.

This year marks 50 years of Jamaican independence, so I thought a nod to Bob Marley was appropriate right now. His words are not only a call to mobilise, to unite; they also call on us to dig deep within ourselves, and to let our conscience be our guide.

Marley performing at Dalymount Park

Marley performing at Dalymount Park (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been officially unemployed since December last year. Did I envisage this when I chose to leave my job in Palestine and come back home to live with my parents for the first time in 10 years? No, because for the first few months since returning I convinced myself that what I must do is a) find a job and b) move out as quickly as possible. Well apparently such humble ambitions were a bit presumptuous, as I’m still here, transitioning. Not knowing what comes next. Making bi-monthly visits to the Job Centre and cringing with every story I have to tell of what I’ve been doing to find a job – because this is what is expected of every person in unemployment. Taking a break, or transitioning, is apparently not an option when you’re claiming state benefits.

But despite the low points of being unemployed and full of uncertainty (and I touched on those, to put it mildly, in my previous blog post), I’m reminded each day of the big lessons learned from all this time with, to and for myself. Particularly in the last couple of weeks, when I’ve not been able to move about too much having just had knee surgery, I’ve been forced to be still and do nothing. When I’ve not been doing nothing, I’ve been trying to map my progress over the last eight months; and here is what has emerged.

I’ve had a lot of letting go to do. It is only when we stop and confront ourselves – look within – that we realise just how much we bottle up; how many emotions and feelings we allow to fester inside us, grinding us down, preventing us from moving forward. A key emotion for me has been anger. I’ve had anger over the injustices I’ve witnessed or experienced over the years – in Palestine, in Uganda, in Sri Lanka, in Iraq, or here in the UK, sometimes concerning friends and people I know. I’ve felt anger over people around me who have let me down, or made me feel inadequate, isolated or disappointed. I’ve felt anger over the jobs I’ve done, because of all the effort put in with little appreciation or recognition. But what I have also begun to realise over the passing months, as I work through these emotions and experiences, is just how pointless this feeling is. What, or who, does this emotion – anger – serve? Has it helped me be a better human rights activist? Has it helped me do my job more efficiently? Has it helped me deepen my relationships, with friends or colleagues? I actually find this emotion quite tiring; whether it’s me that feels it, or someone close to me expressing it. Letting go of anger over the last few months has been quite liberating, and has eased my path of transition considerably.

I have learned to say no to situations that no longer serve me. This may be friendships, habits, jobs…..it’s quite surprising to see what comes up when one looks within and asks: ‘Is this really what you want? Is this good for you?’ The result is that I may choose not to read an article, or engage in a discussion, on torture or corporate exploitation. Or I may choose not to go to that party which sounds so exciting but will leave me empty and ill the next day. I don’t always get the answer right, I’ve realised afterwards (and usually after a situation which is alcohol-induced), but I’m getting better at this exercise.

I’ve realised that ten years of human rights work has squeezed out any room for other pursuits, because now I’m not working, I’m discovering (re-discovering?) new interests – like writing, dancing, walking in the countryside. My spare time over the last ten years has been dedicated to, I say slightly ashamedly, partying. OK, so I did intersperse that with a few country walks and a bit of yoga. But when being a human rights activist or humanitarian worker becomes your entire identity, any other meaningful interests slip away, apart from partying until the early hours to work off all that pent-up anger. I know not everyone who works in my sector would agree with this, but that is how I’ve operated over the last few years; and although there’ve been some great parties along the way, the last few months have been an awakening to bigger and better things. Not to say the party’s over – perish the thought!

As I have let go of one identity (the humanitarian/human rights worker), other jobs suddenly seem quite appealing. As I mentioned in my last blog post, accepting the loss of one identity or career has not been easy. But in letting go, I’m suddenly considering other opportunities I would never have previously acknowledged –

The British Library

The British Library (Photo credit: stevecadman)

working in a charity shop that sells unusual clothes and jewellery; or a café that serves a blinding Flat White and delicious freshly baked cakes; or in a University library where I can delve into their collections on Buddhism or psychology whilst meeting interesting and stimulating academics and students.

These are all jobs which I feel will allow me the space to continue nurturing myself – a space I denied myself in my previous work.

Lastly, I should touch on my spiritual path. Until recently the word spirituality, along with ‘God’, ‘faith’ and ‘religion’, didn’t exist in my personal vocabulary, or my life map. I’ve been doing meditation for several years, but I have always shied away from identifying myself with anything cosmic, or metaphysical. Going to the Sanctuary in Thailand at the beginning of this year changed all that. As well as doing daily yoga and meditation practice, I took part in a women’s healing workshop – something I wouldn’t have touched with a barge-pole even a year ago. The workshop involved, among others, crying, laughing, dancing, hugging, sharing. Too much detail would actually not do it justice, but the important thing to acknowledge is that something opened up. It tapped in to a part of me that had been buried beneath the anger, the resentment, the self-doubt. We do not all have the privilege (or money) to go to such a place; the point is, as someone in Thailand said to me, to put aside old habits, assumptions and scepticism. Allow yourself to surrender, and who knows what interesting things you might find. This doesn’t require a belief in God, but it does require courage.

With such a small life, with such a small energy source, it is simply stupid to waste it in sadness, in anger, in hatred, in jealousy. Use it in love, use it in some creative act, use it in friendship, use it in meditation: Do something with it that takes you higher. And the higher you go, the more energy source becomes available to you. At the highest point of consciousness, you are almost a God.

Osho

 


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