Archives for posts with tag: moving forward

Writing has not been easy lately. Which is a surprise in some ways as when I travel to work, or even pop out of the office to buy my lunch each day, I find a stream of loose sentences, chapter beginnings and blog reflections running through my brain.

But then either there isn’t the time to make use of them, or when I do finally find a moment to sit with pen and paper or at my laptop I’m struck with a terrible paralysis. When this happens it’s not long before my inner critic rears its ugly head….any writer, or anyone with a dream for that matter, knows the voice of the inner critic very well. The voice that goes, ‘why are you bothering?’ or ‘you’re not good enough to be trying this’ or ‘who really cares? who wants to know about your latest pursuits and interests?’

I’ve noticed that when I become too busy to write, or too busy to make time for reflection which can inspire and trigger writing, I descend into a pattern of self-doubt and self-loathing. I’m currently on an endless treadmill of striving to do the best in my job without really pausing to ask myself whether I’m approaching things the right way, whether this is really what I want, whether what I’m doing is letting my true and happy self flourish. Without the time to process my experiences and connect with my deeper consciousness through writing or other soulful practices, I find myself unhinged by the daily challenges of work, unsure of my abilities and full of insecurities about whether people like me, whether I come across as an idiot, whether I’ve said the wrong thing….

coffee and cake

Today I sat in one of my favourite cafes in southwest London, determined to resume my writing practice. I sat there, laptop in front of me, latte and cake being consumed bit by bit….and panicked. Where do I start? What do I want to write about? Is there anywhere to go with all these snippets of ideas that play around in my head each day? I started trying to write a blog piece but couldn’t get beyond this title you now see.

So instead I did something totally different. I wrote a chapter, or moment, in the story which is slowly formulating in those stolen moments on my way to work or in my lunch break. Where the story goes, I’m yet to find out. I’d be lying if I said it was totally made up, pulled from my extensive and far-reaching imagination. I’m not pretending that I’m going to produce the next great work of fiction. Whatever I write will always be based somehow on my own experiences, that’s just the way I roll.

But as I start trying to draw from my experiences some structure, plot, characters and dialogue I realise that I’m entering a new chapter in my real life. I know deep down that my work in the NGO sector may soon be reaching its end. After spending over a year in transition, I no longer feel that my identity is defined purely through human rights activism or aid work. There is something bigger in my soul that is waiting to come out. And writing seems to be the channel through which to explore and express it.

This blog has been a platform for documenting my transition in the last year. It will continue with this purpose, and as such it is likely to change in its content and style, just as I connect with a new writing voice within me. A new appearance, more reflections on the writing journey, and the odd extract from the story currently unfolding in my head and making its way on to the page will be found here in the weeks and months to come. As always, comments, thoughts and feedback will be welcome. I hope you enjoy the ride and come back for more.

Writing

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A glance over at people around me in any given situation in Uganda prompts a flood of thoughts, memories and reflections. Having lived there before, and having returned there recently, each moment brings with it a connection with the past and the present.

At Entebbe airport, a line of young men in polo shirts and sunglasses were in the queue next to me, preparing to board an Eagle Air flight to Gulu in northern Uganda. What were they going there for? I wondered. When I first started travelling to wartorn Gulu in 2002, there was only a handful of NGOs, and therefore only a few white faces, to be seen there. Over the years, as the international community finally started paying some interest in a rebel war which for two decades had resulted in thousands of deaths and child abductions, UN and NGO offices in northern Uganda multiplied, along with plush hotels to house their staff. Now, with the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army having left northern Uganda to cause further damage and deaths in neighbouring Congo and Central African Republic, Gulu has beeen restored to some level of normalcy; indications of it embarking on a new stage of development found in the construction of new roads and a large supermarket.

Outside Gulu

Outside Gulu (Photo credit: The Advocacy Project)

And so I glanced curiously at these guys next to me and wondered what Gulu is like now to be attracting these smiling men, who looked as if they’re about to go on safari rather than on the aid missions that were so common there only a few years ago.So much has changed since those days when I worked in Uganda, both within and around me. New hotels, office blocks and shopping malls have sprung up all over Kampala. Places which ten years ago were disused carparks or empty plots where people threw their litter are now busy shopping centres or classy restaurants. But certain things remain the same. The slow, unhurried pace of the traffic; the roadside clothes markets with wire manequins whose hips have been purposefully widened and stretched out to reflect the African woman’s figure; the gruff vocal chords of the male singers on the radio, performing their version of reggae to pre-recorded and synthesised backing music; the calm, quiet, smiling demeanour that is customary to the country’s inhabitants.

Lake Victoria

Lake Victoria (Photo credit: wheresthebrain)

Sitting in an airport café overlooking Lake Victoria, waiting to board my plane to Kenya, I wondered whether I’d be back to Uganda again.  And I still wonder at how I got into this position in the first place; so unexpected and unplanned after a year of gently putting many of these memories of a previous life behind me in order to open myself up to new beginnings and new opportunities. This time last year, did I ever imagine I would find myself back here again?In a meeting the other day, a fellow NGO worker noted casually how coming back to Uganda – after working in other areas and jobs – can feel like going back in time. To a certain extent I agree, especially when it comes to having to put aside our Western-centric values and assumptions in order to accept the African realities of technology not always working properly, or things not always running on time.

And on a personal level too, it is easy to think that somehow my transition from NGO worker to….something else – has taken a backward step. But then transitions are not necessarily about where we physically situate ourselves, nor are they about pushing ourselves towards the new life we think is good for us. They’re about where we are internally at any given moment. The real transformation comes from not pushing, and not assuming anything; in letting the unpredictable, sometimes suprising, sometimes magical and uncontrollable circumstances that life throws at us not seem like a setback in our journey. I have to remind myself regularly that just because things haven’t quite worked out as I’d expected in the last few months – that rather than navigating my way towards academia and studying a Phd I appear to have made a diversion and travelled to a place I lived in ten years ago – things are exactly as they should be.

It feels right to be in this place right now, and that ultimately is what’s important.

Life is full of surprises. Just when you think you’ve worked it all out – mapped out the right path for you, cultivated and manifested your heart’s true desires, a gust of wind blows you in a different direction. The question is, how to interpret the gust of wind? Why does it come at that moment?

At the beginning of this year I was chanting every day with a wish in my heart; that all the months of effort I had put in to achieving my goals would pay off, and I would be offered a scholarship to study a Phd at one of my chosen universities. In the end, I didn’t get a scholarship, and instead I got a job back in the sector I’ve spent the last year gently extricating myself from. So now I’m faced with the offer to study a subject I already feel very familiar with – stress and burnout among NGO workers – at a range of Universities with admirable expertise on the topic, but no funding. And a job which takes me back to the heart of that world of stress and burnout, as an insider and participant, rather than an academic observer.

What should I make of this? I’ve been struggling with this question all week, since I received the bad news from the last University scholarship holder on my list. The job I’m doing now, likely to last only a few months and working in a region of Africa I’ve been involved with for years, just happens to be exactly what I wanted and wished for last year. I came to the conclusion that such a job – short-term and working on issues that have always been close to my heart – would be ideal after enduring months of unsuccessful job applications in long-term roles that would have further entrenched me in the NGO sector, at a time when what I really needed was a break from it. At the time I was cultivating greater goals – to write, and to study. But the greater goals have not entirely manifested the way I had expected or hoped for. I spent a year preparing to study a Phd, convinced that this path spoke to my soul, and was the perfect way for me to use my ten years of experience of working in conflict zones in a new, exciting and constructive way. But I did not get the funding I needed to proceed with these studies, and so now I’m faced with having to approach my desires from a different angle. Indeed, in the last few days I’ve questioned whether my desires are indeed true or heartfelt. Was all that effort, all that hard work in writing research proposals and applications a waste of time, or will they one day serve an entirely different purpose, yet to be discovered?

These uncertainties – what we may at times interpret as disappointments or setbacks – are all part of the game of life. We cannot resist the challenges that are thrown at us; with each challenge we have to decide whether to view it as a disaster, or an obstacle, or a new lesson in understanding who we are and where we’re going.

This is what I’ve been trying to tell myself these last couple of weeks. I have been acknowledging that sometimes we can cling on to one dream whilst not letting others arise. And we can try too hard to define our purpose in life, and fail to enjoy the uncertainty that is at the heart of our existence.

Existence is uncertain, insecure, dangerous. It is flux — things moving, changing. It is a strange world; get acquainted with it. Have a little courage and don’t look backwards, look forward; and soon the uncertainty itself will become beautiful, the insecurity itself will become beautiful.

Osho

So what next? I truly do not know. But then, I have had the same response to that question for over a year; I have grown used to not having the answer. All I can do is keep watching and listening; allowing a bit of time and space outside the busy-ness that so often renders us unconscious, to check in with myself. To keep asking, is this what you really want right now? And remain confident that whatever arises is helping me on my true path.

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Living with Uncertainty

This blog post comes from a fellow blogger who I admire very much, and who shared these words from Charlie Chaplin on a day when I was letting the ego’s voice get the better of me. I read this and felt so much better!

Lagniappe: Charlie Chaplin: As I Began to Love Myself | Streams of Consciousness.

In the last week I have surrendered to the power of prayer. I am not a Christian, and I do not consider myself religious. But I have been on a spiritual journey the last few months, which has taken me from feeling complete darkness and a loss of identity to a process of gentle healing and letting go, to a connection with soul; to understanding my inner truth, my purpose and the real route to my happiness.

In order to let my soul speak, I have had to endure long periods without work, without  busy-ness, without all the distractions which over the years have contributed to me never really confronting or listening to the voice inside me. If I had listened, I would have heard it say, ‘Enough…you don’t need to please everybody, you don’t need to act out other people’s perceptions of who you are or who you should be, you don’t need to be perfect – no one is’. Letting that voice be heard required me to give up old habits and the life of intense work and endless partying I was so familiar with, and allow space for stillness.

This year  has been pivotal. I started it by chanting every day for 21 days, to bring joy and luck for the year ahead. Chanting is a new exercise for me, one I’ve wholeheartedly embraced after feeling the considerable benefits of its sounds resonating and vibrating through my body. No matter how bad my day is, if I sit and chant for half an hour the weight lifts – I am no longer dwelling on the past, or fretting about the future, I am totally present and as a result all my worries slip away.

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I spent February applying to study a Phd, and for a scholarship to fund those studies. I still wait to hear whether I’ve been successful, but I’ve already been offered a place at two Universities so I take that – along with the encouragement I’ve received from the academics who want to supervise my research – as positive indicators that the funding will also follow.

And this week I received the glorious news that my job application to work at Amnesty International – for three months on their Kenya programme – was successful. This has followed an intense period of emotional upheavals, as I waited, lost confidence, had doubt upon doubt, and dreaded the possibility of another job rejection. I went through enough of them last year. All the while I was busy manifesting – chanting for my cause, raising the vibration within me to be at the same pitch as my dreams and desires. This was my prayer – the simple spiritual exercise of chanting, which doesn’t require a Bible, or a church, or a deity. Chanting and meditation helped clear those negative emotions – the doubts and fears – and replace them with calm and clarity. It helped me maintain an open mind and heart – allowing space for positive energy to flow freely.

This job speaks to my soul as it allows me to use my skills in a setting I’m familiar with, on a short-term basis whilst I move through my transition and embark on the next chapter in my life. This was the sort of job I yearned for last year but couldn’t attain. But the time was not right last year – I was going through the in-between time or ‘neutral zone’ of my transition. It’s a place of uncertainty, of resistance, of dark nights of the soul – when you are no longer sure of what you want or who you are, when you strive to hang on to old habits and beliefs, when your inner voice that says ‘Enough!’ is trying to make itself heard.

Live your own destiny

Letting go is a long process, and I’m sure for me as for anyone else the job is never done. But I do feel that a new energy is pulsating through me. This year, as I’ve put something out into the ether – job or Phd applications – and received positive or encouraging responses, I’ve felt I’m actually hurtling, free-falling, towards my destiny. There may be more tough times ahead, but I’ve already come out of my darkest moment and am now heading towards the light of my soul’s desires, with greater confidence and courage.

It was nice to wake up this morning and realise for the first time in well over a year that I will soon have a job to go to. But with that realisation also came another – that in the past few months I had really learned to accept not having a job. After months of resistance, I had managed to appreciate the time for what it was – an essential period of reflection, growth and creativity. Without it, I would not be what I am today – content.

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Mindful Next – Change and Transition

Because transitioners at some point have to face the grim reality that in order to achieve our dreams we’re going to need some cash flow, I’ve returned to the daunting task of jobhunting. I’ve managed to avoid this activity, and the full spectrum of emotions associated with it – from hope to hopelessness, courage to fear, anticipation to anxiety – for a few months. In fact, towards the end of last year I made the decision – consciously and willingly – to let go of this feeling that I must find some job, any job. I decided to pursue other creative interests and projects which perhaps wouldn’t help my finances but would help my soul.

I was lucky, and I remain forever grateful, that there was no rent to pay; that my parents whose roof I live under would allow me the space and offer support in whichever way they could. And through having the space to explore, and understand, and let go, I am finding my ‘true north’ – the spirit within me which is happy, joyful, driven and creative; and this has given me the confidence that this transitioner is heading in the right direction, and all is well.

I am now faced with the significant challenge of integrating my spiritual practice into the everyday external realities we are confronted with – in this case, high unemployment and a very competitive job market.  The last few weeks have been a real test for that glorious feeling of power and clarity that arises when we connect to our inner truth.I’m sure many jobhunters can relate to my personal experience. Here is a brief overview:

Three weeks ago, I applied for a job which, when I first heard about it, seemed ideal for me. When I went about filling in the application form, I felt on a real high – excited by this opportunity, empowered because I felt I was shaping my new reality according to my dreams and desires, and therefore confident that everything was going to work out as it should.

Each day, as I’ve waited to hear the outcome of the job application, I’ve lurched from quiet optimism to self-doubt to all-out rage. The society we live in, and the current economic climate, apparently dictates that there will be stiff competition for any job, and that you are likely to be left dangling – hoping for a positive response, but in the end perhaps not getting any at all. Take the example of this job: after submitting it, I was told interviews would be held on Friday the following week and that they’d let me know if I was shortlisted. Friday came and went, and I heard nothing. In came the rage and despair. Over the weekend I heard that there were 250 applications for the position I’d applied for, and that shortlisting hadn’t yet been completed. Hope once more triumphed over the pessimism which had temporarily taken over. On Wednesday I received a call from the organisation I’d applied to; without warning, they asked me some questions related to the required knowledge for the job. Caught unawares, I felt I stumbled over my answers. I was not told at this point whether I had in fact been shortlisted. The phone call was followed by feelings of hopelessness and anger that I’d been asked these questions without time to prepare for them. Then on Friday I was told that I’d been invited for interview, and that it would take place the following day – on a Saturday. This sent me into a panic – it seemed such short notice, and odd to be holding an interview on a weekend day. I was then told a mistake had been made and that in fact interviews would be held the following Monday.

So yesterday I had an interview, by phone. The e-mail inviting me for interview had actually indicated that I was to go to the organisation’s office, but this turned out also to be a mistake on their part. After the interview I was told that the next round of interviews would take place within the week, after further shortlisting. And so once again I’m in the place of not knowing, a place where self-doubt and fear thrive.

For me, the process of jobhunting has been a reminder of the challenges one faces when applying all one’s inner strength and resources gained through meditation and spiritual practice to everyday external realities. It has been a major test on my ability to stay calm, to embrace uncertainty, to show gratitude for even the most agonising or painful situations. Although I am a different, and stronger, person than the one who was jobhunting a year ago, whilst I’ve been left hanging waiting for a response to my job application, all those familiar feelings of doubt have returned. My negative voice has crept in: Why is even the ideal job such a struggle to attain? I’ve spent hours on this application and why this punishment in return? Is this going to be disappointment, and rejection, again? What’s wrong with me? Am I going to return to that dark place of despair and fear I was in last year?

A place of not knowing is one of the most challenging places to be in. I’ve lived in that place for well over a year now, and have managed to embrace it, even enjoy it at times. But when a new challenge comes along in that place of not knowing, it can feel agonising, disorientating, excruciating. It feels like one extra provocation just when things seemed stable and safe.

But if these things are indeed sent to try us, then at some point there will be something to be gained from such experiences, whatever the outcome. Perhaps the only way to deal with the pain of not knowing, and all the negative emotions which can arise from it, is to examine how we respond to the situation, and what that says about us. Then maybe next time we can handle the place of not knowing with more calm, courage and gratitude.

If last year was my year of growth and acceptance, 2013 is turning out to be my year of gratitude and forgiveness. A lot of my thoughts and meditations have been directed towards these goals. There’s been 2012 to deal with – the rejected job applications, loneliness, uncertainty, heartbreaks and family crises. But then there is also a whole lifetime, from the moment I was born to where I am today, which is worthy of a pause for thought and consideration.

Why? Because no matter how much we wish to avoid it, our past is part of us – it’s what makes us who we are today. We try to shut out and forget the situations in our past which hurt us, when actually it may be possible to recognise them as positive influences that have shaped us, or which have taught us something.

Acceptance of the past is an exercise of the heart, or if I am to be more prosaic, the soul; as we accept all that has gone before, we can learn to love who we are – all our qualities, including those we’d rather not speak about. When we achieve self-love, we are ready to cross that rainbow bridge situated in the fourth chakra – the heart – which transports us to a state of higher consciousness, where we can see our inherent and natural beauty that overrides our ego’s quest for perfection in the eyes of others.

Anahata chakra symbolizes the consciousness of...

Anahata chakra symbolizes the consciousness of love, empathy, selflessness and devotion. On the psychic level, this center of force inspires the human being to love, be compassionate, altruistic, devoted and to accept the things that happen in a divine way. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To connect more with our heart, and with our soul, may well require a major letting go of all that we thought defined us, of all that we thought was familiar and acceptable in our life. This is often where depression sets in; our soul is crying out but we are resisting the call, not wishing to let go of our youth, of old habits and beliefs – even those darker ones that have developed through unpleasant incidents in our past. And this is where acceptance, gratitude and forgiveness are essential. We are letting go, but we are also recognising and showing respect for all that has defined us and got us to where we’re at today.

This process inevitably implies a journey deep into the past – particularly to childhood, where so much of what happens can determine how we approach our life in adulthood. For me, as I’m sure for others, this is far from easy. Those years between around 5 and 15 were on balance the worst in my life. But in examining them during my meditations, I made a discovery about my heart – the seat of creativity, of desire and intimacy and all those obscure emotions, feelings and processes that cannot be explained through the rational mind. As a child, my heart was open – meaning I was creative, I loved to dance and sing and write. I wrote poems and short stories, and I imagined myself as a famous, glamorous actress or, in my younger years, as a beautiful and agile fox (my favourite animal). And I wished to be friends with everybody – to give and to receive love unconditionally.

But I lost my connection to these qualities of the heart when I was subjected to bullying from the age of 8 to 16. During this period I felt isolated and hurt by the malicious words of my classmates. When they weren’t purposefully excluding me from friendship circles and group outings, they were laughing at me for wearing the wrong clothes, or reading the wrong book, or saying the wrong thing. It is no surprise then that during that time I also developed an eating disorder. medium_331146387And there were other clear ramifications of having a closed heart. It meant for many years after that, as I grew up into a young woman, I let my head lead the way – rightly or wrongly – in so many decisions. To have listened to my heart at this stage would have been to surrender to something far less rational and more fragile and uncertain – and I couldn’t open myself up to such vulnerability. All I wanted to do was prove my strength, coolness and level-headedness whatever life threw at me. I channelled my energies into achievements and maintaining a specific image – activities of the ego.

These are habits and behaviours I have been slowly letting go of. I see the value now of returning to the heart/soul dynamic of our existence:

The soul presents images that are not immediately intelligible to the reasoning mind. It insinuates, offers fleeting impressions, persuades more with desire than with reasonableness. In order to tap the soul’s power, one has to be conversant with its style, and watchful.

Thomas Moore

What has this got to do with gratitude and forgiveness? In order for us to tap into emotional qualities of the heart and soul, we have to understand what may have shut down those qualities in the first place. And although a childhood trauma may have had negative consequences, it is only by accepting it as part of our life that we can gently let go of our obsessions of acting or being a certain way, and instead listen to the subtle voice within.

The parts of us that get ignored or outwardly rejected retreat to the realm of the unconscious. They become part of the shadow, split off from the persona. The persona is made of aspects that bring us love, while the shadow, those that seem unacceptable. As adults, part of our fourth chakra work is to reunite the persona with the rejected shadow for the purpose of balance and wholeness.

Anodea Judith 

I can now see the important qualities and experiences which have emerged from my troubled childhood. Isolation and loneliness gave me a warmth and compassion for others less fortunate and a determination to speak up for people whose voices were not being heard. A lack of nourishing relationships with people my own age was made up for with a deeper connection with grown-ups; and to this day I feel a natural closeness to people more mature than me. And ultimately, it is often through the bad times that we are most creative – these times are a license for us to be as imaginative and irrational as we like. And by unleashing our creativity we bring ourseves closer to our true nature – one that seeks a gentle balance between head and heart. medium_2245436130

 

 

 

 

Another year is about to draw to a close. And what a year it’s been, it seems for most people I know. 2012 has been the year of drama; of emotional upheavals, of extreme weather conditions, of personal tragedies and major transitions.

Fireworks

Fireworks (Photo credit: bayasaa)

The world didn’t end on 21st December, but then that was never really the prediction. What the Mayans and others have predicted is far more subtle and powerful, and far easier to hold both belief and hope in; the dawning of a new world in which we let go of the selfish ego and all our negative habits and beliefs. A world in which we feel the universal connection and no longer view ourselves as separate and isolated, or divided by religious, political or geographical boundaries. Where greed and self-interest no longer govern our desires, and instead we are driven by love and compassion. This sounds like a massive and ambitious project, and it is; we were never going to see changes overnight when the 21st December finally arrived.

I myself had the flu for that entire week, which stayed with me throughout most of the Christmas period. I didn’t feel much like celebrating anything, or even engaging in some major transition predicted by so many millions to occur during this time. But on the 21st December I did at least manage to sit myself down in a quiet place and consider the year so far – my challenges, my achievements, and all that I have overcome – as well as setting some intentions for the next year ahead. Such an exercise isn’t about new year’s resolutions that never get honoured; it is, again, about hope and belief – that we can move through whatever difficulties and dark periods that we experience, and learn from them. Our intentions should be about personal growth – about learning to love ourselves and to forgive others, and taking concrete steps to achieve these goals. This might mean promising yourself a special moment or treat each week that’s only for you; or forgiving someone who you have felt hurt by. Our personal growth is also about letting go of anxiety, anger and fears and maintaining courage that we are on the right path, even if that path can at times seem murky and full of obstacles.

And so intentions for the year ahead aren’t about making promises that can’t be kept – we have to be honest with ourselves, about what we need in order to really grow and realise our true nature and purpose in life. Material goods are important in achieving goals, but having spent a year in unintentional unemployment, I know now not to wish for a new job and loads of money. The last year hasn’t brought me material wealth, but it has brought me other gifts of courage, strength and moments of inner peace which no money can buy.

There have been tears – a whole ocean of them. There was a dark night of the soul, or did I have more than one of those?! But I’m reminded of a great quote by the spiritualist Mooji (and whether you believe in God here is irrelevant):

“Sometimes God challenges you to find strength you don’t have.
Only like this will you go beyond your imagined limits.
You must be pushed so far that you are forced to be humble. Only then, when your pride and arrogance are crushed, will you discover muscles that are not yours.
You will find and use the muscles of God. When you completely abandon yourself, your ego, this miracle becomes possible”

 

So congratulations to all that made it through this difficult year. Remember all that you’ve achieved, and all that you have the power to manifest in 2013, through honest intention and active commitment. By letting go of negative habits and beliefs, and encouraging love and compassion in everything that we do, perhaps we can put the world of darkness behind us.

 

Yesterday was my birthday….another day closer to death, as one spiritualist once said to me.  How else to approach this momentous day which none of us can avoid in our lifetimes?

By Joey Gannon from Pittsburgh, PA (Candles) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Well, I’m also one day closer to 40, one day less in my ticking biological clock whose alarm likes to sound every now and again, reminding me my time is running out whether I want children or not. One year older without a stable career or income or family or a house I can call my own. Harumph!

But there is always another way. And that is the way I took yesterday as I woke up at my parents’ place. I thought about this time last year….a time when I was newly returned from Palestine, heartbroken, lost and jobless. I didn’t want to celebrate my birthday and I didn’t want to see anyone. I was vulnerable to stroppy and self-pitying outbursts with very little prompting. And all I could think about was how to leave my parents’ place and find some space for myself, and preferably a good job to go with it.

With hindsight, I see that this was the first phase of my transition. I was about to embark on a major new journey of the spirit – a word that didn’t really feature in my vocabulary this time last year – and the resistance was strong. This wasn’t about finding a new job or adding something to my CV, this was about surrendering totally to the unknown; digging deep into my personal reality….and, ultimately, gaining far more than just another job or a new home.

At this point I must echo the words of Steve Nobel, a life coach and writer who I discovered last week, who gives talks on and writes about big transitions (he also has a great blog, the Writers Salon, for those wishing to use writing as their healing practice for their transition).  One doesn’t need to be spiritual or into New Age practices to feel touched by what this guy has to say. From  his own tumultuous journey over the years, he has experienced and observed the key stages which transitioners will go through. At stage 1 of our transition we may feel the dream, but the resistance is huge, as it means letting go of an old life that we have grown used to. Our heart or our soul may be pulling us in one direction, but our head will be saying something else: Why do you want to leave that job, are you crazy? You’ll never succeed if you take such risks. What will your friends/family think? 

The resistance may last for months or even years. But one day something will come along – a catalyst – which will shake up your whole life. This tends to come once the intention for change is rooted within us, and before we know it everything seems to be turned upside down. All our old assumptions, direction, identity seems lost and we no longer know what or who to rely on. We are scared, uncertain, fearful. Perhaps at this stage we will experience what is termed a Dark Night of the Soul. I had never heard this term before last week but I recognised it straight away – that night of utter loss and despair, where you appear to be left at sea without a paddle, and in the worst possible storm too. It is indeed a frightening place to be.

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But such moments are an indicator that a profound change is taking place, that goes beyond mere career or lifestyle progression. For me, this signalled the real start of the transition, because it was in grieving for and letting go of all that I had been holding on to that I could truly surrender to the unknown. And the unknown, once we’ve shed these old habits and anxieties and fears, is actually a place of lightness and learning. Each day brings a new lesson, or an unexpected moment of clarity and assurance. The journey becomes the important and vital factor, not the destination.

And so when I think about my birthday I am reminded of this journey that I have taken, and how much I have learned along the way. I also think of all my teachers in the last year – and I’m not talking about academic ones. Healers, writers, artists, fellow transitioners, friends, acquaintances, even strangers – so many have touched me in the last year in unimaginable ways, and in ways that would not have been possible a year ago when my heart and spirit remained locked and my mind and body resistant to change. Indeed, as I mark being a year older, a year wiser, I have a lot to be grateful for.

It’s been over a year since I returned from Palestine, and almost a year of official unemployment. My parents look at me with deep concern in their eyes; I feel that some of my friends are intentionally avoiding the thorny issue of my continuing joblessness. Sure, from the outside the situation looks pretty dire: in my thirties, living with my parents, no money saved for a rainy day, seemingly unable to get a job that I actually want or that I would find rewarding. Single with no sign of romance on the horizon.

And yet this transition is turning into a long journey of self-discovery. I haven’t been working in a job, but I’ve been working on myself – getting to the bottom of what makes me happy, what makes me sad or insecure. Once the journey starts, you have no idea where it will take you; all you can do is give in to the uncertainty. It has in fact only been in the last few weeks that I’ve seen the value in this time, when before I was always thinking I should be doing something else. It turns out that I shouldn’t – I needed to be right here, with myself. This is my year of growth, and the gestation period is not yet over.

Transitions take time – we can’t expect to put one chapter of our lives behind us and move on to a new one straight away. Just learning to accept that certain aspects of my life, certain habits, need to change or stop altogether has been a process in itself. Each time I’ve thought I’d reached some acceptance about moving on from my previous career there’d be a new job advertised to try and suck me back in. It is really only in the last month or so that I’ve truly learned to say no to these temptations. I know my boundaries – what I’m willing to do, and what I know I shouldn’t do because it will hurt me or set me on a backward path. But it has taken time to reach this point. And so the transition is by no means over – actually it has only just begun, and the next chapter of my life is yet to unfold.

This is a transitioner’s biggest challenge – having the patience to let the journey and strength not to force our future but to go with the flow. People use this term all the time, but how often do we really put it into practice? We like to think that we are spontaneous and relaxed about what comes our way, but I’ve realised that actually I’ve spent much of my life trying to control what happens. We do this as a defensive measure, to avoid disappointments or having to face an unpleasant truth about ourselves. It is only when we truly stop what we’re doing to be still and present, that we can begin to understand what is meant by ‘the flow’ – the wave of different emotions and feelings that arise from slowing down and focusing on ourselves instead of what surrounds us. To go with the flow means letting go, surrendering, and understanding that we cannot force the answers. Transitions by their very nature imply an element of uncertainty, and all we can really do is embrace that and wonder at the surprises that reveal themselves once we stop trying to control our trajectory. This can mean that some days there appear to be an abundance of opportunities, but other days nothing seems quite right. Progress can be shoddy; two steps forward, one step back. I have to remind myself each time I feel dissatisfied and full of self-doubt – and these occasions do certainly still occur though not as often, thankfully – that I also have moments of great excitement and anticipation, where I feel like Tony in West Side Story singing ‘Something’s coming’.

Could be!
Who knows?
There’s something due any day;
I will know right away,
Soon as it shows.
It may come cannonballing down through the sky,
Gleam in its eye,
Bright as a rose!

Who knows?
It’s only just out of reach,
Down the block, on a beach,
Under a tree.
I got a feeling there’s a miracle due,
Gonna come true,
Coming to me!

Could it be? Yes, it could.
Something’s coming, something good,
If I can wait!
Something’s coming, I don’t know what it is,
But it is
Gonna be great!

I can’t expect to experience growth and expansion every day. But I’m learning to regard each difficult experience or emotion as something to learn from, rather than something to avoid or be afraid of. And so when I had some acupressure treatment which left me crying every day for four weeks, I ultimately chose to embrace that experience – confront it head on, rather than run away from it, and understand that the hurt I felt from it was a form of healing, of letting go. Now I go to the centre every week for meditation and Qi Gong classes, and it’s a profound experience each and every time. I’ve become more aware of my fragilities, that I’m not the tough person I thought I was. I’m more like a precious object (we all are) that needs to be handled gently, by myself and by others. This discovery has inevitably resulted in me having to avoid certain social situations; there is no longer any payoff for placing myself in environments which are destructive for my sense of wellbeing.  Of course, recognising what those situations are is not always easy, and on several occasions I’ve misjudged it, resulting in a sad and lonely end to the day. But soon after that I’ve picked myself up again, brushed myself off and said to myself, ‘OK, so today’s lesson is…’ Every lesson is a blessing, good or bad – they help us find our inner truth. It is only once we go through some kind of shedding process that our true selves can really emerge.

Now I find myself hunting out those things I know will nurture me and give me confidence, which in my case is increasingly linked to creative interests. A year ago I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that I would be blogging, or singing in a choir (which I recently joined after not having sung for at least 15 years), or going to meditation classes where I do 20 minutes of chanting followed by 20 minutes of ‘Heaven and Earth’ movements. I doubt I would have done any of these things if I was back in a 9 to 5 job.

What I realise now is that this time is an opportunity to try new things, but also to pursue any interests that have for some time been lying dormant. I’m reminded of what one of the Qi Masters said to me last week. She was referring to a true story by George Ritchie, who died for nine minutes and was then brought back to life. In those nine minutes, he literally saw his life flashing before his eyes. The biggest lesson he learned from the experience is that if there is something in your life you want to do, then you must go and do it; you don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and your last breath should be one of fulfilment, not of disappointment. I haven’t yet read the book but it’s next on my reading list. I’ve become a junky for anything that inspires me right now, including true stories and self-help books. They’ve replaced my obsession with reading the newspapers and Human Rights Watch reports – no bad thing for me right now, if you read my previous blog post on burnout.

So a final word on my transition so far? I’m still in the gestation period. Maybe one day in the next month, or the next year, I’ll be ready to emerge from my cocoon of self-inquiry and healing – radiant, confident and ready to fly.

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