There’s a part of me that still so desperately wants to fit in. Fit in with everyone else’s expectations. What I should wear. What I should think. What I should be doing “at my age”. I have to be very gentle with this part of me for she’s borne out of the smallest most vulnerable part of my self. The part that was squashed into a corner and told not to make a fuss. The part that believes with every cell of her being that she will only be loved if she is deemed acceptable. If she plays the game the others play, the one where she doesn’t know the rules and screws up every which way she turns — if she can master that game then everything will work out. If she wears the right shoes, if she was more outgoing, if she could just be like everyone else, she wouldn’t feel so achingly different. . .
There’s this other part of me that covers herself in tattoos, wears tight jeans and all the lipstick and doesn’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks. Who would rather die a slow painful death than be thought to be like everyone else. Who strives to be original in all she does — the worst accusation you could ever level at this part of me is copycat. She’ll rip it up and start again if it starts to smell like someone else’s cooking. She’s the big sister going first to break new ground. She’s the pot-smoking, trip-taking, henna-haired part of me that always has something to say. That rarely shuts up. . .
Neither of these parts run the show these days. They each had a turn back when I first became them, back when I needed to be those selves. Now they’re integrated into the larger whole of who I am and every day I dance with the many selves of my past, wondering about the selves of my future. The longer we live the more selves we collect, yet at the very core there’s a silky thread connecting them all. Looking back I can see hints of Her in all my previous iterations, and can still recall those rare moments when I side-stepped the scared girl, the needy lover, the devastated woman, and remembered who I was. Infinite, endless, encased in flesh and blood. I’d love to live every day in that remembering, but bills and deadlines and insecurites budge in, tripping me up until the next time I create enough space to touch the thread again.
I’m so ready for more space.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
- from the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
For most of my adult life I’ve felt like a detached head bobbing around on the hot air of my thoughts. I never considered my body to be the real me. I thought our bodies were merely our transportation on earth, the cumbersome things that housed the divine sparks of who we really were. Bodies are bloody inconvenient. They need fuel. They age. They can’t be trusted. Like most women in the western world I still wished parts of my body were bigger or smaller but the truth is I valued my thoughts and feelings so much more than anything that was happening below my neck. I lived in my head, full stop.
Thankfully, things have been changing since I got back to London. 2013 began with the realisation that the previous year had taken its toll and the black dog had come to stay. Determined to get the support I needed to heal I went back on antidepressants — which are not for everyone but with my history with depression they are lifesavers —, joined a gym, and found a new therapist. The tablets brought me back up to normal (whatever the hell that is), the exercise taught me to appreciate the mechanics of my body, and my sessions with Wendy have helped me continue unravelling my self, a process I find so incredibly rewarding.
When I got to the beginning of this year, I was in a pretty good place. I’d taken a break from dating to focus solely on my work for a while, and was doing okay emotionally, all things considered. It was while in this pulled together place I found the next piece of the puzzle. Flicking through The Lotus and the Lily one morning, I read:
“You are an embodied soul. That means what your soul experiences, your body experiences.”
Underlining it with my orange pen, I read it again. There was a bell ringing in my head. I copied the quote into my journal, and then carried on writing:
I spend so much time fretting about being a soul “trapped” in a body, when, actually, my soul permeates every part of my body. I am an embodied soul. My soul and my body are not separate! If I consider that every single cell in my body contains my soul — that it’s not just perched in my head or my heart, or floating around outside of me — but actually IN me, inside every part of me, it makes me look at my body differently. It’s not “just the car I drive around in.”
Maybe this sounds obvious to you, but, friends, it was the first time I really got it (cue the irony) deep in my bones. From the tips of my toes and the in-growing hairs on my shins, to the wobbly flesh on my hips and the freckles on my nose, every single part of me contains my soul. After a lifetime of dismissing my body that was the day the dam broke and my head and body got stitched back together. I honestly don’t know why it had never occurred to me before.
It’s important to note here that going to the gym didn’t magically get easier after this realisation — as if! — but I’ve definitely been experiencing my body in a much more holistic way. I’m taking more time over it: getting a leg wax instead of shaving, slathering on more lotion, drinking more smoothies, and eating far more consciously. I’ve been wearing dresses instead of jeans and painting my toe nails brighter colours. I find I’m more forgiving of my body and moving through the world with more awareness than usual. Where I’d usually be so quick to complain I’m finding more tenderness and gratitude. More patience for my fallible human form.
Most interesting of all, my meditation practice has been evolving, taking me from being in my head to naturally wanting to inhabit more of my body. I find the easiest way to get centred is to feel into the different parts of my body and then visualise breathing colour into each chakra in turn. Whether or not you believe these energy points actually exist, the idea of them helps me get inside my body fast. As an over-thinky person it helps to have something to focus my thoughts on, and visualising colour and energy is surprisingly effective.
I recorded a version of my body grounding meditation for Day One of The Sacred Alone, which you can try by clicking on the audio below. It’s a great way to get back into the moment without needing any bells or whistles. You just sit down, close your eyes and feel into each part of your body. I do this most mornings before I let my meditation take me where it wants to go.
I’m happy to report that my body and I feel like a team these days. I still have mornings when I look in the mirror exasperated at the changes in my face, but on the whole I’m inhabiting all parts of my being and learning to see my self as a whole: body, mind and spirit intertwined. At some point I may even stop referring to “my body” as separate and simply call it me.
Only took me 41 years to get here ;-)
The mid-summer session of The Sacred Alone starts on Monday! This gentle 14 day course definitely feels like the new direction for me and my work. It’s an invitation to take 20 minutes each day to connect to the quiet knowing space in your heart, the place that offers refuge, wisdom and calm. Registration is happening over here — come join us! x
“I absolutely loved the course. I think that is because of YOU as a person first and foremost. The content is secondary. As usual your gentle, loving, fun self shone through. I thought there was a perfect amount of journalling… enough prompts to get me writing but not too much that I felt I had to answer or do. I ended up really valuing the journalling. I didn’t actually write a lot but the content that came out of me was very meaningful. I LOVED your meditations…your voice is lovely. I love having the Facebook aspect of the course and can’t imagine the course without this piece. I so enjoy connecting and sharing with others. In summary the course rocked, you rock and I can’t wait to take another course with you. You are an inspiring, down-to-earth, lovely being. Thank you for being who you are!” ~ Stephanie (check out her blog posts here + here)
Remember, the entrance door to the sanctuary is inside you — Rumi
I attended a 3-day workshop with Sally Kempton recently. We were learning about kundalini and the goddess and the joys of spiritual awakening. There was chanting, meditation and a LOT of women in attendance. At one point Sally shared a few book and website recommendations with us, describing one site as “not too woo woo”. And I thought to myself what could possibly be more woo woo than kundalini, chanting and the goddess?! But I knew what she meant because I often use that term myself.
It usually pops up when I’m with a group of people who hold a mix of beliefs — when teaching a course, for example, I never take it for granted that everyone has the same references as me and I try to be as inclusive as possible. To me that’s just being polite and respectful. But lately I’ve become more aware of how I use the term in my everyday life, too. It’s the “this might sound a bit woo woo but…”s that have got to stop.
I know where this has come from. Looking back over my relationships I see I chose partners who didn’t share my beliefs. I still remember the withering looks I received and how I always felt the need to play down that side of myself. The not-an-atheist side, completely at odds with how they viewed the world.
All this has been swirling in my head since I finished reading The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. While Sue Monk Kidd’s background is vastly different from mine — I had a very secular upbringing — I devoured every word of that book. As ever, reading another woman’s story has emboldened me to own my own. It suddenly hit me that when I diminish what’s important to me I diminish myself, and while I may have been quick to do that in the past I don’t want to do it anymore.
I don’t follow a particular religion or a single set of beliefs, and while much of what rings true for me lives in the New Age camp for sure, these days I’m most interested in my own first-hand experience of spirituality. The best way I can explain it is this: It’s the connection I feel when I turn inwards, my sense of being connected to something much larger than me yet also unquestionably a part of me, too. And there ain’t nothing woo woo about that.
I enjoy learning about new ways to connect to the sacred within — hence the kundalini workshop — and ever since I bought my first tarot deck as a teenager I have always been interested in the metaphysical. As I get older my understanding of my place in the world is deepening, which in turn makes me more confident about embodying that with others. I love my spiritual accessories — my home is filled with crystals and singing bowls and more oracle cards than is probably necessary — but really all I need do is close my eyes and I’m there. I’m home.
We’ve come up with so many names and rules for what could be ‘out there’ — god, angels, spirit, universe, source, shakti, the mystery, the all-that-is — and while I don’t think any of us will ever really know the truth until we shove off our mortal coil, enough bonkers things have happened in the last nine years to let me know that there’s more to all this than just what we see with our eyes. I can’t prove it scientifically but I know what feels true for me. And that’s the bit that feels important — that we each find what feels true for us.
I guess you could call me a healthily sceptical believer :)