Here I am. I am ready.

Leonard Cohen’s final album ‘You want it Darker’ is brilliant. 

It was recorded in his living room because he was too unwell to go anywhere. It seems that, like David Bowie, he saved the best for last, turning the experience of dying into his greatest creative effort.

Then there’s his voice…deeper than ever, summoning sound from the depths of his soul, rasping truths into your ear in a way that makes you feel he’s speaking directly to you.

And although as the title suggests, it is pretty dark, it’s also defiant in a palpably vital way. Leonard is not succumbing, he’s actively welcoming death, “so you want it darker? We kill the flame.”

But the thing about this masterpiece that has fascinated me and provoked some serious thought, are the chorus lyrics in the title track. The meaning of the words, "I'm ready my Lord" are clear enough and caught my attention immediately, I was like ok so he's making his peace with God here but I also noticed Cohen sings some words in another language before that, I didn't understand them, they just seemed important somehow so I looked them up.

It’s actually one word spoken twice, the Hebrew word ‘Hineni’ which translates literally as ‘Here I am’. It is what Moses says to God when he asks him to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. It is what Abraham says to God when God asks him to sacrifice his only son. It denotes a state of absolute readiness to give oneself, it is an offer of absolute availability. 

 “You want it darker’ is Cohen giving himself to God, expressing his absolute readiness for the end of his life. Hineni. Here I am. I’m ready my Lord.

I found this idea utterly beautiful and deeply moving, this expression of a faith so certain, so great that you can hand yourself over to it absolutely. I felt jealous of it in a way, it's such a passionate, selfless, enormous expression of love, it would be an amazing thing to experience and to possess but I don't believe in God so...

Around the same time  I caught Krista Tippett’s On Being Interview with Pádraig Ó Tuama. It’s a rich, compassionate conversation, brimming with wisdom, so much so I’ve listened four times and I’m still not done with it -  it’s a perspective altering piece of audio.

During the conversation they briefly touch on Ó Tuama's favourite poem ‘Lost’ by David Wagoner. They only quoted a couple of lines but they were beautiful, powerful lines, so once again I found myself digging about on the internet, searching for more. Here's what I found:

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

It’s a poem about belonging, about finding your place in the world. Its message is overwhelmingly comforting and reassuring; none of us are truly lost, even when we feel we are because “wherever you are is called Here.’

But in order to be found you have to surrender to that place, the place called Here, the present moment. You must ‘stand still’ ‘listen’ ‘let it find you.” It struck me that this is a form of Hineni, it’s a way of saying “Here I am, I am ready” but instead of making yourself available to God, you’re making yourself open and available to your location in time and space, to circumstance, to the Universe , to whatever life throws at you.

This ritual, the act that the poem is suggesting, is every bit as beautiful and spiritually nourishing as the religious form of Hineni. It still brings you into a state of perfect openness and availability, it’s just that it doesn’t require that you put faith in anyone other than yourself and the moment in which you exist.  

Like Cohen's expression of readiness to hand himself to God, it's actively passive. You have to bring yourself into a state readiness, "Here I am, I am ready" but once you've done that, the rest is out of your hands -  the forest, the place called here, knows where you are, it hears you and it will find you. 

This morning, as I travelled into work, pondering how I might put all of this into words, I put on another episode of On Being, this time a conversation with Richard Rohr. Towards the end of the interview he said something that seemed to me to get to the very heart of this train of thought, “I think the truly human is always experienced in vulnerability…vulnerability transforms you.”

It seems to me to be intrinsically connected to Hineni which, when you think about it, is an ultimate state of vulnerability. A state where the egotistical, desirous-self is put aside in favour of something softer and more yielding, that allows you to be moulded and shaped for the better by the people, experiences and locations you encounter.

Viewed in this way vulnerability isn't weakness, it's a combination of fragility "Here I am" and strength "I am ready" a state where transformation is guaranteed, where we can experience great love, deep relief and a better understanding of what it is to be human and the best thing about it is that you don't have to believe in God to be transformed by it. 

 

The plane crash dream/the second miscarriage

 
Woman mourning miscarriage

The night before I miscarried for the second time I dreamt of a plane crash.

It was horribly beautiful. The plane flew through the middle of the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury, appearing from nowhere between the gap in the iconic roof.  Its nose caught in a voluminous red velvet theatre curtain at the side of stage and gracefully, in slow motion, it flipped backwards and fell to the ground. I anticipated a violent, explosive landing but there wasn’t one, instead the fuselage remained in one piece and quietly caught fire.

It was a strangely perfect metaphor for what happened in the following days because, although it felt as though I might explode and cease to exist at any moment, somehow…somehow I stayed in one piece.

When the bleeding started, the world kept turning but I was moving at a different speed somewhere in a space between existences. My hands trembled uncontrollably as I held the phone to my ear and the moment I spoke, the moment I named the loss, I broke down, sobbing and struggling for air. I kept saying, “why, why, why? Why is this happening again?” over and over and over.

After those first awful, overwhelming waves had broken, I found my breath and drew myself together and, for a little while, I didn’t really feel anything at all. I walked out of the office and got on a bus, my thoughts occupied with practical things, train times, painkillers, phone calls to midwives. My prevailing state was one of resigned numbness. This wasn’t the first time, I knew what was happening and I knew what would happen. I just had to keep going.  

But when I got off the train and saw Bart waiting for me, the numbness was replaced by a sadness so great I couldn’t even hold myself up. I remember saying, “I can’t bear it, I can’t bear it” and at that moment I didn’t think I could, not the pain or the loss or the shattered hopes. So we stopped still for a time, breathing in and out, in and out….until I could bear it, until we could bear it. Until renewed strength materialised from nowhere and we could put one foot in front of the other.

At home life went on. Time ebbed and flowed. The sun rose and set, punctuated by endless TV and tea and pain. Agonising pain that ripped through me, tightening every fibre of my being, forcing me to my feet with gritted teeth to pace and pant like a caged animal.

But the pain was not the worst part. There are worse things than physical pain.

Like knowing you have to relinquish your deepest desires. The idea of a warm, milky, contented baby in your arms. The sensation of soft, fat rolls of skin, silky to the touch. 

These daydreams bring a bright clarity to existence, a sparkling sharpness that isn’t normally visible to the eye, a certainty that you are doing the thing you were put on the earth to do. It’s hard to let them go. Impossible really.

But you have to. You have to let it all go. And when you do, the feeling of loss, the sadness that comes with it, it comes from a place beyond you. A place so big it feels as though it will swallow you whole.

…..

I held the tiny being in my hand. No bigger than a broad bean. On my hands and knees I buried it in the comfort of the warm earth and covered it over. I laid my palms flat on top and kept them there to let as much of my love pass through me and into the soil as I could and I whispered the poem because my voice would not come. 

Prayer

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child's name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio's prayer -
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

Carol Ann Duffy

…..

It is harder this time, to make sense of it all and be philosophical but I am trying. I am still in one piece, I am still hopeful and I am oh so grateful, for family and friends, for love, even for the hardship itself because with difficulty comes opportunity.

The opportunity to see things with fresh eyes, to learn that you are stronger than you could have ever imagined, to know that although you might crash and burn you won’t necessarily explode.

.....

I've found it so comforting to speak to other women who have experienced miscarriage, if you want to share your experience with someone, then I am here katie@crowblack.co.uk

The Audacity of Hope

 
Mother and child playing

I listened to/watched Barack Obama’s speech at the DNC this week. My god, that man – he is so great…I feel like I haven’t paid attention to just how great he is until it’s almost too late.

The thing that struck me most is that, in the face of so much adversity, he is still hopeful and positive. I needed to hear someone talking about hope. Mine has been dwindling lately, or rather I’ve been letting its light dim, its flame flailing wildly in the wind.

Generally speaking I am almost too hopeful, even when I don’t want to be, even during the hardest of times when it would probably be better to accept that the worst is happening, a sparkle of hope springs from nowhere and I think to myself, “yes but what if it works out.” It’s easier for me to deal with disappointment than constantly think the worst.

But lately I’ve been struggling. When I extend my gaze beyond the safe familiarity of my day to day life I find little cause for optimism. All I can see is a sort of indiscriminate darkness; political and economic chaos, countless acts of senseless and horrific violence, the existence of Donald Trump, the knowledge that we’re destroying our planet...

It’s oppressive, powerfully oppressive and it makes me feel weary, tired enough to give up and give in to the idea that human kind cannot, will not, better itself, that there aren’t enough good people to overcome greed, selfishness, bigotry and small mindedness. I gave up on hope, telling myself that the world is un-shapeable, that I would have to learn to accept things as they are. 

Then I watched Barack’s speech and it made me think. 

People across history have had to overcome challenges exactly like the ones we face and they’ve taken them on and won, triumphed in fact. But change will only come if I get up and make it happen. If I go out there and fight for it. 

Obama mentioned the ‘countless acts of quiet courage’ it has taken to achieve the previously unimaginable thing that is marriage equality. The challenges that face us...they're marriage equality squared infinity. We’re going to need many, many, many quiet acts of courage and probably some ball-breakingly huge ones too if we’re going to get through this horrible, uncertain period in our history and undo all the wrongs that have caused it. 

Last night, Eli and I sat looking out of the window observing the world on our doorstep. He pointed at the flowers and said, “look the wind is in them” waving his chubby arms in an enthusiastic demonstration. It was all suddenly very clear. The future doesn’t belong to me, it’s his and if I stop hoping for a better world then I've betrayed him in the most callous way. 

Obama is right, it's an audacious thing hope, it exists even when it has no right to. Renewing mine will be my first quiet act of courage. 

Magical Realism

“Explanations are such cheap poetry” – Stephen King

It’s funny. I don't believe in a religious higher power, I don't think there is a person watching over us. controlling us or judging us. In the past I've said things like “I believe in Science...“I believe in the planet” as if not believing in a God means I can only believe in cold, hard fact; in what can be explained. Actually, I think my beliefs are somewhere in between; straddling the unexplainable and the proven. 

This week, as Bart told me the story of a friend who has had an exorcism performed at their house, I realised that I had accepted every word of the story without question. It didn’t even occur to me NOT to believe the story. I believe in Ghosts and I believe in other invisible, intangible forces too.

I believe in Serendipity. Life is peppered with so many connections and coincidences, I feel as thought there must be some kind of cosmic order. it's like there are certain, significant, things; people, places or experiences meant for me. When I’m open to them they draw me in like a magnet. They are powerful and important, they alter the course of my life, they ARE my life.

When I stop trying to control things, I can sense those forces at work; thoughts that pop into my head and won’t go away, the feeling that I’ve always known a person I’ve just met, tiny shells scattered on my bedroom floor. They’re the whisperings and happenings of the Universe that I frequently and easily miss but when I listen to them, when I act on them…that’s when important things happen.  

On the day we looked around the house that’s now our home, we also looked around a flat. The house was in a pretty bad state, some of the rooms hadn’t been decorated since the 70’s and there was this aura of decay. It was intimidating.  The flat was spacious, airy and beautifully finished. It was close to the sea and close to the train. A young family were living there. It seemed perfect. We made an offer on the flat and we were absolutely sure we wanted it.

Then we got in the car to go home, and I can remember it so clearly, I was looking out of the window and this feeling of acute anxiety came over me. I kept thinking about the house; the pictures of Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis hanging on the walls (Some Like it Hot is my favourite film), the ease with which Eli moved from room to room; as if he had always been there. I had this emotional connection with the house and it was almost as if it was talking to me.

I told Bart (who didn’t think I was crazy, who never thinks I’m crazy). It turned out he was also having reservations but for different reasons. And so, the next day we made an offer on the house. A house that became ours despite a number of setbacks that threatened to ruin the whole thing. 

In March 2015, a few months later than planned, we moved in. As we began stripping back the layers of dusty cobwebs, ancient wallpaper and ragged curtains we found treasure. Heart shapes in the bannisters that we hadn’t noticed on any of our visits, love letters written in WW2, old newspapers and photographs. The house had a story to tell, it’s like it wanted to be ours.

Back in 2003, I completed two weeks work experience at a little publishing house in East London. At the end of that fortnight I was offered a permanent job with the publisher, an amazing job that would have taken me all over the world but I turned it down because the following week I had been offered work experience at the BBC. I had a very strong feeling that I should take that chance. I didn’t know what, if anything, would come of it but I wasn’t afraid. It was the thing I had to do.  

Three weeks later, on a beautifully sunny May day, I walked through the gates of BBC Elstree as an official employee. Standing in the roadway was a tall, skinny guy in a stripy jumper with sunglasses on his head. A friend introduced him and explained that he was a cameraman on our show. He was friendly and funny. I liked him straight away. Reader... I didn’t marry him but 13 years later we have created a beautiful, full, life together and if I hadn't listened to my gut, it might never have happened. 

There is magic at work in the fabric of life, there is no distinction between science and magic, between reality and fiction. The most beguiling scientific discoveries are the ones that reveal to us the impossible poetry of our existence, the best fairy tales are founded on truth and sometimes our most successful decisions are often the ones we make on a feeling, an inexplicable gut instinct that drives us towards the thing we most need.

 

On Lemonade - A letter to Beyonce Knowles

Dear Beyonce,

I’m listening to Lemonade for the third time in less than 12 hours, I’ve watched the film too, so really that’s four times.

There aren’t many works of art that have affected me in this way. It has seeped into the crevises of my brain, I can’t stop thinking about it…or you.

You have mined the depths of what it means to be a woman, unashamedly exploring and inhabiting all the characteristics we possess; raw power, love, strength, intuition, forgiveness, sexuality, empathy and you’ve helped me to see just how valuable those things are.

We are capable of harbouring life in the core of our being and yet, somehow, we’re still the underdogs. Until now I don’t think I fully understood how wrong that is, how imbalanced that makes the world we live in.    

I feel so excited. I see that womankind holds the answers to many the problems facing this world. Even in the depths of our despair we can draw on our inner strength and seek reconciliation and healing even when that seems impossible. We can overcome and in doing so become better versions of ourselves; from lemons we make lemonade.

Patriarchy has been the way for so long but it doesn’t work. The currency of patriarchy is the wrong kind of power; a hubris that seeks to be better than fellow man, a system that crushes ,oppresses and alienates. A system that removes power from too many people; particularly, as you’ve so poignantly and painfully shown, black women.   

You have illuminated another path. For the first time I can actually see how it might look. It’s a system that embodies femininity and all its gloriously powerful facets; that reconciles differences and heals scars.  A system values everyone and their contribution and whose success is not predicated on disempowerment or oppression but on collective power.

I know I’m not the only person feeling this so I think this might be the time to make a start, to leave behind all the pain and suffering and move towards this new way of being.

Holy shit Mrs Carter, what a thing to have done for womankind. 

Sending you so much love and gratitude, 

Katie X

Hurricane

There is an episode of House of Cards that is predicated on a Hurricane. It opens with a close up of a computer screen filled with the image of its swirling, threatening mass. It’s still out at sea but its power is evident. Implicit in the image is the notion that when the storm reaches land fall it will bring utter devastation.

We’re experiencing similar conditions. A perfect storm is building; a storm driven by the worst of human nature; hatred, greed, selfishness, apathy and fear. For some, for me, it’s still out at sea but for many it’s right overhead.

Wars are being waged in multiple countries across the globe, people are dying on our doorstep, thousands wait interminably on our borders in the cold, with no shelter. Rain falls endlessly in December. Ice melts. A mad man wins primary after primary. A drone strikes.

The storm hasn’t hit us yet. Not yet. It’s circling, skirting our coast. Prickling our fear.

In a subconscious response we hunker down, close ourselves off, switch into survival mode. Governments hoard resources, my sister studies the healing qualities of herbs, I stockpile paracetamol and tinned food. I buy more matches than I need. I think about buying a gun.

I am afraid. My fear keeps me up at night. I am haunted by the images of parents in Calais, in Greece, in Syria, on the borders of Macedonia, offering up their children to strangers. I close my eyes and see the limp body of a drowned child. I imagine how it would feel to have your home bulldozed with your belongings inside, or to be utterly helpless; at the mercy of a system that is opposed to you and doesn’t hear your cries for help. I think of the oceans awash with plastic and trees burning.

For now, these horrors are not part of my immediate existence and it is possible to ignore them if I choose. In the morning the sun shines across the calm waters of the estuary. Boats bob and gulls fly. My boy sleeps next to me, his hand in mine, safe and warm.

But try as I might I can’t ignore them, I can't hunker down or cut myself off and I watch events unfold with horror. No one with any real power seems to be doing anything. We are taught in books, films, political speeches that in our hour of need someone will come for us. Not so it seems. There are caveats to goodwill. We must offer evidence of our distress, papers and proof; more evidence than is required for politicians to take our country to war. The videos of devastated Syrian cities aren’t enough, the tyranny of Daesh is not enough, stories of towns under siege, starved of supplies for weeks on end. Not enough.

You must struggle on alone is the message they send. By our measure you're not desperate enough. Besides, we can’t help all of you and so we’ll help no one.

I am terrified because it could so easily be me, it could so easily be any of us and should the storm hit, we might not be able to prove that we are worthy of help either. In any case, I’m not certain that evidence makes any difference. Countless scientific journals and events we have all witnessed with our own eyes; unprecedented flooding, warming oceans, daffodils in December, they don’t spur the Government into action either. They are not money or big business. They aren’t things worthy of concern.   

In House of Cards the Hurricane doesn’t make landfall, it changes course and America is saved. I don't think we'll be that lucky, not unless we do something. We’re not dealing with a natural phenomenon. This is something we’ve created ourselves and only we have the power to change its course.

The solutions are out there, I hear clever and inspiring people talking about them all the time on the podcasts I listen to. I see clever and inspiring people volunteering help, offering compassion and innovating on a small scale. I'm starting to think that it's these people we’re going to have to turn to. Up to now they've been dismissed as naive, as hippies or idealists but honestly, they’re the ones with the answers. It's them we should support; where we should donate our spare time and our resources. 

I no longer have any faith in the Governments’ ability, inclination or capacity to protect us from the storm that threatens our very existence. Actually I think they might be a big part of it. That said, I’m not advocating revolution (although in the mood I’m in today if someone started one I’d probably grab a pitch fork and join in) those who know me well, know how much I like systems and structure and I truly believe some kind of system is better than a free for all. But this system is shit, it’s failing at every level and if the Governments aren’t going to do anything then we, the people will have to do it ourselves. 

There’s more of us anyway. 

2015

In 2015 I unlocked something within myself, or rather I just stopped holding it back. I lifted the flood gates and let the torrent of creativity, because it was a torrent, crash through in a rushing, powerful, life-giving wave.

This act of release has had a profound effect on me. It has given me a new lease of life, I am brimming with vitality. I haven’t been this motivated or productive since I was a child. I am constantly doing, finding little pockets of time throughout my days to think and create. I have so many ideas, so much creative energy that when I go to bed at night my body hums with an internal electricity. My overpowering frustration these days is lack of time but I think even that could be viewed positively, it helps me to stay focused, to use every precious moment carefully.

I’m not sure why it was possible to open the gates in 2015 and not in the preceding years. I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the New Year period. I’ve also been wondering why I didn’t do it sooner, why I have spent the last ten years supressing something that is quite clearly fundamental to me. Something that as a child I did without even thinking. 

There are lots of explanations but I think they all boil down to a single reason. I was afraid. Afraid that being an artist, a writer, or whatever it is that I am becoming, wouldn’t earn enough money to create the life I had imagined I would lead. Afraid that I’m not good enough or not as good as other people, afraid people would think that I’m pretentious or self-indulgent, that creating art isn’t a ‘real’ job. 

2015 was the magical year where I stopped giving as much of a fuck and started being brave but the elements that came together to make that possible are more difficult to articulate. They’re deeply intertwined and they had to come together in a sort of magical combination and in sufficient quantities.

For the last five years I’ve been in a state of evolution, one which I hope I remain in for the rest of my life. I am wide open to experiences, to change, to self-analysis, to being better, to trying new things. I have rediscovered my curiosity and curiosity is a wonderful thing because it takes you to places beyond your wildest dreams.

In the time since my 30th birthday. I have changed careers, lived in Norwich, gained a qualification, moved back to London, moved into my own house by the sea, discovered the magical powers of exercise, made some really important and inspirational new friends who have in turn given me yet more amazing experiences and most importantly I’ve become a mother.  

These experiences have taught me so many things. They have made me courageous and confident. I still feel fear but I’ve come to accept it as part of the process. Exercise in particular has given me the gift of self-belief.  If I don’t listen to the negative voices in my head, my body can do so much more than I ever thought it could. Life is a lot like long distance running.  I just have to start, have confidence in myself and keep putting one foot in front of the other. I will probably stop to vomit a couple of times along the way but I will definitely cross the finish line and feel awesome.

I have learned that actions really do speak louder than words. It’s only in doing that things change for the better, otherwise all you’re really doing is talking a lot and staying in the same place.

I have had to become more patient, though those who know me best would probably say this is an area where there is still plenty of room for improvement. I try to be patient with my son, I am definitely more patient with myself and in terms of the creative process time is my very best friend.

Finally, becoming a parent has probably given me the greatest schooling of all. We have no idea what we’re doing most of the time; it’s all just one big experiment but on the whole things work out, often better than expected. It also helped me to prioritise what’s important and to leave behind things that don’t serve me. It sounds dramatic but it’s absolutely true that when you bring a life into the world you become keenly aware of how fragile and short life is, you only have one and you owe it to yourself to live it well. It’s remarkable how easy this makes decision making.

I’m also trying to develop a well-balanced, curious, kind, empathetic human which means leading by example and being the best (though obviously not perfect) version of me. Oh and for the first time in my life I’m prepared to die for someone. That makes me feel pretty badass.

In 2015 these qualities, ones that I had inadvertently been nurturing for some time; self-confidence, courage, patience, strength, the desire to be a better human, merged with the creativity that I had been supressing. The resulting force so great that I no longer had the power to control it.

I had very little autonomy in the decision to open the door on creativity. I was compelled to do it and once I started writing the words and ideas flowed so fast that I couldn’t capture them all. The day of my first Crowblack post, something so tiny in the grand scheme of things, was truly incredible. It was the first step into a new, honest and exciting way of being. I cried and trembled as I shared what I had written and then felt euphoric for days. The euphoria has ebbed to a feeling of contentment and the ideas have slowed to a steady trickle but there are plenty available if I’m willing to explore them.

So, on New Year’s Eve 2015 I didn’t make any resolutions. Instead I raised my glass in a toast offered by my dearest friends and whole-heartedly joined the chorus of voices shouting; “more of the same.”

Yes. That will do nicely 2016. More of the same. 

How I'm learning to manage my emotional behaviour

A long time ago, before I was aware that there was a choice, I let my emotional response to life's events become my normal response. 

I feel my way through every decision, every act, and every event. I cry easily, I laugh easily and my rage blazes up quick like freshly lit tissue paper. 

I experience deep, life-affirming joy in seemingly small but perfect moments that make me feel invincible. The molten metal of the morning light on the estuary mud flats, a look exchanged between my dearest loves that dissolves into laughter, walking over Waterloo Bridge at Sunset. All these things make me feel that way.  

But life isn’t a sequence of perfect moments and being an emotional person isn't always a good thing. There are trials, hardships, pressures and barriers which trigger more challenging and unpleasant feelings. I am rarely carefree, crossing the Thames at golden hour. I am often anxious or angry and constantly riddled with self- doubt. 

It’s a cruel trick of human design that made positive emotions fleeting and fragile but created negative emotions with strength and stamina. My negative feelings dominate and they pollute my perceptions and actions for days, months, even years. 

My anger, for example, is greedy and rewarding. When I feel anger I feel power, so I feed it with thoughts and opinions and let it rage into an inferno that I can’t control and don’t fully understand. Then I lash out, shout and cry. I say things I don’t mean, things I don’t even really believe. It all spews out of my mouth in a torrent of rage that later morphs into the more permanent and corrosive emotions like regret and self-loathing. 

My fear, anxiety and self-doubt are cunning. They seed in my brain and spread like weeds; knotting themselves around my sternum where they rest for days on end, rising occasionally to hiss and spit like an angry cat. They're relentless and manipulative but I trust their truths, so when they whisper "you're not good enough" or "everyone thinks you're stupid" or "you're a failure" I carry the words around in my heart like love notes. 

I'm not depressive. I love life. I love everything about it. My negative feelings are an accompaniment to my experiences, a sort of side salad of adrenaline. I’m used to living with them but I’ve known for a while that this way of being is robbing me of something; a steadier more contented existence, less exciting perhaps but richer overall. 

It’s hard to admit to yourself that there’s a better way of going about things, especially when you’ve spent years accepting and humouring a personality, believing that it’s the truest version of you. But I’m beginning to realise that in fact the opposite is true. These feelings are keeping me from myself. 

I can see that my responses and behaviours negatively impact my view of the world. I can see that many of the decisions I make are based on an inaccurate view of events and don’t produce the best results for me. I can see how my feelings falsely elevate experiences that shouldn’t even be noteworthy, how they affect the people closest to me and how they hold me back. 

I can see that in any given situation I have a choice. It’s not a choice between feeling or not feeling, I have no control over that and anyway I wouldn’t want to be that constrained. I just want to be able to decide which emotions I bestow with power and which I stop in their tracks. 

Time is key to exercising this choice. Time allows me to acknowledge negative emotions, to question their validity, to understand if they’re the result of habitual reactions and to seek other perspectives which will help me to grasp the bigger picture. Kindness is also my companion in this endeavour; I have to be less judgemental of my own thoughts and actions, to accept that I will and do make mistakes but also to be less judgemental of others and their interactions with me. 

I have been experimenting with this new approach for a little while now and I have seen glimpses of another me; a person that can handle disappointment with poise and maturity rather than anguish and tears, who doesn’t experience a panicking swell of the lungs, an overwhelming urge to cry or a sense of desperation every time she receives criticism. Who lets feelings come and go, a person who looks outside herself and seeks to help others rather indulging her own feelings.

 I want to get to know her better. I think she’ll go far.  

Where do we go from here?

Like so many I have spent the last few days feeling deep despair. There is so much death, so much unnecessary death and suffering everywhere on this beautiful planet of ours. Life was magically created here out of dust and stars and every single one of us is failing to honour this gift of existence. Mankind is broken and we’re all responsible. We must be. Everything is connected.

The difficulties facing us are so many, so huge, and so complex that it’s difficult to know where to start with the process of making things better. The countless conversations I’ve had over the weekend, both face to face and virtually, are testament to that. They covered everything from religion, to anomie, to the hypocrisy of western government, to the absence of compassion in society and the conversations raised many more questions than answers.

One point that seemed to surface again and again is that a change of perspective is needed. If the human race is to survive we have to stop seeing ourselves as separate; our actions discrete and our individual existence special.

There is a Ted Radio Hour episode called ‘How it All Began” which explores our origins as a species. It is a mind blowing programme designed to make you think. One of the more extraordinary revelations that has been knocking around in my brain ever since I heard the podcast, is that we’re all basically related. Every single human has the same basic elements of DNA from one mitochondrial Eve. So the borders, the distinctions, the differences, the inequalities that we seem to value so highly are all just constructs created by man for his own ends.

If there is no such thing as race, just the human race, then why are we so determined to destroy ourselves either directly through violence or indirectly by ignoring those in need?  

It seems to me that it’s because we choose to see ourselves as somehow different; as better or worse than others, as more important or less important than others, as citizens of an arbitrarily designated chunk of land mass rather than citizens of the world.

It’s a matter of survival, if we want to succeed we’re going to have to consider the whole, to see that actions big and small affect us all and every one of us must lead by example.

Where do we go from here? Well…

We can begin by choosing to see the similarities between us, rather than the differences. We can begin with empathy and understanding. We can begin with acts of kindness. We can begin with compassion. We can begin with making decisions that make the world a better place for the many and not the few. We can begin by creating new stories based on our shared future, rather than our fractured past.

We can begin by reaching out.