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January 14, 2019

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Soul Tides

January 14, 2019

I am sat at a small oak table, looking out at the Ionian sea through open double-doors on a Greek island and I am hungry. Last night I decided that today I would fast and it’s now 5.06pm. I am fasting because I know that when I consciously refrain from eating for periods of time I can’t avoid my body, its presence simply demands to be felt. So here I am, aspiring to still the static in my thinking mind and get in touch with my whole-body wisdom again. It struck me earlier on in the day that the relationship I’ve been having with myself for the last few months can be summed up in two words; just enough. Just enough stillness first thing in the morning, just enough reflective writing over a week, just enough movement and thoughtful eating if I’m really on top of the ‘just enough’ game. Except that I’m not.

 

The question I’m pondering as my fast continues is this one; how do we know when ‘just enough’ slips silently over a border and becomes ‘not enough’? Frequently, ‘too much’ of a specific behaviour will be the first thing that alerts us: too much technology, tobacco, sugar, alcohol or obsessing over sex; too much binge-watching programmes, exercise, spending or sleeping. And the list goes on, each one of us can fill in our own personal blanks. For myself,  an extended period of  ‘too much’ precedes the behaviour that means I’ve finally hit the psychic danger zone; catastrophic thinking. My normal tendency to lean in this direction begins to escalate. I find myself energising specific thoughts in my mind, while the rest of me stumbles, panicked, from the future they’re creating in my imagination. If I don’t pay attention to this internal coup then, at its peak, I can become poleaxed by fear, especially in relation to one of my granddaughters who has additional needs. Then I find myself pleading with God to let me live for at least another decade. Thrashing around, I frantically debate who might support my daughter with the love that I do, should the end of my life come soon. These thoughts cling to my psyche like a Russian Vine trammelling all over my resistance to them. Finally I collapse, afraid, empty handed and alone before the awful truth that, as a human being, I have no real control over anything. 

 

I know this pattern in myself now, of ‘just enough’ becoming ‘not enough’ after I’ve distracted myself with ‘too much’ for too long. Familiarity eases this cycle though it doesn’t eliminate it. But perhaps elimination isn’t even the goal? David Whyte, the poet, says that we, as human beings, are not meant to be entirely at home in ourselves. He asserts that ‘being in exile’ from ourselves for periods of time necessitates a journey back - and it’s through the repetition of this journey that we eventually memorise the route home. I have considerable faith in this point of view because I’ve lived it so often. Whyte also advocates for a daily spiritual practice. He views it pragmatically, as an effective early warning system, which enables us to take care of ourselves in timely and tender ways. Such a practice also allows us to be wholly present to whatever will unfold in our lives and, significantly, to create the memories we want to remember. Yet, to accomplish this, we have to stay connected, plugged in, to ourselves and to something more than ourselves. Which brings me back to fasting, to words on the page, to ritual and to prayer. To the sea outside of my window and the unknowable power that infuses the sun and moon to pull the tides, back and forth, across the planet. From this position of presence, humility and awe, I am reconciled to my own vulnerability and my inevitable suffering is eased. Ultimately, I find my release in trusting an intelligence greater than my own and letting go into its fullness.

 

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