Breathing underwater

Try this when you’re next in the bath. Put your head back into the water until your ears are submerged. Listen closely, and you should be able to hear your own pulse.

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I love being in water, but when I was learning to dive there came a point which I found slightly traumatic: the bit when you have to fill your mask with water and clear it by breathing through your nose. The fear of that exercise alone made me want to give up and get out. But once I’d got over the panic and relaxed into it, I wondered what all the fuss had been about.

It’s hard to imagine that a few million years ago creatures emerged from the sea and made the transition to land, but it seems as though the magnitude of the challenge facing us right now is not dissimilar. And it feels almost hopeless, sometimes, when you see how destructive our behaviour can be.

Last week there was a strike at the local council and none of the bins were collected. Walking around town, I was struck by the sheer volume of rubbish we produce and how most people continued to just dump it in the street. In places, you couldn’t even walk along the pavement for exploded black sacks. Some people even decided to take the opportunity to dump a whole bunch of other stuff that they wouldn’t normally, like old mattresses, armchairs and builders’ waste. It seemed like a very visual expression of separation:  “That’s someone else’s problem”. At work, a similar phenomenon manifests in the attitude that says “I’m here to do my work and then I go home”. The idea of “our work” can seem alien, let alone “our relationships” at work.

On a personal level, people can find it hard to connect all the different aspects of their personality and stop acting in a way that’s self destructive. Take for example people’s struggle with dietary issues. The doctor explains what will happen if you don’t change. But sometimes it’s too hard to break the routine and step outside the comfort zone, even when the consequences are staring us in the face.

I’ve been working with an exercise designed to help you reconnect aspects of your subconscious (you can find details in Debbie Ford’s “Dark Side of the Light Chasers”). It involves finding different ‘characters’ who represent your different aspects. The way the exercise works is that you first need to take yourself into a relaxed state of mind. Then, imagine yourself in different settings where you find different characters. For example, passengers on a bus.  More recently, I found a character in an unexpected location: underwater. This type of exercise is not something I’m terribly familiar with. It is an exploration into the unknown. But it feels like an important one.

Anyway, I think the reassuring thing is that the reality of a challenge is rarely anything like as traumatic as the anticipation. The fear of approaching the edge versus the aliveness of taking the plunge.

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Burying shadows

Woke up Saturday morning thinking about this passage from Dorian Gray..

“Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.”

And in a way, I feel as though I have been dying a little bit lately. So I woke up with Oscar Wilde in my head and I started to wonder, in the end, what’s worse: breaking the rules or obeying them?

You’ve probably already seen this post by Bronnie Ware (“Regrets of the Dying”) but even if you have, it’s worth another look. Obviously, Bronnie is talking about people who are literally at the end of their life. Still, I think the messages are equally relevant if you feel that a part of you is fading away.

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence… many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

Rod Judkins‘ brilliant book on creativity, “Change Your Mind“,  identifies some other challenges to living a full life..

“Don’t give yourself the option of mediocrity and safety. If you have something to fall back on, chances are you will. In our life and work we often feel under pressure to do what is sensible…  to live a creative life you need to be liberated from being sensible… the pressure to be sensible is stifling and suffocating.” 

Something else that can be stifling is the idea that we need to “live true”. What does that mean? You may sense that something isn’t quite right, but how can you know what is your true life?

At one workshop with Charles Eisenstein last year we did a powerful exercise, which works something like this: You choose a subject over which you are having a struggle and describe it to your partner. Then your partner tells you two contrasting stories that explain the situation and what you need to do. Your partner then asks you what is the truth. It sounds easy, but it’s not. Your partner keeps asking over and over “what is the truth, right now?”, until the whole truth comes out. In my case the truth really came out the following day as though my subconscious mind had been working it through overnight. I woke up in tears and with an answer.