I have been troubled of late. Recently, there have been terrorist attacks in my home city of Manchester (on May 22nd 2017), and then when I was in London recently there was another one on June 3rd – in an area where I had been walking only the day before, and through which I had travelled by train just earlier that day. Both were horrific attacks, condemned by all decent people. Both cities responded with strength, love and determination to overcome the trauma that had hit them, but the attacks have left their scars.
I also have been troubled for much longer however, by what I see as a creeping move towards an ‘I’m alright Jack, pull up the ladder’ kind of mentality. Interestingly, this is in contrast to the outpourings of love I have seen in Manchester since the attack. But I can’t ignore it, and I can’t ignore the creeping racism that comes after each such attack. It seems that we can only love each other if we hate someone else.
Recently, I decided that I need to get up earlier, in order to develop a morning routine for myself that allows for me to engage in my spiritual practice, as well as some morning exercise and some chance to get some writing done (I am writing a novel as well as this blog). The first day did not go well. I was dizzy all day, and seriously wondered if I was doing the right thing. But it was great to be able to meditate early in the day, for twenty full minutes. Today is day four of my new routine, and in my meditation this morning I found as usual that my mind wandered. Today, it is hard not to be pre-occupied as Britain goes to the polls. I found myself feeling uneasy. Being interested in the mind-body connection I decided to follow the feeling that had developed in my stomach, to see what it was telling me. I quickly recognised the familiar feeling of not getting it ‘right’, not being good enough, and wanting so much to be good enough. Sigh. I often say that one of the benefits of getting older is that I no longer feel the need to please and impress – but this is only partially true. I am much, much better at being honest about my own needs than I used to, but I have a long way to go. For example, yesterday when I was in a Nordic walking group for the first time (they had all been doing it for years) I was at great pains to do it properly, to keep up, and not to complain about my hip hurting.
Once I recognised this old familiar pattern today in my meditation, I could let it go. Immediately, I felt easier, and the tension in my stomach disappeared. I found myself smiling serenely as I went deeper into my meditation. I was just enjoying the bliss when two things happened: my husband called up urgently, reminding me that we needed to vote before I went off to my clinical supervision; and the phone went very soon after this, offering me a place in today’s beginners’ Pilates class. And so, I only got 15 minutes in, instead of 20. But 15 minutes well spent.
Perhaps I will eventually learn to be more loving and kind to myself. I know full well that I need it. Someone recently wondered aloud on Facebook how to foster resilience in the face of these terror attacks. I responded from what I know, as a Quaker: Be open to the Light, in both yourself and others. So what does this mean? Well for me, if I take this intention seriously I have to look for what is good in life, and welcome it with gratitude – not ignoring the pain and suffering of others, but doing what I can and not getting caught up in suffering along with everyone. That is hard for me. I tend to feel others’ pain, perhaps a bit too much. But if I don’t heal my own spirit, how can I be there for others? And how can I bear witness to the Light within each and every person I meet? That Light might seem pretty small and distant in some people who are intent on hate, but I do believe it is there somewhere, if only as a potential. Some people have been so badly hurt that they find it hard to reconnect with the place in themselves that was once there as a baby, when they first learned to smile at a smiling face – the place of recognition that can blossom into love. We all had that innocence once.
And so, I will stay connected, if falteringly, to the Light within, the Light around us, the Light in others I meet – the Light that connects and binds us to each other, in love. And I will keep on working on not needing to please. There has to be some advantage to getting older, right?