To bury or drown under a huge mass. To defeat completely. To crush. To overpower. To engulf. To surge over and submerge. These are just a few of the dictionary definitions of the word overwhelm.
For me, going into overwhelm is not only a state of mind - it’s an emotional, physical, spiritual state as well. When it happens, which it did to me last week, it feels as if I can’t move forward, can’t accomplish anything, feel trapped, hemmed in, and small. There’s just too much to do, and I might not have enough resources. And I tell myself a story about being all alone under this massive weight. “Why do I have to do everything myself? Why do I have to do it all on my own?”
For a day or so, I allowed myself to get buried. All I wanted to do was curl up under the duvet and sleep. My head was heavy, as if a steel band was gradually crushing my skull.
So far, so many metaphors. Why was this happening? Yes, I had taken on an awful lot of commitments. I had perhaps sucked up too much responsibility for my own good. But what was really going on here?
Overwhelm can usually be broken down into fear, sadness, and a little anger for good measure. I was scared that I couldn’t accomplish my goals. A young part of me felt sad and small. Another part was angry that I didn’t have enough support.
So i processed the sadness, the fear, the anger. I got back into balance, that place where I am resourceful and focused and present. I realised and understood that all this stuff had come up for healing, and all of it was resistance.
Why resistance? Because everything on my to do list, the list that had sent me crashing into overwhelm, was taking me beyond my comfort zone to where I truly want to be - to where the magic happens.
As soon as you start moving towards that place where your soul sings, all your resistance will come at you with some force. My resistance revealed itself because I was about to facilitate my first ever workshop. And because I was about to stand up and rant at Speakers’ Corner. And because in two weeks’ time I will be giving a 10-minute speech in front of an audience of 100. And the week after that I will be running the first in a series of one-day workshops.
These are all firsts for me. These are all things I really, really want to do - to be a workshop leader, an inspiring speaker, an agent of change. And my ego’s answer was to put me into overwhelm. I’m not saying I won’t feel overwhelmed again in the next few weeks. I probably will. But it won’t stop me showing up and being more of who I truly am.
As Susan Jeffers famously said, feel the fear and do it anyway.
When you come across a therapy that is measurably life-changing, you want to shout it from the rooftops. And, trust me, I rarely describe anything as life-changing.
So here’s the thing: breath work changed my life. So much so that I’m now training to become a breath work practitioner to help other people change their lives.
It’s not easy to put into words how powerful this process is. Suffice to say that the most effective tools are always the simplest - and you can’t get simpler than breathing.
The type of breath work I practise is nothing to do with yoga or rebirthing. It is a simple form of connected breathing that shifts your conscious mind out of the way so that the unconscious mind can do whatever it needs to do to help you move forward in your life. And this often means releasing and reintegrating long-suppressed emotions.
You simply have to experience it to understand its power. Failing that, the best way to communicate its power is to tell a story.
So here goes. When I was 16 years old, and about to sit my O-levels, my father (who was only 46 at the time) had a catastrophic stroke that left him partially paralysed and damaged his brain to the extent that it affected his personality.
He survived, but wasn’t able to function as a father any more. I felt desperately sad, and angry, but wasn’t able to talk about my emotions, so they got locked inside me while I gritted my teeth and carried on.
A constant, underlying sadness permeated my life. In my mid-20s I started seeing a psychotherapist because the sadness became overwhelming. But at the time I didn’t connect it to what happened to my dad - I thought it was about my inability to sustain relationships with men.
I was in and out of therapy for years, while also visiting tarot readers, psychics and astrologers in search of meaning and answers as to why I felt this gnawing sadness and pain.
I’m not saying therapy was a waste of time - it certainly helped - but it never seemed to help me find the root of the problem.
There were periods of what I presumed was happiness, but they were often artificially induced by drugs or alcohol.
It wasn’t until I decided to train as a life coach at the age of 52 and had to undergo an intensive period of inner work that I began to realise that it wasn’t simply everyday sadness that I was feeling - it was grief.
Grief: that’s something you feel when someone dies, right? Wrong. You can feel grief over every loss in your life, however “small”. And I’d lost my father at 16 and never grieved.
My course director - a doctor - referred me to a colleague who specialised in breath work. This, he said, would help me process the suppressed emotion.
So I started to breathe. And it was extraordinary. I gradually started to empty the overflowing containers of sadness. I gradually gave myself permission to feel all this stuff that had been sitting there for years. And I felt lighter.
After fully committing myself to the process of breath work, I transmuted the sadness and grief until I hit rage. I was incandescent with rage over what had happened to my dad, and didn’t even realise it consciously. After all, I had been the girl who never got angry.
This was such a revelation. Because along with that suppressed rage, I had also suppressed passion. And with the suppressed grief, there was suppressed joy. When you suppress emotion, you suppress it all - positive and negative.
I used to get quite annoyed when people said they were “in bliss”. I didn’t know what that was or how it felt. But now, after allowing myself to feel it and breathe, I can easily access states of joy.
And I can talk about my dad, and my grief, in a story like this, and not feel as if I might start crying and never stop.
So, breath work changed my life. I can’t promise it will change yours, but what if it could? Wouldn’t you like to feel joy no matter what was going on in your life?
Feel it and breathe: it’s that simple.
I’m currently reading Debbie Ford’s excellent book The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, which examines those parts of our psyche that we reject and bury in our subconscious. She shows that it is possible to acknowledge and accept what we judge as our “weaknesses” - and that these qualities conceal hidden gifts and strengths.
I had an opportunity to meet one of these buried parts the other day when I was doing some coaching practice with a fellow human potential coach. It was a sneaky thing which hid itself away and didn’t say anything - but a smug, knowing grin gave it away.
I knew it was there, really - I just don’t like to give it much airtime. It was the part of me that is completely cynical, the part that says, “Well, you can try it, but it won’t work,” and metaphorically sits back with its arms crossed, waiting for me to fall flat on my face so it can say, “I told you so.”
I spent many years developing my inner cynic. Most journalists are professional cynics - and during my 30-year career in journalism I have often been paid to be cynical - as a rock critic, a gossip columnist, a maker-and-breaker of music careers.
There are some good things about being a cynic - the main one being that your bullshit radar is highly sensitive. Being cynical also gives you discernment so you’re less likely to buy into propaganda or mass-market lies.
But you have to be careful of the cynic. If it turns on you, it can be ruthlessly damaging. It can stop you taking risks and it can undermine your integrity.
So what might be the hidden strength of the cynic? I looked to the origin of the word for guidance, and this is what I discovered: cynicism, in its original form, was an ancient school of Greek philosophy. The cynics believed that the route to happiness was in a life of self-sufficiency that eschewed social convention.
The movement got its name for the Greek word for dog, because cynics were judged to be shameless and audacious - not bothering with society’s norms such as marriage, the pursuit of money, and even personal hygiene.
According to the cynics: “All that the ordinary social herd is interested in is getting on in this world. They flatter, they beg, they posture. Such people think that they are better if they can throw a big fancy party! How shallow! How fleeting! How ridiculous!”
Good for the cynics. I’m beginning to see the gift in cynicism now. They believed that all this surface keeping-up-with-the-Joneses took us away from our true nature. And with that, I couldn’t agree more.
So perhaps the gift in my cynicism is the ability to see through the veil, to connect with what really matters - which is the true self, the soul. So it’s OK - you can call me a cynic. I embrace my cynicism - it will no longer hide in a smug, knowing grin.
Having flogged myself by sticking to a post-a-day regimen for the first few months of 2012, this year I’m adopting a kinder, less-is-more attitude to blogging in the hope of cultivating a Bowie-esque mystique. Well, that’s my excuse, anyway.
However, now we have had the first new moon of the year, I am feeling a little more focused. This is where 2013 begins - a year that seems less burdened by expectation (no Olympics, Queen’s Jubilee or Mayan calendar to contend with).
Last January I posted about my word of the year, the word that I felt would define 2012 for me - what I wanted for myself. That word was TRANSITION - the act of passing from one state or place to another, an event that results in transformation. This proved to be a good example of “be careful what you wish for”, as this powerful intention resulted in a transformation that I did not have in mind and had not consciously wished for.
So I was a little hesitant about doing this exercise again. However, I trust that the universe and her angels are on my side so this year’s word is INTEGRATION. Except I’m going to cheat a little and make it JOYFUL INTEGRATION, just to make sure I ask for the “right” kind of integration, if there is such a thing.
What is my intention? To bring together and unify all parts of self so that all of me is moving in the same direction; to bring together and unify my professional offerings; to reintegrate any suppressed emotion; and to make joy an integral part of the whole process. By which I mean that whenever I’m integrating stuff, I’d like to have fun doing it.
I’ve been reflecting on the concept of joy - particularly EVERYDAY JOY, which seems like such a good thing that I put it in capital letters (because it’s one of those posts where I’m allowed to cap things up just for the sake of it).
Surely joy shouldn’t be something we reserve for births, weddings and special occasions. Let joy be unconfined, I say. Let it be a frequent occurrence, and let us find it in the most mundane of events and experiences.
Let me give an example. I’m fortunate enough to work in a modern, spacious office which has a large, light-filled cafe that sells home-made cakes and treats. Every time I come up the escalator into the Sky Lobby (which is its James Bond-esque name), I feel a frisson of everyday joy.
And the more I focus on such frissons, the more joy I find myself experiencing in seemingly unlikely places. I even had an attack of everyday joy walking across a station platform recently and can highly recommend it as a way to brighten a grey winter’s day.
Anyway, back to JOYFUL INTEGRATION. Let’s hope my intention of quite literally getting myself together in a fun way, will not lead to the unleashing of any curveballs. But then if that does happen, I’ll trust that there’s a reason I can’t comprehend, then sit back and enjoy the show.
It is the summer of 1976 - one of the hottest I have ever known. I am 19 years old, and personal secretary to a genial grey-haired transport specialist who is counting the days to retirement.
I have been doing this job since I left school at 18. It’s comfortable and undemanding, with a reasonable salary. I have no cause to imagine that my career will not continue along this predictable secretarial path. But a few months later, when the scorching heat is but a distant memory, a conversation in a pub with friends will change the course of my life.
After that conversation I will agree to sing backing vocals in a band my chums are about to form. We will perform our first gig in 1977, during the height of punk rock - even though we are anything but.
Because my friends think it might help the band, I am dislodged from my complacency and apply for the job of secretary to the editor of Sounds, a weekly music paper. I get that job, and a year later make the unlikely transition from shy and retiring typist to rock critic with attitude.
Fast-forward to the summer of 1995. I am 38 years old, at the top of my career ladder. Having scaled the heights of music journalism I have made the leap into national newspapers and am deputy editor of The Observer’s magazine. But rather than celebrating my achievements, I am barely able to crawl out of bed in the mornings. A long-term relationship has just ended, and no amount of recognition at work can make up for the despair I feel.
A year later, my heart is on the mend and I leave my prestigious job for a desert of freelance uncertainty. The notion of a career in journalism no longer appeals to me. I’m searching, but for what?
Now I am 55, going on 56. I’m looking back on these turning points in my life because of a cycle known in astrology as the nodal return, which happens every 18-and-a-half years. I’m on my third nodal return, which is very much about establishing your soul purpose and spiritual path - often the impetus for a big change in direction.
So I wonder, where will I be next summer, when its full effect will manifest? I’ve already experienced a heartbreaking separation, just like I did in 1995. What could be next?
While I was searching for inspiration and guidance, I found this passage:
“Can you open up to the excitement of change? Will you dare to look deeply and bravely into the underworld, into the places where the deepest level of truth resides? Superficial people-pleasing is not for you.”
The excitement of change. That’s an interesting concept: have I ever been excited by change, or just resistant to it? I’ve certainly been a people-pleaser. I read on.
“You are meant to look into the eyes of the murderer and find the frightened, unloved child there. You are meant to know the whole story and to travel the roads many of us declare unsafe.”
Wow. That’s when I felt a lump in my throat. Imagine seeing the child within a killer… You are meant to know the whole story.
I’ll let you know what chapter I’m on next summer…
Yesterday I had a painful reminder of why, many years ago, I vowed to free myself from the tyranny of commuting. (Click here for that whole story.)
I’m fortunate enough that I have the choice not to travel in the rush hour and I understand that many people would say they don’t have a choice. However, I was shocked at how dehumanising the experience of travelling in London before 9.30am has become.
I’ll only travel during peak hours under exceptional circumstances - such as when I have to attend a workshop, which I did yesterday. But as it is not my normal, it is an opportunity to observe some extraordinary behaviour.
I arrived at my local overground station just before 8am to find that the trains were running late. People were jostling for position at the platform edge, looking nervously around to see if anyone might push in front of them.
When the train eventually arrived, about seven minutes late, it was already packed. I managed to find a small space to squeeze into but there was another stop before we reached London Bridge, where I’d be disembarking.
Crushed between someone’s shoulder bag and a young man trying to look at his phone, I tried to zone out and imagine I was somewhere else. Then a man got on the train with his dog. Luckily the dog wasn’t badly behaved but it started whining and wouldn’t sit down. Obviously distressed, it then started to emit a noxious smell.
There wasn’t enough air for everyone in the carriage, despite the windows being open, and with the heating on and everyone in winter coats it was a recipe for sensory disaster.
I got through the journey by breathing in distress and discomfort and breathing out love - a practice I picked up from a Buddhist teacher. When I did open my eyes I saw resigned faces, stooped bodies and absence rather than presence.
And then I braved the Northern Line. There was a queue about 20 deep and 20 wide to get through the barriers, and it was easy to pick out the people who didn’t much care about personal boundaries or manners. They were happy to push in and through as if you weren’t there.
I finally reached the platform, where commuters were standing five deep. When a train arrived and passengers got off, there was a window of about 30 seconds to get on the train before the doors closed.
I watched four trains pass through before I was hard up against the yellow line with people wedged behind me. A man to my right had used his large shoulder bag and alpha male dominance to get in front of me. In my mind, I had a word with his higher self and said, “That’s not OK with me.”
At that same moment he turned and made eye contact but his focus was on the train doors. I let him go before me as it seemed so important to him.
When it was my turn on the next train I had to lunge through the doors before they closed. I turned to look at the sea of faces on the platform and was heartened to notice a couple of them laughing at the sheer madness of it all.
I felt like turning to my fellow passengers - although there was no space to turn - and asking them if this is what they put up with every day. How do people allow themselves to have their space invaded, their flesh pressed, their boundaries trashed in this way day in, day out?
Do they become so immune to it, so numb, that they really do think this is normal? Would they allow a stranger to stand so close to them at any other time, or allow this level of disrespect in any other context? Why do they sign up to be transported in worse conditions than farm animals?
There must be a better way. You do have a choice. That’s what I told myself many years ago. I don’t want to feel brutalised every time I go to work. If this is your normal, I have to tell you this is not remotely normal. It’s a very high price to pay for earning a living while making money for someone else.
If more people said no to this insanity we may not need to buy into the metaphor that is the rush hour. Catching hurry sickness twice a day in a hell on wheels does not feed the soul. It eats it away.
What is it about footwear that is so memorable? I still remember the sandals I wore to primary school – traditional Clarks with spongy soles and a T-bar, and the silvery sparklers I paraded around in when I was crowned May Queen.
That was when shoes were fun and easy. When I got to my teens, things got woeful and complicated. All of a sudden shoes were important, shoes spoke volumes about who you were and what you were about. And the shoes I wanted to wear were decidedly not the shoes my mother wanted me to wear.
At the age of 13, all my friends were into Ben Sherman’s, tonic suits and Doc Martens. I was not allowed to have Doc Martens. I gave in on that one but then my attention turned to kitten heels. I had to have a pair of kitten heels. My life depended on it. Mum finally gave in on this one, but the pair I ended up with were from British Home Stores and therefore an embarrassment to fashion. But hey, they were my first pair of proper grown-up lady’s shoes.
As glam rock arrived in the mid-Seventies, my sole ambitions skyrocketed. It was all about platforms – the bigger and gaudier the better. I became the proud owner of a pair of purple and pink layered slingback platforms from Dolcis. My, they were spectacular. I could just about walk in them but I didn’t care. They made me stand tall in the world, quite literally.
But my platformed nemesis came in the form of a pair of elevated clogs, which slipped on – and off – my feet with alarming regularity. They were almost confiscated by my mother when I fell off them while crossing the road. Even I realised that collapsing in busy traffic wasn’t big or clever, especially after a sneaky half of underage cider.
It wouldn’t be long before I discovered proper heels. Platforms were cheating: they just raised your whole foot off the ground, not just the back part. Proper heels – anything from three inches upwards – did something marvellous. They made you stand on the balls of your feet, accentuated your calves and your curves. In short, they made you look, and feel, sexy. This was very new and exciting to me as I turned 18. I was fortunate in having slim legs and small feet and soon enough I had the opportunity to work those assets.
I found myself singing backing vocals in my friends’ band – a role that required stage outfits. Inspired by my heroine, Debbie Harry, I suffered for my art by donning spike-heeled mules and all manner of high, strappy stilettos that made my feet sing louder than I did. Still, it was worth it for the response they – and by association I – got from the audience. I rose to the occasion every time.
Then the serious business of sky-high heels began, aided and abetted by a boyfriend who worshipped stilettos, the higher the better. We were in the post-punk phase but I managed to secure a coveted pair of red Fifties-style four-inch heels originally made for Sex, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s King’s Road boutique. These shoes rocked. And rolled. I got attention in these shoes. I rocked. Then I became a rock journalist – one that vowed never to wear boring flat shoes.
As I climbed the career ladder from writer to editor, I tottered on towers of power and my enraptured boyfriend reminded me that skyscraper stilettos – which could reach the giddy heights of six inches – give you a swagger, an assertive strut.
Dizzying heels required a certain kind of wardrobe: tailored suits, pencil skirts, seamed stockings. In the early Eighties, fashion, music and self-expression came together in a burst of colour and style that I embraced wholeheartedly. Whether it was a second-hand cocktail dress, a fur-trimmed cape or a New Romantic frilled gypsy blouse – all needed to be accompanied by the appropriate footwear.
I became obsessed with shiny red stilettos and graduated to a day-glo scarlet pair with slim, vertiginous heels. I wore these with immense pride with a very short red and black satin skirt and unusual hosiery with one red and one black leg.
It was on a trip to New York to interview Soft Cell that I encountered my first shoe fetishist, who was so taken with my footwear that he asked me to stand on the draining board of a nightclub kitchen so that he could take photographs.
The shoes maketh the woman from the bottom up: and so it was that I embarked on many adventures foot-first, enjoying the power I could have over the male imagination. Pointed symbols of feminine erotic power required a step into a different world, one in which women dressed in leather and rubber and assumed a position of dominance.
My crowning high-heeled moment was posing in exquisite agony in a pair of six-inch heels for the cover of Skin Two magazine (yes, that’s the picture above), an image that provided fantasies for generations of fetish fans.
But the image, arresting as it was, focused on the shoe and a small portion of my ankle and calf – an objectification that had little to do with who I really was. I was just playing at being Miss Whiplash. I may have looked like a dominatrix but inside I was still a child with a big dressing-up box in a game that had got out of hand.
The higher the heel, the further I had to fall. These kinky boots weren’t made for walking, but that’s just what I had to do. One dark day, I placed a suitcase full of prized footwear next to the rubbish bin. It nearly broke my heart, but my sense of self was at stake. I was projecting an image of power but I felt powerless. I was faking it but couldn’t make it.
When the killer heels were spirited away, I went through a flat period. Sensible shoes, ballet pumps, brogues – in the hope of removing the potency of the symbol.
Gradually, I took baby steps back towards elevation, but stuck to square, chunky or Louis heels, never venturing above two or three inches. This helped me ground, to come back down to earth – to find myself again.
Then the years of towering caught up with me: lower back problems arrived with a vengeance and I was forced to keep my soles close to the floor. Fear kept me away from any shoe that would tilt my pelvis.
When I turned 50, I indulged in a short-term flirtation not only with younger men but also younger shoes. I was particularly proud of a pair of black leather Kurt Geiger boots that I stomped around in like a superannuated rock chick.
Since then I have stuck resolutely to low heels. Comfort is the priority. I no longer need to make a statement with my footwear. It’s as if I have come full circle, from sensible Clarks sandals to…. practical Clarks pumps.
What you see on the outside just isn’t as important any more: everything that’s meaningful to me is within. And perhaps that’s the lesson I had to learn from the rise and fall of my heels.
It’s not about soles: what matters is the soul.
I am setting myself a new target: to write a story every day. I may not publish every one of them, but it’s a way of kick-starting myself back into the spiritual practice of writing from which I had become disconnected during a summer of divine discontent.
Here is the first story. All of them will be autobiographical, because part of my purpose is to help people understand that their story can change the world. If each of us dared to share the truth of our own struggle, our own vulnerability, then it would give others the permission to be fully human, to be flawed but beautiful. This is not all about me: it’s about you too.
A WARM GLASS OF FLAT COLA
A friend of mine once told me that coming events cast their shadow. At the time I didn’t really know what she meant; I was too busy living in a champagne bubble to care. The year was 1988, I was the editor of a pop magazine and had no boundaries in place between work and play. I did both far too hard and the notion of a holiday was alien to me.
Then the aforementioned friend invited me to accompany her on a trip to Mauritius, the Indian Ocean island that Mark Twain described as heaven on Earth. I knew nothing about the place and at first had little desire to go there but was persuaded by the lure of free accommodation.
My friend - who was in PR - had contacts within the Ministry for Tourism so all I had to do was pay for the flight. That meant my freeloading lifestyle could continue uninterrupted on the other side of the world.
In those days I had a close relationship with white wine, smoked 20 menthol cigarettes a day and rarely said no when offered a line of cocaine: a fool’s paradise. So arriving in a Garden of Eden like Mauritius was a shock to the system. The natural beauty acted like a detox that sent me running into a darkened room.
For the first few days the light was too bright but then I relaxed into it. After all, us two spoilt brats had been given our own limousine and dedicated driver to take us anywhere we fancied. But, like many paradise islands, Mauritius was a two-tier country. The rustic interior housed the workers who serviced the high-end resorts that fringed the coastline like an overpriced white-gold necklace.
By the end of the first week we had gorged ourselves on luxury. Most of the time we ignored our driver but boredom drove us to start up a conversation. He seemed strangely honoured to be our chauffeur. We asked where he lived and he told us his house was in a village well off the beaten track. Buoyed by our sudden interest, he asked if we would like to visit his home. To be polite, we said yes, we would.
He took us down roads that were no doubt left off tourist maps, into a strange and wild land without manicured lawns or regiments of beach umbrellas. This was a very different Mauritius: one that was ramshackle and make-do.
The driver pulled up outside a simple dwelling - not much more sophisticated than a two-room shack, with concrete floors. He ushered us inside to meet his wife, who greeted us like visiting royalty. She carefully proffered a warm glass of flat cola as if it were the nectar of the gods. I accepted, even though I hated cola - especially warm, flat cola.
I felt a cloud of shame descend on me as this gentle, warm-hearted woman watched me sip, eager for a sign that she had done the right thing. The look of pride on her face as I smiled cut through my seen-it-all, done-it-all London arrogance and hot tears threatened to leak on to my cheeks. I had to get out before I made a fool of myself, even though everything I was doing in my life was foolish.
We were quiet in the car on the way back to the hotel. We both knew something major had happened but didn’t know what it was or how to talk about it. Later that day, as my friend rode a horse across a white-sand beach, I witnessed a sunset so spectacular that I couldn’t stop myself crying.
I had to fly home alone, my workaholism having kicked in, leaving my friend to continue the party in Madagascar. I felt unwell, ill at ease for the entire 12-hour flight back to London - but it was more than that: a soul sickness, perhaps.
Dazed, nauseous and tearful, I somehow made my way from Heathrow to Charing Cross to get a train home. It was early on a Monday morning and my brain hadn’t managed to work out that there were no trains to my station at that time. So I sat on my suitcase at the rear of the platform and waited. Through bleary eyes I saw wave upon wave of commuters bearing down on me as if I wasn’t there. They looked dead-eyed, grey, lifeless and unhappy. Is this how I usually looked? This is madness, I thought. There must be a better way. I can’t do this any more...
Two months later, I was booked on a flight to Dublin for another freebie, to interview another no-hoper pop group. I woke up that morning but something had broken. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t do this any more. I didn’t move. For two days, I didn’t move. Someone had to find me, because I sure as hell didn’t know where I was any more.
Nervous breakdown or nervous breakthrough? Who knows. But it was a turning point in my story. It didn’t take long for me to stop smoking and dabbling in drugs. It would take many years before I would wean myself off daily commuting, but I got there. It would take even longer for me to break off my relationship with white wine, but I finally emptied the last bottle.
Yes, there was a better way - and I finally found it. I still don’t like Coke but I’ll never forget that warm glass of flat cola and the life-changing tenderness of the hand that offered it to me.
I have been silent for some time. I couldn’t write - didn’t want to write, because the story I have been living has been deeply challenging on an emotional level. I may write about that story in the weeks, months to come but for now I feel moved to write about others who have been silent - some silenced, but most simply not heard - for many, many years.
For the past month or so I have witnessed the unfolding ugliness and horror of the Jimmy Savile story, as his decades of abuse have come to light. The scandal is now engulfing major institutions but at the heart of this story are the women - and indeed a few men - who were preyed upon by this predatory paedophile in their childhood.
These individuals - I don’t want to call them victims - who are now in middle age, have been burdened by untold stories for the duration of their adult lives. And the mantra you hear from almost every one of them is: “Nobody would have believed me.”
I have read many comments on social media and in newspapers from people who wonder why the “victims” did not come forward while Savile was alive. This shows little understanding of the nature of abuse - that it is all about power, and those who are powerless will almost certainly feel an abiding sense of shame that it was either somehow their fault, or that they are not a good person and somehow deserved it.
The fact that the perpetrator was a celebrity and apparent do-gooder made it that much harder for the young people who were being abused, and much easier for Savile to get away with it.
I wonder how they feel now, these “victims”, now that they have revealed their secrets. Now that they have finally been heard. I know from personal experience that secrets and untold stories can lead to prolonged periods of suffering in silence.
As the American writer Maya Angelou said: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” If you are able to tell your story, you release the suffering - which is just another story in itself.
Abusers depend on silence to cover their tracks. If we all shared our stories and spoke our truth, perhaps the abuse of power and the suffering of children would come to an end.
Last night I watched a documentary about mapping the universe. What was extraordinary about this story for me was not only the skill and determination of the cosmologists involved to take on such a seemingly overwhelming project, but that they were willing to allow themselves to dream this big.
And what I also took away was that, when it comes to this vast, unimaginable scale all that scientists are able to do is theorise - and that theories are really just stories by another name. They are literally creating science fiction.
The Big Bang is a story. The Milky Way is a story. A supernova is a story. A black hole is a story. And the biggest story of all at the moment, in the world of cosmology, is dark matter and dark energy. This stuff takes up most of the space in the universe, we can’t see it and we don’t know what it is.
While that is mind-blowing if you stop to think about it for too long, it really does reflect the whole philosophy of “as above, so below”. Because, like the observable universe, our conscious minds take up only a tiny percentage of our awareness. The vast majority of what goes on inside our heads is subconscious - we can’t see it and we don’t know what it is.
Dark matter and dark energy are expanding the universe at terrifying speed. We have no control over it. In much the same way, most of us have little control over what goes on in our subconscious.
So are we entirely at the mercy of this darkness within? No, we can shine a light into it by examining our behaviour, our limiting beliefs, our thoughts, and getting back in touch with our bodies. We can start by telling ourselves a different story: one in which we’re not controlled by unconscious desires, dark thoughts and hidden motivations.
We all have a shadow side, which is perhaps our inner equivalent of dark energy. That’s where we have to take a big spotlight and switch it on full power. And it’s not only the stuff we judge as “bad” about ourselves that is hiding there. Lurking in those shadows is also the good stuff we disown: courage, bravery, inspiration, leadership, heroism.
So what’s your story today? Are you hiding in the shadows or are you taking your light into the world? There’s a mighty big universe out there that’s constantly expanding, waiting for you to live a bigger story.
(Source: pearlwithin.co.uk )