A man that is born falls into a dream like a man who falls into the sea. … The way is to the destructive element submit yourself, and with the exertions of your hands and feet in the water make the deep, deep sea keep you up. In the destructive element immerse. – Joseph Conrad (Lord Jim)
This quote is one of my strongest memories of high school. I didn’t finish reading the book until after we’d finished studying it (I got by on the crib notes) but I remember studying for the exam and this quote being drummed into me. “In the destructive element immerse” was in my head all through my aikido class on Wednesday night. I’ve been in an existential crisis this past week .. feeling adrift, untethered, floating in the existential void while I tried to get a grasp on the purpose of my life.
The conditions for this existential crisis were perhaps a perfect storm of events: a phone call on Monday that had me seriously reflecting on the direction and purpose of my business/work (‘my work in the world’ is the area of life I’ve struggled with the most this lifetime) .. overlaid with hormones, a particular interaction that shook me up, and maybe even the moon.
But it is less the existential crisis than the calm after the storm I wanted to write about. Because on Thursday, after a fitful night without sleep, where my body felt like it was burning up (I’ve since changed the doona) and I was immersed in a maelstrom of intense feelings, even praying to mother Mary who kept reminding me to ‘let it be’ .. I emerged into Thursday raw and tender and had a most magical and serendipitous day.
Was it coincidence that Thursday was the new moon, and I’d done a simple ritual on the previous new moon? That ritual seems to have been really powerful because when I repeated the ritual at the end of the day and looked back on the month just gone, I was amazed by what had been achieved in that one month. Essentially, I took lots of actions I’d been thinking about for a long time that allowed for big shifts. I think the biggest shift was .. I had found a way to give myself permission.
Which brings me to Thursday. I dissolved into Thursday starting with an ‘integration’ breathwork session at the crack of dawn, followed by a writing session. The day to unfolded almost effortlessly. I drove Joey to school (which I love to do but don’t do often) and came home to work on my model. At 9.00 I sat in on a business coaching Zoom call that I thought was going to be about mindset but turned out to be on strategy. I shared that my focus had shifted to the sculpture rather than the coaching but didn’t want advice since I knew what I needed to do. On the call a friend and fellow artist based in the U.S. messaged me and we caught up straight after to plan our first mastermind meeting for next week which feels like a perfect match for both of us. Then I worked on the Cloudscape model while watching the recording of a ‘witches roundtable’ call that had happened overnight. I took the model as far as I could before setting off for a swim in the ocean. On the way I revisited the Urunga Small Sculpture Prize exhibition to see if the sculpture I’d fallen in love with was still available. If it was I figured it was meant for me. It was. The piece ‘Bateau d’ amore’ is a boat filled with hearts and wings for sails. I feel like this piece symbolises my vision for Cloudscape in it’s holding of hearts and taking people on a journey. At the gallery I had an amazing conversation with the artist on duty. Her woodcarving piece had made an impression on me when I first saw it and our conversation flowed in all sorts of directions and left me inspired to get back to woodcarving. While I was in the gallery a woman who still works at the nursing home where I used to work came in. She told me about some of the residents who had passed on which brought back some nice memories and I have been able, following that discussion, to get clarity on why it was such a toxic place for me to work.
I feel like I’m starting to ramble, though I’m cutting out some detail, but the next magical event of the day came with my trip to the beach. The ocean is the place where I feel most connected and I knew I needed to dip myself in the ocean. As I turned the corner to park my car I saw someone carrying a surfboard headed down to the beach with her dog following. It was my writer’s group friend who I’d thought about only five minutes prior as I’d gotten into my car. Turned out she was on her maiden surf to christen her new surfboard, and I was there to witness it .. low tide, huge dumpers and all. I’ve since cleaned my surfboard and am excited to have a new buddy to surf with.
Back home from the beach I got back to work on my sculpture model and had the biggest (unexpected) breakthrough. After months (or rather, years) of plugging away on the piece .. it was suddenly finished. Like magic the spheres came together and the journey through the piece finally made sense. Even better was that Joey, now home from school, was sitting near me at the time.
Joey got into a game on his computer with some friends so I decided to visit a friend and take her one of the chocolate cakes I made that Joey refused to eat (I put rock salt in it which I expected to dissolve but it didn’t .. which meant chunks of salt ..). As I arrived back at home and parked in my driveway, speaking my thoughts into my Voice Memos (as I do) I noticed .. fireflies. Fireflies are pure magic to me. Together with Joey I watched a firefly move through the bouganvilia to create an ephemeral string of fairy lights.
There is more magic to share but I don’t want to overdo it. This week seriously felt like my most intense existential crisis ever. Maybe that’s just because I’ve got better at feeling. But I am taking to heart that I AM meant to be here and that Cloudscape, which I truly feel is my gift to mankind as a place for connection, exploration and acceptance, is meant to happen.
The five and a half years since I first came up with Cloudscape has been an intense journey full of side trips, adventures and a lot of inner work. And with the model created, a new chapter begins.
Thanks for being here.
A year ago I joined a small writing group in my local community. Since writing has been a lifeline for me, this felt like a way to focus on and develop my practice. The most powerful part of being in the group for me has been reading out our writing. It’s a scary and vulnerable thing to do. Seeing how completely different each person’s style is has been fascinating too. It’s been hard not to compare and feel intimidated by the writing skills of some people in the group .. but it’s also a good process of self acceptance.
At the beginning of this year, one of our members did a week long writing course as part of Bellingen’s Camp Creative. The course, Writing Your Life Story, used archetypes as a means of delving into the layers of your life’s journey with the intention of gaining insight and self understanding.
Using the archetype prompts, we did some short (15 minute) writing stints during some of our group meetings. We looked at four of the archetypes – the innocent, the orphan, the lover, and the seeker.
Here is my response to The Innocent:
I don’t remember feeling innocent .. naive .. carefree .. vulnerable .. although I remember feeling the sense of loss as I moved into puberty and felt like I’d missed out on my childhood and wanted to do everything to stop becoming ‘grown up’. That’s when I became anorexic and sought to delay the onset of puberty indefinitely, including plucking out every pubic hair. When I left home at 18 to travel overseas I felt like I had the chance at having the childhood I felt I’d missed. Perhaps I had my innocent phase then .. and perhaps I can pluck a story from that time in my life. In fact, though I say I was never innocent .. I think also that I’ve always been innocent .. choosing to do things that defy grown-up logic and practicality. In my architecture studies I refused to design buildings with square walls. What the world needed, I believed, were more ‘organic’ forms .. forms outside of conventional construction .. forms that allowed for a different experience of the world, a more sensual and visceral experience as opposed to the mental regularity of what was expected.
Do you enjoy writing? You might like to try this exercise too.
– and send me your response if you want to. I’d love to read it!
(Prompt: The Innocent: early childhood, highly optimistic, naive, concerned with happiness more than anything else, desire to be free and happy and keep life simple, carefree …)
Set your timer for 15 minutes. Go!
Have you ever wondered What’s the point of life? (and struggled to find an answer)?
I spent a fair chunk of my life trying to rationalise and understand my existence and the meaning of life. And the more I thought about it, the more confused and hopeless I felt.
I’m in the process of writing a pdf download for this site with the (working) title ’15 Reasons to Stay Alive’ – summing up what I’ve discovered to offer inspiration, ideas and insights to others grappling with this question. And perhaps more importantly, I want to offer a sense of connection to others grappling with this question – since if you’re thinking like this, there’s a good chance you also feel very alone.
As a type 5 on the Enneagram, the natural tendency of my ego is to move away from feelings and towards thinking. Type 5’s tend to be highly sensitive and the head becomes a safe space to retreat to when feelings are too overwhelming. Growing up I was proud of my ability to cut off from my feelings. I saw it as a strength. It gave me a sense of freedom and control over my life, and relief from the sadness I felt. It wasn’t really until my 40’s that I came to discover that my avoidance and rejection of my feelings came at a very high price.
Feelings can be painful and confusing, especially for a child. And expressing feelings, especially painful ones, can be uncomfortable for others not able to be with them for themselves. When our feelings aren’t accepted or acknowledged we can feel disconnected or even abandoned. Feelings can also seem unsafe, particularly given that some people will use our feelings or sensitivity against us, to hurt, manipulate or control us.
Having our feelings be met, acknowledged and accepted is something not all caregivers are willing or even able to do. The way people respond is usually automatic and unconscious. In this way trauma gets passed from one generation to the next.
Feelings are messy, complicated and often misunderstood – by ourselves as much as by others. So developing protection strategies around our feelings makes sense. The impression I had of feelings growing up was they they were unsafe, and that life was simpler and easier if I ignored them.
But my protection strategy came with a significant side effect that I didn’t become aware of until much later in life.
Emotional Guidance System
You see, our feelings are an important form of internal guidance, both in relating to people and in making decisions. These were two areas of life where I did not function well at all.
In relation to people, I was able to get on easily with people, so conflict wasn’t an issue, but I felt like I had to give up myself to relate. Disconnected from my own feelings I would hone into the feelings of other people. I was so cut off from myself and my needs (I simply believed I didn’t have any) that I couldn’t receive anything from people and I would simply try and make myself useful by meeting other’s (perceived) needs until I could be alone again. And so my experience of being with people was that I would lose myself. Devoid of needs but compelled to respond to the needs of others I would end up depleted and unsatisfied. I was like a boat without a rudder, tossed around by the needs and opinions of others. The only way I could feel better was to be by myself. And so I became ‘a loner’.
Perhaps even more debilitating was an inability to make decisions. Using my rational mind I would look at every angle of a problem to find the ideal solution. But too often the answer was not clear or obvious. Applying this method to every single decision in my life made progress slow and exhausting. Struggling to make decisions was the death knell to my practice of architecture which required constant decision making at every level, from the big picture down to where to place a dot or a line. The inability to make decisions impacted my time, energy, money, confidence and sense of self worth.
The only things I found satisfying were learning, exploring, and sleep.
And in my exploring I came back, again and again, to trying to work out ‘the meaning of life’. I didn’t fear death, because in a way, I was dead already. It turns out that feelings ARE important.
Breath is life
Two things helped to bring me back to life. Firstly, I fell in love. It wasn’t something I’d had much experience of, being a loner and all. And true to ingrained patterns it was unreciprocated. Which led to intense pain, once I finally escaped a three year bubble of denial. Which led to a breathwork practice that helped me to embody, be with, and release my feelings, including the grief of a lifetime of disconnection.
Feelings are life
Waking up in the morning with unpleasant feelings and negative self talk is something I’ve lived with most of my life. My reaction was to want to keep sleeping. I became particularly conscious of this pattern when I had to wake up before dawn to work at a nursing home, and would give myself half an hour to journal before getting out of bed. Once I stopped doing the early morning care work I would find myself waking up with the feeling that I wasn’t doing enough, or helping enough, in a downward spiral of panic, shame and guilt. I was my own worst enemy.
Though 2020 has been a crazy and unsettling year for many, this has been my year of working through a lot of old feelings, beliefs and patterns and building my clarity, confidence and sense of purpose.
Two courses in particular have been key to my transformation – Wheels Reinvented (a teacher training on childhood trauma and the chakras) which gave tools and processes for unravelling old patterns and beliefs, and The Alchemy of Wealth, which has done the same but particularly around money and self worth. Like all self development and growth, the process is not linear but a spiral. There is always more to discover as we level up.
We have a soul and an ego. Our soul is connected to our gifts, feelings and desires. Our ego, which wants to keep us safe, is connected to our mind. Learning to listen to my soul and placate my ego is what I’m moving towards. And I know I’m on track because in the last few weeks I’ve had a breakthrough. Instead of waking up feeling ‘bad’ and wanting to go back to sleep, I’ve started to wake up to the message “all feelings are welcome”, present and conscious without my mind taking over. And while fears continue to arise, I’m getting better at trusting.
I’m trusting that what I’m creating and offering has value, trusting my soul and not feeding the doubts and fears that continue to try and take me down. And I’m learning to celebrate the feelings – all of them – since, as I’ve discovered, they are the essence of life.
Do you resonate? Let me know.