Pockets of Light
I wrote in a Perspectives Post 3 years ago ‘End Well to Begin Well’ about my relationship to change and how it was no coincidence I had become a professional change agent with my core identity/brand being a positive energy leading through change.
I also described how I had dug deeper into my relationship to change, that I used to be a surface change-junkie, spending too many years jumping to the next chapter instead of facing what I was really running from: Myself.
‘Of course, this inevitably meant I carried all that unfinished weight with me, to the next relationship, the next job, the next country, the next ‘whatever’. It grew worse; each supposedly fresh start brought accumulated, heavier baggage. The more I ran, the more I came back to the same emotionally stuck place. Nothing ever really changed.
Until one day I was forced to stay and face an ending. I had run out of places to run and I had to stay and face what I was most afraid of: Myself. This is what Gestalt therapy calls the ‘futile void’. It is a very scary place, the unknown with no certainty or guarantee of outcome. It is why we keep pulling back from this place, why we keep spinning in the ‘busy fool syndrome’, filling it with noise, anything not to stay in our stillness and face the void.
And yet, ironically, this place is not a de-void place. It is deep and full. It is the container of feelings, deep buried feelings of hurt and loss. And beneath that something far richer. For if we allow ourselves to feel the fullness of this space, we are then able to move forwards into one of my favourite places: the fertile void. This is where true creativity and rich experiencing happens. It is the field that, having been allowed to stay fallow for a season replenishing its nutrients, ‘the futile void’, is now ready for growth. This is the place of hope and rebirth where we can make good, authentic choices and decisions. We still have to be patient in the fertile void, but it is not a passive waiting. It is an active one, building our strength and fitness on all levels: mind, body, heart and soul, preparing us for the perfect timing of action. There is no set time or guarantee of outcome in the futile/fertile voids, but I have been there many times and I know the only way through to my ‘free to soar’ place, full of positive energy, hope and joy is by going through this process.’
My clients have learned to trust this futile/fertile void process as the necessary precursor to wise action, moving them on cleanly and wholeheartedly into the next chapter of their life.
And I am consistently asked: What helps in that futile void? What helps…beyond the theory and knowing through previous experiences that this really is the only way forward …what helps in that dark, seemingly futile, void?
So here are the ‘Pockets of Light’ that help me ‘be’ in the futile void, that help me… however much I initially feel I’m not ‘doing’, that I’m wasting time etc… stay and not run:
Hope is to our spirit what water is to our body. It is extraordinary how even a tiny glimmer of light in that dark wood brings us the promise of a better and different future. Hope brings meaning and purpose and fills us with strength and courage. And the converse is true. Without hope we give up. As Thomas Edison said: “Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
So how do we find hope? As a young child, at a particularly dark time in my life, I read a book that saved my life: ‘Marianne Dreams’by Catherine Storr. It is an extraordinary book about a girl, Marianne, who is bedridden with a long-term illness. She finds a magic pencil and draws a picture of a big house in a bleak landscape and that night she dreams she is in the picture she has drawn. As time goes by, she becomes sicker in the ‘real’ world and spends more and more time trapped within the nightmarish, fantasy world. Her only companion in her dream world is a boy called Mark, who is also a long-term invalid in the ‘real’ world. It is a dark book but one ultimately about hope and embracing life through courage and love…they could not have got through on their own…and it ends with a lighthouse! It was reading this that made me choose life. As simple as that. I learned that however dark life is, there is always hope…light …and always someone out there who will help. BUT I also learned I had to make the first move. I could not be a victim, waiting passively to be saved. I had to play my part: Marianne has to find…draw… a way out for Mark and herself: out of the house, through the dark and dangerous moorland, to the lighthouse and the outcome is healing for them both in the ‘real’ world. It’s what I now call: making a ‘red pill’* choice.
Creative Nutrients and a Personal Vision: Creatives understand the essential connection between imagination and hope. Up your intake of film, theatre, music, dance, art, great literature etc. Stories bring us hope and also give meaning to what we are going through. Then create your own story, i.e. your Personal Vision, of the future you want: a ‘Letter From the Future’ is perfect for this. Follow this with visual guides such as images, photos and collages: daily reminders of the story/life you want to be in.
If hope is what guides us, it is the love for and from others that will ultimately be the motivation to keep us going through. We cannot do this on our own…a hard lesson to learn for high achievers!...and we need to accept our vulnerability and learn to receive the love and kindness of others. What initially prompted me to write this Post was the increasing public awareness and concern about young male suicide: it is the biggest killer of young British men.
In ‘What is a Man?’Dominic Nazeri responded to the question: ‘What are the benefits and also some of the challenges of being a man in 2018?’ “I’ve always had a leading example of a capable, talented and fun woman in my life as it was mostly my mother who raised me. It gave me experience and understanding I needed early on to realise that there’s more to being a man than just the single…and frankly limiting…definition of ‘strong men are ones who don’t show their emotion’. Fast forward to 2018: I think being a man is a much more interesting and complex subject. Now more than ever people are able to express who they want to be. Yes, there are still barriers people need to break or overcome but it seems the world is moving towards a more general understanding that simply one definition isn’t a size that fits all. In 2018, the biggest challenge of being a man is making sure that it’s understood there are many different definitions, many different interpretations and many different experiences men have had that formulate their identity and expecting there to be a single or ‘grouped’ definition simply isn’t true anymore.”
Expressing and owning our feelings to ourselves and also to others is core to this: family, friends, counsellors/psychotherapists. Writing in a journal also helps us connect to our feelings and then make sense of them, developing our precious EQ, our Emotional Intelligence. A journal is also a great way to see how far on the path we have come.
Authentically positive people: surround yourself with people who love healthily, with great empathy and who are positive and open because they are on their own path. This is not about forced jollity with people who are in their own loop of denial but about finding kindred spirits. And avoid negative people: both positive and negative states are contagious so choose your companions wisely!
A Sense of Perspective
Recognising that we are in a healthy cycle helps us shift from the victim: ‘why me?’ to an increasing acceptance of where we are. Develop the skill of ‘Detached Involvement’: the discipline of being ‘in the arena’ i.e. experiencing it and simultaneously holding a big picture/helicopter vision. The reflective space of Coaching, Counselling or Psychotherapy helps enormously with this.
Stillness: learn not to be afraid of your inner world… your inner locus of evaluation…and train yourself to go into your stillness, your ‘mindfulness’. There are very good apps that will help with this.
Monitor social media time: unanalysed swallowing of social media can have a detrimental impact on our self-esteem, comparing ourselves to false projections of the perfect life. Focus on being kind to yourself instead: much more productive and rewarding!
Our Instinctual Body
Our physicality, our energy, our nutrition and our sleep. This also involves listening to our instinct and understanding our personal rhythm: how and when we are at our best. Timing and Pacing is everything going forwards.
Exercise: as a child I threw myself into the joy and physical release of ballet and dance still brings me great joy. I also love Pilates with its focus on breathing and developing core stability.
Sleep is hugely important to restore our energy, our patience, our mood balance and our creativity. It is also a chance to dream, to allow the space for our unconscious to process and subsequently give us crucial sign posts for the way forward: Marianne Dreams!
Nature: keep connected to Nature. It grounds us and helps with catastrophising, the shadow side of an active but helpless imagination/victim mindset. Find what aspects of Nature speak most to you: for me, the ocean, warm sunshine and expansive, clear beaches bring great balance and peace.
Nutrition is crucial: spikes in our blood sugar have big impacts on our mood: “Your physical health is the root of everything you experience. In the developed world, we too often treat our bodies like vehicles for our brains, requiring the minimum maintenance necessary to transport our overlord minds from meeting to meeting. Surely the opposite is true. Our brains, being complex physical organs, rely entirely on our bodies to function at their peak. Physicality isn’t everything in life, but everything in life relies on it. You can’t live, dance or love without a functioning body to see, hear and feel”: Louis Lunts: Corpore Sano: the fuel needed for strong and healthy living
I am writing this final paragraph on the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11. Globally, 600 million people watched live as Armstrong made that first footprint:“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Why did that mission enthral us so much? Beyond the extraordinary technological breakthroughs it has brought us, why does that mission still hold such imaginative power? Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind wasn’t only about the phenomenal… and highly precarious… technical achievement of landing on the moon. It was about the sheer Promethean audacity to have created the vision in the first place. And ultimately what is magical about the Apollo 11 mission is that, rather than lessen, it gives us an even greater awe of the Universe and the beauty and fragility of our own planet, Earth.
* The ‘red pill’ is from the film, The Matrix. This is the choice of hope, courage and integrity. It is often the choice we are most frightened to take but the one we instinctively know is right for us.