Look at the woman in the picture… She looks full and radiant and alive, doesn’t she? Actually when I posted this photograph on Facebook the words people used to describe her were “ stunning; gorgeous; bright happy smile” and so on. Perhaps you think the same thing yourself.
But let me tell though, nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, this woman is in deep shit, as she was when this photograph was taken. Let me tell you a story about her- my story, me and 2016:
It is no news that this past year has been super challenging for me. I could not have thought it possible to meet so many trials in one year. Okay, technically speaking, it’s been brewing maybe for 18 months in this specific form, although life showed off its kickass skills most clearly in these past twelve months, (years ago I worked with a very successful young woman whose most favorite expression, referencing her fame, money and success was “now God is just showing off here”). I would marvel at this ostentatious God, but now, not anymore. Now I feel like God is showing off with how bad things can really get in one person’s life.
Cue midlife, God’s ass- kicking agent: This stage of my life is insistent on requiring a constant but intense reevaluation of every area of my life. I’m having to rethink what success means, what my purpose is, what living fully in my body feels and looks like, and who I am as a spiritual being having this human experience, and so far, the evaluation process has been more of a life dismantling success story, leaving me wrung out. Come to think of it, maybe this whole thing started 7 years ago when my mother died, ushering me into seven years of great losses. Now I am living with the results of this undoing:
I am stewing in financial debt- In fact when I was in Mamelodi for Christmas two weeks ago, my sisters and I had pulled a financial crisis management plan together, which had us going from bank to bank applying for loans for me. We were turned down each time: my eldest sister due to old age (she’s a 67 year old CEO), my other sister due to affordability (she’s a special needs teacher), and me, well, because I cannot produce a payslip. It is the middle of December, I don’t know how I’m going to make my bond and other expenses payments at the end of the month, and I don’t know what to do. I had seriously thought that surely someone would give me a loan, but as we walk through The Grove Mall’s Christmas decorations and shoppers, I’m stunned and all crumbled up inside. I walk around the mall discreetly pushing back the tears, feeling bad for drawing my family into my financial ruin, ashamed that my PhD can’t save me, and embarrassed for having to ask my friends for help. I castigate myself for owning all those shoes, and now look. Even they can’t walk me out of this mess.
What am I going to do? What am I going to do?
My health has also been keeping me on tenterhooks, with my physician telling me to deal with the constant physical ailments I keep taking to him by addressing my stress levels. I try to ascertain whether he’s being dismissive or really kind? In the meantime my craniosacral therapist holds my head in her hands, and with a concerned expression on her face, shakes her head saying “there’s no energy at all going through here. Your entire body feels like lead. There is no life force feeding you”. She prescribes taking things easy whilst she addresses the adrenal fatigue she’s picking up in me.
Of course all this impacts my ability to say yes to any work coming my way. I’m in deep shit, and the whole of me is busy digging deeper, trying to bury me in it.
This doesn’t make sense at all, and I’m frightened that my new year will be exactly as this 2016. I once read or heard somewhere that it’s not being haunted by our past that we fear so much, but rather that our future will be exactly as our unbearable present.
“I don’t trust you, don’t trust that you have my best interest at heart, but please help me. Please help me”, I pray, even as my heart locks up in anticipated rejection and disappointment. “I am pissed off with you and am afraid to trust you, but please… Please…”
One night I wake up from erratic sleep, pull a wrap to cover my nude body, and step onto the balcony outside my bedroom. I drop to my knees, look up to the starry sky and recite a poem I had written years ago “ I am spent. I am praying for nothing anymore. There’s nothing to pray for. You do your own thing anyway. Amen”, and crawl back to bed.
When I wake up in the morning it is to George Michael’s death. I spend the entire morning watching YouTube videos of his music, singing along as loudly as I’m crying. The music slowly draws me in. I surrender to the songs, and keep moving beyond the tunes and the lyrics, to that deep layer that is resonant, and is present within all music. It reminds me that I am part of the human race, collectively sharing in this mourning for a great artist. But it’s not about death, or life, or this particular moment of mourning. There is an echo of all the music that has ever been made, connected to the very first sound that ever made music, through all our lifetimes as the human race. It is ancient, and alive. It is our heritage, and right now, is my lifeline. I am in the soul of music, and the soul of music is in me and in us, and us in me and music.
When I eventually get out of bed, I notice that I had emotionally moved from over there, to here. And it’s a good here. I have been opened.
Three weeks ago I was reading Lissa Rankin (MD)’s The Anatomy Of A Calling, where she chronicles the heroine’s journey through her own life-story. Things are certainly not easy for her, but along the way she discovers that the act of accepting what is, is a critical component of her healing. She develops a mantra “I accept” to help her transverse through that which is unacceptable in her life. When I first read this, I had riled at this invitation to accept everything without question. Everything about my life was unbearable. No. I will not accept until something changes fundamentally. What if I accept this and inadvertently cement this painful stuff into my reality? I do not accept.
But this theme follows me all the way through Christmas in Mamelodi, where I notice my sister Maureen’s refrain is “no, no worries. It’s fine”, in response to just about everything she finds herself powerless against. It’s fine. But there’s nothing flaccid in her declarations. No resignation. What I do hear is an unwillingness to be victimised by life. Do what you will, I am still fine, regardless. This of course is a woman who beat breast cancer! She IS fine.
When I get back home after Christmas, I watch a Matt Kahn YouTube broadcast entitled I Am The Light Of Divine Perfection, where he suggests that perhaps the best way to deal with what Shri Goenka call the vicissitudes of life, is to give thanks for everything that comes up. His teaching is based on his bestselling book ‘Whatever Rises, Love That’, and being grateful for everything is meant to help us see everything as a gift from God, regardless of how it looks through the human experience. Hmm I’m not sure about this. How can everything be a gift? How can God will my suffering like this? ‘Through the human experience’ feels like a disclaimer to me, but what if it’s true? What if my lens does determine my experience?
Many spiritual teachings remind me that I may not understand why bad things happen, not to some of us, not to us that are good, not to those bad people who actually deserve it, but to all of us. Good things are easy to explain- a benevolent universe, a Loving God etc, but these bad things without a reasonably identifiable origin or motive, that grips us as a human race, baffle me. Who is the baddie, the scoundrel? The devil? Death? God (God the Scoundrel!)? Or whatever Hollywood tells us? Who knows, and does it matter?
Perhaps I’ve been spending far too much time trying to understand why bad things are happening to me. Perhaps the ‘why’ of it is not a useful focus. After all, Buddhism gave us the Four Noble Truths, the First of which is that life is suffering. Shit happens, as they say. Ah, here comes that Acceptance stuff again- Lasting happiness comes from accepting this first Noble Truth. Life is Suffering. Finish and klaar. Do remember to live the remaining three Noble Truths to avoid getting stuck in what may feel more like the First Noble Devastation.
I vow to teach myself to give thanks for everything, without judging it as good or bad. At least I’ll give it try.
First, accept reality as it is, declare it perfect, regardless of how it looks, and give thanks for it as a gift from Divinity. I accept. It is perfect. Thank you.
All this renews me somewhat, giving me energy to move on to my planned end of year retreat preparations. The organising finds me in such a surrendered space that when my one and only participant pulls out at the last minute, I accept. There is perfection in being given this unshared, completely for me experience, so I give thanks for it. I am losing out on some much needed income, but I accept this reality as it shows up. This is not what I had planned on, but here it is.
The truth of the saying ‘what must happen will happen’ becomes evident everyday. Things happen with or without my urging, my longing, or my permission. I think this is called Destiny. Divine Order. Karma. A Course in Miracles puts it thus “those who shall meet, will meet”.
Everyday I get it that what I experience of my life is only this moment right now, with no revelation of upcoming attractions. There is perfection in that, since perhaps that is all I can manage at a time? As it is, I have difficulty apprehending the fullness of this one single moment of myself right now, what more of the totality of my entire life? Of all my lifetimes and the destiny I am meant to fulfill? Let me surrender to Divinity, and trust that I am worthy of being guided through the bigger picture that is my life, and that the path I am taken on is the one that is in service of the fulfillment of my destiny.
As the sole beneficiary of my closing of the year retreat, I decide to amend it to suit my flow. I spend lots of time in meditation, prayer and ceremony, and nap when I want to, drink wine when I feel called. It’s my retreat and I will honour it as I please.
On New Year’s Eve I do a walking meditation on the beach near my home. I had worn a bright green and yellow bikini under a very short flimsy summer dress. It was hot. After a thirty minute meditation, I sat down on a rock to listen to the sea. But the sun demanded my attention instead, so I took my face to it, eyes closed and breathed it in. I then took several selfies, with the sun behind me, resting just above my left shoulder. My left hand reached out and up, and cupped the sun, circling it almost completely in my hand. It thrilled me to end!
As I get up to go home, the sea called for me, demanding a dip. I tried to ignore it, and started my walk back to my car. “ I want you inside me. Come”, she urged. “No thanks”, I responded, “ but I will allow you to run along my feet, nothing more. You’re too cold”. It really is. With that, I walked to the edge of the small soft waves, foam and bubbles really, and screamed with shock at the iciness of the water. Too late, because she grabbed me then, and seduced me with gentle caresses, softly immunizing my senses to the cold.
So, amidst all the dogs and mommies and daddies, I put my sunglasses and spectacles into my hat, stuffed the little summer dress in there as well, and ignored stares as I waded into the water. She insisted I dip my head under, so I did. I had no more ‘nos’ left in me. I sort of swam for what turned out to be a split second before stumbling to me feet, trying to catch my breath! Ffffffffck! It is so cold that even my breath is tingling inside of me. “Again”, she demanded, and my body dove in for the second time, for another nano second. I asked her to cleanse me please, purify me, thanked her, then walked out of the ocean feeling fully alive. In the evening, I light a fire and do a fire ceremony which lasts almost till midnight, taking me into the new year.
The following day, New Year’s Day I went hiking up Silvermine, fast. I’d packed a picnic basket for after my hike, and a bikini to swim in the dam also after my hike. I was a little apprehensive as I hiked up the mountain, as I realised that the throngs of people that were on Silvermine were there for picnicking, not for hiking. Essentially I walked there alone, and decided to throw a protective layer around me, to shield me agains negative energies. As I hiked, I repeated mantras, talked to God, or just went into silence.
I accept. This is perfect. Thank you. It’s not lost on me that I have to accept first, before I can perceive the perfection. My acceptance creates the perfection.
I also get it and accept that I am worthy of Divine perfection. I am worthy of Divinity. I am worthy of God.
An incredible 90 minutes later (it typically takes me 2hours to run this course), I’m back changing into my bikini in my car. I then grabbed the picnic basket, a blanket to lie on, my kindle reader and phone, and walked around the dam trying to find a spot for a solo picnic. Fortunately I found a little cave of a hole nestled against the deck walkway, a mere three climb-downs from the water. I made myself comfortable in there, occasionally glancing around me for Cape Cobras and puff-adders. I am in the wild after all. In time, I eased myself gently into the water, which was lovely and warm, and baptism myself. When I got out, it was to sit in the sun, which baked my back to a mad itch a few days to come. But for now, I sat cross-legged, in meditating and prayer. I continued my inwardness, dhyana, a withdrawal of the senses, till noon, at which point I ended my retreat.
I then consumed my picnic, including red wine as libations for my ancestors, and decided to take a few pictures. As I do so, again I noticed the sun behind me. This time though I held my palm wide open, allowing the sun to rest on it. No clutching this time. No desperate holding. Just allowing…
So now here I am, in 2017. I give thanks to 2016, wretched as it was. Perhaps it was but a simple messenger, delivering Destiny’s gifts to me. I’m also now able to recognise that it’s actually not all been doom and gloom.
I have spent many hours crying on the phone to my sister Maureen, who reassured me and consoled me, and supported me financially, all the time telling me how she doesn’t want me to worry.
My 50th birthday ceremony was a perfect reminder of the miracle of love from friends and family.
My home, this Gift, is an absolute gift of a sanctuary to me and all who come to visit and stay, declaring it my blessing.
New friends have come along, creating a beautiful bond of love amongst us.
Thank you Adele and Adri, for flying me to visit family in Pretoria.
Thank you Sara and Nina for being my sisters in the kindest, most generous of ways.
Thank you Lulu for the quick bail out, just as I was about to plummet through the abyss.
Thank you Rivers for this love.
Thank you Tatum and Damien, and Injairu and Cos, and Lauren, and David, for the emergency hospital visits.
Thank you Kiru and Neil, and Liz and Karen, for your constant generosity.
Thank you all the women at Women are Medicine, Claire, Eleen, that paid for me to attend the retreats I have attended.
Thank you Linda and Tom, for demonstrating what love looks like.
Thank you Kim, Ria, Catherine, Rehane, Dimakatso, Aja, Pat, Reitumetse, Sally, Sharon, Carmel, Gay, Gordon, Hayley, Mandi, Mathibela, Mmatshilo, Nadya, Rah, Yvonne- for your constant beauty and shining light in my days of darkness. All the children in my life- I love you
Thank you everyone in my family. This story of my life would be having a different ending without you.
Thank you All my ancestors. You are my companions through life.
Thank you Psyche and Spirit.
Thank Mother Earth, Father Sky, and everyone who ensures me life.
Inwardly, I know that I have, to a large extent, created this unhappy reality that I’m recovering from. Yoga and all spiritual teachings remind me that ‘where attention goes, energy flows’. In fact Leora, my incredible and wise yoga teacher was repeating this throughout her class on Monday.
I have been nurturing fear results with my fear thoughts, doubting that I would receive, even as all was being given to me. A few years ago, Athele, a gifted numerologist had told me that I’m a powerful manifester, and while I only thought of it as creating the good in life, the opposite is also true. Where attention goes, energy flows. My lens creates my reality.
So this year, I am learning to Accept. And remembering that that also means receiving. Accepting gifts.
I’m learning to see perfection in everything that arises. If my reality was meant to be different, it would have been different.
I’m learning to say Thank You. Not “ I will be grateful when my situation improves”, but “thank you right now for this”, regardless how my life looks.
I accept, it is perfect, thank you.