On longing : reflections on and by John Lee

There are some forms of longing that live in my body like bees in a hive.  It’s as though the hive’s entrance has been blocked and word is spreading that the Queen is dead.  Everywhere honey is dripping from the walls and yet my longings keep my insides frenetically buzzing, too distracted to taste any sweetness.

To get the bees out of their hive, use fire and smoke.  Touch the Shadow, delve into what you’d rather not say, allow your breath to rise up within you and do not reject what it creates.  From this apparent chaos, a hidden nectar flows.

Sometimes the smoke comes from the fire of our anger at having been told we can’t write, or that our mind is unprepared, or that we should choose a vocation that pays the bills.  Sometimes we’re mad at our children for needing so much of our time, or a partner who doesn’t understand our passion for the written word. This anger often drives our feelings swarming out of us into the open.  The flight of our fury lets us know that we don’t have a ‘depressed’ body or soul after all, but that we’ve only been stopping our longing.  Every writer, at some point in life, must admit that this yearning is a part of everyday life, indeed is the lifeblood itself, and that depression comes when we try to stop the flood, when we do not act, do not create.

I long to write words that will fly, out toward you like bees that cover our arms as together we scoop out the rich sweetness of what is said in the space between our words.  I accept that I will never say all that must be said.  I accept that I will be stung baldy one or twice, because nothing go great value is ever gained for free.

John Lee

I am just a lot in love with John Lee’s book on writing from the body at the moment.  So I felt the need to share this passage.  And it raises some questions for me.  What do I do about my own longings and desires?  Do I allow them?  Do I let them move me? Or do I listen to the voice of my Mum inside telling me all the time not to long, not to want, not to suffer, not to hunger?  And more importantly have I allowed earlier thwartings and experiences of seeing others longings bring them unstuck or leave them drowning in a pool of tears to lead me to certain belief about longing, wanting, needing?  Did I learn to abort my own true, deep longings long ago?

It seems to me that for a lot of the past years I have been living in denial or repression of most essential parts of myself and my being.  I got to believe I was too, too much a long time ago.  I was too passionate, my opinions were too strong, and I had strange ideas and the implication was that if I continued in this way I would be exiled and so I learned to exile myself from myself in many ways and to deny the life I really wanted to live. I got dumbed down too, in fear.  Fear that others would respond to me in similar ways. But what I am learning is that not all people will hate or be threatened by this passionate side of me.  Some people might even like it or admire it.  And in any case to not follow my heart and desire and my longing and my passion is really not right.  For I do believe it does lead to depression.

Anyway I love this book by John Lee and will share some more of it with you.  He has some amazing poems in it.  I only consider myself a mediocre poet however nothing compares to the joy I feel in reading a poem that speaks and resonates to my soul deeply.   And I hope always to live a life of poetry in motion, lived in and through a body that is fully aweke, embodied and engaged.  That I believe is what John Lee speaks to in his own books and writing.

Be inspired : reclaiming the breath

Breathing

We must fully reclaim the breath, because without it the body withers and so does our writing.  The message written by the tight chest, the stilted body, carries no duende (a term used by the poet Frederico Garcia Lorca to describe the energetic instinct that guides creativity), no darkness, no belly stretched wide by the breath.  Such writing is a mere whistle.  It rises up like a ghost, substanceless, with a mask for a face, and we do not believe.

What must we do to reclaim the body, the breath?  We must address the fear that paralyses us, the darkness we have held back, like stifled coughs and whispers.  We must open ourselves allowing the wind to enter and change us.

When we human beings are scared, excited, hurried, or anxious, we stop breathing.  the sight and sound of a distressing scene or the momentary flicker of past trauma, causes us to hold our breath.  Shallow breathing is a way of stopping short, of postponing full involvement in whatever is going on. By shutting down our air supply, we can alter our consciousness.  We begin to feel lightheaded, our eyes glaze over, and our emotions recede into the distance.  The recede, they don’t disappear.  To begin writing with the full power of our body’s knowledge we must welcome our life, our breath, and our emotions completely.  We have only to begin breathing fully to show Life that we are serious about embracing her.

When we breathe deeply, we more completely inhabit our bodies, and yes, our pains, but also our contentment and our ecstasy.  Unfortunately, we have made a habit of cutting off the breath in midstream.  We allow our bodies just enough oxygen to keep the brain going, the vital functions operating at half mast.  But it’s not enough air for us to feel this intricate, magnificent life.

“I’m ready,” you say.  “I’m certainly willing to take deeper breaths, if it will bring my novel into being!”  But once we begin embracing the breath, an inner battle ensues. The mind comes up with platitudes it has used for years to keep us in limbo.  “There, now.  Don’t be silly  It’s not that bad. It didn’t really hurt. Crying won’t help.  It’s water under the bridge, split milk, stiff upper lip, pull yourself together.”  What the mind is really saying is, “Don’t feel.  Forget it.  We don’t have time for this.  Get back to work!”  These messages have had us by the throat for so long that we’ve forgotten we are in danger.

But also in childhood, now and then a comforting voice would offer real wisdom.  “Slow down for a moment.  Take a deep breath.  What is it you want to tell me?  Let’s count to ten and start over.”  People who were breathing their lives not only encouraged us to take deep breaths, but showed us how to do it  They invited the air in with their whole bodies, and so could listen with their full attention as we poured out our wild stories, our childhood worries and secret mistakes.  By breathing fully, these listeners allowed our pain to pass out of us.  They didn’t absorb our pain: they only listened with respect.  I try to practice this when I do emotional release work in workshops.  When I take full, deep breaths while someone else is experiencing wave upon wave of grief, I’m communicating that I not only encourage and welcome what that person is feeling but also that my own body will survive the process intact.  In our search for mentors we must bear in mind that we need the support of people who live in their bodies, who aren’t just visitors in their own skin.

By following the breath, instead of always being led by the brain, you’ll find yourself in a places you didn’t “think” you’d ever visit.  Going into these unknown places is motivation to write:  indeed it’s the payoff.  By breathing into your writing, descending into the body and its past, you will be able to see and report parts of your experience that were previously hidden from you.

John Lee, Inspiration : The Breath and the Word : Writing from the Body

 

Writing from the body and our past to tap in : some insights from John Lee

If I could give you a dollar for every time I have been told that I should just ‘get over it’ or ‘stop looking at the past’ you would be wealthy.   As a species we are only slowly coming around to the realisation that our past stays trapped and encoded in the cells of our bodies and our neuro and biochemistry.  When I first got sober a few years in I came across the work of medical intuitive Carolyn Myss, a wonderful book and set of tapes I was lucky to be given by the bookshop where I was then working called Energy Anatomy.  Carolyn was asked to work in tandem with a doctor to get information about certain patients he was treating about their past and what she had to say co-related with the illness they were going through with astonishing accuracy.  Carolyn had no other information, she did not meet the people, the specialist in question would just phone her with brief information about the patient.  From this Carolyn ‘read’ certain information such as ‘her mother died when she was two, she had a termination of pregnancy when she was 18’ and so on.   The doctor was blown away by her readings and Carolyn wrote this line in her book : “biography becomes biology”.

I am thinking about this a lot today as I am just reading the book Writing From the Body : For Writers and Artists, and Dreamers who Long to Free their Voice.   It is written by recovering alcoholic, John Lee who in recovery has become a therapist and works with people working to both free themselves from repressions of the past as well and express what may have been trapped, locked or encoded in muscle, tissue and organ.  The first few chapters tell of his own process to unblock his voice and find access through writing to essential blockages and experiences of the past which he believes to stay trapped in the body waiting to be heard or freed.  I am so inspired by what I have read so far that I really wanted to share it here, since on WordPress there are so many writers who are working in this way.  To be inspired to me is to be filled with spirit, to be able to breathe.  In fact in the chapter Inspiration : The Breath and the Word he deals with the importance of breathing as we write to gain inspiration and to access our depth.  I am not sharing content from the chapter here but the previous one Descending into the Body.  It is my own belief that body is soul and what soul’s suffer stayed trapped here longing to be freed.  When we tap in we release on some level past experiences and metabolise them.  I am sharing it here as I just feel a burning need to do so.  I hope it speaks to you, dear reader.

To embrace our body’s truth is to embrace our past.  There is no other way.  The body is home to all that has happened to us, and it remembers.  Fortunately, if we engage in the process of remembering (re – membering like Osiris did gathering up our torn fragments) with full vigor, great riches emerge.  In his breakthrough book, The Poetics of Reverie, Gaston Bachelard writes:

In waking life… when reverie works on our history, the childhood within us brings its benefits.  One needs……to live with the child he has been.  From such living he achieves a consciousness of roots, and the entire tree of his being takes comfort from it. 

Not everything we discover in ourselves will be comfortable.  But we need to know he truth of our roots if we are to write from that depth.  Our roots don’t have to be pleasant to be comforting.  Just the act of claiming our own history, of pledging ourself to its truth, provides peace of mind.  It also feeds our writing – we must know our whole story before we can tell it.

Lee goes on to talk about how he was raised in the South of the United States to barely literate parents.  How early on he came to believe that he ‘wasn’t that bright’, how he came to be ashamed of his origins and also came to believe he had to be from somewhere else to be intelligent or gifted enough to write.  Over the course of his healing journey though he came to see that such beliefs were untrue.  He speaks of how he had to both own them and dispel them or at least engage with them and work to answer them back.  He continues:

That’s part of my story.  You have your own.  You have your own messages.  What were they?  Who spoke them? What did you feel like when you heard them? How do you feel about these messages, and the messengers now?

As I am typing this a poem I wrote a while back addressed to my father comes to mind.  I will try to find it later but it was about how he devalued the artistic and humanitarian in favour of utilitarianism and commerce.  How he forced me away from my literate artistic side.  It was a deep wound in me and one I have only begun to really address since starting this blog.  Truth is, from a young age I was writing and so probably were many of you.  I still struggle with the Inner Critic.  How I get around it in my blog these days is to let it speak so readers can see.  I then try to act against what is says.

As the chapter concludes Lee gives this advice to budding writers :

Now write a story, a poem, or a one act play, or a letter.  Write how you feel about these destructive messages.  Tell the whole truth at last.  If fears arise, name them and you will dissipate their power.  We don’t have to go on fighting our fear, telling ourselves “everything’s fine.”  As we write from the body, we touch the centre of ourselves.  In doing so we discover to our surprise that everything truly is fine, and that a part of us remains safe regardless of what happens to us in the world.

My truth is this :  I wasn’t disabled.  But I did become tense and scared when unreasonable demands were placed on me.

Write your own truth boldly, loudly.  Stay close to the body’s sounds, to its rhythms of breath and bone, they will tell you want to write.

I am sure so many of you have found such comfort through your writing.  The beauty of WordPress is that it gives so many of us a platform to express and free from ourselves what became trapped, locked, buried or impacted deep inside. When other’s read, like and comment we feel the joy of resonance and know nothing we ever suffer really separates us, only that which we fail to free or speak.   I will end this with a luminous quote from Lee’s book on writing :

Be strong then, and enter your own body:

there you have a solid place for your feet.

Think about it carefully!

Do not go off somewhere else!

just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things,

and stand firm in that which you are.

Kabir

The outsider : reflections on feeling like I don’t belong

1-1

Today I have been thinking of how it feels to be an outsider, belonging nowhere as much as to myself.   I went to the dog park and connected for a while with people on the day to day level, then Jasper and I drove and then walked to our local/café bakery just along from the big Cathedral/church that was so much a part of my childhood.  A friend from school who I haven’t seen for a few years drove past with her son and waved and I had that feeling of being so ‘outside’ in my casual dog park clothes, I wasn’t on the way to church at Easter because to me Easter is a far deeper festival or mythic/mythological event than what is, to my mind, encapsulated in traditional Catholic Easter service with dead men wearing frocks attended by pomp and circumstance which speaks little to me of what Jesus actually lived and spoke about and suffered in his life.

I was also thinking a few day ago of how Jesus said that in order to grow spiritually we have to leave our family of origin and that at times we will find that our enemies are those of our own household.  This dovetails with what I tried to express in my post yesterday on being a family scapegoat :

https://wordpress.com/post/emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/29886

It felt sad to see my friend drive by on one level, but at the same time I was grateful to be going with Jasper to sit quietly, enjoy my morning coffee, read and watch the passers by.  However I was also aware of  the running dialogue of my inner critic saying how I am a loser as I never had children and am not really a very active participant in society at all having never really found my place.  The way things have evolved in my life and sobriety means that I live a deeply interior life in which I, in many way, feel myself to be in the world but not of the world.

This got me to thinking about how so many of the scapegoat identified individuals I have come to know are escapees from narcissistic families, or families devoted to such soulless values that are empty of meaning for the so called ‘scapegoat’.  The kind of families they come from seem to be blind to the individual on a deeper level, were actively disparaging or invalidating, and failed to see deeper into that individual’s being, soul and inner life wanting them to be something they were not, or to erase entire parts of their soul.  What other alternative do such individuals have, but to leave the family eventually to find their own way, truth, validation and recognition?

To me the scapegoat is often the one who sees at a far deeper level,  beyond certain hypocrisies, they may be the one who is designated as ‘apart’ from the collective,  they may be emotional or sensitive in a family devoted to practicalities and a stiff upper lip.   This is the kind of background portrayed by Jungian therapist and writer Sylvia Bretton Perrera in her book on the Scapegoat identified individual.  In this book she explains how the vulnerable member of the family comes to take on feelings of shame and worthlessness projected by parents or siblings disconnected from their own unlived, and unloved characteristics.  If, like me, you have ever been exiled from a group for being too angry or sad you will know what I am getting at here.  Its happened to me more times than I could count.

The other thing I was trying to touch on in my post yesterday was the fact that feeling on the outside of society often means we carry characteristics and values that have been exiled from a society that is not always spiritually and emotionally healthy, geared as it is to heroic ideals of conquest, achievement and emotional stoicism, competition and self denial.  Scapegoats come to be identified as the ‘sick’ one or the one with a so called ‘mental illness’ but we may actually be carrying something that was rejected by the family or society which was problematic reaching quite a few generations back and badly needs to be recognised or incorporated.   We may struggle to get it recognised in the family and our quest to do so may never be a success, which pushes us back in the end to our own resources and if on a metaphorical level if you think about what Jesus tried to get recognised and was crucified for you can see some kind of deeper parallel to what scapegoats go through, forced into a kind of exile or emotional crucifixion we may have to struggle through to the deeply painful realisation of how deeply unconscious our families are and now little they are able to nurture or recognise the nascent seeds of our truer, deeper self.

Today much more grounded into a realistic appraisal of myself once I settled down with my coffee and read through recent comments and reactions to my WordPress posts,  I saw that in no way am I a ‘loser’, and in no way am I someone who has nothing to offer society.  I see how I have struggled so often to find a place in places my soul did not really belong and that perhaps my lonely childhood was a great preparation for me to be a truth seeker in this world, able to see below the surface of things.  I also felt infinite compassion for others who struggle with so called ‘mental illness’ definitions which don’t always cut to the heart of what the true wounding was and leave them disidentifed with all the gold these beautiful people hold in their shadows,  all the gorgeous gifts that come with being outsiders or scapegoats. In a way we have to end the self judgement that is such a big part of when we identify solely with all the ways in which we don’t ‘fit in’.  We need to make our own worlds where we do!

I feel so blessed that in 2013 when I was really struggling that I found the support on WordPress from other scapegoats, some of who carry so much wisdom and was encouraged to be brave enough to express my thoughts and journey here.   This is the place I feel the warmth, although its a bit sad we can’t meet in person.  Here is the place I connect and find my meaning, here is the place where I no longer see myself as a loser but as someone who belongs and can bear the not belonging feeling that comes when my soul senses intuitively it is not in the right place.  So for today I have feel I have more than enough, cosy at home writing this now, I know there is a place for me.  The truer I am and the less I identify with the remorseless inner critic so introjected from society and conditioning, the happier I will be.  Here deeply at home in my heart and soul I feel that I do indeed belong.