The death of deadlines

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I apologise, guys.  My deadlines are officially dead.

I had promised to deliver my first newsletter on the New Moon, 23 July, and the beta test of my first ever e-course today, Thursday 27th.  There’s no specific reason for that: only that it was the first Thursday after the New Moon, and I like Thursdays.

My Sacred Calendar starts each week on a Thursday, because I like the feeling that Saturday and Sunday are in the middle of the week with everything else organised around them.  Instead of something which screams out that work is the meaning of life and everything else is an afterthought, we have…a beautiful balance of work, rest and play.  (At least in theory…)

But I’m getting off the subject already.  I was talking about the death of my deadlines.

It’s not an unusual occurrence.  This is exactly what I do, when I’m starting to freak out at the crazy promises I’ve made to myself and the world: I tie them to even crazier deadlines.  Mailing list?  Consider it done.  Newsletter?  It’ll be in your inbox next Thursday, I promise (even though I haven’t actually figured out how to do it yet).  Build a global movement to transform education, and redesign it to optimise mental well-being, rather than academic achievement?  I’ll have it sorted by May.  No, make that March.

What I usually end up doing is procrastinating right up until the last minute, and then doing one of two things.

If it’s an external deadline, like a presentation for a conference that’s happening tomorrow, a funding bid that’s about to close, or a piece of consultancy work that I have to deliver NOW in order to get paid, I work for half the night (or even all night) to make the deadline…and then collapse with exhaustion.

If it’s a self-imposed deadline, I generally end up ignoring it.  And it happens:  I break my promise.  Again.

Breaking a promise, as we all know from childhood fairy tales, is one of the worst things you can ever do.  If you don’t keep your word to the old witch in the woods, who’s actually a beautiful princess in disguise (ooh, I could write a whole blog series on that Goddess symbolism… oh, wait, I was talking about deadlines…) you’re toast.  Or a frog.  Or something worse.

The more I promise, and the more people I promise it to, the worse it feels.  If I’m a promise-breaker on THAT scale, I’m a terrible person, and nobody will ever want to hear from me again.  Right?   So I don’t need to do that scary thing after all.  It’s too late now anyway.  Right??

Err…wrong, I hope.  Because, now I come to think of it, one of the principles of sacred calendar work is allowing ourselves to surrender to Divine Timing.  It isn’t a question of ‘better late than never’, because it isn’t even ‘late’: it’s Divine Timing.

If I’d written my newsletter on Sunday, I wouldn’t have had last night’s dream.  I can’t even remember what it was about, but I woke up with this line:

We experience life as beautiful when we learn to get out of our heads and re-embody Goddess.

That kind of feels as though it was worth waiting for.

So that’s broadly what my newsletter will be about, when it’s ready.  So will the e-course, Doing the Groundwork: Getting Ready for Major Life Changes.

When will that be?

The newsletter: as soon as I figure out the technical side.  Hopefully in the next few days.

The e-course: I’m aiming for Autumn Equinox, or Spring Equinox for those of you in the southern hemisphere.  But I’m not going to promise anything at this point.

I’ve learned that one way to stop breaking promises is not to make them in the first place…

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Emotional fact and historical fiction

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When I was at my lowest point, I consulted a spiritual counsellor, and she advised me – among other things – to start walking the Sacred Land.  To go walking, by myself, and seek out amazing places: ancient stone circles, holy wells, sacred springs, yew groves, and deep forests with vast oaks.

I’m pretty sure that piece of advice saved my life, or at least my sanity.

The path that I started walking didn’t just lead me to Avebury, Glastonbury, and other sites that have now become my ‘go-to’ places for hope and healing.

It’s also led me, after several years, to revive a long-held dream: writing a book, which is precisely about reconnecting with the Sacred Land (and lots of other stuff).

But, just like Brianna, the protagonist of my novel The Reluctant Flame-Keeper, I’m not arriving at my dream destination in the way I planned – with the love of my life by my side, the Sacred Flame burning bright, and an important person waiting to shake my hand and give me lots of money.  Instead, I’m doing the 21st-century equivalent of pitching up in an ox-cart, covered in blood and dust, and lying on top of a sack of barley.  Erm, it wasn’t supposed to be like this…

It’s not the triumphant memoir that I mapped out in 2004 – the literary equivalent of putting two fingers up to the ‘It’ll Never Last’ brigade, showing them how wonderful it was to be married to a Maasai warrior and raise kids in Africa and help people rediscover their Indigenous knowledge even while escaping FGM, and we would all live happily ever after, thank you very much.  (I couldn’t get a publisher for that book anyway, because they all rejected it as ‘too naïve’.   Memoir readers aren’t stupid.  They know that life isn’t really all sunshine and red hibiscus.)

Writing this novel is raw, messy, and bloody painful.  It’s forcing me to reveal aspects of myself that I was very happy to keep hidden.  That’s because it really is my story, at least to some extent – and it’s not just about the mud huts.  Not all of it is ‘true’, of course – but there will be surprises.

I’ve had to start, slowly and painfully, letting go of who I thought I was and what I thought I ‘should’ want, and admitting who I actually am and what I really want…and letting new dreams start to emerge from the broken places.

The Reluctant Flame-Keeper is emotional fact dressed up as historical fiction, and I can already imagine the field day that the right-wing press are going to have with it.   It’s controversial.  It’s going to shock some people, infuriate some people, disgust some people, and probably cause a a few people to decide that I actually am the Antichrist.  I’m anticipating trolls and some serious hate mail.  And that’s nothing, in comparison to what’s going to come at me when I eventually publish the prequel.

But the point is: it’s my sacred task.  So I’m showing up for it, instead of hiding from it.  And arrogant as I am, I believe it’s going to change lives, hopefully for the better.

It’s just as well I’ve already had a bit of practice in dealing with trolls:  three messages so far, in the midst of a lot of lovely supportive ones, in which people have been vile and offensive about my choice of marriage partner and about our beautiful daughters.  If I can get that kind of abuse just for marrying someone with a different skin colour, I’m really curious to see what’s going to start getting thrown at me when the book comes out.  At least this time I’ll be prepared for it, and make judicious use of helpful buttons like ‘Ignore’, ‘Block’, ‘Delete’ and ‘Report’, instead of wasting my time trying to respond to the haters…

And it’s no accident that it’s at precisely this point, when I’m working on the final edits of the book, that I’ve been putting time and energy into creating a new mini-course called Doing the Groundwork: Getting Ready for Major Life Changes.  

Okay, confession time.  I was going to write a full-on, high-end, super-duper e-course called Face the Fear and Chase the Dream.  But, um, I’m not ready yet.  Did someone say I’m too much of a wuss?  No, no, no, that’s not it at all.  I have GROUNDWORK to do first.  And judging from the responses to my first few Discovery Sessions, I’m not the only one.

#FaceTheFear and #ChaseTheDream just sound too… well, scary.  Especially as, where I am, it’s already getting on towards autumn.  When the days get shorter and the nights longer, it really doesn’t feel like the time to go out chasing dreams, or indeed, chasing anything at all.  It’s the time to sit at home by the fire, weaving yourself a beautiful, strong safety net with three strands: nature, creativity and community.  Then, when February or March comes around and you’re feeling ready to spring into action (pun intended), you’ll know the Universe has your back.  Or your front, if you’re unlucky enough to land in the net face down.  (Knowing me, I probably will…)

People say if you want to learn something quickly, you should set a date to start teaching it!   So here it is: 21st September 2017.   More details will follow shortly.

Oh, and on a similar topic of showing up in a slightly less shiny and sparkly way than originally planned – and trying not to freak out because, guess what, I’m not perfect – I am getting around to my New Moon Newsletter, which I promised for the 23rd.  It is still New-ish Moon, and I will figure it out within the next few days.  Honest.  Keep watching this space, and with any luck, a pop-up saying ‘Subscribe Now’ will be popping up sometime soon…

How to survive when the dream dies

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So you had The Dream once.  And you didn’t just dream it: you lived it.  Or tried your very best.

You gave it everything you had.  Giving up wasn’t an option.  Failure wasn’t an option.  You kept going, even when it almost killed you.  Even when you thought you had nothing left.  You managed to find a little more, because it would all be worth it in the end.

And now you’ve got no choice but to admit it: After all that, it didn’t work out. 

There’s no hope.  No way to salvage that particular dream.  It’s dead.

That’s what happens to Brianna, the protagonist of my emerging novel The Reluctant Flame-Keeper (formerly The Nineteen Songs of Reunion).  She’s travelled with her husband Daman, a treasure-trader, all the way from Ireland to Glastonbury – a long sea voyage, followed by a nineteen-day pilgrimage across the entire country of Cymru (Wales) – to bring a lantern lit from St Brigid’s Sacred Flame to a convent in a place called Beckery.   They’re supposed to receive a rapturous welcome from the nuns, and and earn the patronage of the King of Wessex.

The plan goes more disastrously wrong than Brianna could have imagined.  They arrive in Beckery, only to discover there were never any nuns there in the first place.  She loses both Daman and the Sacred Flame, on the same day.  Then the man who shows up in the guise of a guardian angel turns out to be a violent abuser.

Brianna’s completely alone in the world.  She’s in pain, bleeding, and utterly exhausted.  It would be so easy to just lie there on the floor and wait for it all to end.  But then she hears the voice of her pilgrimage guide, Aelfric, in a dream…

You came here as a pilgrim, with a job to do, a sacred task.  It doesn’t matter whether you chose it, or it chose you: you can’t just keep hiding from it. 

You have to go back to Beckery.

Brianna protests, as anyone would in her situation:

But I have no lanterns left, the Sacred Flame has been put out and Daman is gone, and even the Warrior Maiden [St Brigid] has abandoned me.  I can’t do this on my own.

To that, Aelfric responds:

You have to find the Warrior Maiden in yourself.   She’s there, you know.  She’s always been there.  You’ve just forgotten how to listen to her.

If you’ve lost all your lanterns, you’ll have to become the Sacred Flame; and if you’ve no-one there to care for you, you’ll have to become your own Flame-Keeper. 

You can do this, you know you can.  You’re more than strong enough.  You can start taking small steps towards your own dreams, all by yourself, as soon as you make the choice.   

For the sake of God and Goddess and all goodness, get up from that floor and go to Beckery

 

My own first step was to get up off the sofa and quit watching soaps and reading right-wing newspapers (I know, I know… I wasn’t the one buying them, but I used to read them if they were lying around, because it was easier than actually letting myself feel anything) and find the disillusioned courage to e-mail a spiritual counsellor and ask for an appointment.

And that changed everything, as I’ll explain in my next post…

The other type of courage

Since I’ve been `outed’ online, not through choice, as That Woman who Married the Maasai Warrior, I’ve had all sorts of people getting in touch to tell me they’d love to go to Africa (or some other far-away place) but don’t know how they’ll ever find the courage.

So today, I’m starting a six-week series of Wednesday blog posts on the theme of courage and how to find it, even if you feel as though you’ve already lost everything.  They’re leading up to the launch of my brand new e-course, Face the Fear and Chase the Dream, in September – which I’m hugely excited and also terrified about, but doing it anyway!

Here’s the first one.  I hope you enjoy it…

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Reflecting on what made me brave enough to go to Tanzania in my early twenties, and why it’s so much harder to get brave enough to do anything outside my comfort zone now that I’m coming up to my fortieth birthday, what I’ve realised is that there are two different kinds of courage.

There’s what I call illusion-based courage, or `gap year’ courage.  Lots of people will know what I mean by that.  It’s a naïve kind of bravery, the kind you have when you’re looking out from a rose-coloured bubble of privilege and idealism.  When I first left Oxford, I did stuff just because I could, and didn’t overthink it.  Why shouldn’t I get out there and change the world?   Why shouldn’t I start a company and an NGO from scratch, build a school, save girls from FGM, marry my colleague, have kids, and take them to the Maasai village to visit their grandparents?  What could possibly go wrong?

I was in love.  Passionately.  Not just with Lesikar, but with Tanzania: the music, the colours, the stories, the wisdom, the land, the sky, the wildlife, the fruit, the flowers, the sense of community, the deep faith and trust, the fact that everyone talks about God and spirituality as if they’re completely taken for granted.

The flip side was always there, of course, but I wasn’t seeing it.  Well, they say love is blind.  If I felt any fear at all, which I don’t remember, it was overridden by a massive burst of endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin, and all that other feel-good stuff that happens when you’re in love.

And then, of course, things started to go wrong.  Sometimes a little bit wrong, like a bout of malaria that was quickly treated with medication and everything was fine again…until the next time.  Sometimes horribly wrong.

And then it got to a point where I realised that actually, it wasn’t all going to be fine, and prayer wasn’t going to magically make everything happen the way that I wished it would, and maybe I couldn’t manifest things just by dreaming them after all.

That’s when I needed the second type of courage.

The second type of courage, which I call disillusioned courage, is what you need in order to survive after the dream dies and the rosy bubble bursts…

It isn’t all sunshine and serotonin any more.  On a good day, it feels like two steps forward and one back.  On a bad day, it’s one forward and three back, and you wonder if you’ll ever figure it out.

Finding the courage to move to another country, or start a business, or whatever that big scary goal might be, is very different if you’re not under 22 and over-privileged.  It’s very different if you’ve already lived life, struggled, loved, lost your illusions, and been deeply hurt.  If you’ve been bereaved or traumatised, or suffered a serious illness.  If you’ve been in the same job for twenty years.

 So if that’s you, all I can say is please, please stop beating yourself up over the fact that you’re not already Doing The Thing.

Start celebrating the fact that you were brave enough to acknowledge that you’re afraid of it.  A lot of people go through their lives making all sorts of excuses as to why they haven’t Done The Thing, but never get around to admitting that actually it’s scaring the shit out of them.

Then take that first tiny step.  Send that e-mail or text, or make that phone call, or comment on this blog, or click a link, or invite a Facebook friend to meet up for a coffee… and celebrate that. Because these are the places where true, disillusioned courage begins.

It doesn’t begin when you step on the plane.