Monthly Archives: July 2017
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…
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…
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.