Author Archives: gemmaburford

Skin colour does not equal ‘values’

Vivitar

We have to speak up and speak out about racism.  The only thing that’s required for the triumph of racism, fascism and neo-Nazism is for all those who believe in unity, diversity and the power of love to be terrorised into silence.

That’s what’s going on.  But we will not be silenced.   We will not be terrorised.  And I am not, repeat NOT going to sit back and let racists use my story – MY story – to justify their pathetic arguments.  This is a real comment that was made about The Video, which I have not edited, only copied and pasted:

“And yet they call me racist here in America because I won’t date a black man. I’m a realist and sociology student at University. I understand that the difference in values and culture between people can severely affect how they work together even just as co-workers much less as a romantic couple which in the end is a crap ton of work. And if you’re not starting from the same expectation and desire and values then you’re going to fail.”

 And my response, also unedited:

You ARE racist if you’re saying you ‘won’t date a black man’. Period.

Racism is judging people on the colour of their skin, which is exactly what you are doing. You can’t say anything about a person’s values or culture on the basis of their skin colour. NOTHING AT ALL.

Guess what? It wasn’t lions or second wives or my failure to adapt to obscure Maasai customs that drove us apart, it happened because I was still committed to grassroots activism and Lesikar got passionate about mainstream, Western-style, divisive party politics and so we ended up going in different directions. So please don’t make assumptions about a relationship that you know nothing about.

We actually WERE starting from the same expectation and desire and values. We wanted to preserve the Maasai culture (because I’m passionate about connection to nature, creativity and community, I always have been and I always will be) and help people to get an education without losing that sense of self.

Lesikar changed his values; I didn’t.

I resent the suggestion that we, or our marriage, ‘failed’ in some way because it didn’t last forever. 

We had seven years together, we learned a huge amount, we created amazing projects (including a school that has now been running for 10 years and educated over 350 young people, many free of charge, and a project to save teenage girls from FGM) and we now have two beautiful daughters.

I wish I could tell you all about them. 

I wish you could meet them.

Mixed heritage is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

They are incredible people.

Yes, mixed marriages take work.  But guess what, so do ALL marriages.  You can’t assume that you know something about a person’s values by looking at the colour of their skin.  You can’t assume that their values are different from yours if their skin is a different colour, any more than you can assume you have common values if it’s the same.

I’m finishing up my PhD by published work in Education for Sustainability, which is all about values, so this is a topic that I DO know something about.

We, as a human species, can do better than racism and fascism.

Cattle and goats don’t discriminate against against each other because some are brown, some are white, and some are black with white spots.

As for those who are calling themselves `Christians’ while carrying out vile acts of racism… Sorry, no.  Jesus would NOT go there.  Never.  He’d be standing up for the oppressed, not perpetuating oppression.

Here is my prayer, which is also a song:

Lord, You see beneath the surface,

Lord, You see beneath the skin;

Let us see the way that you see,

Let the time of change begin.

Let us love without fear or judgement,

Let us love without prejudice,

That’s the path You came to show us;

Jesus lived and died for this.

Fill us with your all-embracing light,

Bind us together, let our hearts unite,

Touch us with your power as we gather in this place,

With a love that knows no colour, creed or race.

Lord, we stand against oppression:

There are people pushed aside,

Their opinions overlooked and

their humanity denied.

Let us listen to those who struggle,

Let us answer them when they call,

That’s the path You came to show us;

Jesus suffered for us ALL.

Fill us with your all-embracing light…

Lord, the way You came to teach us

is the way of love and care;

Never asking where we came from,

or the reasons why we’re there,

Never letting us feel unwanted,

Never saying we don’t belong,

That’s the path You came to show us;

Your deep Love cannot be wrong.

Fill us with your all-embracing light…

 

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Finding our place in Nature

wilderness

If you dig down deep enough, fear is at the root at a lot of different issues.

Maybe you haven’t learnt to drive a car yet because you’re afraid of causing an accident.

Maybe you haven’t quit your dismal job and started your own business because you’re scared of failing, looking like a fool, losing all your money, and/or ending up homeless.

Maybe you haven’t got out of your toxic relationship because you’re scared of being alone, or of the consequences of leaving.  Or maybe you haven’t got into a relationship in the first place, for fear of getting hurt.

As I’ve discovered, the groundwork for understanding the true nature of fear and learning to work through it is, quite literally, to ground yourself in a natural environment.

When we re-ground ourselves and reconnect with the Earth, we find our way back to Love with a capital L – a Love that isn’t dependent on a particular person continuing to support us, be there for us, or make our dreams come true.

The ‘Love beyond all names’, as the Song of the Healer puts it.

This process is at the root of ecopsychology and ecotherapy, although the exercises that I teach aren’t ‘therapy’ in the conventional sense – they can be used by anyone, with or without mental health difficulties.

That doesn’t mean it’s an easy or comfortable process.   The nettles and thorns are just the beginning, and even the potential for disease-ridden ticks or venomous snakes isn’t the end of the story.  When we’re out wandering in the wilderness, we’re alone with ourselves.  We’re unprotected: away from all the distractions that keep us numbed and dumbed, like TV, overwork, overeating and social media obsession.

So the very soulwork that helps us to face our fears is, in itself, fundamentally scary for a lot of people.   Taking that first step is hard to do, without help.

My new e-course, Doing the Groundwork: Getting Ready for Major Life Changes, starts with a small, manageable step that most people probably wouldn’t expect…

Finding your place in nature.  

As before, I’m talking both literally and metaphorically.  You’ll find an actual place in nature that you can go to.  Preferably not the wilderness, in the first instance.  A tree in your garden is ideal; or if you don’t have a garden, maybe a hidden corner of your local park, or the bit of waste ground behind your office.

If necessary, you’ll take a deep breath; tell a friend where you’re going; and take your mobile phone (in case you get stalked by a creepy pervert), your water bottle, your emergency first aid kit, and a pen to poke in the eye of said pervert while kneeing him in the groin so you can make your escape.  And then you’ll turn the phone off, and start to realise that the Sacred Land has its own song:

Bring me your troubled soul, and I will make you whole,

For as you walk the ancient tracks you will attain your goal…

 

The cart opens for Doing the Groundwork on Monday 4th September.  In the US, it’s Labor Day.  In the UK, it’s the first day of the autumn term.  Summer’s over, holidays are done.  It’s time to get back to business.

So give yourself a chance, remind yourself that the Warrior Maiden is still there within you, and take that one small step.  Click this link to pre-register for the course today, and receive a notification e-mail as soon as registration opens…

Doing the groundwork for healing

fallen leaves

As I’ve shared in previous posts, the heroine of my novel is told, when everything’s fallen apart, to ‘get up from the floor and go to Beckery’.  It’s the same place that she’s been dreaming of going to for a long time, but the circumstances have completely shifted.

She thought she’d be going there as the heroine, bringing the Sacred Flame to the nuns (she’s come from Ireland with more than twenty lanterns, so you’d think she might have had a chance at success…) and winning the patronage of the King.  Instead, she gets there in a complete and utter mess, covered in blood, and without a single lantern.

All she’s got left is the memory of a few encouraging words from her pilgrimage guide, who’s now several hundred miles away and doesn’t even have a phone.

Doesn’t have a phone?  At all?  What sort of a weird, improbable scenario is THAT? 

Welcome to Anglo-Saxon England – whoops, sorry, Wessex.  (I’m sorry to break this to the English nationalists who have been making a big fuss about me marrying an African guy, but in the seventh century, there was no such place as England.)

Needless to say, things can only get better – at least for a while.  This isn’t A Series of Unfortunate Events.  (Although I do love those books!)

When Brianna finally arrives in Beckery, she embarks on the long process of recovery, with the help of an underground movement that offers hope and healing through the so-called ‘Nineteen Songs of Reunion’.  The secretive Fellowship is deemed heretical by the Catholic Church, and its members are liable to be burned, along with their manuscripts, if the Bishops discover their existence. One of the reasons is that, just as the real-life Gnostics and Essenes did, they spoke about the need for balance and equality between the Sacred Masculine and the Sacred Feminine.

It’s not just about the equality between men and women in a literal sense, although that’s one crucial element.  It’s also about the need for balance between Heaven and Earth, giving and receiving, light and darkness, sun and moon, focused action and gentle nurturing, courage and compassion, God and Goddess, Sacred Masculine and Sacred Feminine.  And, most radically of all, it suggests that if we reach that point of perfect balance, we can all become Christ-like.

It might not sound controversial to us now, but at a time when women weren’t even allowed to speak in front of men in the Church, the importance of the Sacred Feminine wasn’t a message that a lot of people wanted to hear.  And the seventh-century clerics, like the Inquisition leaders who followed them several centuries later, certainly didn’t want people thinking that they could find the Divine spark in themselves without the help of a priest to forgive their sins.

The message of the Beckery Fellowship is that you can’t just love the light and hate the darkness.  (That’s what we now call ‘spiritual bypassing’, although they wouldn’t have used that term!)  You can’t go through your whole life looking up to Heaven, and forgetting about the Earth that you walk on, and expect to be made whole.  You can’t love summer and despise winter; you can’t celebrate the new growth in spring without also celebrating the fall and decay of the leaves in autumn.

Compost matters.  The Earth matters.  Dark moon matters.  Women’s menstruation matters.  Night matters.  Rest matters.  And sometimes you have to wander in the wilderness for a while, in a literal as well as a metaphorical sense, in order to find your true source of courage, hope and healing.

As the Song of the Wilderness Wanderer explains it:

The path I walk is a path that is waking me,

Stung by the nettle, scratched by twig and thorn:

The path I walk, I don’t know where it’s taking me,

All that I know is new dreams are being born.

With open eyes and ears I wander the wilderness,

Losing myself until I find the One who knows…

 

We can’t make major changes in our lives without doing the groundwork first.  Getting out into nature is a crucial first step, but it isn’t the only thing that we need to do.  We also need to unblock our creativity, build a strong and supportive community around ourselves, and then, slowly and gently, start turning to face own emotions…

 

Are you going alone into the darkness?

eclipse

Image by Derek Shirlaw via Bing.com

On Wednesday, I was interviewed by Dr Anna Baranowsky, CEO and President of the Traumatology Institute Canada, for the ‘What is PTSD?’ YouTube channel.   We didn’t want to stop talking when our time was up.  What interested Anna most was my idea of  Fellowships:  small communities of people who support one another, share inspiration, and create something together (whether it’s an artwork, a project, a collective spiritual experience, or just a deeper understanding of a topic).

Spoiler alert: This is what’s found, and lost, in the series of books that begins with The Reluctant Flame-Keeper.   Will it ever be found again?  That part is up to you.

I don’t think I was quite so articulate when I spoke with Dr Anna, although you’ll be able to see what I actually said in a few days’ time, when the video editing is done.  Like all  good tales, this one is evolving in the telling, which is seriously frustrating, because I’m trying to get my first novel out into the world and it keeps on shape-shifting.

One of  my lecturers once told me that writing a thesis was a bit like trying to stuff a live squid into a shopping bag, and I can vouch for the fact that a novel is the same.  Every time I think I’m nearly there, I get a new insight that turns the whole damned thing on its head.  I’m now coming to the conclusion that the current draft ends in the wrong place!

Meanwhile, here’s a short story I’ve written especially for the eclipse season.  Anyone with an interest in the sky, whether from the point of view of astrology or astronomy, will know that we have two eclipses coming up this month: a partial lunar eclipse on 7/8 August, and a total solar eclipse on 21 August.  So here’s an eclipse gift for all my blog readers.  I’m pretty sure that this story will find its way, in a modified form, into one of my books: it’s the condensed message of the entire trilogy, the ultimate spoiler.  But I didn’t want to hold on to it until I figure out what I’m doing with the books, in case it might be helpful for someone out there who feels alone and despairing.

As Mariam sings to Yeshua in The Song of the Mourner: You shall not go alone into the darkest night /  Our love surrounds you, though we’re hidden from your sight…’

 

DAUGHTER OF THE ECLIPSE by Gemma Burford, 2017

Please share this story freely under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC-BY-NC-SA): this means you can share it, translate it, and make and share derivatives, as long as you (a) credit me as the original author, (b) don’t make a profit from it, and (c) make sure that everyone you share it with has agreed to the same terms.

`I am calling you in, calling you downwards,’ she tells me.  `Come and find your twin soul!’

`Who are you?’ you ask, shivering with fear.

`I am Ceridwen, the Dark Goddess, known to some as Kali.  I’m calling you away from the ‘life’ that you’ve constructed by following the officially approved plan, back to the original plan for your incarnation; the true plan, the one that was written long before you were birthed into this life.  Come away with me now, and descend into a deeper darkness than you imagined possible.’

`No!’ you say. `I won’t go!  I don’t do darkness!  I am a child of Light, and you are evil!’

`Ah, I know you don’t want to go!  Haven’t I tried everything to shatter this illusion of yours?  Haven’t I called to you every day, in the aftershock of violence, trauma, heartbreak, bereavement, and all the thousands of small losses that happen in between?  I have never given up on you, I’ve kept on calling, in the hope that one day you’ll accept my invitation to come down to the Underworld with me and learn who you truly are.  But for all these years, you’ve resisted.  You’ve clung to your self-made fictions with all your strength.  Today, at last, you must surrender.’

She is pulling off all the masks that you crafted so carefully, and wear daily, one on top on another on top of another.  The mask of the Dutiful Daughter, the A-Star Student, the Reliable Employee, the Successful Career Woman, the Loving Wife, the Good Mother, the Unselfish Charity Worker, the Devoted Carer… off they all come, one by one.

The weight of all these masks has grown heavier and heavier as the years have gone on; but that doesn’t mean that you were ready to take them off.  What if there’s nothing underneath?  Or what if there’s only a small, shrivelled, useless creature?

She drags you, sobbing and screaming, down the spiral staircase into a place of utter darkness.

“This is the place of initiation,” she says.  ‘But now, at last, I understand your resistance.  You were never meant to come here alone, to endure the darkness without support.  Where is your Fellowship?’

‘My Fellowship?’

`Yes; where are your sisters, your brothers, your mentors, and your wise elders?  Where are the healers, wordsmiths and craft-workers who will hold you at the centre of their web of Deep Love?  They were supposed to be here, waiting for you, keeping the circle strong and safe around you, as you journey through the darkness to find your soul.  Didn’t you call them in?’

`But…nobody told me about this place.  Nobody said I had to call anyone in.’

Ceridwen sighs, and the earth itself trembles with her sighing.  `Now I understand it.  The old legend is true, after all.  You’re one of those.

`What do you mean, one of those?’

`You’re one of the children of the Eclipse: the sons and daughters of the broken Fellowship.    The Demiurgos warned me of this, long ago; they told me that one day, their powers of greed and ambition would finally succeed in breaking it.   But I refused to believe it.  The Fellowship had survived, underground, through generation after generation of Burning Times.  They called them heretics at first, and then witches; they burned them in their millions.  But the Fellowship still clung on, through a thousand years of persecution.  I never imagined I’d see a day when the Demiurgos would eclipse the Old Ways entirely, and even I, Ceridwen, would be forgotten.’

`Is it my fault, then?’ you ask.  `Was there something I should have done differently?’

`Don’t blame yourself,’ Ceridwen says.  ‘It was never your fault.  They warned me long ago about the two world wars, and the colder, slower, more pernicious wars that would follow; they told me of the tide of materialism and self-interest that would slowly come in to wash away the debris, and of the technologies that they would devise to steal human minds away from their twin souls.  They said they would work their greatest enchantment yet: transforming Art into Entertainment.  They laughed in my face as they told me their plot: to distort and pervert the image of Deep Love so much that everyone would imagine that their `twin soul’, or ‘soulmate’, was another person in another body, and imagine themselves doomed either to wander the wasteland in search of their missing half, or to wait forever to be rescued.’

`Yes,’ you say slowly, ‘that is what they teach us, from our earliest childhood.  We’re led to believe that someday our prince will come, or that we must go out and seek our princess if that’s the way our brains are wired; and that when we find that one special person, they’ll have the power to repair what’s broken in us, and weave back what’s torn.  Are you saying that’s not going to happen?’

`What you view as love is impossible,’ says Ceridwen.  `The idea that two broken people could come together, heal each other, and save each other from the darkness?  That’s not how it works.  You can’t save another broken person.  Brokenness plus brokenness just equals more pain.’

`But…who will save me, then?’ you ask.

`Has nobody ever told you?  Your task, as a human being, is to initiate yourself into wholeness.  This is what Jesus was trying to teach: not that you only needed to believe in His resurrection in order to be saved, but that you should trust in your own capacity to resurrect yourself, overcome fear, and do as He did.  His resurrection was real, but it was also a parable: he did it for you, to show you exactly what you have to do.  You must die to the everyday world, let go of everything you ever hoped or dreamed or believed or loved, and go down into the darkness of the tomb; then I, the Dark Goddess, will lead you through the Labyrinth until you find your own soul at the centre of it, and emerge as a whole person.  This is the Divine Reunion, and if you can’t achieve it for yourself, you’ve no hope of finding someone else to do it for you.’

`Then Jesus Christ is my twin soul?  Is that what you’re saying?’

`No, that’s not it at all.  You aren’t listening.  I’m saying that your `twin soul’ is no more and no less than the part of yourself that you’ve been trying to suppress, because someone, somewhere, once told you it was wrong to be that.  When you face that shadow, you’re on the path to becoming Christed, as Jesus was.  He was a powerful healer, wordsmith and craft-worker for many years; but it was only after His death and resurrection that he became the Christ, the Anointed One, who understood My deepest mysteries.  But I completely understand your fear.  It’s hard, unbelievably hard, to go through an initiation with no Fellowship around you.  It would be easy to lose yourself utterly, and even get to imagining that there’s never going to be any way out of the Labyrinth.’

`This is why some people end their lives,’ you say.  ‘They feel trapped; they imagine that there’s no way out.’

`To be a daughter or son of the Eclipse is no easy thing.  When you travel through the darkness, it’s the Love beyond all names that helps you to reunite your soul and body, which hold all the power of your emotions, dreams and memories, with your mind and spirit, which give you the ability to make plans and take action to turn those dreams into realities.  And without a Fellowship, how will you get even a glimmer of the delicious bliss that’s the Love beyond all names?  Oh, I can’t believe that the Fellowship has been lost everywhere, even now.  I’m certain there must be places where it still survives; the places that don’t interest the Demiurgos because there’s not much profit to be made there, like the high mountains, the impenetrable forests, the parched deserts and the frozen tundra.  But none of that helps you in the least.  You can’t just travel half-way across the world and steal someone else’s traditions.  You’re one of the unfortunates who’s been born into a time and place where the Fellowship has been broken, and you’ll just have to do the best you can with that.’

`So… I must face the darkness by myself?’

`Either face it by yourself, or learn to restore the Fellowship, and then call in your sisters, brothers, mentors and wise elders to go on ahead and hold a safe space for you.  The choice is yours.’

`I don’t know how to restore it,’  you admit.  ‘I went to the church, the temple, the mosque and the synagogue, I went to social things at work, and made friends online, and joined the clubs and societies that interested me.  But I never found that Deep Love that you’re talking about.  I made a lot of friends, on the face of it; but I’d never dream of asking even one of them to go ahead of me into the darkness, and wait there for me.’

`Even if you knew, and they knew, that you would do the same for them when they called?  Can’t you open your heart to the possibility of reconnecting with people at that level?’

`I wish I could.  But I don’t know where to start.  I don’t even know what Fellowship means.’

`My sister Brighid will give you the blueprint,’ she says.  ‘As the Healer, she lights the flame of the hearth for the Circle of Witnessing; as the Wordsmith, she lights the flame of the altar-candle for the Circle of Inspiration; and as the Craft-Worker, she lights the flame of the forge for the Circle of Co-Creation.  This is the work of your Fellowship.  These three circles are, in reality, spirals; because even as the members of the group sit together in circle, they’re constantly expanding their power and awareness.  And at the point where these three spirals meet, the Love beyond all names will begin, in time, to bubble up like a sacred spring or to burn like a flame, or perhaps both.’

`Do you believe that we could really create something like that?’

`Haven’t you realised yet that you can create anything you choose?  But that’s only the beginning.  The true work of the Fellowship is to learn the mysteries of Reunion: to bring the Fire and the Water together, to interweave the secrets of the Masculine and Feminine at the turning-points of the year.  Then there are two more steps beyond that.’

`Are you saying there must be one Fellowship for women, and another for men?’

`Yes, this, for most people, is how it must be; without separation they can’t experience the joy of Reunion.  Most women find their deepest healing and wholing in a group of women, as the Fellowship of the Magdalene was in days gone by; and most men, in a group of men, like the Fellowship of the Nazarene.  But there’s also a third way, for those who have been pushed across the rainbow bridge to transcend the binary concept of gender, and have felt the pain of separation in other ways.  The Fellowship of the Rainbow is for anyone who is willing to be male sometimes and female at other times, to be both at once or to be neither, to tear off the label: to acknowledge in every gathering that the ultimate Reality, the Love beyond all names, is above and beyond all polarities.  But not everyone is called to that work.’

`There are three Fellowships, then, brought together at specific times of the year?’

`Sometimes two, sometimes three; but yes, they must be brought together on the shortest night, the longest night, the two nights in the year that are in perfect balance with the day, the eve of the thawing-time, the eve of the blossoming-time, the eve of the first harvest, and the eve of leaf-fall.  These are the eight Vigils before the High Holy Days, in which each Fellowship shares its insights, and the waters of the Sacred Spring are warmed by the Sacred Flame, and everyone learns a little more of the Mystery of Reunion.’

`I – I think I understand,’ you say.  ‘Will you tell me the second and third steps?’

`In time, if you master the first one.  Have you made your choice, then, child of the Eclipse?’

`Lead me out of here, Great Goddess of the Underworld,’ you reply.  ‘I have made my choice: I refuse to face the darkness alone.  Send your sister Brighid to me, and let me learn her ways.  I will restore the Fellowship, whatever it takes, and send my brothers, my sisters, my mentors and my wise elders out into the darkness ahead of me, and do the same for them when they call.’

`As you wish,’ says Ceridwen, as she begins to lead you up the spiral staircase, towards the light, towards the world that you know.  ‘But I will come back for you in a year and a day.  Down into the darkness you will go, and on that day there will be no second chance.  With or without your Fellowship, you must journey on to seek your soul.’

`May I put my masks back on, please, before I go out into the world?’ you ask her.

She laughs.  ‘I have burned your masks.’

 

If you are feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone else, there is hope.  There is help available via the Prevent Suicide website, including a free online chat facility.

 

 

 

 

Walking back to happiness?

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When I came back from Tanzania, I was a mess, which isn’t exactly surprising.  I’d walked away from my marriage, my extended family, my community, my business, my projects, and the land I loved.  All I’d brought back with me was my daughters, two suitcases per person weighing less than 20kg each, and an entire plane-load of emotional baggage.

My life was transformed, little by little, by consulting a spiritual counsellor who told me to go out walking and start re-rooting myself in my own ancestral landscape.  (She told me a lot of other things as well, but I’ll save those for future blogs, as they’re too important to squeeze into a paragraph.)

The work I’m doing now has all evolved from that point, but takes it a few steps further.  It’s based on the realisation that just walking the Land isn’t enough in itself, although it’s a great start: we need to learn specific skills if we’re ever to find our way home again, in this crazy society that we’ve constructed for ourselves.

There are actual strategies that we can use for observing the Land, breathing it in, meditating on it, encountering it, experiencing it, singing its songs, making art with it and about it, and having conversations with it and about it.

All this is `second nature’ (literally) to intact Indigenous communities living undisturbed on their ancestral lands, of which there are now sadly few left – but it’s almost disappeared in contemporary Western societies.  And when we lose our connection to the Earth, our Mother, we lose a crucial part of our own souls.

That ‘soul loss’ is at the root of all our fear and loneliness.

I’ve really struggled with creating, building, and marketing my business, and the main reason is that I’ve had a hard time working out who my ideal client is, and what my target market is.  Why?  Because reconnecting with nature, creativity and community can provide a foundation for fixing most of the things that are wrong in most people’s lives in ‘modern’, affluent societies.   This stuff is valuable for pretty much everyone.

I’ve already been working with Travelling Light, a coaching program to help people lose weight and let go of the emotional baggage that keeps them stuck in patterns of overeating, stress and poor sleep.  But in response to some of the people who have been commenting on my blog, I recently had another ‘Aha!’ moment.  So now I’ve settled on a title for my first online group coaching program.  As anyone who was reading last week (or has managed to get their hands on a copy of my New Moon Newsletter) will know, it’s going to be called Doing the Groundwork: Getting Ready for Major Life Changes.

The program, opening for enrolments on 4 September and launching on 21 September, will be relevant to anyone who wants to overcome weight and body image issues – whether it’s emotional overeating, anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, or something different – because all these are rooted, in some way, in fear.  Fear that we’re wrong, and not good enough.  That we’re losing control over our lives.  That if we don’t use food as a distraction (either the eating of it, or the not eating of it) we might have to start thinking about the really scary stuff.  So, as the theory goes, if I can help you make it easier to handle the really scary stuff, the food thing loses its importance.

But it’s also open to people who don’t have a particular issue with their weight, which I don’t, but want to make a big change in their lives, which I do.  It might be overcoming an addiction, learning to drive, starting their own business, getting over someone, or publishing that book.  Oh dear, I seem to be able to tick ALL those boxes…

Addiction: Check, I’m a recovering workaholic.

Learning to drive: Check.  Or at least passing my driving test.  Six attempts and counting. (For those of you who wonder how I actually function as a human being without driving a car, I live in the UK.  We have public transport, even in the middle of a forest.  As long as it’s not a Sunday, or a bank holiday, or after 7.30 pm, or any time around 3pm on a school day.)

Starting my own business: Check.  (But aren’t I doing that already?  Erm, moving on…)

Getting over someone: Check.  And no, I’m not giving you any more details.

Publishing that book:  Check.  Yes, that book, the one that some people will hate me for.

Argh, I have a TON of groundwork to do!  Hmm, if you want to learn something, teach it…

We all have something that we’re afraid of, that’s holding us back from becoming who we were meant to be… but before we can even start facing it, we need to know that someone or something, somewhere, is going to catch us if we slip.  Which we will.

Nobody but an idiot walks a high wire without a safety net, especially if they’ve never walked one before.  So ‘Doing the Groundwork’ is going to be all about finding strategies that can help us feel safe enough to make those big life changes.   I’ve dropped more than a couple of hints already, but here they are again:

Reconnecting with nature…

Reconnecting with your creativity…

Reconnecting with community…

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…

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…

Permission to make rubbish art

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.