Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Labyrinth Message....

Tomorrow I will start to write about my Alexander Technique journey, but today I wanted to tell a story about something that happened to me about a year ago in San Francisco; it goes some way to explaining why I began to write, and now to 'blog' and become public....

Whilst I was visiting San Francisco last year to see my son sail in there during his circumnavigation of the world, I planned a visit to Grace Cathedral to see the labyrinths there - replica labyrinths of the great one in Chartres Cathedral in France. I was also blessed to be meeting my dear pen-friend from Canada for the first time ever; she came down to San Francisco in order for us to meet. That first evening we went along together to the Candlelight Labyrinth Walk which is held in Grace Cathedral on the second Friday of every month. The timing was perfect!

These walks are always accompanied by live music and that evening saw a group consisting of harp, violin, and cello, and an extraordinary female singer who's voice floated through the great space like velvet. With the only light being from the hundreds of candles flickering around the walls, it was a beautiful setting.

I had long been drawn to the labyrinth - the ancient pattern being one that puts the walker's brain into altered wave states and opens the way for clarity - but had never had the chance to walk one as large as the Chartres Cathedral design. These are 31 feet in diameter and have a path of about 250m - plenty of time to allow my brain to let go! (And a labyrinth is not the same as a maze; the latter is designed to get you lost, whereas the labyrinth is a continuous path from edge to centre and back.)

We entered the candle-lit space at the rear of the cathedral and sat, with about 30 others, in a circle of chairs around the edge. We were offered a simple explanation about the labyrinth and directions as to how to walk.

One by one, about a minute apart, we entered the pattern at the 'mouth' - the singing and music uplifting us even more. We were using the simple 'Three R's' method of walking - Release, Receive, Return. Walk in with something in mind that you would like to let go of. Even if it is a question, it's best to release it into the space and await the answer. Then when you reach the middle, you receive - maybe comfort, maybe an answer, maybe an idea. Then you return with your clarity of purpose.

I walked in thinking I would release some (more!) fear.... And continued to walk around - enjoying the analogy for life with the passing back and forth of people walking with me, and passing my dear friend who I had only met that day, yet knew so well. With labyrinth etiquette, when we came to someone moving more slowly, we would wait until a turn and then 'overtake' on the inside so as not to disturb their journey, or vice versa.

So, I was walking gently and peacefully thinking about releasing fear when, after just about 2 circuits - there are 11 in these labyrinths - out of nowhere I 'heard' a very assertive question..... "Why are you being so selfish?" And extraordinarily I just knew what it meant in my heart... But inside my head I said, "Pardon?" "Why are you being so selfish?" the 'voice' insisted... And as I walked I 'heard' so clearly the words, gentle and firm but a certain exasperation, "Why are you not sharing your work fully? Why are you withholding so much?" On I walked, 'listening', spellbound... And then the question that nailed me.... "Where would you be now if all those who's teachings you have heard, who's books, who's articles you have read over the years, had listened to their doubts and not published them, had not stood up and shared their wisdom, had not stepped out from behind the self-same fears as you have? When are you going to join in and start really giving?"

I continued to walk, but I think my eyes might well have been out on stalks with the clarity of what I was, or rather wasn't, doing. It looks so obvious, and yet so strange to put this message into words, because although it was given in words, it also wasn't - the soul's words being so much clearer than normal ones, and going so much deeper so much quicker. Those sudden, "I truly get it!" moments. And I had not expected this as I walked my first labyrinth!

I arrived in the centre of the labyrinth and found a 'petal' to stand in - there were about 6 of us in the centre at any one time, each on their own journey, some smiling, some peaceful, some weeping. I spent a few minutes 'receiving', allowing the message to sink in, standing beside a young man who appeared very troubled. I offered him a simple smile, already stepping out from behind the doubts that I was 'stepping out of line'.  

Then it was time to walk back out along the path - to almost run back out with the excitement of what awaited me.... Yes! Of course! Why was I holding on to all those stories, all those gems of love, support, teaching, wisdom, guidance that had got me to where I was now, for the simple fear of being laughed at, of being considered 'too big for my boots'. Of being seen to be too bold and of 'standing in my power'. I knew I never intended to stand up and say "This is the way, do it my way", but I was afraid it would look like that. I was afraid that to stand up and share, to 'companion' others on their journey, would mean becoming transparent, sharing openly and with utter honesty, and not cryptically as before. In my effort to care about people 'properly', I suspect they had not felt cared for at all!

So I 'returned' back down the labyrinth path - and with such energy... And with even more similarities to life; people still coming in had to be negotiated and respected. There was  much pausing with patience, waiting my turn to pass with the sharing of encouraging smiles. And at the 'mouth' I turned clockwise as instructed to face the centre, waited and thanked the labyrinth, and turned clockwise once more (to complete the circle of closure) and walked out of the labyrinth to my seat.

I felt really quite breathless with ideas - such clarity, such realisation, such desire to come home and begin! Begin what? I had no idea, and yet I did, but I didn't want to be this inadvertent and covert 'selfish through being so fearful' Annie any more. I wanted to begin to share my journey, to share the things that had happened to me, and what had helped me - not because I thought I knew something that another 'should' know as well, but because those so un-selfish people who had dared to put pen to paper, digit to keyboard, mouth to microphone, had shared their stories and thus accompanied me with such incredible love and belief as I went on my way. They had stopped thinking about themselves and their fears and had begun to think of others, and indirectly, even me. And without them, no, I don't know where I would be, I really, really don't. And I want to offer my companionship to others along the way, again just as we all do in the labyrinth. Now I could see a purpose for everything that had happened on my life journey to date - it wasn't something to hide, to be ashamed of... Those who had helped me most were the ones who had dared to share their journey, however messy. (And I love that word; yes, we humans are delightfully and adorably messy!)

And as the young man walked back out along the labyrinth path to the end, he passed by my chair. He stopped, turned to me, and simply mouthed a 'thank you' before walking on. I had done nothing more than 'been there' with him in the centre, open to the possibilities of giving without hint of doubt or shame. I am grateful to that young man beyond measure - he will never know that gift he gave me. By seeing how I had been protecting my heart, and by being able to soften away that protection, I had been kind to my self by dropping the endless self-judgement, and thus I was able to be kind to him by nothing more than just being.

And that was already a year ago in April. But now I have begun. Much has changed, and much goes on delightfully changing. And this is the story of why.... I hope you have enjoyed it.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

In the beginning... was the blog.

Today I at last decided to join that wonderful modern idiom of blogging, yet spent most of the day deciding on a name; all the ones I had in mind being already in use elsewhere. The bonus to this was that it got me really sitting with what I do, what I wish to convey here most of all, how I see the heart of my work, and I was again grateful for the rich diversity of its strands - if my work was a flower, it would be one of compound petals, each petal representing an aspect of that which I was trying to encapsulate in a couple of descriptive words as a title. One thing for sure, 'Self' had to be in there somewhere.... 

I know it's the first blog, but I might take courage in both hands and start as I would like to continue; in being open and sharing my story - because after all, there is no one else's I can share - in the hope it companions others on their journey. So, here I go....

For a long time, my self wasn't anywhere - it was pushed down, denied, scorned, loathed, riddled with shame, and consequently fearful beyond measure. I thought it was others who had done all that to me, and although I had heard much that fed it to me, I had deep-down agreed it was true. So it was actually me, to me, of me, about me. And after years of that, I finally went down a deep, dark hole. At the bottom I happened upon a group on the internet, people who seemed to not only care, but took me as I was, and who wanted to genuinely know who I was - not my name, not my lifestyle, nothing other than Who I Was. Just Me. At the beginning, an anonymous 'internet name' was required, and in my haste to join, I went for the first thing that came into my head - Finding My Feet. And so I joined in the conversations there, and was touchingly nicknamed 'FMF' - a sense of affection that began to filter through inside me. After a few months I became aware that I had actually found my feet, Now I felt something new growing inside, a self-trust, an ok-ness, an acceptable-ness through those who seemed to see something in me that I hadn't. And with a sense of progress, I wrote to the administrator and asked if I could possibly change my name to Finding My Self? She was delighted and I became 'FMS'. I remember that time so clearly; I was so amazed at this new sense, and I knew that above all, from out of somewhere I hadn't ever known, I wanted to reach the point where I might be able to call myself Finding My Soul. But this seemed so far removed from possibility that I never even mentioned it to anyone.

However, my soul had other ideas, and as time went on, things happened, people came into my life, different methods of working were offered to me, and a training undertaken where I firmly and clearly found my soul, and my soul found me. And I smiled deep inside at the journey I had been on, and that I was still on, but joyfully now because I had tools, and I trusted that there would be more tools, more support, more belief, more discoveries - those things that I had never thought my self worthy of. Thank goodness my soul knew otherwise, and thank goodness I was listening! 

So, now I had the first word for the title - Self. What was the other word that would sum up the work I teach? Poise, balance, ease, peace, quiet, energy, integration, body, mind, soul, truth, purpose, remembering, curiosity, enquiry, inquisitiveness, intrigue, opening, allowing, flowing, growth, learning, undoing, stillness, vitality, connection, and the power of the word.... On and on the list goes! But either they had all been taken (including even my most obscure consideration of "Earthsuit Living"!), or didn't feel right in some way. So, I wondered deeply, what is it that this work brings about? What is it that assists this work? What is it that I am delighted if it awakens in a student? What do all these words ideally create? What is it that really matters to me that my students find through my work? And I thought back to what my 'Findings' era brought to me.... And it was a kindness. A kindness to me, for me, in me, of me, about me....and one I found was truly share-able; I discovered an irrefutable fact; that if it was to be there to offer others, it had to be there for me, by me, in me, first. And not fake manners. Not pasted respect. Not charming 'niceness' - my mother's favourite word. And not sacrifice. Just simple kindness. And so Self-Kindness felt the words to use for the blog title. 

And now off I go into the blogging world and my intention is to write about those things that occur that reveal the many ways I still forget to be self-kind. To share those things that have been part of my life that led me to choose the very opposite of self-kindness. To share the ways and teachings that have led me back to being able to (more often than not) sit kindly with myself as I respond to all the stimuli of life. To discuss - and I really hope you'll join in - the many ways we hurt and heal, react and respond, wonder and ponder, go up and down on this amazing journey we are on at this time. Because one thing of which I am now totally convinced; we cannot get anywhere near peace in our world until we can love, or even like, our selves. "Love thy neighbour as thy self" might be quoted as one of the most important messages of peace ever spoken, but as I know from feeling pretty iffy towards myself during much of my life and unpleasantly projecting that outwards big-time, loving our selves has to come first. (And I know I am not alone in this; it's time to compassionately face the level of self-unhappiness in the world.) I found it a surprising journey because again, I was way off the mark as to what loving myself felt like before I met it. It's to do with the next well known quotation; "To thine own self be true". This self-kindness is not a sin. It isn't arrogant. It includes others in that love and is not selfish. It's just an open heart - and an open heart that points inwards first and foremost to enable that love to reflect back out and encompass others. The heart-opening is the journey - let's travel on together.

...and meet our own emotions with kindness, because only then can we meet another's...