Sunday, 31 December 2017

REFLECTING 2017



It is raining in London on the penultimate day of the year. London as usual.

I have just bought a beautiful house on a mountain in Andalucia, Spain, a place that feels like home. My first few days in the house felt overwhelming. In some ways it seems unfathomable that I have arrived on that mountain, that I arrived here in London, that I am sending down roots into these places and learning the sway and turns of their culture and dialects. Life is unpredictable. I feel so much. Hope and fear. I pray, in the unorthodox way that I have learned to pray, that the path will continue to open, that the potholes won’t consume me.

I was holding on tightly to Spain as I left but as I walked into my flat in London, I remembered how precious and special this nest is too. 

There is fleeting fear.
Where am I?
Then I let go.
I am here. I am there. I am here. I am there.
I am reminded that love is not about attachment.

Moving characterises my story. May I come home to both places.

I sleep in a bed that seems to remember the shape of my body. I draw the curtains onto a grey London morning. No birds. I open the window and call, “Georgieeeeeeee. Georgeieeeee.” No birds come. I miss George and his pigeon family. I hope that they will come back soon. I have filled their bowls with seed. Eventually they will be passing by to go shopping somewhere else and realise that this shop is open again. They have been returning with me for 2 years now. I love them. I miss them when they’re gone: George, Gladys, Hoxton, Shoreditch, Angel, Hackney, Orgiva, Impi and Mini Impi.




It is the last day of 2017.

I am sending down roots into a mountain in Spain.
I am rooted in London.
I am an African - when facebook reminds me of this I feel sad, I miss home home and my African tribe.

For the last three years, as the years have turned from one to the next, I have counted.

2015 One
2016 Two
2017 Three

It doesn’t seem that long ago. I got sick three years ago. It was a strange illness. I fell hard. My body said no. My blood tests flared  in a way characteristic of parasitic infection but the little fuckers were hiding if they were there at all. The doctors, there were many of them, never really figured out what took me down. I lay in a hospital bed for a month. I had a heart attack midway through. I carried on lying in the bed. Listening to the beeping. Giving my blood to the seekers. No answers came. My blood tests normalised. I went home. They kept on looking. They looked for months and months. I’d start getting better, then I’d fall down again. Sometimes hard, sometimes gently, never as hard as the first time. Every time I was feeling better I’d think I was finding my way home and when I fell again it was … boring, disappointing, unbelievable, devastating, painful, infuriating, depressing … It was not okay. I was not okay. I didn’t understand. Nobody seemed to understand. They told me I was sick but they did not know exactly why. I wanted to know why. Exactly.

After several months I was referred to the Chronic Fatigue Clinic. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and ME are essentially the same thing, I chose to identify with the former term. I was very resistant about this. I didn't like the clinic, struggled with their regime and am sure I was not an easy patient during the time I lasted there. After a year I discharged myself. I wanted a clearer answer. After two years of finding my way up and down, up and down, up and down I self-referred to a private doctor looking for other opinions and answers. I'm sure this is what many of 'us' do as we grow desperate. I paid a considerable amount of money to run many tests in other countries. He concluded that my Chronic Fatigue was caused by Lyme Disease and other co-infections - a host of viruses that were sitting in my system and a subsequently knackered immune system. He prescribed a plethora of herbs and supplements and a diet that took lots of things out, like: wheat, dairy, sugar. This plan is fairly predictable and does help but my on-board jury is out about the benefit of long term supplement use and avoiding common food types without clear allergy. I'm better off of gluten for sure, but I lapse. I go back to food because there is small comfort in delicious. I'm not a glutton but I like the ritual and taste of food. Perhaps I'm doing it all wrong. When I'm really struggling I go back to The Regime and I stabilise.

My NHS doctor, who I like and has supported me immeasurably for years, didn't buy his diagnosis. This was confusing. She asserts that I have Chronic Fatigue, that it is understandable, okay and I can allow myself to have it and work with it. 

It is true: the collection of symptoms that make up my ‘condition’ characterise Chronic Fatigue – I fell hard, perhaps in part because I had pushed myself too hard, my body was auto-immuning, shutting down on itself, I host Lyme and Glandular Fever both common precursors for CFS, my muscles didn’t work without getting exhausted post exertion, my bowel went berserk – I had many strange symptoms that prolonged for months and sometimes reappear still: I tingle, I shake, I sweat, I shiver, I gasp, I blur, I ache, I rash, I drain, I can’t get words out, I have to lie down. I have to lie down. I have to lie down.

I disappeared into a narrow groove, the only place I could manage living in, spending a lot of time at home, alone. Part coping, part taking care so that I could try to cope.

Chronic Fatigue is not a label I wear comfortably, but it’s one I’m getting used to. I don’t know why, but I do know that my body said and continues to say, No. And I also know that it is essential that I listen to it now. There is constant dialogue with my body. I have moved back into it. I respect its messages and wisdom more. I am less headstrong in driving myself and other people along. I feel more like one entity rather than A Head and A body. I feel less heady.

I have learned to understand that if we don’t listen to and respect our bodies they will call us into line and ask for more attention.

So here I am, counting year 3.

The questions rattle over and over in my mind:
God how did this happen?
Why did this happen?
Why did this happen to me?
Why does this happen to us?

As this year turns over into the next, I remember who I was before I fell. Pulled by the bizarre collective churn of spewing new year intention I too imagine who I would rather be:

Thinner.
Fitter.
Prettier.
Healthier.
More alive.
Weller.
Driven.
Successful.
More normal.

I want to be who I was back when I thought I was fat but I wasn’t fat. The weight thing is so tedious and interminable. Especially, but not exclusively for women. Before I fell I had carved my body thinner and stronger with hours and hours and hours of hot yoga practice. I was addicted to it, because it was shaping me in a way that made me feel like I looked better. I was using yoga to get hits and fixes from my self and from other people. As I changed, people noticed and their regard was complementary.

It is true: I looked better. I felt better.

Sometimes I pushed myself through classes denying my bodies call.

I think I did too much hot yoga, in an obsessive, controlling way.
Searching for perfection, denying, sometimes hating, both my self and my perceived imperfections.

I miss hot yoga.
I miss that body and stamina and strength.
I miss the discipline of that practice.
But I really am not sure that the way I had attached to it was healthy or good or respected my body. I miss it but I don’t know.

I know I fell. My body won’t go back there. I can’t do that hard yoga any more. I want to, but I can’t. Yesterday as I sat on an aeroplane feeling fat, I was deeply missing the yoga practice and the body I had found in those stinky, sweaty studios.

It is hard to let go. I want to go back. I wonder if I ever will. I wonder.

I try to make peace with the fact that I am heavier and slower. I don’t look better. I don’t feel better. I look worse. I feel worse.

(We are taught to think like this.)

Head says go.
Body says no.
For me this is no play warfare:
Body.
Says.
No.

I have Chronic Fatigue.

About six months after the big fall, I was watching my muscle melt away, longing for the hot room and the physical and mental benefits of Practice. Sharing this with a Dharma Sista she suggested I go to Restorative Yoga. I went with all my prejudices. When I was addicted to hot and hard and results, results, results I would have said Restorative Yoga was silly, a waste of time and the people doing it were doing nothing at all.

Nowadays I lie on a yoga mat. Very still. With props under body parts. Practicing letting go. Practicing stillness. Listening to and learning to breathe. Surrendering to the floor and the shape I find myself in. Accepting imperfection as part of who I am, part of who we all are. Finding deep rest. Returning to every cell of my crooked little self. Re-storing. Some days I believe that Restorative Yoga has allowed me to keep going despite my self, it has saved me, cocooned me held me through the dark days of immobility and longing for a different shaped reality. It has allowed me to understand that I am still here, in this body and this body, is this body. I am still. Here. Sometimes when I am lying propped, opening, surrendering and at one, I notice that I am comfortable, pain free and okay. At peace with my self.

Remarkably, the more I surrender, the more I find my way. Not like I think I should be finding it, but finding it none the less. So much has disappeared through the weird passage of illness, but I am not gone. In some ways I am more here than I ever have been.




Midway through this year Michael Stone passed. It was a strikingly poignant passing for me and many people. Difficult, painful, angry making, confusing. Deeply sad, a great loss.

Michael was a teacher who made a huge amount of sense to me and continues to do so when I listen to his recorded teachings and practices. May we continue to benefit from his light, life and work.

He died from a drug overdose. He was mentally ill. He was having a manic episode that led him to opioids, in the peaking wave of the opioid crisis. Yes, it raises many questions. I don’t know the answers. 

First I was sad and angry. Then I had a moment of very clear awakening from his final teaching, his death. I knew two things:

I am going to try to be more open about my mental illness.
I am going to try not to use people, places or things because I can’t handle what I’m feeling. And to be more open about this.

I am mentally ill. I have been for over 25 years. I suffer from severe, cyclical, debilitating bouts of depression and anxiety. Medication helps to right me and keep me stable. One of the things I liked about Michael was his support of medication. I have met teachers that say you can’t meditate on mind-supporting-medication. That is bull shit. For some people medication is important to allow them simply to live. To cope. To find okay enough. Perhaps to choose to find a meditation cushion, to move into their breath and learn to stay with the moment to moment of their churn. Stability alongside the storm.

Medication is deeply stigmatised though becoming less so. In some cases it is dished out too freely. For some people it is lifesaving. There are times, now, when I don’t know why, but I do know that my on-board chemistry system cannot right my chemical balance and I need to take pills to get everything to fire correctly, so that I feel okay enough and can carry on with a functional life.

This is okay. I am okay.

Because they're so stigmatised, I endlessly wish I didn't live on mind-stabilising drugs. Sometimes I feel my self flaring and reacting like wild fire and I wonder if it is the drugs making me madder and sicker not saner and weller. Other-times I’m grateful for knowing they keep me level enough to do life. Lately I’m more on them than off them. Michael told me, it will get worse as you get older. He was talking from his own experience. It’s true of mine too.

I'm going through a phase of feeling like the word 'grateful' is losing its meaning, however, I am grateful for the insight gained from having to work with what feels like an overly complex mental landscape. 

All. Of. The. Time. 

It has taken me to so many wonderful things: art, therapy, writing, Buddhism, meditation, yoga, recovery, The Others.




Addiction is a complex, polarised, stigmatised thing. I am not a substance addict, though I knew long ago that I could be addicted to alcohol and I watch the way I use drink with a close, wisened eye. I am a process addict. I am an addict. My processes became patterned to act out. Searching for ways to make me feel more or less. Using to get hits. Using to fix. Fixing can mean: obliterating what was previously going on.

I use people, places, things, behaviours. I came to understand this after my body fell. In the deep stillness of not being able to do things to escape my self I realised that I had spent a lot of my life using something to fix on: love, work, success, failure, performance, exercise, drink, food, freedom, rebellion. Illness. 

Using to fix and escape hard reality. 

Heightening. 
Dampening. 
Escaping.

Over the past two years I have committed to working hard at not using and fixing. Whilst I shudder to say it into the world, fearing judgement and stigma: I am an addict. I want to keep some of my self secret, but I also want to find a voice for this so it is less hidden in the places that lead us to use and fix secretly or obscured from consciousness, where the most serious harm happens. I found Recovery, a tribe that I identify with and an approach that is changing my life. I found a lot of love, a lot of hope. I also found laughter. 




I am a person who could wear many labels. I don't want to pathologies myself with the burden of a host of them. Michael cautioned me about attaching too strongly to this type of labelling and then becoming bound by it. He talked of the benefit of Practice to engender clear seeing around these conditions. 

After his death I reflected a lot on that conversation. Was he right or is it better to identify more so that you can work with the condition more? Does this make more or less suffering? It is hard to know the answers. 

I know the insight gained from non-attachment, I have learnt this through practice and experience. I know that in addiction we attach too strongly and the aim is to become less triggered to grasp so fervently and tightly. Ultimately, to learn not to reach out for the thing, to meditate on it without acting until it passes as a no-thing. But in the strangle-hold of addiction, there is no consciousness, a short circuit is patterned into grasping so tightly you take yourself down. Down, not up. Sometimes I think we are all addicts now. And this is why as an addict you have to work at becoming conscious, tuned in to the intimate, visceral weave of life and spirit. Recovery and Practice walk comfortably hand-in-hand.

One day at a time, I am repatterining. I am recovering.

I want to encourage a modicum of honesty about these states we find our selves living in. Our society pathologises them, which encourages disappearing and disconnection and exacerbates the suffering. 

May we learn to embrace our full experience, pleasant and unpleasant, ugly and attractive, and find ways to work with it, live with it and welcome it to our rooms, cushions, conversations and life. 

May we welcome our imperfections 
into our hearts 
as part of who we are.

Whilst I struggle with my self, I’m okay with who I am. Sometimes I see my beautiful little light shining brightly. I have so much gratitude for what I have found in the falling and falling and falling… 

Many bright, imperfect souls walk with me and offer kindness, love, light, wisdom and laughter.




I am writing this firstly to make my own sense, secondly to allow other people to make sense, thirdly to allow movement. I have to write this all down, reflecting and projecting, to open to compassion, love and recovery. To feel seen and heard in all my twisted truths. And to allow others to feel seen and heard, just as they are, just as you are. 

It is the simplest act of connection:
I see you. 
I hear you. 

I realise how restless I am feeling and how the texture of wellfeeling is percolating through my experience today, urging me beyond the sofa into all the different studios I like to inhabit. I have become cautious about hope, but perhaps this is a new beginning. I am moving.

I want to move back 
out into the world. 
I want to move out 
of the 
stillness 
and solitude.

There is fleeting fear.
I let go.
I pray to flow more freely, 
beyond all the confines.

One day at a time
Breathing in, breathing out
Listening deeply
Surrendering
Surrendering

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.