Category: The Self

Filling the wobbly vase at 40

potteryHello. Happy New Year.

I’m working on a fun idea for my 40th year. A few months ago, while engaged in conversation with a student, we spoke about time-limited-oriented blogs, such as ‘400 Days until 40’, which is one that my student used to read. It freaked me out a little that he mentioned this on the exact day that I had 400 days until I was 40. Anyway, after a few weeks of pure fear of aging and dying, I then went on a friend’s 40th birthday, we spoke about it, and I got over it.

And now I’m starting to see other friends, acquaintances, bloggers, all with their excellent ’40 before 40′ lists (going up in balloons, singing in public etc). Other people have lists or acts that are more closely linked to their everyday. A poet I know is learning 40 poems off-by-heart before she’s 40. (She’s a wonderful performance poet.) I liked that idea. In fact, I liked both the wild and the everyday.

So I started with one idea–a blog about transitioning to veganism before I was 40. I am already a vegan and have been for a year, but there are a few moments, and a few belongings, that still need to change/go, such as a reliance on chocolate when tired, my old leather satchel, not checking labels of all new foods.

And I began it in the spirit of one of the most important books I read last year,  Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run. In that book the mantra is ‘just do things. always.’ It’s a mantra Scott learnt from his father. In the book he talks about his ultra-marathon career. It was very much stimulated by his parents. His mother’s unconditional love and support (‘you can do anything’) and his father’s conditional love and encouragement based on effort (‘get on and do things. always’). And it helped Scott become one of, if not the, greatest endurance runner known. Continue reading


Under the big top

I started a proper engagement with the 21 Soul Module Two materials this week. I’ve been sitting with them for a while but not responding (certainly not consciously). Perhaps the part of the material I’ve been unconsciously sitting with for longest is the ‘egg’ – although it’s also a part I didn’t respond to directly in my drawings (see below) but am going to do so now.

In Steve Thorp’s module two material, the egg is presented as a metaphor for the self. There’s a story where the egg has an outside self, a whirling self, and the inner – the shell, the white and the yolk. An outside that protects, a whirling self that is both creativity and chaos, and an inner or middle self, which is the soul. It prompts questions about protection, about stillness, clarity, how stories come through from the soul. Are you overprotective of your own self, for example, thickening that outer layer against a cruel world? Is the whirling self too chaotic?

When I first went for coaching/gestalt counselling with Iain Mackenzie, another wonderful, gentle and mindful healer/helper, paid for out of the winnings from Sunderland’s Innovation in Teaching Award 2009, no less(!), one of  the first things we visualised was a landscape of lived experience that had smooth parts and bumps. One of the things that inhabited this landscape was a whirling, heavy black egg, that moved about, a little like the Vortex in the BBC cult classic The Adventure Game.

This whirling, black steel, heavy-as-lead egg, was the inner story: something I was afraid to crack open but which I carried around with me everywhere. It felt (then) impenetrable. The money (and courage) ran out for working with Iain, but that image of the egg stayed with me, as did the ‘lived landscape’ and the need for the ability to recognise the bumps (the obstacles) earlier than when right up against them, often when it’s too late and the anxiety has taken its grip—to be able to feel the landscape change earlier, and to then make better choices of how to proceed (or retreat).

So the egg has returned, in more places, at this time. I’ve just read Marion Milner’s On Not Being Able to Paint, and there is a significant appearance of her own egg in one of the formative ‘free drawings’ she uses to explore and understand her ‘pilgrimage’ towards being able to paint: that is, being able to understand the creative process and the fusing of an inner and outer reality that is necessary for access to the creative unconscious through ‘contemplative action’; which, as Emma Letley and others note, is also the process (when it works properly) of psychoanalysis that Marion Milner had recently trained in. Continue reading

Knowing the worst, something wonderful

I once read Franz Kafka’s 267-word micro story ‘Resolutions’ a hundred times and was absolutely certain that I could write a whole PhD thesis on it, rather than the 5,000-word essay* I was tasked with during my Masters Degree. Having just read Marion Milner’s On Not Being Able to Paint, I’m almost certain I could spend the next ten years exploring its text, rather than simply referencing it in the PhD chapter I’m about to write. But good. That is what an object of study is meant to do: fascinate, bewilder, absorb.

Last night I created another found poem. It’s the largest yet, 40cm x 50cm, made up of four roughly A4 pictures and two articles, one from the London Review of Books on an architect from the 1930s and her work and life in Paris, and one from the New Scientist on physiognomy and recognising character in faces.

layout all

The process was a long one but worth it. After cutting the two articles into segments, which took a few hours, I then laid them all out, which took about another hour, so I could then begin to assemble the poems. I did this one at a time, looking for the pieces that would go together. This disassembling and then reassembling differently really teaches me a lot about language, phrases, emphasis, and the found nature of language, and also of its essential construction. As a writer, I find it an incredibly invaluable task. At the end, for the last poem, there weren’t many words or phrases left, or not that many that gave much ‘depth’ – rather, just very sparse words or phrases. And I had to construct from these. That I could still do so taught me about what I had left to work with, and the power of individual words together. The poems become, strangely, much deeper the less ‘depth’ or pre-built in meaning the cut out phrases held. Continue reading

Unknotting ‘self-awareness’

This mind itself, bound by its knots—if one lets go,
There is no doubt: it will be free.

What is this concept self-awareness? A simple response (I won’t say ‘answer’) came this morning as I was pondering the question during meditation—or rather, trying not to ponder on it, which, as Einstein attested to by taking a notepad into the shower, is often the way.

What I thought was this: Self-awareness as is it practiced in modern Western society is a concept that combines a very narrow definition of ‘awareness’ (a critical rumination aimed at improvement and progress of the ‘self’ project) coupled with a very narrow definition of what that self is (generally the social self).

I suppose that’s evident to many—it’s certainly at the heart of the 21 Soul process – and it’s probably something I’ve known before. What was different this time, however, was how I reached that response—through a shift in not only knowledge, but also (bodily) behaviour and feeling

An answer of sorts came in fragments over the last few weeks, almost like a small puzzle that I was, without realising it, putting together. Continue reading

The mountain peak at the edge of the ocean

Marc Chagall, I and the VillageIt came to me as my mind wandered in the middle of a sun salutation this morning, a question: if you build up the other selves, will they give you perspective on the dramas of the social self for what they are? Which is: small, unimportant, impermanent?

I saw a flash of an image: three bars on a chart. Then, a revision: perhaps more ecologically, as three large rocks or even mountains, moving and changing shape. And I’ve spent most of the time building up and investing in the social self. When the social self is the peak from which we mostly view our world and the one from which we survey the other selves, or the things important to the other selves, then of course we’ll always have a more social perspective. So if we naturally build up the other selves, if we practice soulful or ecological habits, then we will have a perspective on our entire world viewable from a different place, as well as what will seem a smaller social self. Rather than (as I wrote in an earlier post) having the percentages of experience as soul: 5%, social: 85%, ecological: 10%, it could be 40%/20%/40%. How would that feel/look? Continue reading

On experiencing myself as an unhealthy person

Or, why would I be embarrassed to tell a friend I was allergic to peanuts?

The context: an ex-girlfriend, met for coffee. And it isn’t a life threatening allergy—something worth a story—but a mild intolerance (albeit a frustrating one for a runner, when peanuts cause excess mucus, the body trying to rid itself of constituents of the peanut that do not settle well with the immune system).

We met in a café in town. A flying visit, and a quick cuppa, a neutral way to engage again, to catch up on the pathways of another person’s life with whom, for a while, you shared fantasies of traveling together. All the way there I ran through arguments in my head, regretting the idea of meeting up, realising too late that I’d been unwilling it all week. And then, when she arrived, it was fine. It was good. She was positive and energetic, as usual. I had a handful of minutes to slough off the prejudgement of how it was going to be; she spent these minutes at the counter, ordering. I lightened up, lifted by her energy. Told her about the peanuts (and the bread and beer) and moved on to other news, neutral, but also honest, her sculpting class, my book, looking to the future to nurture a soulful self, rather than the social self (as identified in Steve Thorp’s 21 Soul programme).

Why should it have been so dreaded? The last time we met, she asked me if I thought I was a healthy person. I’d just been through a month of injury and illness, an intensely painful and frustrating time that left me in tears and alone for a week over Christmas. (Although also a learning time.) Christmas dinner was half a pack of Rolos. The injuries and illness were a bodily reaction to excess: over-training, pushing myself too hard, drinking excessively at a Christmas party, trying to rush around and see too many people on a whistle-stop tour, not stopping working. I couldn’t answer ‘yes’, although it wasn’t an open question anyway. I knew what she thought. Continue reading