One of the things I love about the meditation practice of yoga nidrā is how it changes my perception of time. Within the meditation I lose the normal sense of chronos, seconds ticking away, and find time goes both rapidly and extremely slowly. And I also find that time loops, as it does in dreams. I can shift between conversations with my child-self and future self; be as expansive as the universe and as contracted as a part of an atom. Nidrā is a creative tool for changing the story as well as a deep form of rest that renews creative energy while resisting the ever-present pulls to do more… It’s a place where I find the expansive spaces within the limitations, just as story is.
And we need this. The limitations are legion. What can any of us do in the face of political instability, economic chaos and ecological meltdown?
Not give up
By this I don’t mean ‘keep calm and carry on’. Acts of resistance to injustice, acts of refusal to comply when the what the world asks is frankly insane and inhumane, are vital. And paradoxically, genuinely not giving up on the world means we need to be resourced. To be creative and hopeful rather than naively optimistic requires a lot of energy and we won’t have that if we’re burned out and anxious.
If we want to be part of the healing story of our battered world, we have to be part of our own healing stories. We have to be able to sit with the our own areas of suffering without pretending life is always glossy and picture-perfect. We need deep and creative rest, more than the world generally wants to allow, in order to be of service to a different story. Not giving up means valuing the unique journey of your story so that you have something to offer that is deep and real.
Value the process
As writers and as humans, we never arrive. I was thinking about this recently in relation to the notion of becoming an elder. Some of the reading I was doing came with a strong suggestion that at some magical age, perhaps 60, perhaps older… we begin to embody archetypes of elderhood. Whether the terrifying Baba Yaga who may just as likely eat you as help you on your way, or the more benign Fairy Godmother, the idea that attributes like wisdom, integrity, grace… simply arrive with the accruing years, doesn’t ring true for me.
I’ve personally known amazing elders who’ve influenced and nurtured me — particularly teachers and lecturers. My life would have been much poorer without them. But I don’t think any of them became so generous and insightful simply by virtue of age. Lived experience was certainly a major part of their graciousness, but so too was their willingness to stay with their own journeys through suffering as well as joy. And that they had no illusions of having arrived. They were wonderful people including not despite their flaws and struggles.
I find this a huge comfort post-60 myself, and aware of how much processing I still need to do. We can make huge steps forward of course. The last decade of my life has been full of blessings and several big dreams have happened. But I still find myself repeating old patterns that are far from helpful. We all do, don’t we? Perfect people are only found in make-believe worlds like Instagram.
In real life, which is wonderful and messy, exhausting and exhilarating, we set out to pay off debts, change career, move house, write the book, learn a new skill… and we achieve it. But we still have those voices of doubt inside or that one thing that drives us mad about ourselves or the feeling that we’ve missed something important.
Because we’re real bodies with real contexts that bring so much to be grateful for but also open us up to so much grief. And we need to be kind to ourselves and find ways to replenish. We need to value the process one step at a time. The kinder we are to ourselves, the kinder we feel towards others.
Stay with the difficult
My yoga nidrā mentor recently told me about being asked to give a talk with the title: ‘end racism, promote world peace’. She gave the talk but didn’t tell anyone she was doing it because she felt the title was so sweeping as to be meaningless. Faced with the realities of suffering whether globally or in our personal lives, glib, sound-bite style wisdom is at best unhelpful and at worst adds insult to injury.
Of course we want stories that have light, joy and compassion. We want imaginative utopian thinking that opens up space to re-invent how we might live. And we want to celebrate every scrap of kindness and humanity. But we don’t have to think that this rules out honouring grief or that the way to deal with darkness is to shine the blinding light of cliched truisms onto it.
Recently in a yoga nidrā workshop I had one of those moments of epiphany. I think of myself as someone who works from an abundance mindset — I see possibilities and solutions. I’m generally good at logistics and breaking problems down into manageable chunks. I tend to err on the side of optimism and hope. But talking about my tendency to work mad hours and keep pushing myself my mentor asked what was the trauma that led me to this scarcity mentality.
Her question was absolutely right. I feel a long way from the poverty of my childhood family and the constant fear of insecurity that ran across generations. And I thought I was well beyond the stress of being left with massive and unexpected debt at the end of my first marriage, particularly since so many generous friends helped me negotiate it — both practically and emotionally. But at some deep level, I am still trying to make sure that scarcity doesn’t threaten.
I love the work I do, but the amount I take on probably owes more to this unresolved wound than to my joy I take in it. And the only way to heal this is to stay with the difficult emotions and responses until they are what is driving me. And it will be a process — one with peaks and troughs. But hopefully more helpful than the avoidance I hadn’t realised I was doing.
Forward and back
As we write new stories in a broken world as flawed people, we constantly need to reach back into our own stories to listen with kindness to the difficult parts of our journeys. And we constantly need to look forward to the elders and ancestors we want to become for those who have to live with our communal choices now.
The stories we write don’t need to be didactic essays, poetry that has designs on us or novels that beat us over the head with guilt. In fact I’d venture that such writing is ultimately the least effective in changing the myths and paradigms we currently live under. After all, external cajoling rarely makes for deep transformation in anyone.
But stories, poetry, essays… any writing that witnesses to humanity, generosity, grace and courage; that weaves new myths for people on their own journeys, full of joys and difficulties, has the power to change minds and, more vitally, hearts.
In the face of political instability, economic chaos and ecological meltdown the last thing we do is give up. We value the process and don’t shy away from the difficult along with the good. We keep writing a different story.