Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Cellulite and the Art of Staying Present

I had a few people react to a mention of cellulite in my last blog, on Gary Speed, when I was writing about a young football player who had called him a coward on Twitter, and then hypothesised a future where things didn’t go according to plan in this young man’s life.

The comment was meant to illustrate the loss of a perceived dream life – with fame, fortune and fawning gym bunnies, where ambitions run exactly as envisioned and everything is perfect – and, instead, having a normal life, doing a normal job and surrounded by normal people.

I certainly didn’t mean to offend.

These reactions made me think, though: why do we get so defensive about these things?

If a person has cellulite, they have cellulite and no amount of wishing they didn’t have cellulite will remove cellulite from their bodies – not in the moment. I haven’t read an awful lot about cellulite, and it may be that there are ways to reduce or remove it, but right at this moment, if you have cellulite, you have cellulite.

I have loads of stretch marks on my arms, legs and torso because I’ve lost and gained and lost and gained weight so much in my life.

It’s not attractive, but it’s me. It’s part of my body and this is the only body I’ve got. While I don’t walk down the street in Speedos and show it off, I’m not ashamed of it. I don’t lie awake at night wondering what people may think of my stretch marks, or feel that my life is any less valuable because of them.

There’s a present awareness lesson here…

If we live in the reality of the moment, rather than in the past/future fantasy of mind, what else is there to do than accept and be content with our bodies?

If we’re overweight, worrying about being overweight won’t help. You can make plans to go to the gym, walk regularly, eat more sensibly, but stressing about it won’t help one bit.

Our anxieties are caused by the mental conflict between what is real (the present moment) and what is not (the aspirations of the egoic mind).

For example:

You’re on a train and it’s running late. You know it’s already been delayed too long and you’re going to miss your connection.

Your ego/mind starts blaming everyone from the train driver to the person who committed suicide on the tracks earlier that morning, causing the knock on delays.

The fact is, you’re still on that train, and no annoyance, frustration or castigation of others will change your situation.

(I was on that train… September, 2009. Felt sick when it was announced, but afterwards there were people still jabbering furiously and winding themselves up on their mobile phones about their plans being disrupted.)

So, sit back and enjoy the ride. Deal with the situation when you reach your stop, because you can’t do anything but sit on the train until then.

Love cellulite. Love stretch-marks. Love life, because we’re here, right now, imperfectly perfect, and that’s just the way it is.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Gary Speed, Suicide and 'Cowardice'

I was so sad to hear the news, today, that footballer and Welsh national team manager, Gary Speed, has apparently committed suicide – by hanging - at the age of 42.

Globally, more than a million people take their own lives, each year, and every one of those passings is an excruciating tragedy for those left behind.

I guess it’s even more incomprehensible, and seems an even greater waste, when that person appeared to have so much going for them, in life.

It was a gut-punch to read the almost inevitable troll comments that he was a coward, including from a Brentford footballer who wrote (and then deleted) on Twitter:

“coward. NoRIP.”

It would be easy to blast him - and, sadly, the many others – as disrespectful, grossly insensitive and downright mean-spirited, but that solves nothing except to sate one’s own ego – to give energy to the illusion that, because we care and they don’t, we are in some way better than them.

What we need to do is educate through that sort of bigotry by helping people see that suicide is such a prevalent malfunction in humanity, which touches people of all demographics, and it’s something that could lay its icy fingers on their own shoulders.

The footballer who made that above comment is 20 years old; he’s out on loan from a Championship club that looks on course to return to the English Premier League – arguably the greatest football league on the planet. He’s getting match experience and has dedicated himself to becoming the best he can be, because he wants to shine…

I am touching wood as I write this, because – as I hope regular readers recognise – I have no ill will toward anyone…

But what if, say, next year, this guy was in the middle of a game, made a crucial, but awkward tackle and in the process, twisted down and shattered his leg? Not just a clean break that could see him fight back to fitness within the year, but a multiple-fracture, career-ending injury?

Suddenly, all the hopes and dreams he’s cherished and strived towards since he was a child would be ripped away from him. He is a professional athlete, and you don’t get to reach that level without putting your heart and soul – your blood, sweat and tears - into making your dream become reality.

How would he feel if his dreams were torn out of his hands in that one moment of absurdly bad luck? If all of his plans for the future – of success, excellence, wealth and stardom – were suddenly and irrevocably just dreams again?

He wouldn’t get depressed? He wouldn’t think his life was over?

On his Twitter bio, he says: “Football is my saviour.”

Ten years down this theoretical line, when he’s working in a ‘normal’ job, married to a woman with cellulite, and maybe his team have consolidated themselves back as a regular in the Premiership, wouldn’t it twist him up inside to consider that he could have been in his footballing prime, maybe playing for and a hero of England?

There’s nothing cowardly about suicide, and there’s nothing courageous about it, either.

You only reach that point when you feel that everything is lost.

I received a message, earlier, suggesting that – because of the news – I should take one of my video blogs down from my blog site, as I cheerily suggest in it: “Don’t hang yourself!”

I decided not to, though I was tempted, as I completely understood the reason for the suggestion.

I realise that remark could be seen as flippant or insensitive, if taken out of context… but in context (and I do always try to write in context, even if there’s a meandering in my story before I get to the point), you have to understand that it was the first time I’d returned to the same spot where I’d ventured, a few years earlier, with the sole intent of ending my life.

I know that pressure of mind, to be there at the end of the world, blinded by tears, pulling the noose around my neck, feeling the blood swelling in my head, having abandoned all hope, having lost sight of all the love and care that would be wrapped around me if I’d only called for help.

And how many people out there - friends and family of Gary, and of all people who have taken their own lives – are aching inside, wishing that right now they were hugging them, supporting them after they’d cried out for help, giving their strength to someone who had forgotten their own?

They don’t want… this

Of all the illnesses, ailments, diseases and disasters that cause death in this world, suicide is one of the most devastating – but also the most preventable, and I really mean 100% of suicides wouldn’t happen if we could just learn to communicate with each other more clearly about the way we’re feeling

I was so lucky. I was there, right on the edge – ready to cut myself away from everything I’d ever known – and all it took to lead me through that awful moment was the sound of a woodpecker echoing in the woods and the warmth of Sunshine on my face.

If I hadn’t heard that bird or felt that glow, I’d be dead. I have no doubt about that. I’d have been found, decomposed and nibbled by Bambi’s friends, and someone from my family would have had to try to identify me. I wasn’t thinking straight. I would never have wanted them to suffer that.

But it shouldn’t take such ‘coincidences’ to lead oneself away from the brink. I shouldn’t have been in those woods. I shouldn’t have walked to the brink in the first place. I should have talked to someone.

And I think that has to be emphasised… it has to be the responsibility of the person who is buckling under that pressure to talk to others, to ask for help.

Robbie Savage
I saw a tweet from Robbie Savage – a close friend of Gary’s – saying he spoke to him yesterday, and asking: “Why? Why? Why?”

Robbie – along with everyone else close to Gary – is going to be shredding himself, wondering what he could have done to prevent this heart-breaking news; what he feels he should have done to bring his mate back to calmer waters…

But when someone is smiling and laughing with you the day earlier, how could you gauge from that the desperation that must have been grinding him within?

I wonder how long it would have taken for Robbie to reach Gary’s side if Gary had have picked up the phone and said: “I need help. I feel suicidal. I’m serious. Will you help me?” Of course he would have been there for his friend.

We have to call for help when we need help. We can’t sit screaming in our minds and expect others to understand us if we don’t express ourselves and our feelings, especially not when we’ve got a smile on our face and we’re doing our best to project a false veneer that everything is okay.

Tragically, many of us can’t do this. We’re afraid to show our weakness, even to those we love the most. We’re conditioned by society to hide our emotions from the rest of the world – particularly men, and that’s probably the reason why suicide is three or four times more common in men than women.

Society decrees that men are meant to be strong, to not expose their weakness, and that causes a catastrophic internalisation of problems; a looped amplification of negative thought that you can’t find a way of venting. So, it builds up and builds up and builds up until that moment of cataclysm, when you rupture from the pressure…

… but there is such a great strength in admitting weakness and looking for ways to build stronger. I wish everyone – every man, woman and child who ever considers suicide – would see that and know it to be true.

People will help you through your darkest days. That’s what we do. That’s why we love you. All you have to do is let us know, and we’ll be there.

If I had been more eloquent in my video blog from the woods, I would have perhaps said:

“Don’t hang yourself, because look what can happen if you just get through the darkness of that moment? Look how much life I’ve lived since that time; how truly happy I am now? Don’t hang yourself. Don’t hurt yourself. Love yourself. Love your life. Ask for help. Live. Live. Live.”

Here's the blog about my experience on the edge of suicide: 

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Speaking Up - Interview with Lord Bragg

I wrote this article – an interview with Lord Melvyn Bragg, on the subject of his experiences with depression – more than six years ago and it was published in my local newspaper, the News and Star, in Cumbria, England.

It was written to mark the UN’s World Health Organisation’s World Mental Health Day, which ‘promotes open discussion of mental disorders, and investments in prevention, promotion and treatment services’.

To those outside the UK, Lord Bragg is a very prominent broadcaster and prolific author, arguably best known for presenting The South Bank Show – an arts magazine programme that ran for more than 30 years on British independent television.

He was born in Carlisle – my birthplace, too – in 1939.

He was made a Life Peer in 1998, giving him the title of Lord, which means he sits in the upper house of parliament, The House of Lords (equivalent to the US Senate), which passes our laws after the squabbling of Members of Parliament in the House of Commons (equivalent of the US House of Representatives, but noisier… seriously, it sounds like a herd of sheep have been smuggled in when the chamber is full. They’re a very uncouth bunch of people, at times.)

Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading through and – if any of you are suffering right now – it gives you a little light. Depression isn’t the end. Far from it.

The original article appears here.


Speaking Up

Lord Bragg is far from the first person most would associate with having a history of mental health problems.

The phenomenally accomplished author and TV broadcaster suffered bouts of severe depression in his teens and 20s, but stands as testament to the fact that issues with mental health don’t have to stand in the way of success in life.

“I had a fairly severe bout of depression when I was in my mid-teens,” says Melvyn. “I didn’t acknowledge it. I didn’t know what it was, because you didn’t in Wigton in the early fifties, and I don’t think you do now, really.”

Born into an “ordinary family” in 1939, shortly after the outbreak of World War Two, Melvyn explains: “Looking back on it, it seems clear that I had serious depression and some kind of breakdown.

“In those days you just got on with it. You couldn’t talk to people; you were ashamed of it and that was one of the biggest problems.

“This sounds strange, but nobody knew about my problem – least of all me. I just knew that something very strange was happening and did what I could to battle through.”

One in ten people suffer from depression at any one time, but about half the sufferers don’t address the problem with their family doctor.

“The thing about mental health, which obviously carries on to this day, is that if people have difficulties they feel very ashamed of themselves.

“I mean, you don’t feel that way if you’ve got a broken ankle or a liver complaint, but most people do feel embarrassed and reluctant to talk about it if they’re depressed.”

Prescriptions of anti-depressants have seen a near-threefold increase in the past 12 years alone, and rates of anxiety and depression have been constantly rising among teenagers for 25 years.

Melvyn says: “This is one of the reasons I’ve become involved with the Mind charity, which I’m national president of.

“I took on the responsibility because I knew something about it, and represent the charity in the House of Lords, as well as carrying out engagements to help raise awareness of mental health issues.”

“At the end of my 20s, I had another bad time, but then I was able to talk to people and that made it so much easier to deal with.

“I still get depressed now,” admits Melvyn, “but I think you have to make a distinction between ‘getting depressed’ and having long-term bouts of serious depression.

“Fortunately, I haven’t been in an actual depression for something in the region of 30 years.”

Celia Richardson, director of communication for the Mental Health Foundation, says: “We don’t talk about our mental health. We share information and advice about the vitamin supplements we take, how we deal with minor ailments, and how we stay in shape.

“But we don’t talk about how we stay well mentally, how we cope with stress, and what keeps us feeling balanced and positive.

“This is one of the reasons people who develop common mental health problems feel isolated and alone. They just don’t realise how many people have felt the same as them.”

To mark World Mental Health Day, the Mental Health Foundation is asking people to talk freely about their mental health. The charity is providing tips on how to look after your mental health and encouraging members of the public to share their own experience and advice as openly as possible throughout the day.

Visitors to the MHF website (www.mentalhealth.org.uk) are being asked to take part in the Big Mental Health Conversation, where they will be able to share their thoughts in a live debate.

Ms Richardson says: “There’s a wealth of untapped knowledge out there among ordinary people, about how they try to stave off common mental illnesses like depression, and how they stay well. Fear of the stigma attached to mental illness means people are often reluctant to discuss it.

“But this means we don’t find out from our friends, families and colleagues all sorts of useful coping strategies. It also means we don’t get to talk about our more difficult feelings and get the reassurance we need.”

Talk about your feelings – sharing your feelings with others and being listened to can help enormously.

Ask for help – if you think you may need professional support, see your GP and be clear about how you feel. Think about seeing a counsellor.

Keep active – physical activity is a proven way to keep mentally well. Exercise makes us feel better immediately through the release of uplifting chemicals into our bodies. It can also be a great way to meet people!

Eat well – a balanced diet is essential to maintaining good mental health.

Drink sensibly – even though it makes us feel good in the short term, alcohol is actually a depressant.

Keep in touch with friends and loved ones – close relationships have a huge impact on how we feel on a daily basis so manage them the best way you know how.

In the UK, there are more suicides on Mondays than on any other day of the week.

One in 10 people will have some form of depression at any one time.

By the year 2020, it is estimated that depression will be second only to heart disease as an international disease and disability burden.

About half of all people with depression do not go to their GP.

In 2002-2003, the economic and social cost of mental health problems in England was £77billion.

Among teenagers, rates of depression and anxiety have increased by 70 per cent in the past 25 years.

40 per cent of older people living in care homes are depressed.

Approximately two million people of working age in Britain are currently taking psychiatric drugs.

Job applicants with a diagnosis of diabetes are significantly more likely to be offered a position than applicants with a diagnosis of depression, all other factors being equal.

One in ten children aged 5 to 15 experience clinically defined mental health problems.

World Mental Health Day is celebrated every year to raise awareness.

Friday, 25 November 2011

An Awakening to Light

In September, I made an appeal through my blog for people to detail their experience of Awakening – a hidden-in-plain-sight secret to achieving contentment, peace and prosperity in life, and a phenomenon that appears to be repeating with increasing regularity in these early years of the 21st Century.

In explanation, many spiritual writers say that, as we approach 2012 and the various prophecies and hopes attached to the date of 21st December, 2012, a raising in the vibration of divine energy is bringing about a new consciousness.

I don’t agree with that any longer. It implies that, in some way, people who lived before this time were not deemed as worthy to receive this wisdom as we are, now.

Something is certainly happening, but I think the reason so many Awakenings are being recognised is because we have entered a new era of communication and cooperation, with technological advances giving us access to services such as YouTube, Facebook and, of course, the global megaphone that is Twitter.

Humanity has been given the ability to come together and remember that we are, wherever we’re from, very much the same, at heart and in spirit.

I believe, now, that Awakenings have been occurring for all of human history; a deep, ancient knowledge that every man, woman and child who ever walked the Earth has had access to – though, by far, not all of them have recognised it, within. Societal conditioning and the desire to control, by states and agencies stretching back for millennia, have blinded us to the truth… because when the truth sets you free, it's in the interest of these organisations for us not to see it.

There are many paths to the same peace and many stories of reaching the same awareness of being.

I’m honoured to introduce one such story – of an Awakening, over 40 years ago - from my great friend, the prolific author and, quite simply, one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met, Gladys Hobson:


I first became aware of Les Floyd’s existence in 2007. I was putting together an anthology of stories and poems by a number of author friends and it was suggested to me by the author Geoff Nelder that Les might like to make a contribution. And so it was that Barnsley Bear made his scatty appearance in Northern Lights. From then on I have had the pleasure of getting to know Les and his delightful writing. Northern Lights was just a limited edition and copies are sold out, but maybe Les will eventually put together his own anthology and Barnsley will take up residence in many more homes. 

Barnsley Bear, illustrated by Gladys Hobson
There are some people you instantly take a liking to, even though few words may pass between you. Meeting Les when he called to see me with his lovely friend Louise, was sheer delight. Mind you, Les is so tall that I was a little concerned that he would notice dust on top shelves and light fittings! It has crossed my mind that if he comes again I will give him a duster to take care of a nagging problem — climbing on things to clean causes me dizziness.  Les is not only big in size, he has a really big heart to go with it.

Of course I know about Les’s past health problems. I saw them as being similar to those suffered by many highly creative people.  He has been on my prayer list almost from the day I knew him. Indeed, for quite a long while I had a life-size photo of his face on my desk paper stand. No, not for his looks, good though they may be — I have a handsome hubby to wear my eyes out on and, after over 58 years, I am not planning to change that! It was just to send little darts of well-wishing his way. So, as you can imagine, it was with great pleasure when I heard about his enlightening experience and that he has, to quote Les himself, ‘after decades of sleepwalking through life… finally woken up and realised the greatest dreams are achieved with open eyes and a conscious mind.’ Les is in a unique position to help others. I am not sure I can take in the full scale of his dream but I believe in him to achieve what many would say impossible. I have good reasons for stating this. At a similar age to Les, I too had an enlightening experience although mine was quite different. Even so, it changed my life and outlook, and there was no going back. But even roses have thorns. Difficulties, pain and sorrow come to us all, but the Light continues to shine in the darkness. That Light is Love.

When I was a child of seven I attended a Sunday School at a local Elim chapel. Not that my parents were Pentecostal or even churchgoers, but an elder sister had persuaded her younger siblings to go along. Of course, being before the days of television, super toys and games and anything else to distract us on a Sunday morning, we did not need dragging the short distance. Each Sunday attendance put a lovely stamp — a picture of a Bible story — on our record card, and after about two years I could expect my very own Bible. Books, like toys, were in short supply at our house. One Sunday the Pastor said that he wanted children of seven and over to stay behind after class. He told us the story of a dying child and how Jesus came one night, picked him up, and carried him to another room where he would be happy forever. The child had given his heart to Jesus. We were invited to do the same, in the knowledge that, one day, we too would be in heaven with Jesus. I ran home to tell my mum that I had given my heart to Jesus. She said, “That’s nice.”

I drifted away from Sunday School about the age I started Secondary Education. Of course we had RE every morning throughout my schooling. Years later, when my dad was ill, I went to a church where a Healing Campaign was being held. Again I surrendered myself to Jesus. By this time I was courting and my hubby-to-be was not in the least bit interested. What’s more, Sunday had become a day for us to go out together. His only concern about my religious state was when we started planning our wedding.  I had not been baptised, either in a church or chapel. Would the vicar marry us? Well, our local incumbent merely stated, “We don’t make marriage a reason for getting Christened,” and then booked us in for a March wedding.

One Sunday, we attended Evening Prayer to hear the bans read. This was the first time I had been in a Parish Church. I was not impressed. It so happened to be Lent and the church seemed dark and drab with no flowers, and the music dreary. I had always enjoyed singing hymns at school but I did not know any of those being played, neither could I find my way around the prayer book I had been handed. Nobody spoke to us. If this was Christian worship I decided I could do without it. But our wedding went very well. Being a dress designer, I designed and made my own dress: white lace over pale yellow taffeta. I made the bridesmaids’ dresses in a brighter yellow taffeta. My flowers were all white. It was a cheap but beautiful wedding but more important to me was the service itself. I took my vows seriously. Maybe we were ill matched in many ways, we certainly had nothing in common, but I truly believed that love always finds a way. As for God, I never doubted His presence in the world, in my life and in my marriage — even if my husband is agnostic.

We lived in a bed-sit at my parents’ home for three years. They were difficult years in many ways. Then we moved to the town where my hubby worked and a year later our first son was born. Nearly two years later our second son arrived. By this time I was working freelance from home. Five years and another house later, our third and last son arrived. The following spring we had an unexpected visit from the Rector in whose parish we resided. Who would have guessed that this visit was to be a turning point in my life?

The Rector was leading a visitation to all the residents of the new housing estate, inviting us to join the Church congregation, and giving out free copies of their magazine. Our previous house had been in the same parish but had a small church building of its own. Our first two sons had been baptised there, even though we were not Church attendees. Likely the baptisms were due to the influence of my hubby’s family plus a general acceptance of what was regarded as the norm in those days. While the Rector was on our doorstep I asked him about getting our ten-month old baby baptised. Then I had this sudden urge to proclaim that I wanted to get baptised too. Was I was beginning to feel an outsider? Or was it something else entirely? A movement of the Spirit within? Perhaps it was both. Anyway, the Rector told me that adults are confirmed at the time of their baptism, and that he would let me know when discussions at the Rectory would begin. I didn’t like the sound of it. Discussions? I was totally ignorant of such things.

In due course I was informed about the first meeting. A neighbour, who had asked for Confirmation, also received a letter, so we went together. There was a good mix of adults at the meeting, from students in their late teens to adults of pensionable age. First we all introduced ourselves. I felt incredibly nervous, especially when the Rector said something like, “If you have come here thinking Confirmation is a matter of convention, or just a means to allow you to take Communion, think again. Confirmation is about commitment. It is being part of the Body of Christ. It is receiving the Spirit of God into your life and allowing Him to lead and guide. God is our Father, Jesus is our Lord and Saviour. Jesus told his followers that he would send the Holy Spirit to be with them and in them. Are you prepared to accept the full blessing of the Spirit?”

To those who said this all happened at baptism, he asked how did they know? Then he began reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 12, and backing the quotations with other New Testament letters and parts of the Acts of the Apostles. He named the gifts that are given to those that believe — wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues. Then on to gifts of ministry. All these given for the working of the Body of Christ. Certainly from the Day of Pentecost, speaking in tongues appeared to be a sign of receiving the Holy Spirit into a believer’s life. But the blessing was not only about gifts. The fruit of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galations 5vv 22-23) authenticates the truth of the Holy Spirit’s blessing.

This was forty-seven years ago and I cannot be precise on what was said that evening and at following meetings, but I recall quite vividly that his words shook me to the core. I went home thinking that this was more than I had bargained for. Should I drop out? But I was inwardly driven to continue the course.

The next week, the Rector said he had a surprise for us. A few people had stayed behind the previous week for the laying on of hands. I gave a quick look around the room to find the most likely candidates, in other words — who were the odd-looking ones? But when each gave their testimony, in simple language, of how they had received their remarkable experience, they all sounded quite normal, in spite of the fact that they could now speak in a language they had never learned. There was no hint of bragging but rather each had a quiet humility and, so it would seem, a sense of awe.

By the end of the session my neighbour said she was staying on for the laying on of hands. That meant I would have to stay too. A strange thing happened. While she had hands laid on her, I suddenly found tears rolling down my cheeks. Before long I was in full flood and there was nothing I could do about it. I was led to kneel, and hands were laid on me too. I felt incredibly odd. No, I was not shouting with joy or anything else. I was told that I had been given the gift of tongues, but I felt more as if I had lost the one I had.

The next day I was praying in my bedroom. I felt as if a voice was telling me I was too tense and should relax on my bed, also that I had been given the gift of tongues. But no words came out of my mouth. So I started making sounds. These turned into words. What they actually meant in English I do not know, but as I kept repeating them an incredible feeling of joy swept through my body.  It went on and on, bubbling up from within me like a mountain spring. Bubble…bubble… burst! But I could not stay there all day, I had an infant to feed and jobs to do. It was all so crazy, all the time I was working the inner spring of joy was bubbling up. I felt absolutely ecstatic.

From then on I was a new, younger women. I started painting and engaged in various creative activities, both at home and in the Church. A ‘light’ had been switched on and everything seemed different. I went through a dizzy time of remarkable answers to prayer. No, not a usual prayer list but rather it seemed I was told what to pray for, and what action to take myself. Unknown to anyone, I was using nearly half my housekeeping on what might be termed ‘God’s work’. I turned into a remarkable housekeeper. So much so that my hubby said he did not know how I managed on what he gave me. He offered more but I refused. Everything we needed seemed to be provided in remarkable ways. One example: the local school was putting together an orchestra. My son wanted a cello. I prayed about it. I seemed to be told to advertise for one in the Nottingham paper. The day it was in, I was peeling the potatoes praying someone with a cello to see and answer the advert.  A few minutes later the phone rang:

“Are you the person who wants a cello for her child? I was sitting drinking coffee and reading my paper when I just had to turn to the adverts page, something I never do. How strange. I have a cello in the attic that used to belong to my husband. It’s old but a good one. There’s a bow too but it needs restringing. You can have it for £4.”

The school had the bow restrung. And she was right, it was a good quality cello. But I found myself answering other people’s prayers too. I felt compelled to visit a friend. I found husband and wife in bed with flu and in need of help, which I was more than willing to give. And it went on and on.

At this time, prayer groups were formed and gifts of the Spirit were eventually exercised. I can’t say that all went swimmingly within the parish because it did not. Controversy was bound to set in. However, churchgoing was a joy and so were Christian friendships. But I could not have gone on living on that high plane. Apart from which, I began to question certain Biblical interpretations and inconsistencies. Being told to simply accept what was written without question was not good enough for me.

My dress design activities had dwindled when the country opened its doors to foreign imports. Things were bad in the garment industry; some companies turned to other things, but others closed down and the buildings turned into apartments. I saw an advert appealing for women with experience of children to train as Primary School teachers. I prayed hard about this. Could I really manage the course? I had never done academic work as such. Would I first have to get A-levels? But I did get into college, on the grounds of my design experience and through a single English test. After half a term I was able to change from Art to an academic main course — Divinity. It was hard work but a great joy! So much so, that from initially getting average marks I started getting B+ and the occasional A. Did academic study of the Bible cause my faith to waver? No, it strengthened it. It also dug me out of a rather narrow Evangelicalism to embrace a more liberal Christianity where love takes centre place.

Much water has gone under the bridge since then. Moving home, teaching, studying for the Church, ministry, more academic study and, since the turn of the century, writing. There have been good times and incredibly difficult and painful ones. Too much to relate here.  (A recent post on my Wrinkly Writers blog — Gays and the Church — has a little of my history) One thing for certain, had I not had that huge spiritual awakening so many years ago, and smaller enlightenments since then, I would not be the person I am today. Religion with its dogmas, if extreme, can tear peoples apart. But the Light that dwells within speaks of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. As a Christian, I see myself as a follower of The WAY (however much I stumble). This, I believe, is my meeting point with Les — our WAYS have met in a kind of unity. We are certainly different but recognise our common humanity and celebrate the preciousness of life.



Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Abdication of Self-Belief


Yesterday had been long heralded by certain branches of the spiritual community as an immensely important day on the cosmic calendar, second only to 21st December, 2012 - the event of which will mark the end of the world, the beginning of a new era of perception for mankind, or the day before 22nd December, 2012… depending on who you listen to.

At 11:11am on 11/11/11, it was said there would be a shifting of human consciousness, opening the gates to a higher vibrational energy flooding the planet.

In numerology - the study of the meanings of numbers and their influence on life – the number 11 is a Master Number, and of great significance, so to have so many of them repeat on a single date was deemed particularly auspicious.

Indeed, the only other time in recent history where so many ‘ones’ were lined up was on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, shortly after William and Kate were married.

A very prominent angelologist wrote on her website:

“It is time to relax and call on Archangel Gabriel for purification so that you are ready for the first cosmic moment on 11.11.11 at 11.11.  At that moment the portals of heaven open so that Source energy bathes Earth and everyone on it for an instant. 

Many people will be opened up spiritually and psychically and huge numbers will shift from the third to the fourth or the fourth to the fifth dimension.  Heart chakras may open.  Miracles and unexpected things can happen.”

She was one of many, many people who wrote about this occasion…

… but, just like both of Harold Camping’s ‘Rapture’ predictions earlier this year, nothing of any great note happened… no sudden, joyous stumble into a bright, new, peaceful world…

I wonder, now, if an Emperor’s Clothes effect will kick in and these same people who preached and prophesised with such conviction will tell their followers that it actually did happen, but they may not be able to feel it because they weren’t properly attuned – but not to fear, they can gain attunement by buying a copy of their new book ‘Attuning to the Golden Light of Spirity Love’ or going to one of their seminars.

It seems, as with Camping, that the truth is always another step away… like false peaks when you’re walking up a mountain. As you pant and push yourself over the crest of what you believe is the summit, you see a higher point in the distance: some place new to struggle on to that is in some way more important than where you are right now.

For as long as our species has deemed itself to be civilised, we’ve been placing these supernatural markers ahead of us as beacons of hope, drawing our thoughts to the light of a better life to come.

Even here in the 21st Century, otherwise rational people have a deeply superstitious nature – for example, it’s reported that 56% of women believe in ghosts. That’s higher than the percentage of women who believe in men.

So why do we – in societal terms - continually allow ourselves to be led towards these false dawns, or to believe in things that we haven’t actually experienced first-hand – such as angels, unicorns, mermaids, national enemies, gods and goddesses?

Most of the British people alive 100 years ago would never have met a German or known much about their way of life, but three years later, they’d be fired up to wage war against them. Likewise, the average German wouldn’t have cared about the trials and tribulations of the British.

Yet, it took just a small group of people to convince 65 million others to go to war, leaving 15 million dead at the end of it, where all who survived went back to where they wanted to be in the first place… just trying to lead a peaceful, happy life.

It’s as though we have a need to be led… or perhaps we have been conditioned to seek the wisdom of leadership rather than fully believe in, and lead, ourselves?

The same angelologist I mentioned earlier also has this on her website:

“I met my first unicorn when I was sitting on the lawn with my laptop on my knee.  A beautiful white presence appeared by my side and I was amazed to realize it was a unicorn.  It gave me information about the unicorn realms and told me that they are looking for people of high energy who want to help the world.”

Of course, in an infinite universe with infinite possibility, there must be unicorns… somewhere. There must be a world where police officer in top hats ride round on the backs of combat-trained velociraptors that carry knives in their little hands.

Just… it’s not here… sadly.

If you believe in unicorns because someone tell you that there are unicorns, and that they’ve seen unicorns, but you’ve never seen a unicorn in your life..?

I guess I could be seen as a ‘Doubting Thomas’ - the disciple of Jesus who didn’t believe that his dead friend had been resurrected.

“I’m sorry, Jesus. It’s just that I’ve never seen or heard of anyone rising from the dead before. I thought they were taking the piss when they told me.”

“No worries, Doubting Thomas. I wouldn’t have believed it, either. It’s cool and I don’t know why the rest of them are making such a fuss.”

One of the greatest steps forward we could make, as a species, would be to believe in ourselves and our own, individual potential as a benefit to our collective, community strength – rather than continue the mind-set that we are a disempowered fraction of something larger and better that we will always be subservient to.

If we lived in the now and appreciated the brilliance of the life that is hidden in plain sight, we wouldn’t need these beacons of hope. We’d be building up our dreams from the firm foundation of the present moment – making and working on plans rather than fantasising about reaching some distant goal.

But now, despite this damp squib of a non-event, 11.11.11 gives way to the anticipation of 21.12.12 and, so, the hysteria will continue and be greatly amplified as we approach the feared and revered possibilities of that day.

And on 22nd December, 2012, millions of believers will be screaming and hacking their way through department stores, buying gifts they never thought would be needed, maxing credit cards they never thought they’d have to pay off, feeling pretty pissed off that the end of the world didn’t come.

And then they’ll set their sights on some other day, in the future, when life will be better.

Life is now.