your problem is you assume wholeness is a right

You know how it goes. The sixth or seventh day you wake up with a headache (or insert your own personal challenge), it gets a little old. You begin to think that perfect vitality and health is just a myth.

And perhaps that is exactly what it is.

Your problem is you assume wholeness is a right. You assume you are supposed (even ENTITLED) to feel great, wake up ready to seize the day, breeze through your responsibilities, and end the work day with enough energy to spare for family, sports, hobbies or that dream you’re building.

If only. Instead you limp through your days (often literally) and you feel tired. all. the. time. And that means you just don’t have enough energy to exercise, even though you know it is good for you. So instead, when you come home, you flop on the couch, eat, and binge-watch something, falling asleep way too early and finally waking up knowing you are going to have to rewind the last 40 minutes.

And then, of course, you learn during the night that those 40 minutes of napping were the best sleep you got all night, because the rest of the night you end up tossing and turning and never quite feeling like you’re sinking deeply into sleep again.

The cycle continues day by day, until one day on the bus into work, you realise that you have been lowering your expectations of well-being consistently for far too long now. And your new normal has really turned into not only the lowest-hanging fruit on the well-being tree, but a pretty crumpled looking one at that.

This is certainly how it has been for me the last aeon. A downwards spiral of malaise that makes me dread every day just a little – or sometimes a lot. But here is what struck me that morning on the bus:

What if this expectation of well-being, this perceived right, is really not that? What if it is a privilege? If I were tetraplegic, I may have seen getting dressed as one of the victories of the day. If I had to battle trigeminal neuralgia, I would have perhaps been ecstatic to simply have made it to the bus at all!

It all has to do with expectation.

Last year, I read this stunning article based on a study of whether the long, dark winters caused greater depression or seasonal affective disorder among the Norwegians living in the polar circle. Shockingly, their mood hardly changed from season to season, even when they only received a maximum of 2-3 hours of indirect sunlight during the long polar night. Because they expected the long, dark, cold winters, they adjusted to that reality and learned to find joy in winter night-walks, the auroras, making a ritual of cuddling with a hot drink by the fire, or connecting with others.

How would such acceptance change my own life if I fully accepted and expected that my days were not going to be a goal-getter’s paradise … that perhaps I also had only 2-3 hours of indirect light, energy, possibility to live by?

I think I would live more gratefully and less wastefully. Gratefully, because wholeness is not a right. And less wastefully, because when those moments of wholeness do appear, we need to celebrate and fully fall into them, making them count. Realising that they could disappear again very soon.

That is a humble life.

Northern lights over Tromso, Norway. Photo by Lightscape on Unsplash

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ninja steps

Photo by Andrew Coelho on Unsplash

Dr Rangan Chatterjee says in his book Feel Better in 5 that one of the ways (there are many) to feel better is to immerse yourself in nature every day. We weren’t meant to sit indoors all day or walk in concrete jungles.

It is an idea that appeals to me. But in a busy life (or if you’re still locked down), even just 5 minutes outdoors may present more of a challenge or overwhelm than you’d feel ready for.

And that is why I appreciated so much reading that there are more ways to achieve this than the obvious. He suggested to one patient to start out by just watching a nature video first thing in the morning instead of scanning emails and social media. (The patient did this and quickly and naturally progressed to spending time outdoors – plus bonus: his insomnia went away.)

If there is one thing I’ve learned in my life, it is that I am a goal ninja instead of a barn stormer. I need tiny, incremental steps towards a goal, sneaking up on it, so to speak. So this awesome advice was a perfect fit for me, especially given how sluggish and averse to going outside in the mornings I’ve become. There are amazing nature videos on YouTube, and having them on in the background while I breathe and meditate has already – in a very short time – contributed greatly to starting the day in a peaceful, centred frame of mind. It even means that I’m finding my way back into Scripture, something I’ve been struggling with the last while.

It has made me realise how mentally noisy my mornings are when I dive straight into my notifications. And how much I like it to have that noise removed for a while and rather drift down into silence.

The world needs more of that.

it breathes you

Glow worms in the Waitomo Caves – by Tomáš Malík on Unsplash

There is always a spark to be found in the dark.

You might argue that the dark assists the finding; it is much easier to see a pinprick of light when there is so little available to the eye. The two are always locked in a tango: dark and light, dancing, playing, balancing each other.

And since you wouldn’t enjoy watching a tango as much with only one dance partner, then you also have to admit – albeit perhaps begrudgingly – that the dance of dark and light needs both partners as well. It is part of the universal dance: day and night, exhaustion and rest, euphoria and desperation, high tide and low tide. There is never an arrival, never a point you can say: ‘Now I have figured it out and I am always going to live in the light.’

There is only the dance, the continual movement. It breathes you, this constant flux between doing and undoing.

Both are holy. You need the in-breath as much as the out-breath. Even when the out-breath may sometimes feel like suffocating, you need that emptying out before you can draw in the next breath. You need the dark so you may move slower, more deliberately … pause … rest … recover … reshape.

So, what would happen if instead of fighting it, you welcomed it with acceptance and curiosity? If you said, ‘Yes, this is the time of darkness now. Let us be still and come back to ourself. Let us listen in this quiet to hear what we’ve been ignoring, what we’ve been distracted from.’

Breathe out. The in-breath will come by itself.

easter: fresh start

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

This is a first for me: Resurrection Sunday feeling like New Year’s Day.

You would think that would have been the case every year, but somehow the significance of Easter being a fresh start has never struck me quite as clearly as today.

A new beginning.

The old is dead. The new has already begun. Even before dawn crept over the horizon this morning, everything had already been renewed. Perhaps it is because this is the first Resurrection Sunday I’ve ever experienced that coincides with the change from Daylight Saving Time. The clocks fell back for autumn this morning … new life springs forward. The grace of an extra hour of sleep … the grace of starting over, refreshed, renewed, the slate wiped clean. There is something beautiful in starting afresh with an extra hour of rest.

Of course, my body woke me this morning at the usual time, and my first thought was the panicked realisation that my alarm hadn’t gone off – only to realise there was another hour left before my phone would trigger the usual routine of the day. But I was awake. The flesh is slow to accept the fresh start the spirit senses.

Sometimes I think that the relationship between spirit and flesh is that of parent and child, coaxing it, teaching it, leading it, reminding it there is more to this life than just the obvious. There are hidden things!

Like a fresh New Year hidden in April.

this very moment between one breath and the next

In a sense, nothing has changed.

I am still figuring out how to be human, how to be me. I am older, stiffer, hopefully wiser and more compassionate, but I still need lessons in BEing. I thought I had conquered food issues addiction (let’s just call it what it is) but here I am, back in the same faculty, even if it is perhaps a more advanced class. I thought I had found a successful formula for keeping that black dog at bay, but depression sometimes still strikes, taking me by indignant (and usually undignified) surprise. I still battle all the old demons and doubts.

We don’t ever reach the point of ‘arriving’. We keep on having to keep on figuring things out. It is part of what makes life so unpredictable and delicious. Just when you think you’ve finally pinned it down, it snaps away, yelling ‘plot twist!’

So you start over and see what this next round will teach you. Because curiosity is always a happier and more helpful approach to suffering.

And here is what I am learning: No matter how deep the darkness, when you pause and examine this moment, this very moment between one breath and the next, where you are neither bound to the past and its regrets, nor to the future and its uncertainties, just this moment, then you realise that it is utterly beautiful and perfect all by itself.

You notice the late afternoon sunlight on your face, the gentle sway of leaves in the breeze, the dipping of the swallows against the clouds, the soft touch of your shirt against your skin, and it is all so achingly beautiful that it is simply … perfect.

In that very moment there is no suffering; there is only contentment.

In that very moment, everything is whole.

It is like discovering an actual superpower. Because every time you anchor yourself in this very moment, between one breath and the next, then the mindfulness it brings – and the spark of joy! – helps to tip the scales towards the light.

And in the end, that changes everything!

04Lovely

knocking off rust

Well, this is quite an unexpected turn of events, to find myself back on The Porch again after such a long hiatus.

The word always keeps calling, always flows and trickles, finding a way in … and eventually finding a way out.

Even though the blogging world has changed in the last years, flattening out into a much more impersonal place, it doesn’t change the original reason I started writing here: to give my thoughts coherence and space.

We all need time to reflect, to find the pattern and the meaning … and for me that means to sit on The Porch at the end of the day and let the word flow through the patterns.

what zombies have to do with self-growth

I am not a fan of the horror genre. Except for zombies. When my son became intrigued by zombies, I explored all the movies – from the very first – with him. And the more I think about zombies, the more I realize we can learn from the genre.

Recently, I came across this older article exploring why exactly our society has developed this fascination with zombies. In a nutshell, its premise is that the zombie craze “mirrors a level of cultural dissatisfaction and economic upheaval”. According to the researcher that is quoted, Sarah Lauro, “We feel like, in one way, we are dead”. This article quotes her as saying, “We are more interested in the zombie at times when we as a culture feel disempowered.”

I don’t quite agree.

Yes, zombie stories intrigue us when we face challenges of our own, but not because we feel dead. And I’m not sure that it has to do with global disempowerment, either. Rather, I believe it is more personal. The greater attraction of the zombie genre is this: survival.

These stories show us that it is possible to survive against horrific odds. They show us people who keep fighting even when we might have wanted to give up because there just doesn’t seem to be a way out. They make us believe that yes, we are able to keep going even when nothing makes sense, to be resourceful when options are limited, to be creative when everything we used to know changes, and to remain essentially human even when surrounded by monsters. They help us remember that sometimes the only power we have and actually need is that of perseverance, because it will get us through the hopelessness. That is uplifting and encouraging! Especially when life becomes challenging or the future seems bleak.

For me, it has little to do with cultural dissatisfaction or economic upheaval. It has everything to do with fighting my personal monsters. I believe this is the attraction of all successful dystopian stories: the implicit truth that even at life’s worst, we keep fighting.

However fictional they may be, they contain true empowerment because they remind us we are indomitable. We are heroes, purely for not giving up.

And that is amazing.

From the AMC show, The Walking Dead

From the AMC show, The Walking Dead