The short story is that I feel alive. And, given some of the places I’ve been these last few months, and these last few years, that’s a wonderful thing. Not just wonderful: it's fucking amazing.
Asking for help, and writing about it – well, something big has definitely shifted since. I’m wary of what metaphor I reach for right now – because metaphors can imprison us as easily as they can excite us. The number of times I’ve prematurely (and desperately) announced to myself and the world that I am out of the woods, or that the curse has finally been broken, or that I’m coming down from the hills – only to be dragged back up the hill, feet first and flat on my face, and back into even darker and more tangled thickets...
What’s that Blake verse?
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged Life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise
I will try to kiss this passing joy, and not grab hold of it for dear life, half-throttle it in the process, and then wonder why it rarely visits me.
Let’s say this: this last week Life led me into a beautiful, powerful, humbling realm of woodland – perhaps even a grove of ancient yews – and the sunlight through the woodland canopy has begun to warm my skin and blood and belly and heart. There will be darkness and challenges ahead, I’m sure. And there will probably be further periods of retraumatisation, and deeper levels of unravelling, when all of these words I am currently writing turn temporarily into over-wishful ash... but this afternoon, and for the last six days, I have felt somewhere between OK and really good. Which may be common for some, but it's like water to a parched and thirsty man like me. These rays of sunlight shining through the limbs of ancient trees really are worth their weight in gold.
I posted my first blog a week ago, and then, bosh – almost immediately the responses started coming in. Friends offering accommodation, one friend offering employment, people suggesting healing modalities, people I half-know confessing they feel something similar, lots of encouragement, a flurry of insights, even a couple of tough love conversations too – one of which was too tough and I had to say so in response. Even a couple of writing pots – which have been on the back of the range for quite a while now – decided to puff out a bit of pungently creative steam.
I wrote that blog – and an email to close friends asking for specific and general help – last Tuesday, and posted the blog on Wednesday. Of course, as well as feeling excited, I had a pang or two of that oh-no-I’ve-revealed-too-much-of-myself-in-a-strange-digital-public-place feeling. And not for the first time. But on the Thursday morning I woke with a veritable fire in my belly.
However, as well as enjoying this newly-arisen fire, I’ve been a little worried too – in case it crossfades into the foothills of mild mania. As I wrote in my last blog, my confidence is really low right now, and that includes my confidence in my powers of discernment. Not always, but often.
The last time I was properly manic was the fortnight after my mum died. I was as busy as a bee in autumnal denial, organising mum’s funeral and all that post-death-pre-funeral organisational and emotional malarkey. And day by day I was ascending into higher and higher spiritual realms – or so I thought. Then one evening I was nattering away on the phone to a friend – who at times in his life has suffered from severe bipolar disorder – when he said, quite calmly, “You sound quite high.” And I knew he didn’t mean drug high, although he knew I was very capable of taking drugs.
I paused, and took in what he was saying. Coming from a friend who has been through many bouts of high madness – and consequently low madness too – his words somehow hit home. They sobered me almost as swiftly as a loving slap. Over a period of perhaps five, perhaps ten seconds, I felt my manic bubble rapidly deflate and a sort of sanity return, and then – so strangely, and so precisely – I felt my heart go through an ordered shut-down routine. And my heart has never been the same since, and has rarely opened in these last few years.
So, understandably, I am wary of becoming manic, and a more sensible captain within is monitoring my progress several times a day.
But the fire in my belly – and radiating through my veins and mind – has been undeniable, whatever its source or function or dual potential. I can feel it right now. It feels like the wood burner that's currently warming this room right now, after four days of mid-winter abandonment. But it doesn’t need fuel adding – rather, I think I need to attend to its air intake.
Ah, a sudden exhaustion descends – perhaps the air intake has been a little too open whilst I’ve been writing all this. I need a bit of grounding.
I returned to Oxford on Thursday to vote, as my proxy vote had broken down on the M40, and subsequently spent the weekend partying in Oxford and generally dancing and stomping out them humiliating post-election blues. I also had some very powerful conversations with friends – things were said which needed to be said, and love was shared and deepened. I only returned to the cabin last night, and it’s now nearly four o’clock in the afternoon and I have barely been outside, let alone visited the sea – which is only a hop, skip and jump away.
Outside my window, the sky’s mother-of-pearl light is rapidly softening, and, lo, the invisible and descending western sun has just lit up the nearby eastern cliffs with a gorgeous orange-and-rose flame. Time to turn off, tune in, tog up and get on down there. From where I sit, the tide looks quite far out. Maybe I’ll check the tide timetables, and attempt a low-tide walk. We’ll see.
I’m now in one of the village pubs. It’s funny: a few days in suburbia and I begin to lose track of the moon and the tides. I was in luck – the sea was calm, and I was able to do a walk around a headland that I wouldn’t have been able to do on a more stormy day.
As I walked, I got thinking about this blog. Should I just open my gob, as I did for last week’s virgin entry, or should I try to channel it a bit more? Will a possible structure begin to emerge? Should I describe my week, and then, perhaps, explore a particular theme in some detail? What do the people want? What interests or excites me?
At one narrow point – where the corner of a rock face meets the corner of a pebbly beach – I had to wait a few minutes, in order to observe the waxing and waning rhythm of the sea, and I had to time my dash between a receding wave and an incoming one. But I love this kind of shit. It feeds every level of my being, even when I’m feeling separate from them all. And charting low tide walks can be eminently entertaining.
(Given that this blog is in the public sphere, am I obliged to say that it can be dangerous too? Make sure you can read tide time tables, and can read the mood of the sea. Know that the sea can change its mood. As your knowledge and confidence increases, push ahead and explore. Always have an escape route, or a contingency plan. Most of all: enjoy.)
As I bimbled around the coast, I got thinking about three possible themes to explore today: drugs (and PTSD), shame (and PTSD), and Boris Johnson. Then I got carried away, inwardly chortling about the possibility of combining all three – yes, Boris is obviously not just an occasional drunk, and, yes, he is riddled with ancestral shame. But what drugs has he taken? Coke – I’m guessing. Maybe a few dabs of MDMA? Maybe not enough? Or maybe he’s just one of those floozie boozing Tories. But he hangs out with right wing libertarian friends... And, anyway, who can blame a wounded ex-public-schoolboy for drinking booze and taking drugs? Mentioning no names. I saw Boris Johnson's dad on Channel Four’s alternative election night coverage – oh my, what poorly-disguised contempt for the world! He seethed with viciousness and brittle arrogance. I know it's not PC to admit this, but I actually felt some compassion for the wounded boy-man who is his son. And then suddenly, I realised I had made it all the way round the headland and up a rusty seaside ladder and onto the village beach and into the village and I hadn’t really taken in any of the walking or the clambering.
I’d been lost in my imagination, and internal narration, wondering if the fire in my belly was potentially manic, and what substances Boris used to keep his shame at bay, and this and that and all along I'd been quite out of my body. Which is an easy feat for one prone to dissociation.
So, I decided to head back down to the beach, and really take in the sea and the fading light – to be, as the great Fatboy Slim once preached, “right here, right now.”
Just as I reached the very calm water’s edge, my phone rang. Usually I don’t answer my phone on walks – more often than not I leave it at home – but, for whatever reason, I decided to answer it this seaside call. It was either going to be some annoying telesales person from Dunstable, or someone really relevant to my current predicament.
And it was a Scottish wizard I met on Iona during last year’s hitchhiking pilgrimage, and he was phoning from France, where he’s doing some activation work and a bit of pilgrim route walking. And we jumped right in. And he shared some of the nature of his work, and as he talked I glimpsed – from the corners of my eye – a flash of lightning far out to sea, but it could have been the beam of the Portland Bill lighthouse, or perhaps even a fisherman’s searching spotlight. We talked of the heart, and of the balancing of the feminine and masculine Christ energies, of healing and of Life’s constant invitation towards wholeness, of the need for the coolness of water to balance the heat of fire, of free will and the need for laughter, and other such wonderful, fellow-pilgrim jazz. And shared with me a simple breathing exercise for my heart. And we recalled our meeting on Iona last summer. It was like something out of a Phillip Pullman novel – although I suspect that kind of thing happens to him, or around him, at least once a year.
He invited me to go down to the sea and put my hand in the water. Whilst I tried to keep my hand suspended under the surface of the gently lapping waves, he spoke a prayer in an ancient language that I couldn’t quite remember. And, of course, a wave of winter sea water engulfed my shoes, and then another. And, as he prayed, I watched another layer of lightning ripple upon the far horizon – and it definitely was lightning. He said he could feel that my heart was beginning to open, and I could feel my heart opening too – I’ve been feeling it all week. And we both honoured its recent self-protection. Whatever has been going on inside there – inside me – I suspect that the wisdom of my heart has needed to work within some sort of subtle aortic shell. I don't know – but when I shared this hypothesis, he concurred.
It seems like I didn't need grounding – I needed watering.
Does this all sound a bit mad? Sometimes you just gotta roll with Life's entertainment. And I thought today was going to be a quiet day.
I guess I can talk about Boris Johnson and shame and drugs another time – none of them are going to go away in a hurry.
Only my left foot got a proper soaking – nothing an overnight stint by the wood burner can’t sort out. Actually, when I wriggle my right toes, they're a bit cold and soggy too.
Whilst I was writing about the metaphor of being in the woods, and coming out of the woods, and being dragged back into the woods, I remembered that wonderful poem by David Wagoner about being lost in the forest.
It’s six o’clock now, my pint of seasonal “Rocking Rudolph” is two thirds drunk, and, alas, it’s not time to sup it up, collect my fags and head down to Slough – it’s time to sup it up, go back to my cabin, dry my shoes and socks, cook me up some dinner, and digest another remarkable day.
Now that I’ve done it once, I’ll take a risk and post this blog afore I go. I can always tweak it in the sober light of tomorrow.
Oh no, I’ve just spotted that the pub does a vegan Bakewell tart with vegan ice cream. What is the world coming to?
If you leave a comment below, I'll endeavour to reply, although please have the patience of a tortoise, for I am a tortoise too.
And whilst I wait for the aforementioned vegan Bakewell tart to arrive, I’ll leave you in the capable hands of David Wagoner.
Tuesday 17th December
By David Wagoner
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
P.S. I first came across David's poem whilst camping in the Kingley Vale yew forest during last year's hitching pilgrimage. It's contained in a beautiful Bloodaxe collection called Soul Food – every few days I'd open the book at random and read its offering. If you've never visited Kingley Vale, it's one of the unsung wonders of England, if not Britain. Here are some pics.