Tag Archives: inner voice

Alone as a neutral space

Yesterday I had a busy, noisy day in London. Some alcohol-fuelled students on the train got it off to a nerve-jangling start, and I found the crowds and noise difficult all day. So this morning, sitting in bed, aware of the silence around me, I could welcome it. And that gave me a different perspective on being alone – it’s a neutral space, that I can populate in different ways.

I’ve just written in my journal: “projecting inner wounds onto a neutral space”. I mean the labelling of being alone as rejected, invisible, unloved etc etc. Making it  a place of hurt and pain. There is choice in this.  This morning there was a sense of needing to embrace the silence and aloneness – that’s what transforms it into solitude, which is the healthy place to be with it.

Maybe I have more choice in this than I like to accept. There’s a perverse pleasure sometimes in the melancholy, in the “lonely”, “unwanted” labels. They confirm old scripts. But maybe I can choose to make it time to change those scripts…

I’m using a collection of quotes on solitude, and yesterday’s was:

I had already found that it was not good to be alone, and so made companionship with what there was around me, sometimes with the universe and sometimes with my own insignificant self, but my books were always my friends , let fail all else.

Joshua Slocum, Sailing alone around the world.

At first it was the bit about the books that struck me, as it chimed with my thoughts earlier this week about reading rather than surfing social media when I’m feeling lonely or bored. But as the day went on I found myself reflecting on the first part. Choice again. Am I Iago’s “I am myself alone” – or am I part of the whole, even if I go through the world in solitude? As I walked to the station, I was listing things that I’m a part of, belong to: my family; my local community; my city; my county; my country – and so on, radiating outwards. I’m part, if a loose part, of some friendship circles. Of the organisations I belong to. Of the online forums I  subscribe to. Of the groups of people who have shared interests, even if we’re not working together on them. Of those who have similar political and ethical vews. And so on. Most of the time, that doesn’t mean I’m communicating with the people in these different groups, but there’s a sharing, something in common. Perhaps having a consciousness of all those links, basically seeing myself as connected rather than as isolated in that bubble, would help change my outlook and diminish the pain?

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Chaos is come again (and again..)

Control: restraint; authority; command; regulation; a check; a means of operating, regulating, directing or testing.

Self-discipline:

Self: action by, of, in relation to oneself

Discipline: training designed to engender self-control and an ordered way of life; the state of self-control achieved by such training;….mortification; punishment; an instrument of penance or punishment.
Instruction, teaching, learning, education…to train, to bring under control

Self-control: power of controlling oneself; control of..one’s desires etc

Chaos: the state of matter before the Universe was reduced to order (nb “reduced”!); disorder; shapeless mass.
A gaping void, yawning gulf, chasm; the “formless void” of primordial matter; a state of utter confusion and disorder.

Chaotic: pertaining to or resembling chaos; utterly confused or disordered

What is control? What is self-control? What is self-discipline? What’s good, what’s bad? What’s the difference? How does one become the other? What’s life-giving? What’s deadening? When does freedom/spontaneity become chaos?

Lots of questions! Interesting definition of chaos, given how I used to see myself as teetering on the edge of a precipice, fearing being in freefall if I stepped off – yet that was, in the end, a positive image, daring to step off and trust that I’d be caught (which I was). There was a fear that that way chaos lay – but it didn’t.

Yet I often don’t feel far from chaos. Another image would be of standing on a lava field, aware of the huge pressures below my feet, of the potential for them to break through and consume me and all around me. Yet, again, that could be a positive image – lava, fire, bring destruction but also new land, new or reshaped solid ground.

I can’t hold back a lava field. I can’t stop myself once I’m in freefall. There has to be trust that something greater can and will do that.

What is the lava field, the sense of a churning, hostile, uncontrollable mass not far below the surface? Why is this image so vivid and relevant?

I feel as if the surface of my life looks OK: I seem to be fairly well settled, fortunate in my circumstances, doing interesting things with my time, with lots of freedom of action. At times I can almost believe that’s true.

And yet.

I drink and over-eat or eat badly, even though I know they’re counter-productive, giving an immediate sense of comfort but leaving me with constant niggling health fears, feeling physically under-par and dissatisfied with myself for not controlling these behaviours better.

My IBS sometimes denies me the most basic of bodily control and is a constant source of fear and anxiety when I’m away from my safe zone, ie alone and/or at home.

Visitors compliment me on my house, yet it’s often chaotic and dirty: I don’t manage even the most basic regular routines to keep it orderly and clean.

My finances are chaotic – I don’t control them, spend without proper oversight or thought, have no precise idea of what’s where or what might need attention

My social life lurches from far too busy to desperate cutting back and inattention to friends. I agree to things I don’t really want to do, have to miss things I would love to do.

When I’m low I feel as though I’m always trying to push back the surging wave of chaos that threatens to engulf me.

I become frozen : I know that all this stuff needs doing, but I escape from/avoid doing it – read, watch TV, eat or drink too much etc etc

Yet it’s not THAT bad! As I write the above, I can hear a voice saying “So? It’s not ideal, but it’s not catastrophic either. Probably lots of people who you admire and envy for having such orderly lives are not in fact doing that much better and also feel that they’re living in a muddle”.

So does this feeling of the pressure of impending chaos go to something deeper? The dangerous pleasure of alcohol is the sense of a pressure lifting off me: the watcher, the critical, inhibiting voice goes away for a while and I feel more relaxed, more “me”. And that’s a wonderful feeling. But of course it doesn’t last and it’s illusory anyway – this isn’t “me”, the pleasure areas of my brain are being manipulated by a drug.

What is this “watcher”, “the critical inhibiting voice”? It’s hostile eyes, a jabbing pin, a drill, a heavy cloud hanging over me – telling me that I’m wrong, I’m not enough, I’m not doing or being enough, I could be better. I’m not at home in my skin, in myself, there’s something out of joint, not quite in place. A drink or – better! – healthier responses such as creativity, countryside, solitude in a helpful place, time with trusted people, can make that slightly out-of-kilter part of me click back into place.

But it can be so hard to find the energy, the motivation, the determination to use whatever it needs to push that awkward part into place. Or sometimes even to realise that it’s come adrift again. Or to find what will help. I think a huge amount of my energy goes into sub-consciously fighting, resisting, accommodating, denying (especially denying!) the voice, the out-of-place bit. And sometimes I’m tired or ill or grieving and I can’t do it any more. And then (thankyou Shakespeare!) “chaos is come again”.

The beautiful line from Genesis comes to mind:

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

The Spirit of God brings order out of the formless void -see the definition of chaos above. However I understand that, whatever I choose to call or understand by “spirit of God”, it suggests that there is a greater force than me working against chaos, bringing order. And to me it reads as quite a gentle process: the Spirit moved (or hovered) – there’s no suggestion of violent wrestling with the forces of chaos, of a huge clash between mighty opposites, more a presence that in its very being works against chaos.

This speaks to the sense I sometimes have that there’s no peace, wholeness or divine spark in my inner world, but rather a swirling dark mass of chaotic thoughts, feelings, addictions and terrors. This is when I most need to open myself to that spirit of God, whatever it might be, and let it bring peace to the turbulence – and it’s also when doing so can be very difficult, as inner chaos is often acompanied by outer.

I’ve moved a long way from what I thought I was sitting down to write – a piece on the role of control in my life and a sifting of when that is healthy self-control and self-discipline, and when it becomes a fear- and anxiety-based attempt to impose control on myself and my surroundings. Being out of control is one of my greatest, maybe the greatest, fears – to be dependent through illness or disability, for example, or to be controlled by another person. And yet there are all sorts of paradoxes and contradictions in this. There have been times when I’ve actively looked for a “saviour” – someone who would take me over and sort out my life for me, tell me what to do and, as far as possible do it for me. The IBS could be seen as my body and/or sub-conscious fighting back and reminding me in the most basic way that I don’t always have control. Drinking and over-eating can give an illusion of silencing a controlling voice, but of course there’s a real danger that they themselves can come to control me.

So what are healthy self-discipline and self-control, and what is control/controlling – an unhealthy repression, suppression, restraint, power?

I wonder if the underlying motive and -again – voice are key to this? Are self-control and self-discipline (and this is in the healthy, moderate sense of those phrases, I’m not thinking of those darker definitions such as mortification and penance) choices – choices coming from a gentle, loving inner voice, from my better self, the deep centre, the divine part of me – however you want to express it – wanting what is best for me and my welfare, physical, spiritual and emotional. Control strikes me as something much more fearful and anxious, not looking with compassion and understanding at my weaknesses, failings and fears, but trying to repress or deny them by the choice of rigid or escapist behaviours – controlling or, ironically, bringing about just the chaos I want to avoid.

Those 2 directions that control can take are interesting -I hadn’t noticed that before. So I might seek control over my chaotic surroundings by imposing a rigid routine on myself, or I might control how the mess makes me feel by diverting my attention elsewhere rather than tackling it. Both are totally ineffective – the routines are always abandoned through boredom or because life refuses to fit into my plan, the ignoring can only go on for so long before the chaos just has to be tackled, usually because I’ve lost something or have visitors coming – or just have to face the fact that it makes me feel miserable and tired. Which is when the more self-compassionate voice is kicking in again..

On a deeper level, maybe the feeling of just-about-controlled chaos comes from the inner wars that are still going on between what I think of as “the voices” – the kind, positive, loving one and the bitterly critical and scornful one. When the first is in the ascendant, I’m more likely to care for myself and to live in a reflective, self-disciplined way, but when the negative makes itself heard too often, fear and anxiety grow, and , alongside them, the desire for Control, with a capital C, to keep life manageable and to quell unpleasant and painful thoughts and emotions. Unfortunately, Control inevitably results in what it wanted to prevent – chaos, either directly or via rigidity and reaction to that.

As so often, I seem to have come back to that very Four virtue of Equanimity or Balance and also to a very difficult word that so often speaks to me – surrender. Surrender when something can’t be changed or controlled (which doesn’t mean passivity, more embracing the situation as it is and working constructively with it, rather than using energy in futile resistance), surrender to the fact of being the person I am and loving acceptance of that person. Sounds easy, sounds glib, but of course an ongoing, lifelong process, with every step taken only with struggle and often with reluctance.

Balance and equanimity – here the challenge is perhaps to keep working on self-discipline and self-control, seeking to discern the delicate balance between life-giving and life-denying, between control and chaos. Again, a day by day process.

Where does all this leave me? Back in the usual place! Seeking a balanced, considered life; learning to accept and love myself as I am; trying to listen to the Divine within me. Sounds so simple…

Insights into creativity

I had a rather strange experience recently. I’ve been working on an original idea for a quilt. Someone was interested and I took a selection of the fabrics I’d cut out to show her, outlining my thoughts. She played with them for a while and then made a simple suggestion that transformed the whole concept, giving it far more life and originality. It wasn’t offered as criticism or as an assertion of superiority – just entering into trying out ideas. Instead of being delighted, I felt all my enthusiasm and excitement draining away. Old thoughts – “you’re no good at anything”, “you’re not creative – why bother trying?”, “you’re hopeless”, came crashing in, I felt distressed and discouraged, and for several days I gave serious thought to disposing of all my craft materials and just walking away from any effort to find creative expression, back to how I used to be.

I’ve been trying to make sense of my over-reaction and also have been haunted by something else this person said – “I don’t think you really want to do it” – referring to my procrastination: talking a lot about being creative, collecting materials, but not making time to actually work on projects. There was truth in that rather harsh remark and I’ve had to allow myself to be challenged by it.

Two bereavements within 8 months are amost certainly skewing my reactions and emotions at the moment, which may partly account for the immediate and extreme response, but that can’t be all of it.

This morning I did an exercise from Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s book “What we ache for: creativity and the unfolding of your soul”. I had to complete a series of phrases about my favoured creative medium, spending a set period of time writing all the responses that came to mind. I wasn’t sure whether to look at writing or sewing/other visual media, so I did two lists. The phrases included “When I write/sew I feel…” “When I write/sew I see… ” Another section of the exercise asked why I write/sew etc etc.

I did this exercise once before, but didn’t make much of it, but this time the answers were unexectedly revealing. What they seem to show is that I write to express what’s within, to explore, make connections, bring clarity and light to dark and confusing places, to understand myself better. Writing often brings fresh insight and revelation from my interior world. On the other hand, my visual work, much more limited and often bedevilled by feelings of incompetence and inadequacy, seems to express my responses to and insights into the outer world, to colour, pattern, texture, beauty, to emotions and thoughts sparked by what I experience through my senses. In Myers Briggs terms, writing expresses the iNtuition and visual work the Sensing parts of me. Which makes some sense of my struggles with the latter, as I’m stronger on N than S.

Words such as connection, wholeness, involvement, stimulation, fulfillment, were on both lists.

This is so helpful, as it lifts a burden from the visual/craft work. I’ve felt sad and discouraged because I don’t seem able, so far, to develop original ideas that speak deeply of what’s within. Maybe that’s just not why I’m drawn to these forms of creativity. Perhaps the attraction and desire to persevere, even though I’m not naturally talented in art or craft work, comes out of the desire to express my responses to what I’m given by my senses.

It also underlines the importance of continuing to write. I tend to dismiss that, as on the whole it’s not for sharing, and I wonder what the point of it is. But what I’ve said about it above answers that objection very clearly!

I tend to think of “successful” creative pursuits as necessarily being for other people as well as me to see (and, I must admit, as a means of validating myself, shoring up my confidence if I get positive responses). But that can also lead to panic, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, if what I produce isn’t “good enough” to show to others.

What about the procrastination? See “panic, anxiety..inadequacy”! It’s not as simple as not wanting to do it. It’s being almost afraid to try, to give creative work a serious place in my life, in case that just confirms inadequacy, inability to express myself as I’d wish, and leads only to disappointment. Yet the desire is still there….

I’m not going to set out a grand plan to remedy all this – the butterfly will flit away again before long. But the insights are helpful and I hope I can use them as I continue to reflect on the balance of different aspects of my life.

Finding the balance

OK, let’s see where this one goes, as I just want to sift some vague thoughts and leadings that are around this morning. Today is a fairly free Saturday – unexpectedly so, as an event was cancelled at short notice. After a busy couple of days away from home, I’d decided that it would be a good opportunity to catch up on some of the routine stuff and “to dos”, go to the gym and then to a local quilt show and maybe to an opera at the cinema later.(Written down, that sounds ridiculously busy, though I’d been thinking of it as a fairly quiet day!).

But I find that I want to let the day unfold gently at its own pace. I feel very connected and centered and want to stay with that and see how it expresses itself.

And it’s fascinating to listen to the inner voices that are responding to this desire. “But today isn’t a day off – you’ve had one this week”. “Three rooms are due to be cleaned today”. “That to-do list is so long  -this would be an opportunity to cross a few things off”. “shouldn’t you go food shopping?”  And underneath those, I hear a small, fearful voice saying “But if you let go of all that and go with your heart, you may never get any of the necessary practical stuff done ever again. Everything might slide back into chaos while you indulge in what you’d rather do instead of what you need to do. You need to stick to the patterns you’ve been establishing and be self-disciplined, ignore that desire to write and sew – do it tomorrow instead.”

There’s a dilemma here, because there is some truth in that last voice, in that I’ve often wilfully neglected practicalities over a period and have ended up not eating well, in a grubby chaotic house and with vital jobs undone – which in the end causes huge stress and undoes all the good done by the time spent creatively.

I don’t want to be ruled by “ought” and “must”. That has been a theme of my journey for a long time. Yet those “oughts” hammer away in my mind – I “ought” to be sensible and get all the cleaning, food shopping etc done and put the creative stuff aside till tomorrow. But that tug to the latter, to a day that’s allowed to find its own pace and activity, is so strong. And I have to rejoice in that, as one problem I’ve always had is finding inner motivation – I’ve so often lived fairly mechanically, by lists, because otherwise I just drift, unable to identify anything I positively want to do (or perhaps unable to allow it).

The inner desire is winning at the moment  – it’s nearly 10am, I’m not dressed yet and I’m writing this! And it feels good. I have to stay with this, because it feels like an important move forward, a stand against all those insistent voices demanding that I put the routine, the sensible, the practical, before the creative and the desired. My heart’s desire is to be living according  to my “true self” – “true Anne” – in line with the still small divine voice within, so I need to listen and respond when, as I think is happening this morning, I’m hearing that voice clearly. It’s so hard to ignore those other “ought”, “must”, “but what if..” voices, but they lead me away from the life-giving.

I’ve also just inadvertently given  my response to a question I was asked recently – “what’s your heart’s desire”? it left me floundering at the time, but I’ve just answered it.

So let’s see what happens, if there’s a despairing post in a week’s time saying that all my changes have gone to pot and I’m back in chaos! Or if practising living in tune with the inner call when my sensitivity to it is strong will also get the cleaning done…