“Life is suffering”
Reading the first noble truth of Buddhism was my first step toward changing my life. It helped to reframe what I was going through. To understand that my life wasn’t going “off the rails” as I believed. Rather, it was on track. It just so happened to be that the track was uphill, strenuous, and prone to avalanches. It was paved with problems, as life is meant to be.
This was in 2010 – during what I described in my first book, Living in Cream as my dark night of the soul. It’s now 2022. And having accured a bit of my own wisdom, I have a few truths of my own to throw out there. The most relevant to this piece being: life is convoluted.
As always, nature proves to be the perfect teacher. This truth came to me when I spotted the pictured spider web during an early morning bush walk. It represents what I see as I reflect on my experiences and the journals I’ve kept over the last 12 years.
During my most difficult times, I struggled to accept where I was in life. A lot of my suffering stemmed from not being where I “should be”. Of course, my ideas around “should be” were based on my observations of everyone else. When I should have known that I’m not everyone else. I’m me. And as overstated as it is, we all move at different speeds, and on different paths through life.
The example I often use is how I was officially single for a decade. There were dates and flings here and there – but for the most part, it was a conscious choice to prioritise my relationship with myself and my own growth. The societal expectation was that I “should be” settling down, but I went my own way. Now I’m living with a great partner in a relationship nearing its third year.
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. – Steve Jobs
Turning over each stone
I don’t expect anyone to go gleefully skipping ahead now. Even with this in mind, the journey is still f*** hard. I know. Just look at the journal entry below from 2011 titled Runty Mc Runt.
What helped was trying a different approach. When I felt overwhelmed by the number of things to do, the sheer amount of possibilities, or even the enormity of the ambitions, I returned to the mantra of “turning over each stone.” I told myself that if I take things bit by bit and just keep going, something will happen. And it did. I caught my break eventually. In fact, I was surprised beyond my wildest dreams.
This is what I tried to convey to a friend the other night. He’s stuck – weighed down by his past and overwhelmed with the choices and work ahead. Turning over the stones would see him work with what’s in his control and be curious about all possibilities. I shared how I once applied for 60+ jobs covering all types of different things. And, as far as I was concerned, my application for an overseas volunteer placement was just another stone to flip. Turns out, it happened to be the one. I dared to dream. I did take action. And it paid off.
Hanging up the past
Don’t get me wrong – I’m far from Mr. Figured It All Out. And this next share makes that point. I’m talking about the discomfort I experience when I visit Brisbane. Despite having lived away for 8 years now, a lot of the shadows from my past still linger. They sadly seem to loom over the good memories. From the moment I get off the plane, my body tightens. My nervous system becomes activated. Around my family and friends – I find myself regressing, getting triggered, and thinking in ways I don’t want to. Normally, I’d do my best to brush all of this aside. But this time, I’ve been meeting myself with more compassion and curiosity.
You can’t rush your healing; darkness has it’s teachers – Trevor Hall
The analogy I’ve come up with is that our past self is like a coat. Rather than throwing it out, we hang it up before we leave. And then when we return to a place, out of habit, we reach for the person we’re used to being – the same coat. Given how much we’ve changed, we don’t quite fit. We’ve outgrown it. And it’s uncomfortable.
The resolve I’ve come to is that I need to be more sure in myself; my new skin. For example, if I’m agitated when my parents ‘treat me like a kid’ despite their best intentions, that’s my issue. If I’m sure of who I am, it shouldn’t affect me as much. The same goes for feeling behind, which is an old insecurity. The work here is to integrate my new identity into an old environment.
Working on this has led me to Internal Family Systems (IFS) – also thanks to a timely podcast by James W Jesso. The main premise is that we have many selves; and at a given time, only one is in the driver’s seat. By bringing awareness to this, we can better understand and change our behaviour. Especially, as IFS encourages, we can delicately deal with those parts of ourselves we usually condemn and disown.
A ceremony in my childhood room, with breathwork and meditation, followed by sitting under the stars, helped me to connect with my ‘inner hero’. This is the part I identify as Boy Under the Bridge. The one who seeks adventure, growth, and meaning from his life. The one who seeks to express himself without judgement and finds happiness in play. I also connected with my inner child who is scared. Who, when I spoke to, showed me the roots of my fear. This is my fear of ‘not knowing’ and doubts about my ability. My parents, again with their best intentions, insisted on doing too much for me growing up. Instead of building my self-confidence, I developed a fear of messing up. I also sat with my agitation and anger – and found it to be a protector. A shell that kept at its core, sadness I didn’t want to go near.
I’ve been doing parts work since I started this blog, but what’s new is how I handle my less desirable parts. I can tell this new approach will give space to my ‘Self’ to emerge. Which in IFS, the Self is the innate part of us that is the most desired and committed to our best interests. It demonstrates what is known as the 8 ‘C’ qualities: Calm, Curiosity, Clarity, Connectedness, Compassion, Courage, Confidence, and Creative. I can identify it was the Self showing up as I step into new roles in my career and also family – which I did during this particular visit in order to tend to a rupture that I’m glad has now been mended.
Having a vision
While going through my box of momentos, I found a sketch from one of my first ever therapy sessions. I found her too soft spoken, personally. But we did one exercise which I enjoyed – much more than the click-finger hypnosis a previous therapist had tried. She guided me through a visualisation exercise and had me draw my ideal situation. In the words I used previously, she dared me to dream.
The results are below. What I found helpful is that we focused on the themes rather than the specific details. In green, they are identified as change, meaning, expression, and simplicity. There’s also a relationship that “feels right” and a child that’s not mine. As evident by the part about living in the USA (gross) I can see how our desires can take shape in so many ways. I now live in another state rather than another country.
It gives me goosebumps as I note that as I head into a new role as a Threaupuic Youth Worker, I will be very much supporting young people that are not mine. Having just moved out of the apartment I was living in, I now have a house and yard to do all the star gazing I want. Life sure is a funny thing. I never could imagine where all of this was heading. But looking back, the dots certainly do connect. And I know they will continue to do so.