Clouds


 
In August, I am sad,
sensing the end of summer.

In September, I am restless,
unsure of what to expect.

Come October, I hope to feel better:
that which I fear, here.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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A villa with no neighbours

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August is disappearing, fast-slipping into September, and I can’t help being nostalgic about something I’ve never had: a summer like last year; days spent outside, cafés by the sea, bbq’s, a pool, a villa with no neighbours. I miss the peace. I miss the quiet. I miss the freedom… I know it’s not forever and it’s all still there, but my heart feels broken, weeping for something that has died. I can feel it now – raw, restless, enraged; rising and falling like a turbulent ocean intent on capsizing every ship.

I know it’s a test; or at least this is what I am telling myself, if only because it sits better that way. But that doesn’t make it any easier. Or maybe it does? By calling it a ‘spiritual’ journey; refusing the dis-ease and discomfort to be named – not properly, not ‘officially’ in a way I can’t later deny: I’m opening a window and in doing so discovering that in darkness there is also light.

And I know it might sound weird – it would do to me if I wasn’t who I am, if this hadn’t all happened exactly as it has – but I feel the presence of God more and more profoundly every day. There are subtle messages, unexpected gifts, encounters that introduce me to something new inside. A process of remembering, I am slowly returning to who I was before life (people, experiences and places) got in the way. And as I do, I am aware that I have company: an inner mother cat who stands in front of my heart, reaching out to hiss and scratch at anyone and everything that tries to intervene. I am getting to know her slowly and slowly I am making her my friend.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Things I would love to shake

There are feelings in my body that are new, that I haven’t previously experienced. And others that are overly familiar: things I would like to shake but haven’t been able to dislodge. The new ones bother me the most: their discomfort harder to shut off; I don’t have the reserves of experience that time permits.

I’m learning how to manage them – slowly, in parts. And in that process achieving both failure and success. Like so many other things: it’s a journey…

I have no idea what tomorrow will bring, where I will be next year as a result, or if I will even still be here and who I will be if I am. I have changed so much in so little time. In a lot of time, I might not even recognise myself.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Snowmen in winter

imageBetter the devil you know than the prince you are chasing after. Better the life you have than the future you would like to arrive. Birds in the hand are worth more than mammals in the distance. Eggs more reliable assets than chickens down the line.

Thank God for what you have and count your lucky stars. Let absence take care of what is missing and providence provide. Tread softly around others, be mindful of their dreams. Give what you can to the less fortunate, take only what you need from those who can provide.

Think big, stand tall, set goals, climb skyscrapers. Plan ahead, take action, share often, do more. Walk with courage, run with enthusiasm, sit down with dignity, sleep with pride. Love each season as if it were the only one available. Embrace all weather, as if it were all there were.

Build snowmen in winter. Plant daisies in spring. Pick apples in summer. Make fires in fall. Smile at those who hurt you, laugh with those who don’t. Listen to your elders, teach your youth. Show those who are searching, lead them who would like to learn. Imagine it all different, then get up and take a turn.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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The Clucking of Hens

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“There is no point in trying to suppress the babble of words and ideas that goes on in most adult brains. So if it won’t stop, let it go on as it will, and listen to it as if it were the sound of traffic or the clucking of hens.” Alan Watts

It’s my last day. My flight leaves tomorrow. I’m packed, the boxes have gone, the dog has been to the vets for pre-flight jabs. And I’ve tidied, washed, ironed and cleaned, to the extent that the house feels empty. I am no longer here.

I am lying in bed beneath a blanket writing by candlelight. In the main room, a fire burns. Outside, its raining. It has been for hours. The shift I had hoped to avoid caught me unawares, materialising without warning. It’s winter now, properly; not sometimes or some days… Still, at least I will be better prepared when I land, which is something.

I’m not sure how I feel, as I’m doing my best to avoid thinking and feeling is strictly banned. I’m scared that if I pause for long enough for it to sink in, the everything that’s happening around me (which is pretty scary and big) will rise up causing me to drown. I have a tendency to suffer from overwhelm at the best of times.

To keep the monster at bay, I drink lots of camomile tea and dose up on sedatives – all herbal, mind. I move a lot, too – all nervous energy atop impatient feet.

Looking after my dog is helping; tending her agitation, aiding my own dis-ease. What she is suffering is bad enough: she sees boxes, cases; knows something is happening to her environment, chipping away at it, but she can’t quite explain what it is. Is mummy leaving? Is daddy going on a trip? Has she done something to anger or upset? Why are things disappearing: her blanket, her bowl, her bed? I know where she is. Being in limbo is uncomfortable.

I wish I knew what was on the other side, whether I will love or loathe it. I wish I knew how long it will take, the exact length of this interlude. I wish I could have a guarantee that if I hate it, if I am unhappy, I don’t have to stay that long. I wish someone could promise me that the temperature will be favourable, that there won’t be much rain and that the sun will always shine. I wish there were answers. In their absence, I have no idea where I am, how I feel, what is happening. Like my dog, I am confused.

I reach out my hand to those around me, looking to them for comfort, only to realise too late that they are only interested in subtracting. I lend my shoulders, my arms, my breasts… while my heart endures a battering. I need to widen my circuit, balancing the flow between to and from.

Tired, drained, I shrink back, taking refuge in the one place only I can find. It’s quiet and dark. Even in a busy cafe, nothing reaches in. Safe within the void, held by the flow, I find comfort. For now, it works.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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A vegetable with limbs

imageI keep a journal and have done for years – more than I care to remember, certainly more than I can name. I carry it everywhere, always. It lives in my bag; or rather, it has a special place there, regardless of practicality and space. Even when I am weighed down – which (often) I am: with shopping, with iPad; with wallet, keys and phone; with dog and dog paraphernalia, etc. – it is still there, just in case. For to need it and not have it handy, to be full of words with nowhere to put them, is bad, leading to all manner of catastrophe – catastrophe with consequence, catastrophe with fallout, catastrophe with limbs, ones that extend far beyond the confines of literary waste.

The problem is that for weeks, maybe longer (like months), I haven’t written a thing, or hardly, and when I do, what comes out is stilted and forced: it physically pains me to put it there and it is hugely disappointing to read. Which then wreaks havoc with my self-esteem, chipping away at my already depleted levels of self-love and inner worth.

More fickle friend than faithless ally, writing is a tricky beast – inflating then dashing, furthering then sabotaging, all nib adventures and inky dreams. I preach its benefits, for done therapeutically it is capable of wonderful things: pulling out and extracting badness; reflecting innate truths; revealing deception, both personal and circumstantial; problem solving, untangling, translating, etc. What is revealed can then empower, inspire, fuel and motivate, gently encouraging our damaged and shy selves into action, activity that maybe we have or would have otherwise avoided. Used for gratitude, gladness, it, our written word, reminds us to be thankful and to see the good in our lives, the things we have that maybe others haven’t or the things that, in bad times, hold us up. As a vessel, it can be a potent tool, vital as a spousal relationship, familial support, like-minded acquaintances and friends, the right therapist. Depending of the severity of one’s malaise or life malady, it can even be a substitute for drugs (although it should not, ever, be self-prescribed).

I carry my journal anyway, even though I am not currently using it, even though I cannot write right now, refusing, stubbornly, to give up. I take it out each time I work, seating it by my side. It accompanies me on the bus, the train… It sleeps in my bedroom by my head. Given the choice, I would pick it over most other things. Despite the nature of our friendship, my loyalty does not waver. Nor does it question or doubt. In time, the words will come: I know this, because they always do. What I don’t know is when and how.

I would like to believe that it will be soon and that, when it does come, it will stay, for the thought of going through this transition (which is now imminent) without it, without anything creative, terrifies me. I need my routine. I need to be able to disappear, losing myself entirely, blotting out or reducing everything remotely threatening or external, everything dark and damaging, everything cold and grey.

Yesterday, I had a meltdown. And while it pains me to mention it, I feel that I must, if I am to climb out of the darkness and back into the light. The closer we get, the more unavoidable it becomes, the stronger the feelings inside: fear, frustration, reluctance, anger, pain, heartbreak, doubt… I am stuck in the middle of a road. It has three lanes and the traffic is fast-moving. In the distance, a car approaches, gaining ground. Engine roaring, lights glaring, horn honking, its driver attempts to motivate me. And even though I know that I must move, that to remain would be detrimental, devastating, I am a vegetable, unable to manifest even the smallest spark of life.

I’m sure the living will be less of a nightmare than the imagining, at least this is what I tell myself. And I don’t doubt that, looking back, I will laugh at my cowardice (at least, I hope I will). I also hope that when I get there I will nest, planting roots in places I haven’t even pictured yet. It is my deepest wish to grow, expand, experiment, explore, reach out and collect information and experiences. And while I cannot possibly predict what the future will bring: I know that it is a necessary evil; that progress cannot be made without change, goals achieved without challenge and peace attained without first navigating the muddy trenches of antagonism and conflict.

So while I may not be writing well in terms of literary excellence. And while I may be failing entirely in terms of writing for emotional wellbeing and health. I am still writing here. And here, whether I am brave enough to publish it or not, is a ritual I repeat like prayer.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Days like these….

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Some days are just plain painful, not for any reason in particular (at least not one I can attach any tangible sense to) but just for the sheer fact that remaining upright is an effort and maintaining a smile bearing any vague semblance to a genuine entity a chore.

My head throbs. My eyes prick. My neck and shoulders are locked: stubbornly resistant, oppressively tight. There is this malicious thing going at my chest with a fork. It is blunt and tarnished, void of serration and shine. It is old, too and overly admired. As for my heart, that most delicate of creatures: it feels fragile and weak, like it’s been recently broken by some element or identity it most desperately loves.

I’m not sure where to attribute the blame: the weather, the date, the season, bodily hormones, the phase of the moon, events, recent treatment of self by self and/or by others, or just life in general and the incomprehensible nature of it.

Not that blaming helps. Attaching a label is never a wise thing to do and rarely serves a greater purpose beyond shrinking and limiting. Call a glass of milk a glass of milk and it can never be anything but a glass of milk. Present it as a potent vessel, life-giving liquid, a substance matching a March moon in colour trapped within a container resembling in clarity a pair of NHS glasses or else tri-annually cleaned windows, and it is immediately that much more interesting. At least in my book it is. To you, it may now just be confusing.

As I said: I have a migraine and my thoughts are jumbled. I’m writing in an attempt to evict the pain and because, otherwise, my afternoon will be empty of employment. I can’t read. I can’t sleep. The thought of meditating, although tempting, also seems like a waste. I want to do something useful but my options are limited. This is the compromise.

Pining August, missing her already despite still sitting pretty within the arms of her last day embrace, I am trying to remain in the moment. If I look back, I see the ribbon of summer – colourful-worn and spent. Forwards, I see autumn leading towards winter, the approach of weather that hurts, sky that is mean, sun that doesn’t like very often to come out. A time of wrapped up, curled up, hunched in front of while the wind screams in earnest and the clouds weep. I see me disappearing. My voice fading. My confidence failing. Tears close by.

So I’m trying to stay where I am. Trying to make the most of every day I have. Trying to do enough so as to warrant justification and stave off regret. And I am managing, just about. Even with this pain, I am obedient to routine: traveling to new places, working out and about, visiting people, being as sociable as my limited diary will permit. I’m not slacking. I’m not shying. So why isn’t it easier? Why does this black thing, this shadow, follow me around and about? What did I do to deserve it? What can I do to make it go away?

I rest. I exercise. I meditate. I read enriching books. I express myself in words and in imagery. I make sure I get enough air and light. I eat raw ingredients and buy organic products. I avoid sugar and processed foods. I restrict, as much as possible, violence and crime, distressing information, destructive people, depressing news. I protect myself. I love my dog and I allow her to love me. I express myself openly and honestly – to my partner and to my friends, allowing them to do the same back. I try to be nice to everyone I meet, to give instead of take. I put in as well as extract, invest as well as lay claim. I believe in my purpose, my destiny: something I have looked deep to find, worked hard to own, and attend to daily. Surely life should be better having done and still doing all of this? That is, after all, supposed to be the answer.

But who is this omniscient being who professes to know what makes us tick; what repairs the cogs that are dented, the coils that are squeaking, the wheels that are turning the wrong way? He’s not God. He’s some intellectual who has studied a lot, some guru who claims to be enlightened. He’s not the real thing. He’s not even always a ‘he’. How can we, I, trust something so ordinary, so similar in genetic makeup? We can’t really and we oughtn’t to, but we do, because at the end of the day all any of us wants is answers, solutions to problems and questions; because the not-knowing how, why or when is just too big, vast, empty to live with. Like looking over the edge of a building or down into the depths of a well, there is this aching feeling, this hollow scream, a carved-out wound that feels like a child that ought to be there but isn’t, a lost baby, a dead pet. It makes one want to jump, to just hurry up and get it over with, to bail out. And it also makes one feel absolutely terrified. Far easier to simply buy into, accept, adopt, leap onto and cling. Whether it’s Deepak, Robbins, Hay, Hart, the Dali Lama, Buddism as a belief, Christianity as a crucible, Gestalt and Jung as theories and philosophies: anything, everything; one, two, ten… is a better thing to cling to than empty space.

I look. I find. I try. I attach. And for a time, I am full. Then the gnawing returns and my soul complains that it is hungry again and needs to feed. Like a child with worms, there is no sating it. And it’s the no sating, no solving, no sedating, that enslaves me.

So I lie here in limbo, an adult crying for a parent who no longer exists, yearning for a breast that has long-since been interred; essentially waiting for a miracle that may (or may not) eventually come. It’s a sorry state of affairs to be managing and yet somehow I am in charge of it.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

imageTo keep up to date with my progress and receive a copy of my newsletter, send me your email address.

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