A book should be an ice-axe to break the frozen sea within us
For Book, you can substitute Love. This is my story:
In 2009 I drove to work in the morning and watched the pink and gold sky split open. Driving home in the evening I passed outrageously lit up lorries that looked like fun fair rides. Somehow I managed to keep one foot in the visible and one foot in the invisible. For the next six years, I followed the trail. I always joke that it was like Eat Pray Love but without the travel.
I meditated and felt as if my skin was being bathed in soap and soft water. I saw situations worked out from behind my closed eyelids. I had the most amazing physical sensations. I took up Yoga. I had deep tissue massage and experienced profound physical and emotional release as she worked my knots out until her fingers got down to my bones.
I practiced Paganism and Wicca, I went for walks and stared at leaves, gathered foliage, wrote spells and held rituals every full moon for almost a year. I was invited to a women and Islam open day. I bought books and began praying five times a day. For a few weeks my life was illuminated.
I chanted the Hare Krishna Mantra every morning for three months. Things led on from each other. I felt purified, and wanted to feel even better. I had trouble with someone at work. In meditation I said, I have no protection against this person. The answer came: ohyes you do, you have this.
I did an evening class in Buddhism. Stepping out onto the top floor of the car park after class, the sky filled with birds, the breeze cool and warm at the same time. Listening to The Stone Roses on the way home: This is the one, this is the one she’s waited for, yes, I thought, yes, this is it. But no sooner had I filled the house with Buddhas than I woke up one day and realised I had burned through that as well. Or it had burned through me, whatever.
I read The Secret and practiced The Law of Attraction. Not to get cheques in the post or to get parking spaces, but just because it made life easy and more beautiful. Simple things like walking up to a crossing and it turns green just as I get there. To the sublime: Arriving home one night I pulled into the car park, and in the second before I turned into the parking space the headlights lit up the hedge in front of me and I saw a mouse on a branch. A mouse on a branch! Almost immediately, the thought came into my head: I hope you enjoyed that, because it won’t happen again. I thought straight back, yeah, I did enjoy it, and no, I don’t expect it to happen again, who would. And I don’t need it to happen again, because I saw it the first time.
As well as experiencing anything and everything I was also searching for a spiritual or scientific explanation that made sense to me. A unifying theory, if you like. After about six years of searching it arrived in my mind fully realised in a dream: We’re all green mist, we created these bodies because without bodies we can’t pick up a pen and write poetry or kiss each other. But the kissing and the poetry are so distracting that we forgot that we’re green mist come down for a human experience… but maybe that’s the point. You can’t enjoy a party if you stand at the door with your coat on and maybe spiritual beings can’t enjoy a human experience on earth unless they fall in feet first and forget their previous incarnation….
I woke up on the massage table as if I had just arrived there and looked at this new person in the mirror: hair everywhere, skin glowing, mind wiped clean of all previous concerns. But you wake up again every moment, and in this moment I can’t imagine anywhere else I’d rather be than right here.
Those of us who are awake to the Universe but who have not adopted or been adopted by a particular faith have to be flexible, I believe, in where we get our support from. The whole world is ours but we need to be discerning in order to read our own Bible from the world around us, as it presents itself, in each moment. It’s like running your fingertips along a fence and on one in every thousand railings there is a message written in Braille that seems just for you.
Perhaps especially for women, with no religion that’s female led or totally okay for women other than Paganism or Wicca or some New Age stuff; and with the toxic nature of much of the news and advertising, we have to keep our ears pricked and eyes wide open for those helpful messages that still abound in listening to Radio 4 on the way to work or seeing adverts at bus stops or watching box sets at home.
I learned almost everything I needed from the streets, the rest I learned from films and books (Mozart in the Jungle watched during a free trial of Amazon Prime over Christmas).
Starve your ego, feed your soul (sign outside Earlham road Norwich shop)
From the moment we’re born we’re seeking (advert on YouTube)
There is no time for regrets, it’s far better to see where you are now and work from there (my stars in a magazine at the hairdresser’s).
We all search in different ways (advert on YouTube).
Charlie Higson on R2 Chris Evans, he said, ‘If you write something that’s good, it will get published, there’s no magic trick or secret doorway.’ (okay, it was advice to kids who want to become writers, but I was listening to it at that moment, so I am taking it).
How do you know it was meant for you: you were listening/looking at the time, no one ‘put it there for you’ you, I don’t believe, to quote Nick Cave, in an interventionist God, it’s all just us, learning to read our path out of all the billions of possibilities that exist within every second.
It’s about being open minded and flexible and the more you notice these things, the more of them appear, so it goes from every thousandth time to every other rail you touch seems to have a message for you…. and then it becomes about balancing keeping your feet on the ground and head in the clouds.
I am noticing that the answers to everything are all around me- sometimes people tell me things directly, sometimes they are chatting or advising each other and I hear. Sometimes it is less immediately interesting to me and then when I review it I notice things for me. This is why it is important not to do too much, not to expose yourself to too much stuff, to be discerning about who you spend time with and what you do and where you go, because, although the energies of the universe are unlimited, the hours in my day are not.
Driving on the dual carriageway, I see ‘DIE’ on the number plate of a lorry and wonder if I should move into the inside lane. But maybe you just see what’s reflected, i.e., everything is there, but you notice what matches what you are feeling- the number plate matches my anxiety about driving. Even the Earlham road shop sign (a blackboard with a different message on each day) that I like so much, why am I so keen on looking at it? What do I want to it to tell me? So maybe signs are just a reflection of what you feel- a visual interpretation of what you feel; useful if you don’t know how you feel, but if you do, then perhaps it’s best to look inside not outside.
I had originally planned to go back to India by myself; I was keen to have some alone time and time to work on my book and I thought it would be a good experience to be in India alone. But then we just had a month apart, albeit I was on the boat in rural Northamptonshire not in India, but I had plenty of alone time and no longer felt the need to push myself to go off on a solo adventure. So we decided John would come too. But life happens and something has come up which means he needs to stay here. So it looks like I am having a solo adventure after all!
I’m getting an airport pick up from the Delhi guesthouse, I’m staying in a backpacker place with a travel/info desk, we’ve booked my train out of Delhi already- a day time journey in chair class, and I’m going to spend all my time in Pushkar where we’ve been before and know people.
I’m going to do as much book editing as I can, and the rest of the time enjoy Pushkar. The delights and wonders of Pushkar are many and include: monkeys everywhere, fantastic food*, markets, a small mountain to climb, many beautiful temples to visit, lovely cows to feed, a holy lake and Babas (holy men and possibly women) to talk with. And nearby Rajasthan cities to visit possibly too. * masala dosas, sabje bhaji, dal, aloo jeera, rice, homemade brown bread with peanut butter, huge bowls of fresh fruit salad with soya milk, all kinds of smoothies, great coffee, there’s even a French bakery a walk out of town…
Photos by my husband Anthony John Hill: the view from our balcony onto Main Bazar Delhi; the view from the guesthouse rooftop restaurant in Pushkar; one of the dear cows of Pushkar with a little friend.
Thank you very much for reading
About the author
In March 2018 we sold up and left behind most of our possessions to go off travelling for a year, spending most of our time in India. I wrote a blog and began writing a memoir of the year which I am currently editing. My husband and I live on a narrowboat in rural Northamptonshire, UK. Our days and lives are an interesting mix of the every day and the journey of self realisation.
I hardly EVER go in record shops but I was with a friend who collects vinyl so we went in one, and there in front of me was a Jesus and Mary Chain Psychocandy poster. I thought it was an original old one, I didn’t realise it was advertising a 30 year anniversary tour. If I’d said anything out loud the record shop man or my friend might have realised I was confused and put me right, but I didn’t.
Thirty years ago I was fifteen and so desperate to see them, I was at boarding school and not allowed out. A boy in my year went, his dad made an excuse so he could go, I was so jealous. They played for fifteen minutes with their backs to the audience and walked off but still, it had been one of life’s big regrets.
But luckily for me the universe gave me another chance. A few weeks later a patient asked to go to a concert- this is a fairly unusual request- and I also fairly unusually offered to get involved and look up local gig programmes… I looked up the UEA programme and there it was, Jesus and Mary Chain Psychocandy 30 year anniversary tour £25.
Oh, thank you, thank you, so much pleasure. I went on my own to just soak it all up. A sound bath; the lights red with gun like firing of individual white lights, a wall of dry ice lit white, almost all the stage eclipsed. Seeing mosh pit kids, a girl with dark hair, her face lit up with happiness. Images on the screen, a serious, sad looking girl (me, at fifteen, thirty years ago) and then at the end a pair of infrared heat image hands, (me now, healing hands).
I don’t want anything to come between me and this awareness. The bar tender gives me free sparkling water, a man gives me a token for free car parking. You don’t need to ask for help to make your path, you have created this life, and it is perfect.
More Everyday Gratitude:
Swimming pool empty and friendly- two people talked to me.
Car park almost full, spaces looked a bit tight for me but then I find two spaces next to each other and what was more, one also had a space in front of it so I could drive straight through to be facing ready to go.
Two staff at the whole foods shop, astonishingly friendly, talking at length about their cats.
Driving home in the dark, I noticed the pretty pointy silhouette of a chapel; a beautifully illuminated pink neon No Vacancies sign, and a pretty yellow window lit up.
A meeting got postponed so I only have to do one report not two this week.
The secretaries next door offering me biscuits just as I was getting hungry at 4pm.
All falling into place ‘live life as though everything is rigged in your favour.’
Sitting on floor, stapling papers, staples ran out and I remembered I’d found a little chunk of staples the day before and put them by my computer just within arm’s reach.
A member of staff I don’t know being extra nice and friendly, like the staff in the whole foods shop.
Finding some extra pouches of cat food so I don’t need to go shopping today.
Home, stars, little walk.
My stepdaughter saying ‘let’s go home and have hot dogs* and watch Buffy on the sofa with blankets and one cat each, what more could we want?’ *vegetarian ones
Someone at work introducing me: ‘this woman is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and you can tell by looking at her that she is just like this at home too’.
Someone else saying that I have the happiest team in the hospital.
One of my staff bought me a posh houseplant ‘because you’d been having a hard time recently, I wanted to give you something happy.’
A moment shared with a member of staff on her last day. ‘As you go up the ranks it can be, ‘Lonely’’, we both said at the same time.
After going to a friend’s party, John saying, that’s the most relaxed I’ve seen you in company, even making jokes!
An old friend asking, are you still writing and me saying yes, he said I’m glad and me asking, are you still drawing and him saying yes, but it’s just a hobby, I’ve accepted that and me saying me too (except I haven’t, not really).
Massage today, didn’t have the surface niggles, so went deeper.
I ‘woke up’ on the massage table, hair everywhere, enlivened, thinking, what if I just arrived here, what would I observe about myself? I am hungry for good healthy food, I have a nice job, Iam a healer in training, I am married,I have an adult son and two step children, I drive around a lot and go away with work no problem, Isleep well, I exist separately to my thoughts.
It took a lot of work to get this happy. I suppose that’s what all the self help books mean when they say you have to ‘do the work.’ If you’re on this path Please keep going: the rewards are worth it!
My husband and I have spent the last month apart; this worried a couple of people but there’s no problems, it was just for him to have a break, for me to have time alone to write and for us both to have the experience of being in the world without each other. It turns out, two weeks was plenty.
I did lots of driving both big trips and just around the local area (usually we default to him doing the driving). I mostly ate Covent Garden soup and Wicked sandwiches from the little Tesco on the way back from work. Always also in my basket were vegan staples avocados and bananas, plus satsumas, and bread for the swans.
I bought fuel, managed the fire and kept warm (it got cold right after he left, then warmed up, then got cold, now warm, will get cold tomorrow, this is the UK!) I emptied the toilet and filled the water tank.
I managed life on the boat fine. I did lots of writing/editing and I went to work usually just a couple of long shifts each week.
A couple in their sixties, experienced boaters who have been continuous cruisers for two and a half years including in London, live in the same place and have provided nice regular chats as well as the warm security blanket of them knowing I’m on my own and saying that if I need anything I can go to them.
People at work have suddenly become astonishingly friendly, as if I reached a kind of tipping point. One day I had to fight the urge to look behind me, convinced that a member of staff must be greeting someone else, she looked so pleased to see me. Another hugged me, ‘I wondered when you’d next be here.’
I had the odd lonely moment but this was almost always quickly followed by loud noises outside the boat heralding the arrival of two hungry swans.
I had the highs of spiritual insights (see below), and I maintained awareness and acceptance of the natural highs, lows and plateaus.
I’ve been editing/polishing aiming to get the book all to the same stage. When I get to a place where the chapter is more or less done (small tweaks may still be needed but I know what to do and one session on it would do it), I move on. I’m probably between a third and half the way through, maybe more. I hope to have this phase done by the end of February. Then another final polish until it is all as good as I can make it on my own.
I write almost every day, for about an hour or two. If I overdo it or try to rush it it doesn’t go so well, I get fatigued, and I lose confidence. I had one brief dip/anxiety; I forced myself to just do a bit. Half an hour later, I was okay. I could see what I was doing and had confidence that I could do it. I stopped then, grateful for that, and mindful that just half an hour was enough to give me back my hope.
One night, driving home, listening to some spiritual music sent to me by friends this month, I thought about explaining how it is to write a whole book, ‘You have to keep going. And you have to make it good.’ And then I got goosebumps. ‘Oh my God, that’s just like life….’
Short films of people from different walks of life explaining the clichéd, irritating and insulting things people say to them.
Before the first week was out, all of Shameless US Season 7 (I adore it, it’s based on the original Shameless set in the UK. The US seems so much tougher, I would love to hear what my American and Canadian readers make of Shameless US Season 7, no spoilers so no details) and the new season of Atypical about a teen with Autism and his family and friends. I love this so much. So then I just went onto, as planned, re watching BoJack Horseman from the beginning. Depression, fame, nihilism, existentialism, barely unremitting sadness. Don’t let the fact that it’s a cartoon fool you.
The superpowers which come with the onset of the menopause, from mumsnet. I’m always looking for the deeper meaning and spiritual context, here it is: ‘Am I having a mid life awakening or a personality transplant?’ ‘I feel like I just woke up from the matrix.’ Reading this I thought, as I often did when my regular monthly period would arrive, ‘Ah, that explains a lot….’
The space apart, the space together
I read a blog post by someone who married someone with a different language and from such a vastly different culture that there’s things the other person can’t ever know or understand, and that means the writer has a space that’s private. As someone who likes a lot of time alone, I totally understand and relate to that as a concept. However, my marriage is not like that. It’s really important to me to feel really understood. My husband and I spend a lot of time talking about all sorts of ideas, and together it feels as if we create a new space together to live in, outside of ourselves and in addition to what we’d have individually. Even in the early days, I had this sense. I used to visualise our new relationship as one of those air plants, growing in a thin glass bowl, suspended in the air between us, growing separately from the both of us, yet something we were both growing.
Anyway, we’ve missed each other, and neither of us currently want to go on separate adventures in the near future.
And in case you need more convincing about Bojack:
John (Anthony) started a course in Buddhism, bringing home information sheets to read which I fell on and read each week and we discussed them in preparation for the next week. They advise don’t start with meditation, as most people do, me included, instead start with the theory and the ethics, then do the meditation, because then you have a framework. I look back to how crazy I was when I first started meditating, and realise this makes sense. So on John’s course they didn’t get onto meditation until later, but as they did, I started doing it too. I switched from the Hare Krishna mantra to Buddhist meditation, one day Metta Bhavna and the other day mindfulness of breathing.
Focus on the breath not the breathing, as you follow it, it quietens and disappears, so you think, what am I following, and then, I’m not breathing, I’d better breathe, and then you are focussing on the act of breathing not on following the breath which you are doing consciously, so you are doing two things at once, actively breathing, and following the breath, which doesn’t work. So you have to let go, and let the breath be as it is, sometimes big and fast and gasping, sometimes so faint you can hardly find it, and sometimes disappeared or stopped altogether, but you have to trust your body will take care of breathing when and as it needs to.
I started a different Buddhism course a bit later, each week we were given homework, such as The Four Winds (Loss and Gain, Pain and Pleasure, Praise and Blame, Fame and Obscurity): We were told to pick a pair and focus on that for the week. I focussed on Loss and Gain, or how I specifically in my life seek to avoid loss and sought to gain: thinking about mine and other’s air time in conversations; wanting to be asked questions, wanting to ask questions but not asking them, also like praise and blame or fame and obscurity, at my mum’s seeing an old family friend, I wanted to say, look at me, look what I am, look what I’m into, but he just wanted to talk about old age, house prices, people I don’t know, and although he seemed pleased to see me, he was not interested in any of the things I was interested in, and even poured cold water on my plans, (I felt) and I came home in a bad mood.
But it did have a positive effect, the Buddhism course(s):
Before work, John and me had one of those hugs that are really close, well almost all of the hugs he gives me are like that, where he folds me in really tight, and I put my hand on the base of his neck, in between the shoulder blades, where it always feels hot for me, a healing point/love point, and it felt really good, the hug, and I said, ‘things are good’ and he said, ‘yeah, things are good.’
I went to see my son and as there was no parking at his we went straight to the park and had a walk in the only break in the weather. I did an extra hour of healing at the mind body spirit fair and even though I’d got up early and been out for hours, I felt relaxed and unpressured. I went home and made a complicated new vegan meal effortlessly with no stress.
One night after my Buddhism class:
I stepped out of the double doors and into the open air of the top floor of the multi-storey car park. I always park on the top floor, ostensibly for exercise, and while that is true, it’s also because it’s always got plenty of empty spaces and I get anxious about parking. And at the end of an evening or an afternoon of shopping I like to look at the view, the big sky, the cathedrals, the whirling flocks of birds that always seem to be there. My husband and son find my choice of parking annoying and always complain about the six flights of stairs or make us go up in the lift. I do it for me though, for the view, to take away the parking anxiety, to test my fitness, or perhaps, just to give me this moment tonight:
It was cool and warm at the same time, the sky grey with clouds, still light at around 9.30pm. I paused, leaning on the barriers, looking, and I just thought/felt: This is it
Earlier, the teacher had said, ‘if you catch Buddhism… but you may not, you may leave this and go off onto something else’, my neighbour said, ‘Islam’, which was funny because I’d been through an Islam phase a few months back. But I thought, please no… I wanted to say, ‘Don’t let me be out there again’ (like that bit in When Harry met Sally when the couple say to each other, ‘please say I’ll never have to be out there (dating) again’); but I am working on not talking as much and certainly not interrupting, so I didn’t.
I have tried things: Islam, Paganism, various different New Age Practices, Hare Krishna, worship of a man, self abasement, therapy, all for three weeks or three months. It’s over
In the car, I put some music on The Stone Roses: This is the one, this is the one she’s waiting for. Windows down, warm cool breeze, lights bright…
This turned out to be yet another one of those moments when I think, this is it, I’ve found it, this is the thing, this is what I believe in, that later slips away. And yet, I don’t regard any of it as a waste of time. And even though this was one of the strongest incidents in recent times, as the same Buddhist course later taught me, there is nothing to find.
There is nothing permanent, nothing lasts, nothing exists, only interactions. We all just knock against each other but all our scaffolding stops us connecting properly. Re finding yourself, your identity, personality, Buddhism says there is nothing to find= Scary. We are not fixed, we can change= Comforting. Suffering doesn’t last either. We do have a ‘relative self’- it’s good to be predictable to children (and patients) etc but with others this can be limiting (e.g. how we behave in our family). It’s hard to be your (new)self with family as they like to keep you the same.
The death of spiritual ignorance, is when you see things as they really are, e.g. work. Things are both much better and much worse than you previously thought.
Meditate on our bodies being made of the same things as everything else
Our teacher, in meditation, became aware that a strand of hair, attractive on the head, becomes repulsive in a plate of food. Same with toenails, she put all her nail clippings and hair onto her shrine and thought, is it ‘repulsive’ because it reminds us of death and decay?
The mind changes much more than the body; at least the body persists relatively the same week to week, year to year; whilst the mind changes all the time, likes and dislike change. Tastes change with Buddhism (me and The News Quiz on Radio 4, I used to think it was funny, suddenly it just seemed mean). People refine their tastes with Buddhism (or with anything that increases your awareness?)
Where is yourself? Your self? In front? Above? Colour? Shape? Can’t find it? Because it isn’t anywhere; it doesn’t exist.
It is the clinging to the sense of self that causes all the suffering.
Get out of yourself. With more happiness and helping others. A cause outside of themselves, a musician, artist, all else swept aside in the service of what is. Really focussed; most people don’t do this and are dissipated. What is it that we really want and go for it. Hone in on (one) something. Realise how we dissipate our energies.
See ways that we let life happen to us rather than directing life in a way that can be more fulfilling.
Buddhism advocates doing creative things, artistic things, if you decide you can, e.g. live without much money etc. Self expression is a generous act.
‘The spiritual life is a continual process of purification and elimination of unskilful states.’
‘Our experience is much richer than we realise. We are much better and much worse than we realise’ Deeper meditation helps to integrate this.
Buddhism helped, but I don’t know about the future… don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater- this clear awareness is great, don’t mess it up with caffeine, drinking, etc, yoga is good, meditation is probably good. Everything I’ve done has been part of what got me here, but what got me right here was not meditating for a week or so, and going to bed early. I’m even wondering if helping others really is all that, maybe it could just be about yourself, and those around you…
Re working, re healing, re thinking up an alternative career: when do I get to just enjoy life as it is, to do what I’m doing with both feet and not always be thinking I should be doing something else?
So right now, reading this, I feel wistful: I feel, I want to meditate, I want to do the Buddhism course, I want to get back into being spiritual again. But what would that do? What do I think that would do? I could do a load of yoga and meditating, do more healing, whenever I do it it feels so good, I want to focus on that… But what about the writing, not sure what is happening with that…
How do I get to a place where I can conceptualise what it is I am doing- every time I get to where I think ‘this is it’, it changes, so where is my vantage point? There isn’t one, or there is, but it shifts from (and form) moment to moment. Suggestion: Pick one and write from that? What is the vantage point that I want to select and choose to write from- with so much choice I can choose one- after Buddhism, when I am into Krishnamurti? When I am just coming back from practical house selling and working mode? When I am back to meditating? When I am reflecting on all the things that have got me here? All the spiritual processes, yoga, body work, healing, reading?
Why not just admit that there’s nowhere else you’d rather be than here: waking up on the massage table and realising, I am the kind of person who has this in her diary, and this, and this, and does this, and does this, and does this, and laughs at this and cries at this, and cannot watch horror films and is scared of big ships and on and on and on and on…
Work going both really well and really badly, as always
Loving being married at the same time as longing for more time alone
Ceasing all seeking behaviour yet knowing this is just another ‘thing’ I’m doing on the (seeking) path
Happy with life as it is and thinking of new things to do and be
Everything is good, you are just making up things to worry about because you are scared of realising how good things are.