Happy Imbolc

Watching the tree behind my house for signs of Spring. There are a few new buds, still tightly closed.

The first herald of Spring that comes to my attention is a change in the scent of the air. This happens roughly around the time of Imbolc, 2nd February. This year I noticed it on 30th January. Modern humans like to set dates on the calendar, but pagan festivals such as Imbolc and Beltane happen when nature gives us her signs. For Imbolc, which celebrates the very earliest signs of the coming Spring, such signs include snowdrops, new lambs in the field, and buds beginning to form on the trees. There are more subtle signs that I notice: the previously mentioned change of scent in the air, and also a change in the quality of the light, as the sun’s arc starts to creep a little higher away from the horizon. Some people look at me like I’m crazy when I mention the scent in the air. I find it hard to describe, or explain. There aren’t many flowers around yet. Maybe there are just enough to create this scent, or perhaps it’s the scent of the sap rising—vegetation beginning to awaken, and preparing for a growth spurt. Warm air allows smells to spread more easily, but the air hasn’t warmed significantly yet, except perhaps briefly, in sheltered sunny spots. There is often still frost on the ground. Whatever it is, I can definitely smell Spring. Happy Imbolc!

©️ Janey Colbourne 2018

Advertisements

How I Celebrate New Year (and not on December 31st)

For some reason New Year’s Eve always stresses me out. Not only is it the screaming parties that make me uncomfortable. Even the plethora of good wishes and resolutions on social media causes me anxiety. In part it’s because I don’t like a big fuss, external demands, and the pressure of expectations. I find it stressful that everyone has to count down and be present for this momentous moment, the ominous midnight. I’m pretty sensitive (you may have noticed) and I can feel the enormous energy of all those people celebrating at the same time. It’s a very strong energy. Of course, if this New Year is your cup of tea, then I’m sure that powerful energy is a positive force in your life. I respect that this time is meaningful for other people, as I do with Christmas.

My dislike of New Year is also because I don’t celebrate the ‘new year’ at this time. For me, it doesn’t feel significant or meaningful. What does it matter if it’s one minute to midnight or one minute past? Nature doesn’t live by the microsecond. Well, she does, but only at the microscopic level. Our bodies are finely tuned internally, moment by moment, but in our conscious experience, nature’s process is more gradual. The countdown to midnight on 31st December is entirely arbitrary to my mind, although it does fall within the midwinter celebrations of Yule. But the specific timing is only a calendar date—a created construct. Nothing significant happens in nature at midnight on 31st December, other than screaming humans setting off explosives—sorry, I mean fireworks. Leaves falling from the trees, the first frost or snow on the ground are far more meaningful to me. I’m happy to participate in good wishes for the solstice, but then, not everyone celebrates that, so it’s not obligatory within my social circle to make a big fuss, or to remember to say it to every single person.

My personal ‘new year’ actually occurs around three times a year, the main one being in September. This is probably a remnant from spending so many years in academia. The end of summer signifies the end of holidays and festivals and the beginning of new work. This is, as I say, tied to my life experience rather than the broader seasonal patterns. I realize that to many people this might seem as arbitrary as the traditional new year, but that’s fine with me because it’s my personal new year and time for a fresh start, and I don’t expect anything from anyone else in regards to it. My second ‘new year’ is around the beginning of November. This aligns with the pagan new year festival of Samhain, 31st October-2nd November, overlayed with the modern festivals of Halloween and bonfire night. This festival recognises the doorway of death that comes in winter. This ‘new year’ is something that has evolved organically for me, not something I have consciously chosen, despite the significant alignment. Surely this is how traditional festivals came about in the first place—through a recognition of natural cycles. I have published two books in November. It seems to be a time of completing projects or of formulating new ones. The beginning of the dark time of year, with the end of the long days and warmth, is a time for finishing off the year’s work, followed by winter days spent thinking and planning for the year ahead. I don’t hold myself rigidly to any timetable, it just evolves with a natural rhythm. I review my path and set intentions when it is the right time to do so, not according to someone else’s calendar. My third ‘new year’ aligns roughly with the Chinese New Year in February, also the pagan festival of Imbolc. This makes sense to me, as it is when we see the first signs of Spring to come—new buds on the trees, snowdrops emerging, and the first lambs born. This is a seasonal new year in terms of the earth’s cycle in the place where I live. It’s a time of hope and looking forward to warmer, brighter days.

However and whenever you celebrate your New Year, I wish you well and hope that your dreams and intentions may be fulfilled for the highest good of all. Happy New Year whenever that may be.

Is It Destiny or Do I Write My Own Story?

I’ve been musing on some of the concepts I’ve encountered regarding life paths and our choices and difficulties in life. One such concept is that we ‘choose’ our challenges or obstacles. Now I’ll agree that there are times when we can get in our own way so to speak, and it’s always important to examine ourselves for any possible self-sabotage, conscious or unconscious. Sometimes a block can be serving a deeper need of some sort, and if this can be brought into awareness and resolved it is possible to move forward. Also of course, our choices do have consequences, sometimes unintended ones, and maybe even years later. Accepting responsibility for our decisions makes it easier to accept potential consequences and also can empower us to deal with them. I also accept that within each one of us are particularly qualities and talents we have to potentially offer the world, and that finding a path we can take to achieve that gives meaning to life, although there are myriad ways to fulfil that. There may be times we feel we are ‘on the right path’. Everything flows and opportunities open to us. We feel that we belong. When we feel our life is on the right path it is because the choices and opportunities we take at that time are a good fit for our psyche and therefore we feel a sense of right fit or ‘destiny’.

However, personally I disagree with the maxim that we always choose our life circumstance. I’m sure that blaming is not the intention of those who hold these ideas, which are often shared to offer comfort or a sense of empowerment. However that is not necessarily the feeling triggered on the receiving end. Of the same ilk is the idea that things are ‘meant to be’ or ‘happen for a reason’. Underlying these is the same implication—that we deserve the hurts that happen to us—an insidious form of victim-blaming. To say that an abandoned infant, or a child in a war zone, an abused woman, cancer sufferer or murder victim ‘chose’ their situation would probably be a shocking statement to most people, but these extreme examples highlight the disturbing sentiment of such maxims. Ironically, suggesting that a person chose their situation can amplify a feeling of powerlessness. If the reality is that their current difficulty is caused by external factors beyond their control, and therefore they have limited power to resolve the situation, then the claim that they chose this implies that they ought to be able to fix it for themselves, leading to feelings of failure and inadequacy. Being told that we should be able to fix something that is beyond our power to fix creates even deeper feelings of being trapped and powerless.

I would like to undertake a reframing of these ideas, which I believe will conserve and enhance the self-empowerment and self-responsibility that is intended by proponents of these ideas, whilst removing the blame aspect. Rather than saying I chose or deserve a situation I like to take the attitude that nevertheless I can learn something valuable from it. This resonates with the perspective of Roberto Assagioli, the founder of psychosynthesis—that difficulties in life are opportunities for growth, encouraging a positive mindset without the negative feeling of self-blame.

The concept that ‘everything happens for a reason’ is related to ideas about destiny and predetermined paths in life. These are narratives that some people feel gives them a sense of purpose and meaning in life, and a sense of security. Personally it’s not a narrative that I find reassuring.

There is a difference between association and cause and effect. It’s a subtle but important distinction. We may learn something valuable from a difficult circumstance but that does not have to mean it was ‘meant to be’. In fact this thinking reverses the cause and effect; I learned something from this, ergo, it happened because I needed to learn it. What if reality is ‘it just happens’ and we make the best of it? This is not to dismiss that there are clearly times when we unconsciously re-create a situation in our social lives or relationships until we learn from it, often related to emotional wounds from childhood. But again, this doesn’t have to mean that the whole experience is occurring in order to create that learning, simply that we can’t move on from the experience until we learn the way out. Once out of it, we are hopefully wiser and stronger. But sometimes people are so damaged they can’t move on. Does this ‘happen for a reason’? It is always true that an individual can choose how they respond to a situation but sometimes their wounds prevent them from seeing or being able to act on all their choices, and sometimes their choices really are truly limited. The only choices then are how we look at a situation. I have been through a lot in my life. I don’t personally find it helpful to think that I ‘chose’ all that pain, or the pain I caused other people in trying to cope with it. But I damn well did choose to face it all and work through it and make the best of what I do have.

I choose to see the good in my life and in the world around me. I don’t deny the pain, but I don’t let it blind me. I don’t believe it ‘happened for a reason’ but I do believe I can choose a narrative of my own that helps me make sense of my life. Sometimes a painful experience can lead to a positive outcome you may not otherwise have had. Like the current in a river, a boulder can redirect the flow in a different direction. One door closes, but another one opens. Humans have an incredible capacity for hope and renewal. We can make good out of the bad. We can take our pain and remold it to make something good. We can choose our own narrative interpretation of experience. If ‘everything happens for a reason’ or ‘I chose this life’ works for you in your own life, that’s great, and I respect that, but please consider it may not be helpful for other people. The problem is not in having that for your own narrative, but in projecting it onto others. We can support each other to see what choices we do have, and to find our own sense of meaning and purpose. Empowerment means writing our own story.

©️Janey Colbourne 2017

On the #metoo campaign and #victimblaming

Trigger warning: content discusses sexual violence

I’d like to thank the Guardian for the detailed and clearly written article  ‘Harvey Weinstein: a list of the women who have accused him’ by Caroline Davies and Nadia Khomami on 21 October 2017. This article conveys how the women felt they were manipulated and intimidated, and in some cases physically attacked by Weinstein and I think it’s important to hear those voices as a counter to the victim blaming that I have been seeing on social media— in some cases, most alarmingly, from other women survivors of sexual assault. Not only are perpetrators dominating, controlling and destroying lives, they also have the satisfaction of seeing the women blame each other for it. This demonstrates the level of their manipulative powers and that misogyny is deeply endemic in our culture.

According to the allegations in this article, the victims were all terrified of Weinstein. When a man unexpectedly removes his clothing in inappropriate circumstances the first thought of a vulnerable woman (or man) is, how far do his lack of boundaries go? Can I get out of here alive? What do I have to do to get out of here alive? This is not a man who is taking no for an answer. If you’re going to run or fight, you had better be sure you can get away. And you have a split second to think about it before he makes his move.

As a society, we need to have a conversation about what constitutes consent. Acquiescing out of fear is not consent, whether it is fear for our safety, career, or anything else. As it happens, many of the women quoted in the Guardian article said they found some way to escape. Nevertheless, judgement should not be laid on those who did not feel safe to resist his advances. The shame of compliance in the face of sexual intimidation is one of things that keeps victims quiet, that allows the perpetrators to get away with it, to continue getting away with it, committing sexual violence to so many others. Weinstein preyed on the young and naive,  allegedly telling them, “This is how Hollywood works”. Power is the keyword here. Sexual violence is all about power— a cycle of using power to maintain power. Abuse of power in order to abuse in order to have power. A powerful cycle. Manipulation. Charm. Lies. Shaming. Gaslighting. Being in a position of power or authority. Physical violence. Threats. Blackmail. Bribery. Do not underestimate the psychological powers of a predator.

Gaslighting is a term to describe a technique of manipulation where a victim is made to doubt their own sanity, memory, judgement and perception, through the use of mind games and deceit. This enables the perpetrator to keep the victim trapped, dependent and compliant. If as victims we are blaming and silencing each other, then we have all been gaslighted.

No victim should be made to feel ashamed for what happened to them, or for how they dealt with it. For some, the #metoo campaign has been profoundly triggering. For those who cannot bear to speak of their pain, I hope that those of us who do may offer some comfort that our voices challenge the acceptance of this violence as a normal and inevitable part of life, in the hope that all our daughters may have a better, safer future.

Janey Colbourne 2017

Related content:
https://heartseer.wordpress.com/2017/09/28/what-is-freedom-nationalpoetryday/

Musician vs Writer. A light-hearted look at my creative selves.


There’s a fight going on between my musician and my writer selves. Always the wrangling. My artist self is smaller and not as strong. The other two dominate. Musician self is an outright bully. Writer self likes peace and quiet and although driven, is satisfied when a piece of work is complete. Musician is a maniac that doesn’t want to stop until my eyeballs are bloodshot and my back is breaking. For musician self there is no end point. Creating just leads to more desire. I have to shut her out sometimes because if she gets even a foot in the door, before I know it, she has taken over and the hours whiz by while all around me plummets into chaos. I have been known to shut her out for months, even years. She’s too demanding. She has taken years of my life, and years off my sleep.

Writer self is more patient. Although she may inconveniently propose entire pieces of work at the most awkward moments—walking through town, or in the shower— and she forgets it if I don’t get it written down straight away, or loses the flow, remembering only fragments, if I ask her to wait and hold back her words, just hanging on to a keyword like a knot in a hanky, we can wait until I can stop and write. Then I give her permission to speak and it all comes out. There is a downside to her being so easily satisfied. She can be a little lazy, and a little quiet to speak up when other voices are clamouring for my attention. It is necessary to give her space, and quality time together, just the two of us. Musician self doesn’t need this kind of support because she just slams the door and stamps around when she really needs to be heard.

Musician and writer have been known to collaborate. They can inspire each other with their ideas. At this point artist might shyly step in and ask if she can do some cover art. Artist also likes to do photography, which writer finds helpful, and they may publish stuff together. Occasionally artist may do a little drawing, but this usually only happens when the other two are so burnt out that they’re both laid up, having a metaphorical lie in of major proportions. Drawing is soothing and relaxing. There is no screaming—of words or music—just a peaceful meditation on the subject. My drawing skills fall short of my imagination so it’s not long before writer or musician wake up and get the kettle on. Then we’re back to frantic typing and screaming in the kitchen. Hey ho.

© Janey Colbourne 2017

Lessons from Nettles

 

IMG_1912

Nettles flourish on disturbed ground or highly fertile land, liking high levels of nitrogen, so they grow in abundance where human activity such as intensive farming or waste dumping has enriched the soil. The more we artificially fertilise the soil, the more nettles will grow. Every child quickly learns to recognise nettles through the experience of being stung, and is taught to seek out dock leaves to rub on the sting for relief. This is a lesson that nature provides comfort as well as pain, and that beings that complement and balance each other are found in the same vicinity. It reminds me of what has been said about disaster situations, ‘look for the helpers’- a life lesson that reminds us to see the hope and the connection when we are in despair.

Nettles are also highly nutritious once cooked or dried out to neutralise the toxins, providing iron and other minerals. As a medicine nettles can help with hay fever. So nettles have a dual nature of both warrior and healer/helper. This has led to the saying, ‘grasp the nettle’. If one grasps the nettle firmly and boldly in the right way, with the stinging hairs lying flat to the plant, it is possible to pick it without being stung. So the phrase is used to mean tackle a difficult problem with courage. My thought is that it also means once you face it bravely you find the positive benefit (the nourishment) within.

©Janey Colbourne 2017

Here is a good article about the teachings of Poison Ivy from Dana at The Druid’s Garden blog:

Poison Ivy Teachings from The Druid’s Garden

The Equinox and dynamic balance.


Equinox. What does that word mean to me? Balance, equal day and night, spring, autumn. The equinoxes come at a time of changing seasons, or rather, in the midst of the seasons that are changeable. Spring and autumn, while having their own qualities, are the shorter seasons en route to summer and winter. In my part of the world spring and autumn herald variable weather, on average mild, whilst nudging the temperature towards the following season. Most all when I think of spring and summer, I think of fresh air, breezes, blustery winds and rain, lots of it. I think of rain and sunshine together, heavy showers and low sun that dazzles my eyes. Possibly rainbows and possibly hail, although these are rare.

All this fresh air and movement-movement of air and water, and in autumn, falling leaves, creates negative ions in the air. The result is very refreshing, clear air. This contrasts with some of the dry days in autumn when disintegrating leaves combine with dry, loose soil, no longer covered with vegetation, to create a dust storm in the swirling winds of autumn. Some spring days can be warm and humid, with the first rising pollens, and later the cherry blossom dancing on the air, creating a stifling perfume that takes the breath away and makes me sneeze. But still, I love it all with a passion. Spring and autumn are my favourite seasons. I love the change, the moderate temperatures and promising feeling of things to come-cosy winter nights by the fire, crisp snow and fairy lights, or the fattening buds preparing for summer’s burst of abundance and moments of sun in sheltered spots that warm my bones and remind me how summer feels. Spring and autumn make me feel like making a fresh start. They have far more meaning to me than the traditional calendar New Year date.

At the equinox day and night are of equal length, and the seasons are held balance, although it is a dynamic balance, fluctuating through the transition to summer or winter. Balance in nature is not a static thing. Stasis means death, stagnation. Homeostasis, the name for the whole process of our body’s maintenance of balance, is in fact a misnomer. Homeostasis is far from static; it is a never ending minutely adjusting state of balance, a constant process of flux and movement. In this energetic dance of change a balance is achieved that gives the impression of stability, the illusion of ‘stasis’. The moment of balance at the equinox is fleeting. To remain balanced in life, we constantly have to adjust our stance, our actions, to re-evaluate and adapt. The equinox is a good time to reflect and to look at our life balance, to take stock, contemplate, make changes and fresh starts. This equinox, I am working on integrating two sides of myself that have not been working together. This is something I was not conscious of, until I had a clarifying dream very recently. In order to achieve this I had to let go, to some extent, metaphorically closing my eyes and trusting to my inner sense, my ‘spiritual proprioception’ so to speak, to find the right balance. Rather than blowing away-as I feared I might-or remaining rigid and tense, and therefore brittle, letting go and surrendering to the winds of change, while staying aware of my rootedness, means that I am flexible and strong. As I finish writing these words, I look up, and at that very moment, out of my window, I see a rainbow. Synchronicity is a lovely thing. Happy Equinox.

© Janey Colbourne 2017

Acnowledgements.

A special thank you to my dear and wise friend Karen from One Heart Healing, Lancashire and everyone in today’s group for an interesting and inspirational discussion and meditation on acceptance, receiving and balance.

Karen’s website:

https://www.karenonehearthealing.com/