Positively Wyrd – 5: I am what I am

Instead of spending energy looking for blame, it’s far more useful to use it to do something about what happens in our lives. So consider this possibility: if we each weave our lives, our fate, on the threads of wyrd, and every thread passes through every one of us, then in changing ourselves, we change everything and everyone else. And everyone else does the same. That’s why things get so complicated: but it also means that we always have a choice. The world we have derives from a web of choices: yet the easiest place, almost the only place, I can start changing those choices is here. In me.

Becoming aware of my choices, I reclaim responsibility – literally, ‘response-ability’ – for what happens to me; I reclaim not so much power over my life, but power with it.

By breaking the patterns of habit, we reclaim the true power of choice; and by cutting free of the web of other people’s ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ and ‘can’ts’, we start to create a life that’s actually worth living. It’s not a quick process – have no illusions about that! – but it’s well worth doing. Perhaps the only thing that’s worth doing. But be warned: it can certainly be weird at times…

Whose life is it, anyway?

The first stage in reclaiming that power is to reclaim the energy and aliveness that’s locked up within us. And a good place to start is to get angry. Very angry. We’re going to get angry anyway once we realise just how much our power, our sense of self, has been stolen: so we may as well do it deliberately first…

The important trick is not to get angry at anyone – either others or ourselves – but just to use anger to reach the passion, the energy that’s currently locked up into fighting ourselves.

As a child I was fascinated by facts – an avid collector of not-quite-useless information. As a result, I’d find I knew, without needing to look up or guess, an answer in the somewhat competitive family discussions. For the others, this was almost annoying: my mother, for example, would often comment, “Oh damn the child – Chris’s got it right again!” So which message was I supposed to believe: get the wrong answer, and be told I’d failed; or get the right answer, and be told I shouldn’t? And I wasn’t allowed to withdraw from the discussions, either – “you shouldn’t sulk!” No wonder I’m confused and self-doubting! And recognising it now, how much these unintentional attacks have crippled me, I get angry. Very angry. “Whose life is it anyway! How dare they!”

And let go, let go… because it’s equally true that I let it happen. And there was no malice: it simply was what it was. I believed the ‘no-win’; I allowed myself to be locked up by it.

So it’s time I unlocked myself from it, isn’t it?

Think of some similar no-wins in your own life. As you recognise how much they’ve trapped you, reach into the anger… Then let go, let go… release it. Not at anyone – just recognise it, allow it to be; and release it.

Herein lies a problem: how to release anger – or even to get at it at all. We’re all conditioned not to express emotions, especially anger or rage. And we have to find a way to release it which does not consist of dumping it on someone else, or turning it back in again on ourselves.

Don’t ignore the anger: it’s there, and it won’t go away by itself. If we feel apathetic, a sense of “Why bother?”, that’s often because of this social conditioning. It locks us up: in effect, we’re in a jail of our own creation, one we’ve been encouraged to build by our own and other people’s fears. “There’s no point, it doesn’t make any difference”, you might say. But saying that is why there’s no point, is why it doesn’t make a difference: the energy is locked up into keeping us locked up.

So: if we reach inside and look at some of these no-wins, we’ll either find a surge of anger, or a surge of apathy – which is actually the same thing in a different guise. Bring it out: if it comes in the form of apathy, break the habit of apathy, and do something with it! Jump about a bit; yell; put on some music, loud, and dance it out. Or a common technique is to prepare the scene beforehand: roll up an old newspaper into a club, place an old telephone directory on a cushion; then reach into the anger, and shred the directory with the club, blow after blow after blow. Yell, scream, shout: reach in to the anger: then let go, let go…

The ‘silliness barrier’

It’s usual at this point to feel that the whole idea is ridiculous. Silly. It’s just stupid, childish. Surely this is a joke?

In actual fact, it’s not stupid at all. It’s been proven time and time again that this kind of emotional release – releasing locked-up fear, anger, guilt and the rest – is an essential part of the process of an individual’s reclaiming power with their life. And it’s no joke: it most certainly doesn’t feel like a joke when we finally allow ourselves to do it…

So why does it feel so silly to do it – to let go at all? There’s some kind of barrier there…

This ‘silliness barrier’ is real: and in no way is it trivial. It can be extremely hard to get past; even though, looking back, it can often seem to have been nothing much. Other people rarely see it as a barrier: “For God’s sake just jump, child!” – a real barrier of fear, but it’s not theirs. It’s easy to dismiss it as ‘a little bit of silliness, that’s all’ – that’s what others might say, and what we ourselves might say afterwards. But it won’t seem so at the time – and not when we’re facing it: it’s important to recognise that distinction!

Not surprisingly, there are many layers to this barrier, all interacting and interweaving like the threads of wyrd. Part of it comes from social conditioning again: Good boys don’t do that kind of thing, do they? It’s not ladylike to show anger, to show aggression. “Don’t be so bloody childish”, you’d be told, perhaps. But we looked at this in the last chapter: “Children should be seen and not heard”; “You gotta be yourself – be more like I tell ya”.

Layer after layer of no-wins, of ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’ – or, more often, ‘mustn’ts’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ – all requiring us to deny who we are, in deferment to other people’s fears and resentments, trapping us in apathy, in powerlessness. One writer defined resentment as ‘a demand that the other feel guilty’: we’ve been taught to feel guilty simply for being who we are. And guilt is an insidious weapon: it’s used to get us to beat ourselves up on another person’s behalf – often for no true reason at all.

But it’s also important to recognise the part our own fears play in creating the silliness-barrier. I’m no different from anyone else: I don’t like to look silly either. I’m afraid of being embarrassed; afraid of being laughed at. And I’ll go to real lengths to avoid finding myself in any situation where that might happen – regardless of whether what I’m doing is actually intended to help me…

This is most obvious in learning new skills: so it’s worth remembering that accepting who we are – with all our weaknesses and our strengths – is perhaps the most important skill we can learn. There’s a specific moment in learning a skill where some new piece of information fits: and it’s at that moment we hit a milder form of the silliness barrier. We get hit by an embarrassing sense that we knew it all along, that we could have done this part of the skill at any time, if we’d let ourselves – that kind of feeling. And we get hit by a real fear of uncertainty, as the rules of reality change, from “I can’t” to “Oh – I can!”. So there’s a crucial choice-point here, one that’s easy to miss: one of the few times we can see the twists in the fabric of wyrd.

Some time ago, for a variety of reasons, I decided to learn how to juggle. It’s not the easiest of skills! So for weeks I couldn’t do it – I could toss two balls back and forth, but not all three. Then just when I was about to give up, it suddenly worked, for just one brief moment: “I can’t / it isn’t working” and the rest had shifted into “Oh – I can!” – and back again. I found I had a very silly grin on my face – I was embarrassed, even though no-one was there. And I could feel the choice: disbelieve the change, in order to prove that the old ‘rule’ of “I can’t do it” was ‘true’; or let go – knowing that it probably wouldn’t work again for a while – and allow the new rule to be true (or at least possible), to expand into a wider skill, wider awareness. But it was a real choice-point: on that occasion the excitement won out over the fear of uncertainty, but I know that on too many other occasions the choice has gone the other way…

Reach out to some memories of similar occasions of your own – feel that moment of embarrassment, of uncertainty. What were the choices that you made on those occasions – to go with the change, or revert to the status quo? If others were there, how much did that affect your choice?

Even in learning a skill, where there isn’t that much of an emotional loading, the silliness-barrier can be significant. In learning to break free of habit and the social version of the senses-taker, the silliness-barrier can be much harder to overcome. But accept it: it is there, it is real, it’s the same for everyone – you’re not just being ‘childish’ when you find yourself backing away from facing it.

What makes it harder here, in reclaiming the energy from old locked-up anger, is the sheer volume of emotion: it can take us by surprise, and there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to do it gently. For a moment – sometimes a very long moment – the intensity of feeling can be overwhelming. There’s a real sense of being out of control – fearfully, terrifyingly so. And that fear is one of the main reasons why all that anger, all that guilt and the like became locked up in the first place: it was too frightening for us or, perhaps more often, for others to willingly face. But it doesn’t just go away if we don’t face it: it stays as energy used to fight ourselves – which is why we get trapped in apathy, in powerlessness. Our individual power is locked up in there: only by saying “I am who I am” – without blame, and from the far side of anger and guilt – can we reach that power and reclaim it.

But the silliness-barrier is not trivial: when you find yourself facing it, treat it – and yourself – with respect. We’ll meet it again and again, in many different guises. At some stages, many people – and I’ve been one of them – do need some kind of help to open the barrier, and a safe and supportive environment in which to do so. But we don’t need to worry about that: the strange part about the nature of wyrd, as we learn to trust it, is that when we really do need help, we’ll find it is there – if only we can let ourselves see it!

The ‘tall poppy’ syndrome

The silliness barrier, or rather the fear that it triggers, is one of the driving forces behind the nasty game of ‘power-under’ that we saw in the previous chapter. “If I can’t ride a bicycle”, the reasoning goes, “then no-one can: it’s not possible. But if someone did learn to ride a bicycle, they’d have an advantage over me: so I’d better make damn sure that no-one ever does…”. This fear-driven desire to drag everyone down to the lowest common denominator is endemic throughout the culture: in Australia it’s known as the ‘tall poppy syndrome’, the aim being to cut anyone who might be successful down to the same uniform size – while in Britain it sometimes seems more like that the poppies never have a chance to get out of the ground in the first place! Some people make this ‘levelling’ a way of life, but we all do it from time to time: it always seems easier to cut someone down than to put in the time and effort to climb up to the same level of skill.

I’d eventually managed to get the juggling to work – only three balls, of course, but I could keep it going for two or three minutes at a stretch. At this point I was practising every day: so when I had to wait a couple of hours at the airport for a change of planes, out came the balls from my pack. A nice quiet corner. Just getting into the rhythm of it. “Huh! That’s not very good, is it?” says a sarcastic voice behind me. Middle-aged businessman; he didn’t know how to juggle, and clearly didn’t even want to try – “couldn’t be bothered”, he said, when I offered to show him how. But he was certainly going to be bothered enough to try to convince me that I couldn’t – and shouldn’t – be able to juggle either…

Can you recognise circumstances where others have done this to you? And where you have done this to others?

How do you feel – feel – about that now? And then let go those feelings, let go… things are the way they are because they got that way. What’s important is not what happened in the past, but where you take that knowledge now.

And we discover that this always happens at some point in the early stages of learning a new skill. It’s almost as if the uncertainty attracts it – the silliness-barrier in an external form. Weird…

And that’s exactly what it is: patterns passing by on the threads of wyrd. So watch these patterns as you pass through them; as we do so, we build an increasing awareness of the strange nature of the workings of wyrd.

Strengths and weaknesses

It’s important to go into the anger and the other emotions that have been locked up in fighting ourselves: but it’s also important to recognise that it’s only an intermediate stage. It’s like the concept of blame: only by recognising that we’re all to blame for this mess, can we move on to accepting that no one is to blame – and then release blame entirely. In the same way, we need to accept the anger that’s in us, entirely justifiable anger at the way we’ve been abused by everyone in this fear-driven culture – and then let it go, by recognising that we’ve done exactly the same to everyone else. We all do it: since it’s a habit everywhere, it’s very hard not to.

Understand this, and we begin to understand the meaning of the word ‘compassion’…

We learn compassion for ourselves, too – the many different aspects of ourselves. The anger and emotions are not childish, so much as childlike: the energy and the clarity of the ‘inner child’. That child has come a long way, has been through some good times and some very rough ones: but it’s still there, wide-eyed, innocent, inquisitive, aware – by nature intuitively aware of the magic of wyrd.

Much of our power and passion come from that childlike state – it’s one of our strengths, not a weakness. But the culture and our families have usually had very different ideas about what strengths and weaknesses are – usually to their advantage rather than ours. Their definition of our strengths and weaknesses is their opinion only – one which often says more about them than it does about us.

Take a brief inventory of what you think your strengths and weaknesses are. Be honest!As you make the list, listen to the voice that comes with each item – especially with the weaknesses. If you’ve written that you get tired easily, for example, who’s telling you? Your father? Mother? A teacher at school? Is it something that your parents always said about themselves? If it’s not you that’s ‘speaking’, put a query beside that item.

And look to see if others in the family have the same pattern – especially through the generations. You may feel you have the same quick temper as your mother and grandmother, for example: but it may well be something you’ve not so much inherited as learned to copy – nurture rather than nature. In any case, mark it with a query.

Then go through the list again. Take a closer look at each item you’ve marked with a query (hint: it’s likely to be most of them!): consider carefully whether it really is a true strength or weakness of your own – or merely something you’ve learned, or been told so often that you’ve learned to believe it, whether it’s true or not. It may seem to be true now, because it’s become a habit: but is it actually part of that clustering of threads that is your deeper choice of you? Make changes to each item accordingly.

Review the list again: and note that it may be very different from the one with which you started. It’s certainly likely to be a closer picture of who you truly are…

Slowly, we reclaim our own understanding of our strengths and weaknesses – re-own them as ours. We have certain strengths: so what? They’re there to use. We have certain weaknesses: so what? They’re there as challenges – something to do with our lives! Accept who you are: not someone else’s attempt to mould you to their convenience, but who you are – “I am who I am”. Nothing more, perhaps, but nothing less either.

To acknowledge this, perhaps it would be worthwhile to echo the chant of the cartoon character Popeye – “I yam what I yam!” And dance with the child within for a while…

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