It’s been an interesting week. As a Movement Medicine apprentice teacher I taught a class on Friday night in Exeter on Mind and then got up at the crack of dawn to go and assist Rosie Perks on Hearts and Bones in Bristol. Many moons ago I was most taken with Gabrielle Roth’s idea that life presents us with mirrors that we can look into for reflection of just where our life is at and what it is we need to be learning and taking action on – for years I had such a deep distrust of actual flesh and blood people that I preferred my mirroring to come from nature, which always felt pure, non-threatening, as well as both loving and affirming. I had the misfortune (from some angles) as a
child to live in a household in which the adults would regularly erupt into firey and violent conflict. I was terrified a lot of the time on a very primal level. I learned to be super alert, (what psychologists call hyper-vigilant and shamans and such would describe as reading the energy field) to duck, dive, become invisible and when required, run. I had the great good fortune however to live next to a woodland, so that whenever life was just too much off I’d go to the woods. Most of my best mothering came from a big beech tree – I’d climb into her arms and weep until I felt better and then I’d climb down and listen to the land, who would tell me things, sending me omens, instructions and sufficient words of love and comfort for me not to go irredeemably and permanently bat shit crazy.
One day, as a girl, I spotted these two enormous beasts in the distance. I thought that they were dogs to begin with, but as they came closer I realized that they were hares – boxing hares. Could they move – huge legs flailing, front legs, boxing. They came closer and closer, actually dancing around me in a circle, as I stood awestruck and breathless, before they disappeared up an embankment behind me. I only had the realization this week that they were both males – “competing” for a female – which was exactly what all the violence in our house was about at the time. Abuse, infidelity and no emotional resources. Years later I read that the Goddess sends the hare as messenger to her chosen priestesses –they are of course also associated with the lunacy of the moon – which included my mother’s psychosis in my early life. I’ve breathed that myth, of the luna(r)tic priestess, deep into my bones as a healing story. And as part of the journey, in spite of the fact that I don’t really believe in the whole mental health labeling thing, I spent over ten years working in the psychiatric service as a
family therapist. I was, as best as I could, involved in trying to recycle my own pain and suffering in ways that might benefit the greater good. The truth is that as someone who started down the “plant path” at 16 when my later to become deeply alcoholic cousin gave me my first joint, I was also throughout all this time still immersed in my own addictive patterns, from smoking marijuana, until I got cancer at 35 and codeine painkillers, which are a bit like a synthetic opiate. Oh and suffering and drama. Believe you me, there’s an endless stream of our suffering in the world, for us to look into. But none of you need me to tell you that.
So to return to the mirrors thing, this last week, I’ve had some really interesting ones around. The theme seems to be
honesty and transparency about addiction. I’ve always believed that the truth sets us free. And I guess that we function at different levels of ability to embody it at different times in our lives. Last year Rob Porteous and I ran some workshops in Bristol on the chambers of the heart. On Friday Rob sent me an article which had appeared in the newsletter written by Colin, who had had his first experience of Movement Medicine in Bristol with us. It is one of the most searingly honest pieces of writing I’ve read for quite some time. He is writing, partly about addiction. Derrick Jensen, “A Language Older than Words”, who writes about the connections between the abuse that happens in our families with the way we abuse our beautiful Mother Earth, through our addictive consumption patterns, has a similar kind of unrelentingly honest voice. This is what has happened and is happening in life, this is how I feel about it, there you go. No bollocks, as Colin said. I suggested
to Rob that maybe we could use that as a publicity strap line, “Rob and Ali - No Bollocks”. Except it wouldn’t be entirely true.
On Saturday in Bristol, at lunchtime, someone commented that they had been turned down for a psychotherapy training because they were considered to have had too much early trauma and I heard myself saying I wish someone had said that to me. Maybe not though, as somehow or other maybe my focus on service has helped to redeem me. I also talked with Raggi, a recently ‘retired’ human rights lawyer about madness and addiction. And then on the way back in the car, another friend was, in her one of a kind fashion, begging us to stop at the services so she could get some KFC, some booze and fags. It was a laugh but it was also so fucking refreshingly honest in what I can experience as the self-righteous purism of “personal growth circles” where sometimes I haven’t dared tell the truth about what I really think (that’s me being what my 15 year old calls being judgie). The other thing about Colin’s piece of writing, was that it talked about class a lot, whether you’re posh or not. My dad grew up in abject poverty and carried equality as one of his passions, one inheritance I’m proud to continue. He worked very, very hard though my dad and so by the time I had moved into awareness of the world and it’s
social structures, we were distinctly middle class. One of the big things about being middle class is in my experience, about how things look. It has to look good. You have to succeed at your exams. You have to do well so as not to let people down. You must look competent, clever and together, no mater what the mess of the internal reality. I was totally bonkers after 19 years of that I tell you. One face presented to the outside word and something else entirely going on behind closed doors. It made me pretty crazy. I was blessed though. The beech trees sent me good people. The river cared about my fate. The hares tutored me. The dance when I found it at 27, allowed me to begin the long journey of coming home. Part of my truth is also that with three generations of addiction in my ancestral lineage from people thrown from the lands of Ireland and the Highlands, (the process of land clearing associated with industrialization that continues all over the world to this day) I have struggled with the attempt to clear the way of that pain of dismemberment for those who come after me.
I’ve smoked too much weed, medicated my pain and got drunk at times when I lost clarity and felt overwhelmed by my own inadequacies. I am a deeply flawed human being. We are I believe, all deeply flawed, as part of the gig of being human. We are somehow, also, in spite of our flaws, so much more. I love being in the presence of honesty. It inspires me. It opens my heart. It reminds me above all else that we’re all doing our best. With my other hat as an academic researcher on, I was at a seminar at Exeter Business School on Tuesday on Spiritual Leadership – in the very heart of the industrialization machine. A man got up to talk. He told us about how his fundamentalist background as a child had damaged him, setting him on a course of insatiable hunger and self-destruction….drugs, drink, sex, power. And then three things happened simultaneously. He hit rock-bottom, he found transcendental meditation and he became the CEO of a company on the brink of financial liquidation. As he began to turn his life around, the company too returned to health, developing in the process, a new set of ethics. In a normally very heady, intellectually competent, environment you could have heard a proverbial pin drop. We were in the presence of heart and we all knew it. The heart is honest. It says I’m a bit fucked up but I’m trying and
the trying improves things. I reckon we’re all a bit fucked up and the older I’ve got the more I’ve come to understand that
we’re all trying – no matter how it might look. Anyone can have an epiphany at any time, CEO or potato peeler, and in the meantime there’s just so much raw material for practicing forgiveness. That and no bollocks.
Ali Young is both a published poet and academic, with book chapters in collections on
embodiment published by
Routledge, as well as a
variety of academic papers.