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Love, Hate, Inner, Outer

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It increasingly occurs to me

That my relationship to the parts of the world

(most significantly, others)

Is most often a reflection

Of my relationship to parts of myself.

 

And that until I learn how to give up

Hating, despising, fearing and judging my interior world

I can expect to have a tricky time

Loving the outer world, in which I live every day,

As fully as I could.

Justin Wise, June 2015


 

We’ve been having a productive time with the ‘Turning Towards Life’ project, continuing to take up questions about how each of ourselves might bring ourselves most fully and truthfully to our lives. Perhaps most pertinent to the question ‘how do I give up judging and splitting apart my inner world?’ that’s addressed by the poem above, is our episode ‘Hokusai Says‘, which takes the work of the Japanese painter Katsushika Hokusai as its inspiration.

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We have also considered the possibilities for our encounter with life and with one another are born when we cross the thin divide between ‘image’ and ‘realness’ in ‘The Call to Live Everything

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And, one of my favourites, what happens when we start taking ourselves just a little bit less seriously, and start to look at ourselves as if from a distance, in ‘One Thing Among Many‘.

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You can find the whole project over at www.turningtowards.life, and also as a podcast on all the major podcast platforms.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Famous

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I sit in the darkness, watching my daughter and her friends singing, dancing and performing with such joy and exuberance in a local musical production, and right when I could release myself into joy and wonder a dark, coiled-upon itself part of me claws repeatedly – ‘You should be able to do that’, it says.

On a gloriously sunny May Thursday, I’m hosting a conversation about leadership with a group of thoughtful, principled people who run a large hospital. Right when I could be at my most curious, open and available, there’s a part of me that tells tugs, hard – ‘You should be better at this’, it says, ‘You should be like them.’

In my living room, a long afternoon of freedom available to me, I’m reading Robert McFarlane’s beautiful book ‘Underland’, and I find myself checking the time again and again. ‘You shouldn’t be here’, it says and, more perniciously, its tendrils of shame that I haven’t published a book, that I don’t know what to say, that I’m not famous, slip through the gaps in my thoughts and wrap themselves around my heart.

On the tube, in the shower, watching a film, holding my loved ones and, more than anywhere else, in the dark of the night, the endless voice of comparison keeps speaking its poison. Its promise is alluring enough – salvation. If I’m equal to or better than the ideas it has about me, or the people it measures me against, I’ll be saved. Once I’m well known enough, or have made a world-changing contribution, I’ll be safe. If I make sure never to annoy anyone else, or disappoint them, if I keep up an image of gentleness or responsibility, everything will be OK.

As my dear friend and colleague Lizzie Winn says, all of this has us ‘pretzel ourselves’ into ever more distortions. And as the poet Naomi Shihab Nye reminds us in her poem Famous, there’s a more straightforward way to be in the world, one filled with dignity and aliveness which recognises the uniqueness of the being we already are,

… famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do

It may seem like a paradox, but it’s often when we give up our crazed attempts to be what we’re not that we have the greatest chance of flourishing and unfolding fully into what we are. It’s when, as Lizzie says, we can inhabit our qualities wholeheartedly, that we find the deep reserves of kindness or courage, wisdom or attentiveness, that allow us to meet the world.

Naomi Shihab Nye shows us early in her poem that all our attempts to save ourselves by holding ourselves in the grip of a comparison (such as with fame) are inevitably doomed by the transience of everything:

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

As Simon Seligman so beautifully writes, in response to those lines:

We are but a moment, and all around us nature and time, and the silence that came before us, are unfolding as they must. And so our voice, our moment, can only speak for itself, now, as we find it, and should let go of any hope that we will silence the silence.

It is always there, it should always be there, and without it we would not be able to hear our own voice anyway, just as light has no meaning without the dark. The silence does not need us to confer upon it any meaning or purpose; it knows it will inherit the earth.

We get to dance within and upon it for our span; it allows (indulges?!) us in this, and lets us witter on as if we were in control. But the water will close over our heads, the gravestone will be subsumed into the earth, and our one job is to accept and embrace both our living span, and its end, in time.’

Our one job – to accept and embrace both our living and its end. I know when I can do this, I can sit in the dark and watch my daughter, and let myself be overcome by joy and love and sheer wonder that she is here. I can work with a group of very capable leaders with curiosity and openness and truthfulness, without holding back and without closing down. I can love and speak and listen and create without holding onto a myth of safety or salvation. I can much more readily give up the demand for safe passage and instead participate, turning towards life with a whole-heartedness and playfulness that’s robbed from me when I’m caught in comparison with how I am supposed to be, or how things are supposed to be. I stop pretzeling myself to try to get life to go my way.

The poem, Lizzie and Simon’s wonderful words, and everything I’ve expressed here came from conversations in and around the Turning Towards Life project. You can hear the episode that includes Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, and much else, on our website here, and on our podcast.

Photo by Laura Wielo on Unsplash

 

 

Fear and Practice

I’m coming to see that of the three primary fear responses available to human bodies (fight, flight, and freeze), it’s freeze that’s the most habitual for me. Like many people who share a similar personality structure to me, the presence of fear or despair in the world is easily an opportunity to tune out, to dissociate, and to disappear in the midst of life. And this week, with ongoing news about the state of the earth’s climate, with the attacks in Sri Lanka, and with the ongoing presence of an energetic xenophobia in our politics, there has been ample fuel for the kind of asleep-in-the-midst-of-things that it is so easy for me to fall into.

All of this is one reason why I’m grateful for the increasing role of practice in my life. As I’ve written before, when I remember to live a life of practice – swimming, writing, contribution to community, meditation, Jewish practices, walking, music, intentional conversation – I feel more spaciousness in my heart, a renewed sense of aliveness in my body, and my mind is quieter too. I’m less convinced by stories about who I should be and what I’m supposed to be doing. Without practice it is easy for me to be swept up in my habits of absence, as if hurled by a swelling tide until I no longer remember that I’m swept up in anything and life becomes an invisible whirling torrent of fear and falling short and things to do and places to be. It should be of little surprise to me (though it often is) that in the midst of all that my body has tightened up, my heart more rigid, my mind filled with barely visible oughts and shoulds, judgements and obligations and disappointments.

It’s practice that allows me to rehearse, repeatedly, a relationship with the world that’s full of life, and full of expression, full of connection to others, and full of welcome for all of it – even the greatest difficulties. And this, I’m starting to see more clearly, is the very point of practice – that over time, done again and again, it allows us to experience life as if parts of ourselves that are more often marginalised, abandoned or simply forgotten have come home again.

I’m particularly grateful today for the poem Thanks by W S Merwin, which points to the restorative possibilities of giving thanks, practicing gratitude, right in the middle of the darkness. It’s what I’ve needed these past weeks, and the conversation that Lizzie and I had as part of this week’s Episode 82 of Turning Towards Life (another restorative practice for me) explores it in depth.

And, if you missed them, we’ve also talked in the past couple of weeks about the moment-to-moment choices between possibility and fear (in Episode 81, Two Paths), and about the problems being too certain about things can bring us (in Episode 80, The Place Where We Are Right).

You can catch up with all the conversations in that project over at turningtowards.life, and you can also find all our conversations on YouTube, and as a podcast on AppleGoogle and Spotify

Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash

The mystery of Time and Death

I’m thrilled to announce that ‘Turning Towards Life’ is now available as a podcast on Apple, Google, and Spotify.

In our latest episode we talk about the mystery of time and death. We consider together two different ways that we turn away from the reality of time – either by tuning out from the fleeting nature of things and the urgency of our response, or by eating up time in a panicked flurry of frantic activity. Somewhere between the two, we discover, is a way in which we can meet time more directly, more lovingly, and in a more responsive way – and in a way that helps us both decide what matters and invest our activities with mattering.

Along the way we talk about the changes that time brings, in our bodies and the bodies of others; the mystery of where time ‘goes’ when it has ‘gone’, and we bring to mind those we have known and have loved who are no longer with us and find out that they are still present, in time, even though they are no longer here. And it occurs to us that this is the nature not only of people but of all moments that continually arise, disappear, and yet travel with us.

Photo by Harry Sandhu on Unsplash