Endings and beginnings

It’s nearly seven months since I’ve posted in this blog. So much has changed in my life since the fire which destroyed my home. I lost almost all of my material possessions, but have gained so much more, in friendship and freedom.

This blog is, as its title now states, an archive. I hope you will find much still to enjoy and mull over in these pages.

If you’re after up to date writing and information on what I’m up to, head over to A New Adventure Every Day, my new online home.

Raging at life: a message from God Herself

Today, I felt the first shudders of impact from the fire vibrating through me. I felt angry all day. I wanted to scream and pound my fists in rage at everyone and everything.

Most of all, I wanted to scream in Life’s face, “How dare you be so cavalier of our precious lives? How dare you even consider wiping us away in a heartbeat? How dare you?!”

And in my heart, I did.

The message I received in response… well, I’ll let God speak for Herself:

I see the big picture; I am the big picture. This is flow. All comes from Me, all returns to Me. This is flow.

You cannot know how much I value each and every life. You have no inkling how precious each and every part of Me is to Me, how I marvel at Myself, how I marvel at you.

Even my toenail clippings are held as sacred, as holy, raised in golden radiance, gazed on in amazement. And you are by no means the least of these.

You are not the least of these.
You are not the least of these.
You are not the least of these.

So where have I been?

Just under two weeks ago, our house caught fire, and while my partner, our dogs and I are completely unharmed, we lost almost all of our belongings.

We are… really not as bothered by that as we imagined we might be. Resilience and non-attachment appear to be at the max, so far.

Our lives are at present an exercise in receiving, and receiving, and receiving. The generosity of our neighbours has been humbling, from donations of clothes and toiletries to putting a roof over our heads. The speed with which our insurance company is operating is exemplary. I feel carried and supported, by means both human and divine. Alongside the shock and grief is a deep, deep well of gratitude and experience of being held by Love.

I leave you with a Sufi blessing which a dear friend of mine left for me in a voicemail message this weekend:

May the blessings of Love rest upon you,
May Love’s peace abide with you,
May Love’s presence illuminate your heart,
Now and forever more.

Elinor ♥

My revolution: only connect

Photo credit: Katherine Pangaro (katypang at flickr.com)

This week, Danielle Laporte asked another really great question: “what do you want to revolutionize?”

This question could not be more timely for me. For the past two months, I have felt a drive to clarify and refine my mission: why am I here? what is my practical purpose in this lifetime?

Over the past week, the penny has dropped: I am all about deep connection, within the self, with other people and beings, with Life itself; not as an action, but as a way of being, a way of unfolding.

We often experience ourselves as separate. We seem apart from one other, and from other beings and things: ‘I’ am separate from ‘you’, from this bed, from my pet dog, from the ground on which I walk; you and I have different backgrounds, religions, genders, skin colours, abilities, desires, so different that we find it difficult sometimes even to imagine how to connect with one another.

We even experience ourselves as separated from ourselves, into different personae: this is the ‘me’ that shows up at work, this is the ‘me’ that goes to bed with my lover, this is the ‘me’ that goes to dinner with my parents. Or we think of ourselves divided into ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ traits, some of which we embrace and some of which we try to get rid of, or into ‘me then’ and ‘me now’. Too often, we feel fragmented, lonely, frustrated and angry.

Above all, if we’re honest with ourselves, we feel unsafe and afraid.

Photo credit: openDemocracy on flickr.com

But this separateness is not true. Deep connection is the natural state of affairs, even if that’s not how we experience life. We can see the truth of that in our breathing: we breathe in air, and all the organisms and molecules in it; we breathe out carbon dioxide, which enables trees and plants to breathe and live; the trees and plants in turn breathe out oxygen, which enables us to breathe and live. We can see it in our eating: we incorporate other lifeforms into ourselves, literally into our bodies.

We can see it in our society, economy and culture: as much as the dominant way that each of these three operates seems to keep us separated, fragmented and unable to connect with one another, in fact they all rely completely upon our deep interconnection, not only locally, but globally. Through the work of scientists, we now know that deep connection is even the truth of how physical reality itself is made up at the most fundamental level.

Deep connection is our birthright.

It is as natural as breathing, as essential to our well-being and as central to our existence.

Looking back over my life, I realise that everything I’ve done that has meant a thing to me, everything has been about recognising, deepening and living connection: from protesting nuclear weapons, to co-founding Birmingham Bi Women’s Group, to being in a workers’ collective delivering locally grown organic vegetables, to working as an aromatherapist, to teaching, to writing poetry, to celebrating the changes of the seasons, to learning with NCBI, to working in community development, to marrying and burying people. Connection, connection: only connection.

No-one can give you deep connection, nor take it away. It is yours, irrevocably. But the experience of deep connection can sometimes be blocked.

The core of my mission, my revolution, is to find and release the blocks to deep connection. I’m doing okay with that myself, these days, doing my healing work, committing to practices that bring the experience of deep connection into my everyday reality.

My next step is to help you to do the same.

What does deep connection mean to you? Where do you feel it flowing freely in your life? Where is your experience of it blocked?

Difficult feelings: dealing with shame

Photo credit: Gabriel (http://flickr.com/photos/cod_gabriel) used under Creative Commons license

Of all the difficult feelings we can experience, shame is perhaps the most devastating.

I know for myself that nothing spirals me down into anxiety and depression faster.

This is not surprising. Shame can be described as judging oneself as having done something unacceptable, and finding not only one’s actions and their consequences, but one’s self wanting.

It is possible to feel shame without anyone else knowing about one’s actions or their consequences, but for myself, shame most often results when my mistakes and their consequences are on public view, and are judged by others as being unacceptable.

When I make a mistake but nobody else witnesses it, I can stay calm and correct things as far as is possible. In that situation, I may feel guilt about my actions and their consequences, but I do not find myself wanting.

When I do something that others find unacceptable but I disagree that it’s wrong, or I know things didn’t happen that way, I may feel angry that I am being misrepresented, or surprised at another’s moral compass, but it doesn’t affect how I feel about myself.

But when I make a mistake and am witnessed in the act, and those witnessing me make their anger, disgust or disdain clear, I feel ashamed, and am overcome by a desire to cover myself, for the ground to open up and swallow me, to disappear from public view.

Photo credit: Marc-Andre Lariviere (http://flickr.com/photos/marcandrelariviere) used under Creative Commons license

This feeling, rather than supporting me to get on and do all within my power to correct the mistake I have made and to mitigate its consequences, gets in the way of any action on my part. Instead of reaching out to right things, my urge is to contract inwards and shrink away from everything outside myself

So what can we do, when feelings of shame arise, to enable us to stay open and carry on engaging?

I had the opportunity (ahem) to consider this question just a couple of days ago. I made a mistake which could have had serious consequences for those around me, because my attention wandered for a moment. With the help of others, the situation was brought under control, but not without their anger and frustration with me being freely expressed.

I felt an intense feeling of shame, followed by strong anxiety and depression, and a desire to hide under the bed covers for the rest of the week, and possibly the rest of my life.

By observing myself through this experience, and noting what helped and what hindered me in my response to the situation, I came to the following list of actions to help us through shame.

The first thing is to keep breathing.

Constricting and interrupting our natural breathing pattern is one of the most common reactions to difficult feelings, yet nothing blocks our ability to process emotion and take positive action more effectively than when we stop breathing.

The easiest way to keep breathing is to concentrate on breathing out; when we reach the end of our out breath, our lungs fill naturally, gradually re-establishing a natural breathing rhythm.

The second thing is to find someone we trust and who is reliably non-judgmental, and get what has happened off our chest.

The emotional and mental relief and the physical release this enables allows our feelings to shift, and opens up the possibility of viewing our situation objectively.

The third thing is to think of how we would react if a dear friend had made the mistake we have just made, and offer that reaction to ourselves.

We are usually much more forgiving, supportive and helpful when faced with the mistakes of someone else who we love than we are when looking at ourselves.

Offering ourselves gentleness and forgiveness – without denying our responsibility for what has happened – can free us to respond to our situation constructively, and to look at how to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

The final thing is to consider whether others’ reactions to us reflect our own beliefs about ourselves.

This is perhaps something best done some time after  the event, so may not be much help in the moment, but it’s still a worthwhile exercise.

Knowing ourselves better is always, in my view, a good thing. This kind of consideration can also help to interrupt the cycle of anger and resentment at others for their reactions to us, which can be so destructive of relationships and of our own peace of mind.

The repercussions of my actions, what might have happened, others’ reactions to me and my own reactions to the whole thing are still ricocheting about my body, my heart and my mind. I’m continuing to breathe into my feelings, to offer myself love and support, and to explore my beliefs about myself, as well as putting in place rules and routines for myself to prevent that particular mistake happening again.

I know I will make mistakes in the future; I know that some of them will be made in public, and may have serious consequences; I know that others will judge me, as I will myself. But I also know that, when this kind of situation happens again, I have a list of solid practices to enable me to respond constructively, and right things again as far as I can, without crumbling.

What is your experience of shame? Do you have a set of practices which help you maintain equilibrium and take positive action when shame arises?

My purpose for money (via Marx, Durkheim, and gettin’ sexy).

Before Christmas, I made it a priority to read and occasionally join in the conversation at Tara Gentile and Adam King‘s project, Reclaiming Wealth. It’s an innovative blog which aims to collectively think in new ways about wealth, fundamentally redefining it in healthy ways.

One of Tara’s questions which really struck me was “How have you challenged yourself to perceive wealth recently?” My immediate answer was, “By starting to unhook my perception of money from my perception of global capitalism.”

Photo credit: epSos.de, licensed under the Creative Commons 3.0. Original image at http://www.flickr.com/photos/epsos/5902557577/

Dirty money

I’ve always known and experienced that wealth is more than money, but I’ve never really allowed myself to know or experience that wealth can also be money. My whole life, I’ve held a very deeply seated belief that money is dirty, that it makes me implicit in the unjust and oppressive system of global capitalism that has children working in sweatshops, and corporations and governments in cahoots to murder activists for people and planet such as Ken SaroWiwa.

But is that belief fair? After all, I’m implicated in all of that just by being alive, and being born and raised in the UK, with its colonial and imperial history and its role in the first seeding of global capitalism. How much or how little money I have or make doesn’t affect that implicit responsibility one way or the other.

And it isn’t really money that does all of that. Money is neutral. Saying that all of that bad stuff is down to money is like saying that a slashed throat is down to the knife, not to the hand that wielded it.

To look deeper into this, I’ve turned to two European Sociological Superheroes: Karl Marx and Émile Durkheim.

Say hi to Marx.

Yes, that Marx; the one behind Communism.

One of Marx’s fundamental propositions in Das Capital is that money alienates value. What that means is that it enables a product or a service to be separated out from the person who made it or who provides it.

Marx’s idea, prompted in part by the work of Bronisław Malinowski and of Marcel Mauss, was that before money, in a gift or a barter economy, a person and their ‘stuff’ could not be conceptually separated. Part of the person’s energy, soul or spirit was always perceived to remain attached to their product or service. In this way, the product or service never fully belonged to the person who it ended up with, but remained part of an ongoing relationship.

Money, on the other hand, breaks the conceptual link between a person and their ‘stuff’. It alienates it, and the value bound up in it, from its originator, allowing it to circulate freely as a commodity.

This has its downside.

First of all, the relationship in an exchange in which value is alienated is short-lived. This can mean that, at a fundamental level, in a money economy society supports the economy but the economy does not support society. (Although I’m getting on to a counter-argument to that in just a moment.)

Secondly, money becomes fetishised. Instead of being seen as a tool to enable circulation of commodities, it becomes a thing in itself, something to be gathered and horded.

Finally, when a group of people has power, they can set the money price of labour value – the work that goes into producing the thing, i.e. the wages of the production workers – as low as they like, and the exchange value – the product’s sale price – as high as consumers will tolerate, and make Huge Profits at the expense of workers and consumers alike.

But, if we listen to Durkheim, money also has its up side

Émile Durkheim pretty much single-handedly invented the discipline of sociology (but let’s not hold that against him😉 ). One of his most significant concepts is that of the division of labour.

At its simplest, this is a recognition that as societies develop, people become more specialised in their work: some people grow food, others make farming implements, others are blacksmiths, etc., etc. The more complex the society, the more specialised and diverse the work, and the more divided the labour.

To add Marx and Durkheim together, in order to have the level of division of labour that we see today, a means of exchange is necessary, and that means of exchange is money. And money can do this job precisely because it alienates value. Money allows widespread exchange, and thus the division of labour. And money was around an awfully long time before global capitalism ever came along.

Now, personally I like not having to grow all my own food from scratch, not having to spin and weave my own fabric, not having to do absolutely everything. I like being able to focus on work that makes my heart sing and suits my health and my aptitudes, and money is what allows that to happen.


This speaks to Danielle Laporte’s Burning Question this week: “What’s your purpose for money?”

My purpose for money is for the economy to get sexy.

Money allows exchange to happen. You know what else is an exchange? Sex. And we all know what makes for good sex (I mean in addition to great communication and ongoing negotiation of consent): plenty of lube. What if we look at economic exchange as a kind of erotic exchange, with money as the lubricant?

(Or if you’re uncomfortable with the sexual metaphor, how about your economic life as an engine? Lubricant means you can keep functioning happily without jamming up, wearing out or breaking down.)

We don’t keep lubricant in the bank, we don’t horde it to make ourselves feel safer, or to wield power over others. The very idea is silly. The purpose of lubricant is to make things slide, to make things easy and smooth when we get down and dirty, running our engines, and we only keep enough around so that we can make sure that happens well.

The purpose of lubricant is in its use, and so is the purpose of money.

I would love to move forward to a world in which we could maintain our complex division of labour without money and our tendency to horde it, a world in which we live in full trust that when we need food, or our fence mended, or our health cared for, or when we want to be entertained, or to travel the world, or a new pair of sassy boots, someone will provide that, just as we make our skills and aptitudes freely available to our neighbours.

But until that time comes, one of my goals is now to earn, and to earn well, doing something I love. Not so I can horde money and keep it all to myself, but so I can use money to make things happen in my life and in the wider world that accord with my values: things like paying off my debts; things like paying more tax (yes, you heard me, more tax) so that the health and education systems can thrive; things like always buying organic, local and Fairtrade; things like transferring all of my economic activity to small businesses and mutuals; things like expressing my solidarity globally through Kiva and Triodos Bank. Things like that.

How about you? What is money for you? How do you see its purpose?

The difference between religion and spirituality. (Identity, authenticity, action.)

Back when I was a mentor at The Interfaith Seminary, the question came up again and again from the students I was supporting of the difference between religion and spirituality.

For some of them, this was a matter of having rejected religion and embraced spirituality; for others, they were strongly committed to their religious faith and community, and could not imagine separating spirituality out from that.

In an era when mainstream religion appears to be declining, while both spirituality without religion and fundamentalist ‘our way or the highway’ religion appear to be on the increase, this question about the differences and relationship between religion and spirituality is an important one.

As a mentor, in order to help my own understanding and thus better support the students, I came up with two sets of questions:

Am I a good…

Christian?

Muslim?

Jew?

Buddhist?

Taoist?

Student of A Course In Miracles?

Sikh?

Pagan?

Hindu?

For it to make sense to answer ‘yes’ to these questions, one would have to identify as a member of that particular religion, faith or spiritual tradition, and – where necessary – accept its tenets and dogmas.

This is the core issue with religion that I see both in people who reject religion in favour of spirituality, and those who seek to impose their faith and dogma on the whole world:

Group identity and individual authenticity are pitted against one another.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

One of the many things I learned from my training in Interfaith Ministry was that there is a deep well of wisdom and spirituality at the heart of each and every religion, regardless of how it has been practiced by its followers over the centuries, and what has been done in the name of its God(s).

So here is the second set of questions to consider:

In this moment…

Do I love God/the Source of All/the Universe? Do I love and forgive my neighbour and myself? What fruit do I bear?

Am I surrendered to God/the Source of All/the Universe?

How am I expressing my humanity? Do I have a living relationship with God/the Source of All/the Universe?

Do I practice loving-kindness?

Do I allow everything its own nature?

Am I willing to be as God/the Source of All/the Universe created me?

Do my deeds sing a love song to God/the Source of All/the Universe?

Do I relate to humans, animals, plants, minerals and spirit beings with reverence and love?

Am I free of ego-attachment?

Each question or set of questions relates to the equivalent faith in the previous set of questions, but these questions can be answered freely by anyone, regardless of their religious identity.

They are a set of questions not about identity, but about emotion, action, integrity and authenticity.

When we look beyond the identity of a religion or faith group, and instead look to the roots of its spirituality, we see that at the core of each faith there is fruitful wisdom and a challenge to each one of us as human beings.

This does not mean that we can ignore the injustices carried out in the name of religion, but it gives us the tools to challenge the people who carry them out in the terms of what they say they are, and what they claim as the source of their values.