Sunday, 15 August 2010

Back to Basics

A few years ago, I attended a (few) 12 step group(s). Attending meetings, reading the program literature on a daily basis, saying prayers in the morning and evening, having a sponsor; these were just some of the ingredients that provided structure and security in my fledgling life as a recovering addict.

When a newcomer enters the program, it can often be a very overwhelming time. There is a joke that sometimes gets 'shared' in meetings, about a newly recovering addict who asks what he will have to change in his life in order to prevent a relapse and a return to the old, addictive ways. The sponsor replies, nonchalantly, "Oh you don't need to change much. Just, everything!"

A willing newcomer will find that there are key, simple things for them to do on a daily basis in order to surrender their way out of addiction: attend as many meetings as possible, ideally 90 meetings in 90 days; read some of the Big Book, the main piece of literature, every day (even if it's just on the toilet!); start to pray to a Higher Power; pick up the phone and make contact with other recovering addicts.

These simple 'tools', used consistently, begin to change the very fabric of one's life, until suddenly, a person who had been so consumed by addiction turns 90 days clean, then 6 months, then a year. Day in, day out, the program becomes an integral part of their life, to the degree that the person chooses to have it be. Collecting the NA keyrings was hugely important to me in my early days, and I had them all lined up in my bedroom on top of a mirror. I looked at them every day and consciously connected with how grateful I was to be free.

Sometimes in meetings or discussions with friends, a recovering addict who has perhaps been clean and sober for a while, will hear the term Back to Basics. It might show up like this:

"Gee whizz, [this recovering addict is American - no offence intended to American readers] I notice that I am getting really caught up in the day to day minutiae of my life. Bills, chores, work pressures. I seem to have lost my way a bit with my recovery. It has slipped from being the top of my list to number four or five, and my overall sense of well-being feels really depleted right now. I'm going to commit to get Back to Basics."

Back to Basics implies attending meetings more regularly, doing the simple things that were so crucial in the 'early days' of recovery, in order to re-prioritize one's recovery.

Now, I do not consider myself to be an 'addict', although I know I have the potential to be addictive in relation to food, to my work, and to certain ways of thinking and feeling. I no longer live my life by the 12 steps; they're not the foundation of my life, as they were a few years ago. I don't attend meetings, and I don't have a sponsor. But some things from AA and NA still resonate with me, and today this phrase is one of them.

At the moment, I feel a need to get 'Back to Basics'. The basics have changed, and part of the reason for this post is so that I can try to establish what they are, so that I'm clear about what I'm getting back to. I feel ever so slightly 'off' the path I feel committed to walking, almost as if the path is running just parallel to me, and all I need to do is take a step to the left and I'll be back on it again.

I find it so easy to start doing different things with my time, particularly in the morning and before sleeping, which for me are two really crucial times, two times during the day when I can most clearly hear the call to connect, with my Self, with the Holy Spirit, with truth, with Love. But suddenly, I don't want to meditate, or write, or simply look out of the window at the stunning sky. No no no, I've got more important things to do! I need to watch GMTV, and I need to check my emails at 7.00 in the morning. It's imperative that I faff on the internet, checking my Cashback balance and having a nose on Facebook before I even think about sitting quietly for ten minutes or reading the Course. And then, two hours have gone by and I need to get the hell out of here and go ... where? Out! To be busy! To do... you know... stuff. Important stuff that needs doing.

The ego thinks it's won, ladies and gentleman, when I slip back into this pattern, as I have done of late. But alas for Mr. Ego, that still, small Voice continues to call, and I know and cannot deny that it is only when I heed this Voice that I am truly at peace.

So, I get Back to Basics, and when I'm back there, it's obvious that my wandering off didn't really take me further away from God; all it did was block my awareness of the Love that is always available to me.

There's a part of me that wants to commit to a solid, clear plan for my mornings, particularly at this time of transition and uncertainty, as I enter the last 60 days of employment before who-knows-what's-next.
And I wanted to write this post to sort out what that might look like, even if I don't stick to it.

Earlier this year, I had a really consistent period when I spent time every day reading the day's lesson from A Course in Miracles, meditating on that, and literally carrying it with me throughout the day, stuck on a post it note. So I think that would be a key ingredient.

A couple of years ago, I did The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, which prescribes 20 minutes' writing in the morning every day, just to get the gunk out of the conscious mind, to free it up and make room for creative juices to flow.

Prayers have been a part of my life for years with varying degrees of commitment and consistency. I struggle with prayer, quite a lot actually, but I'm pretty sure that doing it regularly helps me feel more connected to God, not less, so I'll chuck a prayer in there too!

Exercise has become, over the last 11 months or so, a regular part of my life, and when I go a week without doing anything active, I feel sluggish, less alive, and more tense. I end up wanting to eat unlovingly, and I usually act on that. Conversely, when I run, cycle, stretch and dance, I crave nourishing, cleansing, gentle foods - slow cooked brown rice, leafy green veg, quinoa, fruit- and I feel alive! Plus, it's one of the wonderful ways that Nige and I connect - on our bikes. Ah....

I'm also really keen to slow down my life, rather than speed it up, and have a little kitchen centred fantasy about making my own bread, leisurely preparing beautiful salads and soups, and creating little dishes that may seem simple to others but which I understand to be little miracles of love.

Being present is probably a key outcome of all of this, and is also a Basic in itself. Taking the time to eat slowly, in the garden where possible, among the cheeky squirrels and free-flying birds, is one of my life's great joys and is something I've avoided doing recently, choosing instead to gobble down grub in front of Faceache.

So, meditation, reading the Course, writing, prayer, exercise, cooking, being present: just some of the Basics I'm hoping to reinstate into my life. But as they say in 12 step programs, it's 'Just for Today'. Today is all I have, and knowing that, this potential 'list' of 'things to do' becomes a lot less overwhelming, because I've only got to 'do' it for today.

And today, dear reader, I woke up and literally wasted a couple of hours of this precious, precious life, before making the decision to get out there and live, sharing a beautiful conversation with Nige, then riding my bike for 18 miles, stopping for 45 minutes to have a cup of tea and talk to a friend, returning home to eat and watch "Life is Beautiful" (what a film!), then going for a quick run around the park with a hypnosis cd playing in my ears, then eating supper in the garden, meditating for ten minutes, and settling down in my room to write all this to you.

The discomfort I feel when I don't take good care of myself is always enough - eventually - to propel me back into loving action. And writing this has helped me get a clearer mental picture of tomorrow morning, in which I can easily visualize myself living my Basics once again.

What are your Basics, the things without which your life begins to feel like a never ending wash cycle? How do you know that you need to get 'back' to them? And how do you stay with them once you're doing them again? I'd love to hear....

Love, as always,
Elloa xxx

Monday, 2 August 2010

Time to teach?

At the tender age of 27, I think I've amassed my fair share of life experiences. Any human who is in their 28th year will have lived at least 9855 days, plus leap years, plus time spent in the womb, plus however many days since their birthday (in my case, 19). That gives a total of about 10,150 days on planet earth in this particular body.

Ten thousand days! Ten thousand?! Wow. That just makes me think that what I was going to write is even more pertinent.

I went on holiday with Nige last week, camping in Somerset, which is a beautiful part of England. We rode our bikes, cooked on the camping stove, fumbled about in the tent, watched swallows divebombing and showing off above us, saw beautiful views, climbed hill after hill after hill on our bikes, and ate a lot - and I mean a lot - of cake, ahem, food.

And on the Wednesday of the holiday, exactly halfway through, I received a text from a friend and colleague: "Hi hun, sorry to do this on your hols, but you might want to check your work email x"

In an instant, life had changed. I knew. I just knew. The government have cut the programme, which means I'm out of a job', I thought. And that was indeed what had happened.

It's been interesting and a bit upsetting today to see my colleagues - creative, brilliant people - discussing via email how best to manipulate the situation so that the impending redundancy we're all facing is delayed by as long as possible. I've read words like 'furious', 'devestated' and 'disappointed', and I suppose that for me, the last one of these is the most applicable. Writing up thousands of words to summarise the last four months' work today left me with a sense of disappointment, a despondency that I know masks the only thing that's ever really going on when I'm not in Love - fear.

And here, in this place of uncertainty, in the vacuum, on the precipice of the unknown, I have a choice. It appears as if I have many choices. Do I apply for this job, or that one? How can I ensure that I'm not put in this position ever again? How can I barricade myself against this place of vulnerability, where I don't know where my rent money will come from in two or three months' time (is that apostrophe in the right place? I never know when it comes to writing days' or months' time. I think that because I'm writing about plural months, the apostrophe is in the right place, but there's a nagging gap in my knowledge of the English language here. Also, what is a split infinitive? You wouldn't think I'm an English graduate and qualified English teacher! Any illumination gratefully received)

I have decided to use this experience as a stepping stone, to help me move forward on my path of exploring Elloaness and what that means in a tangible way in my life. Now is a time for faith, for trust, and for action. A time to reflect, to set an intention, and then to take small but definite steps towards a new vision for the future, whilst remaining grounded in the present, alive and awake and aware of what's happening within and around me. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. Losing a job is not the end of the world. On a worldly note, I think it shows me that I don't want to work in the public sector again, as I said earlier, because it seems so unstable. You're under the thumb of the system, or of whichever people are pulling the strings. Scrap this programme! Start that one! No, no, no, we don't like that one anymore - get rid of that one too!

And to think that I still debate becoming a trained school teacher. The more I am exposed to it, the less I want to do it.

Which leaves me... where? Here, in the now, exploring deep questions about my purpose on this planet, in this body, with this life.

I am Elloa and I have lived over 10,000 days! 
I think that's quite an achievement. And the reason I re-opened my already turned off computer this evening is this: because I realized that I might live another ten thousand before finally surrendering to what it is my heart wants to do. I've struggled over the years trying to define what that 'thing' is, trying to give it a shape and a name and a job description, and I don't think it has any of those things. But if I was to give it a title, it would be Teacher of God, a term used in A Course in Miracles, a term which strikes my ego as being terribly arrogant but which I have resonated with ever since I first encountered it.

I don't want to live my life on the outskirts of my dreams. I want to live boldly, courageously, creatively. I want to reach for the stars, to open this huge, expansive heart of mine and invite the human race to come in and have a cup of tea for a while, forget about the race and just be. I love people, and I love being a part of a community, especially a community of people taking responsibility for their lives and their experiences. In a few short years, I've done this in so many different ways - 12 steps groups, Esalen, church, Clearmind. And in my heart I want to continue with this, and I want to be one of the people teaching, holding the space, and facilitating transformation and healing for people brave enough and willing enough to take steps, just as I have done and, I hope, continue to do.

My ego is utterly derisive towards the thought of me being a workshop teacher or leader. Who the hell do you think you are?, it snidely spits out. Mother bloody Teresa? You're a phoney Elloa Barbour, a huge fake, and you have nothing to give. You're a mess! Look at you - you're jealous, insecure, whiney, negative, moany, and you've clearly got no self discipline - look at how much chocolate you've gorged on today. 

And yet... and yet... A still, small Voice whispers softly to me in the midst of my imperfectness. It says to me, Elloa, sweet Elloa, you are a brave and honest soul. You are sensitive, and caring, and gentle. You hold the space beautifully for people in their shame, their pain. The reason you can do this is because you've lived through so much shame, guilt, fear and pain yourself, and you've let yourself be loved through it all. To want to give this back is not arrogant or selfish - to not want to do this is the real tragedy, and if you choose not to do it, that's really okay, too.

None of it was in vain, beautiful Elloa. You have a clear and definite purpose, and nothing has happened to you by accident. All of it can be used for Love's purposes. You were born to live and teach. Everybody teaches, and teaches all the time. You have the right to step up and say that you too are a student and teacher of A Course in Miracles. In fact, the world desperately needs its children to do this, to embody their authentic, creative, innocent selves. Be not afraid to shine, to make mistakes. But also, dear sweet one, also be aware that it is perfectly okay for you to get it right, to be led by your intuition, by the Voice that invited you to go to your first ever meeting, to take your first every workshop, to tell Nige your feelings for him, to share your darkest secrets and find they have no power over you. Be still, rest in quiet, and know that I am with you, and that everything is unfolding perfectly.

This Voice! Can you see how clearly it speaks to me! And I spend so much of my life trying not to listen to it, trying to maintain allegiance instead to that other voice, the one that always speaks first, that labels things as 'ridiculous', that tells me I'm 'fucking useless', that accuses my best friend of not loving me, that always looks for the guilt and the separation.

I'm getting an ever-clearer feeling and sense that my next step won't be to 'get' a job doing x, y and z for an employer. Somehow, something different is going to come into my life, and I think I might have a big part to play in manifesting it. I've been so scared to truly stand up and say, yes, this is me, and I'm ready to put my heart and soul into being and doing what I love, and to get paid for it. But perhaps, perhaps, with the redundancy is coming an empowered, regenerated vision.

I've lived ten thousand days. Surely I am ready to begin creating? I am ready to embark on the road to nowhere that passes everywhere on its way.

And with that, I sign off for the evening, not bothering who might read this, or when, or whether any of it comes to pass. Tonight it's simply been enough that I listen to my heart and write it all out.

Elloa xxxxxx