A few mornings back I woke up to a text, and oh my goodness, did it destroy me. It wasn’t even a malicious text, the person was actually trying to be nice, but somehow the words, arranged in to that particular order, became a weapon of mass destruction. It managed to bring to the surface all of my stuff about not being enough, all that old stuff that has screamed at me for my entire life that I needed to be good, funny, kind, interesting and smart to be likable. Only then would I be lovable. Anything less than being all these qualities is unacceptable. All of it came roaring back into my head, disturbing the peace and sanctuary that I’ve worked so hard to create. All of it came roaring back to turn me, albeit temporarily, back into the small scared little boy I’ve spent so much of my adult life trying to soothe.
“It is more difficult to rule yourself than rule a city”
As I lay there watching my egoic nonsense thrash about inside my head I fought to detach myself from it. “You’re better than this, Chris. Detach and observe what is going on”, but as I laid and observed the tyrant of the mind, I would be unwittingly dragged back into the storm without even realising it was happening. Until, that is, I realised what had happened and then detached and observed again, for a while, until I inevitably went down for another phase of drowning in negativity. This cycle went on for at least two hours. There is an old saying “it is more difficult to rule yourself than to rule a city“. As I laid there trying to regain control of my monkey brain, that saying became oh so relevant. I would have rather fixed refuse collection budgets, traffic flow issues, litter problems, social cohesion, a crime epidemic, anything. At times the fight I was in felt lost. Resistance was futile.
To an outsider I would have looked peacefully asleep, but as I lay there completely awake, bearing witness to and then repeatedly being destroyed by own mind, I was anything but peaceful. I was at all out war with myself.
After a while I deployed a new military offensive. I began chanting ‘AUM’, again and again, silently in my head, and this worked for a bit, crowding out the hatred, until my ego arose again, and the AUMs subsided into disgusting inner dialogue towards myself and the world. I was alternating between turning my anger inwards on my person, and then outwards on the world. It was truly psychotic behaviour, and as it went on I felt my body start to fail. My head ached, my shoulders became sore, my stomach groaned, my chest tightened, my legs became heavy. Never before have I been so fully aware of the destructive impact that this self-loathing can have my physical being.
It is no wonder that I have spent most of my adult life feeling “not very good”. For years doctors said it was all in my head, but how angry that made me. How could it be my head when my body feels like this? I realise now that was in my head, at least some of it, and occasionally still is. I guess the difference is that I now know this, and my lord, how simultaneously liberating and paralysing that is.
I got up, tried to yoga it out of my system. That didn’t work so I went for a long walk around the neighbourhood. As I walked my thoughts descended further into chaos. Utter chaos. Downwards I went until, almost inevitably, the thoughts turned to self destruction. This was a somewhat unpleasant outcome, but not particularly surprising.
I have done so much inner work over the past two years to heal, both the relationship with myself and the one with the world around me. I thought I had it all sussed, thought I was over all that. I am Chris, Enlightened Being. I’ve been walking around my city like I own it for the past six weeks, grinning at strangers, feeling joy float through my being for no reason other than the simple gratitude for being alive. Yet here I was, my world coming crumbling down around me.
Suicidal thoughts are not new to me. At times in my past they have appeared when things have seemed intolerably tough. On one occasion, when I was a teenager, I very nearly carried it out. I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad I have continued to live and experience life. When the despair turns to thoughts of merciful death I know the cycle is nearing its end, and I start to relax, because it is normally at that point I have to make a decision; life or death. I always choose life. I don’t see that changing. I’ve been to the bottom of some impossibly deep and dark places and always seen enough reason to climb back out. For me, there’s something weirdly soothing about being surrounded by darkness, whilst knowing that there is always a slither of light somewhere when I’m ready to look for it. It almost makes the darkness appealing. A bit of a time out. It forces me to curl into a ball, enables some tears to come and just shut everything down for a while.
I guess for that reason I don’t worry too much, even if I have a depressive cycle that goes all the way to the very bottom, I know from extensive past experience that it is always temporary, and that I normally come out of it flying higher than before, with renewed love and appreciation for the wonderful life I have. I don’t presume this is normal. I’m not sure what normal is. Stuff I have read suggests that thoughts of suicide are dangerous, but I’ve never seen it that way. People don’t tend to talk about suicidal thoughts very often, so I don’t know how common it is. I guess it could be a scary thing if you are presented with such thoughts for the first time, people are uncomfortable talking about it, which I can also understand. It seems to me that for most people the darkness is an undesirable place which they seek to avoid at all costs. There’s just very little I feel uncomfortable talking about anymore. If anything I go looking for the uncomfortable stuff now, I tend to find it the most interesting.
Here’s where the big change lies. Where all the work I have done is paying off. Where the arsenal of weapons I have amassed against the darkness can be deployed.
In the past these dark periods could extend for weeks or even months. In the past week I’ve had two triggering events, this being one of them, both sent me spiraling down rapidly. In both instances I managed to climb back out of the rabbit hole within a few hours, not days, or weeks or months. And I’m doing it without the help of alcohol, substances, comfort food, people, or the gym. (Fuck though, I do miss the gym). For the last seven weeks I’ve been completely on my own 97% of the time. The old tools and distractions are gone. Right now all I have is walking, meditation, my breath, chanting mantras, and Netflix. I AM HERMIT.
I have changed. Sitting here now, typing, I can’t think of anything material I want. I don’t feel a desire to own anything. I feel a burning desire to sing, and dance in nature, to hug, and laugh and kiss, to tickle and tease, to cuddle, to stroke and be stroked, to make love. But the avenues to that have been banned. Fearful friends request ‘social distance’. Dating apps now repulse me. So right now, I don’t want anything, or anyone. Does that mean I’ve given up? Not at all.
One desire burns stronger than all else. The desire to serve. I have discovered I have a gift. Something wonderful to offer the world. Through fortune and failings I’ve somehow stumbled on the ability to make a real positive impact on the lives of others. My own blessed suffering has led me to a place where I can now help others see a way through their own suffering. It is the greatest gift. It makes sense of all the darkness. I had to suffer so that I may understand the suffering of others. Each fall into darkness I experience now only serves to teach me more so that I may offer more. The darkness, it turns out, has been my saviour. It has shown me how to step into the light.
I sense many of my family and friends don’t quite know what to make of this new version of me. My dear mum said it sounds like I’m quoting the bible a lot of the time, but I haven’t read the bible. Sometimes I wonder if this Covid me is the real me, but the only me that exists right now is the version typing this. So it has to be the real me. But it is interesting, having spent my entire life worrying constantly what other people thought of me, that now I don’t seem to give a damn. I appear to be done with the charade. The whole world looks like a giant fucking charade right now anyway.
I think the biggest shift is this. In the past when I went downwards I swam desperately against the tide, I cut jaggedly against the grain, I scrambled uphill away from the danger lurking at the bottom. As a result I would be left beaten and exhausted by the fight. Today, I try to let myself fall, I submit to the darkness, I let the devil take me, I seek to give up control. I shake hands with him in hell, I give him a nod, we down an imaginary pint together, and then I bid him farewell and jump right back up.
This is how we heal from our pain. We face it. We face the fear head on. We make friends with it. We say:
“hello darkness my old friend, it’s nice to talk with you again”
and when we’ve heard the message the darkness has come to show us, we apply it to our life, we learn, we grow, we move on and we level up.
Our triggers are not there to be avoided. They are there to teach us how to dance with this life. They are luminous teachings. Fuck me, they’re uncomfortable, but nothing evolves from a comfort zone. Nothing. And what happens when we stay in a comfort zone? We remain ‘comfortably numb’.
I’m done being comfortably numb. I want to experience the fullness of life. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The blissful ecstasy is worth the squeeze, and the more I live like this, the more the blissful ecstasy seems to become my default state of being.
I think the thing to remember with all this Covid-19 stuff is this: This is training. Life will throw shit at us all the bloody time, the more shit we get landed with, the more resilient we can become. We develop a more agile response to things not going the way we had hoped. Hoping for things leads to disappointment. I’m starting to find that I’m hoping for things to go a certain way, less. More willing to allow the universe to deliver what it sees fit. Life is becoming less predictable, less structured, less planned, more fun, more adventurous, more surprising, even in lockdown. I sense my life becoming less of a tedious back and forth flow of water in a canal, constrained by the opening and closing of locks. Instead it feels more like a constantly flowing, occasionally eddying, occasionally still, and occasionally churning mess of white water in a long and winding river. Every now and then there’s a waterfall to go plunging down. I like it this way. I feel alive, even when I feel dread.
I have talked of darkness, despair and death in this post, but this post is really about hope, joy, growth, love, and dare I say it, spiritual connection. The darkness is there to teach us how to dance with this life. Embrace the darkness, make friends with it, have a laugh with it, but always look on the bright side. Every moon has a phase when it is impossible to spot in the dark of night. It does not mean it is not there. It is still there. Every winter is followed by spring. If you find yourself on the precipice, try to come back to that concept. When we stand on the precipice we are on the verge of a shift. That is not the time to end it. Thoughts of the end can provide the motivation needed to grow. Acts of speeding up the end only serve to destroy that opportunity.
Look for the sliver of light. It is always there. It only takes one day for the moon to shimmer with white light again. It only takes one second for the equinox to shift winter into spring. One second is all it need take.
Keep fighting the good fight, my friends.
Ps. When I start to emerge from the darkness I listen to this song and chant along to the Gurmukhi words – Spotify Link here
Bhaja Man Mere.
Hari Ka Nam.
Hari Ka Nam Sat Nam.
“Oh my mind, meditate on God’s name! God’s name is the truth of my identity.”
It always works. Even when it doesn’t.