I’m on the plane. On the way home from home. This trip more than any other has been about Returning. It has been about belonging, coming back to my roots, and realising the necessity in claiming them. Anyone who has been to even one class with Mark Whitwell will recall his answer to his own question as to where one lives. It has something to do with swans, ie “stop swanning around Bali and go home!” I’ve always thought I had an inkling of what he meant, but during this trip it really sunk in. I have spent a lifetime of wandering, of searching, of being seduced by the exotic and discarding the gifts of familiarity. Yet I see this as spanda– as the nature of the cosmos – as we expand outwards and then eventually come back to centre. And just like the Heroine on her proverbial journey, she has gifts from her travels which she at some point must return home with. Otherwise, she risks floating around in the ether. Her treasures lost by her own self sabotage.
After my Masters degree in Development Studies, I worked for the Refugee Studies Centre for my university. We were exploring the plight at all sort of displaced people. People who were displaced from their native countries, people who were displaced within their countries. People we were second, or third or eight generation refugees, yet who still seemed to closely identify with their ancestral roots far more than their adopted places of refuge. However, I have started to see how there are so many of us who continue to be displaced, the only difference is – we don’t even realise it. This Return, this coming back to source roots us in a land, culture, ancestry and even our body. Many of us no longer even “where” we have come from. Our parents may have different nationalities, speak different languages, or we may have moved house multiple times. We might not have any constant environment which to converse with – to share our days with, to witness and learn about. Although I lived in six different houses during my childhood and went to boarding school hours away from my parents – I now realise that those of us from the “old countries” have a certain unspoken connection with this our land. I have heard countless stories from friends born in Canada, New Zealand and Australia but who still yearn to arc back to their Scottish Heritage. The stories of our ancestors are so important for they pass on memories before they are forgotten and allow us to lay claim to a sense of belong on this planet.
Those of us born on this Island of the British Isles have something so precious that it is rarely talked about. We have a long line of ancestry that is rooted in myth and wisdom, that is deeply linked to the caves, the oceans, the bogs and forests. It is in our blood. If only we were able to return here. To step off the concrete and step our feet back onto the earth, if we are able to see the connection in the multiplicity of immigrants that have called this home since prior to the Roman invasion at the turn of the first millennium, or before the Vikings, then something really wonderful begins to immerge. If we take the time to learn about our surroundings, the seasons and the cycles, to listen to its stories, to reap the benefits of its wisdom, then rather than treating it as a resource, we can start to see ourselves as an living extension and embodiment of the land. That we are Nature herself. That we are not floating around on top of the earth like a helium balloon blown haplessly in the whims of the wind. This sense of rooting brings with it a wonderful dialogue. We can open ourselves up to listening, to feeling protected wherever we are, to feel connected wherever we are.
Even if a father dies, we have seen the same land he saw. We have felt the same air he felt. We have marvelled at the same miracles as he. And his father before him and before him. Dare I say it, we are connected more than we care to realise. My own father’s generation were witness to the same War time transformations. They know the same songs, they can recite the same poetry. For my generation…we can laugh at the same jokes. For real, it’s a relief as soon as I land in the UK that someone will finally get my sense of humour. Of course, it goes so much deeper than that, because as we realise we where we belong, where we have come from and we can start to own unwanted emotions such grief as a birth right rather than a silent disorder. Being human comes with the same questions of what this is all about, what will give meaning to one’s life, and as Jerimiah Abrahams is often quoted as saying “what decisions will I make that I can live with?” When we realise that we are already connected, that there is nothing else to achieve or do, that no matter how much we attempt to be “mindful” or sit still, or attend another philosophy or spirituality course, it’s all already right here.
Perhaps what is so deeply uncomfortable for those of us who cut their roots before they had time to sink in, years or decades ago, who dedicated a life time to the study of contemporary Spiritual bypassing under the guise of Eastern traditions, is that rather than looking inwards for the answers – for the peace – the answers lay all around us. The deeper we care about what is around us, the more we take care, the more we see our faces in the faces of those we are surrounded by, the more we listen to the language of the plants, the whispers of our land. Then all of a sudden life has all the purpose which we have been praying for. We have a duty to take care of it. To receive the blessings and the lessons and also to make sure that we leave this natural legacy for those yet to come. Of course, this symbiotic relationship begins with our environment, but it also extends into the very fabric of society. My own grandfather pushed for the creation for the National Health Service, for free education, and for a free country. He also wanted to do this for those who didn’t share the same nationality or the same blood, as he was ready to go to Spain and fight Franco so that same freedom he valued in the UK could be secured for those who simply shared human blood.
The danger of looking “in” all the time is that it can become all about “me”. We risk feeling isolated, alone, searching for the mythical spiritual connection whilst denying the very physical intimate connection with the earth and our land which we already inhabit. It is almost so obvious that we don’t even see it, but the more disconnect we feel, the more we reach for destructive habits that can numb and confuse us even more. It seems so contrary to the modern day focus of “self-help” which is precisely that – help yourself. Yet, the answers may lay in giving our lives purpose by helping others. We often warned not to do this by spiritual leaders who warn we might just as well stay stum and not risk rocking any more boats by meddling with others business. However, the return to source, the coming back to one’s roots, can hold some wonderful insights. Many of us have studied and invested a great deal of time in a topic of specialised field that at some point held a deep interest for us. Perhaps the “system” or the corporate context was so disheartening that we left to …wander. However, that training, that experience, those first sparks of interest whether it be in politics, in economics, in maths, in classical music, in literature, can give us a means to be a horizontal and vertical conduit within the human society and between us the non-human world. The more embodied we become – the more deeply feeling we can allow ourselves to be, then the more the pieces can just fall into place. There will just be a moment of recognition, of clarity of “aha” that’s what I am good at, that is what I enjoy, that is what feels satisfying because I know I am of use – of service. And “that” is your “uniqueness”. Your raison d’etre. Of course, it can change, and it will as we are following the same program of evolution and therefore perspectives continue to shift and insights deepen. Trust, humility and a willingness to let go again and again can be our faithful guides.
This morning I woke early, even after so little sleep as I spoke the night into darkness with one of my closest friends. Her father has just passed away and the reflections it has offered us both have been so profound. Death has a way of doing that. Of reminding us of our fragility and the inevitable demise of all that we know. Losing a parent is even more of a severe reminder of our “humanness”. We are living in an era that loves to forget we are from the animal kingdom. We view everything from an anthropocentric lens, and by placing ourselves as kings of the world, we continue to strive for domination over the laws of nature. We even attempt to do this in so called spiritual practices, as if we can cocoon ourselves against the dangers of attachment, the pain of falling in love and the cycles of our own bodies. But they are Her laws and She is firm with her teachings. We must each experience grief. When a parent dies, one of our physical anchors to our ancestry is cut. Our parents place us in the natural order of life. They were here on earth when we weren’t. And at some point, if we are lucky, we will be here when they are not. What remains is a void. As memories fade and portals into believing can potentially open. Believing that there is more than what can be seen. Otherwise why do we stand in the kitchen talking with an invisible mother or father. Actually hearing the answers?
So this morning, I made the effort to do what I know will set me up for the day ahead. And that wasn’t rolling out my yoga mat and going through a series of postures to “quieten my mind.” No, it was something much more tangible, much more earthly – I just went for a run. I ran along the Thames as the sun slowly rose above the line of oak trees and mist rose from the river, almost pulling up the tidal waters of the river. Early morning in London and the birds have reclaimed the streets. Their songs override all else, and even the people join them becoming momentarily Northern as they greet good morning to one another. Perhaps we notice each other more when there are not so many of us? I love to run. And no…I’m not “running away” from anything, as those who are averse to running and prefer just to sit often argue. When I run the elements consume me. The cold fresh air submerges my lungs. The land seems to ground my bones. The dew from the morning grass soaks through my shoes, and my senses are enlivened by the wonder of the world. This morning a wire fence shimmered with glistening spider’s webs which hung heavy with water. Rowers skimmed over the surface of the river as we smiled at one another – sharing in the magic of the morning. Grateful to have another day to live. Whenever we “make the effort” even if it is just as simple as waking up an hour early in order to set ourselves up for the day ahead (in my case a seventeen-hour flight across the globe) then we give ourselves a helping hand – a mini confidence boost that we can take care of ourselves and that this feels good. Every time we make the effort to acknowledge and connect to the land, to listen to it – even if it is simply crossing the road and glancing up at the passing clouds, or pausing under a loyal tree, and pondering on what life it might have witnessed, then we receive a suitable reminder of our place in the complex weaving into which we are tightly woven.
For many of us, this necessitates letting go of much of what we have learnt is important. It means revaluating what are our true priories, and many times stepping into the unknown to learn more about the complex nature of our personalities. It also means being our own best friend. Some of us are so marvellous at being our own worst enemy, and listening to the little voice within that may constantly question everything. This inner critic can be particularly fierce just before we bleed, and whilst it often holds elements of truth it can leave us in floating in a wind of depression. I have personally found that committing to a daily practice which is tuned into how I actually feel that day and which is respectful of where I am at in my menstrual cycle really sets me up to make wise choices throughout the rest of the day. An embodied practice – ideally one that can be done outside, rather than within four corners and dare I say it lined up on yoga mats – is a way for us to naturally press the reset button and to physically unwind. By releasing tension in our body and actively drawing in the vital energy through the soles of our feet, our eyes and breath then we support a healthy mind-set. Emotions that perhaps we felt were overwhelming, or couldn’t even feel at all due to prioritising a crushing work schedule or draining relationship, no longer risk pushing us off the precipice. If we give ourselves permission to feel and to be present with our breath, body and natural surroundings then we can open up to the most incredible states of awareness complete with guiding insights as to where we can be in most active and effective service. To spend as much time in nature as possible is of course a huge gift and for many a distant reality. Yet even in the middle of a city, flowers find a way to sprout on the pavements, trees appear on street corners, birds still inhabit the skies and perhaps even the odd fox is roaming the parks. If we are able to stray further a field, take a weekend out and resurrect our long lost tent in on a moor, next to a lake or by a river and sleep on the land, our soul can take a sigh of relief. “She’s remembering”, you might here Her say. “She’s Listening”. I was recently told that the three main components of healing are community (sanga), devotion (bhakti) and deep rest (nidra). Nature gives us all we need to tap back in and refuel. And the beauty is, that we don’t even need to do a thing.