Knowing my self

I've always hated having my photo taken. Whatever I do or do not look like in real life I am one of those unlucky individuals (in this day and age) who is not photogenic. The planes of my face, my features, my nervousness, all the above...not good photographic material. In school photos I would usually have my eyes closed, more than once 'ruining' the otherwise 'lovely' picture of my brother as we sat together. Tall, gangly, shy and awkward, I was grim-faced in black and white, red-faced in colour.

Not a huge fan of the selfie, I nevertheless came to appreciate what a good one can do for one's self esteem. It's possible to take 30 of them and choose the one good one to filter and 'artify'. But still I was self-conscious about it. I didn't like what I thought it said about me that I enjoyed posting pictures of myself. I didn't think it said anything about anyone else mind you (outside the Kardashian Realm) because I love seeing other people's faces. Just not mine.

And then in the last few weeks I started to like what I saw because I recognised her. Me. The lines on my face and the streaks of grey in my hair. Making the portraits a moody B&W felt totally right because I was trying to portray more than the physical. There was also a slight fascination with how much I am beginning to resemble family members to whom I've never before been likened. I am moved to see them showing up in these images now. My father's memory of me may be fading daily but his face is appearing in mine at an equal pace.

Most of all, I am claiming my self. I am staking my claim to this life, this experience, this place, this day, this moment. This face.

Like the magical Maya, I have a council of animal guides to whom I've always turned, even as a child. Among them now I identify hawk (as the European common buzzard), crow, deer, pigeon, badger and spider. Foremost, always, are the wolves. Within the council they have a governing circle and take precedence as my personal 'family'. It's the circle that calls me in when there's something special I need to be shown or told.

Recently, I was not so much called as summoned. It felt as if I were about to get a good telling off but I had no idea why. I was kindly asked if I was in agreement that I belong to the wolf family. Indeed. Then I should be reminded of a few things:

Wolves are known to be: loving, loyal, family-orientated, protective, affectionate, playful even. Deeply instinctive, they are the pathfinders, with a deep faith and understanding of life. They will fight tooth and claw to defend their own and are at times fierce, intense and, when cornered, extremely dangerous. Capable of inflicting deep wounds, even though they prefer flight over fight.

But nowhere has the wolf character ever been described as 'nice'.

So, I was asked, did I want to be 'nice' because if I did I might be better checking out the very nice rabbits next door. Or did I want to really stand up and be who I am.

Since I answered a fast and unequivocal yes to the latter, things have progressed. I'm feeling as if some kind of inner upgrade took place. Everything is more vivid, more...more...everything. My senses are sharper.

And when I look at myself I see who I really am, down to the brown/grey fur. I am happy to see her. Happy to see me.


A life's work

It's so nice when it stops. Know that one? I was kind of aware of the intense metamorphosis taking place - the battering, the aching, the stress and the heat of the fire - but it became the norm there for a while. It's only now that the intensity has dialled right down and there is some peace, that I can see that this year has been one of those really full-on, fast track, 'sorry but ya just gotta learn this and quickly' times. Now I'm in a lull, recovering, and frankly I hope it lasts longer than it takes to catch my breath. Transition, transformation, growth...perhaps I was dawdling too much. Maybe the Powers That Be decided I needed a kick up the arse. Maybe I decided that.

It's hard, really hard, when there are changes in one area of your life that don't automatically manifest in others. My ongoing 'work' is almost all of a spiritual nature and that's where these developments have been; meanwhile the day-to-day stuff stays the same. That's not a bad thing, it's just how it is when your life is happily intertwined with others'. So we end up taking huge steps forward in one part of our selves and then many times a day having to back track, change back into our 'old clothes' and be who we're needed to be in other parts. Of course the aim is integration - how else can we be whole? - but that takes time, patience, courage, big love and a whole lot of trial and error.

I am lucky to be, thus far, unconditionally accepted and loved by my family (it's entirely mutual, even on the days when I yell a lot) but I do sometimes wonder,'Just how weird can I get before it's too much for them?'!

The thing with personal power is, it needs to be expressed in order to be ignited. It exists in all of us as intention, whether we are aware of it or not, but it needs to be given life to actually be of any benefit. The more we express our true selves, the more powerful we become. Obviously. And yet we withhold - especially in my culture.

A big part of what has changed in me this year is down to my expressing things that I might formerly have kept to myself. I have taken a risk on being thought of as weird and - even worse  - at least at one point 'not very nice' (the horror), as a move to let my personal power live. I have been more honest than I have ever been and despite the discomfort and vulnerability that brought out, it has been hugely empowering. I still have a way to go but so far, so much better. I am more comfortable with myself when I speak from my heart. More whole. As I said in my previous post, the circuit completes and the power surges.

I have to believe that this power we have is a positive thing, that we use it not just for personal benefit but for all. And that means believing the price we might pay for bringing it to life is worth the discomfort.

The end of the year is just weeks away and I'm looking at 2015 in a) amazement (we live in THE FUTURE now) and b) anticipation. A lot of 2014 has for me been about building strength: physical, emotional, spiritual. Next year I hope to add in skill, finesse, even artistry in how I express my self. I've a feeling that's a life's work.


Closing the circle *

In the days before my t-shirt designs went live I posted some images on Instagram - the one on the right, above, is one of them - tagged #theartofwildness. That was my old blog name and was calling to be put out in the world again, so I used it for the store. It seemed appropriate.

I looked at the images again last night and smiled. I realised they might seem contrived but I promise you, this is how I live. That is my every day. Just as some people show up on the mat, the meditation cushion, the treadmill, at the altar...I show up out there. Every day, whatever the weather.

The dogs play a part in this - and that's just one of the reasons I am so grateful for their companionship - but I truly believe I'd do it anyway. It is, and has been for the 24 years since I moved out of Bath (not to mention many years before that), my practice. My mat, cushion, treadmill and altar. Even when it's cold, wet, dark and I'd rather be inside watching Peaky Blinders, I'm not. I'm out there with the earth, the trees and the streams; the full moons and new moons, solstices and storms. Showing up.

And it occurred to me that equally representative, almost, would be the other image. My desk at work. Doing what I've noticed I refer to as 'my day job'. With all the negative connotations that carries. And you know what? It's not 'my day job'. It is also my practice.

Twelve years ago I applied for a role at the charity I've worked for ever since. It was my third application in ten years and this time I'd built up journalism qualifications, PR and marketing experience, and my knowledge of conservation and environmental issues was deeper and better informed, so I got in and I've stayed. I believe in our work as much as I ever have, if not more. Twelve years of fighting for the rights of whales and dolphins; self-aware, intelligent beings with family, language, culture and their own 'names'. I have no plans to leave.

I am, as I step into the territory of my 50s, discovering one great thing: I know myself now. I may be a late bloomer as so many people seem to say this in their 40s and yes, things began to become clear then for me, but now is different.

Yet it's only recently that I've stopped repeating the,'I need to find myself...I need to discover/uncover my passion, my calling' line out of sheer habit. Because I don't. That's done. What a bloody relief. Now I can just get on with it.

Perhaps it was that old habit that got me all fired up this summer about how I should change the world. How I contribute to making the world a kinder, more inclusive, less murderous place. Hit by the inevitable, endless waves of horror at how humans abuse other beings as well as themselves I felt as if I was part of the problem, not part of the solution. Just by dint of my silence.

Um...12 years...week in, week out...witnessing the horror...fighting to stop it...celebrating the wonders...being part of a team that has succeeded in achieving huge change in both perception and treatment of non-human beings...I was already doing it.

My 'day job' is as much a part of me as my family, the woods, the reiki and the creativity. What a blessing that is. I am an activist and have been for more than a decade and what's more it pays to keep a roof over my family's head. A roof that sits among the woods where I find my inspiration and my answers.

Life is never still or settled. We're either moving forward or backwards. Sideways? I will be learning and changing and reintegrating until the day I die. And, I believe, beyond. But there does, it seems to me, come a time when you know your land, your 'place' in it all and feel deeply, viscerally not simply connected to it but part of it. A contributing, essential part. That's when the adventure really begins. That's when, as the circuit closes on your wholeness, the power surges through the circle.

As good as it would be to know this feeling at 20, 30 or even 40, many people do not. But that doesn't matter. It comes when it comes. We need be only aware and watchful and open to it.


* Namaste to my dear Lisa Field-Elliot

Being human

'Only human.' We use it as an excuse for less than stellar behaviour, or perceived weakness in a character. It's a Get Out Of Jail Free card that doesn't really work but maybe gets you a cell with a window. Probably not a widow though, which is what I typed first.

I'm a sucker for dwelling on my own weaknesses. There has never been anyone who is as critical of me as I am. Perhaps I do it to avoid being surprised by how low the opinions of others can be: 'You think I'm 40 feet down? HA! I laugh in the face of your 40 feet assessment, for I know myself to be at least 70 feet down. Therefore, your opinion of me, Sir, is relatively high and I am safe from hurt. I win the Scorn Olympics.'

Thanks to some masterful training from my parents and then the first man I fell in love with, I lived the first 35 years of my life thinking I was pretty damn crap. At everything. Except being with dogs; I was always bloody good at that. Oh, and tap-dancing. The rest? Not so much. In fact, not even a tiny bit.

I started to recognise that perhaps this wasn't serving anyone very well, least of all me, and that maybe if I looked I'd find some redeeming qualities. But I was even crap at not being crap. I was convinced that it was a simple black/white thing. One is either crap, or perfect. So I always failed. 'And she's got the GOLD!'


Fast forward 15 or so years and I've come a long way. There is much about me that makes me proud. It may not always resonate with other people's standards but that's their issue. I still want, some days, to feel that I am not ever, ever crap. When faced with the fact that sometimes I just am, I can still feel crumbly. I try to accept that I, along with Everyone Else Ever, is wonderfully, magnificently human. There's no 'only' about it. Being human is not an explanation for failure, but rather a reason for being a bright, pulsing, vibrating, hot/cold, good/bad animal. <irony> How utterly perfect. </irony>

My daughter is a perfectionist too. This may be part of her character, a reflected part of mine or even - as is common with children who share her story - the need to be so damn good that no one will ever abandon you again. Fear around that is certainly visceral for her no matter what.

As ever, the teacher is also the student and helping her to recognise and move if not 'past', then 'above' these feelings has been good for me too. And recently I adopted a technique outlined by runner Tim Van Orden. He described how he has started to help himself through negative feelings by literally talking to himself. Out loud, in a gentle, soothing voice. The way you would to a small child. 'It's okay, you're feeling [insert emotion] and I'm not surprised. I understand. But you'll be fine. You're safe. I'm here and I promise it'll all be alright. I love you.' He was so passionate about this that I decided to try it, despite feeling a bit of a fool and bloody hell if it didn't work a treat! Like a dream! So yeah I'm doing it all the time now. Except in public.

Another thing I do a few times a year is ye olde full moone releasing rituale. I'm a big fan of reading up on how others do this and then making your own version, in line with your own truth. I'm doing mine tonight on this second night of the Taurus full moon. Evie - who has participated before - was keen to take part too so we've both made our bundles and will burn one, offer another, this evening. She loves these little ceremonies and I love to share them with her.

Whatever the full moon brought you, have a good weekend.


Wear your magic

It's a phrase that I coined about my tattoos. The ink I wear is very much an expression of inner workings. It sometimes seems to have pushed its way to the surface when the time was right. The paw print - both dog and wolf, the elements, the enso, the tree of life with the crow and wolf, the three dots symbolising whatever trinity I'm focused on at the time...all part of my magic. 

It's what I call on when I need insight, peace, strength or healing. It's the bridge between my human doing and my spiritual being.

Some days the jewellery I wear feels the same way. Each piece means something to me. It symbolises a feeling or carries a memory; beyond precious to me. Although none of it is financially valuable it all gives me power.

Clothes, too, can maketh the woman. For me, favourite linen draped, or soft, layered t-shirts. A perfectly fitting pair of jeans. The boots that put a spring in my step. The big, heavy scarf that wraps me in warmth and and childhood memories of dressing-up.

I love to wear my magic. Even when it looks like muddy wellies. Maybe, as a true 'earth person', especially then! Which reminds me...'Elemental'. I don't know about you but I feel it more as I get older. More aware than ever of the source of things and how I am made of nothing more.  Nor do I need to be. The smell of fallen leaves at this time of year brings it especially close as they mulch down into the earth, softened by rain, or blow spiralling in the air to be gathered into bonfires. All these and the circle of spirit coming together to make Life.

So when I thought about mixing hand-drawn tattoo design with words, for clothing, these were the phrases that first offered themselves. Others followed and will be finished soon but with the glorious full moon lighting up my sign of Taurus today I thought I'd cut the virtual ribbon now.

So here it is. The reinvention of The Art Of Wildness in a slightly different form! I'm loving working on these ideas, there's lots more to come.