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I’m trying to find my way back to the ‘functional zone’. I sit in the sauna. I try the steam room with eucalyptus and mint to soothe my sinuses. I exchange massages. My head is foggy. The weather is clammy cold. I sound husky, my legs move more slowly than usual. Each night I sweat and cough, wake feeling bed-ship-wrecked – drenched and exhausted with bruises on the insides. I have lost patience with the common cold. It feels as though days keep escaping from me. The habitual sense of being overloaded with communication increases as my output decreases. I notice how an underlying anxiety rises as my inbox grows. Messages wait unanswered and my to-do list eludes me, mocks me. I realise how little leeway there is between the functional zone and feeling out of control.

My life changed when I learned how to regulate the pattern of my energy. The key for me was rhythm. I now try to follow a daily schedule of waking, walking, working, eating and sleeping. When I’m tired, I need to sleep. The energy drink has become a necessary boost for many who work too hard, too long, in irregular patterns then play hard too. I feel sad that the loss of self-regulation has become so normalised. Our circadian rhythms dictate brain waves, cell regeneration and other autonomic body functions. A life with a good balance of diurnal activity and nocturnal rest creates a foundation for healthy body and mind. I see the havoc played in those close to me who juggle shift work. The lift and subsequent blood sugar post Taurine drop of energy drinks are symptoms of a disregulated cycle, a different kind of disconnect from nature. I wonder who drank these – the workmen on the near-by building site, or self-medicating occupants of the church gardens?

Kathryn Mannix – palliative care consultant – meets those who are referred to her ‘where they are’. With the aid of “tea-with-sympathy” she listens, she sits with them, and she puts her immense experience and wisdom at their disposal. As a reader, she guides us to “accompany dying strangers across the pages”. She lets us into the relationship between those approaching end of life and their care-givers. The stories within this book often made me shed a tear, as they poignantly describe “what a privilege, to be able to observe families as they are forged in a furnace of love and belonging, so often with its fiercest heat at the ebbing of a life.” Mannix describes working within the medical profession, yet with the shift moving from being “focused not on saving life at any cost, but on enabling goodbye.” This book is also a practical read. “Reclaiming the language of illness and dying enables us to have simple, unambiguous conversations about death.” Just as Mannix with her patients hears and has needed conversations to demystify the process of dying, and helps them to identify what is important, she encourages us to do the same. “We should all have those conversations with our dear ones, and sooner rather than later.”

Always too busy, with self-imposed deadlines and unreasonable expectations of myself, today I have come to a standstill. My energy is low and concentration poor. I fitfully sleep then read. I am marooned on the sofa with the animals for comfort and company. Gigi uses my immobility as a chance to cuddle up and share warmth. I have slipped into a state of exhausted helplessness. A cold has delivered me briefly to ‘the kingdom of the sick’*. This is a temporary visit, but it’s a familiar place that I have spent long bouts of time in…I fall away from my engaged active life. My vision shrinks as though I am looking through a macro lens at my surroundings in close up. My eyes swim with the magenta of my shawl, my hands drink in the soft velvet of the cushions. A trip to the kettle seems an epic voyage. From moment to moment I track the aches and pains that circulate round my body – sore throat, swollen glands, headache, blocked nose, sneezing. I notice the heat ebb from my feet, squeeze knots of tension around my neck. I let myself off the hook, give myself to rest.
*from ‘Illness as Metaphor’ by Susan Sontag.

In ‘Underland’ Robert Macfarlane documents a series of journeys deep underground. In the physical routes taken – often dangerous, breath taking – we accompany him down into caves, mines, catacombs, burial sites (for both humans and nuclear waste), forests and glaciers. Exploring humankind’s different calls to go down, “the same three tasks recur across cultures and epochs: to shelter what is precious, to yield what is valuable, and to dispose of what is harmful.” Beyond the actual journeys of geography, geology and history, he takes us into a beautifully written telling of what lies beneath. “The underland’s difficulty of access has long made it a means of symbolising what cannot openly be said or seen: loss, grief…physical pain.” “In the Celtic tradition ‘thin places’ are those sites where the borders between worlds or epochs feel at their most fragile.” Walking in liminal spaces alongside him, I feel this deep time connection. His encounter with pre-historic cave art in Lofoten, Norway made me tingle. “The cave is a slip-rift, an entrance to darkness where time shifts, pauses, folds.” “Force yourself to see more deeply,” he encourages. Most hopeful for me is his telling of the under storey of the ‘wood wide web’. Hearing how trees ‘en-kiss’ to share nutrients, “the fungal networks that lace woodland soil, joining individual trees into intercommunicating trees,” I cried. ‘Underland’ is a poetic map of the mystery of underground spaces.

Here I sit, right now in time. I feel the reassuring support of this seat and my breath spiralling in and out. I also notice how much the present is coloured by responses to my lived experience. In grief rituals that connect body with feelings and mind there is the possibility of surfacing some of the old emotional deposits  stored in our cells in order to clear them. One reason is to be more available to live fully in the present. In my psyche and in the context of grief rituals the future looms large. The present era with all its injustices, inequalities, floods and raging wildfires will give rise to what comes next. Being here now is a worthy starting point, but I am wary that without a more intentional framework, without a commitment to being of service, to fulfilling my highest potential to be fully me, it might be another kind of disconnect.

There it sits, nestling on a rail between drab coats and no-longer-treasured jackets. It has been waiting for me. Like a glass slipper, it fits perfectly. Today my prize is a pink fur jacket with illicit micro-fibres. I try to reserve my fashion purchases to the pre-loved, or organic eco-cotton. Like a well-matched blind date, we tentatively introduce ourselves, but notice the chemistry between us. I imagine how we will be years into our relationship – partnering with dresses I’m already intimate with. I glance coyly in the mirror as we snuggle behind the too-tight-fitting changing room curtain. If the universe has sent me a jacket in dusky pink with the softest touch, it would be churlish to reject it. We leave the shop together, my purse lighter, to get to know one another.

As we leave Union Chapel, the shadow of the gate plays on the wall. We have been to ‘Breathing Space’, a night of meditation with Boe and Bilal. Given space to honour our pain for the world, we discuss ‘the great unravelling’ as Joanna Macy names it – the shadow consequences of ‘business as usual’ caused by the industrial growth economy. The acknowledgement and naming of the shadow, the unseen, brings power through seeing the whole. Everything has a shadow. “That which you do not love regresses and turns hostile to you”, states Jung, whose wisdom illuminated ‘the shadow’. I sit today with my own dark side – the imposter, the incompetent as well as the righteous. Pickle (aged hound), now fairly deaf and near blind moved toward my shadow, which was skulking on the stairs; he then jumped to find my body behind him. I observe the play of light and dark, see the beauty in the shadow curlicues on the wall. The next evening in the series is ‘Active Hope’.
www.unionchapel.org.uk/event/11-12-19-spirituality-in-powerful-times/

The party has waves of activity. The highlight for me is watching Dex on the decks. His hands pause limp over the mixer, waiting to bounce the next tune into the mix. I love to watch as his arms, cast adrift, throw the energy of the tune into the room. His gregarious enthusiasm and geek-tech side come together here. Like a map, young people cluster around the house in continents. There are the dancers downstiars, the smoking talkers around the fire bowl, the chilling-outers upstairs, the shouters on the stairs, and the unwell on the floor. I hide in my garret unable to rest, unable to dance on my crook knee. Occasionally I creep downstairs, recoil from the swill of beer on kitchen surfaces, the disregard for proper recycling, and return to my private haven. But my nervous system registers each excited screech, each loud knock on the door. I recognise the time and energy I have put into learning how to party well over the last twenty-four years. There is a narrow edge between enjoyment and hedonism, which I hope they navigate successfully.

There are some jobs which can be done quicker, faster and more efficiently with a cable tie. In an ideal world there will be no unessential plastic. In the meantime, I would like to praise the re-usable cable tie. This packet cost just a little more than the disposable single use cable ties in the DIY shop. The word ‘reusable’ on the label is easily missed. They look almost the same as regular ones, but a clever flange allows them to be closed then released to open again. Be a connoisseur; when rope or string just won’t do, invest in re-useable to make essential connections.