The Joy of Not Letting Go

By Gabs Brown

raj-eiamworakul-549245-unsplash.jpg

It’s been over twenty years since we were properly together and I’m still not over it. I think it’s the intensity of the relationship I miss more than anything else - the fierceness of the emotions, the discomfort of wanting everything to be perfect and it not being anywhere near, and then the giddy-making hope of a future where I thought it would be.

That future never came. The relationship ended in stops and starts in a strange and inconclusive way. Bits of our togetherness lingered on for years. They’re still there, in my head at least (I cannot speak for the other party). I have dreams so real and emotional they affect me more than my present-day waking experiences.

Anyone who knew me at the height of the relationship would have seen a young woman struggling with a thick grey cloud of subtle, destructive despair and yet a person happily infatuated and inspired; I was intoxicated by art and beauty and nature at the time in a way I have not been since. The most confusing times of our lives can be the most creative. It’s as though amidst the turmoil a channel opens to the soul that is powerfully imaginative, raw and true. We hate where we’re at, and yet we’re buzzing from it.

I am surprisingly shy and inept at expressing myself in person, but when we were together I felt connected and understood, without having to use words. In those moments it was not only like someone was holding me close but also that the Universe was taking me into its arms and showing me something greater than love and certainly more powerful than anything two people could muster between them.

Perhaps it was my age. Is anything easy or meaningless when you’re eighteen? When I think about who I was at this time I see myself floating in space, disconnected from the past and hurtling towards a future over which I knew I had no control.

I was an intense person to be around.

Like all heroines desperately in love, I couldn’t eat. Food repulsed me and yet I wanted to swap out my cold bony frame for something softer, curvier, more inviting. I made no sense. My actions didn’t reflect my desires. My body betrayed who I was. I was loving at my core but outwardly sharp and unemotional. I was only capable of communicating my feelings through music – cadences that someone else had composed, lyrics that were not my own, beats that were not from my heart but so could have been. It made my expressions second-hand I suppose, but nonetheless authentic.

Regret is a beast that doesn’t so much grow with time but decay into something perhaps smaller but altogether sourer.

So, I have not had closure on this one. I carry the weight of this failed relationship with me and sometimes when a song comes on the radio that reminds me of it I cry. And it feels good.

Sometimes I think that if I didn’t have these two decades of unresolved feelings I would be a monster. I’ve had to live the majority of my adult life humbled and inquisitive. I’ve had to take extra care over the things I love and want to work out knowing that desire and ambition are not enough to keep them within my reach. I know that even those things that are most important to me can wriggle away, without fanfare, if I’m not careful enough. Emotion without action is not enough. For everything I love, whether it’s a person, a job, a hobby, a friend, I know I must ask myself: how can I keep this here? How can I nurture it? How can I show it that I love it? How can I let myself love it well and be good to it, good enough so that it will want to stay in my life if not forever then long enough for me to be able to let it go properly and at a time that feels right?

In short, having utterly failed to nurture the love of my life all those years ago has forced me to live with awareness, to pay attention, to be considerate, to live knowing that I am vulnerable and disposable.

Here’s to you, piano: my first love, my finest failure, my absent friend forever, whatever.

 

 

 

Why I stopped believing in everything I had believed about childbirth

By Gabs Brown

Baby_Hands.jpg

Childbirth is such a touchy subject. There are very strong opinions on how it should be done, often with ‘natural’ and ‘assisted’ pitched against each other with one side very much being ‘good’ and the other ‘bad’. The truth is, whatever vision you have for the delivery of your baby is not likely to match the event itself, especially if you are a first-time mum, regardless of whether or not your baby is catapulted out at high-speed by Mother Nature or artfully removed by a surgeon performing their third C-section of the day.

Labour and birth typically involves an intense coming together of the most powerful forces of nature with all the wonders, limitations and bureaucracy of modern-day medicine. It tests your ability to know when to submit and when to protest like nothing else, all the while playing out an almost-entertaining dance between opposites. I could name five women who all shouted, “I CAN’T DO THIS!” just at the moment they totally did it. I could name three times as many who were overcome by equal amounts of fear and excitement as they held their little bundle of scary tiny strange newborn life in their arms for the first time.

So, how should we approach such an overwhelming and unpredictable event? How can we come out the other side, however things went, feeling OK - feeling, at least, like ourselves? Feeling like we did the absolute best for our self and our baby? How can we make peace with those terrifying first whispers of post-natal depression? How can we feel good, even if everything ‘went wrong’ and felt so, so bad?

I had wanted a natural birth and set everything in place to achieve just that. I attended pregnancy yoga classes, went to natural birth talks, listen to hypnobirthing recordings, watched documentaries that, e.g., revealed the ‘SHOCKING TRUTH’ about the maternity care system, read Ina May Gaskin’s famed book Spiritual Midwifery and consumed countless videos on YouTube of women ‘breathing out’ their babies into a candle-lit birthing pool. The only thing that could possibly get in the way of my natural birth, I thought, was my mindset, and an overly zealous doctor. I believed, with all my mind, body and soul, that I could do it, and I was excited to prove to everyone that I could. I believed that belief would get me through.

When push came to shove (haha), to eliminate the possibility of anyone getting in the way of my au naturel birth, I wrote in my maternity medical notes that under no circumstances was I to be given pain relief and that I wanted only the midwife and the father present at the birth. I prepared myself only for a natural delivery and completely closed off my mind (and body) to the possibility of anything else.

You’ve probably guessed that I didn’t get the birth I had been planning for. I won’t go into the gory details, or harp on about the fact that it was CHRISTMAS EVE, but for reasons out of anyone’s control, I had a long, difficult labour and a baby that needed to be unceremoniously removed using forceps by a team of very many more people than I’ve ever wished to have staring at my nether regions. Half way through labour, I really, really, really wanted pain relief, and despite begging for it everyone respected my documented instructions to hold off. Excellent.

In the end, because it was procedure for the delivery I ultimately had to undergo, I was given a spinal block. That feeling of the anaesthetic kicking in was the single best moment of the entire birth. Afterwards, numb from the waist down, I didn’t feel the rush of overwhelming love that is ‘supposed’ to overcome you as you hold your baby for the first time, and I certainly didn’t feel like the empowered female goddess-giver-of life Ina May Gaskin alludes to in her writing. Everything I had believed that would help me ‘go natural’ had failed. I felt physically butchered and spiritually bereft. 

I did, however, experience a tremendous and unexpected rush of respect for everyone in the operating theatre: the doctors, nurses and midwives who had given up their Christmas to help me bring life into the world (the baby was eventually born on Christmas Day). I realised I had been exceptionally narrow-minded in my approach to childbirth, and unduly negative towards the medical professionals committed to minimising all the many risks associated with such a precarious endeavour. I had approached childbirth as though it were some kind of battle between nature and science, when my actual experience showed that the line between them is indistinct.

The main thing that led to me having a far rougher ride than I had hoped was my beliefs. I believed that a natural birth was the best for me, I believed that all births could unfold naturally if only left to do so, I believed that my belief in myself would get me and my baby the best labour possible. If I could visit myself in the hours before going into labour, I’d tell myself to let go of all my beliefs and roll with what was actually about to unfold, not my imagined version of events.

I felt monumentally out of sorts for the weeks that followed. I hurt, I was traumatised, sleep deprived and had to cope, practically and emotionally, with a colicky baby who would cry for hours on end. I could feel the anxiety that had bedded itself within my blood during the labour growing like a hungry little beast into something quite serious, but for weeks I was too scared to look at it. I hoped it would fizzle out on its own accord…of course, it didn’t. Rather than keep pushing that anxiety away, I had to welcome it, see what it wanted, give it some air time. In the end, it was a single yoga nidra session that got me back to feeling like myself again. I lay down, allowed my body to move any which way it wanted, observed many different sensations (physical, emotional, visual...) as they unfolded, and, with help, invited the anxiety beastie to come forth and show itself fully. Turned out he was quite a friendly little fellow who merely needed a quick chat about how rubbish everything had been and could we please now just crack on with this parenting lark. You could say I gave birth a second time – to the anxiety I had been warily nurturing, albeit against my wishes.

So, what did I learn from all this? Firstly, that seeking to control any aspect of my experience is a daft business, no matter how good my intentions. Secondly, despite years of yoga and meditation, I am physically and emotionally vulnerable. Sometimes, I will need help, and that’s OK. Thirdly, the birth itself is a mere small step of the parenting journey that lies ahead, and regardless of how it goes, there’s no shame if those early weeks are spent not enjoying your baby or motherhood but recovering and carefully steadying yourself for the long road ahead.

A few years later I did it all again. This time I envisaged rocking up to the hospital and quickly hooking myself up with an epidural. “Bring on the drugs!” I proclaimed. Typically, out flew my little bundle of joy without me needing so much as a whiff of gas and air*.

Oh The Universe! How thee jest.

 

 

*Slight exaggeration, had to push like b****ry for an hour.

 

What if everything happens for no reason?

By Gabs Brown

A few years ago my life suddenly started to feel completely and utterly meaningful. My days seemed littered with coincidences that provided guidance or confirmation. My yoga practice went from being a largely physical experience to something energetic and profoundly insightful. A creative block I had been struggling with for years lifted. My meditation practice became almost trippy: I would have visions that appeared to resolve my every quandary – I started to look forward to meditating in the same way I had previously looked forward to going on a wild night out:  What was going to happen this time? Overall, I found myself feeling a strong and deep trust in myself, the Universe and my future within it. I felt I had connected with something bigger and wiser than myself, and that this ‘thing’ was guiding me along my rightful path – a path I had been struggling to find for years.

I became interested in the Law of Attraction and dutifully prepped gratitude lists and vision boards. I sought out soothsayers and healers whose words confirmed my beliefs at the time: that I was on the cusp of something big. I felt that at last I was being shown the truth of who I was. I felt as though a power greater than myself had taken me by the hand and was guiding me into becoming the magnificent person I was meant to be.

And then…

And then…

Well, nothing.

Life carried on, with its ups and downs. I had success with some things I had been plugging away at, but failure at others – including those I had been ‘told’ would be roaring triumphs. Slowly, the coincidences stopped seeming so meaningful, and certainly not very useful. I started to resent my vision boards and anything related to the Law of Attraction. I thought it a bit unfair that only those people who knew about the Law and who could then grasp how to properly apply it should have such an enormous advantage over the rest of us. Could the Universe be so conditional? So selective? My meditation practice settled back down into a more mundane sphere. I revisited those healers and intuitives who I had felt helped me to connect with my ‘bigger picture’, but I found their words more stifling than useful. Their guidance about my future was clouding my ability to make up my own mind about my present – perhaps these people could see into my future, in a way, but how was it useful for me to have these murky insights? Was it even safe?

I rolled my eyeballs at every quote on Facebook or Instagram that urged me to follow my heart, or even more annoyingly, to ‘just let go!’. Let go! Let go! And then what? AND THEN WHAT? Why wasn’t anyone talking about the, and then what?

I had lost faith in all the little tools and navigations systems I had been relying on to give me confidence about what I was doing with my life. I had lost my map. I felt as if the Universe had let go of my hand, and I was alone.

This was a terrifying realisation. I became numb, cynical, angry. I felt as though I had been tricked. I felt embarrassed. I had been wandering about in bare-footed bliss, bathing in self-assurance, feeling that I was more ‘awake’ than most, believing that I was transforming, growing, overcoming…now where was I? Lost, ashamed, confused, poorer?

I had to start thinking about my life, my dreams and my destiny differently. I couldn’t look out for coincidences to bring me insight or guidance. I didn’t want to draw up gratitude lists or vision boards. I couldn’t book an appointment with Mystic Michael or Clairvoyant Carol to know whether Project X was going to reap the rewards I so desperately wanted.

All I had was myself. The only things I could trust were my own instincts, my own feelings, my own thoughts, my own actions, my own ability to decide what I should be doing, how I should do it, and when. I had to accept that absolutely nothing about my future was guaranteed or knowable. I had to learn to be OK with the possibility that my dreams might never come true. I had to accept that whereas my life might be mapped out for me, I was never going to see that map. I wasn’t meant to see that map.

And I soon realised that this was amazing.

I realised I had been lost in a haze of false awakening. I had duped myself into thinking I had connected with the deepest part of myself whereas in fact, I had done the opposite. I had been obsessively seeking out external experiences and signposts to tell me where to go and what to do with my life. I had been trying to find hidden meaning in everything. I had been living my life as though it were a puzzle to be deciphered – or one of those 3D pictures that only becomes clear after you’ve settled your gaze in a particular way.  

I had been acting as though the Universe had laid out a dot-to-dot picture for me to follow, believing that if I dutifully linked the numbers and drew the lines then eventually the big picture will be revealed and everything will make sense.

But now I believe, and prefer, the scarier alternative: that my life is a blank page, and it’s up to me to draw whatever picture I want. And it’s up to me to decide what its meaning is, or even if indeed it needs any meaning. I have no idea if what I’ll come up with will ‘make sense’ or be any good, or even be decipherable at all. My paints might be rubbish. My brushes might snap. My paper might tear in places. But at least I am the artist, not a child clutching a crayon and following the numbers wondering if I’m getting it right. I can’t get it right, and I can’t get it wrong. All I can do is dream, create, observe and repeat.

And I will do so with unconditional heart-filled ambition.

 

 

 

The most helpful thing anyone has ever said to me

By Gabs Brown

Overall, I am not an anxious person, but like most humans every now and then I latch on to a worry and get a little more preoccupied with it than perhaps seems rational. The reality of the situation, the facts and the statistics, do nothing to quell the “what if this all goes wrong?” thoughts.

One such occasion when I found myself swamped by disproportionate doubts was when I was around 20 weeks pregnant, almost four years ago. I had just got through morning sickness, just started to (almost) like the idea of becoming a mother and just started to feel a bond forming between myself and the little person growing inside me. We knew it was going to be a girl, and I had just started to feel her move – it was an alien feeling, though somehow also familiar, comforting and magical.  But alongside all this, however, a new feeling erupted: fear. 

A couple of my friends had lost babies well into their pregnancies – weeks after the supposed ‘safe point’ of three months – and the reality of what they had been through started to hit me. Before I had been pregnant myself, I could understand such a loss intellectually, but now, I could almost feel the pain a mother would experience in such a situation, and the possibility of it happening to me seemed somehow more real because I had witnessed it close-hand. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I felt vulnerable and open to a tragedy from which I had previously been protected. 

This fear started to erupt while I was in California visiting my sister. I had just completed my Level 1 iRest Training with Richard Miller and I although I was feeling particularly aware of my feelings I was perhaps not yet skilled at navigating through them. I was also jet lagged and probably a bit hormonal. One morning, my sister took me to her local farmers’ market where I bought a vegan raw chocolate drink that looked fairly innocuous, but after polishing off the entire bottle I suddenly felt my heart race, and then the baby kick and spin and go completely wild inside my stomach. I read through the ingredients list on the bottle only to realise I had consumed an inordinate amount of caffeine.  

And then came a pain. A shooting, knotting sensation in my lower abdomen. I freaked out. I convinced myself I was going to miscarry there and then.

After twenty minutes things calmed down, and probably most importantly, I calmed down. My sister all the while had remained unruffled. Perhaps to a rational non-pregnant person, the idea that you could lose a baby after drinking a raw chocolate vegan mylk is beyond ridiculous. But to me, it felt real. It felt imminent.

“I just can’t imagine losing her,” I said to my sister. “Not now.”

My sister turned to me and said, quite frankly, “The thing is Gabs, you would get over it.”

“What?” I said. Her response took me by surprise. I was expecting something more along the lines of, “Don’t be silly,” as seems the standard comeback to anyone expressing irrational fears. 

“You would get over it,” my sister continued. “If you lose the baby now, you will, in time, be OK.”

I thought about this. Was my sister right? Would I get over it? 

I knew I would be heart-broken, and the physical experience would be in itself traumatic, but then I also started to feel into the possibility that after all that, I would heal. I would move on. I would be changed, but I would be OK. There were people out there with far worse things happening to them…all the time. Overall, my life was good. I was healthy. I was strong. I would be OK.

Miraculously, my sister acknowledged that my fear was not founded in impossibility while at the same time she made me feel OK about this. She allowed for the fact that there was a chance that the very worst thing could happen, and then she reminded me it is also possible that I would cope. 

After this exchange, I still worried about losing the baby but my fears started to co-exist with an equal amount of calm. 

Now, whenever I find myself obsessing over the very worst thing happening, I remind myself that it is still possible for me, and my life, to be OK regardless. This way I am not denying my worry; I am allowing it to be there while diminishing its ability to overwhelm me. Bad things can and do happen, and I can still be OK.  

It’s certainly easier to feel good when everything’s going your way, but your wellbeing is not dependent on it. Your fears, even those irrational crazy-sounding ones, are never ‘silly’. The truth is, life is a shifty character and you never know what's going to happen next. Sometimes, against the odds, our worst fears are realised. Sometimes tragedy strikes, or things go completely wrong, or nothing much happens at all and we feel empty, frustrated or depressed and don't really know why, but that doesn’t mean we are any less alive, or any less well, or without any less potential to thrive. 

I used to think my fears were something I should overcome – a burden, an obstacle in the way of me living to my full capability. But the truth is, the simple act of being alive involves risk and uncertainty, and the trick is to sail amidst these unknown waters recognising that fear, for all its discomfort and irrational tendencies, is a powerful reminder that life is unpredictable and therefore also exciting, magical, mysterious, and awesome. 

Today, I do not try to overcome my fears. Instead, I allow them to be there as a reminder of the unknowable mystery of life and my potential within that mystery to do things I never thought possible.

Fear, you are welcome.

Book recommendation

Just a quick post today to recommend this book:

It considers the impact of having constant distractions and unending responsibilities (e.g. responding to emails) on the brain, and what happens when you stop and instead choose to go deeper into a single task. A great read for anyone feeling overwhelmed, as well as those of you wondering why it is that the moment you stop 'thinking' about a problem, is the moment the solution comes to you...