living in the mystery

On 7 and 8 May 2022, it was the One Woman Conference 2022 where I had been peer-nominated for the Lead the Change Award. This is for folk who have completed One of Many‘s cornerstone year-long programme and are embodying all the principles of soft power they are taught. I was stoked to be on that stage alongside five other finalists, all of whom I knew and loved. And I was joyful that one of the wonderful people who I journeyed on the course with thought my story was worth sharing.

And I was also thrilled, and a little scared, because back in 2017 when I attended the conference in my first interaction with One of Many, I had a strong reaction during one of the exercises where you are taken through a visualisation of your future. I saw myself, very clearly, standing on stage in front of 400 people sharing my story just like the founder Dr Joanna Martin had done.

Five years later, this vision came true when I took the stage to share my own nomination speech. It was the end of a spiritual cycle and the beginning of a new one, precisely at the same moment.

My psyche and my body knew this, which is why I was laid out sick with inflamed, angry sore throat during the preceding week. In that week before the conference, I panicked. I behaved fretfully and was agitated, worrying at everything and every­one, trying to find problems sufficiently absorbing enough so I could focus on them instead of the Big Thing. If I couldn’t find them, I created them, much to the dismay of my mental stability and those around me.

At on the day of my speech, my ADHD indicators went wild. I was pacing incessantly like an animal in a cage, I couldn’t sit still for more than five minutes, and felt the need to be travelling, constantly. My emotions were running at triple speed and I veered between spontaneous crying, deep melancholy, frozen panic and ‘the muttering’ – the sort of incoherent low-level babble which sometimes occurs when I feel very anxious.

And then … I was walking up the steps onto the stage and everything stopped. There was no more fear because here it was, happening. There were no more manufactured problems to hide behind. There was only me and the the story I wanted to tell. Not a story of the past, or even of the future, but a story of the journey: of the moment I was inhabiting, there and then.

Susie Heath, one of the course facilitators specialising in embodiment, said of trauma: “Tell the story once.” This suggestion asks us to consider the benefit of re-telling narratives of trauma, or even of our past more broadly; asks us to consider what we are gaining from telling this story to ourselves and others, rather than telling a new tale.

How often have I retold and re-told hurtful moments from my past? How often have I revisited trauma by focusing the story on the pain not the healing? There is a necessary process to ex­cavating trauma and that includes telling the story of it; and perhaps the older the pain, the more concealed it has been, the more often you need to tell the story before it is finally brought to light. But once it is in the light, do I need to tell that story again? Or can I tell you a new one? A story of this moment. And this moment. And this moment.

And that’s where I’m at right now. As I step from an old cycle into a new journey, I’m “living in the mystery” as life coach Tonya Leigh shared in a recent podcast episode. I am excited by the prospect and reality of not knowing. Do I want to keep telling stories from what came before? No. Do I want to tell a story of this transitional and liminal space? Yes. And that requires an open eye so that any habit of relying on old wounds as narrative devices is avoided.

When we tell stories about our environment and this planet, what story are we telling? Are we repeating traumatic narratives over and over because people still don’t seem to be listening? Are we conscious of stories which give false impressions of inaction, those we call greenwashing or the machinations of Sustainability, Inc.? Are we (those who already dominate narratives) willing to give space to untold stories from indigenous and local voices? Are we prepared to imagine radical narratives of contemporary liminality and future transitions that are not, will not, can not be grounded in fretful behaviours and manufactured problems of the now?

Back in 2017 I was graced with a vision of what my future would include, but at the time I didn’t understand it, nor feel ready for it, nor intentionally pursue it after having witnessed it. What if the visions you are given in your daydreams, your moments of resting, in the hopeful spaces in your day are like this? What if you could feel comfortable not under­standing them, not being ready for them, not pursuing them? Could you instead be a person whose future looks like that, and be secure in the uncertainty of how it will arrive? Could you be reassured by the unknowing, as I am feeling right now?

And when we are receiving visions of sustainable futures, could we be comfortable with dreams and scenarios we don’t understand, aren’t ready for, may not intentionally pursue – but rather be willing to participate in these futures as clumsy co-creators? Can we become the sort of people the vision needs us to be, rather than asking the vision to mould itself to who we are right now? Can we willingly live in the mystery, or will we continue to fight to stay ‘in the know’ because we are so uncomfortable with the metaphorical inflamed throat, incessant pacing and triple-speed emotions of the bit before the mystery?

If we reject the uncertainty, we will be basing our future only on the processes, paradigms and sufficiently absorbing problems of what we already feel comfortable with; we will only wrangle with questions we already like to think we can answer, rather than the question we don’t even know how to articulate yet. We will continue to tell the story of trauma that comforts us, rather than telling – or listening – to the stories of trauma (and celebration) which have yet to be brought to the light.

I invite you to step into the mystery, into this moment, into the reassurance of uncomfortable uncertainty. A Coleman Barks’ translation of one of Rumi’s poems articulates:

“The fearful ascetic runs on foot, along the surface.
Lovers move like lightning and wind.
No contest.
Theologians mumble, rumble-dumble,
necessity and free will,
while lover and beloved
pull themselves
into each other.”

We can intend to be as lover and beloved, pulling ourselves into a just, sustainable future and pulling that future into ourselves. We can move like lightning and wind; immediate and instant, only in this moment. What would that be like?


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