Bad times?

When I was very ill with Panic Disorder six years ago, I was unable to maintain my default position of having it all together, being a source of strength and nurture for others, and being professionally successful. I was a lot more vulnerable, and with it, I was softer, quieter and needed love from other people more often. Being able to receive that love was so heart opening, and let me drop even more deeply into softness and quietness.

When a client – especially one like me: well-defended and high-functioning – comes for a session in particular distress, needing particular love and kindness and support, there’s usually a very beautiful atmosphere that descends on the session; a sweetness and a sense of gratitude and warmth.

Likewise, when someone we love is suffering, as much as we’d give anything to take that suffering away, nevertheless there is an unusual space that opens up for something much more tender and connectful; between us and the suffering person, and between the people present for their loved one.

Traditionally disconnected or distant relationships often experience a temporary break in the clouds while closeness and support become more necessary; while there is a tangible and immediate reason for hearts to be more open.

It seems as if crisis and suffering offer a doorway that allows people to step out from their more familiar or entrenched positions in family, friendship or professoinal dynamics to stand in the street together and look around to simply see what is needed, and offer it.

Some of the kindest things I’ve ever done have necessarily been in response to the suffering of someone in some way close to me, and the experience of being in that position, to give and to be of use, is an experience I treasure. It’s sweet and tender. And the most connectful moments I’ve had with other human beings have been in my own moments of deepest need and pain: like the time I was wrapped up in a duvet and held whilst laying on the living room floor of a house where I was having a major panic attack, or when the director of my training institution came across me sitting outside a shop crying on my own, sat down next to me, put his arm around my shoulders and promised that the college would help me get through what I was going through.

Would I be without the panic attacks? Obviously.

But would I be without those moments of vulnerability, connection and love?

I’ve realised that it’s harder than it seems at first glance to separate the bad times from the good times. Some of the most precious experiences depend on some of the most painful ones.

My sense is that most of the world’s spiritual traditions encourage us to stay more permanently in this experience of openness, connection, vulnerability, and need-met-by-generosity. What experience shows me is that more typically, when the danger has passed, we tend to head back behind our doors, our defenses, and our hard noses.

At best, perhaps our relationships with one another do remain fundamentally changed for the better, knowing that we at least were there for one another, and that we have shared a bittersweet journey.

And so whilst this is the case, it feels important to not miss the deep value of difficult times and to appreciate the open-heartedness that we experience when they come, knowing that the extended and beautiful moment will eventually pass.


I really love the work the NICABM does. Here’s their smart infographic on trauma responses and how the freeze reaction is neither a cognitive decision nor a failure to do the best thing but an evolutionarily adaptive response.

Interesting in particular to note that “freeze” and even the possible “flop” response (so we now know it’s not just fight-or-flight but flight, flight, freeze or flop) is an automated response to the perception of the danger being inescapable.

This is one of the key features of an experience that increases the likelihood of the individual being traumatised by it. And this makes a lot of sense in the context not just of ‘single-incident adult-onset trauma’ but also relational trauma or c-PTSD with a childhood onset. Children are regularly helpless in the face of threat and especially threat from their carers. They are more helpless physically, and particularly helpless for psychological reasons if the dangerous person is also needed for the child’s survival and nurture.

And I’ve been wondering, for those of us with c-PTSD, whether freezing becomes the most likely response as a global survival strategy throughout our lives if it was consistently the most appropriate response in childhood, even if we’re not actually helpless in a situation. If part of what we learn and then don’t unlearn is that we are helpless. Which puts me in mind of the much older research of Martin Seligman into “learned helplessness” as a redescription of depression (Seligman, M.E.P. (1972) “Learned Helplessness”. Annual Review of Medicine Vol 23 p407-412).

And this also puts me in mind – as everything seems to! – of the importance of working with ‘parts’ of the self and learning to distinguish between a surfacing child-part who remembers feeling helpless, and the functioning adult part who, if she can be kept “on-line”, can be facilitated through therapeutic experiences of rediscovering, especially in her body, her potency.

Keeping this functioning adult part online is effectively achieved in two ways. Firstly by maintaining relational engagement with the client during a moment in therapy when a strong experience with historic origins begins to surface. Secondly by encouraging so-called vertical-integration in the brain by having the client observe or ‘notice’ and report their experience, rather than being taken over by it.

I have two vivid memories of sessions with my c-PTSD therapist, working through old experiences of helplessness in the kinds of ways described in the wonderful book “Healing the Heart of Trauma and Dissociation with EMDR and Ego State Therapy“. In one session I described the situation as vividly as possible, and the accompanying feelings and sensations surfacing, but with an emphasis on visually imagining the child I was as seen from the outside, through the eyes of the adult I am now, and then creating a continuation of the event in which I as the adult intervene and take the child to safety and provide her with soothing and reassurance. In the other session, my therapist facilitated me to move between a body posture congruent with the feelings of helplessness and impotent rage and an upright standing position culminating in me placing my hands firmly on a wall and pushing hard against it, to give myself proprioceptive feedback about my own strength and size.

So if freezing or even completely shutting down are familiar responses for you, firstly know that this is an effective survival response initiated automatically by your nervous system. Secondly, it may be a current way of coping now because it was the only way of coping a long time ago, and by engaging with your body and your imagination it is possible to generate new experiences of potency as opposed to helplessness which may well mean that over time, your nervous system will use new and alternative survival strategies in moments of stress and threat.


Letting myselves finish…

On Monday night the Guild for Analytical Psychologists hosted the fascinating lecture “Freeing Up Thinking – Sport, Psychoanalysis and Everyday Life” by Michael Brearley OBE, ex-captain of the England cricket team and a practicing psychoanalyst. It was one of those delicious moments of convergence, and I left feeling very excited. In the last five years, my work as a client, as well as a therapist, spiraled in on a way of understanding the self that is shared by practitioners of Ego State Therapy, Internal Family Systems, and sub-personalities work.

The self – that ‘centre of experience and source of action’ – is not one but many; consisting of parts – who knows the number – who frankly often disagree, fight for control, override one another. To quote the poet Walt Whitman – “We are multitudes”.

Michael opened with the final verse of William Ernest Hemley’s poem “Invictus” –

It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

and spent the next hour exploring the brilliant idea of ‘self-captaining’, where the self is made of Aristotelian parts ‘speaking with like voices’, and where happiness is given the Greek name ‘eudaimonia’ meaning literally that one is in friendly communication with ones inner ‘daimons’ or spirits – plural.

Like all the most inspired and inspiring leaders, Brearley, as a captain in the world of cricket, believed that being a captain wasn’t just about telling, directing, and controlling. He believed in providing support, for the individual and the collective. In maintaining interested contact and relationship with all members of his team. He was involved. He even went as far as talking about having provided love – tough love sometimes – for everyone. He strove to understand, to value, and also to confront, not for punitive reasons, but for the sake of the development of the individual and the team.

Brearley talked about the importance of participation and freedom, about flattening the hierarchy and inviting input from everyone, no matter how contrary the opinions. Of all speakers being “allowed to finish” without interruption. He was genuinely willing to reconsider assumptions and to learn, and he trusted that any tension and contradiction between members of his team could be held and valued as creative rather than destructive tension and that from such fertile chaos might emerge new and exciting possibilities.

Having written books (“On Form” (2017) and “The Art of Captaincy” (1985)) that explore the psychology of performance and effective leadership, Mike realised that his perspective on leadership could be applied powerfully to the world of internal relationships – with and between the parts of the self. Which takes us firmly into the realm of Jung’s perspective; self-captaining by giving house-room to all the secret parts in order that we might become more whole and experience a deeper sense of our fullest self – of all that we might amount to – and in order that from the tension between necessary orthodoxy and creative disruption might be born new perspectives and new alternatives for action.

During the Q&A, someone referenced Steve Peters’ Chimp Paradox and asked how on earth we are to decide between a course of action favoured by ‘the inner chimp’ and one proposed by what he referred to as ‘the rational part’. Notwithstanding the assumptions in the question – that the chimp’s preference won’t be rational, and that these are the only parts to be considered – this exploration really caught my attention.

I loved Michael Brearley’s first thoughts which were along the lines that it all really depends on which of the two parts one usually gives precedence to and that for the stalwartly rational person, a bit more chimp would probably be a good thing, whilst for the habitually chimpy one, engagement with the so-called rational part is most likely what that person needs to practice more of to get the most from themselves and their life.

But what excited me even more about this exploration was the way the speaker moved the exploration on from being quite “schizoid” and insistent on certainty. His consideration was a real-time example of engaging with the unknown with curiosity. It emphasised the risky, radical but deeply alive nature of allowing all voices – whether they’re internal or external – to be engaged with and to have their say. To be allowed to finish.

It prompted me to think about how we go about ‘othering’ – people, groups, and especially parts of ourselves. How we exile them and how, if exiled, they have little choice but to mount their own resistance movement, fuelled by the frustration of exclusion. There’s nothing more likely to make the chimp even more chimpy, surely, than shoving it in a cage and showing it contempt.

Earlier the same day, I’d watched an excerpt of a documentary about the footballer Ian Wright. In this few-minute-long video he talks about the first positive male role model in his life, a teacher called Mr. Pigden, and how when Ian was acting out aggressively Mr. Pigden would talk to him, engage with him, try to understand him. And how that teacher started involving him and giving him responsibilities around the school, and then when the teacher saw that he was a talented football player, Mr. Pigden started to give him some coaching.

I’ve been left thinking about how scared we can be of engaging with a person who we’ve experienced as only destructive or negative in some way, how we avoid them if we can, and what courage, wisdom, and skill it takes to look through behaviours to see the positive tendency buried inside them. To look through aggression to the power, fire and drive the person has, for instance.

And I’ve been left reflecting on the exact same fear we usually have of engaging with a part of ourselves which we have never considered could have any value and is only to be reined in and held at bay. How frightening it is to consider making space at the table for that part on the assumption that it will ultimately make us more whole if we do. That the part will integrate into the whole system in a way that opens up new experiential and behaviourally creative options for us. That it won’t simply disrupt, and that its dangerous nature is at least to some extent a reaction to having been othered and exiled.

In the end, I walked away more convinced than ever that my role in the therapy space is to provide the invitation, welcome, and space for all of the multitudes in my client, with trust that ultimately if I can be in friendly communication with my client’s inner spirits then one day so can my client. Or perhaps more strikingly, that all of those inner spirits are themselves my clients, striving to be allowed up into the light to find their place at a safe table where they might join together with a captain who wants and needs them to participate, and who knows how to get the very best out of them individually and as a family system.

What a radically different family system that would probably be from the ones so many of us grew up in.


Angry woman wields baseball bat 50s cartoon style image for fatboy slim Mindfulness and anger postIt tickled me, in the gym today sweating on the cross trainer, to hear a track by @FatBoySlim that I’d not heard before. I was tickled because it was a cracking advert for Mindfulness in a, shall we say, unexpected format!

There’s no way of quoting the lyrics without sounding like someone’s square and very English aunty … But work with me here…

Where u iz iz where it’s at

An’ you can’t beat that with a baseball bat

If Mr Cook is reading, then firstly, amen to that, sir. There are a lot of great reasons to agree that the present moment is the healthiest place for us to be, as opposed to ruminating on the past or the future. That you ‘can’t beat it’ as a hyperbolic recommendation. But I’ll leave it to the real Mindfulness experts to convince you.

But perhaps it won’t surprise you, if you’ve read more than a couple of my blogs to do with anger, to read that I’d like to jokingly take issue with the statement that you “can’t” beat the present with a baseball bat.

Obviously I realise Norman’s just my straw-man here, but it’s a bit of fun.

I’m a big fan of gestalt ways of working, of body-based psychotherapy, and of the Hoffman Process. Anyone who’s done Hoffman knows more than they ever expected to about baseball bats and “bashing”. And at least at this point in my career as a therapist I seem to be specialising in supporting my clients to shed their shame fear and inhibition around anger – which I think culturally as well as individually is still a big taboo in England – and find ways of expressing it with their bodies not just their voices. Especially with their bodies.

Most of my clients, and most of my colleagues’ clients, are people who need help with expressing – with even feeling – their anger, not help containing it. So if where it is for a client involves being angry about something, then these days they get handed the red foam bat  a cushion to beat and invitation to go to it.

The last thing to say about this, in Mr Slim’s defence, is that maybe you don’t need to (rather than can’t) beat the present with a baseball bat, because it’s the past – the where-it-woz rather than the where-it-iz – that really needs beating. What I mean is that it’s the pent up forbidden unexpressed impotent and overwhelming rage of the past that needs beating with the bat. The anger that we’ve chewed choked and swallowed down, watched over by the injunction that Thou Shallt Not Be Angry. And the gift of present-day circumstances is when they open a time-portal of familiarity back to the moments when we were so very very understandbly and overwhelmingly angry but could not afford to be because the interpersonal price was too high. 

And you CAN beat that with a bat.

Destination Reality

Woman pulling off smiling mask to reveal angry crying faceThis week two pieces of inspiration have landed in my lap to meet me exactly where I was finding myself and exactly where I’ve increasingly been meeting my clients.

In reality.

Francis Weller’s utterly beautiful article “The Geography of Sorrow” focuses on the essential nature of allowing ourselves grief – whether it be personal, relational, societal, historical or ecological. READ THIS ARTICLE. And don’t expect only food for thought. I was taken deep into myself and my own reservoir of grief just reading this wonderful piece. It was healing in itself.

The second piece is Susan David’s rallying TED Talk cry to develop emotional agility sufficient for meeting life on life’s terms, exactly as it is, and to shake off the “tyranny of positivity” that has turned the best of the positive psychology movement into the worst “form of moral correctness”.

I feel as if I’ve ingested a line from each of these two as paddles for my own personal navigation of my day to day life, and for my professional navigation of the worlds of the individuals I work with;

“Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility,”

says Susan David.

 “The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give.”

says Francis Weller

And then, on Friday, a longstanding and dear friend pointed out to me this week that Massive Attack’s “Protection” is 24 years old this year, and I was listening to the title track walking through the City on Friday night, and re-registering the line

“You can’t change the way she feels but you can put your arms around her”.

It’s the same message. Radical acceptance. Not fixing. Not avoiding. Just meeting myself, another, life, exactly as it is, with curiosity, compassion, and courage.

Susan David says

“Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”

If I want to create something, I have to risk failure and disappointment. If I want to love and be loved, I have to risk heartbreak and loss. If I want to leave this world a better place I have to risk feeling impotent rage at injustice, or a temporally inconvenient surge of protectiveness towards someone in need. If I want to live the most expansive life possible and be all that I can be before I die, I have to learn to contain ambiguity, questions, pain, and uncertainties and allow myself to respond.

All of these reflections have intersected with the questions I’ve been asking myself about faith and the extent to which I believe the things I do because those beliefs buffer me from acute discomfort. Does the act itself of crying out to God protect me from the full extent of my rage or grief by implying that something outside of me will deliver me? Or even just give me strength? Does that increase my resilience or constrict it? I don’t want to step back from my relationship with God to “find out what I’m made of without Her” as some act of spiritual or emotional machismo or anti-dependence/vulnerability. And I don’t want to assuage discomfort that would otherwise mobilise me…

I don’t know.


rage firebowlThe kind of trauma that creates c-PTSD. Let alone the phenomenon of feeling-flashbacks. Still so little understood.

Rage; roaring eviscerating howling excoriating rage. Still so entirely unaccepted.

And there is nothing that better feeds the fire of my nuclearly destructive flashbacks than having my roar met with defense, reasoning, alternative perspectives, New Age Being of Light Instant-Forgiveness-Tablet spiritual bypass sh*t, or silent rejection.

I am sorry to every poor soul whose anger I ever tried to assuage, divert or make wrong. I just didn’t understand the necessity, let alone the vitality. And of course more than that, the birth of the c-PTSD I live with was a violent birth. As soon as I could, rage was banished; from me, and if I could, from everyone around me. I was never going to inflict on anyone else what I witnessed and what had been inflicted on me, and I was never going to turn into that. But if you kill the rage you kill the fire: the passion, the drive, the creative crackle, the joy, the intuition, the play, the roaring laughter, the protective instinct, the capacity to forge and hold boundaries and say – and howl – ENOUGH.

I am grateful beyond words to John Lee, the author of Facing the Fire, who showed me how to stop hiding the light of my flames and gave me permission to burn.

It’s said in certain “rooms” that the good news is, you get your feelings back. And the bad news is, you get your feelings back.

Now my rage is back and sometimes it feels like it might burn forever. And hell, but it actually physically burns. When it comes, in the pit of my stomach, it sears and it contracts. It feels just like some batholithic subterranean worm that was slumbering like a fat wet slug of gentle and inoffensive grief and now is turning and heaving grinding plates of stuck earth against each other above it until it lifts my rib-cage and twists my in-detest-ines. I wonder at how I ever kept this monster down for so long. The energy that unconscious feat has been stealing from me is inconceivable.

So tonight after reading a deeply unkind and unjust email, I burst into flames and I let it burn me like a torch. And after howling, spitting, punching kicking and battering (poor pillow, great bat), I dragged my fire bowl into the back garden where I shredded tore and twisted my enormous stockpile of packaging paper and boxes, and felt so sorry that we have all mostly lost our ancient earth-based traditions and rituals, and so glad I could understand my rage as my fire, and my allowing it to burn me as my calcinatio of transformation. I knew with my whole heart that this was nothing to do with wanting or needing to burn away, leave behind, or offer up the anger itself, to be free of it. Don’t take it from me! It may as well be my child stolen away and kept till now in darkness and only just brought home, for the fierce protectiveness I feel for it these days. The firebowl was my honouring of these forces in me – of me – that feel so awesome that it amazes me that I could have that howling around in my gut and yet stand still and have no-one notice.

But I sensed that I was needing to burn away still more of my resistance to my own and other people’s anger, and more strands of those attachment-at-all-costs-vines that keep me tied to people who repeatedly hurt me, as well as those who can’t give me space to roar from time to time. I’d like to start believing that if they can’t take the heat, they don’t get invited to the bonfire party…


A piece of poetry from ATTH about rage, and the confusion between the desire to kill our physical bodies with suicide and the need for an outdated part of ourselves to die.

Easter Tree and the Good Girl Suicide

I can feel something inside me dying. My heart is swollen, like it’s being stretched, or surgically sliced. There’s grief, but I’m not sure if I’m grieving as the one who’ll soon be gone, or the one who’ll be left behind. Last night brushing my teeth was the first conscious thought of it.

“I think I want to die.”

Not quite matter of fact – definitely pained, despairing – but not surprised. I wasn’t aware of any connection with the time of year. And I wasn’t aware of it today either, walking in woodland with my heart impaled on a stick. It took at least an hour of noticing only the dead things (and here in the midst of Spring!) before I noticed what I was noticing. The bluebells were astonishing – the glow and the multitude of them – but it was the ash-laced soil, and bodies upon bodies of fallen giants, that made me take their photographs. Fire-lichen fed on and daubed some of them. While citadels of empty caves, stony outcrops, ferns and fungi had established themselves in upended root balls, no opportunity lost.

Afiltered photograph of a huge dead fallen tree in the woodlands at Mariners Hill near Westerham for good girl suicide poem about parts of us needing to diend when I found You, I was ready to come Home.

You lay there, so comfortingly, solidly and absolutely dead, and I climbed into Your arms. The only place for days, or miles, where I had found some peace. I lay on my belly on Your massive outstretched torso, protected by a nook in the drape of one of Your rigid arms, and I just breathed. I just breathed in, and out, for what felt like hours. Gazing, sideways and unfocused, across the clearing and out between all the young, slender, striving bodies teeming with life.

There was a thought about all the people that kill themselves every day.

There was a memory of something I’d read. Something about how we know when something in us needs to die, but how some people mix that up with needing to kill their own bodies. But then maybe the fear of being someone new, and the pain of staying the way we are, are both together just too much.

I can’t tell you how afraid I am of starting to say “no” – of being angry, lazy, selfish – when every fibre of me knows and knows it full how much more happy everyone else is when I am good for what they need. But the rough and unvarnishable fact now seems to be that I am very angry. And the heart, impaled, is dripping-sick of ‘understanding’ all the time and being kind, yet knows there’s not a single person in the line of those who count the most, who would truly hold it steady and rejoice to feel my wrath. Or even just my sloth! You can bet I’d know it pretty soon that frankly everyone liked it better before the good-girl suicide.

But then if she can’t die, the rest of me probably will, at least inside, given that I’m far too nice to dive under a train.

Once upon a time I worked for a man who had the fucking gall to praise me publicly for being the one member of the team who just does as she’s told. That would be on my gravestone up till now. Truly the stuff of heroes, no?

Oh Big Dead Tree! I want to suck up even some of Your authority and scream it forward into a tunnel that I can walk through. A little more triumphant; redeemed and unrepentant, on my knees to You and only You and come what may. To get back home and light a simple pyre for the little one who served me well – served them well – but just got tired and was ready to go Home. And if she wrote a note at all, I expect that in her way she’d need to say that she was sorry. So very sorry that she hurt or disappointed anyone, abandoned or caused guilt. That she loved you all a lot and that she loved to be so loved and so relied upon. And that it was just too much in the end.


Snip from ATTH Facebook of my post with the photo of the snail sitting at head height on a creeper branchBack in March, I wrote about my totem animal, the beautiful snail, waving his eyeballs at me from an unexpected place. He was there to remind me how desperately I need to learn to slow down and rest. Anyone who’s read more than a couple of my posts will have realised that, if there’s any quest I’m on in this life time, it’s the quest to let go of busy-ness and needing to get everything done. The quest to “be” rather than “do”.

And of course what kinds of clients do I attract? I attract busy clients, who can’t let go, who can’t be still, who need to prove themselves, to themselves and to others. Client who drive themselves, and who deep down are utterly exhausted, really angry, and longing for rest. That’s God’s great grace with me. I think S/He knows that I’m just never going to stay committed to learning to rest unless there are other people depending on me to do it if I’m going to be of any service to them. That’s the cosmic joke for any of us who started training because we really needed to know ‘how to make other people’s lives better’ so we could feel better about ourselves. We find out that the straightest route in that direction is dealing with our own needs for healing.

My clients’ needs are the perfect mirrors of my own…

You can’t take someone somewhere you haven’t been yourself.

Put on your own oxygen mask first.

Physician, heal thyself.

How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while there is still a beam in your own eye?
Matthew 7:4

Overwhelmed by Tasks and Chores…

Screen shot of phone app for managing tasks showing a list of things that need to be done

It is as predictable as clockwork that during a long weekend like this one I will have a morning when I wake up with a searing headache. It feels like I will only feel alright if I make a list of all the things that need doing. Simultaneously, I’m longing, all the way down into my stomach, for complete rest. Longing for quiet simple connection with myself, my body and God, but which I just cannot allow. Fairly predictably I end up crying and despairing at the endless list of tasks my life seems full of, wondering when there will ever be time to sit in simple stillness. And yet knowing that it’s really the other way around.

I will find, invent and attract to me an unending string of tasks and projects that need to be completed only because I am afraid of being still and sitting with the anguish that comes with being even temporarily without accomplishment or use to someone else. And I will even choose a life partner who also cannot rest and who is always thinking of new things that need taking care of, to give me even more reasons to not attend to my desperate need for peace.

My natural wisdom whispers gently to me about the earthy bliss of going slow. Of going nowhere. And of, when needed, retreating completely from the outside world to be inside the only Home I really need and which I carry with me everywhere. But my learned pattern is to go faster and faster. To try and be the one person in the world who really does manage to get everything done. And who will only stop if floored, be it by a Peugeot, a redundancy, or a splitting headache.

The message I got on Tuesday…

A plastic children's toy a multicoloured snail sitting in a plastic speedboat

In my work with clients I sometimes use a sand-tray, which needs a delightful array of little toys and figurines that I and my colleagues have collected over the years for clients to rummage through, hoping to find the one that speaks to them today. Last Tuesday none of my clients wanted to use the toys. But some kind angel had left this one out for me.

And so it’s my new perfect description of where I’m still stuck. I feel like a snail stuck in a speedboat…


a palm frond laying on the ground in an alley next to some cigarette endsThis sight stopped me in my tracks on my way into work this week. Laying in an unswept side-alley, between a sushi restaurant and a police station, amongst cigarette ends. A palm frond. Three days before Easter Sunday. In the same week that my ‘poem from Him‘, written last Easter, had fallen twice from its shelf.

I wanted to know what the message was that I was supposed to understand.

I’ve trusted for a long time now that God can communicate with us in all manner of ways if we want to pay attention and listen. It used to be songs stuck in my head. Often it’s posters that catch my eye. Increasingly it’s things in nature that for some reason stand out (I’ll be exploring this in my workshop at the end of this month), or just curious or out of place objects. I don’t think it matters what it is. Just that we’re open to listening.

I already knew that people of Jerusalem are supposed to have waved and lain down palm branches when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, five days before his crucifixion and one week before his resurrection. A bit of reading told me that in Ancient Rome, the palm branch was associated with victory, and that in Christianity, it came to symbolise specifically the victory of Spirit over “flesh”.

But something about the context was nagging at me.

I got excited when I discovered that the date palm is known as Phoenix. Resurrection, rising from the flames?

A beautiful spacious garden with an islamic geometric white marble arch to once side and many green trees including a palmBut when I found references to palms symbolising peace, and especially paradise, something in my gut stirred.

Here was a symbol of paradise, laying in a gutter practically, next to cigarette ends, in an unremarkable if not ugly alley off Bishopsgate. And I noticed another feeling. A spike of grief in my heart when I read that the palm is a symbol featured in the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths alike.

Victory. Peace. Paradise. In the dirt – the real world, here and now, not the hereafter. In the faiths which seem to be most at war with one another (and within themselves).

Most days, and especially in the last few months, the news tells a different story, and the prospect seems an utter, despairing impossibility. I’m incapable of any erudite political or theological commentary on this. It just hurts to look through information windows into the world and see so much hatred, war, and violence supposedly in the name of faith. I left my last church after hearing several members stand up on one particular day and talk as if they represented everyone present about the importance of converting Muslims, and how mistaken Muslims are in their faith. I’ve searched my heart for years about this, and a handful of other sticking points, and I’ve asked Him to show me what it is I don’t understand, but so far all that has happened is the deepening of my conviction and conscience that we must live in peace together, sharing our love of God, so beautifully and diversely manifest in this physical world through a myriad of exquisite faiths – monotheistic, multitheistic and nontheistic. Surely the complete mystery of the Trinity tells us something about the impossibility of fully grasping the infinite faces of God?

Suddenly I’m in mind of Romans 12,

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

What if this were just as true of all the faiths as it is of different kinds of people?

But in this world? In this messed up imperfect world, how could it be possible that paradise is anywhere to be found, here, now, in the grit?

I don’t know.

I only have two thoughts which surface.

sufi heart logo but with faith symbols from all faiths plus the astrological signs from auckland unitarian churchFirstly. Part of the difference between us, and God, it strikes me, is that we are limited: in our vision, our capacity, our understanding of cause and effect. And yet through us, with our faith in That which transcends us, more can be achieved that we could possibly understand, through choices seemingly far too insignificant to be of any use.

Secondly – and here’s the absolute challenge for those of us who identify with being so-called fifth-plane souls in the Sufi tradition – perhaps paradise can be found around many corners at many times right in the middle of the mess and grit and imperfection which we wish we could render absolutely pure.

Perhaps we need only to be willing for that to be part of the truth, and to be paying attention.