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Secret grief

Posted by Simon Parke, 15 June 2018, 5.27am

Secret Grief is a new book of poems/reflections by Cathryn Deyn around the subject of bereavement.

Here is the forward I wrote for the book:

The woman talks… a mixture of sadness, confusion and rage.

She is reluctantly letting go of a friendship, but she is letting go screaming, because she doesn’t understand how or why it is over.

She’s expressing grief, though she never would have used that word, because no one has died.

But then, as Cathryn reveals in this wonderful book, bereavement takes many forms.  It may be the life-stopping death of a loved one… or the children leaving home. It may be a dream of ours coming to nothing; the loss of a job; the end of a friendship or diminishing health.

There’s so much to let go of as the years unfold, and in these emotionally-literate pages, we are invited beyond ‘the happiness bias’, in which everything must be shiny and positive, towards the hidden lakes, the more wounded aspects of our psyche, and towards a kind self-honesty, the most healing path of all.

Through rage, through creation, through darkness, through avoidance, through denial, through kindness, through numb, through sadness, through love, through joy, through insensitivity, through judgement, through a growing understanding of our selves and our ‘one precious life’... Cathryn leads us with poetry and understanding.

Rather than speak of the stages of grief, I learn to speak only of today. ‘This is how I feel…and it’s allowed.’ I find myself on a journey, though not as the crow flies.

And as long as I stay honest, allowing my life to rise and fall within me; and kind - allowing punishing thoughts to pass - I’ll be fine.

Grief is rejection, grief is abandonment, and with care, grief is also invitation.  It cuts like a cold wind, it deadens like a sodden blanket, it maims like a car out of control… and is a door, always a door, a fresh starting for ourselves.

And wherever I am today, (and no inner state is a crime) there will be a poem in this book for me.

(‘Secret Grief’ is presently available on Lulu here: http://www.lulu.com/shop/cathryn-deyn/secret-grief/paperback/product-23672505.html. It will be available on Barnes and Noble and Amazon mid-July.)
 

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A hidden gospel

Posted by Simon Parke, 13 June 2018, 10.28am

You might imagine you know the opening line of the Lord’s prayer; and you do, in a way.

‘Our father in heaven,’ as the modern version has it.

But Jesus spoke in Aramaic, of course, and as Neil Douglas-Klotz observes, a single word in Aramaic can often mean several different things.

So Shema, which appears in the opening line, can mean light, sound, name or atmosphere.

And when the root word shem becomes modified, its meanings may expand further.

So the word shem-aya can be translated as heaven...the ending implying something whose effects extend without limit.

But there are other possibilities in the Aramaic apart from heaven, and Douglas-Klotz poetically re-imagines the line, drawing on some of these.

‘O thou, the one from whom breath enters being in all radiant forms.’

Or, ‘O parent of the universe, from your deep interior comes the next wave of shining life.’

Or, ‘O fruitful, nurturing life-giver! Your sound rings everywhere throughout the cosmos!’

‘Our father in heaven’ is succinct, and is to be applauded for that. 

But it lacks the rich nuances of the Aramaic, which would have been heard by the original listeners.

It isn’t that our English translations are wrong; they’re just limited. They can’t hold the spiritual possibilities of the original Aramaic which Jesus taught in – even for one line of the Lord’s Prayer.

‘Metaphorically,’ says Douglas-Klotz, ‘they are like fruit juice that has been strained trough a very fine filter and heated, leaving all the valuable vitamins, minerals, trace elements and pulp behind.’

I am struck by the way Greek divides reality in a way that Aramaic doesn’t.

So in Greek, we have mind, body and spirit, each separated out. On one level, this helps analysis, which much of western life is built upon.

But on another level, it fragments a unity with some savagery and, in so doing, becomes a falsehood.

In Aramaic, for instance, one preposition must describe both my relationship within, (my emotional life, my subconscious) and among (as in my exterior social community.)

This has profound (and exhilarating) implications.

Inner health and outer relationship become one. The mystical and the prophetic cease to be two different callings, and become one calling - two aspects of the same ripeness of spirit.

With the help of the Aramaic, we have the contemplative prophet, which, in Healthy Land, is the only type of contemplative or prophet there can be. 

As I listen to my own life, this melting of what I sense as artificial compartments feels more truthful. Everything relates.

So we notice that language both serves, and doesn’t serve, on our journey. Sometimes, even in scripture, it is the victory of theological organisation over life and possibility.

There is certainly a gospel beneath the gospels, that we need to breathe into… one more poetic, less defined, less organised, more true.

(This and more is explored in the book, ‘The Hidden Gospel’ by Neil Douglas-Klotz.)

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The teenage monster explained

Posted by Simon Parke, 11 June 2018, 9.17am

Teenagers don’t tend to get a good press - whether its sulks, moodiness, excessive risk-taking, poor decisions or sleeping late.

‘What’s happened to my sweet child?!’ parents ask as they contemplate the inexplicable monster they share a home with.

But Professor Blakemore, a professor in cognitive neuroscience at University College, London, doesn’t think it’s their fault.

The changes in the teenage brain are enormous, she says, with substantial rises in white matter and a 17% fall in grey matter, which affects decision making, planning and self-awareness.

Teenagers will often sleep late if they can, but ‘it is not because they are lazy,’ says Blakemore.

‘It is because they go through a period of biological change where melatonin, which is the hormone humans produce in the evenings and makes us feel sleepy, is produced a couple of hours later than it is in childhood or adulthood.’

They are forced to go to school when their brain says they should still be sleeping. This is then exacerbated at weekends when teenagers try to catch up by sleeping until lunchtime – what Blakemore calls ‘social jetlag’.

‘They are constantly shifting their body clock from one time zone to another, which must be very disorientating.’

She also believes it is wrong to have such stressful GCSE exams at 16, when the teenage brain is going through such a big change.

‘This country is the only country in the world - apart from countries that follow our education system, like Commonwealth countries - that have big national public exams at 16. Given our children have to stay in some form of education until 18, we don’t need those exams. Why do we still have GCSEs?’

‘It doesn’t make any sense to me to impose this enormous stress, when we are so focused on grades, just at that precise moment in time.’

Blakemore says it matters because the teenage years are the time when people are more susceptible to mental illness - whether anxiety, depression, self-harm or addictions.

Not enough resources are being channelled to the issue, she says. ‘This is a hugely neglected area in terms of the amount of resource given to mental illness in young people. The government is paying lip service to it but we really need to see actual change rather than just words.’

Blakemore, herself the mother of a 13-year old and a 10-year-old, says she is not the best person to give parenting advice. (Who is?)

But she does find teenagers and adults feel empowered when they find out the facts about how much the brain changes during this time.

A little more knowledge, a little less judgement…

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The hedgehog highway

Posted by Simon Parke, 07 June 2018, 1.45pm

Gary and Neil are working in our garden, laying the base for a potting shed.

When they arrive in the morning, I mention last night’s excitement. What was that?

Well, at about 9.45pm, with the light fading, I saw a hedgehog by the wood pile - and my wife has always longed for a hedgehog.

(Like, totally gone on about it…we even have hedgehog food on the premises, just in case.)

And so for her to see it waddling along (it was quite fat) was like the visitation of an angel: extraordinary thrill and wonder coupled with a sense of her own unworthiness.

‘That I should have a hedgehog in my garden!’

But after the vision of glory, the practical concerns.

We’re a walled-in garden which is no good, because hedgehogs need to get out. They roam for about a mile at night in search of food.

But Neil, on hearing our concerns, is on the case.

‘We need to go online,’ he says, reaching for his phone. ‘We can know how large a hedgehog hole should be.’

‘You think you can find that?’

‘You can find everything on the internet.’  And within thirty seconds, he has. ‘They’re called “hedgehog highways”, apparently.’

We look around at the options open to us, where a new highway might run. But all our ideas involve neighbourly cooperation…which is like planning permission, and can be problematic.

‘I think the best plan is to take down your garden gate,’ he says. This is a large door in the wall, formerly in the quad of a public school, before we found it restored and ready for new adventures. ‘We can cut a “highway” into the door.’

And this is what they do. They unbolt the door, heave it onto the lawn, lay it down flat, carve an eight centimetre entrance at its base – a perfect Norman arch - and then bolt it back.

Voila! Prickly access!

Sometimes in life, the potting shed has to wait.

Sometimes, there’s a visitation… and a highway which just has to be built. 

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What is wellbeing?

Posted by Simon Parke, 05 June 2018, 10.32am

I’d like to write briefly about wellbeing, with reference to The Mind Clinic.

Wellbeing has become a bit of a wallpaper word. It is used so much and so freely these days we hardly notice it any more.

It’s ubiquitous, seemingly on everyone’s agenda - organisations and individuals.

We have Wellbeing centres, Directors of Wellbeing…wellbeing sections in newspapers and magazines.

It’s a new fluffy, if vague, religion. Like grandma’s apple pie, we all have to be for it, we all have to promote it.

And the myth grows that because we talk about it a great deal, we’ve got it covered.

‘I like to think I’m pretty self-aware,’ most people say, though in my experience, the evidence is slight.

So what is wellbeing? Wellbeing is what we do with our suffering…past suffering, present suffering.

Suffering arrives when something is ending in our lives and something beginning… which is always.

And endings are difficult because we don’t generally want things to end; we build up meaning around them, it’s a crisis.

So life is difficult.

Life is beautiful and life is wonderful, but life is also difficult. These are the first three words in Scott Peck’s popular book The road less travelled and it’s a good place to start.

Suffering comes our way; we don’t need to seek it out.

It comes in different forms and guises over the years…but it comes.

Sometimes it creeps up on us slowly, with so much damage unnoticed and unseen; sometimes we are hit by an express train of circumstance, a sudden event, and we stagger at its force.

And while this is dismantling, and no one likes dismantlement, it is nothing to fear in itself… if we are able to process it.

This is a big ‘If’, however, for our education has not given us the necessary psychological tools.

We have been trained to survive, but not to grow and thrive.

So suffering is a thousand miles from easy.

But what a difference to our present if we can process it with awareness and self-kindness - instead of, say, with self-punishment, anxiety, catastrophising, depression, repression, disengagement, delusion or fear.

That’s ill-being which is different from wellbeing. The latter makes better decisions. The former is more common.

So now to The Mind Clinic to help us ponder what we might do.

We are a little company and we go into businesses and organisations to offer listening space to employees, free at the point of delivery. 

And what I am writing here, I was saying to staff recently in one of these organisations.

People book online, leave their work space (whether it’s a school, hospital or business) and come and talk.

And what they find is this:

1) Safe space where we do not have to edit or filter what we say. And safe space is rare. In life, we filter a lot, whether with parents, partners, children or friends, because of the agendas in the room. Sometimes, though, it is good not to have to edit.

2) Confidential space. We are not part of the management team, so people can cry/scream/be vulnerable and it won’t threaten their promotion prospects or become the talk of the office.

3) Insightful space. A fish cannot describe water because water is all it knows. In the same way, (and it’s a bit of a shock) most of us cannot describe ourselves because we are all we know. We imagine we are normal, when in fact we are freaks. For someone to hold up a truth mirror to our lives may be uncomfortable but it is also eye-opening and liberating.

The most common opening line when someone comes to The Mind Clinic is ‘I don’t know where to begin’ or ‘I’ve never done this before’

Wonderful! It doesn’t matter where we start or lack of experience. We’re underway.

The sadder opening line is, ‘I should have done this ages ago.’

I like what I do because I’m in awe of people’s honesty and bravery – it takes both to be well.

I also like it because I wish I’d had someone to talk with when I was younger. It would have helped a great deal.

Sometimes people bring shocking news; sometimes, just a small sense of discomfort.

But my bottom line is very simple: ‘If it matters to you, it matters to me.’

The Mind Clinic is just one approach, however. There are many other helpful journeys.

So here’s to your wellbeing and your relationship to suffering amid your difficult and wonderful life.

Seek help if you need to; it’s what the sane do.

(Only the sane choose help, of course. It’s a little known fact but true. You will not find the insane seeking help. They are too sealed-in, and too convinced by, their neuroses.)

Oh, and another thing before I go - don’t tell me you haven’t really suffered, and that others have it far worse.

This is the mantra of the frightened, the dishonest and the closed.

You can only look after yourself, truly.

So through dismantlement and joy, tend to your own wellbeing… and the ripples of health may reach distant shores. 

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Surrender

Posted by Simon Parke, 02 June 2018, 10.48am

Surrender.

It’s not always a positive word; but it is a way from ill-being into wellbeing.

You’re standing in the supermarket queue.

Part of you is constrained by circumstance, judging the till worker, assessing the speed of other queues, tense with many thoughts, eager to be away, angry with delay.

And then another part of you surrenders to the moment, and allows it to be as it is, and something surprisingly spacious and present is experienced.

Kabir Helminski defines surrender as being ‘actively receptive to an intelligence that is greater than that of ourselves.’

Surrender takes us, just for a moment, out of our sealed-in neuroses, revealing a different world… though we haven’t moved at all.

Receptive to something other and greater than ourselves, we surrender our small and driven looking for a larger gaze.

Surrender.

It’s not always a positive word; but it is a path in the wood from ill-being into wellbeing.

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You'll never walk alone?

Posted by Simon Parke, 30 May 2018, 6.04am

You’ll never walk alone is a powerful song to hear sung by Liverpool supporters at Anfield.

There’s a great sense of solidarity to it. It must be the best club anthem out there.

Though last weekend, as has been well noted, a Liverpool player was left very much alone.

Lorius Karius, their German goalkeeper, had made two bad errors in the Champions League final in Kiev against Real Madrid and Liverpool had lost the match.

After the final whistle, he sat hunched and crying in front of his goal. He knew what he’d done and was broken, a picture of loneliness.

Yet not one of the Liverpool players came over to him to offer support. After a while, a couple of Real Madrid players spoke kind words to him - but not one of his team mates.

Eventually, a member of the Liverpool backroom staff led him off the pitch.

But the social isolation on display, the public rejection by his colleagues, had been excruciating to watch.

‘Why’s no one going over to him?’ we were all saying.

It developed further on Twitter later as certain disgruntled fans referred to him as a ‘Nazi’ and made death threats.

As it transpired, You’ll never walk alone was not quite the contract we’d imagined. We didn’t read the small print:

‘You’ll never walk alone – as long as you don’t make a mistake.’

And this is a conditional contract many of us are familiar with.

‘I love you – as long as you do what I say or be what I want or never make a mistake.’

True love is different.

True love is kind with error…knows nothing of conditions or control.

...and doesn’t leave goal keepers crying alone in Kiev.

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The smart phone creed

Posted by Simon Parke, 23 May 2018, 10.57am

I believe in my phone, and smart technology Almighty,
creator of heaven and earth, as I now experience it.

I believe in - Jesus Christ! Have you seen the latest story about Victoria Beckham?
Conceived by the newsroom
born of public demand
suffering celebrities
crucified, dead and buried - and all on my brilliant phone
which descends to the dead when it’s battery is low.

But on the third day, (well, hopefully much sooner,) when re-charged, it rises again
and ascends me to heaven,
and seats me at the right hand of the all information, instantly accessed.

And it will judge the living and the dead, though not necessarily with proper evidence.

I believe in the wholly distracted spirit,
the wholly catholic sex scandal - not another one?!
the communion of people like me ( I do need them to be like me) in virtual relationship
the forgiveness of sins - only joking, let’s screw the bastards!
the resurrection of old stories, brushed up for popular view

And my phone everlasting. (whilst near a power point.) Amen.

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'That sermon' and the learning of love

Posted by Simon Parke, 21 May 2018, 3.38pm

The wedding of Harry and Meghan will be remembered for many wonders.

And one of the wonders was the sermon by Bishop Curry.

No one - least of all some of the open-mouthed royal party – was expecting that.

‘Inspirational’ was the sense on Twitter. Ed Miliband even said he was tempted to become a believer. (Steady there, Ed.)

And the lead story was love. 

Towards the end of the thirteen minute oration, (it was meant to be six) the bishop quoted Teilhard de Chardin.

If human beings ever ‘harness the energies of love,’ he said, ‘then for the second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire.’

And earlier, in a similar vein, the bishop had drawn on Dr. Martin Luther King:

‘We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way.’

Apparently the bishop mentioned love over sixty times; this sermon was a love story, which moved many.

‘Yes, yes, yes!’ we declared.

So why don’t we? And why won’t we? Because, to be honest, not much has changed since MLK.

What lies beyond our post-sermon emotional high? Back to the same old, same old, with a little guilt now thrown in?

We need inspirational speakers, inspirational people. You’ll have your own.

They somehow point a way for you, give you something to aspire to; they energise, draw you into the journey, give you hope.

But beyond inspiration, it’s the ‘How’ of love that begs attention. 

‘I want to love but how will I do that? It’s no use telling me to love, if you don’t also tell me how…because most of the time I don’t.’

My sense and understanding is that we are made of love; this is our composition.

We are made of different sorts of love, of course, so each of us will express it in different ways.

And that’s OK, it’s still love.

But then stuff comes along…possessiveness perhaps, or the need to control, extinguishing other people’s space; or anxious manipulation; or feelings of insecurity… a bid for power, slothful deceit, an exhausted and intolerant spirit, a fear of outcomes, depressed cynicism, social anxiety, hysterical over-reaction… or a head fucked by wheedling negativity.

(And that’s just before breakfast.)

And suddenly, instead of being what we are, which is love, we become what we are not - though we may dress it as virtue to ourselves.

Truth is nothing more than the awareness of error, (for truth pre-exists)... and so it is with love.

It’s not about adding things or reading more or trying harder or feeling guiltier… or blaming others for not doing it.

It’s simply about removing attitudes from our own lives; letting them go and then letting them go again.

And what is left is love.

The sooner we dare notice unhelpful energies arising in us, attitudes from damaged pasts, then the sooner we return to love… to what and to who we are.

Beyond inspiration, which is lovely, is the ‘how’ of love. And with patience and self-kindness we are learning.

It is the learning of love, the learning of how we ourselves might be love, in our own way.

And in such letting go, in such glorious subtraction, behold!...

We make the old world new every day.


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Men and their despair

Posted by Simon Parke, 21 May 2018, 10.38am

Twelve men will kill themselves today, as twelve do every day, in England and Wales.

An awful sentence to write.

And words cannot describe the confusion, anger, grief and self-recrimination they will leave behind. The trauma of the left-behind is profound and long-lasting.

Yet the young, the loved and the successful still kill themselves, able somehow to isolate themselves from the consequences.

No one ever believed the note: ‘It is better that I go.’

According to the charity, Campaign Against Living Miserably (Calm), men account for more than three-quarters of all suicides in England and Wales, 4,590 deaths – the single biggest cause of death among males under 50.

And people don’t tend to see it coming with men. Three out of four male suicides had no contact with mental health professionals prior to their death.

When my friend killed himself, he seemed to have everything. But clearly for him, on that morning, there appeared to be nothing.

There may be clues, which hindsight sometimes sees: signs of depression like lack of energy, sadness, negativity and self-destructiveness.

But perhaps a bigger issue – and the issue which makes all other issues more dangerous - is the male inability to seek help to work things through.

A survey by Calm revealed that 69% of men said they preferred to deal with problems themselves, 56% didn’t want to burden others. ‘The traditional strong silent response to adversity is increasingly failing to protect men from themselves,’ said Jane Powell, Calm’s chief executive.

Shortly before his death, the psychiatrist Anthony Clare wrote a book, On Men: Masculinity in Crisis. He concluded with a plea to men to place ‘a greater value on love, family and personal relationships and less on power, possessions and achievement… to find meaning and fulfilment’.

In the end, every suicide arises from a belief that this present situation is the end of the story, that there’s no way out.

It is a state of utter despair, the fox at the end of the run… and perhaps familiar to some of us. It need only kidnap us for a moment to be fatal.

The genius for all of us is to remember - against all odds and perhaps despite the evidence - that nothing is the end of the story, that this too shall pass; that there is a future…

...and if a future, then a present.

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