Sunday, November 26, 2006

Life. Who Needs It?

I’ve been attending an Intensive Journaling workshop recently. It’s a method pioneered by Dr Ira Progoff, a Jungian psychologist who died in 1998. His method of journalling encourages one to examine one’s whole life history using a carefully designed procedure to make one aware of the importance of certain milestones and patterns in one’s life. The point of this method is to make one more mindful – a Buddhist term applied by the course coordinator – of one’s life and the decisions one makes or has made along the way. The reason I mention this workshop is that I had a blinding insight about life during this most revealing process.

Previously I’d spent days trying to avoid writing down ten important “stepping stones” on my path because most of these moments in my life were traumatic and almost all were not of my choosing. For example, the examples of the most outrageous fortune described by my stepping stones were firstly my parents’ divorce, then my hero-worshipped older brother having a breakdown after being sent to the army; next his subsequent ordeal in an appalling mental home; then his enforced return to the border and unsurprisingly his death which followed a few days later. That following year my father died. And a few years later my younger brother was killed in a freak accident. These were just some of the worst moments on a fairly bleak path. It was a bit of a shock to find that only one step came about purely through my own choice. I couldn’t help feeling that life had been truly awful so far and I wanted to shout, “Life? Who needs it?”

When I reached the point where I had to think about the one overarching image to describe my here and now, I remembered a moment from my childhood. I must have been about five or six. I was standing at the edge of the sea, facing probably either one or both of my parents, smiling happily at them. Being born and bred inland meant that my dad’s sudden impulses to wake us up at 2am and tell us we were going to the sea were the highlights of my childhood. Anyway. There I was paddling happily at the water’s edge, smiling blissfully at whomever, when WHAM! An almighty wave came up behind me and knocked me flat on my face. Now you wouldn’t think that I’d be surprised. Surely, even at the age of six, I should have realised that the sea has waves. But to say I was taken unawares is an understatement. I was mortified, horrified and extremely angry that the sea had snuck up on me in that way. Surely I deserved more respect, my six year old self thought. My pride was deeply wounded, and I don’t think I’ve ever recovered fully from that shock.

Now the reason I refer to this image is that it describes succinctly the way I’ve viewed my life since then. For some reason I’m still outraged and angered by the audacity of life’s waves to knock me over. And yes, I have been known to moan a little about the poundings I’ve taken. But the interesting thing about this method of journaling is that it requires that you engage with the image and explore it a little further. When I did this, I realized that I’ve been pretty damn stupid not to expect waves from the sea. Okay, life, if you insist. After all, only fairy stories promise a “happily ever after.” Yes, I’ve had more than my fair share of knocks. In fact, sometimes they’ve been devastating body blows. But I kept living my life waiting for the time when things would be just peachy and nothing would ever go wrong again. How naïve can one get?

So. A large learning curve has taken place. Almost as large as some of those waves. And what I’ve taken out of this workshop is that a) I have to learn to surf, and b) I have to keep my eyes wide open to watch that infinitely treacherous sea.

Hopefully by the time the next wave comes along I will be like Shaun Thomson facing a tsunami: looking forward to the opportunity of having an almighty ride… and perhaps learning a few lessons for future reference on the side. One can only hope, can’t one?

No comments: