In the midst of this remarkable transitional phase of my life, as I slowly and carefully unwrap the layers of meaning that encapsulate the end of the most significant love relationship of my adult life, I find a vast panoply of thoughts, feelings and emotions which in some sense have been held static for a long time.
The anger, sadness and grief that have bled out of this pandora’s box have not only been precipitated by the tragedy of the end of my marriage to a woman I believed I would spend the rest of my life with, but also the tragic end of a fairy tale in which I had cast myself as the hero, as well as all the denied feelings of fear, loss, uncertainty and despair which have formed the ground of my existence for so long, and particularly in these troubling times of climate change and culture wars. These feelings have been kept in check, hidden under the surface, in the seemingly solid container of a love relationship with someone who met so many of my needs for certainty and clarity, and for six incredible years held the crashing waves at bay.
What is becoming increasingly clear to me now, even as I write these words, is that in order to feel this sense of safety, I turned myself into an object, a thing with solid edges, and so slowly but surely I became stuck in a particular shape, a shape that didn’t give me the space to breathe and change and grow. It was my choice to get stuck in this shape, and I have a great deal of compassion for myself for making it. We had such high hopes that the container we constructed for our relationship, with our hopes and dreams and marriage vows, and the way we threw ourselves into our life together, would be a great vehicle for change, not only for ourselves but for our community. And it was, just not in the way we expected it to. Instead it eventually became like a cage for both of us, and in that cage we grew apart.
I wish to say no more on this matter, apart from to honour the woman who, with her passion, strength, determination and resilience, taught me so much about myself. It was a privilege to be alongside her for all those years. My intention with these short reflections has been to set the scene for what I really want to talk about, an idea that has a part of me hypnotised and held in a trance, so much so that, eighteen months after it’s inception, the mystery of it continues to infuse every aspect of my being. This idea is, as you may have guessed if you’re a regular reader, initiation, and specifically my experience of being initiated into a world of being so much bigger than the tiny “I” of my ego, a world vast beyond imagination, on the vision quest I undertook in September 2017.
My latest mix, which I share here for the first time, explores this idea, through music and atmosphere and clips of movies I love and which, in the way that myth has inextricably woven itself into the fabric of our collective consciousness and storytelling, speak clearly to the ancient rite of initiation. My journey with the creation of this mix has been one of diving into the deep waters of my ever unfolding process with the meaning of an experience that I now recognise as the most profound of my life.
As I explain elsewhere, this website and the blogs it contains is a record of a long term heuristic research project I’ve conducted over the last five years. The model of heuristic research contains an implicit challenge, the importance of embracing the inevitability of being changed by the enquiry, continuing a process of personal growth that reflects my deep commitment to explore new territory within myself. As well as looking inward to find meaning by challenging my assumptions about the nature of things, I believe I must also look outward, I must examine all of my relationships, not only with other humans but with the more-than-human world.
This deep enquiry asks me what it means to live authentically, it challenges me to grapple with the potentialities of my existence, to let go of the solid shores of my historic beliefs about myself and the world, and allow myself to be pulled out into the middle of the river, not knowing what’s downstream. Or perhaps, as Heidegger describes it, I need to grab hold of myself and pull myself out of my fallenness? Am I hugging the shore and the river of authentic experience is flowing by or am I falling and authenticity is a kind of stillness? These kinds of questions characterise an aspect of heuristic research that focusses on the exploration of essences of an experience, the understanding that an experience has multiple meanings, and an engagement in a rhythmic flow with the experience is necessary to uncover more of those meanings. Implicit in this is the idea of an organic process of engagement with meanings which may change over time.
This rhythmic flow of engagement is one way I understand my desire to create this musical journey during the dark, hibernatory phase of the year. But if we’re talking about experiences that have multiple meanings then yes, it feels true to say that in this process I’ve spent a lot of time distracting myself from some of the uncomfortable feelings that have been coming up during this difficult chapter of my life, and I’ve also been simply mucking about on my computer doing something I love, something I can become totally immersed in.
Losing all sense of myself and of time, I become completely present in the moment, as we all do when we engage in (or are engaged by) something that completely grabs us. In moments like this we are shown that there’s an aspect of us that is present behind all the babble, self-talk, rationalising and fluctuation of emotional states that define our everyday experience. The realisation that this part of me – this silent, watchful attention that seems to exist outside of time and space – is more truly me than any of the voices, stories, emotions, ideas and beliefs that clamour for my attention on a daily basis, was one of the great gifts of my vision quest. Slowly coming to recognise this has been an experience that has felt something like “waking up”. In many ways this sense of “waking up” is intended to be the encompassing atmospheric fulcrum upon which the mix rests.
The quest catalysed a journey (an odyssey!) that has led to the end of some things that defined me and the beginning of some significant new ways to define myself. In the coming months and years I hope this blog will give me a space to describe and playfully explore some of these new definitions, trying them on for size, discarding some that don’t fit after all and holding onto others that may serve me for a season or two or even for a lifetime. What I’m realising more and more is that all things come to a natural end, including aspects of self. This is a truth that can be incredibly painful to accept and difficult to bear. However, there’s pain either way, depending on whether we choose to embrace this truth or defy it in the ways in which we lead our lives.
In The Lord of the Rings, I think the character of Pippin speaks mythopoetically to this idea when, as the forces of Mordor close in on Gondor, he says to Gandalf: “I don’t want to be in a battle. But waiting on the edge of one I can’t escape is even worse”. It’s no coincidence that it’s with these words that I’ve chosen to end my latest mix, and with it this chapter of my story.
Becca, the wilderness guide who facilitated my quest, is running another in June. At this hugely significant moment in modern history, as postmodernism continues to collapse under the weight of it’s own contradictions, to be replaced by something else, hopefully something deeper and more meaningfully integrated, the world needs more people who are willing to quest for their own personal truth; the truth at the centre of the image we are born with.
To those readers who feel a call to more meaningfully mark a significant life transition, the ending of something that has defined you, or the beginning of something new, I recommend Becca’s guidance and the experience of a vision quest. It will likely be the greatest gift you will ever give to yourself.