The blind dancer is broken

The blind dancer is broken

The blind dancer is broken ~ a dream

Sometimes dreams give us clues about our inner world in ways that are both revealing and concealing. The last week or two I have been finding it very difficult to navigate my way through the world, and feel I have lost connection with things that have been important to me and my life force feels depleted and I feel direction-less. I’m working my way through a book on Jungian dream interpretation and after I started reading it, for the first time in a while a dream occurred that feels significant in understanding what is going on. I’m going to share it here; if you have any insights on this they would be welcome as I am hoping to clarify my own thoughts and often my friends here have been excellent at doing just that.

The first part of the dream is confused. I am trying to find my way through a city that feels hostile, as if either a riot has been happening or is close to happening, or one that has been at war. The streets are narrow and steep but more or less deserted. It’s dark, night time and a few places have lights on. I go into one place, on the side of a square, from which a narrow lane goes down steeply enough to need steps. It feels a little like the Mont Martre area of Paris. The place is a restaurant, but looks wrecked and no one is eating there. A waiter comes over, but he doesn’t want to take an order. He’s trying to find his daughter, to connect to her on Facebook but though I try to explain to him how to find her, my communications don’t seem to work. I give up trying to explain as we seem to have not so much a problem of language but of intelligence.

The dream shifts and I am in my study. I have walked in to see that the smaller of my two desks, the one used solely for writing by hand and for drawing has been messed up. Items are scattered over it and I notice that the statue I treasure has been knocked over; the head seems to be missing, there’s water close to it as if spilled, and there is a flex like that of a lamp attached to it (the real statue is one I bought in 2003, shortly after moving to the Midlands but before I began writing again. It’s an interpretation of the Oracle at Delphi, about 18 inches or so high, of fired clay, glazed in several colours and textures, and shows a seated, veiled woman, eyes downcast looking into a bowl she is holding on her lap. The bowl can hold a candle. I bought the statue as a symbol of listening to my inner consciousness and trying to heed what might come from dreams and visions. It’s never been a public ornament downstairs and has always been either in my study or my bedroom. It was quite expensive (for me) and is one of a kind as though the range is still on sale, each item was unique and this one is no longer made) I am crestfallen and upset that this precious thing might be broken or damaged, and rush forward to look more closely. As I get closer I see that this is a different statue entirely. It depicts a dancer, in a pose, one arm outstretched, standing on one leg (this probably has a term but I don’t know it). The statue is in the same coloured glazes and washes as mine (dark green, light green, yellow, and pure gold) but it’s very different and not one that in real life would ever appeal to me at all as it has a fragile appearance and depicts a style of feminine grace I’ve never aspired to or valued). I look closer for damage and see that there is a chip off the chin; there are fragments of porcelain around and I wonder if it can be fixed back. Then I see that a whole strip of glaze has been knocked from the face, right across the eyes so that the dancer is now blind. I am searching for the broken fragments to mend the statue when I wake.


Delirium, pit ponies and the potential of wild, unfettered minds.

Delirium, pit ponies and the potential of wild, unfettered minds.

I’ve been ill.

Nothing glamorous or dangerous. Just a funny virus that has had me laid out most of the week. I have called it ‘flu but that conjures images of a nasty, oozy sort of cold and as I haven’t coughed or sneezed (or even oozed) it seems that’s the wrong word. Bone aches, sickness, muscle pains and cramps, fever, exhaustion, total lack of appetite. I even stopped drinking coffee; the very thought made me nauseous. I struggled to keep water down the first day. Tea came straight back up.

So I’ve laid down, dosed with pain killers and slept. I could have slept for England, were it an Olympic sport. Given my problems with insomnia, you can tell how poorly I’ve been by the hours that slipped by with me being mostly insensible of them. We have a chiming clock that chimes not only the hour but the quarters too and I remember being puzzled about how it had chimed half past two and then it chimed five o’clock five minutes later.

I’ve also not been quite in my right mind. I’ve been a little delirious which these days is quite entertaining. First time I was delirious it was when I was thirteen and had a bad case of chicken pox and it scared me. This time it didn’t. I watched the room shrink and grow and thought only of Alice and her Eat Me and Drink Me treats. I saw my plain white walls become transformed with swathes of pink roses rather like the ones in my childhood bedroom, but which moved as if blown by a summer breeze. I saw tiny crystalline fairies dance on the pillow next to me. When I slept I dreamed horrific vivid dreams, full-on with all the senses and woke shaking and drenched with sweat. If dreams are prophetic then one of these has me as the next Patriarch of Jerusalem, going by what I was wearing. I make light of the nightmares because it’s easier that way, and taking them seriously as more than perhaps fodder for novels is a bit beyond my strength right now.

But what I noticed between bouts of hallucinations and sleeping was how my mind was working while it idled. It didn’t feel like MY mind at all. It hopped and skipped around, jumping from thought to thought like a grasshopper. I didn’t recognise the patterns of thinking, the images, the ideas of my own. It was like going to sleep with the radio on and having the alien outside narrative intrude and take over your dreams. Odd, and rather disturbing, yet strangely exhilarating at the same time.

As a kid I recall seeing black and white footage of the last pit ponies being brought up from underground for their annual holidays. They’d stand for a moment, looking at the wide expanse of green grass, then they would go wild, hurtling into the field, kicking their heels up. They’d run and roll, gallop and gambol, flinging themselves around in sheer unfettered delight. That’s what my thoughts had been doing.

Normally I have a train of consciousness that is going on quite modestly, commenting on what I see, formulating ideas and images and I’m in control. I can stop the thoughts (usually) and change direction, but most of all I recognise them as my own. This time, I found it a struggle to see the ideas and images as having any connection to me at all. At times, along with the dreams, it felt as if another dimension, another reality, was pushing into my own and in many ways it felt quite welcome. It was like eavesdropping on another life.

Hemingway once said, “Write drunk; edit sober,” and I think I understand the concept a little better now. Due to my unusual condition my body resists things like anaesthesia and pain killers so my experience of things like morphine(and other medicines) has been disappointing compared to accounts of what others felt. Yet the loosening of mental control from illness seems to have been extraordinarily liberating. To have been cut free from certain constrictions of what I experience has been a bit of a holiday, as has a long spell where I’ve been unable to do much physically.

I don’t really do enough of the “standing and staring” and letting my mind idle that I think it desperately needs to be able to access the kind of creativity that many take for granted. I may be seeing a silver lining where there is none but this spell of illness has given me a glimpse of gold beyond the horizon. 

Deciphering old dreams, gaining insight and why keeping a dream journal is a good idea.

Deciphering old dreams, gaining insight and why keeping a dream journal is a good idea.

I’m a bit of a believer in dreams being the way many things (including our own unconscious) can communicate with us, but rather often the meaning is harder to fathom.

I’m not talking about those random replay dreams, where the recent past is rehashed, or those anxiety dreams where we play out our fears.

I’m talking about the dreams that seem to have no foothold in the usual run of dreams. They’re often the ones we remember when we wake, and often, they haunt us for days, or even years afterwards.

The following is a dream I recorded early in 2009, pre-dating the start of this blog by perhaps a week or two.

I dreamed I was travelling down a river, towards my home. I don’t live near a river, and never have lived close enough to one to the scenario I knew was true in the dream, that my home was only a very short distance from the water. In real life, I’d never chose to live so close to a body of water that can be so temperamental, but in the dream I accepted this as normal reality.

Until, that is, I rounded the corner of the river-bend and where I had expected to find a short stretch of water and my home a little way beyond it, the whole topography had changed. The river had become a dead end, a lagoon of cloudy water, almost like a T junction. I could go no further, unless I took to the water, and even then, I couldn’t see my home at all. The water swirled, like flood waters, full of eddies and a milky wash of clay from the fields, and I knew it to be deep and dangerous.

I turned to the left hand side, where the arm of the T led me and found that as well as the work to change the course of the river, work was in progress to build a footpath through what were fast becoming marshes. Brand new duck-boards had been laid across the mud, and a new bridge, all resinous with fresh pine and larch, ended near the duck-boards, the steps rising to greet me. As I approached, a woman came down the bridge steps and told me, “They haven’t finished it yet, you can’t get through that way,” and encouraged me to try and follow where the duck-boards led me. I couldn’t see where the new path led, but I climbed over the foot of the bridge and began to try and follow the wooden path.

By this stage I was feeling very frustrated that I couldn’t get home and angry that “they” had changed the route without giving me either warning of the work or any alternative route to my home. The woman had vanished and I was alone again, standing below the bridge, unable to either see where to go or make a single step forward because the duck-boards had given way to thick sticky mud and no path was visible at all.

Revisiting this dream in the light of where I was at that point in my life in 2009 is curious. I’d reached a point of stasis, stagnation even in my creative life. I was still writing but not able to share my work with anyone. I’d not even considered blogging, or self-publishing. I was, I think, still submitting the odd manuscript to publishers. But everything had reached a dead-end. I’d been asked by an editor at Random House to put together a proposal for a book about the decline of the Church of England, and had submitted the proposal only to have it rejected. I’d tried one last time to get my agent to respond to a letter. Nothing was working; I was stuck. Looking back, I can see it was a bleak time. I was working under someone who hated me, and that looked like it’d never change.

Looking at it now, I wonder if perhaps I was subconsciously responding to the changing face of publishing, picked up here and there, and seeing that it was being prepared but was not quite ready. The way through the marshes was being built but was incomplete. I did not begin my journey until more than a year after the dream and even then, it was like wading through thick mud to launch a book. I had hoped I had found a partner to work with but a year on, that died a death. I was effectively left alone in the marshes, unable to proceed till I had processed that grief.

Yet, having this record of my dream is powerful. I can analyse it with more skill as I revisit it. This is a dream I had in February of this year:

I am on my knees trying to dust/polish the skirting boards, but am having to do it very carefully. There are a number of occupied cobwebs and I am trying not to harm the spiders or damage their webs if I can avoid it. The spiders are the long legged sort, quite beautiful but they are unhappy about having their webs disturbed. I dust painstakingly but nevertheless dislodge several spiders who then run off. I sit back on my heels to make sure they are away from harm and try to clean again. The dream shifts slightly, and I find that I am cleaning a massive fireplace, the kind you see in castles and stately homes. There is a lot of small debris like leaves and bits of moss that I sweep into the centre. The hearth itself is unused, and has been unused for a long time, and indeed has been painted a uniform white with gloss paint. I sweep everything into the centre where a fire would have been and as I try and gather up the dross, I find that there are several items amid the rubbish. They are very large crystal clusters, the ones that look rather like small castles themselves. I am delighted and then worried to find them. Delighted because they are beautiful and worried because I don’t know if I am allowed to keep them. I examine one closely. I wonder if in fact it is crystalline rock salt, but it is so clear and when I taste it, it doesn’t taste salty. I then wonder if it is actually ice, because it seems so shiny and wet looking. But though it is cold, it does not melt when I hold it up. I hold it up to a window, through which I can see a river scene ahead, very serene and beautiful. The crystal is so clear that each image I see through each “turret” of a crystal point is undistorted and true. Then something wakes me and when I dream again, the dream of before is lost.

I like spiders, see them as totems of writing, weaving of words. I’m trying to clean up my mental surroundings but I am struggling to do so without damaging my spiders. When I am cleaning the hearth, it feels like I am trying to clean something that has been left alone and never used. I recognise it as a hearth but there is no fire there and hasn’t been for a long time. I don’t know what this hearth represents, and am aware this may be key. The rubbish is all natural rubbish of dust and leaves and twigs and dry grass and so on, the kind of dross that might blow into an abandoned home. Finding the crystal is a wonderful moment, it’s the last thing one would expect but I have concerns that it is meant for me and worry that if I take it I am stealing. Yet through the crystal nothing distorts or alters. I analyse its nature very closely and assess it as real and true.

Jung wrote of dreams being the royal road to the unconscious. To make conscious the deep and often disturbing contents of our psyches is a frightening proposition but right now, while I am enjoying a remission from the severe symptoms of depression I am acutely aware that this is a gift of time and personal serenity I must use wisely. I am therefore glad both that I often record my dreams, and also that I am beginning to dream again.

A (fairly) light-hearted look at insomnia ~ scourge of my life and that of others

A (fairly) light-hearted look at insomnia ~ scourge of my life and that of others.

If there is one thing guaranteed to get people talking on social media (and we shall exclude certain subjects for reasons of simple decency) it’s insomnia. It’s far from a simple subject, as this article from Wiki shows but when people start discussing it, you really would think it was simple. Don’t drink caffeine, stop worrying, lavender oil on the pillow…. the advice is endless. I’ve doled out enough of it myself to deserve to be punched.

Those who have never suffered with more than the occasional missed night of sleep are lucky. That said, I’d not wish it upon them.

The definition of insomnia is ambiguous too: Insomnia is often defined as a positive response to either of two questions: “Do you experience difficulty sleeping?” or “Do you have difficulty falling or staying asleep?”

Now I’d answer a resounding yes to both questions. Once you start looking more deeply into causes, that’s the point when you realise that it’s not a simple matter of applying head to pillow and shutting the eyes. Insomnia can be fatal (though this is rare) and it is far more debilitating that folks who never suffer can imagine.

I’m going to run through a number of the things I have tried over the years. Some of them work for a while, and some are tried and tested sleep aids. If any of them are things you haven’t tried, do consider trying them.

Herbs (teas, tablets and tinctures): usually people suggest camomile for this and it is indeed very relaxing in small quantities. Over use of it produces the opposite effect. Other herbs that are beneficial for sleep are valerian and hops. The downside is that both of these have a depressant effect. Many herbal sleeping tablets contain both. Not advisable if you suffer with depression. Another good herb is passiflora; this works as a muscle relaxant so if you have a heart problem this one is out. I concocted a herb tea made with about 15 different herbs, all known to have relaxing, soothing and sleep inducing properties: wild lettuce, (which was used to treat the Emperor Augustus of a life threatening bout of insomnia; to such effect he put up a statue in its homour) wood betony, vervain, violets, lavender, passiflora, Californian poppies, limeflowers, camomile, rose petals and St John’s wort among a few others. The tea does work but to make up the mix costs a fair amount of money and you make a pretty large amount. You can’t store herbs for very long without them losing their potency, so when certain herbs like limeflowers undergo chemical changes (after two years they produce chemicals that induce the effects of intoxication) after a year or two, making a blend needs to be done in small quantities at regular intervals. This works for acute insomnia but not for chronic.

Sleeping pills: both over the counter remedies and prescribed ones can be very effective for acute insomnia. One of the most readily available brands  has the option of one OR two tablets. I keep these in for desperate measures. On the leaflet it warns against using them habitually and also if you have kidney damage. Those nights I do take them, I find the next day I have significant pain in the kidney area. Prescribed ones I have taken usually produce such a heavy, unrefeshing sleep that takes hours to emerge from that I’d prefer to avoid them.

Cutting down on caffeine: worth doing. I don’t drink any caffeine-rich beverage after a certain time and drink only a certain amount during the day.

Exercise: taking some form of exercise each day does help. However, according to research, too much exercise can increase insomnia. How much is too much? Exercising immediately before bed will certainly not help.

Aromatherapy: there are many essential oils that have soporific effects. Using one of these (lavender, camomile, rose, jasmine etc) will aid acute insomnia. However, in my experience, long term they don’t do much.

Hot baths: this works by relaxing the muscles with heat. However don’t get into bed until the body temperature has returned to normal. The body’s sleep mechanism is triggered by the body temperature falling slightly, which is why it’s best to sleep in a room that is slightly cooler than usual room temperature.

Crystals: no, don’t laugh. Using certain crystals to aid sleep goes back a long way. Amethyst that deep purple gem is often suggested. It’s also supposed to give deeper and more restful sleep. I have a fondness for crystals and I have found using them helpful. Placebo, maybe but don’t diss it. Again, it may help with short term acute insomnia.

Meditation: this helps to come to a kind of quiet space. Used regularly meditation has immense benefits for a lot of people. My problem is finding the motivation to do something that takes discipline and determination.

Music: I have a good dozen cds of music to help sleep. Some are excellent and some I just find annoyingly bland. Once more, they help through an acute phase but long term efficacy is poor.

Flower essences: yes, I know, another one many find flaky. I’ve used them and found them helpful. Might be placebo but if it helps? Again, short term efficacy.

Blue light: I was given a funny little box that emits a softly pulsing blue light. The idea is you match your breathing to the pulsing and you drift off. Surprisingly effective for acute phases, especially when suffering with severe anxiety. It’s battery powered and I keep forgetting to charge the battery. It also may annoy the person you share a bed with.

Incense: burned some time prior to bedtime, smoke stimulates serotonin production in the brain. I use a very lovely lavender incense from Greater Goods. If nothing else, it makes your bedroom smell wonderful.

I’ve tried a lot of other techniques that simply don’t work for me, including the old favourites hot milk, sex, reading a boring book (I just get bored!) hot toddys and many more. Contrary to what people have assumed, I don’t lie in bed worrying. I’m usually not a worrier. I’ve lain there and quietened my thoughts till they are all sitting there obediently being silent and STILL sleep wouldn’t come for hours. This is not about mind over matter.

It comes down to what is causing your insomnia. If you are treating a symptom without knowing it’s cause, it’s going to be far harder. I read through the article of wiki and this line jumped out at me:

Major depression leads to alterations in the function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, causing excessive release of cortisol which can lead to poor sleep quality.”

Oh. So we’re back to the Black Dog again. What a surprise.

The Healing Temple ~ a prophetic dream, a memory or wishful thinking?


The Temple of Healing




Following a dream on one Sunday night about having healing power filling my hands like light or like electricity, I thought that might be it as far as powerful BIG dreams go.


I was wrong.


I was tired from my morning of teaching, and still recuperating from my operation on Friday 13th, I decided I would go and lie down and try to sleep. I don’t sleep well, generally and in the daytime, I usually fret too much to doze off. So I put on a CD of relaxing sounds and music(Wind-chime Waterfall, it’s called) and snuggled into bed.


I had my eyes open for a while and noticed as I became drowsy a growing number of shapes and lights in the room. I see things at times, hypno-gogic and hypno-pompic visions of strange unearthly but wonderful things.


I slept but so lightly I was aware I was sleeping, and that I was dreaming.


The first part of the dreaming I found myself fairly high up in what at first seemed very like a vast stadium for sports, but when I looked closely it was quite different. Different parts of the stands were separate from others, looking down onto different areas. I’ve also had a sense of vertigo in big football arenas like the Stade de France, but here, even though I was maybe much higher, there was no sense of it. It was less precipitate and sheer, sloping much more gently.


There seemed to be a kind of organ, but that is the only word I can think of, inside a kind of room, and I knew that the music I could hear was coming from that, dispersed and not direct like birdsong but not like the sort of Musak you hear piped into shopping centres. I understood that both playing this instrument and hearing it was somehow healing in a profound but gentle way. There were climbing plants growing freely everywhere and flowers of varying types nodded overhead, and added their scent to the air.


I must have walked further down the stands because I could see another vista, this time of pools. They seemed a little like swimming pools but while some were occupied by people who were lying in the water, there was a calmness and a stillness. The people were not splashing around or playing; they were just lying in the waters a little like invalids and I remembered I had been there before, years ago. I had been in those waters, when I was recovering from my death in the first world war; my comrades were also in the waters.


Looking around I saw other pools that had no people in them but had fountains and lights and other things I have no idea what they were, but it seemed to put a sort of display on that was healing for those who watched.


I cannot convey the vastness of this complex, or the fact that though I tried to see where everything was and how it worked, I simply could not. It seemed as though there was a combination of unknown technologies so alien to me I can’t even describe them at all. I do not have the words for it. There was also a great deal of simple loveliness and natural beauty, and a sense of it being familiar and utterly new all at the same time. There was a clarity of air and of colour and sound that was like being on a high mountain, with the morning light.


But the oddest thing of all was the sense that however new it seemed at that moment, I was in the right place, and that I somehow belonged there.


Maundy Thursday ~ calm before the storm and a sense of foreboding


Maundy Thursday ~ calm before the storm and a sense of foreboding


Some years ago now, I wrote a poem that still haunts my own memory, if that doesn’t sound too self-obsessed. I was walking home late at night after attending a Maundy Thursday vigil and as I walked through our quiet village, I smelled lamb cooking at the Indian takeaway and it set a train of thought running that resulted in me coming in and scribbling down the following prose poem.

Gethsemane Girl

It’s a still night, the warm air filled

With the hot greasy scent of a thousand meals.

Glad I didn’t have to cook tonight;

I know lamb is traditional but it seems so unfair:

That little life cut short just for us.

I shouldn’t be here; they said no.

He didn’t, of course; he never does.

But I’m here anyway.

Maybe he knows; they don’t.

Look at them, sleeping like babies!

He wasn’t himself tonight, seemed sad.

Someone said he’s paranoid,

Expecting betrayal at any moment.

Won’t be me”, that’s what Peter said.

He can’t help boasting but it’s sad.

He’s like a big hairy dog pretending to be brave-

One sniff of a wolf and he’d be off!

Anyway, I’m worried.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned,

It’s this: men can’t be trusted.

I shouldn’t be here: but someone should,

And since they’ve all dozed off

There’s only me, wide-awake in the bushes.

Nothing I can do but wait;

This mood of his will pass,

It always does.

But he does look so sad

And I wish-

But that’s not to be.

I’m so tired too.

I don’t know why I’m here;

I don’t understand half of what he says

But while he says it, it sounds so right.

Pity not everyone agrees.

If I close my eyes, just rest them, mind,

Just for a moment or two.

It’s been such a long day.

I won’t sleep, not like the others.

Not sleeping, just resting my eyes,


I’d been thinking about the other ‘actors’ in that drama so many centuries ago, wondering how they’d seen it all, living it moment by moment without knowing the eventual outcome. I identified with those shadowy figures that we hear mentioned and who played a pivotal role in the Easter story and yet whose own voices have never been heard. As I smelled the hot curry smell, I thought about the women who cooked and cared for Jesus and the disciples and started wondering what they had truly been thinking, that night before the Passover, so many centuries ago. We don’t know who they all were, Mary Magdalene is often suggested as one of the inner circle; she has always struck me as girl with resources and I began to wonder whether she would have sneaked after the disciples who were invited to pray with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.

So into that darkened garden I crept, my hands still slightly greasy with lamb fat and olive oil from the shared meal and my eyes heavy with tiredness. I knew things were changing, sensing the storm coming like a weather sense, and yet, hoping and hoping that nothing bad was going to happen.

While I wrote the poem some years ago, at the time, I could also sense changes coming, unable to pinpoint them. It took longer for the storm to hit, and my life to be altered beyond anything I imagined, but like Mary in that garden, I knew something was coming.

Now, six or seven years later, I approach Maundy Thursday with the renewed sense of something coming. It’s still far off, I think, but I can feel it, like a summer storm you can feel even when the sun is brilliant and there’s not a cloud to be seen except that dim dark line at the far horizon. I’m not sure whether this is good or bad coming, but change in any way is unsettling and shakes you up.

I’m trying to remember my Gethsemane Girl, hiding in the bushes and not knowing the end of the story, and trying to tell her, Be strong, it changes everything beyond what you ever imagined possible.


The hunt for meaning and purpose in life ~ a luminous dream and a hidden vision.

  The hunt for meaning and purpose in life ~ a luminous dream and a hidden vision.


For many, the belief that their life has a meaning is something that keeps them going through the hard times and through setbacks and tragedies. It’s a belief I have long wished to share, and moreover to know and to understand the nature of my own life’s meaning and purpose. The feeling that my life is without either contributes to a large extent to my bouts of severe depression; while I don’t believe it causes it, that fear of being a sort of joke without a punchline is a particularly nasty irritant when I’m already down.

In a discussion with a close friend, the concept was raised and explored that perhaps life is its own meaning, that living it is enough and that for every person to believe they have a special meaning or destiny is a flawed belief. It’s a product to some degree of the New Age movement and of the self-help industry and it may be contributing to discontent and unhappiness.

And yet.

Some of it might have its roots in truth and the distortion of this truth is what is bringing the devastation. Just as not every person is equipped to become a brain surgeon, not every person is destined for something out of the ordinary. It’s our perception of the ordinary that is at fault. We’re obsessed by success and perfection and addicted to higher and higher aspirations, and we judge both ourselves and others on the level we reach, as if it were some sort of hierarchy of achievement. Growing a great crop of raspberries is as great an achievement as any other. Climbing a mountain is no greater than someone making it to work everyday when their illness means it’s a struggle.

We’re funny animals, us humans. At one and the same time we wish to stand out from the crowd but remain within it.

And yet.

That said, I could never bring myself to accept that the meaning of my life might well not be anything ‘special’ or unusual or even terribly interesting. I feel driven, constantly, by a whole host of inner ideas. The fact that these never seem to come to anything however hard I have worked at them has reached a kind of tipping point lately. On Friday I finished writing a novel that has been driving my inner life for the best part of a year. For many that might seem a massive achievement but it didn’t feel like it to me. I felt empty, bereft even, because it’s no longer enough just to write the novels. Over the weekend I’ve felt some odd things going on in the background of my psyche and by the time I got to bed last night, I was feeling desperately anxious without being sure why.

I’ve had serious trouble with sleep for a long while, both getting to sleep and the quality of sleep. I wake feeling exhausted and drained and my head feels so fuzzy and unable to think. My dreams have been mental doodles and nothing more. Now, I believe in dreams, in their value to the mind and to the creative spirit and for almost a year, there’s been very, very little of worth coming through. I write down dreams that strike me as interesting and there’s nothing written for a long while. Last night, I prayed as I sometimes do, to be shown some sort of sign in my dreams, that my life has meaning and a purpose. I think that somewhere in the back of my mind was the feeling that should nothing be forthcoming, then I would let go and step back and accept that my life is not one of any real worth, or purpose and perhaps it was time to forget about the things that have driven me.

At about 2am, I woke from a dream, the kind of luminous dream that has such a grip on the mind and spirit that even now, seven or so hours later, I can still perceive the shining. I’m not going to describe the contents of that dream here, because like many dreams, the power is not in the telling but in the experience that often defies words. I’m also not ready to share what I felt that dream was telling me in any details, partly because that vision is still partially concealed from me and I have a feeling that there is more to be revealed.

Today I feel very odd, as if I have been breathing thin air for months and suddenly, I am back in an oxygen rich environment and my brain is still adjusting to it. I’m not saying I’ve found any answers to my questions. I’m not sure that there are answers, certainly not nice simple ones.

But I might have found enough hope to carry on living and exploring.

Where do heroes come from? Exploring the bond between writer and characters.


Where do heroes come from? Exploring the bond between writer and characters.


It’s pretty rare that I write about writing on this blog; in that sense this is far from a Writer’s Blog of the classical kind. But the last few days have brought up a variety of issues and while boiling the kettle a short while ago, I had a bit of an aha moment.

Let me backtrack a little. Stay with me; I’ll get to the point as soon as I can.

Yesterday I got walloped with the worst attack of severe, paralysing anxiety I have had in many years. I teetered on the brink of all-out panic attack for about fourteen hours, before finally taking some sleeping tablets and going to bed. I woke feeling a bit better, more able to function but deeply disappointed in myself for not coping better with something I really thought I had overcome years ago. I’ve learned dozens of ways of dealing with it but none of them really worked yesterday. One of the keys to making it through to bedtime without slipping into panic was a comment by one of my Twitter friends; Christophe said “It’s just an excess of adrenaline.” Oddly enough being able to reduce it to a named hormone made it much easier for me to deal with, because it was finite. It was such a masculine approach to the problem and it really struck home more than anything else might have done.

But today, I started thinking about the novel I am close to completing and remembered that the hero of that novel has been suffering with some severe anxiety and panic issues(for good reasons, I must add) and in exploring his journey through this, I do wonder if I have stirred up something unresolved in my own. This set me to thinking even more about the deep link I have with my characters.

In Strangers and Pilgrims, each of the six protagonists reflect aspects of my own character, translated into a life and a person. Each of them has endured some pretty heavy duty suffering but writing it in a way that compartmentalised this suffering, spreading it among six people, meant that I never got the full force of it while I was writing it. When one became too much, I could just shift to another and spread the pain more thinly.

I know there are plenty of writers who see their characters as just characters and no more than that; essentially puppets or pawns to move around to serve the purposes of the plot. But that’s not the way I work. My writing is a symbiosis between the characters and a thread of story that has wormed its way between the worlds and often come to me in dreams; these stories are living, evolving beings who shift and change and demand things of me I would give to no human. And the characters come from somewhere deep, often very deep, within my own soul, emerging like old friends fully formed but with surprises in store for me. I don’t ever really know who and what they are; I listen to the tale they tell me in the darkest hours of the night and weave the words and the images I see until I am ready to write.

The novel I am working on is the third in a series and it came to me today that the connection I feel to the hero is deeper than almost any because the hero is in effect my soul’s attempts to translate my animus into a real being that has existence beyond the psyche. Is it any wonder that the last day or two have been a struggle, as I seek to bring a conclusion to this story where no ending is really possible without my own death?

I am bound up as much in my own stories as I am in my own external life, and the bond between them is such that for the years where I didn’t (couldn’t) write I knew myself to be living a half-life, barely alive and out of touch with my soul. I think that this may also be why I feel so powerfully the need to have others read my stories. John Donne wrote that No man is an island, and I believe this to be true. Who I am and what I create are so closely bound as to be inextricably linked, Siamese twins joined at the heart and mind. Without one, the other will die.

Mind Body Spirit- the golden tripod


Mind body spirit- the golden tripod


My recent battle with illness brought home to me how easily upset my fragile balance can be and more than that, quite how acutely sensitive I am to disruptions to my baseline well-being. It’s easy to forget how complex an organism a human being is, and how aspects of one form of health affect the whole person.

After I came out of hospital the first time, I contracted an infection, probably post-operatively, and was put on strong antibiotics. Though these tablets were designed to fight infection, there were side effects that made coping with being unwell far harder. Combined with the continuing effects of the anaesthesia and the pain relief I needed, my emotional state became acute and I spent most of Christmas Eve crying. Things that normally wouldn’t bother me made me incredibly sad and filled with self hatred. I’m used to dealing with pain, but I am not used to feeling weak and unwell, and try as I certainly did, I found I was incapable of rising above it and being positive. Body, mind and spirit were all out of balance.

Over the next few days, my spirits rose a little, as the deeper meaning of Christmas sank in, but when the infection came back worse than ever, this little improvement vanished and I was hospitalised again, this time to have antibiotics fed to me intravenously. I have seldom felt so utterly bereft as I did on New Year’s Eve, and New Years Day was not much better. The drugs being pumped into me might well have been doing a sterling job of fighting infection but they did little to improve my state of mind or spirit. I made the mistake of reading Oscar Wilde’s short stories(albeit in French) and ended up sobbing silently into my pillow. The Selfish Giant has an ending that would bring tears to most eyes, and so too does The Happy Prince. But the heart of those sentiments went deeper than the tears, and within a few hours, the arrival of two new patients and the interaction with them and their stories raised me again. Looking out of one’s self at moments like this can be very helpful and these two new ladies were good company. With the addition of two hysterically funny night nurses, I went to sleep on New Year’s Day with my sides aching from laughing.

Returning home the next day, I soon realised that I had lost a lot of ground in terms of health and fitness and set about trying to regain it. I am used to a fairly large amount of outdoor exercise, usually walking a minimum of two miles every day. I’ve learned also that I can keep my default depression (virtually) under some control if I can take some vigorous exercise every single day, and the spiritual benefits of being among trees or on the seashore cannot be underestimated either.

When one aspect of health fails us, the others need to be extra strong to reinforce the whole person. You could liken it to a tripod, where each of those three vital components support the person equally. But that metaphor fails because when one element is removed or severely damaged, a tripod would literally tip over. The virtual tripod allows for another element supporting the weaker one while that weaker one is restored. I noticed that the weakening of my physical state meant that a greater strain was placed on my mental and spiritual resources. Long term the same is true: the weakening of the mental and spiritual elements also places a great strain on the physical. The human body responds to stress with a cocktail of chemicals, adrenaline and many others, that were originally responses to extreme physical threats (being gobbled up by a sabre toothed cat or short-faced bear, or similar prehistoric threats) and while being afraid that a colleague or a boss is going to rip metaphorical strips off you produces those same reactions, our responses to such stress do nothing to dissipate those chemicals and hormones. Stress places immense strain on the body: the adrenal glands can become over-active, pumping adrenaline into the bloodstream at inappropriate intervals (this is one of the factors present in panic attacks and anxiety disorders). We seek to anaesthetize the pain of these reactions in whatever way seems obvious to us, by drugs, or drink or sex or exercise.

One of the most important things I have learned about panic attacks is that they end. They ‘time out’. They have no more power than what I give to them. I’ve also learned a few tricks to stop them in their tracks: breathing into a paper bag, equalises the CO2 in the blood, as well as signalling to the spirit that you have control and the attack is not going to kill you. Stepping away and observing my vital signs also goes a long way to restoring some kind of balance. But sometimes it can be so extreme that I need someone else to remind me of what I can do.

Free floating anxiety is a different matter. At a lower level than a panic attack, it’s something that runs along almost unnoticed much of the time. It’s when something else disturbs the system that free floating anxiety comes roaring up into a full blown anxiety state. There are many ways of dealing with this, but I tend to forget all about them when it hits. That’s when I need reminding of the methods: focus on breathing, play music that soothes, take a walk…whatever works. Otherwise I become the squirrel in the cage, racing round in frantic circles, ready to bite whatever comes near me.

Not one of the three elements should be disregarded. The body had needs and those needs must be honoured: good nutrition, freedom from illness and injury, sound sleep and so on. The spirit has its needs too, to be fed and cared for as another form of body, and honoured. The mind, that most sensitive of elements, needs care too, to be allowed to grow and expand and be nurtured.

So, my intention is to pay attention to all aspects of my self, and to be aware that what affects one aspect may well have knock on effects on the rest. I am not a collection of hermetically sealed units, but rather a complex system where each aspect interacts with the others in often unpredictable ways, with unforeseen results. I guess it shouldn’t take a genius to figure all this out but too often I have expected myself to cope with knocks without accepting that those knocks will inevitably throw my whole being off kilter for some considerable time.

One day, I’ll get it right.

Waking #smallstone 14



Somewhere inside
A clock goes “tick”
And I stagger
Up the shores of sleep
Draped in weeds
And shreds of dreams
To face the day
Rubbing my eyes
And wondering:
Where have I been?