“If you’re going through Hell, keep going!” or Why Winston Churchill was Right.

 

If you’re going through Hell, keep going” ~ or why Winston Churchill
was right

 

 

 

If life is a journey that begins with our birth, then the ultimate
destination is death. This is simple logic talking, picking apart a
somewhat overused metaphor and deconstructing it. I often wonder at the way the world is, and how blinkered we often are, how focussed on the outcome and not on the process, how determined to get where we’re going as fast as possible.

 

I’m guilty of it myself, on a regular basis, of wishing to get somewhere and skip the boring parts. And yet, as someone who travels for part of her living, I cover thousands of kilometres a year and very seldom get bored by the countless hours aboard a coach surrounded by other people getting bored and frustrated by the miles. For me, I have a rich inner life that stops me getting bored when all there is for hours is the side of the autoroute or motorway.

 

 

 

When it comes to the simple passage of life, it’s too easy to wish away the quiet hours, and rush along to better, more exciting things, and in doing so we can miss so many beautiful things because we don’t take the time to look. The sheer wonder of nature infiltrates every niche, like these swallows nesting undisturbed barely above eye-line at the Slipper Chapel in Walsingham.

 

They flew in and out and no one seemed to see them; I could have put my hand into the nests and scooped out eggs or hatchlings. Yet the birds seemed unconcerned, having learned that people generally didn’t even see what was in plain sight.

 

 

 

But it is in the dark times that we most need to keep going without
rushing through the process. Winston Churchill’s famous words seem
obvious, but there are a number of ways that people react to the dark
times. There are those who when plunged into darkness will stay
there, lost in a state of psychosis and shock. This might be for the
rest of their lives, and for these souls, medical care is still in
its infancy. Thankfully, relatively few people end up lost in this
state.  

 

 

 

Giving up and settling for the cold comfort of believing that this is all
there is to life may be another reaction. When people react like
this, it’s often at the stage where they were very close to emerging
on the other side, and are occupying those grey hinterlands of hell,
that one might term limbo. They’ve been trudging along for such a
long while that the relief at things suddenly not being quite so bad
convinces them that they are through and free. From being in total
darkness, they’re in a monochrome world that seems sparkling with
light by comparison to what they have emerged from. I think that
Churchill’s words are at their most powerful for people like these,
who do not realise that they are still in their own hell.

 

 

 

If you are taking one of these enforced subterranean journeys, then I
have a little advice. Do not rush headlong, in your desire to emerge
into a lighter place, because in your ascent you will find places
that appear to be beyond the darkness. Like great caverns lit by
eerie phosphorescence, these are places where you can take rest and
refreshment and give you time to think. They are way-stations on the
way home, but they are not home itself. These are places where you
may re-equip yourself with torches to light your way and other things
that may ease your journey. You may meet people here who have wisdom to share with you, who may wish to hear your story. But these are not places to stay and live. They are places between the worlds and the nourishment they provide is both limited and limiting. Use these times to reorientate yourself, but do not fool yourself into thinking you are home safe. You are not. There’s a long way to go. You may come to these places and stages many times before you come out into the true daylight again.

 

 

 

If life is a journey, then any short-cut is a death-trap. It might be
literal death, or it might be that drawn-out metaphorical death of
the spirit I have spoken of before, but bypassing and cheating your
own journey will only ever ensure you spend far longer in the dark
places than you might otherwise have done. If you’re going through
hell, you might wish to go back, to a better time or place, but this
will ultimately just take you deeper into that hell.

 

On this one, I am with Winston: “If you’re going through hell, keep
going.” 

 

The Collateral Benefits of Misery or Why the Pursuit of Happiness isn’t Good for the Soul.

 

The Collateral Benefits of Misery or Why the Pursuit of Happiness isn’t Good for the Soul.

I’ve had a couple of busy weeks at work, both jobs, and I’ve enjoyed it mostly, even though some of it was stressful. But waking up this morning I felt the full weight of the default depression land on me like a big slobbery dog who’s pleased you’re back. All the petty concerns I’d put on hold while I was rushed off my feet came back and had a pity party in my head. My teaching job is currently in some jeopardy as they are moving premises and it’s going to be a lot harder to get to work; I’ve resolved that the first near miss as a car clips my bicycle signals me quitting. I love teaching, I really do; it’s one of my talents and in many ways, I am wasted where I work. If you’ve seen Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society, it’ll give you a clue about my style of teaching; but it also means that even had I the correct bits of paper, I’d be sacked in a week in a state school. So I am on the sharp look out for a new job, one that is year round, and which doesn’t have the substantial drawbacks of my current one (of which I will not speak here)

But my return to sullen misery has woken me up to something that slumbers much of the time. That’s the realisation that even changing jobs, changing homes or whatever significant life change I might sometimes crave is only a distraction from my real work in this world. Six months into a new job, or a new location, and the same old issues come creeping back, like rats who realise the ship was not sinking after all.

That’s a bit of a scary realisation. It means that anything I pursue, success, fame, wealth, whatever holds no power to change anything internally. If I become a NYT’s bestseller, nothing changes. If I get the job that seems to fit every talent or skill, nothing changes. Oh for sure my mood might alter and improve, I might even be happy for a while. But nothing deeper changes.

You see, any real change has to come from within, not from anything external to me. I’ve never been someone who found retail therapy anything other than a disappointment, and while I have certainly chased success as willingly as any writer, I’ve started to grasp the fact that such success does not and cannot make me anything other than momentarily happy. I can see now that my lifelong pro-wrestling match with the Black Dog has saved me some expensive mistakes.

Chasing things because you believe that they may make you happy is a futile exercise, and one that frankly underpins the whole economy of the prosperous West. It is endless and caustic to the human soul, because it is tantalising and drives you on to seek more and more and more to less and less satisfaction, and eventual bitterness.

What then can bring peace to the troubled soul? What can tame the Black Dog and make it an ally and not an enemy?

Well, my current theory is that it is meaning that brings peace. It’s certainly how people survive the kind of catastrophic experiences that send many over the edge and down into insanity.

It’s only a theory but is one borne out by such luminaries as Viktor Frankl, and also by personal experience. I can accept and even value my own sufferings when I realise that they have shaped me to be the person I am now, and the riches of compassion and empathy that have been uncovered within me. They’ve made me a far less selfish person than I would otherwise have been.

Native Americans have a saying, something they speak as a prayer when they enter the sacred space of a sweat lodge. They say, “For all my relations,” as they enter, and by that they do not mean their mothers and fathers, brothers, sisters and so on. They mean every one of us humans, and all the animals and trees and plants, right down to the Stone People, the rocks we kick aside and split asunder.

So my prayer today, in honour of all that I have endured as a human and all that I will endure, is that it is done in honour and support of all life, all creation, and that I will find meaning in all.

For all my relations.”

Amen.