(I'm not a musician.) I was taught as a child that I must not 'blow my own trumpet' as in talking about myself – especially not to say anything good about myself. I was also taught that much of what I could say about myself was nonsense and I needn't expect anyone to believe it. If I myself believed it, I must be insane. If not, I was obviously a liar. Telling my story, therefore, became a very confronting task. I am now in my late seventies, as I begin this blog, and it is only a preparation – things I write on the way to writing the memoir.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Pain

1.

Read my pain, she begs me, I want someone to understand. 

And I understand, with anguish, that longing of hers for someone – if only one, ever – to understand.

If I dwell on it, I say, I will be incapacitated, unable to help you. She tells me that I am afraid. I wonder how she can so misunderstand.

Pain, she explains, creates compassion, and that creates love. She wants one of her friends, at last, to care for her as she does for all of us: someone to know her depth and magnitude of love.

Do you think I have not known pain? I ask. Do you think I have no love for you, no compassion? She laughs, and says she knows I have. But not enough yet, nowhere near enough. Please read it, she begs again. I promise.

I always ask, she adds, that it be for the greater good. She REALLY wants me to know that. I try to tell her I do know that about her (for I do) but I'm not sure she hears. 

Scared I ain't, I tell her. Good, she says, then do it, please. 

I imagine myself destroyed by pain, huddling, unable to move. Soon, I say, but not now – not when I have to go out and drive my car. 

Have a lovely afternoon, she says.

2. 

What pain does she want me to read, I wonder later, the physical or emotional? Or all of it? I tell myself she doesn't know anything about what I've done or who I've been in the decades before we met. 

I know she has constant physical pain, and often can't even move. I have never had pain for such long periods at a time, and can only guess how debilitating – but I have had times of constant, long-lasting pain and times of extreme pain, and sometimes both together. 

The persistent migraines when I was a child, so severe that doctors one time thought I had meningitis. Lying in a darkened room with a hot compress on my forehead while the agony pierced my brow and throbbed throughout my skull and I couldn't think, didn't know my name, focused on not screaming, on keeping still. That took all my effort.

The various broken limbs – pain so acute I knew each time that the bone was broken, instantly, before anyone confirmed it. The broken rib, when I collapsed on the floor as my breath cut off, and couldn't even whisper let alone yell, and my family watching television three feet away didn't notice because I made no sound. The broken rib for which there was little treatment possible, so for weeks I avoided hugs. Even a light, friendly, pat on the shoulder caused me to gasp as the pain stabbed through me. 

The gall bladder attacks when, uncontrollably, I writhed and shrieked. Oh, and the birth of my children, particularly the first – twelve hours of yelling and swearing to cope with the pain; and that last huge contraction when I thought I would split from crotch to throat.

Now it is only arthritis, and when I take my medication that's not severe. The twinges in the fingers are occasionally sharp, but usually brief. No, there is not only arthritis; peripheral neuropathy sometimes twists my feet in painful spasms. But it's mild as far as peripheral neuropathy goes; and the spasms, though scary, are over soon. (I know the tricks of breathing deep, rubbing, adjusting my position.)

My Dad had ongoing pain, from an injury to his leg when he was ten. It never healed. He was in bed for months after it happened, my grandmother said. Twice a day, for the rest of his life, the white exposed bone and surrounding suppurating flesh were dressed with deep pink mercurochrome, and re-bandaged. It stopped him running, jumping, climbing trees, swimming, going out on boats.... But one good thing, it also stopped him being sent to war. He walked with a limp. When the pain was bad, which was often, he leaned heavily on a stick. When it was at its worst, he stayed in a chair all day. I lived with this until I was 17 and left home. I know chronic pain very well at second-hand.

My husband, Andrew, in his last seven years of life, had peripheral neuropathy in both legs. It was much more acute than what I experience. Like my Dad, he was brave and uncomplaining. But his legs felt as though they were burning all the time, and it was hard for him to walk – though he did, as much as he could bear, fighting the pain. In the end he had a wheely-walker; it was the only way. There was no cure and little relief. Capsicum ointment eased it somewhat, an external sting to set against the underlying fire. When he was dying, and lost mobility below the waist, I was glad that at least, at last, he must be free of that constant burning – years of constant burning. Oh yes, I am intimately acquainted at second-hand with severe, ongoing pain.

3.

Is it emotional pain she thinks I have not felt enough? There is so much about my life before we met that she doesn't know. She doesn't know about the stress of a troubled home life, that made me scratch my scalp continually, compulsively, when I was eight, making bald spots. (Alopecia areata, it's called.) She doesn't know about my parents' divorce, the shock of that, and of being taken interstate, away from all my friends because my father got custody in school term and my Mum, thinking he would look after us, didn't fight it. (We'll have lovely holidays, she thought, and that much was true.)

The stepmother who was alcoholic, sadistic, crazy. The adored, trusted father who turned out to be too weak to protect 15-year-old me and my 11-year-old brother; instead blamed us, openly and vocally, when his second marriage rapidly became a nightmare. My deep sense of betrayal. (And it WAS a betrayal.) 

My pathological shyness in my teens. My conviction that I was ugly.

Later, my own two divorces, one after three years of disastrous marriage to an alcoholic, bipolar, compulsive gambler; the other after 27 years with the father of my children. Each traumatic in its own very different way, and the occasion of many tears. The full-scale nervous breakdown as my first marriage disintegrated, leading to six years of psychotherapy. That was a good thing, but the trigger was painful; and much more pain needed to be uncovered and worked through in those six years.

The time I worked as a writing tutor in an institution full of sad and traumatised individuals, and fell in love with one. Entirely reciprocated, and completely against the rules. Always in public, no chance of even a kiss. We did manage to exchange a few furtive words of love, that's all. And we exchanged letters and wrote each other poems. (The letters were not openly romantic and the poems were ostensibly not written to each other, but....) 

We both knew that our minds were somehow, improbably, perfectly attuned. I don't subscribe to the theory of one true soul-mate, but if I did he would have to be a candidate. But it wasn't going anywhere. I was married with young children; he was in no position to enter into a normal relationship anyway. And the secrecy was more and more stressful. I ended it by leaving the job and breaking off our communication.

That was sad. I was also desperately concerned for his wellbeing, as he was in a potentially life-threatening situation. But I tried to put it all behind me. Then, one Saturday morning, I sat down with a cup of coffee, opened the newspaper and saw a headline. He had committed suicide. It was not only the greatest grief I had ever experienced, it was combined with shock. 

I found out later from people who knew him that it was not because of the ending of our friendship – which, to be honest, I never thought, because it wasn't in character. He would not have put that guilt on me. It was because of the prognosis of what his life would be from that time on, which he decided to avoid. 

Nevertheless I went through all the stages of grief for many months, and I went through them largely alone and unsupported. It was a relationship and a loss that was private, unknown to most people, and it was one of the biggest events of my life. I have never cried so much or so long about anything. Then for many months I was numb, dead inside. For about twenty years there was not a day I didn't think of him. Eventually it became every other day ... every few days…. Still, 34 years later, he is often in my mind.

There were of course other romances, when I was young, which ended. Some of them were very important too (one came close to marriage) and the endings hurt. I love deeply and long. 

I thought of the man who suicided as the greatest love of my life. Then, late in life, I married for the third time. Andrew and I were together twenty years, in much love, compatibility and happiness. For the last few years he became increasingly frail, more and more incapacitated. He had had diabetes and cardio-vascular disease for many years, well-controlled. Now both conditions deteriorated, and he also had a series of very small strokes causing falls. 

He developed Alzheimer's Disease. Fortunately it was fairly mild, but even that was increasingly difficult in all sorts of ways. I was his carer for those last years. It was arduous and distressing for us both, though it was also the time when we entered fully into our unconditional love. There were sweet and treasured moments. Was this, then, a case of pain leading to compassion, leading to greater love? I don't know. It may be so. I think it had a lot to do with the increased intimacy of that level of caring. 

A final fall sent him to hospital, then to a nursing home. He died fairly soon, before the deterioration became extreme: a blessing. We suited each other beautifully, loved each other dearly, and four years later I still miss him very much. My journey of grief and widowhood is ongoing, though it does ease with time. Since then, in quick succession, I also lost both the cats we had raised from kittens, whom we referred to fondly as 'the children.'

I have lost both my parents, all my husbands and many old friends, several in circumstances tragic and shocking. My first deaths, of course, were those of my grandparents. The hardest to cope with was my beloved Nana, when I was four. And I have lost various beloved dogs and cats. 

My brother loves me, but because of the trauma of that long ago time with the Wicked Stepmother, he cannot bear to have much to do with me. It brings back far too much pain for him. I understand this. I am the one person in the world who understands perfectly, because I was there. I am not hurt by his sparse communication, but it still hurts that I could not protect him better at the time. I don't blame myself now – I was only 15 – but I carry emotional scars. 

And then there is my youngest child. An enchanting little fellow he was, long ago, As a man, he became such a nightmare that, after many years of tears – to rival the quantity I shed for the man who killed himself – I am permanently estranged from that son. People imagine this must have been his doing, his decision. Oh yes, often and often – until the time I didn't accept the kiss-and-make-up overtures yet again, but said, 'Enough'. 

That is a pain there is no working through, no resolving. I have learned to shut it away instead. Everything you can imagine I might have thought or felt about that, I have, and a great deal more. I won't say any more than that. It is a thing I don't talk about, even as much as this, as a rule – or else, get me started, I can't stop until I tell every horrible detail whether the listener wants them or not. His older brother's reaction is like mine only more so. We have stopped mentioning him even to each other, the hurt goes so deep. We both know it's there. We both know there is nothing to be done about it, but to go on living our otherwise happy lives.

There were the girls at school who bullied me. I was ‘different'. I was bookish, non-sporty, and I shone at lessons. And because no-one realised for years how badly I needed glasses, I got the reputation of being ‘stuck up’.  I couldn't recognise anyone I knew, to greet them, until they were right up close. It looked as if I was snubbing people. That was punished. 

There were the uncles who tickled me in very private places with rough, thick fingers, and told me it was 'just a game' and I was supposed to like it. 

The friends who turned out to be false – not many, in the course of my life, but some, and those were deep and shocking disappointments. 

I could go on and on and on, remembering pain. 

4. 

I have not experienced her pain, though, the friend who wants me to understand it. I didn't have a father who beat me in the belief he was saving my wicked soul. I didn't have excessively religious parents – quite the opposite, mine were agnostic. My mum wasn't very warm and huggy, but she didn't have the hard, unrelenting coldness of my friend's mother. 

And I have not had her long, chronic, potentially fatal illness. I can hardly imagine what it must be like to keep on living through that; to keep on defeating it, with her will as much as anything; to be physically limited and reliant on others, even while soaring in her mind.

A memory returns from fifty years ago, of telling my psychiatrist some of my own hurts, then adding, ashamed, that I shouldn't complain. 'I know there are a lot of people worse off than me.'

'But pain is subjective,' he said. 

5.

I find a quiet part of the afternoon. I sit and close my eyes. I open heart and mind to read her pain. I promised. 

Immediately I feel immensely sad. I am surrounded by vast, amorphous grey. I myself am that grey, outside and in. Tears fill my eyes. 

She does constant energy work for the planet. I think she perceives all the pain of the Universe, all the pain that ever was. 

Then, in my own body, her bodily pain begins. The worst is around my head. I think of a crown of thorns. I feel pains in my palms, and think of nails and a crucifix. Is she sacrificing herself? Is she being sacrificed? I recall that in the story of Christ they were the same thing. 

I wonder how long I should stay with her pain. Then I realise she asked me to read it, not experience it. I decide I have stayed with it long enough. I feel that any longer might destroy me. I am not built to withstand such pain as that, not while I live in a physical human body. And yet she does, without surcease.

Gradually, I detach. The physical pain leaves me. The dreadful, oceanic sadness remains.

6.

Does it matter? she asked, when she asked me to read her pain. Is what I do important? And if it is, how? 

I pull four cards from my Voyager Tarot. Yes, I tell her. What you do matters. It brings about joy, equilibrium, and a compassion of divine quality. It has made a brilliant new beginning in bringing about harmony.

That night she texts me a spell to give me a peaceful, restorative sleep. I sleep sweetly and wake refreshed.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Refusing Magic

Magical Journey 1. Seeing is Believing

It was a lie I told. I wrote this blithe little poem about my habit of not refusing the calls I receive from the Universe, but rather leaping to embrace them with cries of delight. I included magic in the list of those I'd embraced. And I did in the end embrace it, so long ago already that it feels as though I always had it. And yes, I did always have it. Nevertheless, for most of my life I tried very hard to refuse that calling. There were formidable gate-keepers barring the way.

For me, magic is an extension of the psychic abilities I was born with; or they are inclusive of each other. It's difficult to write an account that keeps the two things neatly separated, because that was not how I lived my experiences of acceptance, refusal, embrace. So I'll tell it as it was.

When I was a small child, my world included experiences others didn't share. But I didn't realise that at first. It was all normal, unquestioned, just the way things were. I saw spirit children (I know now) whom my parents called 'imaginary playmates'. I saw fairies, which I now know as nature spirits; but at the time I identified fairies as magical beings – as indeed they are, by some definitions. I had a grown-up friend too, who was like a nice uncle you could talk to; many years later I identified him as the Egyptian god, Thoth.

When I was little, I spoke openly about seeing these things – to learn that other people apparently couldn't. My parents put it all down to my 'wonderful imagination'. Other children were not so kind. They told me I was mad, or a liar. Some adults credited me with 'making up stories' – which they did not regard as bad in itself. Only my insistence that the stories were true upset them. I didn't understand the upset, and it was hard to believe other people were really so blind. I thought they must be the ones making it up, that they were having a nasty joke on me. 

Yet my parents were clearly not doing that, and they couldn't see as I did either. So I learned fairly early not to tell anyone any more. I laughingly denied the truth of my experiences and agreed they were just stories, so as to fit in better with the other kids and seem more normal to the grown-ups. (Though any precocious, bookish, dreamy, non-sporty loner of a child is never going to seem very normal in the Australian suburbs, nor fit in easily with most other children.) I went even further, and not only denied but firmly shut down that whole aspect of myself, to the point of losing all conscious remembrance.

Much, much later, when I had at last re-opened, I discovered there are many people keeping very quiet about things they think others won't understand. When someone starts tentatively talking, it's amazing what is revealed. It first happened in a poetry workshop I conducted, an adult education class. Something in the discussion sparked one young woman to open up a bit. So I did too – and suddenly we found that everyone in the room had had experiences we might call 'spooky'. But we were all keeping them to ourselves for fear of being thought deluded or just plain deceitful – because that was what we had been taught from an early age. It made me wonder if everyone is keeping a whole dimension of reality secret – in many cases, even from themselves. (Or are poets especially open?)

I think that many people are scared by psychic or paranormal experiences, whether they have them or are told about them. We are taught to fear ghosts, demons, and anything 'otherworldly'. Also, the rational, scientific age which preceded this one (in which more people are starting to 'wake up') was characterised by a contemptuous dismissal of anything that could not be scientifically proved.

You might think that psychic abilities are more a gift than a calling. But I think our gifts are our primary callings. After shutting this gift down in childhood, so hard that I, like most people, believed such stuff was fictional, however did I re-awaken?

It was like being blown open! But it began gradually. I was the mother of young schoolchildren when I read Colin Wilson's massive books, The Occult and Mysteries. It was exciting to contemplate the possibility that the paranormal could be real. I was fascinated and at the same time scared of it. My husband, Bill, read them too and his reaction was much the same. So we allowed of the possibility, but we didn't explore.

In the seventies Bill and I and our little boys made several visits to Bali. We fell in love with the place. When we first arrived I kept bursting into tears at the things I was seeing – not at all in distress, but because in some strange way they moved me deeply. I couldn't understand it! Finally Bill twigged: 'It's the Indian in you.' Bali then was exclusively Hindu, no Muslim population. My mother and her mother were Anglo-Indian. The family migrated to Tasmania when Mum was 15, bringing many artefacts from their life in India.

'Oh yes,' I said. 'That makes sense. I'm seeing all these things I remember from childhood, when my grandparents were alive.' And it was so – but I now wonder about past-life recall. It is common for people suddenly confronted with physical reminders of previous incarnations – revisiting the place, for instance – to burst spontaneously into tears.

On our last visit to Bali, in 1979, we met an elderly Javanese couple who invited us to visit them in their town of Semarang. We had plans to go to Java shortly after this couple's return home, to visit Jogjakarta. We were delighted to add Semarang to our itinerary. We hired a taxi, not realising how far it was from Jogja: from the south to the north of the island, hours each way. It was lucky we set out early!

At one point we passed a small house by the side of the road, little more than a shelter, where I saw through the open door two small children playing on the dirt floor. Their mother, a slim, tired-looking young woman, gazed curiously at our passing taxi. Her eyes and mine met for a moment. Suddenly, in that moment, I knew everything about her life – not details like her name and age, but what it was like to be her, the sort of things she did daily and how she felt. Simultaneously, I knew exactly what it was like to be a small child playing on that dirt floor. At least, these many impressions washed over me in just a few seconds, so vividly that I can re-experience them now, 37 years later. I can't, of course, know in any evidential way if they were accurate, but it felt as if those experiences and memories briefly became mine.

It was, as I said, a long trip; and in an old, uncomfortable vehicle, on a road that was often in bad repair. I thought that the headache I developed as the hours passed was due to all that. For some reason I felt impelled to keep quiet about the headache, just grit my teeth, breathe deep, and bear it. I closed my eyes, pretending to doze. Conversation through the pain would have been too much effort. Then, as we came into Semarang, the headache left and I opened my eyes to take in the town.

What happened next I shut up about, too. I saw in my mind's eye the scene around each bend, before it was physically visible. When we rounded the bends, there it was each time, exactly as I had seen before I saw it. I couldn't have mentioned it; I could barely cope with it. I am one who goes very quiet in situations of stress, never more so than on that journey into Semarang. Then all of a sudden the pre-seeing stopped and I didn't know what was to come.

We had a nice visit with the old couple we'd met in Bali. They took us for some sight-seeing, in the course of which they pointed out 'the old town' and 'the new town'. Their house was in the new town. Yes, you've guessed it – the parts I saw ahead of time were in the old town, and the new town began just where that seeing had stopped. 

One place they took us to was the wharf. I looked out over the harbour and 'saw', as if physically, two long grey warships, World War II vintage. But I knew they were not physically there because I could simultaneously see the scene without them. (Yes, it's hard to explain.) Again I shut up about it. But later, over afternoon tea back at their place, I asked casually, 'Did the War ever come to Semarang?' The old man smiled and shrugged. 'The War came everywhere.'  When I was back home, I looked up the history of the town in Encyclopedia Britannica. There was a photo of the harbour during World War II, with several American warships similar to those I had seen, though more of them and positioned differently.

I said nothing to anyone about any of this. When I got home, I tried very hard over a period of months to figure out a rational explanation for what I had experienced. The warships in particular were hard to explain away as my 'wonderful imagination'. I did briefly wonder if I was having past life recognition, but dismissed that pretty quickly because I was born just before the start of World War II and was alive as a child in Tasmania when American warships were in Semarang harbour. So I was left trying to explain it to myself rationally. I thought and thought, but couldn't find any workable rational way to account for these things. I had headaches most of the time. I thought I was going mad. 

Eventually I realised that I was still functioning in my life, and was doing nothing destructive to myself or anyone else. If I was building some delusional construct in my head, it was at least fairly benign. In the end, I exhausted all attempts to explain away the phenomena in rational terms. One day I decided, 'Well, if I can't find a rational explanation, I may as well believe the irrational' – i.e. that I had experienced some kind of extra-sensory perception, as it was called in those days. 

Well! The instant result was that the headaches stopped, my stress and fear melted away, my mind calmed down, and I realised that it was the effort to resist the truth of my experience that was driving me mad. Finally I felt able to tell Bill and a few other people what had happened. None of them pooh-poohed it. They couldn't explain it either, but they believed it was real.

I went on to make a lifetime study of the esoteric, in the course of which my understanding of reincarnation changed. I came to believe the soul is much bigger than we usually imagine – that it is pushing one fragment of itself out into this reality, and other fragments into other realities, perhaps simultaneously. In this view, it is not so much the individual personality which gets reincarnated, but rather that it rejoins with the soul and then has access to the memories of all the other personalities or soul fragments. On this understanding, reincarnation is not necessarily linear in chronological time; also it is possible that one soul might have incarnations that overlap in time and even place. On that basis, I thought my soul could have experienced lives in both Java and Tasmania during World War II.

With the young mother, another possibility is that it may have been a kind of telepathic connection. Or perhaps something about her or her children triggered a past-life memory too? (I suppose I should say 'other-life' rather than 'past-life'.) I can only speculate.

There was a third thing that happened on that trip to Semarang. We passed through the town of Malang. As we drove through the main street leading north, a man stepped out of a shop doorway and stood a minute, checking the street. With him, too, I locked eyes a few seconds. There were no psychic impressions. Instead I just gazed at him in amazement. He was the handsomest man I ever saw, then or since. He was brown-skinned like an Indonesian, but taller, and his black hair was curly. I couldn't tell what nationality he was.

He was dressed in slim-fitting pants and an open-necked shirt. He looked like a pirate, I thought, or a film star. He gazed right back at me, with the same sort of expression I must have had. (I was never considered a great beauty in my own country, but my very fair skin and hair made me one in Indonesia.) Then our car went past and that was that. Nothing very remarkable about staring at an attractive man, you might suppose, but he made an indelible impression on me. And there was a sequel.

We didn't know then, being away from news sources, that the Indonesian invasion of East Timor was just beginning. When we returned to Melbourne a couple of weeks later, we discovered what was happening. Two days after we got home, I saw a photo on the front of our morning newspaper, with the headline: 'These men missing, believed dead.' There he was in the middle, my man from Malang. No mistaking him. They were Portuguese engineers who had been working in East Timor, and apparently hadn't got out fast enough when the country became independent of Portugal and the Indonesians swiftly moved in to take it over.

Or had they got out? Was he visiting Malang on business that day, or on holiday, and did he afterwards go back to East Timor and get killed by the invaders? Or was he already making his escape – through Indonesia! – when I saw him? I'll never know. 

Was that encounter a psychic experience? Perhaps not. He was a VERY handsome man. And yet, after that eye contact it was as if his essence was imprinted on me. With no reason to give him any more importance than any other good-looking stranger glimpsed briefly in passing, I found myself dwelling on him – and not on his good looks so much as that deep, swift gaze into each other's eyes. It seemed that there was something even more compelling than our mutual admiration – as though some deep knowing was exchanged in that fleeting instant. But what that might have been, my conscious mind still doesn't comprehend.  

One thing I wonder is whether there was something about the energy of Java itself that made me particularly prescient? Could that have accounted for all these experiences? 

Perhaps they were all sent to wake me up to the fact that our everyday understanding of reality is limited. Once I accepted them –  as valid, if mysterious – I could no longer return to a state of ignorance.

That was only the beginning.


To be continued