We run away from ourselves, the situation, the thinking of things that provoke us
The more resilient and strong we seem
The further away from the true problems we have drifted
I had no idea this was where I existed
Away from myself had become home and I hung pictures on the wall
Lived within the vast echoey halls that I constructed for myself
When things found me, and they eventually always did
I would pack up my things and adroitly leave home again
I’ve been doing it since I was a kid
I don’t think I have ever lived, but simply existed inside some dreamworld constructed in my head
When the situation in which I found myself became extreme, massive emotions pressing in on me
I would slip gently out of a window in my mind, glide to a far off place where I was “fine” and smile gently at the person in front of me
Take their hand, and with broken heart still grating against itself, like crockery shards rasping, held so tightly it began to bleed
But only on the inside
The inside of me where no one could see
But that doesn’t matter I can simply leave and go somewhere else entirely.
I would speak in words that I could scarcely hear
One foot in front of the other takes us far from here everyday
There and back again
Traffic lights change and my auto pilot operates smoothly
Clutch engaged, shift gears, accelerate – I don’t think about it, speed gathering, corner approaching, blinker on
“Where was I going?”
“Post office” is the auto reply from my pilot inside
“Thanks” I think as buildings go by, exactly where they always are
Buildings don’t move easily
But we do
One foot in front of the other
The car travels at exactly the speed limit
While my mind triple steps way out in front of it
I am dancing on the bonnet, trying to catch my own attention
Peter Pans shadow
It skips away as the phone rings, I answer it
Type an email in my head
Reverse into a park
Stride across the street
Reply to a person from a response in my pocket
Are any of us actually here
Or are we all knocking
On a door that is blocking
All of the suffering
Into these worlds we walk through
We stuff it all in there like monsters in a closet
Each morning we hide the key to yet another of those boxes
But they pile higher and higher behind us
“How are you?” He asks with wrinkled brow
“I’m fine and you?” I carefully clear my frown
And we stare through broken windows that our souls have covered up
And that key buries deeper when my finger touches it
Nestling deep into my pocket in my mind
I pat it, reassured to find it still there I
I’m still here
*I didn’t know, I had no idea how far I had drifted into an imaginary state or how often I went there.
Spoiler alert: it’s a lot, and I’m still digging up remnants of ruins where I once hung my consciousness
We learn as children to disappear into our imagination rather than face reality. It’s a common human coping mechanism. A self taught mess of a system that is about as comfortable as living in the cubby house of a child, constructed with sheets and pegs and a couple of sticks, compared with living in a home that is real and made of bricks.
The wind blows through and shakes us, so we take another peg, pin down another corner of our makeshift mental tent
When the location becomes unbearable we upsticks and move the whole thing
Nomads, we wander through imaginary lands populated by people that don’t even exist we just made them up in our heads and why not? They make themselves up there too.
The imagination is not a stable place on which to base our psyche and we don’t even realise we are doing it.
To live is to be human and to be human is to be largely insane.
Because being sane requires courage and commitment and facing the truth of everything.
Which as you can see from the normal reaction – can be confronting
And who wants confrontation when we are already exhausted from running away from the truth of ourselves all day
So we have a glass of wine, or a bit of online shopping, or we delve into social media or smoke a cigarette or slide into a drug induced state or eat our body weight in addictive highly processed food that satisfies our tastebuds sparingly – just enough to make us want to eat again. Or we slip into a movie or fall into a book or an argument anything but – facing ourselves
Well I don’t have most of the above distractions anymore. I have weeded them all out, and yet I can still slip into auto pilot and disassociation more easily then I care to think about, see what I did there? Hmmm
Meditation is now sorting all of that out. At first I hated it, I didn’t think it was doing anything and I’ve been at it over a year consistently now.
Mostly though, now I see, I was just sitting there with my etcher sketch mind, taking notes, rubbing them out, thinking, realising I was thinking, not thinking about thinking and then realising I was thinking again, so trying not to think anymore.
I couldn’t sleep one night recently, and I began to listen to a story, then realised that my entire life was just a story that I was telling myself.
Then I really began to listen
Listening – the state of listening, switches our brain from its habitual mechanisms of compulsive thought creation into receptive mode. In receptive mode, we simply are and everything around us falls onto our consciousness.
Obviously it is difficult to stay in listening mode, because our brains are wired to think not listen – or at least – not listen for lengthy periods of time
Listening is accepting everything as it is and just tuning in. It’s relaxing.
When we escape into our imagination as kids, it’s an exciting place, a place of pure potential where anything could happen. But after awhile we humans wreck everything. It doesn’t matter where we live, we clutter it up with our messiness, our consumption and our greed, our vices and our egotistical me me me thinking. One day, Neverland becomes always land and everything is tarnished.
Which is a bit cynical, but that’s where you begin when you begin to deconstruct a lifetime of imaginary thinking. The top layer is a minefield of terrible mistakes and things which you are lying to yourself about.
When you have nowhere else to go but your head and you can’t go in there with a glass of wine or a cigarette – to buffer the experience – it’s hell. Especially the first few steps.
You look around at the mess and the endless array of half hidden rooms and boxes that you have stuffed up here forever and it’s scary and boring and terrifying and bloody awful.
You want to run away again immediately but on a half choked hysterical laugh the question is “where to now?”
So your happy place has become your nightmare and the inverse of your coping mechanism has become a trauma in itself.
Where to put yourself?
Where to go?
Who to be?
You’re not a child anymore and you have suddenly grown up at the grand age of hopefully less than 50.
You sit there on your backside. Home for the first time ever, right here, present with the dripping tap in the kitchen and the cool draught flowing through the gap under the door and you think “where do I go from here”
And the answer is nowhere
And you’re free because you realise the real world, this moment – nothing terrible is happening. It’s not the future where you have to go to that meeting and when you get there it won’t be as bad as you imagine because you’ll be in it. You’ll be present then, just as you are present now.
And when you have your own strong adult self, your grown up reliable, likeable, calm and reasonable sane adult self with the slightly funny sense of humour and the unshakable faith in your strength in any moment – you realise
And you’ll just live in this moment, and the next one when it arrives and you’ll be fine
*And that’s where I am now, but I had to Marie Kondo my imagination to get here.
Coming out of our addictions and distractions and our personal cornucopia of imaginary worlds is an arduous and bumpy journey of meditation and fearlessly facing what is.
Finally we land in adulthood if we’re lucky, some never get here. Trapped in avoidance and aversion they stay cooped up in their imaginary worlds forever.
They think they are safe. But they’re not. To live in anything but truth is to be constantly at risk of having your illusions shattered, and so people are defensive and divisive and scared to venture even one foot outside of their comfort zone, or see a thing from another’s perspective.
They choose insanity and their own imagination, over reality and the ever shifting opinion that can be changed according to a new reality appearing. That’s all just tooooo uncertain.
And uncertainty as a reality is too terrifying when they can retreat to an imaginary world with a cold beverage and indulge in escapism.
But God can’t help us in our imagination. This intelligent loving spirit force whatever it is – that pervades the earth and every living being in it can only help us if we are alive and awake out here in the real world.
It’s very wearying. But we can’t worry about other peoples growth or where they are in their heads, we can only attend to our own constant consciousness stream. Because that is enough, more than enough to deal with at any one second.
And for that we have to be fully present and keep catching our own tail, and bringing us back again to sit with what is. And again and again to what is. And that’s enough, it really is, I believe.
Header photo courtesy Jorian Loman Unsplash