The Highlands. Reforging.

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Dark shadows crept over my soul as I gazed into the vastness of the wilderness around me. I knew nothing of what lay ahead, apart from a promise I was given as I signed up – an  immense physical and mental challenge. Looking at the excited, confident men around me, all fully equipped and ready, I swallowed dryly. The moon, strange and somehow sinister, peered at me over the black, snow-laden peaks. One after another, the coaches roared down the empty, dark road. There was no turning back.

Inside me, a storm was brewing. Fears, as old as my first days in the world, screamed and raged at me. Doubt gnawed at my trembling heart and silent, crippling hopelessness weakened my legs as I beheld the formidable mountains. I was accustomed to the presence of the forces within me…

Sitting next to my dad, feeling so much, wanting to say so much, but keeping quiet instead a little boy, who somehow already knew that he is not, and never will be, a man like his father…

Standing alone in front of the taunting bully – immobilised, frozen with humiliation, unable to do or say anything…

Falling behind the other kids when we ran together at school. Losing each playground wrestling match. Failing to catch, throw, or kick the ball in the pitch, and sending the other kids into hysterical laughter. All the while inwardly chanting the mantra which had become the anthem of my life. I can’t.  I can’t.  I can’t.

Fear. Inability. Shame. Emasculation. An ugly, repulsive softness inside. A worm, not a man. A cripple in the world of boys, trying hard to be somebody, only to be humiliated, time and time again. No, it does not go away with the passing of childhood. What is forged in the world of children, its sharpened in the world of adults. Sharp? No, not me. I am nothing. A faceless poser. I can`t survive in this harsh, brutal place. I am nothing.

As I walked through the miles of treacherous marshes, hour after hour, not seeing how far we had yet to go, my mind screamed in despair. I had to stop. I needed to stop. I kept walking.

As I climbed the first mountain, not knowing what challenge awaited us at the top, my muscles weakened and my lungs burned. Dropping to my knees, I drank from the waterfall and collapsed on the ground. I had to stop. It was impossible to carry on. After a short rest, I got up and kept going, step by step.

As we waded into the freezing waters of the river, an army of men, stripped down to their underwear, the sharp fangs of the cold sank into my flesh, burning my limbs with a cruel, icy heat. I wanted to get out. I needed to get out. Instead, I let out a roar, and burst out laughing with what seemed like a defiant joy. People turned to look at me. I roared again, laughing and hitting my chest with my fist, over and over again. Something stirred within me. It was old, deeper than the shyness, and the softness and the inability which I had always seen as a part of my character. It was something real, alive and sharp, which made me alive and present to every breath, sensation, or feeling. As if somewhere from the top of the great mountain, a battle call has been sounded and my heart was awakening from its stupor, urging me to follow the call and plunge into the unknown dangers.

Emotions welled up within me as we climbed to the snow-covered top of the mountain. Slow and laborious was my ascent, fraught with danger and despair, both increased by my exhaustion and the height from which I would fall if I slipped. I dropped the rock I carried on my shoulder and fell face down on the ground. I had found what I had looked for and my heart knew it. The vast beauty – the sky, the peaks, the ocean, the islands – shook my soul to the core, telling the eternal tale of something precious which, although known, is yet to be revealed. I could see the places which me and the team had walked, climbed and waded through – miles of untamed wilderness. I could hardly believe my eyes. Hot tears rolled down my face as the beautiful, affirming words penetrated my heart…

How can you be nothing…look what you`ve done…

And there was light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being Real

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Are you real?

Am I?

Are they, all of them?

I`m afraid you know the answer. We all do. Something terrible had happened to the human race and as much we know deep down, what we should be, how we should behave, and what world we should live in, it never seems to happen. Not fully, at least. Yes, there are some who are closer to the truth – those are the happy few about whom books are written and songs are sung. They were fortunate enough to see themselves for what they were and the world in its beauty and in its sickness. Often, that knowledge and the actions that followed came at a great price. Those were the men and women we call heroes today. They were that real, authentic self we all long to have and be…

Hemingway once wrote: ‘If people bring so much courage to the world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.’

Indeed..

We are all made for more. Deep down we know it, and that explains our miseries, as Pascal once said. Yet, instead of rising up and being who we were meant to be, we hide, ever lurking in the gloom of the dungeon built by the world around us and presented to us as the home we should live in.

The chains can be broken. The walls can come down. Our spirits can raise up and breathe the free air again.

Alas, most of us refuse, shrinking back into the hole from which they had never had the courage to crawl…

Sad are the days of those whose souls are great. Those who are blessed and doomed to be human. We live and die in hope, fear and pain.

But those who seek will find that which seeks for them.

You are not who you think you are. I am not. You are more, and you know it. You are made for more and you crave it. Look at your fears, your hopes and your compulsions. You see?

I want to see. I want to find that which I seek. And I am desperate. Desperate to the point of following the call of the wild and, against all my natural instincts, do that which most avoid doing. The more steps I take out of my comfort zone, the more of myself I find, and with it, more of that which I was made for.

What made extraordinary people what they were, was not that they were more talented or gifted than me and you. The world may indeed want us to believe that, and act, play roles, and hide our real selves deeper and deeper behind our masks. But there`s the rub, as Hamlet said – the very people whose lives we try to imitate, imitated nobody. It was their uniqueness, their raw, untamed goodness, which made them who their were – defenders, discoverers, teachers, mothers and fathers to us all…those people were the few humans who truly knew how to be themselves.

It was that desire, the longing to become myself, which drove me to the Scottish Highlands.

There, under the formidable presence of the looming mountains, I was broken and I was rebuilt. I was wounded and I was healed. The story is long and the story is precious and it will soon be told. But it is not about the story. It is not about the search. Rather, it is about what we are finding and what we are becoming.

Am I real?

More so now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grief

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My grandmother passed away recently. Although I was expecting the news, when they came that late winter afternoon, something stirred in my heart – something I was not prepared to face. Leaving the phone on the coffee table, I entered the back room and closed the door behind me. Grief, deep and rich with pain, rushed through my body. It engulfed me, dragging me to depths from which no escape seemed possible.

As the sobs shook my body, that part of me wondered why is it that the expected death of my old grandmother had such an effect on me. Helpless to stop the flood of emotions, I let it take me. Deeper and deeper I went, under great waves of tears that should`ve been shed long ago. In the midst of the storm, I sensed something. I was well familiar with that little gentle nudge and, although in deep emotional pain, I paid attention to it.

Write…

I shook my head in disbelief.

Write from your pain…

Tears rolling down my face, I sat on in front of the computer. Slowly, and somewhat shyly, he poem unfolded on the screen before me.

Grandma, was what I called it, for it was my grandmother whom I wanted to lament in it. Her name and the sorrow from my loss covered the first lines – black, soulless symbols on a white, cold sheet. Outside, the rain fell, each drop confirming the news that all is lost and all will be lost one day. Pain…for my grandmother I believed, stabbed at my soul as I looked through the window.

To my astonishment, however, I soon began to notice that, although the verses at first revolved around my grandmother, it was other things they began to speak of. The house, in which once life bloomed, where my grandfather`s laughter echoed from the barn as he was bringing his donkey in for the night. Their flowers. Their chickens. The dog and the many cats, indeed, a whole furry army of them, jumping on my grandmother`s lap as she fed them, sitting on her chair under the vine. The bleating of the sheep when they came in from pasture every evening. The deafening noise of the old giant monster, the heavy, powerful motorcycle that belonged to my grandfather, which terrified and fascinated me at the same time. The sound of the television inside the warm, cosy house. Sounds from an age, which had long ago departed down the vast corridors of eternity. On that day, the last survivor from that age had finally followed it onto the unseen path, opening the door of pain which had long been collecting inside my soul. My whole life, in fact.

I stared at the screen in disbelief. A poem that had begun as a lament for my grandmother, had turned into something in which she did not play the main role. As the words spread down the white space like black seeds, scattered by a sower, her name was seen less and less. It was replaced by my own name, and the story of a lost old woman, became the story of my lost childhood. It was that, which I lamented, that which I wept over, seeing my grandmother – that last link between me and the old times,  vanish from the world.

Grief, just like any kind of emotional pain, can be, and often is, misdirected. And although it should and it must be expressed, if we really want to be wholehearted, if we are to live from the heart, with a full heart, we must be in touch with our deepest selves. Yes, even if they are deeply buried, stranded in a place where they had once first felt the love, from others and for life itself, which is so vital if life is to be lived in its fulness.

Grief can open old, secret doors…

In the pain, redemption hides.

Wraiths

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Around seven years ago, I felt like my life was at its happiest. If someone had asked me how I felt then, I would`ve gladly sworn that I was the happiest, most life-loving person in the world. And to an extent, I would be telling the truth, since I do believe that, as a person, I was at my happiest. Yet, we would be wrong to think that a person actually is what they truly are, or are made to be. If I was an actor, which in a way we all are sometimes, I could become many different persons in one day, yet be none of them. He –  that is, the smiling, excited young man with the chiseled body that was once me, was a person, and a very happy one at that. But he was not the being he was meant to be. He was a wraith, a shadow of his real, original self.

Those of us who have read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ by J.R.R. Tolkien remember that the creature Gollum was actually a hobbit once. He was a Stoor, and the Stoors were one of the three breeds of Hobbits. But the deception of darkness allured him, and after yielding to the temptation, he began to change. In time, we all do. We were all something different once, before the messages and the demands of the world darkened the bright hope we carried in our hearts.

And so, although we are persons, and good ones in most cases, we are not what we are meant to be – human beings, living and breathing with ease, living and speaking only what is truth, fearing no exposure, or rejection from others. A human being only does that which responds to his or her inner makeup and is, automatically, in opposition of everything else. Do we begin to see now how heroes are different from ‘ordinary people’. Heroes, (and by this I mean all who had contributed to the world by staying true to their unique individuality, to the truth in their hearts) do not risk losing the treasure which is in them. Most of us, on the other hand, are happy to just survive. But heroes too, have the ghost-self, the wraith, the ‘flesh’. They, however, choose against it, driving it away, and every time they do it, the gleaming of the gold inside them shines brighter. Alas, most of us have never, at least in their conscious life, believed there ever was any gold in us, and so instead of chasing away the false self, we welcome it as a life-saver. Hiding behind it, we take as much as we can from life, and eventually begin to feel happy, even very happy. Others, although they have glimpsed the treasure, have rejected it, believing the dark messages which come early, so early in life, often unspoken. They are led to believe that their treasure isn`t real, that, in fact, it`s no treasure at ll, and in time, even become embarrassed by that which should have made them proud.

I remember times in school when, although I knew the answers, did not raise my hand. Other times I scoffed at my ability to understand, write and create stories. In my teens, I abandoned my love for nature, which had once made me so alive. I was deeply ashamed of the fact that I was ‘odd’ and somehow ‘childish’. The mask behind which I hid, covered all the awkward, unpractical desires, and I could finally get on with what I thought to be the real life. Seeing that my sense of humor was making quite an impact on my schoolmates, I became the joker. Later, if I saw that some trait, ability or skill, was liked, I used it, hiding even more of my real self, in order to gain acceptance. And with each passing year, the real ‘me’ was buried deeper and deeper…

It is not what they did to us’, said a friend to me once, ‘but what they did to us, did to us.’

This friend, a recovering addict, meant that it is not the tragedy, the assault we all suffer, that is the worst thing in our life. The worst thing is our response to it. The shift which takes place, often at a very early age, is what changes us into a shadow of what we originally were. Thus, the wraith comes to being.

But it is not us, and we should not be it.