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Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Guilt about Doing Nothing.

Why do we feel guilt about doing nothing?  About sitting for a whole afternoon and having nothing to show for it?  Even potting plants in the garden is better than sitting on the sofa.  Even washing up, or making soda bread, or writing lists has something to show for the time spent on it.  But sitting on cushions, drinking tea and drifting online, or on my phone, or listening to my talking books, or all of them at once, has no results.  I can't tick them off a list.  I can't say to my friends, well - at least today I worked on a painting/made a big decision/spoke to someone important/cleaned behind the piano.  I have only the passing of time and the setting of the sun to tell me that the day is nearly over and I am still oblivious to the world outside.

Perhaps that is the point of the doing absolutely nothing.  Being oblivious of the world outside.  These days I need to disengage, and to find a nice place to go to inside my head.  I can be lost in someone else's world on YouTube, I can live vicariously through my talking books, I can skim along the surface of life by asking questions online like, why is Bognor called Bognor?   It is a relief to think - Oh now it is time to stop all this thinking and doing and organising and planning and so on, now is the time to sit down and opt out.

I do a great deal of opting out.  Now that I am a grandma, now that my role has moved on from mother, young person, artist on the move, I haven't the same calls on my time.  There isn't that frantic hustle and especially, there is less worry and more sleep.  This morning I realise that I spend a lot of time sleeping, or at least lying down, and that it is rare that anything disturbs me enough to stop it.  Our human nature gives us a wonderful and complex brain, and a mind that not only thinks of good things, but thinks of bad things too.  So sometimes I am disturbed by worries and feelings of unease, and that is all part of being alive. It doesn't make me get out of bed at night or feel I need to do anything till the morning.  My bed is very comfortable, my bedroom is beautiful, filled with lovely things and colours so that it is a pleasure to be in there.  I couldn't do that when I had young children.  They were all in my bed anyway, it was the only way we got any sleep.

So what about the guilt.  Oh that happens if I am drifting when I plan a day in the studio painting and I don't quite get there.  It happens when I sit down to be productive and all I can think of is baked potatoes with butter.  The awkward feeling of time running out and the hopelessness of ever achieving anything hits me when I put on my overalls, walk into the studio, and get caught up in my Instagram stories.  And then, before I know it, I have drifted off into that lovely state of mind where time passes, I am very content, and then aware that there is less time to work on my painting and it is all my fault.  Then, I remember how well everyone else seems to be doing, and I feel sad that I am now not one of them.  This morning, I could have been.  This afternoon, I am not.

I have been thinking about this difficulty of making time work for us, of our judgements about it, and how it is a mark of honour to have too little of it and a problem to have too much.  And when various spiritual teachers tell us that we are human beings, not a human doings, we get what they mean but we think - Oh but they don't understand. It's different for us, we say, things are different for us.  Perhaps, though, we have made time into a dreadful friend, a friend who bullies us and cannot be satisfied, and yet we love it.  And hate it.  And love to hate it.  Our difficulties with lack of time have, after all, helped us feel important and given us a currency by which we can judge our feelings of worth and belonging.  I accept that busyness is not going to stop, and busyness in itself is not a problem.  The problem is when it becomes a way to avoid facing ourselves and becomes an end in itself, like an addiction. I accept that it is great fun to be caught up in a whirligig of things to do, places to go, people to meet, deadlines to beat.  I know how wonderful it is when so much is happening and somehow nothing can succeed without us and there is that feeling of being indispensable.  It is intoxicating to not have time even to eat, to find the only way you can fit in your next client is the two minutes you set aside to get a sandwich for lunch.  It is a powerful pull to answer that call late at night, to check your emails in the early hours, to rush about and to be seen to rush about.  I have done it, it made me feel important and one of the gang.  I felt that if there was a film crew following me they would say Yes!  She's one of the players!  See, she is so busy and she is doing so much!  We can't keep up!

It's great fun. Until it is not.  Until it is not fun any more, and then, we do not know how to slow down, how to stop, and we do not know how the world will turn if we cannot go on.  It is personal.  We have failed.  We can't maintain this way of being, everyone else can (it seems) and we are on the road to oblivion and failure. There are many times we enter the dark night of the soul, and this may be one of them.  What, in my case, I did not do, was know who I was in the quiet moments.  I avoided the quiet moments because I felt I did not exist if I was not moving.

Too little time means we cannot stop to take stock and also gains us a perverse respect.  (Who is this successful indispensable person that other people need so much?  Who must have powers and talents that I, who have more time, must be lacking?)  Too little time is impossible to maintain. If there are free moments, they are filled at once, because that is all we know.  And then, there is that old guilt again, about doing nothing.  About having time to fill.  What does it mean?  What does it say about us?  What if, in the little bit of time that is sagging around us, someone else gets the prize and we were not quick enough?

Too much time is as bad as too little.  Too much of anything is unbalanced.  Perhaps, with too much time, we sink into what we fear and feel there is no point in doing anything anyway.  We fear we have no worth, we fear we are not enough when there are no distractions and no props. Too much or too little of anything is not good.

Up till only a few years ago, I was conflicted about who I was and what I wanted to be, rushing about trying to do and be it all.  Then, one after another, three of my closest people died and I was forced sit with myself in what felt like total emptiness for a long, long time.  I felt as if I had fallen off the edge of the known world, and had to begin again.  I sat still for days at a time watching the play of light on the wall opposite me as the day passed, doing nothing at all but looking at the changing light as it moved.  Somehow I survived, and life went on.  I had to look at who I thought I was, and who I thought I was not, and to begin the long slow process of getting to know myself as I really am.  There was no choice. I had abandoned the outside world and had shut myself off from everything.  What was left was, simply, me.  Sink or swim.  I understood that even the choice to sink could only take me so far down and until I was dead myself, there was still life.  And so, I began to choose life.

My focus is also on more tea.
My focus now is in creativity and healing work, and though that still feels like a lot, the relief is enormous.  I don't need to do all the other stuff any more (I can't remember what it was that I was so busy doing now.  I used to have ten ideas an hour, tried to implement all of them, and tumble into confusion and exhaustion all the time).  Healing and soul midwife work take a huge amount of energy and I accept that I need a lot of time to recover and recharge.  Painting time needs managing too, but the joy of being creative means we express it all the time anyway, in how we live - what we wear, how we cook, what we do with our surroundings. I build time for absolute nothing into my diary and sometimes, it works, sometimes it doesn't.  Of course, I still get caught up in the whirligigs, but I am aware that there must be recovery time or I will become loopy and my children will put me in the same care home as my father.

All this is a bit different to feeling guilty when I cannot prevent myself from spending a whole day gazing into the garden and thinking about doughnuts.  My guilt comes from having made a plan to do something, something work related, and yet having no power to make myself do it.  But writing this blog, and thinking about it all, I am struck by how therapeutic these drifty days are.  And even if I have four of them back to back, I am beginning to think that four drifty days are exactly what I need to be my most calm, grounded, prepared and focused for my end of life clients as a soul midwife, and an artist extraordinaire for my painting clients.  I like my own company now, after spending time with myself after my falling off the edge of the world; a very different set up to before, when nothing could convince me that I was not a total nut nut and no one could ever like me.

So back now to coping with guilt when time passes and nothing seems to be achieved. Well, I think I have to change my mind about it and enjoy it.  Life goes on whether I while away the days or not.  Somehow, things still get done.  And the joy of watching the grass grow, the light change on the wall, letting myself drift as the hours go by, is good for me.  Like now, it is nearly 11 am and I am in my pyjamas, I have a painting to finish and a soul midwife visit to do.  I can do that, all in good time, but right now, I want to watch the peonies bloom until it is time to get dressed and go.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Into the vacuum, comes fear.

For a while, I have been under a cloud.  The cloud was not black, it was dark grey, and it moved like mist so that I could never really see it.  I have resources, I am strong, I know how to look after myself but this cloud was clever,  It sidled up to me and wound itself around me with such subtlety that I can't remember when the light around me changed.  There was a heaviness now, and a quiet sense of doom.  There was a worry in my stomach that should not have been there.  I couldn't name the worry and the sense of things being badly wrong would not lift.

I knew the source of this cloud.  This dark grey mist.  I have met it before and I suspect I will meet it many times in the future.  But the sense of powerlessness this time seemed different.  I struggled to make sense of what this all meant, and in the middle of it, I could not articulate to myself what I was so afraid of, and how there seemed to be no way through this mist.

I formed a plan.  I told a friend, and she was supportive and understanding.  This plan felt impossible to do, and yet it had to be done.  I could see difficulties before it, during it and after it.  I could see that I may be unable to carry it out.  It worried me.  It had to be done, it had to be done this way.  If it was done this way, I would feel better.  I may be released from the cloud.

And then, last night, longing for some relief, I sat in a quiet chair, and asked someone, something, out there, for guidance.  I will meditate on this, I thought.  I meditated into blackness.  I meditated into nothing, and nothing happened.  It was as if the power of the dark grey mist had shut out the light and nothing I could do would find a way through it.  There is no hope, I said.

But when I woke this morning, something had shifted.  There was a decision to be made.  Perhaps I could make a choice.  What do I choose?  Do I choose the plan I felt could not be done, or do I choose something else?  If I choose something else, will it matter?  What would happen if I changed my mind?  And what if, instead of the consequences being dire, they were kinder, and less stressful?

I realised then that fear that was keeping the light away.  My plan, the mist, the cloud, the sense of doom, was a reaction to fear, the whole situation was the result of fear.  So if I changed my plan, changed my mind, what then?  Well - it didn't matter.  The plan would never have worked, it was fiercely dependent on me getting my own way despite everyone else.  I was afraid and it clouded my judgement.  

There is no judgement though, if I change my mind, make a different choice, see the way the fear was blocking my compassion.  When I saw that my fear was keeping me away from people, was causing me to forget their needs, was allowing me to create a story about them that was distorted - I chose to let go, to say to myself, it really doesn't matter - it really doesn't, this plan is causing distress and a better plan is to ask what would really work, and see the stress and the imagined consequences evaporate.  What can I do, I asked the people concerned, to help you?  I have changed my mind, I said, and we no longer have to follow this path.  The simplicity of the way forward was always there.  There is a new plan, and it is flexible, and I have survived.  Nothing happened.  Except peace and kindness have returned.

The cloud had gone tonight.  I am released and there is no problem.  There are difficulties, yes, but they are not a problem.  When I asked what I could do to help, the light came back, and the answer was simple.  I had forgotten to love.  I had forgotten to love them, and then myself.  Into that vacuum came fear.  From fear came wrong decisions, loneliness, disconnection and the forgetting that when love is the basis of all our choices, somehow, there is strength and there is connection. 

But I acknowledge that in order to remember this, I had to forget it.  It is the experience of forgetting and all that goes with it, that makes the remembering all the more profound.  The thing is, I may not have remembered and come to this understanding.  The miracle here is that I did remember, and I am very mindful of power and simplicity of this lesson.  

And so, this evening, I am sitting on my bed, with a supper I really wanted to eat, and the sun shining through my window.  I have a scented candle that makes me smile with pleasure, and a new talking book to listen to when I have finished this blog.  I am happy, and I am free.  The sun shone through my window on other evenings, I lit this scented candle yesterday, and I had another talking book before this one.  The difference tonight is that love has come back.  I have made a kind decision.  It is making the sun more lovely, the candle more scented, and my talking book more exciting.

I have a passion for steamed veg, butter and garlic.  Yum.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Which way to go?

Sitting on the Sofa

I look a bit dead myself here.  

The Soul Midwife Sofa opens on Monday the 6 May, at Waltham House Studios, Town Cross Avenue in Bognor Regis.  I will be at Waltham House every Monday for the Sofa.  In the meantime, I am leafleting and telling people all about it. There has been a lovely response with most people, but some have been suspicious and defensive.  One funeral parlour told me they were running their own business, and didn't see why they should support someone else's.  "We get bothered by all sorts of charities," they said.  I longed to creep back after dark to add in purple glitter Free Funerals for All.  Especially Charities.  to their shop sign.  Most people I speak to think it a really good idea.

It is a good idea. The simplicity will speak to anyone who is struggling in silence with a dying that makes no sense to them.  It will speak to people who have conflicting feelings, who are angry, who are confused, who just don't want to do this any more.  The Sofa will be there for those who have strange experiences accompanying someone in their dying - many of us have had these experiences.  Things that we can't explain and find difficult to articulate, and we really want to talk about them, to make sense of them.  The Soul Midwife Sofa will be there for those who have lost someone and need to find some gentle listening support - whether the loss is recent, or not recent.  Sometimes we are only aware of our bereavement long after it has happened, as if the time in between was protecting us until we are ready to feel it.  The Soul Midwife Sofa will be there for those who have to think about their own dying, death and endings.  It will be there to listen to and support all who come and sit on the sofa, to help work things out.  All of these things may take one session, they make take a hundred.  It is all up to you, whatever works for you is right.

Soul Midwifery and Healing

For me, Soul Midwifery is a state of mind.  It is an awareness of the ending of life and a willingness to journey with someone if they want it, and request it, as they do their dying.  It is a willingness to support families and friends with their own journeys with a dying loved one.  And here it begins to overlap with healing as I practice it.

A soul midwife and a healer cannot ever stop learning.  At some point, we made a decision to follow a certain path and put into practice what is in our hearts.  There follows a lifetime of learning, experiencing, questioning and deepening our understanding.  But before all else, we deepen our understanding of ourselves.  In this journey, we come first.  In all of our lives, we must put ourselves first.  I am no good to you if I have given away all my power, strength and patience.  If I believe that I am of no consequence and my life and experience has not only taught me that but confirmed it again and again, I cannot support you if you are frightened of dying alone in the night. I will not be strong enough.  If however, I get to know myself and take care to help myself survive the bad times as well as understanding the things that bring me joy and peace - if I give myself time and really listen to myself, I am more able to be there for you in the dark night of your fear of your dying.  I will call on my resources and I will know my limits and I will know how to recover my strength after the crisis has passed. Healing sessions hold space in this way too.  Giving Reiki, I listen to what your body and energy is telling me.  To do this effectively, I have to know my limits, to know where my energy ends and your energy begins and I must certainly be clear in my mind, body and emotions before I begin to work with you. I do this by practising self care as a constant in my life to the best of my ability at the time.  I say this because practising loving self care is absolutely fabulous in theory and both a mystery and a conundrum in practice   Before a Reiki session I prepare my own energy, and the energy of the room, the aim is to be calm, grounded and loving.  As with all of us, life sometimes throws up great mounds of nonsense for me to deal with.  I intend the work I do to be the best it possibly can be, even while having off days, getting things wrong and eating too much fried food.

My healing and soul midwife work is based on experience, energy work and a deepening love of
spiritual matters. The dying process is profound, and paradoxically, mundane.  We are all here for this one life.  We live, time passes equally for all of us.  It is the same for all of us.  But each of us has a will and capacity for decisions.  Our decisions, our choices, reflect back to us what we think of ourselves in the way we live and the people we live with.  Some of us are afraid, and we chose safety at all costs.  Some of us are anxious, and we seek protection at all costs.  Some of us are angry and we seek conflict, some of us are lazy and we look for ways to stay still, some of us are ignorant and some of us wear our ignorance as a badge of honour.

Some of us are curious and look for more.  Some of us want to grow, and look for answers, be magnificent and some of us are knocked about by life and make decisions to make something of ourselves - that can either be enlightening, or it can be at the expense of other people.

But we all die.  And during this lifetime, we live.

This business of dying and what to do about it

This business of dying brings us a great deal of fear.  We spend much of our lives keeping the thoughts of death at bay.  When we are young there is so much time.  The older we get the faster the years and weeks go by, and we are made painfully aware that at some point this will all end.  It will stop, we will stop, and that can give us such distress that we shoot off at a tangent to find distractions to stop this fear.  But time still passes.  Others die, even those we thought of as invincible come to the end, and we find it harder and harder to ignore that at some point, it will be our turn.  Oh but the fear of endings is profound.  Whatever we think we know about it, whatever beliefs and things we have worked out to explain death, none of us actually know.  Our greatest fear, those of us who fear this, is of extinction.  Nothingness, blackness and oblivion.  Before that, we fear pain - physical, mental, emotional, spiritual - and the slow realisation that we are losing our grip on what we hold most dear. which is our life, those we love, unfinished business, lack and loss.

This is what fear holds for us.  But many of us have seen death and dying in a different way.  We have also seen gentle deaths, courageous deaths, magical deaths and deaths that have been a release.  We have seen how those doing the dying may not be afraid, but are curious, accepting, welcoming.  We may have had our lives changed by witnessing a dying that was full of resolution and peace.  When we experience someone dying in this way it shows us how it can be done.  It removes a great deal of the fear.  It may be miraculous. Many of us have seen this happen.

My point is that we are mortal, and whatever we tell ourselves about this, whatever our beliefs and experiences, we will die and we will not know how, or when, and we do not know what will happen after we die.  It is healthy to contemplate our ending but not to the exclusion of our living.  Until we die, we are very much alive.  We live.  We live this one life, and so what are we going to do with this one life?  What we fear in dying is what we fear in life too.  Disconnection, loss, abandonment, pain, oblivion. And so, what do we do about it?

"Winnie".  A painting showing how one carer is training
 the other in the art of sitting in vigil with the dying.  Though the
title is of the lady in the bed, the focus is really between the two carers
as they sit with her.  I painted this for the A Graceful Death exhibition. 
We look inside and agree to enter into an honest relationship with ourselves.  We begin to ask ourselves Who am I?  What do I want? We decide to take stock, and we realise we must approach ourselves with gentle, cautious kindness because the chances are that we have been fairly horrid to ourselves up until now.  This time, when we ask ourselves who we really are, we take the time to listen to the reply.  If we have spent our lives blocking what we want and dismissing who we are, then we may not have anything to say in answer to these questions.  We are lost and can't answer them.  We have forgotten, if we had ever known at all.  This is where the decision to approach ourselves with gentle kindness and patience is essential - we will need time to feel safe even attempting to answer.  We will also need to listen without judgement to what hesitant answers we eventually whisper back to ourselves.  And then a journey of discovery begins.  We begin to remember what gives us meaning.  What we do not want.  Who we do not want.  We begin to question the stories that surround our lives - did we create them?  Or did someone else?  Do we agree with them?  Possibly we do not!  And what does that mean?  Courage to begin the move away from what is not for us, towards what is for us.  And here, despite feeling the release from old thinking patterns, beliefs and burdens, we will need real strength because moving away from one way of being towards another, brings with it its own, sometimes huge, battles.  But if we are digging deep, and connecting with what is real for us, then somehow we find a way.  We still encounter the disconnections, losses, abandonments, pains and, possibly, but we hope not too much, oblivions, but these are part of our journey now and we have taken back our power and we understand that they will pass, as all things pass.  As we build this relationship with ourselves we see that we can manage it somehow, and there is space for joy, love, fulfilment, laughter and pleasure too in our lives.  There is also a sense of purpose and meaning. Question your thinking.  It feels real, but is it true?

If we can accept our eventual death as a reality, we can then put it somewhere respectfully out of sight, so that we can live and live as well as we can, now. What matters is that we live and live with awareness, self knowledge and authenticity.  We can access this death thing when we need to, when it crosses our paths, and then respectfully put it away again.  When it is our time, well, we hope that by then we will have a better idea of who we are, and will be able to navigate our final journey with some peace and truly in our own way.

The way to go

I visited a client yesterday who had been given very little time to live quite suddenly, much less that he had expected.  He had to make decisions about where he was to die.  As I was leaving, he walked me along the hall to the door and said,

Which way is the best way to go?

Oh, I said, it's such a question for you to answer.  Here, or in the hospice, it seems you have had no time to think.

No, he replied, which door do you want to leave by.  The front door or the kitchen door.

Here is someone who is navigating his journey well.  We both fell about laughing and the visit, which had been very hard and emotional up till then, ended on a high.  I drove off with him laughing in his (front) doorway.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Soul Midwife Sofa. Not a Diva, or Mary Poppins, or Jesus.

The Soul Midwife Sofa

On  Monday 6 May I open a new service.  Based at Waltham House Studios, the new and emerging Arts and Wellbeing Centre here in Bognor Regis, I am starting the Soul Midwife Sofa.

This is what it is -

The Soul Midwife Sofa

A confidential holistic support and listening service for anyone facing the end of life, either their own or someone else’s.  

The dying process can be full of emotion, fear and sadness.  It can also include deep moments of healing and reconciliation.  Talking over our feelings, fears and asking questions can help us to face our journey, whatever it may be.

Antonia Rolls is a trained and experienced Soul Midwife with over ten years of experience.  Non-denominational and without judgement, she offers a safe and loving space for feelings, thoughts, questions and fears for all who are experiencing a death or a dying.

Call Antonia on 07787754123 to make an appointment.  £20 is required on booking to reserve your space.

Over the years, I have called myself a soul midwife, and at the same time I have wondered what on earth is a soul midwife.  It has taken a long time to work something out, it is a long and personal journey.  No two soul midwives are the same.  Here is what I think it is not -

  • A super hero.  A soul midwife cannot fly in through the open window and shoot rays of power from her fingers.  She can't zap baddies, whatever and whoever they may be, across the room and pin them against a wall 
  • An oracle.  A soul midwife can't tell the future though she may have an opinion based on observation and experience.  She has no mystical powers to foresee things, nor can she predict the date and time of a death. 
  • A Diva.  She won't want to make a grand entrance with her hand on her heart and an expression of pain and grief on her face.  She will not identify so deeply with her clients' pain that she needs to sit down and fan herself with a copy of this month's Saints Weekly.
  • Mary Poppins.  A soul midwife cannot come into a situation and magic it all better.  She cannot make the room tidy itself, pull medical equipment out of her bag, and sort everyone out
  • A push over.  She isn't able to take on everyone's negative emotions and make herself responsible.  She isn't there to take whatever is happening personally, and make herself ill.
  • Jesus.  A soul midwife can't make anyone better, can't heal anyone so that they get out of their beds and go for a run.  She also doesn't have a hot line to any deity, and can't work miracles.

I have been a bit of all of the above at some point or other over the last ten years, that is why I know it doesn't work.  That leaves what a soul midwife is.  She is, I am, aspiring to the following -

  • A listener.  A soul midwife listens deeply, carefully and attentively.  She listens with her ears and her heart.  Often what is being said is being conveyed without words.  A soul midwife learns to listen and keep herself out of the way, and really hear what is being said at as many levels as she can.
  • Boundaried.  Having porous boundaries creates confusion and resentment. A soul midwife will not want to become involved in another's pain if she can help it.  Her wise detachment will mean she is stronger in her support, and she will know it is not her story.  She knows her limits.
  • Compassionate.  A soul midwife is compassionate and practices empathy and patience.  She knows that the people she is working with will take this journey that they are on in their own way, and sometimes, they may be in great pain. She does not tell them to snap out of it, she engages her compassion and works from the heart.  Sometimes fear and distress make a client angry and confrontational.  She will work out how to deal with this with compassion and boundaries.
  • Healthy.  It takes energy to sit with clients, and a soul midwife will be aware of her own health and need to rest and live in her own world too.  She will try never to become a wet dish rag.
  • Honest.  Soul midwives can say that they don't know when they don't know the answers to questions.  She may be asked about how an illness is progressing, she may be asked about powers of attorney, she may be asked what happens after death.  She can say she doesn't know, and if it is appropriate to find out, she may help with that. A soul midwife is tactful, and if asked the question Am I going to die? by someone who is on their way out, she finds a way of answering truthfully and taking into account the client's ability to hear the truth.

A Thought on Energy and Light

Energy is all around us.  We feel the vibe when we walk in on someone's argument.  We know when we feel bad about someone we have just met, we know when we meet someone we connect with at once.  We both emit and receive energy, we bring with us our own energy and this affects all those we encounter in our day.  We are responsible for our own energy and if we are aware of this, and understand it, then we are aware of how we are affecting others around us.  In order to do this, we become more aware of ourselves.  Becoming aware of ourselves is, to me, the most important thing we can do.  Insights into ourselves lead to awarenesses of others.  How can I become truly aware of you if I have no insight into myself?  How can I maintain understandings of others if I do not understand myself?  It is like the instructions in the aeroplane about the oxygen masks.  Put your own on before you help your child. Look to yourself first before you can understand others.

If I meet a new client as a soul midwife, I must be very aware of my energy.  It must not get in the way, I must be calm and aware and kind.  In this way, my client is able to express themselves without hindrance. 

Light is beautiful.  I believe we all carry light, but it gets switched to low and sometimes switched to off.  Our light shines when we are happy, in love, excited, inspired, laughing with joy (as opposed to laughing at someone's mishap), kind, peaceful - and so on.  We are often so mean to ourselves, so critical and unkind, that our lights get very low.  And if I am good to you, the light inside us both flickers up a notch, and when we practice self awareness, we begin to understand how simple this business of looking for the light in ourselves and others is.

There is great healing in the light.  Sometimes, it is possible to simply be the light.  If I am meeting a new client who is very ill, who may be uncomfortable, and I am nervous of what I will find (and nervous that I will mess it all up and get it all wrong), the simplest way to find the light is to embody it.  So I become the light.  I don't shine like a sixty watt bulb, I don't walk a few inches off the ground, I don't short circuit the kettle and the television, all I do is let the light come in, take it into my body, and let it work through my energy.  It is so simple and so powerful, and like all these wonderful things, very much an ongoing process.


I am taking bookings now for the Soul Midwife Sofa, the holistic listening and support service for anyone experiencing their own or another's death, dying and grief journey.  I will be there on Mondays from the 6 May and if you think I may be of service, please get in touch.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Seeking our father inside his Alzheimer's, part two

It is very hard to watch our father shouting, though he is comforted and cared for constantly.  He is struggling with progressive Alzheimer's disease, his once fine mind is shutting down and he knows there is a great darkness where once there was poetry, music and conversation.  Where once he was reserved, private and amusing, there is now an unstoppable outpouring of confusion and distress.  Help me, he calls, and my brothers and I hold his hands and watch. 

It sounds as if he is in great pain, but we are assured that he is not.  I took him in his wheelchair out into the bright February sunshine, his knees and shoulders covered in blankets.  He will like the feel of the cool air, and the brightness of the sun, I thought.  He will know he is outside and he will like it.  But he did not like it.  The bleakness in his brain came with him, and he was unsettled by the change in temperature and surroundings.  I took him back inside, trying to wheel him carefully over the grass, hoping the tiny bumps in the ground that I would have given no thought to, would not jolt him and cause him to call out in fear.  Once inside, I took him to a large sitting room, and sat him by the window to feel the sun on his knees.  We sat together and I tried to distract him from his shouting, but he couldn't understand my questions, and didn't remember what I was describing when I spoke of our childhood with him as a wonderful father, and he shouted his responses in between calling for help. In desperation I sang him a song he loves from his own childhood, though I couldn't remember the words, and muddled my way through it.  It did calm him, and so we sang it over and over until it was time for me to go.  And now I have gone, I thought, he will shout again, and what on earth was the point of my visit?  I left feeling tearful that this most gentle and educated of men, this kind and independent father of ours, would have already forgotten how I had sat with him and found a way to calm him just for a moment.  For me, it was a big thing.  For him, it seems, it never happened.

And yet he is in there.  I keep asking him to look at me.  He always does, and I know he can see me for that moment.  He knows who I am.  Tone!  he says when I say hello Dad, it's me. Tone!  Where have you been?  His delight is real, and if I say I have been here all along Dad, I just popped out to the loo, he will believe me.  I don't say that, but it doesn't matter anyway, because I will be forgotten and so will my visit, as soon as I leave his side. 
Today when I went to see him, he was not shouting.  He seems to have stopped.  He is peaceful and calm and sleepy.  My brother John said, his face has sunk into itself.  It's true, his face has lost its old definition, and yet he is still handsome.  His face does not care about how it looks anymore, it is only responding to the shutting down of his mind.  He cannot control it, he has no awareness of it, and it shows how weak and tired and old he is.  In a strange way he is like a baby that has no idea of who it is; a very old, white haired, gentle sleeping baby.

I want to ask him something about what is happening to him.  I want to ask what it is like to be so old and with Alzheimer's.  I want to get through to the eccentric, clever, witty and philosophical man that still lives inside his brain somewhere.  What are you thinking, Dad?  I ask him, and he seems to pause, as if he knows I am asking him an important question.  His mouth moves and I can see he could once have said something profound in response, but his brain has shut down a way of making any sense of the question.  But he knows, he knows we once would have talked like this.  Instead now, he closes his eyes and his head droops onto his chest, and he disappears back to that place that I cannot understand and in which I cannot find him.

There is not much time left to make him understand we love him.  He may go on physically for ages, but the sparks of light in his mind will soon remove him from us completely.  I love you, Dad, I say, and he smiles.  I hope that lodges in all his brain cells, and cannot be dislodged.

I asked my brother Ralph to write something of his feelings for this journey of Alzheimer's and endings and our father.  Here is what he wrote -

My father has Alzheimer’s.  Apparently there are seven stages. He’s had it for quite a few years now and for so long there was no impairment whatsoever. It was a phoney war.  There were minor memory problems that I put down to old age and the result of TIAs some thirteen years ago.  The decline was gradual and punctuated by odd periods of trauma resulting from the loss of loved ones. Three years ago I got married and my father sat at the top table resplendent in his morning coat and making mildly caustic remarks about the speeches. In those days he looked after himself in his smart riverside flat. Each day he did the Times crossword and assiduously read the TV schedule marking off programmes he might like to watch that day. He was part of the pre surfing generation who sat down to watch specific programmes and turned the TV off when they were over. His life was ordered: he shaved every day; he ate all his meals at the dining table at the same time each day; he went to church on Sundays etc. he drank too much but never got drunk. He justified it by saying he was healthy- “I walk to the shops every day.”  Alcohol was ubiquitous. A glass of beer with his lunch; a couple!!! of gins and tonic at 6pm; a bottle of good wine with his evening meal.  “Once a bottle is opened it will become oxidised and so MUST be consumed that evening.”  Cumulatively it had an effect.  His blood pressure grew and in the autumn of 2006 he crashed his car whilst having a series of  TIAs.

Even then the justification for drinking continued. He would argue that experts believed that light-to-moderate consumption of any form of alcohol — not just red wine — could reduce risk for stroke. One to two alcoholic drinks per day may increase the amount of HDL, or good cholesterol, in the bloodstream. Alcohol also may serve as a blood thinner, helping break up blood clots. And then the memory started to go: the repetition of questions; the misplacement of keys and money; the disorientation and the getting lost in public. I began to notice that in family or social activities he would sit quietly and speak only when he was spoken to. This was a man who before would charmingly interview people when he spoke to them. He was a consummate conversationalist. Now he was withdrawing from social activities. However he was still jolly and gentlemanly. I once remember him reading the epistle at church. God only knows what he read; it was certainly not the reading on the lectern. 

And now when I go to the care home and walk down the corridor to the day lounge where so many sit, I dread it. Only a year ago he mischievously called it the ‘dribble lounge’ and asked to be spared sitting in it. And now there he is, inert, head lolling indolently; dribbling.  He is permanently confused; he is seemingly lost; he has all but left his body.  All conversation has gone. Recognition is sometimes by sight but more often by hearing my voice. I hold his hand and either read him poetry of play tunes on my mobile phone, from his childhood. He will nod; sometimes beat in time to the music; occasionally smile. He relaxes and for a while we connect silently. I miss him dreadfully.

Ralph – 11 March 2019

Friday, 8 March 2019

Looking for our father's soul not lost to Alzheimer's

Dad has Alzheimer's and progressive dementia.  At the moment, I don't want to go into his history, nor give you his background.  I want to look at his eyes and find the man inside.  Since the beginning of this year he has become more and more agitated, and less and less able to move.  Now, he can't walk, feed himself, understand where he is, speak much sense, he can't move himself, he can't work out what he is or is not doing.  Today, I uncrossed his legs at the ankles for him, because he could no longer do it himself, his thin hot legs felt heavy and fragile, his delicate papery skin vulnerable to bruising and breaking.  He is eighty seven years old.

My brothers and I go and see him when we can.  We are busy and Dad lives in a care home about a three hour round trip away from us all.  We have to make a plan to go there, stay a while, and go home again back to our lives, and I think all of us feel we should be doing more - but what more can we do?  It is hard to see him shouting and in distress, it is hard to see him unable to talk, and we think that this must be put right.  Somebody needs to do something, but the staff explain all that can be done is constantly being done.  They explain the way the diseases progress, and they show us a list of his medications.  We all know, my brothers and I, that the carers and nurses and the Augustinian Sisters that look after Dad and all the other residents, many much worse than Dad, are angels and bring so much love to what they do.  But Dad is so distressed, I say to them, and they say - and this is true - that they all sit with him and hold his hands, and different medications are being sought to help with the shouting.  Your Daddy is a gentleman, they say.  I want to say to them that he was so tall and dark and handsome once.  I want to tell them that he made me laugh when I was little, we wrote poetry together and his was always a pastiche of mine.  I want to tell them that he could sing beautifully and that it was he who took me to London and let me wear blue eye shadow when I was thirteen.

I look at him now, lying helpless on his recliner chair in his room so that his shouting does not disturb the others, washed and brushed and clean with soft blankets on his legs, and I think You are still here, Dad.  You are still in there.  When I say hello and kiss him, he smiles and says hello.  Then he asks me if we should go now.  Where to? I ask him.  But he can't tell me where, he just waves one hand gently back and forth and forgets to speak.

I am looking for my father inside the Alzheimer's.  His eyes are  deep set beneath bushy grey eyebrows, and his glasses reflect the light.  It's hard to find him in there, and the disease has taken away the window to his soul.  But if I say, Dad!  Look at me!  he does, and he smiles, and I can see him again for a second.

Today he was calm and peaceful.  Last time, he was shouting goodbye to me, and telling me he had to let go, it was all over.  A wise person once said that while someone is making a noise, they are still finding a way to get their needs met.  I didn't feel that Dad was slipping away and I wonder if he was articulating his awareness of where he is going.  It's not time Dad, I said to him while stroking his forehead, this isn't your time.  You will do what you have to do when the time is right, and you will know what to do.  But that time is not now, not today.

Come with me, he said.  We will go together.

I will be there, Dad, I said, and I will come as far as I can. 

Today he was calm. There was a silence around him that is new.  Maybe there has been more medication and the shouting has finally stopped.  He seemed soft and wise and old and wonderful.  His hair had been cut, and the carer told me she was going to give him a manicure later.  I have left some magical hand cream with marigold and lavender essential oils for him, and she will rub that into his skin.  Dad took great care to keep his nails smart and clean, I told her.  A manicure is just right for him. 

I had to leave early today, after only an hour with our father lying peacefully on his recliner chair.  I will be back, I said, and he smiled.  We have had a lovely day, he said.  I thought, we have had a lovely hour, and if he thinks it has been a whole day, then I am relieved.  My brothers will be with him over the weekend.  I must not feel guilty about leaving him after just one hour.

Today I visit a client with cancer.  I had to leave Dad and drive an hour and a half back to Bognor for our weekly session.  He is older than Dad and says that he has had a blameless life in the church, so why does he have to suffer with this cancer?  His wife is ill too, with dementia.  Why did God give us these illnesses?  He asks.  I don't know, I say.  And I think, isn't life so strange.  Why is our father suffering like this, when he loves poetry so much?  When he was the only one who agreed that I was a fairy when I was a child? (You always said I was a fairy Dad, I said today.  I wore some net curtains as a fairy costume, do you remember?  Ah yes! he replied, you should still wear them.)

I am painting portraits of Dad, looking for him in his eyes.  I am recording him too so that I can understand.  He never complains, he is gracious and lost and sweet.  I will go back in a few days time, and we will see how things are.

Looking for our father in his eyes.  His Alzheimer's is taking him further and further away from us. Oils on wood.

Look at me Dad!  I say, and the Alzheimer's clears for a second and he smiles,  Oils on wood.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

It's You, Antonia, You Weirdo. A Healer's Tale

From a painting of Adam and Eve I did at this time.  Here Eve has a moment of realisation. 
This is how I felt about healing.
Many years ago, in a moment of quiet insight, I became aware that even more than being an artist, I am a healer.  You are here, a little voice said, to heal.  My mind went on to tell me that I am up my own bum.  Better come back out of there, said my mind, and get a grip.  So I said nothing about it, did even less, and continued with my life even though, underneath it all, the seed was planted.  Healing was in the air around me, and as long as I didn't look directly at it, I was OK.  If I looked at it, addressed it directly, I was overwhelmed with shame for thinking such a thing about myself. And yet, and yet ... I knew I could do something.  It bothered me, it felt wrong, and yet, it felt as if deep inside me, in the middle of me, it was true.  I couldn't reconcile it with who I was at the time, and tried to shut it out of my mind.  I remember thinking that if I only listened, really hearing people, focusing on what they are saying, that is enough, like healing without actually healing. I won't be obvious and no one has to know.  So I became a very good listener, and no one gave it a second thought.

A painting form this time, showing me, much heavier then, up in the sky throwing my troubles out of a bag to the earth below.  In order that no one is hit by my packages of troubles, everyone carries an umbrella.  Above me my three closest friends rid themselves of their troubles too.

If I met people interested in or practised healing, I was scathing.  Who do they think they are, I would think and at the same time, I longed for them to say Ah!  Antonia, I see through all these smoke screens. You are one of us.  While rejecting them, I longed for their attention and reassurance. I felt like a fraud, I felt conflicted and I felt as if it and I were fundamentally unacceptable.

During those years, I met an ex-civil servant who gave it all up to teach yoga, practice spiritual healing and teach meditation.  She was in her sixties, and wore sensible shoes.  How can she do this, I thought, isn't she embarrassed?  And I couldn't reconcile the fact that she looked like Des O'Connor.  No floaty dresses, no jewellery, no living in a yurt.  She lived in a big family house with a husband and four grown children.  And, she became my friend, and she was completely normal.  But she admitted, in fact advertised, that she did spiritual healing.  It was hard to make sense of.  I remember longing to do what she did and to be like her.

Oh poor Antonia!

What was happening, in retrospect, was that I was being made aware of an inner life.  At that time I was trying to be both a mother and an artist, and not very successful at either.  I didn't feel that I did anything very well.  It had been a struggle to admit publicly that I was an artist, even that felt presumptuous. My life was chaotic.  I had little confidence, I had married someone who was plagued by terrible demons and who disappeared with them in tow, back to his own country, leaving me alone with three small children.  One of them inherited his father's demons and was later diagnosed with autism, a new concept then and not something I had even heard of.  And there was never any money.  If I was interested in healing, I thought, how come I had surrounded myself with such chaos, how come I could not even begin to help my husband, and how was it that I could not help my child?  The person who really needed the help, was me.  Life was happening to me, I had no control over it, I shut myself down deep down inside, and continued to crazy-make day after day, trying to keep up with events in a world I could not understand.

A painting of me with my first husband, having tea and chats in space, before the demons really took hold

Thank goodness for friends, family and neighbours.  I always meant well, and was given a community of wonderful people to help me deal with my rag tag life and to help me with my beautiful children.  I observed them, this community around me, and how they had married good people, made correct decisions, had proper jobs and money to buy things, like food and council tax without scrabbling around and raiding their children's piggy banks. I wondered what was their secret.  What is it that I simply did not get about life. 

I continued to paint throughout these years but nothing I wrote was right.  There was so much to say, there was so much inside, but try as I might, no words came near to expressing what I felt.  Everything I wrote was trite, miserable and superficial.  But I can write, I thought in frustration, I can do it.  How come it is not happening?  Everything sounded like a long, self pitying ramble. 

Then, completely out of the blue, I moved myself and the children far away from London, and fell totally in love with a man who loved me in return.  All that I had ever dreamt of in a partner, came true.  Within eighteen months, he had died.  It was his dying that unlocked the next part of the healing journey. The world around me had been spinning faster and faster over the years, and I was finding it harder and harder to catch my breath.  For a brief moment, I had found someone who knew who I was without my having to speak, and then he was gone.  His dying and death changed my life completely and opened up the next most powerful part of my life.  On the day that he died, I sat down to write, and found that suddenly, the gates were open and all the words that had evaded me before, were now flowing.  The writing was released.  At last I could speak from the heart.  And from that moment on, I chose to work with dying and death.  It was only many years later, after more deaths, that I realised that I could add life to the list.  Dying, death, life and living.

Later, I met another man, the opposite to Steve in all ways, but perhaps the greatest teacher I will ever know. Life and lessons with Alan were hard.  One of the first things he taught me, and I resisted it dreadfully, was that unless I told the truth about how I was feeling, no one could ever know.  No one would guess, it was up to me to tell people the truth about what was in my heart.  I had shut myself down over the years and had believed that it was not safe to say how I felt.  I felt ashamed, I felt vulnerable and I did not believe anyone would listen.  When I look back, I remember his patience and wisdom.  It must have been very hard for someone as truthful as him to cope with me, who would not, could not, let anyone know what I really thought and felt. 

When Alan too died, ten years after Steve had gone, like the release of the words for writing, the understanding of what it meant to be a healer became clear.

Steve. Opened up my life for me, and left
to go home.
Alan.  The greatest teacher I have ever known.
Also left to return home.
In the two years after his death, in the silences and emptiness of the days that followed, I began to understand a bigger picture, of not only my place here in the world, but of the world itself.  Alan's legacy, the gift of his time in this world with me was in the example of how he lived his life.  His honesty, his perceptiveness, his kindness, his toughness. I saw the way Steve had opened up my life with his gentle soul and courage.  I saw how my life up until now, far from being difficult and beyond my understanding, had been just what I needed.  I saw how each experience of loss, of love, of crisis, of loneliness, of connection and then of the ending of lives on this earth, had given me a treasure box of things that I would understand in other people.  All the vulnerability, all the self judgements, all the painful feelings of not belonging and not being good enough, all the awkwardness and the hiding from life were part of learning about life, so that I can feel how it is for someone else.  All those people I sat with at the ends of their lives in the ten years of training myself to become a soul midwife - the courage they gave me to see what is real, the insights they gave me to look carefully at what is true, the power they showed in surrendering with grace to what is inevitable, is all part of the most intricate training I can have into merely glimpsing the mystery of being alive and being here at all.

We are all, all of us, a chest of jewels.  Sometimes the lid is wide open and the light from the diamonds and rubies and gem stones inside is bright enough to light up the space around it.  Sometimes the lid is almost closed, with only a small gleam of light from inside. Even if the lid is closed, even if it is locked, the jewels and light is still there.  However open or closed the lid of the jewel chest is, the contents are not changed or affected.  We are all still filled with precious stones, we decide how open or closed the lid is.

With this in mind, perhaps all of us are capable of making a difference.  We have more healing in us than we imagine.  A most simple act of healing is to be conscious of our own energy so that it is uplifted and mindful of love.  If being conscious of energy feels too wacky, paying attention to how we respond to events and people is the same thing.  In order to practice the simplest of healing, go about your day aware of your energy, mindful of your responses to all those you come across.  Practice all this with love, and take care of how you are thinking. 

Years ago, with the first insight that I was a healer, my great fear was that I was called to be different, like the hand that points from the sky to a little figure in the old national lottery ads.  The business of healing felt like a secret curse, as if I would have to develop into an eccentric pseudo magician.  I think I muddled it up with being a fortune teller with a crystal ball, or a mediocre medium who couldn't get anything right during a seance.   I thought I would have to become a nutcase.  All my friends would be nutcases.  I had no idea how anyone normal could practice healing with confidence and success, and still have fun.  And, how does one do healing anyway? 

It's you, Antonia, you weirdo

These days, I am no longer afraid of it.  Healing includes everyone and requires no special gifts.  I don't have to dress up to be a healer, nor do I have to tell the future.  I don't even have to be right, or know what is wrong with anyone.  It seems to me that healing is a state of mind.  It's an awareness of who you are and what you are doing, for the best outcome for everyone, yourself included.  Kindness is a healing art.  Focus and paying attention are healing arts; I learned something of that watching a very busy vicar in London who, despite rushing everywhere at speed, always stopped when addressed by anyone, and gave them his full attention for the couple of minutes he could spare. Healing is not necessarily a separate act.  It is part of every day life, and costs nothing and does not need feedback.  Smiling at people we meet is healing.  Generosity is healing. Self knowledge and self love are healing.  Prayer is healing, and faith is healing.  The healing journey is never ended, it is ongoing and forever changing, rewarding, challenging, dispiriting and uplifting.  It is, actually, just like life itself.

I am sixty years old next year, and I have found great peace and calm in my life.  I understand so much more and know myself so much better.  I am a fully fledged artist, Reiki master and soul midwife.  The healing that so alarmed me all those years ago is nothing to be afraid of.  It doesn't make me different and it isn't something for weird people with no friends. The idea of it then was far too big and alien, I had no idea in those early days of who I was or that it was even possible (or allowed)  to love myself.  I practice healing in many different ways now in my every day life and when I am too tired or fed up, I don't do it.  I practice healing during Reiki sessions.  I practice it as a soul midwife, and I practice it when in a shop, or at a train station, or in the street, whenever someone talks to me and makes it known they need it.  I do it for money for clients, I do it for free when out and about.  It is a part of life, it is not a secret, and it is often beyond difficult to articulate how it is done.  And it doesn't interfere with eating cake with my friends, dancing to reggae with my grandchildren, and having pizza in a bubble bath in the afternoon.  I am so normal, and I am just fine.  And my three year old grandson says I am a very good boy. 

In case you want to book a session.