Tag Archives: compassion

The world is a big and scary place

A remarkable friend wrote some words of advice to me while I was having a pretty rotten time of things some years ago.

At times the best of friends tell you things you need to know, but you don’t want to hear; much as a parent tries to impart wisdom to their child with an unintended harshness, that belies the deep love with which it is given.

It is a touchstone in my life now, both in times of sadness and times of joy.

“Today’s lesson:

The world is a big and scary place.

The good guys don’t always win and there are people out there who won’t think twice about anything that doesn’t directly benefit themselves.

This is how things are, how they always were and how they will be for the rest of this forever.

There are people who give and give and give,  until there is nothing left of themselves and they disintegrate into bitterness and regret.

There are people who take and take and take because they think they are entitled to love and happiness without giving anything in return.

In the midst of all the hurt, loneliness and confusion, all we have are the links we forge betwixt our shared hopes, fears & loves.

That, however, is no small thing. It is, in fact, the greatest thing of all.

You are never alone.

Please don’t forget that.”

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THE SILENT KILLER

What’s the Western world’s biggest killer of men aged under fifty?

It may come as a shock to know that it’s suicide; the most taboo of subjects and a guaranteed conversation-killer at any dinner party.

My closer friends will know I’ve struggled this past year with chronic depression. What they don’t know is how close I have come to being another ‘Under 50’ statistic on the Home Office chalkboards.

I cannot tell you what actual suicide is like, though I can share what it is like to stand on the edge of reason: a soul-shattering mix of pain, anger, fear, and helplessness.

This I know from experience: I’ve stood at the end of Brighton Pier with bricks in my pockets, propelled to end it all and escape from a relationship littered with infidelity and at times extreme violence towards me. I can still smell the sea and feel the wind in my face as I stared in to the black water all those years ago.

It’s a thought and feeling that has haunted me many times, perhaps an imprint of when I was very young and a family member contemplated the same sad way to end things. They, however, also showed me courage and how to live and love life, despite all of their own troubles, of which there many. For that I am truly thankful.

I have come very close at times to putting my feelings in to action. But I have been blessed by a mixture of luck, the Samaritans and some very good friends that I’ve been able to talk to openly and saved myself from losing my will to live.

We all live on a knife-edge more than we might like to admit. Loves, marriages, hopes and dreams fail us and it’s a miracle that any of us struggle through, usually feeling alone, no matter how much love we actually have around us. This, sadly, is the cursed blessing of life. A life where our doubts can too easily crowd us and block the view of the sunlit path we are meant to tread.

To quote from a well-known song, “the sword of time will pierce our skin, it doesn’t hurt when it begins, but as it works its way in the pain begins and it grins…”

One myth I can dispel immediately is that suicide is a coward’s way out. In my own experiences it takes a strange sort of extraordinary courage to contemplate and plan. As much strength is required to end one’s life as it is to live in this beautiful, troubled life.

Nor is suicide painless, or at least as I can tell from researching all the popular methods. There are not many deaths that are pain free. There’s no free ride in ending it all.

To plan a suicide takes preparation, a strange coldness and calm. It’s not something to be rushed and likely botched.

After my research on the subject, you don’t want to get it wrong. Remarkably, even a gunshot point blank to the head is only ninety percent effective; poisoning by overdose is a distant runner in the league tables with the odds of 42:1 against you actually meeting your maker.  Drowning is meant to be the least painful way to go, though is equally as unreliable statistically. Jumping is popular, but far from guaranteed. If you do jump, make sure it’s from a very great height and you hit the ground head-first. The results otherwise will lead to a very messy clean up and you still being alive…

Failure leads to all sorts of horrific and life-debilitating conditions. Even the best-planned suicide has odds one would be silly to take. And yet, in the dark nights and days that follow we can still be drawn to making the ultimate gesture of failure, as though in a silent movie where our mouths move, but no words are heard.

There are many factors that will bring one to the edge of life. It’s a horrifically horrible place to be, on that point I will be frank. There is no quick suicide. The feelings that lead one to that dark place are like a slow torturous death in itself.

One’s spirit, our sense of living, slowly fades and it’s a death of a thousand cuts. Each tiny cut of hurt, pain, anger, hopelessness and the wrongs done to one in one’s life bite viciously over and over. Each one igniting neurons in the brain that curse one with only the one door marked exit from our anguish.

At this point I must say if you are considering suicide, then get help. Ring the Samaritans, a friend or even talk to a stranger. Any kind of help.  The subject is such a taboo that it’s hard to know how many of us have ever considered taking our lives. I suspect many more than we might expect. If you have considered ending it all, then take all my praise and love that you are still here with us. You have my deepest heartfelt admiration for making it through.

Until recently, even in psychiatric circles the word ‘suicide’ was never used. Even now the doctors will refer to it as ‘self-harm’ or how to ‘keep oneself safe’.  This blanket refusal to mutter the word feels like superstition, as though not mentioning the act will somehow prevent it.

Centuries of our Christian roots has counted suicide as a mortal sin, grieving God’s heart and spurning the blessing of life that we have been given. The contradiction of this and how appallingly humans treat each other is not lost on me.

Whatever one’s religious beliefs, I am torn with accepting on one part that if I killed myself I would be discarding the great blessing of being alive. And my life is filled with very many great blessings. On the other I have seen how thin the veil is between life and death.

My spiritual insights and beliefs perversely can urge me onwards to the hope of stopping the ride and reconnecting with the universe, free of my own human pain.

Not being afraid of death, indeed welcoming it in, changes how one experiences the life that comes from knowing one can walk away from life’s troubles: everything feels more immediate. I now value each moment, each blessing, no matter how insignificant it might once have seemed.

Through my facing suicide square on and staring it out, sometimes so close to death I can feel its breath, comes my escape from the torments, and a chance to be able choose live on.

Significantly and unexpectedly, at the moment when I am about to accept death’s sweet kiss, is when love has come to me: an overwhelming and searing love for my family, my friends and those who have touched my life in some, any, small way.

Yes, love: a deep and powerful sense of immediate connectedness to everything and everyone whilst feeling utterly alone; a moment when the universe stands still and silent; on the edge of everything with wavering feet and unable to jump in to the unknown.

Whilst I must admit to not having the courage at times to carry on living for myself, I have found a remarkable courage to care enough for others to remain here with you. Though I cannot always love myself, I have huge love for my family and friends. This has been my saviour on more than a few occasions.

I count my experiences as a blessing beyond measure. I am still here and if in my darkest moments I can feel even the slightest breeze of love upon my face, then there is hope.

Perhaps with more discussion about our fears, our closeness to death we will all feel a little more love, a little more connected, less alone and suicide will no longer be the silent killer.

For myself I cannot tell what the future will bring; I suspect I will be haunted by the closeness of death for some time yet. But where there is life there is hope and where there is hope there is faith in the future.

And that is a very marvellous feeling indeed.

Footnote: some data references from http://lostallhope.com/suicide-statistics – conservatively over 20 million people worldwide attempt suicide each year.

The Rainbow Roller Coaster

I have many euphoric moments in my life: from the wild rides bouncing through country lanes with a best friend, acid house playing a 303 bassline and a smile wider than the River Wye on my face, to quieter moments at dawn or the middle of the night, standing still and letting the universe touch my soul.

I have quite extraordinary encounters, such as the a clown I met in the middle of a Nevada desert and our connection as we exchanged gifts: he gave me home-made pistachio ice-cream from his bicycle and I made him an ice-cold Martini Vesper.

These are the sort of tales that illustrate my life. A life filled with colour.

I am very, very blessed by my experiences and the people I know well or merely by smiles glimpsed in the watching crowd on my roller coaster ride of life; such as that desert, bike-riding clown perhaps, whose name I will never remember.

Yet, like so many of us, I still find my soul too many times tormented by human fears: those times when each step feels like a slow walk on fiery coals. A walk through fire without the cheers and shouts of a crowd to support me on what might otherwise be painless strides. My gut twists in awkward agony and I wonder wherefore my angels have forsaken me.

I am a Gemini. My life is filled with contrast. This is a fate I reach for with open arms: I see the patterns and feel the smiling sunshine on my face as much as I wake, sweaty with fear, in the middle of the lonely night wondering if I will live until the light breaks timidly through my windows.

There is an exquisite beauty in living such a life. I cannot imagine another. And the truth I struggle with is that I would not have it any other way.

It is what must be. And it must be accepted.

Through recent months I have learned a little of the art of what I call ‘self-responsibility’. This is owning and acceptance for everything (and I mean everything) that happens to me and all that I feel: from the blissful to the torturous.

All of it.

This does not mean that I am to blame for things that go awry or castigate myself for my mistakes. I just know I do my best and accept what happens as being just that: what happens. I know I am responsible for my feelings, in whatever place they may be at any particular time.

Perhaps, most importantly, I know that in taking responsibility for everything, I actually have a choice in everything, including that most wayward of human living: my feelings.

I have been blessed to find long periods where I see the good, the positive, the love that is all around as well as pained by only seeing that which is not.

I have the power to choose which I see and experience in any moment, even if my human nature fails me time and time again in this regard.  I have learned that while the answers to life and how to live to it are really very simple, this does not mean that they are very easy to do.

Far from it. This life is a challenge and the wonder of it and why I struggle with it, stumble and fight-  at times desperately – to hold on to it always amazes me.

So what now, on this knife-edge of existence?  Between the connection of all things loved, to love and be loved in return and or the other side of inky blackness, of loneliness, of failure and despair?

I do not know.

What I do know is that the struggle each day with the fear of failure is worth the moments of when life blesses one with joy. To know that even in the grey veil of rain, one may see a rainbow. Perhaps even be so lucky, as I have (twice now, here in the countryside), to be at that rainbow’s end; and to have one’s entire world experienced for a moment through a veil of multi-coloured glory.

There is no answer except HOPE: this being the knowledge that in those dark and lonely moments, we have faith in something better, glorious and amazing.

Perhaps in this modern age we have too much association with hope being nothing but a consolation prize, rather than embracing it and giving it the respect and care it deserves. To have hope is to have everything: to responsibly accept what happens, without blame or guilt, and have faith that when things don’t go right there WILL be better days.

A friend once told me at the end of one of my many magical parties, when one person had got too drunk and cast a slight shadow over proceedings: “If there wasn’t someone to spoil things then there wouldn’t be all the good people making it all such fun.”

So in my contrasted life, I take solace that the days when things don’t go right, it means that there will be those when everything does… to embrace the ups and downs, the twists and turns and to remember, always remember, the words of the late and gifted comedian, Bill Hicks:

“Remember folks, it is all just a ride. It’s just a ride.”

Here at The Tower another day dawns and I for one am running again, if nervously, towards the entrance of the roller coaster of life for another turn.

The Fire and the Rain

These were words that came to me after listening on repeat to Fire and Rain by James Taylor.

Part-inspiration and part ‘re-imagining’ of the melody and words  of the original song. They reflect my thoughts last year when I moved back to the countryside, after a catastrophic house fire I survived in Brighto; this is the point where I decided to move to the wonders of Hay-on-Wye here in Wales.

THE FIRE AND THE RAIN.

Just a few months ago, I knew I would be gone.
Brighton, the plans they made put an end to you,
I drove away from the city and wrote down some words,
I just don’t know who to send them all to.

Oh, I’ve seen the fire and I’ve seen the rain…
I now see sunny days that feel they will never end.
I’ve felt lonely times… but I always had a friend
And I always knew that I’d see the fields again.

You embrace me, sweet spirit of Hay,
You just helped me make a stand,
You’ve helped me see it through another day.
My heart runs free, as you hold my hand
And I won’t have it any other way.

So dear sweet Hay I always knew that I’d see you again.

Been walking my mind to an easy time, my body warmed by the sun.
If when the cold wind blows it’ll sweep my spirit up and along.
Well, there’s hours of time and years of happiness to come,
Sweet dreams, beautiful friends and heaven all around.

Oh, I’ve seen the fire and I’ve seen the rain…
I now see sunny days that feel they will never end.
I’ve felt lonely times… but I always had a friend
And I always knew that I’d see the fields again.

Now Brighton, oh I might see you one more time again.
There’s just a few things to do this time around, now.
Thought I’d see you, thought I might walk by the sea in the rain.
There are struggles there I need to set free, I just don’t know how.

You embrace me, sweet spirit of Hay,
You just helped me make a stand.
You’ve helped me see it through another day.
My heart runs free as you hold my hand
And I won’t have it any other way.

Hay, you are now where my heart lives and reigns once again.

Simple Faith

Many think of ‘faith’ as the underlying belief in an all-powerful entity, intelligent design or some form of religion.

But what if faith is just  the simple trust in the blessings of life, even (or especially) when it feels like there are none?

Or what of the faith that, in their hearts, our fellow man is doing their best, even if that best doesn’t seem like it; and they unwittingly hurt us in their own painful struggle for survival?

Perhaps we need nothing more than the courage to trust in our own innate kindness and compassion so that we can then see this reflected back in our own lives and existence?

What and how then would the world be if we all realised this?

Maybe then we may reach a place of heavenly peace on earth.

It’s not about religion. It’s about being who we really are, despite everything and despite the pain that the sometimes cursed blessing of our existence bestows upon us.

Then, finally,. we may see ourselves as the angels we all are inside, walking this earth in human form.

TEARS IN HEAVEN

My heart goes out to the families and friends of those killed in Paris a few days ago.

Headlines around the world (and my Facebook feed) are filled with the horror of the atrocity. Quite right too: it was a barbaric and ruthless slaying of gentle fellow men who dared to bring a little humour to dark parts of our world.

Whilst their families grieve, it feels that everyone is crying out also in their anguish.

These are cries of anger, outrage. People feel sick at the thought of terror striking deep in the beautiful city of Paris. This is a perfectly human response.

The media and nearly all the people I know are writing and talking of the horrors of Islam; some say that such atrocities done in the name of such a religion (or any religion at all) are a thing to be reviled.

I can see why.

Yet, in the daily news grind we all too easily forget yesterday’s headlines over our morning coffee. Or stop to think what might have seeded the murdering intent of the horrors in Paris this week.

In our outrage today, how many of us care to remember the hundreds of thousands killed in Iraq, at the hands of our countrymen and on the orders of the politicians we allow to lead us?

Our troops may be home, but our weapons are still being used. The killing goes on. Civilians in Iraq are being killed at the rate of four Paris massacres a day – over 350 in the first week of January this year alone.

One in five Iraqis has lost at least one close family member since the Coalition invasion into their country to ‘liberate’ them.

Where are our tears for the mothers and fathers who have lost their children? For the children who have lost their parents?

That’s 3 million children whose lives have been shattered and thousands of others who have died in bombing, shelling or caught in the crossfire of our own weapons of mass destruction used in the name of freedom.

We were not defending ourselves. We started it. And on paper-thin lies in the name of our society’s religion of shopping centres, money and the oil we use to power our everyday lives.

We’ve lost thousands of our own in this inferno of violence. But remember: for every soldier killed on our side, one thousand civilians have died in Iraq. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons…

And we cry out now that Islam is a violent religion? That these people are a threat against us? That we are freeing them from an evil ideology?

Can we really say our way of doing things is better, having wrecked such slaughter in a country that posed no threat to us at all?

For a death toll of so many on the orders of politicians who illegally kidnap, torture and then lie about it? On the orders of our leaders who try to cover up child abuse amongst their own?

We spend billions killing those so far away to make their lives better (we are told) while not having care enough for the poverty and injustice we see in our own streets.

Is this the better way of doing things that we are bringing with our better ideology, our democracy, as we call it? I often struggle to see that we are, let alone that it is worth killing so many to enforce it on others.

I cried last night for the families of those killed in Paris. I then cried for those killed in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. The tears seemed unending as is their ongoing slaughter. And children are still being killed by US air strikes in a fight against terror that we created in the first place.

Who is the real terrorist here?

I cast my mind to how I would feel if I had lost my mother, or brother or even my daughter in an airstrike on my home. My thoughts were certainly not of peace, not that her death as collateral damage would be the unfortunate cost of my freedom.

In such a dreadful situation, I think all of us would unleash our darkest and deepest anger at such a thing. Some might well swear to avenge the death of their child. Or others would. If you doubt me, perhaps remind yourself about how this country reacts to news stories of paedophiles. It’s not pleasant.

We don’t like to admit it, but we might feel violent rage to those who had done such a thing. We might strike back in any way we could, under any banner, under any excuse to avenge the killing of our children so callously. We might well want to create as much havoc and chaos as possible. We might see all on the other side as valid targets for our vengeance.

Whilst I have a deep faith that love, not white phosphorous, conquers all, it would be sorely tested if my loved ones were killed in such a way.

What if we dare to look away from the tragedy of what has happened in Paris, even briefly, through the eyes of those upon whom we have rained down such terror ourselves?

Might we get a sense of what drives the murderers to such ruthless atrocity?

More open eyes might start to see that it is not at its core about religion, it is not about ideology, it is probably not about cartoons.

It is about anger and about revenge. By any means possible.

To repay the hatred they feel for what we have done and continue to do in the name of a deathly, hollow freedom our violence has bestowed.

In many ways it’s a miracle we can live so peacefully and have not suffered more such attacks in our cities. The fact that so very many have not taken to avenge the deaths of their children, their wives, and their brothers is quite extraordinary.

Maybe we should look at things differently?  Maybe we should look at what hate we created in the almost-religious zeal to secure the oil we all use so freely?  And secured at such human cost to us all.

Sometimes love stands too quietly while evil seemingly triumphs. But love has a twin, in compassion. The ability we have for our hearts to reach out to others we do not know and have never met.

This is the divine in us. Let us leave aside our ideology, our religion (and those of others). Let us quieten our shouts of what is right and wrong for just one moment; and let our hearts go out to all have lost loved ones at the hands of terror in any form, anywhere.

Perhaps, then, the killing might stop.

Until that time, let us freely mourn our fellow man, woman or child. Let us shed tears for them: for those in Paris; for those in Iraq; for those killed around the world, every single day.

Each one is a tragedy. Each is one too many.