“I exited bankruptcy in July 2016 and was questioned on RTE news about what would now change. ‘Nothing’ I said and it was true at the time. If anything I was in a harder place than when the banks repossessed my home and my business collapsed six years ago. I was heart-broken and good for nothing. I wrote an article about homelessness in the Irish Times and the next day a friend offered me a cottage to rent. One year later it feels like home. My tiny cottage sits snugly in the hills overlooking the pretty village of Shillelagh. I have work in PR and as a freelance journalist. I pay my bills. I even go out to dinner on occasion. I have never been happier. My children live nearby and they are amazing young women. I get up each morning with gratitude in my heart. I have put the survival mode behind me and I am shining now. Every human being deserves to shine and this time is mine.”
But I have learnt that learning without humour is often lost or put into a drawer that remains unopened.
Last year, I attended a one-day boot camp with my daughter. It was a powerful day of new thinking and reorientation but one moment stands out.
We were doing an exercise on self-talking. We were tasked with pretending to talk with someone that we loved. We were told to silently tell them how much we loved them and how amazing they were. Once completed, we were then told to reverse roles – ie, to have our loved one tell us the same happy thoughts back.
At that stage my daughter started to giggle. She had slightly misunderstood the instructions. The loved one that she had been silently chatting to was in fact her horse. My daughter shrugged her shoulders for she wasn’t sure her horse loved her as much as she loved him. I will never forget that exercise. Maybe it is a question of being careful whom you choose to love.
I recently attended an intensive three-day personal development forum. It was an advanced course and we were keen, advanced students of life. There was a structure to the day, with lots of sharing but also reflection and contemplation.
One particular exercise late on the second day was to remove suffering in any particular area. Our leader guaranteed us that by the end of the exercise our pain would be gone. We were tasked with writing in detail – great, raw detail – about the thing that was causing us suffering.
Given that we were writing at length into our personal journals, I took a deep breath and wrote from the heart. I chose a topic that mattered to me on a deeply personal level. I began to write in a raw and savage way about my suffering and how it has caused deep and painful reverberations in my life.
I wrote my guts out, every pathway that I should not have taken and every path that I avoided. I wrote a minute history that was not edifying in its reach.
Having bared my entire soul, I looked to rest but our teacher ordered us to keep writing. I had already filled my emotional bucket to the brim, there was nothing left to say.
Instead, I scribbled that much of my suffering was caused by overthinking, that I needed to find a new way of extinguishing a thought, or stopping the chatter in my head.
And so, depleted of all the ways I might have suffered over the years, I began a new chapter where I posited that a young man with a six-pack and an even longer appendage might distract me from the clamour of unwelcome thoughts through the night. Here I would become fit and loved at the same time – what an idea I craved.
Finally, finally, after an eternity, we were allowed to cease writing. The relief was palpable in the room – that is until we received our next instructions.
Find your partner, sit opposite each other, knees no more than two inches apart and read your suffering out loud. The listener must not comment or show any facial expressions.
My partner was a young man, tall and handsome with kind brown eyes. I looked into those brown eyes and said “Do not judge me” before I began reading.
Of course, it was not enough to read once, we had to read again and again. I found it hard to look into those brown eyes for my messy life and when I hit the point of talking about a young lover graphically described, I could no longer meet his eyes. In fact, as I repeated my writing out loud, my suffering did not diminish but grew on every recitation.
I found my whole body had grown hot and my upper lip began to sweat. I now had the combined problem of reading my shame and feeling my body dissolve into a hot puddle and not in a good way.
Finally, my misery came to an end. It was time to swap roles.
I laughed a little now. At least I was going to be able to balance my suffering with his. Except his beautifully crafted essay, as befits a thoughtful and present young man, was on procrastination.
I am sorry to say I laughed and giggled quite a bit as he read, earnest and clear. It was not his suffering but mine and the more he read the more I blushed, although the cause for blushing was not his, oh no, not his.
Afterwards we laughed and hugged. I am not sure if I scarred him for life or gave him an insight into the mind of a very imperfect woman.
And then as we hugged he said we might go on a date – tomorrow.