The Problem With Believing In Oneself

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I was out cycling with a good friend last night. It acts as a catch-up as well as a talking therapy session. The exercise is our form of meditation.

The ride has several stages. The first is the preliminary greetings. This is followed by a few funny anecdotes from our daily lives. Then it becomes a laughter session. Both of us like humour and both of us can be quite humorous. Both of us are in recovery from the slings and arrows of that outrageous fortune that others call normal life, so the stuff that we find funniest is the stuff about ourselves and what fuck-ups we have become.

We can’t talk to many other people about our thoughts and lives because they wouldn’t get it. The rest of the world seems to be doing a reasonable job of getting on with it. We get on with it, but IT then becomes a pet lion that decides to show its love of you by chewing your legs off. Life is devouring us, little by little, but we can still laugh.

Our rides normally end in a warm feeling of having shared some moments with a fellow-traveller. Our roads have been similar for a number of years and each time we come to the end of one of them, we do a tentative fist-pump.

Last night’s ride was slightly different. For a start, we both arrived racked with guilt over another episode of, ‘Wow, Haven’t You Fucked Up Your Lives!’ I had been thinking of what I had become after having hoped for so much. My friend was chewing himself up over his inability to be there for his children when he thought they needed him. In truth, although divorced, he does lots for his kids. We shared our thoughts, shrugged in mock bravery, cycled, laughed, and swore at the fact that the world was really going to shit in a hand-cart whilst we were cycling.

One lovely lady told me recently that I needed self-belief. She was suggesting that I was a good writer whilst I suggested that she was being too nice. The truth is that I have little self-belief and believe only that too much self-belief is one of the root causes of my present situation. Always an aspiring writer and never an aspired one.

So here goes with a self-esteem quiz:  

1. On the whole I am satisfied with myself.

2. At times I think that I am no good at all.

3. I feel that I have a number of good qualities.

4. I am able to do things as well as most other people.

5. I feel I do not have much to be proud of.

6. I certainly feel useless at times.

7. I feel that I am a person of worth, at least the equal of others.

8. I wish I could have more respect for myself.

9. All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure.

10. I take a positive attitude toward myself.

Devised by the sociologist Morris Rosenberg, this questionnaire is one of the most widely used self-esteem assessment scales in the United States. If your answers demonstrate solid self-regard, the wisdom of the social sciences predicts that you are well adjusted, clean and sober, basically lucid, without criminal record and with some kind of college cum laude under your high-end belt. If your answers, on the other hand, reveal some inner shame, then it is obvious: you were, or are, a teenage mother; you are prone to social deviance; and if you don’t drink, it is because the illicit drugs are bountiful and robust.

How did you do?

The Piper 33

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Laura Andrews woke with the night still clinging to her.

Her body ached with a phantom exertion. She had been back in the familiar landscape of the previous nights, but this time there was the voice, the voice of the Good Doctor, the one who had spoken to her so kindly.

Laura. Laura. Laura. 

Her name was being washed across a black sea.

Laura, Laura Andrews, have you forgotten your marriage vows? Have you forgotten the promises that you made? In sickness and in health you said.

Forever and ever, forsaking all others

So, poor old Simon is dead. He’s as dead as a doornail and you, you’ve wasted no time in finding something else to fill your bed with?

“I haven’t slept with anyone. I have always been faithful to Simon. I have always been his wife and I have stuck by my wedding vows.”

Oh dear, aren’t we a little sensitive about that?

Laura knew what was coming next.

It was an odd place to have an accident, don’t you think? Is it not a street known for its prostitutes? They have a quaint name for it. The Red Light District; sounds so comforting. Christmas Eve, the celebration of the birth of light out of darkness, a time for the family to unite and your husband, your dear loyal husband is found dead in his car in a street used by prostitutes.

“It wasn’t like that, you bastard. It wasn’t like that. Simon was faithful. He was the most wonderful father in the world!”

Was he a good husband Laura? Were you a good wife?

Laughter arose from beyond the horizon and its power raised a wave that she could see grow and grow. Standing on the black-ash beach, Laura could see its approach and could hear thousands of angry voices. She tried to run, but the black ash held her fast. She could not even pull herself from this depth of sleep and feared that, if she could not escape, everything would be swept away. She would be consumed by its greed.

She was dragged along the floor of existence. She saw Simon chasing a girl along a dark street. She saw the funeral, the empty aisles where their friends should have been. She saw herself giving birth to Peter and then she saw Christopher lying in a pool of blood with rats racing over him.

She screamed and they laughed at her. She screamed from the depth of her being and still they tried to pull her on.

I will give you more than I grant many others. I will give you the face of your executioner.

And there was Michael rising up before her. He was looking as though he was going to strike her and her screaming took her over the edge of sleep into a darkened alleyway where a figure stood with something clasped in its hand. It raised it like an assassin would raise a knife and came toward her.

Laura turned and ran.

The darkness surrounded her every step and pulled at her attempts to flee. There were things moving on either side of her, dark slithery masses that watched through dead eyes. She knew that they were waiting for her to trip, to fall so that they could be upon her. They would rip at her flesh until nothing was left but the memory of the attack.

Ahead of her was a bluish light and there was someone standing within is sphere. The silhouette called out to her yet she was too far away to hear what it was saying. The footsteps behind Laura were quickening and becoming heavier. She knew that if she were to turn to look upon her pursuer, she would be swallowed up. What was there was not a man; it was something else, it was pain, pain that had lasted forever.

She looked down and as she did she saw that she was no longer running on her feet for they had worn away; she was running on legs made of wood that were splintering with each stride.

Run Mrs Andrews, run towards me.

It was the voice of her dreams. Laura turned and saw it, a manic grin behind the wheel of a black car, its headlights cutting the distance between her and safety. Its hunger was forcing her backwards, forcing her to lose her balance on legs that were turning to matchsticks.

And then she fell.

 

“Mum, Mum, Mum!”

It was Michael’s voice rising up out of the void.

Laura felt the stab of fear as she remembered the warning.

“Mum, Mum wake up, you’re dreaming. It’s only a dream. You’re okay. It’s me Michael.”

 

Her eyes flashed open and he saw terror written upon them.

“Get away from me,” she hissed. “Get away from all of us, you murderer.”

 

 

Things Don’t Stay The Same


Early Buddhism dealt with the problem of impermanence in a very rationale manner. This concept is known as anicca in Buddhism, according to which, impermanence is an undeniable and inescapable fact of human existence from which nothing that belongs to this earth is ever free. 

Buddhism declares that there are five processes on which no human being has control and which none can ever change. These five processes are namely, the process of growing old, of not falling sick, of dying, of decay of things that are perishable and of the passing away of that which is liable to pass. Buddhism however suggests that escape from these is possible and it’s through Nirvana.

Hinduism also believes in the impermanent nature of life. But it deals with this problem differently. According to Hinduism, impermanence can be overcome by locating and uniting with the center of permanence that exists within oneself. This center is the Soul or the self that is immortal, permanent and ever stable. 

According to Hinduism, Atman is the fundamental truth that exists in every being, while at the microcosmic level it is Brahman who is the fundamental and supreme truth of all existence. He who realizes Atman verily becomes Brahman and attains immortality.

The Buddha differed radically with this most fundamental concept of Hinduism and in line with his preaching the early Buddhists did not believe in the existence of a permanent and fixed reality which could be referred to as either God or soul. According to them what was apparent and verifiable about our existence was the continuous change it undergoes.

Thus early Buddhism declares that in this world there is nothing that is fixed and permanent. Every thing is subject to change and alteration. “Decay is inherent in all component things,” declared the Buddha and his followers accepted that existence was a flux, and a continuous becoming.

According to the teachings of the Buddha, life is comparable to a river. It is a progressive moment, a successive series of different moments, joining  together to give the impression of one continuous flow. It moves from cause to cause, effect to effect, one point to another, one state of existence to another, giving an outward impression that it is one continuous and unified movement, where as in reality it is not. The river of yesterday is not the same as the river of today. The river of this moment is not going to be the same as the river of the next moment. So does life. It changes continuously, becomes something or the other from moment to moment.

Take for example the life of an individual. It is a fallacy to believe that a person would remain the same person during his entire life time. He changes every moment. He actually lives and dies but for a moment, or lives and dies moment by moment, as each moment leads to the next. A person is what he is in the context of the time in which he exists. It is an illusion to believe that the person you have seen just now is the same as the person you are just now seeing or the person whom you are seeing now will be the same as the person you will see after a few moments. 

Even from a scientific point of view this is true. We know cell divisions take place in each living being continuously. Old cells in our bodies die and yield place continuously to the new ones that are forming. Like the waves in a sea, every moment, many thoughts arise and die in each individual . Psychologically and physically he is never the same all the time. Technically speaking, no individual is ever composed of the same amount of energy. Mental stuff and cellular material all the time. He is subject to change and the change is a continuous movement.

Impermanence and change are thus the undeniable truths of our existence. What is real is the existing moment, the present that is a product of the past, or a result of the previous causes and actions. Because of ignorance, an ordinary mind conceives them all to be part of one continuous reality. But in truth they are not.

The various stages in the life of a man, the childhood, the adulthood, the old age are not the same at any given time. The child is not the same when he grows up and becomes a young man, nor when the latter turns into an old man. The seed is not the tree, though it produces the tree, and the fruit is also not the tree, though it is produced by the tree.SThe concept of impermanence and continuous becoming is central to early Buddhist teachings. It is by becoming aware of it, by observing it and by understanding it, one can find a suitable remedy for the sorrow of human life and achieve liberation from the process of anicca or impermanence.

from – http://www.hinduwebsite.com

Go Forth and Multiply

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King James Bible
And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein.

We didn’t sleep well last night. I was awake and struggling to return to the earlier shallows of dreams. Sophie was awake. She knew that I was awake. I knew that she was awake, but we did not communicate. We were deep in thought.

A few hours earlier, she had asked me to drop this ‘mental illness thing’. I knew she meant business. This had followed on the back of some news I had imparted to her about the events of my day. ‘Events’ make me seem busy, occupied, in demand. However, it’s just a word.

My Events:

Agencies? Begged me to do this new supply gig, begged. I said no. They phoned again and begged some more. I eventually said yes. I was originally booked into a Catholic school who had requested me. So that was given to somebody else. I told the other agency that I would be elsewhere next week so they cancelled my two remaining days. I went along to a second interview at a college on Tuesday. Spent half an hour there and lost a full day’s pay. They haven’t bothered getting back to me. The new school agency phoned me at 4pm, on Friday afternoon, to say that it had been cancelled for next week. I asked them if the other school was still on and they said they had given it to somebody else, but not to worry…because? Fuck, fucking nose 👃

From a text to a friend.

It doesn’t take much imagination or empathy to understand my then state of mind. After telling my wife, she, too, fell into despair.

“We are going to lose the house!”

I thought about telling her that it was too big to lose, but thought otherwise.

“How much of your savings have you left?”

I had been watching my savings since June. I had been watching them diminish. I had been telling myself that there would be a cut-off point, a moment when decisions would have to be made. Up until now, I hadn’t done anything.

Voices were raised for the first time in almost a year. She told me that she was taking the girls to the cinema for the night. She needed to get out of the house. I accused her of abandoning me and she agreed. To add fuel to the fire, she told me that we would have to sell the house and that it, “would break her heart.” She was right and I was wrong; I know that now.

I am fifty-five years old. I have no recognisable source of income. I still have children to raise and a mortgage to pay. I need to decide what to do about it.

My best plan was to procrastinate. Yet I was there, at that moment when something had to be done. My dreams had been just that, empty thoughts drifting over a harsh landscape, hoping to find somewhere to lay down roots. I am writing now, still tired from the night’s non-sleep. My wife is hanging out washing and not communicating. Well, she is, but not in spoken terms.

Our usual routine for Saturday morning is to wake up, make two mugs of tea, sit in bed, talk a little and peruse the day’s news headlines. We used to read newspapers that were made of paper. In the distant past, before ‘the will of the people’ determined that we would be leaving Europe, we would share French or Spanish property porn. The act of looking for dream houses in foreign countries lifted us. Now that is gone and the only thing my wife could say to me was, “You need a plan.”

MICHAEL CAINE

The moment in The Italian Job when a plan is needed.

We never found out what happened to that bus and its hapless passengers. My hope was that somehow they would be able to pull the bullion back, rebalance the vehicle, and then escape through the from door with their hard-fought, but ill-gotten gains, intact. The law of gravity and probability would have told me otherwise.

The plan I have is to get out of teaching and into something that wants me and that I want. Writing is there, but that is part of the dream. It’s not yet real. Nobody pays to read it. I can learn to work with my hands which will involve an apprenticeship of sorts in North Wales. I need those skills and I need to be out of the false structures and regimes that have govern my recent life. I have a pension of sorts (and a pauper’s plot) so, I could take that now. I…

Brokencomets

There’s that bloody rock again.

 

I could go forth and multiply my chances of doing something worthwhile; and keep my marriage. 

It was Hamlet who struggled with indecision, forever wondering if he should act or not act. He even had a dead Dad who spoke to him every now and again. Perhaps what is happening to me is that I am slowly turning into a Shakespearean tragic character. That could be a question, an answer, or another prevarication. Who knows? It is said that those people who do not mobilise themselves in times of war tend to be the ones most likely to lose their lives. When outrageous fortune is flung against you, it is a wise decision to get out of its trajectory.

My hands have for many years been those of a wanna-be writer and poet, but they will now learn to work for their living. They will saw wood, mix concrete, and build fences. They will cut and callous and grow hard against the coming winter. They will grasp onto the very fibres of a life that needs to be pulled back into being. I have spent too long knocking at the door of education and will now move on.

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When we first moved into our then dilapidated home, we were met with radiators that were as useful as this. Like the rest of the house, they were old and obsolete, in need of replacement. We found out that it wasn’t the fault of the radiators but the fact the central-heating system predated the Ark and hadn’t worked since the great flood.

My friend told me recently that we are all destined to become radiators.

When we are young and dynamic, people notice us. When we get older (he thinks fifty is the critical age) we are not even noticed in a room.

We are ‘radiators’.  

But can they multiply?

The Piper 29

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His muscles had already begun to tense for action even before he heard a thing. When he heard the car pull up, Michael ran to the door and opened it.

His mother had left him concerned and now she was home. He was puzzled, then, to see her turning towards the opposite side of the road, eyes following those of her youngest son and leading to the stranger who was standing in shadow. Danger was the first word that ran across his mind.

Michael moved out into the open and beckoned his mother to come inside quickly.

She turned with a smile, that was not quite hers, and indicated with a shrug of her shoulders that all was well.

He was reminded of dreams he had had, dreams in which a dark stranger made his way to their door, knocked and was invited in. The stranger, who appeared familiar at first, changed completely once he had gained access. No longer a man at all, the thing clad in darkness, would smile its triumph before getting ready to set about its work. That was the point at which Michael would wake, sweating, stifling a scream of warning, legs preparing to run, to run at the invader.

“Quickly before he gets us,” he spilled out still in the flood of panic.

His mother looked back at him questioningly. She was confused by his actions and showed it in the slightly embarrassed smile that flickered along her face. There was something else that Michael saw that night, something almost concealed, something that was close to contempt.

“Don’t be so stupid Michael, it’s only Nick.”

Michael looked towards her, this time it was his turn to wear a questioning expression.

“Nick, Michael. The man who made Brian live again,” added Pete by way of explanation.

And by then the stranger, who was known as Nick, had started to cover the ground between them and, as Michael studied his features, a spark of recognition lit in the twilight of his memory.

“We need to talk,” said the stranger.

Then it came to him; it was the voice on the phone, the one that sounded like Dad’s. Michael listened harder to the underlying tones.  He looked once more at the figure, half expecting his father to be standing there, fully wishing that it had all been a lie, a joke that time had played upon them, but it was still just Nick, the stranger who had made Brian live.

“Can we go inside? It’s not safe out here. He has his spies everywhere.”

Once inside, they sat around the kitchen table.

Michael tried to gauge the intentions of this man who had just, quite literally, come out of the dark. The features that had brought back memories were now different, the light of the kitchen was sharper.

Nick was anything between thirty-five and forty years old. There was a flurry of grey starting to appear at his temples, but beyond that there were no tell-tale lines or wrinkles. Michael found himself staring rudely at the visitor whilst his mother made tea. Above his left eye socket was the faintest of marks, something that had long since healed. A childhood accident, he thought. Nick caught his gaze but didn’t display any signs of annoyance, he merely smiled back and nodded, making Michael want to apologise; which he didn’t. There was something else written within the gloom of Nick’s eyes.

Laura brought cups of steaming tea to the table and then sat down. She ought to have been full of questions, asking what on earth could have prompted him to find them and how, indeed, had he found his way to where they lived? She was not.

Michael watched, in growing confusion, as his mother went about the business of entertaining an uninvited visitor without venturing close to an enquiry. Chris, on the other hand, showed deep interest in the stranger. Always reserved, Chris betrayed this with sharp head movements, ones that were distinctly birdlike. He was following the action, letting his eyes assess each of the players, sizing up what was going on. Pete sat comfortably to the side of Nick, almost serene.

Once Laura was seated alongside the rest, Nick began.

“You are in grave danger; all of you. There is a force out there that means you harm.”

He looked into the faces of those who sat around him and felt sorrow for what they must now endure.

“You have come to its notice, as I did, and once it has you in his sights, it is almost impossible to escape. The most you can hope for is to hide. There are many hiding, even those that are still conscious, and that is what it wants. It wants the good to be so afraid that they do nothing.”

The gathering was stunned into silence by this keen imitation of a soothsayer. The dark message was delivered in tones that appeared to be at odds with the warning. The voice held a youthful quality that belied the speaker’s age. However, when he spoke again, it was the Nick of today whose vocal chords had undergone the prerequisite sandpapering of time.

Laura smiled, the smile that had hardly flitted from her face since her return. Michael wondered if she might not be indulging the quiet ravings of this madman, a kindly madman by all accounts, but nonetheless, a MADMAN.

At the mention of the threat, Chris had flinched. Michael had seen it though nobody else seemed to have done so. A sharpness had cut across his eyes suggesting the memory of pain. It had only been a momentary flicker of a change, but Michael had definitely seen it. A second later, Chris did a reconnoitre of the other faces gathered at the table to see if he had been spotted. Michael was looking down into his cup of tea by then and Chris felt relieved that he had gotten away with whatever he had been thinking about.

“What is it?” Michael asked.

Nick turned to him then and looked deeply into to his eyes.

“Some thing old. In the past it has been known by many names. You have heard of Pan, the Pied Piper?”

“Stories for children,” Michael returned.

“Stories for children, yes. It is still coming for you.”

This was certainly a lunatic sitting before them but the others were listening.

 

The Piper 27

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At first there had been disbelief, then tears followed by the inevitable sense of betrayal.

Had it not been enough that she had been subjected to ridicule, had her life turned upside down and been dispossessed of her belief in love? No, obviously some god, a god of snide remarks and practical jokes thought it fit to visit one more assault upon her attempts to live a normal life.

Michael hated her, that was obvious from his diary. She had a vague memory of him starting it just after his father’s death. Had equally dim memories of him slinking off to his room to compose his fetid little thoughts and now she remembered each of the very sly looks he thought she had not seen him give her.

She had sat there in the coming light of the early morning reading his ramblings, digesting every morsel of malcontent, and wondered how she could ever have given birth to such a thing. And then, when she felt the dark curtains start to draw together, she had retreated to the garden once again, the garden that belonged to their first marital home and she had let the morning sun rise  sweep across the grass, bringing its solace and…

And then she had felt the thing kick within her.

It was the baby, the child that would be Michael, the one who harboured only hatred in his heart. And she realised that this was not the morning, that the sun was not rising in the east, but was setting in the west, and the shadows were chasing away the light, bringing cold and loneliness. And the thing inside her was kicking, screaming, ranting like a creature of the moon, harnessed and strapped, furious for its release.

She had closed the diary, snapped shut the pages as if she was cutting off all that had happened. She had then hidden it, somewhere very safe where nobody could see or ever find it. That was when she heard the sound from the steps and knew who it was. If she had something to strike him with, she would have clasped it and used it as a weapon. Instead she forced a smile upon her lips, an expression that would not show her deep disgust of him and his plans.

Most of this, she told to Anne, the woman whom she had initially distrusted. It had come out in a flood. One minute she was making tea for the others in the office, they had been chatting their normal weekday talk, then a cup had smashed. Recalling the incident, Laura had used the passive tense as if the cup had accidentally broken. In reality, Laura had thrown the thing against the wall of the office, had thrown another, and was attempting for a hat trick when Anne had restrained her.

Anne the older woman, who was elegant and slim, had held her, pinioned her arms together quietly and without the others noticing.

They had all been sitting there in stunned silence, the cups not having only broken themselves but having also snapped that thread of sanity that connected the morning’s proceedings.

Laura had been in tears, she had brought forth a cacophony of curses and had screeched with the frustration of a life that had been blighted by something more than bad luck. Laura, ‘the lunatic’ as she knew she would henceforth be known, was led into the adjoining office which had been, thankfully, empty.

And it was there that she unleashed the anguish that had formed into the black reservoir of resentment that lay at her centre.

Anne had listened, allowing the tide of Laura’s emotions to abate. She finally placed an arm around the younger woman and pulled her close. Laura fell into its comforting embrace and continued to weep, the slow, deep, heavy shudders dredged up from the very core of her being.

The smell of the older woman’s perfume, a clean distant aroma, took her back to a childhood, one that had not been without its pain and tragedy, and one that she had locked away in a place where nobody could visit. Now she was back there and the heaving of her soul seemed to cleanse the guilt.

“You need somebody to talk to,” Anne said. “Somebody who knows how to help you through this. If you don’t mind, I can find somebody. He’s a consultant here and he is a specialist in this type of thing. I could get him to speak with you, if you would like.”

In this condition, Laura would have agreed to consult with Lucifer if he could get rid of the blackness. She had been stripped of anything that resembled dignity.

The older woman gave her one last hug, a final crumb of comfort, before rising and moving to the door.

“I think he is still in his office. I’ll be just a few minutes.”

Then she was gone.

Laura sat in the sterile surroundings, the various desks before her all had their own personal monitors which were standing unemployed, their screens blank in the fading daylight. She felt as if her own plug had been pulled and lay in this sensation which provided her with some solace. She would not go to the garden, she would be fine here.

“Mrs Andrews?” The rich voice came from around the doorway. “Are you still here Mrs Andrews?”

Laura shifted quickly bringing herself back. She made a movement of her hand towards her hair, straightening it where she had cradled against the other woman. She sat upright and wiped away the last traces of her recently fallen tears. The voice, deeply rich and resonant of professional concern, made her think of her old headmaster’s voice. It was not that it had any tonal characteristics in common with that other voice, but that there was some undisguised authority within it; when it spoke, she knew that people listened.

“Ah, Mrs Andrews. Is it good for us to speak?”

Yes it was good. She needed to speak. She needed somebody to open up her dark places and let the light in. So, she sat and talked. She let the good doctor use his professional skills, his lock-picking, his smooth-talking talents upon her until she did feel better.

“So, are you feeling better, Mrs Andrews?”

Yes, she was feeling better. She was feeling much, much better yet she could not remember a thing they had spoken about.

“And remember to take two tablets a day. It will make you think better. Clear the confusion so to speak.”

How she got home, how she had remembered to pick Pete up, how she had driven Brian was a mystery. However, if life could be this simple, she would accept it any day of the week. There was somebody waiting for them when they returned.

Pete saw the man first and found it difficult not to show his happiness.