Staying with the troubling
Have you had any of those life periods when things seem to be unfolding like a script of a film, where all the players fall into their roles and something unique and surprising is created? These times may be located somewhere on the emotional spectrum between ecstatic and devastating (and can easily be both), however, there’s an inevitability about them that is distinctive — it’s like being sucked into a black hole and you can use up a lot of energy fighting them. When you’re in one of those of life periods, you can’t comprehend with complete certainty how it will go, but you can feel that you are in the slipstream of something bigger than your ego or will…that you are naturally moving towards something, even though you’re in the dark…or in the belly of a whale. Yet, you don’t know where you will emerge or who you will be after the metaphorical whale has stewed you in their juices and has spat you out onto different shores.
I’ve had a few of those periods in my life. In fact, I’d say that cultivating my (and other people’s) ability to lean into this kind of “not-knowing” is what I do in many guises :Learning to locate enough courage and faith within myself to grow wildly beyond the culturally endorsed obsession with safety; to enable a surrender to the mysterious currents of the hidden stream of soul that runs beneath our everyday life is what I’m made for…and I tend to support that kind of healthy trouble for others too.
So, to tell you about the next part of this wandering I’m on, I needed to set the scene above and also to give you some backstory.
The backstory: In May 2017, I took four of my children to Scotland to meet places that have had great impact on me, and also to give them two weeks tech-free wild time. At one of these places we witnessed, at close range, two male sea eagles fight until one died in the churning grey waters of the loch. In a nutshell, it was a shattering and liminal experience — the death struggle, the nightmare the following night and events around the finding of the eagle’s body echoed with a resonance that both scared and puzzled me. I returned north, 3 months later for a training, burning with curiosity about what I had seen, felt and sensed around the fight of those eagles; wondering whether this time away from my everyday might offer some space for insight.
At Loch Awe where the training was happening, I became transfixed by a cloud surmounted peak called Ben Creachan, couldn’t stop looking to see if I might glimpse the peak in the changeable weather as I walked the loch edge or swam out into its waters. On reading about the Gaelic names of the Loch, I discovered that, in myth, it was the seat of the Cailleach and also that the loch, which she had created, had recently taken the life of a local man who’s body had not been found.
The overlay of the two drownings shook me awake. Also the fact that I’d come across the Cailleach before at a time of major change in my life made me sit up and pay attention : After leaving the Christian cult I was raised in and a period of mild nihilism , I’d briefly wandered into a type of paganism called “Reclaiming Witchcraft” and had been introduced to the story of Brigid and the Cailleach .Though the focus had been on Brigid, it was the crone that I was drawn to — as a little girl I’d never wanted to be a princess, but wanted to be an old woman like my granny. I’d forgotten about Cailleach over the 20 years of more practical concerns — setting up a community and farm, study and work and raising a bunch of children etc. It felt strangely inevitable to be meeting Cailleach again as, you see, something in me was already coming loose. I felt a huge desire to take a step back from my life and had already initiated negotiations with my NHS employers about taking a sabbatical from my counselling job and had ended doing the traumatising rape crisis work too. I felt sparse, husk like, burnt out and the thought of things continuing as they were was getting increasingly claustrophobic.
So, puzzled and curious about what was unfolding I stumbled on another another coincidence whilst reading about the Cailleach — I discovered that the roaring waters I’d heard and wondered about several times at a park up I frequented was the Corrywreckan whirlpool, and as myth would have it, the cauldron of the Cailleach.
I knew straightaway that I needed to go there to offer my attention to this place and listen in — and so I made my way across Islay to the Isle of Jura. I say this casually as if this was an easy thing to do, so, just in case you are projecting some kind of golden shadow of super-humanity onto me — I have lethargy and fear and stories I tell myself about my inability to do things, just like every human I’ve met and those parts of me can completely close me down. I also have stiff financial and time limitations too. It truly felt like an impossible mission until I started to move towards it…and then things fell into place — two other women came with me who helped with ferry and diesel money and companionship that helps with maintaining courage.
So, after a 4 hour walk through low cloud and moors wrecked by the 6000 red deer the estates keep on the imprisoned island, I made it to the narrow sound where the waters were troubling… I lay for hours, shivering with cold in a bivvy bag and sobbing — a well of desperate longing was overflowing, as if a big stone I had laid over its opening had shifted and these waters were unstoppable. In a moment of sudden clarity as dusk neared, I heard myself wail to the darkening sky, the scour of wind , the lowering mist and that roaring churning sea to“ Take me down!”. I didn’t know what I meant but it felt like the truest thing I’d said for a while. Wind’s voice seemed to drop then and I felt more peaceful than I had in some time…I started the 4 hour walk back to my van, teeth now chattering but feeling spacious and free.
On returning to Cymru I started to get tired, slow…after a few weeks I couldn’t walk up the stairs to my room in the GP’s surgery to see my clients without stopping halfway up , and had to nap at lunchtime to get through the day. My brain felt clouded, fuggy. Eventually after blood tests, I found out I had been bitten by a tick and contracted Lyme disease. The red deer of Jura, (mythical animals of the Cailleach !) had been the middle world mechanism of the mystery that had “taken me down”. I went on the sick at Samhain and that big step back I had known I needed commenced in a way I really didn’t like.
I was terrified and furious as the symptoms worsened with labyrinthitis making me a liability as I couldn’t walk without falling and completely dependant as I couldn’t drive anywhere. Through the crap and with the help of friends, I sometimes glimpsed a shining thread that led me to the memory of what I had asked for at the whirlpool in the mist of that early September day…This really helped with the finding of grace in this stormy period.
Over the next couple of years, I slowly got better, though was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes which may be related to Lyme as I’m not a prime candidate for it genetically or in lifestyle. I took my 9 month sabbatical and also found an MA in Creative Writing that loaned me the same income as my NHS job. I took a leap of faith and left that job to write poetry and develop my nature-based mentoring practice. My emotional life went through major upheavals with old friendships which orbited out-grown ways of being in the world moved out of focus whilst others that had been quietly waiting began to thrive and support who I am now. My relationship of 15 years went through the mill and came out the other side a darn sight more nourishing.
So, heading up to Scotland for my 50th was intended as a pilgrimage to the Corrywreckan to offer my gratitude for the spin in the Cailleach’s whirlpool that was exactly what I needed…and also I see now, perhaps a goodbye to the Cailleach too… Foolishly, I’d imagined I got to decide the ending. What was I thinking?
To be continued