Dear Cinema of the Mind

Dearest Clare Who Doubts,

I know, with all my heart, how very hard this is right now; how tempted you are to give up, and how loud the voices of doubt. I know how very real the imagined corpse of your future seems – pale and bloated with inadequacy in the gully below – and the agony of fears multiplying through the deep fissures of every handhold.

Please don’t despair darling – hold on, hold on! These thoughts aren’t the truth of you, just passing scavengers of your consciousness whose appetites are inflamed by your fright. It’s the carrion of your confidence that draws them in, wings and claws all blocking out the light.   

Try not to swipe at them, however sharp their beaks. Panic only increases the flow of water into this cramped little breathing space of life. I do so understand the terror, but you cannot be saved from drowning if you continue to fight.

So take a deep breath my dear; stop thrashing, and gently press pause! Let the tides of your attention retreat from the rocky shorelines of your mind, exhaling deep into the ocean of your inner sight.

Just for now, I want you to see those despairing thoughts as a film – harmless ribbons of negatives magnified onto the giant underground cinema of your mind. You’re sitting in a luxurious leather loveseat, a tub of popcorn to one side. Now see the projectionist, a kindly, diligent soul who only wants what’s best for you, crinkle-eyed with care. Ask him why he’s only screened disaster movies your whole life and he’ll tell you about your early days together, how fear was the only way to keep you safe. He’s been dedicated to your survival ever since, rushing the worst horrors up on screen before you risk endangering yourself with change.

But do you see the endless aisles of films available to choose from? Infinite Disney-channels of bright hope, all dusty with neglect? He’s left them untouched ever since they got you into so much trouble growing up. But it’s time to thank him for his concern and let him know you’ll choose the films from now on. Or hit pause anytime he forgets.

The new stuff might be a little temperamental at first – a few glitches here and there – but they’ll run perfectly smooth again once they’ve been played enough.

So settle back into your armchair, slide an arm over the shoulders of your fearful self.

‘How to Tame Your Dragon’ is playing at last!

With all my love and confidence,

Clare Who Knows

Photo by Donald Tong from Pexels

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Thresholds – Fear of Beginnings

I’ve spent the majority of my life writing in various air-raid shelters of protection – furtively, secretly, shyly – while harbouring a deep longing to emerge into the light. I’ve never known the courage to claim each illegitimate child of creativity or the confidence to celebrate our relationship without fear. But it is the act of sharing that releases us from our own prisons, and I have dithered in mine long enough.

And so I’ve begun to massage away this creative arthritis, to slowly unclench the fearful fist of self-expression and loosen each contracted finger with gentle, consistent action.

As part of this, I resolved to start a blog as a training ground for my wobbly inner foal: somewhere to stretch its hermetic limbs, practice jumping small hurdles and begin exploring the paddocks of possibility outside.

But there is something pathologically terrifying about this public unclothing of the inner self. Like dreams where we find ourselves unspeakably naked in a job interview, it’s a horror of visceral wrongness; of baring the wobbly cellulite of the soul, the saddlebags of angst, the scary and hairy bits that are too awkward to shave. And of believing them to be unacceptable. This is the hot lava of shame that flows beneath the pavements of our lives, a blistering annihilation we might inadvertently plunge into without endless vigilance over where we step. The simple act of letting my words roam free feels like a free fall into this scalding abyss.

No wonder my fearful foal kicked in resistance and frothed endlessly at the mouth! Days passed, and the fences of procrastination grew taller. The weather of discomfort ebbed and flowed but the blog stayed firmly in the shell of its seed coat, reluctant to risk the perils of germination and grow up towards the light.

It was so easy to condemn myself for this, to declare myself a failure. And yet, much can be happening in an apparently dormant seed.  I recently read Rhik Sammader’s book ‘I Never Said I Loved You’, a powerful flash-bulb of reprieve in the shadows of self-despair. He describes meeting up with an old teacher at a time when he’s struggling to feel a sense of agency in his life, asking her,

 “How is movement even possible? There’s so much inertia”.

“The thing about inertia”, she replied, “is it’s what happens when the forces acting on an object are exactly equal. It doesn’t mean nothing’s happening”.  She drew more squiggles, indicating that taking away one side was as powerful as adding to another. ‘Is it acceleration you want, or to change direction?’”

Reading this, I felt a shifting of my tectonic plates. Procrastination isn’t a character flaw, or a manifestation of lack or laziness. It’s a temporary stalemate of strengths; the evenly matched power of two lightsabers and their bright polarities of will.

So much kinder to ask, ‘What is the equal and opposite force acting against my intention to do a thing?’ than to lash away at the soft animal flesh of ourselves, barely braved and quick to retreat.

Of course mine was Fear; huge, debilitating and bristling with state-of-the-art special effects.

And like its compatriot – Belief – it was just doing its best to look out for me. Fear was pulling me back from the precipice, tense and alert for danger, while Belief tugged impatiently forwards, excited and eager to explore.

How to loosen the muscle-cramp of this contraction? Not by pushing against it, which only cranks up its counter-strength and so tightens the spasm of resistance. We cannot punish the fear out of ourselves anymore than we can beat away pain – it’s a spiritual oxymoron.

Sometimes gentleness is the only way to soften strength; a surrendering of the desire to control, and an invitation for another type of energy to fill the space. My inner foal is convinced it can’t step into the arena unless it’s perfectly schooled in dressage, head held aloft in an impenetrable fortress of pride and faultless precision. To appear as its trembly, knock-kneed and neophyte self seems like self-crucifixion at an everlasting altar of shame, and so it kicks and bucks at any attempt to coerce it.

To coax it out requires acceptance, understanding, patience and friendship. It needs a playmate, not an authoritarian; someone to rough-and-tumble over these prickly thistles of perfectionism until they’re flattened by fun.  Someone to chuckle affectionately when it face-plants, and cheer it back up to its feet; someone to whoop with pleasure as they circle back together, take another run up and try that first jump once more.

And so I open the gate. Take the first tentative step in.

And have a jolly good roll in the horseshit.

I never liked that bloody dressage nonsense anyway.

Photo by Fabien Maurin on Unsplash

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