Friday, 7 September 2007

Is the Dutch mystic Etty Hillesum living through me?

I''m finding it difficult to start this blog. That is because of the kind of day today has been and what I am dealing with. I had a pre-assessment appointment at the hospital. This is the final interview before being given a date to have an operation on my foot. It is a severe operation and will mean eight weeks off work.

Because of my car accident I am without a car. It is touch and go whether or not it is going to be worthwhile to repair it. I am waiting on a definite answer from the insurance company. The pre-assessment interview at the hospital could last up to two hours. I decided that the best thing for me to do was to take the day off from work as leave. I would have to take a bus which would be longer than me driving to the hospital. I couldn't see any way that I wouldn't have been at least half a day out from work and work has been so understanding about the need to have the operation, that taking the day off as leave felt right. I really hate the fact that my other work colleagues are going to have to do more work to cover my work for the time I am off.

I had the pre-assessment and I have been given a date of Monday 17 September. When this date was given to me I felt panic. Immediately my mind was full of thoughts like 'this is too soon, how am I going to arrange everything', what about my work and Landmark seminar'. But also deep down was the thought 'this level of panic is not honest, you have known for a while that you are on a waiting list for this surgery. 'It's not authentic to be making it mean so much now'. I realised that I thrive on drama. I'm not so bad now but in the past I was a real drama queen. Everything was always made worse than it was. When you see that everything is only a made-up story then there's no point in being a drama queen - I would only look a fool now if I behaved like this.

I left the hospital and set off walking. I saw a sign that said 'Thames walk' and thought 'that's what I'll do I'll go for a walk down by the river'. I set off and the stillness of the water together with the reflection of the trees on the still water touched something deep within me. As I write this I am feeling the frustration which comes often to me when I do not have the words to describe the experience or the way it moves and shifts me. I look at the scene and my eyes are greedy for more. I look and look and look until a point is reached where there is no 'me' only the water and the trees and the deepest contentment imaginable. The moment passes as these moments always do but what is left is an abiding peace and calm. A knowing which comes not from books but from somewhere deep within.

I saw a pub that had seats outside overlooking the river. I went in and ordered a drink and took it outside and sat at one of the benches. I had my newly acquired book of the letters and diaries of Etty Hillesum. I took it out and began to read. I was surprised at the parallels between us. My first shock came when I read that it was through her interest in Cheirology that she first met her tutor. Cheirology is the ancient art of reading the palm of hands according to the four elements. These being earth, water, air and fire. Some add a fifth that of ether. I was amazed at this because it was through this route also that I met the person who would introduce me to Buddhism.

The next parallel is that she had two brothers and no sistere. I also have two brothers and no sister. And the most shocking revelation from her was her admitting of an 'eating problem' - this is exactly the same as me. I skimmed over it when I spoke about not having a balanced relationship with food. I tend to go on major comfort eating binges and then buckle under the weight of self-hatred the next day. She was Jewish. My first boyfriend was Jewish and two of my best friends are Jewish.

She is so open, way more than me and says on page 71 'I have developed an 'eating problem'. Something for analysis, no doubt. I ruin my digestion simply by eating too much. Through lack of self-control in other words. I know I have to watch myself, but I am sometimes seized by a greed so powerful that it books no argument. I realise full well at the time that I am going to have to pay dearly for that extra little morsel or that one bite too many, and yet I can't stop myself'. As I was reading I suddenly had this intuition not in the usual way of a voice saying something simple and authoritative but just this feeling that she is living on through me. The similarities are just too striking. I know that this reads bizarre and I'm finding it difficult to come to terms with myself. I don't believe that I am channelling her because those who channel often have a vision or take inner dictation. I don't think I do this because the writing is a struggle but there is a big part of me which feels great empathy with Etty.

This is unusual for me because while I accept that much spiritual literature has been written by a process of channeling, it is not something I have ever sought. But there is something in the closeness and identification I feel with her writing and struggle that makes me feel a link. I believe in re-incarnation and if it is a case that she has re-incarnated through me for me to carry on her style and the ruthless self-honesty which her letters and diaries show then it will be a pleasure and a privilege for me to do so. It will also be a challenge because she is way more honest than I am. She appears to have more self-awareness than me and yet she was so much younger than me when she died. She died in 1943 aged 29 in Auschwitz and I was born in 1963 - just 20 years later! For some reason I have just felt a shiver go up my back.

I want to quote from her some more because it could be me speaking. She says on page 55 'But I always project myself back into reality. I make myself confront everything that crosses my path, which sometimes leaves me feeling battered. It is just as if I let myself crash violently into myself, leaving dents and scratches. But I imagine that it has to be like that. I sometimes feel I am in some blazing purgatory and I am being forged into something else. But into what? I can only be passive, allow it to happen to me. But then I also have the feeling that all the problems of our age and of mankind in general have to be battled out inside my little head. And that means being active'.

I feel that the way she writes is so similar to mine. She is a better writer than me but the inner conflict and how it feels could have come from the same person. I am aware though that I have to be careful with thoughts like this. I must never lose the Witness. I am not comfortable with the concept of a spirit entering into the body and bringing through this information. I have always felt there is a price to be paid for that. For me it has always been safer to read a great spiritual truth and to ponder on it. Then like the great Zen Koans that produce the answers from a place outside of the mind I also would get intuitions and insights bringing clarity to whatever truth I was pondering on. I never considered that these insights and intuitions came from a spirit! I feel sure that they arise from within the depths of me.

This morning before I left for the hospital I logged on. I was delighted to find a short comment which first lifted my spirits and then made me think. The comment said the blog was 'interesting' I was delighted to get it because it means that it is being read and then I thought about what is it that is making it 'interesting'?

Is it tapping into a process which we are all aware of but have forgotten. Is it an interesting account of the inner turmoil and conflict that has been well documented my mystics. I never thought I would be writing a blog like this. All I have ever wanted in life is to be accepted and not to stand out. What I have found is that all I seem to do is to stand out! I began this path like many do with a certain interest and curiosity. I had a Catholic up-bringing but there was much about the Catholic religion which didn't feel right for me. In 1988 I was introduced to Buddhism. I had never heard of Buddhism before this first meeting. The minute I heard its main principles of the four noble truths and the noble eightfold pathway I felt I had come home. It all made sense to me. That evening I heard something which shifted me and I think is the reason why I am doing something I never thought I would do in writing this blog and coming out to the world.

That evening I was told about the idea of the Bodhissatva. This is someone who understands the nature of suffering and who vows not to leave the world until everyone has been relieved of their suffering. When I heard this it was like time stood still, everything froze like in a freeze frame and something moved within me. This didn't last long and the evening continued. I often think of that evening and wonder whether the depth of the desire that was awoken me that evening has something and everything to do with the way my life has gone and the experiences insights and intuitions I have.

I understand now that I can't take away anyone's suffering. Each person has to do it for themselves. All I can do is be as honest as I can in what I know and have experienced. This is all that is expected of me.

I find writing this difficult but I often have the same dream which is around being told 'you were given so much and you never shared because you were afraid of standing out, of being seen as different' and in the dream I feel such regret for my cowardice. This is why to quote Susan Jeffers I feel the fear each time I sit down to write this blog....but I do it anyway.

While I was at the pub I overheard a conversation between a group of guys and girls. The subject got onto religion. One of the woman had a strong Hindu religion and one of the guys declared himself to be an atheist. What saddened me about the conversation was that spirituality was being mistaken for religion. There is a world of difference between the two. I remember seeing this when I was in my early teens. At this time I was in a Catholic boarding school. All of the boarders had to go to mass every morning.

This morning the priest who said mass had been recovering from a mental breakdown and he was brought up to say mass for the boarders because it would be easier than facing the whole of the town congregation. He only ever said mass the once but what he said will never leave me. He said in his sermon 'God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts'. You can imagine how that went down with the nuns in the holy chapel! but for me it brought into my consciousness a clear distinction which has never left me. In that split instant I decided that it was spiritual I was going to be not religious. I always describe myself as spiritual, never religious. It saddened me today to hear the spiritual baby thrown out with the religious bathwater.

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