Life has a way of inviting us to adapt.
We prefer to control. But life invites us to adapt, amidst environments that we cannot control. The strange and wonderful thing is, as we relinquish false ideas about what is worthwhile in life—based on false ideas about what it is possible to control—we encounter pathways to renewal that were previously invisible or simply impossible to countenance.
In the year or so after I completed my doctorate, in 2012, I knew something was awry. I just didn’t realise what and by how much! I thought I was ready for one thing, Life began to invite me to consider the need for something else entirely. What that would turn out to be is nothing less than a renaissance—a revival or renewed interest in something. In my case, interest in threads of life that had been submerged and hidden beneath years of competently and enthusiastically taking responsibility and getting on with things.
Lest that all sounds rosy, I will explain how it began. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure, which shook my self-perception and led to my exploration of a number of avenues relating to physical and mental health (which are, of course, entirely related). I learned about the physiological roots of hypertension: inflammation, metabolic syndrome and, ultimately, insulin resistance and how, in the West, we come to be in a spiralling crisis of public health. Amidst it all, I learnt about the connection between these things and my personal physical, psychological and spiritual health.
Before coming up, however…before any senses of renaissance, renewal or restoration… I first descended down, into a painful period of alone-ness and inner refection: a veritable “long, dark night of the soul.”
At the nadir of this downturn, I gradually became aware—and then to definitely believe—that the darkness was not indicative of an ending. Rather, it represented a period of preparation to enter into a formerly unimaginable (sic) future.
Happily, as I emerged from the darkness, I was gifted the time and space to listen to my body, mind and heart in a holistic manner that had hitherto avoided me. Through it all, I re(dis)covered vital aspects of my being, including my sense of worth, identity and engagement, which had got rather lost, as I raced through the first half of life.
On a practical level, three particular changes were central, as I discovered:
- the benefits of walking and the joy of mountain ascents, in particular.
- Dr Elaine Aron’s research into and identification of the characteristics of high sensitivity—a trait, not a disorder, as HSPs are prone to believe—which helped immensely in making sense of and reframing half-a-lifetime’s struggle and in suggesting a new way of being and of approaching fresh vistas which were now becoming visible before me.
- following extensive research, a wide range of immediate and significant physiological benefits from a wholesale change of approach regarding food and farming.
All of that is, more or less, then what I mean by “renaissance” on a personal level.
Alongside my personal renewal, I discovered elements of a cultural and social renaissance taking place in the world, linked by commitment to ecological sustainability and social justice. I won’t attempt to summarise or explain this vast, diverse movement. (Paul Hawkins does a credible job in his book, Blessed Unrest.) Through this blog, I am chronicling elements of my involvement in social, cultural and ecological renewal, following my sense that a significant and important element of my own vocation is bound up with it.