Life has a way of inviting us to adapt.
We prefer to control. But life invites us to adapt, amidst environments that cannot be controlled.
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.
The way down
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 a renaissance—a revival or renewal—though for long periods it felt like anything but!
Gradually, bit-by-bit, I rediscovered and picked up threads of life that had become submerged and hidden beneath years of competently and enthusiastically taking responsibility and getting on with the business (busy-ness) of family, work, relationships and so on. Lest that all sounds rosy—it certainly wasn’t—allow me to explain how it began.
Somewhat out-of-the-blue, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. This shook me up, feeling quite at odds with my perception of myself. In response, I began to explore several avenues relating to physical and mental health—which are, of course, utterly and deeply inter-related.
In particular, 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 all this, I learnt about the connection between these things and how they were effecting 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 (very gradually) became aware—and then to definitely believe—that the real sense of darkness that I was experiencing was not indicative of an ending. Rather, it represented a period of preparation to enter into a formerly unimaginable (sic) future. A future that depended on my personal transformation.
The way up
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 Welsh 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.
- A 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 personal renaissance.
Three to four years after I first became aware of my “descent,” I continue to experience renewing aspects of life that hold greater meaning than ever.