First published January 2010
When you were young did you have an image in your mind of the person you might grow up to be? You had hopes and dreams and some of those became a reality while others became just a distant memory. When you look at yourself now and remember the person you had hoped to be how much of a difference do you see? Is it better, is it different, or is it just worse?
As a person with some spiritual awareness one would hope that it is not the last one, but sadly for many, at some stage, it is just that. In this age of huge expectations, the reality for many people is huge disappointments, but this is largely because our choices and desires are not truly chosen by us. Often our decisions are not our true heart’s desire but choices formed by society, other people and what we perceive other people to expect or want of us.
If as you are reading this you perhaps feel that you have strayed some way from the path you imagined taking then relax, take a deep breath, you are not alone. All over the world there are thousands, perhaps millions of people who feel that way, I have been one of them. It is not a space I wish to visit again, and I am mindful to try and keep on the right path as it is so easy to fall. For better or worse, each and every one of us has the power to change ourselves, the life we lead and the world immediately around us.
My own life has taken me through a rollercoaster ride from highs to lows and back again, as part of my journey of discovering myself: Some ten or more years ago I might have written a very different article, I was in a very dark place. I was commuting 5-6 hours a day to Dublin in a stressful job, attempting to get a house built for my young family, trying to maintain a dysfunctional relationship with my wife and my in-laws whilst also separated by long distance from my own family. I had lost touch with my spirituality as it was not ‘acceptable’ in the circles I mixed in and I got little sustenance from the Catholicism of my early years and that those around me participated in.
Suddenly it all fell apart: I lost my job, my wife asked me to leave, and very soon I found myself alone in a microscopic bed-sit with no money, no wife, no house, no job, no friends, the only thing that gave me a faint glimmer of hope was my toddler daughter who still loved me and did not judge me, regardless of all the madness going on around me.
Things got worse, my attempts to rebuild my life were not very effective, although I managed to set up in business and get enough work to get by, but I became depressed and instead of acknowledging this I began to drink, smoke, I took drugs, used pornography, I sat in on my own and instead of cooking (which I formerly enjoyed) I ate fast food, packet soups and microwave meals. This continued for a while until one day driving quickly on the way to Dublin I looked at a big truck coming the other way and thought to myself how all that was required was a quick turn of the steering wheel to the right and it would all be over.
Something stopped me, thank goodness, I think it was the image of my daughter alone and helpless without a stable influence in her life and her unhappiness that brought me to my senses. I realized that I had a reached a point where I was a million miles away from the person I had hoped to be or even had been in the past. I had been a fun loving, creative, energetic and positive person – in my work (a professional musician, graphic designer, semi-professional artist) and also sociable and gregarious in everyday life. Now I had become just a sad shell, with no interests, no spiritual life, a failure with no vitality, who literally dragged himself through each day. At that moment I hated myself, I was full of disgust and self loathing and I couldn’t bear what I had become; it was then that I decided that my choices were either death or a fight – a fight to re-find myself, to become a healthy and happy person who wanted to live and enjoy life. I think that I had already decided that suicide, however appealing at the time, was not an option, which left me with an enormous mountain to climb.
At first I didn’t know where to start, I knew what I wanted to do but I felt so ineffectual and powerless that I seemed to get nowhere. Having considered seeking medical assistance I discussed my depression with my mother, who thankfully was understanding and advised me to leave visiting my GP as a last resort. This turned out to be excellent advice as no doubt I would have been loaded up with prescription drugs rather than given what I needed – a humane helping hand along the path to recovery.
One of the biggest steps was to visit an acupuncturist to try and relieve the monumental stress that I was carrying around with me. It was quite traumatic at first – it prompted my pent up emotions releasing as well as some physical relief. The therapist’s advice to spend just a few minutes each day doing something to make me feel happy was fantastic because even such a small thing seemed very difficult at the time. After a few sessions and gradually following her advice I began I feel I had a small foothold on the cliff face back to a ‘normal’ life. I began to visit the beach on a regular basis and often screamed at the sea or threw huge rocks into it. More than anything, my healing experience of the woods and the sea set me on the road to recovery.
I began to remember bits of who I used to be, I remembered how my Mother had introduced me to yoga when I was 10 or so (although I had not taken it at all seriously). Also in my early teens my uncle had introduced me to Buddhism, both of these things together with sports had become a major part of my development as a teenager but had become forgotten as my life became increasingly complicated in my late twenties. I now decided that I would go to yoga classes, try to meditate and start running in the mornings. I had also been interested in Celtic culture since childhood and particularly Druidry since my early twenties. At first I found kick starting myself very difficult: the yoga made me feel better for up to a day but faded quickly, I was unable to clear my mind enough to meditate and the running racked my body with pain. Spending time in the woods and many hours watching the sea was easier and so very therapeutic that it helped me to address rebalancing my body and living a more natural and healthy existence. By now I realized the natural world’s ability to heal me, and how important it would become in my recovery.Gradually over time as the yoga, walks and running began to de-stress and strengthen my body my mind also began to clear and become more positive: I became more outgoing and started to make a few friends. I was still drinking a lot and eating rubbish but I eventually began to see that this was undermining the good work the yoga and exercise was doing, I was also relapsing from time to time into negative thought patterns and a depressed state for days at a time.
I realized that I had no choice other than to keep going, the way back led only to darkness, pain and perhaps death; I had always known that it would be slow and painful but this was a real test of my patience and resilience. Someone had suggested I look at natural alternatives to prescription drugs, which would avoid the, often unpleasant, side-effects, stigma and the permanent ‘blot’ on my health record. The reality is that most people suffer from depression at some point in their lives, however that has not stopped people being made to feel ashamed or somehow lacking.
So, I used the internet to research the subject - which revealed some shocking testimony about medical treatment and also about the success, seemingly without problems, of herbs such as St. Johns Wort. I had noticed a general tendency in the course of my life to become down in the winter, and this herb seemed to be effective in the treatment of SAD (seasonal affective disorder) as well as clinical depression, and so I decided I would give it a try. I took it for a prolonged period and after its sale was restricted in Ireland I bought it abroad. After I was better I took a low dose just in the winter time (Nov- Feb) to prevent the onset of SAD. Now that I work outside all year round I receive a lot more sunlight and hence I have had no need for it. At the time I had not been aware of the deep significance of St. Johns Wort in paganism both symbolically and as a healing plant, only later as I proceeded with my Druidic studies did I come to fully understand both its ancient and modern spiritual usage.
Since those early days I changed my diet and began the first of six attempts that it took me to give up smoking. I began daily yoga and began to meditate, write music and poetry, go out to the beach and woods with my daughter, take a renewed interest in spirituality and many other things that gradually made me feel more and more positive.
The spiral was now moving upwards instead of downwards – with each positive step my life became more positive and my capacity to make positive change increased. Now ten years later I have a life that I am happy with, I can look in the mirror and say that I like who I have become. I have changed career to become a horticulturalist, I practice Reiki, I have trained as a druid with OBOD, I have my own home, a great relationship with my daughter and usually civil relations with my now ex-wife. I am not perfect, I still have flaws and problems like anyone else but I feel that I am much more the person I had always hoped to be. I feel that embracing my spiritual yearnings and finding the strength to follow the path my heart’s true desire has been instrumental in my healing. I am no-longer living my life to please everyone else whilst making myself miserable: the great mistake of doing that is that it makes no-one happy and serves only to decrease your ability to help either yourself or those around you.
I could not have made this transition without the help and love of key people such as my daughter, my mother and the therapists and friends who have helped me along the road to a happier and healthier life, but ultimately I had to make every step myself. At the bottom of this journey lies the simple truth that just looking for meaning does not give you health and happiness. It was the striving to be happier, to learn to love myself, to find spirit in myself and the world around me, and the actual living of a better life that brought me back to happiness and thus enabled me to find a deeper meaning to my existence.
We all possess tremendous power to change in both negative and positive directions, and this power feeds itself and grows stronger in whichever direction you choose to take it. This is at the core of any magical practice, but it is easy to forget that our directed will manifests in the astral and physical planes, sometimes in unexpected or chronic forms. The simple choices and reactions each day shape us - which direction will I throw my energy into? Do I want to be happy or wallow in suffering? I had to choose, we all do every day, as the process is never ending if we are to remain in balance. Life will always throw up problems, we cannot control what the fates throw at us, but with proactively choosing our actions, honesty and awareness of the spiritual aspects of all existence, our problems can be turned into opportunities and negativity transformed into happiness.