Do you have nightmares? Tell me yours? I had one last night. I was going up a staircase that twisted back on itself and then, for some reason, I turned around and sat down. I realised, in that horrible way you do in dreams, that a monster was coming up the stairs but, as so often happens, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t seem to shunt myself backwards. So I lunged down at the monster, grabbing it before it could grab me, with a loud ‘Huuuuh!’. Unfortunately I woke myself up with my own shout before I could get any sense out of it.
As I type this, it becomes clearer – ‘I couldn’t drag myself backwards’. I can’t go back in time. I can’t go back up the stairs and round the corner to the past. I have to lunge forwards into a scary future, into the jaws of a monstrous beast. Monsters show things, of course – from Latin monstrare, to show. But you know that.
Oh, and then (I had forgotten), when at last I got back to sleep, I dreamed that I was trying to cycle through a house, someone else’s house. It was crowded and there were people behind me. I came to a barrier – a sound system, with a teenage boy sitting on the floor by it.
‘You can’t come through this way,’ he said.
Of course I couldn’t. How ridiculous to think I might. So I turned around and tried to find another way out, away from this house crowded with things and people; this place where I didn’t belong.
So, here I am. Stuck on the stairs grabbing monsters. Cycling round in circles. Caught in a holding pattern. Of course, on some level, it is a situation I have chosen myself. At some level, I must still be unwilling to let go, to move on. What is the monster showing me? What part of my psyche does it hold? Why a bicycle? Well, a bike has no engine – you have to use your own energy to make it move. So, as my old friend Sarah Dening would say, ‘You have to travel through life in your own, individual way.’
This morning on the News there was an item about commuting. Yes, I know it sounds like a total non-sequitur but bear with me. There was this guy, trying to get to work in various ways – on the train, on a bike, in a car. Whichever way he went, it was a pain in the backside. One of the ‘experts’ said that the best way to deal with a tough commute is to use it consciously, either for meditation or for doing constructive things.
Great advice, I thought – I do my best meditation on planes and trains and buses; and I sing (appallingly) along to chants in the car. But, and here’s the more relevant bit, he went on to say that commuting is a transition time, a place between work and home. It struck me that this waiting time is like that too – a holding place between the old life and the life yet to come.
Maybe, just maybe, when we’re in the meantimes, in liminal time, what we have to do is face monsters on the staircases; maybe we have to navigate our way through crowded houses of the past, maybe we have to clear all the shit out of our psyche before we can stretch our legs and run clear and free out the door and onto the open road?
Then I remembered something one of my Penninghame team said. She was talking about someone being stuck in a job she hates, but it works well for anything really…
“Is it possible for you to ‘choose’ being where you are right now, whilst working towards what you would really like? A lot of suffering can come when we resist the reality of our experience and so push against it. If it is your best option for now maybe if you could choose it, it might soften the blow? Acceptance is the key until you can choose again.”
There’s a lot of sense in that, I feel. So this morning, as James set off on his own long commute, I tried it out on him. ‘Think about it as a choice,’ I said.
He looked at me, shook his head slowly and rolled his eyes. ‘Oh, Mother.’