Last Saturday evening I had the privilege of listening to Mac Macartney, founder of Embercombe, speak. It was the second time that I have been fortunate to have this opportunity. Both times I have found him, so eloquent, so gifted in his ability to communicate, completely mesmerising. Both times, however, I have found it tricky to stay awake. His words flow like gold and, as they speak to other parts of my brain and being, I have fallen into quite a soporific state.
On Saturday, I tried to catch the full meaning behind his sentences, his gems of wisdom, but, suspended in the delight of simply hearing him speak, I found it nearly impossible. By the time he would reach the end of one, I had forgotten where he had begun. And so, as I have learnt to do when listening to others in the past, I decided my best way ahead was to stay in the moment and take home with me after just one or two of his pearls, those that resonated with me the most.
And there were two. Even now though, trying to recall them, I struggle. I know they are singing their way through me. I am aware of their presence and how they are informing me whilst I digest in these last few days, but in a deep part of my reflection which is mostly non-verbal. Yet today, in their significance, in helping me out of a hole where I have been caught, I feel a desire to coax them into words and write.
He presented us with his first question, in a quest to awaken, of what do we love most deeply. Whilst he continued to speak, so I asked myself, ‘What do I love most deeply? Loudly, resoundingly, without hindrance or hesitation, my answer was my family. And then, as he spoke about integrity, he invited us, in his unfolding story, to stand by that which we love most deeply. This was my AH HA! moment. This I recognised as such a vital, integral key. So simple, so full of weight and immeasurable power when we act in this way. AH HA! I thought to myself and then drifted in and out, trying to listen in my sleepiness and awe.
The second subject that anchored me right in, bringing tears to my eyes, as he recited the possibility that our soil stands to have only sixty harvests left within it. I was overwhelmed with a heavy sadness on hearing this. What brought us to this place of such criminality to this earth? Why do we continue to reap and reap and reap and not love and love and love? Why are we so blind to the consequence of our activity? What drives us to such greed and ignorance? His words have haunted me and momentarily paralyse me as I try to gather my breath once again from this shock. I am angry inside for my own blind eye but, unequivocally, I can only step forward with forgiveness and a commitment to greater responsibility for my choices and how they impact on this earth.
On returning to our yurt that evening after the talk, I ruminated on both this and the question; what do I love most deeply? As I ventured within in my enquiry, I was surprised at the second response that arose. I found myself saying, I love my heart. Wow! This felt amazing to acknowledge but also, my doubting mind, worried; Am I arrogant to feel this? Is this self-importance at play? And so I dialogued with myself. It is my truth. Yes, I do truly and deeply love and cherish my own heart. I am so proud of the one I was gifted with. It has served me through pain and adversity. It has served me profoundly through the torment that was my childhood. I love that within my heart, my heart just as all in which God occupies, I haven’t completely closed down. I haven’t followed the path, that could have been so easy to take, and continue to shove out pain to the rest of the world. I have come time and again to the truth that shines in my heart and speaks to me: There IS another way! I am so grateful to this guidance. It is not separate of me. It is part of me but I know how deep down inside it is a voice of this world and it is for me, in my own heart, to listen to and share.
And then, as I stepped down further into my expedition, I considered do I, and how can I, stand by that which I love most deeply. With my family, my answer came easily. Yes, it feels effortless to stand by them. And I saw the parts in which I don’t and how I can strengthen and harness so much to stand by these. With my heart, with my initial doubtful, learned mind whether this was OK, whether it was acceptable, it actually came in an instant. YES! YES! YES! Stand by the beauty that which is inside me. Stand by what my heart sometimes whispers, sometimes yells and screams at me. Stand by my heart in uncertainty. Stand by my heart in pain and sadness. Stand by my heart just as I would and do for my children.
In the days that have passed since hearing Mac, I have kept coming back to this dawning. In the days that have passed too, I have been mad and angry. On retiring to bed that evening, I felt ripped inside with exhaustion. Our family had spent a six-day road trip around Devon in the week preceding our visit to Embercombe. It had been glorious. My husband and I had watched our children unfold in each space we visited. With friends on their farm. With visits to the Moor, to the sea, with pub suppers, with otters and butterflies…. In the rain and the blue skies. We saw them grow hugely and shine brightly. Our travels gave them both so much and so too at Embercombe. But the other side of the coin, was unpacking and re-packing at every destination we arrived. We had over-filled our plates and, by Saturday night, I was done and entered into a funk. By the time we arrived home, late Sunday evening, I wanted to push everyone away and just hang out with me. I needed to come inwards and stop. And I became angry and resentful that I couldn’t immediately find that. In truth I had needed it for weeks over the school holidays and my efforts to try to create it had been thwarted. BAAAAAAAH!!! I felt, I raged.
Yet, whilst internally I tightly held my fury, I also kept reminding myself to stand by that which I love most deeply. In these moments, I kept reminding myself to stand by my heart and, now with some space and time today to reflect, it has opened up a mirror within. Suddenly, in a fleeting moment, I was able to recognise my perfectionist self. And suddenly, my unresolved and on-going anger made sense. With swiftness and light, it felt far easier to release and I could realign myself away from the intensity of my battle.
In perfection I have hid from myself. From life. In perfection I have created protection. From pain and hurt. I have clung to it, as if a ballast of a shipwreck. I have lost myself at times, in, to perfection. Yes. It has been necessary. For a while. Whilst I knew no other way. Somewhere to take shelter, whilst so scared, so terrified. But then it became my nom de plume in times of uncertainty. In times of fear, of feeling threatened. If I could stick on that railroad, cling to that ballast, I would be alright. Everything would be alright. For had I so, so needed it to be.
I can look back now and see. Why certain things I held dear and wanted to welcome into my life, fell away. Because I wasn’t wholly engaged. Living. Because I grew angry when everyone else wasn’t striving for a righteous path, dedicated to the better good for all, rather than for themselves. It had been a coping mechanism, a survival strategy. If everything around me was perfect, I could not be accused. I stood less to be attacked. If everything was clean and crisp, in my conscience, in my surrounds, no one would scream at me. Or at least, if they did, I could say how hard I had tried. To be good. To be perfect…
What a bitter pill to swallow. More so to admit and accept. How hard and harsh I have been on myself, on those around. Today feels an invitation to wave an amiable nod to perfection. And when in future I find myself in a troubled cul-de-sac, I now know to ask; Is perfectionism raising it’s manicured head? Do I need a little conversation?
And then I come back, in my mind, to Embercombe. From how I have grown since we first visited in May. To what I have learned, to what I have been able to recognise and let go of. I am deeply grateful. It is now in my heart a home. Somewhere to retreat into, to witness my self, the easy and the less so. To not judge but instead to gently hold and nourish within. And too an immense home for my children.
I saw our son, without words from me, embrace it in a different way this time. On our first visit, he seemed to remain at times distinct from it, like I think I did myself too. But this time, he fell in. He found his place, his role. He played with his mates but too he chose to serve lunch, then dinner, then lunch again. He helped feed the chickens, stack wood, help others. This time he intuitively grew more part of Embercombe. As well our daughter. She climbed merrily into a bubble of fun and mischief with other elves, big and small. I have watched her play with her buddies at her playgroup, peers of all the same age, kindly guided by the grown-ups. The giants. And then I watched her over the last weekend with newly found friends at Embercombe, roam freely and create magic in the beatific space. Like musical notes, in height and age, her ‘sisters’ and ‘brothers’. No clean lines to delineate, to de-mark. Just great happiness in the songs and mayhem they instigated, unedited, together.
I know which play space, which sight, my heart prefers to witness our children in. It is this one. Yes. It feels perfect but here, at Embercombe, ‘perfection’ inhabits a different form. Not cultivated in minds or engineered through fear or a desire to control. It manifests, for children and adults like, in the impermanent dance of joy and bliss. In connection. Here, it finds us wildly. There is no need to seek, to hanker, to try to cement. It comes and goes as we are encircled with the abundant love and warmth that Embercombe consciously cultivates and nurtures. As a slice of heaven meets us on, in earth.
I look forward very much to the next time I have the fortune to hear Mac speak. I know there will be more gems to ruminate upon, to allow to sink into my understanding, to facilitate gentle transformations in my being. I feel humbled to sit in his insights and thoroughly, thoroughly recommend, if you ever have the opportunity, to go and listen to how he sees us in the world. It may only hypnotise you and lull you into sleep, but it will fill your dreams with old memories, forgotten ways of being, lost connections and, most importantly, new pathways of discovery.
3 thoughts on “Opportunities, Pearls of Wisdom & Relinquishing Perfectionism”
Sophie – not sure if I’ve shared this anywhere before, but this story about William Stafford, the poet whose poem I recited at Embercombe, came strongly to mind reading your words above about perfection.
One day, he told his students that he wrote a poem every morning, when he got up, and placed it next to his mirror as he shaved.
‘Every day?!’ exclaimed his students. ‘How can you write a poem every day?’
‘Lower your standards’ he replied.
Yes, I remember very well you reciting the poem and about his wisdom in lowering standards. I can’t remember the name of the poem but do remember you posting it on Facebook too shortly after. Please would you remind me what the title is. I really enjoyed listening to it on that magical night around the open night 😉 and it would be great to read it again. I hope you are all well and having a wonderful summer x
It’s called A ritual to read to each other. We are well thank you. Selfishly very jealous of your return to Embercombe!