All my life I have struggled to find a sense of belonging. A felt sense of being at home on this earth. Most of the deepest challenges I have experienced in my life have been around this issue of belonging and never more so than on 2670Km of The Wild Atlantic Way cycle last Aug/Sept.
Part of my way of being in the world is to minimise things -be it my achievements or my challenges..”ah sure anyone could do that” or “it was nothing” are two of my mainstay phrases. I heard myself use them as people asked me about the cycle. Yet hearing their reactions to what I had achieved I am beginning to let in the thought that maybe not everyone could have done what I did and that it might be worth writing about it.
As I thought about how I might go about this writing I kept meeting a squirming, shame-filled part of myself. If my life’s work to date has taught me anything it is to pause, get curious and make some space -however painful- for these parts of myself. When they are so strong and taking up so much of my mind they are usually looking for attention. The challenge is to give them the attention wisely.
In doing so I realised I have a backstory to the cycle, a context for how it actually turned out and unless I put that out first I will never be able to write about it.
I have always had amazingly good physical health. In spite of many accidents and illnesses along the way my rate of recovery is amazing -even to me…but in the area of my mental health each and every day can be challenge. As I said at the top belonging in this world seems to be what I have been tasked to re-discover over and over in this lifetime. One of my favourite quotes from T.S. Eliot sums up how this issue returns to visit me from time to time in all its intensity –
“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
Somewhere early in my life I made belonging mean being good, being less than, having little or no needs or at best not looking for them to be met, being undemanding. Being on my own had a degree of safety therefore ultra self-reliant became my modes operandi, and it has served me well throughout my life. I have actually achieved things I might never have, had I not had the positive side of this way of being.
Yet self-reliance is tricky in company as I know I can come across as not needing anyone or anything. That nothing gets to me and I’ll just get on with things. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Every now and again something comes out of the blue to crash headlong into this armour and leave me spinning in outer-space.The rug gets pulled from under me and I have the experience of free falling with no ground to latch onto in sight. This is how I have been feeling for the past few months. I am hoping that writing this will help me begin to find my way back to a steady groundedness where I can return again to a feeling of belonging and begin to know it for the first time as true and real.
I had a falling out with two people -I cannot call them neighbours as they live about 25km from me – who own two lovely little cottages just down the road from me. They rent them to walkers and visitors for short stays. At Easter time they erected orange and white street lights coming on at dusk and going off at dawn. I live in one of the most beautiful valleys in Connemara and one of the joys is the darkness. These lights have now destroyed the dark night.
When I approached one of the owners I was met with a stone wall around any kind of compromise. To sum up I was being petty, a nuisance and in the end, was not from the area, so my opinion or needs did not count. I was totally shocked by the attitude I encountered as I have know these people for nearly twenty years and never met this part of them.
As it came out of the blue it completely upended me and sent me into spin of not belonging, not being part of a community I have lived in for 27 years. I became completely enveloped in anxiety about where could I go and a kinda paranoid that maybe everyone here thought the same as almost everyone is related to one another. I am actually the only “outsider” in my area. I felt the joy seep out of being at home, my sleep became elusive and distracting thoughts came to live in my head. It was an old familiar feeling back again and I had had no warning it would appear.
All my excitement around my big adventure on the Wild Atlantic Way just evaporated and it turned more into a “just get me out of here” cycle.
So when I set off on August 19th from Moville Co. Donegal as well as my red saddle bags filled with my bits and pieces for the next month I had a very heavy heart and a dead weight in my mind.
Even when I look at the photos my partner took of me heading off I can feel the sadness that was my companion on the trip.
This is my back story and maybe now I can begin to write about what turned into an amazing odyssey. I cycled out of one life and am still cycling into another.