I walked out of my house in the middle of the week and the first sight that registered was a tree surgeons van. They had parked beside one of the Elm trees along our street, and my heart sank: since moving to this street two years ago four Elms have been cut down, victims of Dutch Elm disease. This was to be the fifth. And I knew this was a pattern, the wind borne disease gradually marching down the street towards our end of the road - where two more sit. The “twins”, as I found out from the tree surgeons, were next. The tree surgeons shared my sadness - "we came in to this work because we love trees, and yet people often make us the bad guys". I have no idea when the twins will meet their fated end, but I make sure I pay homage to the them, nodding their way each time I leave the house and return.
Speaking to neighbours in the street, I am not alone in my sadness. Many of us bought houses here because of the tree lined character so typical of Victorian town planning. You can almost feel the 1900s here, the narrow road, the first motor cars. I can imagine the Elms in their full glory, lining the road like guards.
I awoke very early on Friday morning. Ironically, the morning I can take an easier start I wake up bright as a button early. I’ve a long term relationship with insomnia though, so waking up at 4am after 6 hours sleep doesn’t feel as irritating or worrying as it used to - especially when I wake up with the feelings I did Friday. Once I “came to”, and felt below the story of “its too early” I connected to my experience - I felt alive, energised, excitement was there coursing through the core of my being. There was a wholeness and a potential that I came to realise and acknowledge has not felt within reach for maybe a couple of years.
This time two years ago, I was struggling with severe Reynauds in my hands - the first winter in our new home, at first I put it down to the challenge of keeping an old Victorian house well-heated. But the poor blood flow to my fingertips became an ever present dull ache in my finger joints, and the symptoms seemed to spread across my body and worsen. In the summer of 2019, I arrived at a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue. I provide this summary to give some context to my experience on Friday. As I met with my supervisor later that morning, I explained to her that it felt like I was beginning to bounce back after 2 years of walking through treacle each day. I hadn’t had this energy and relish for my life, my work for so long. As well as the excitement there was relief.
How come? What is coming together that is allowing a fogginess to lift?
This week, University staff across the UK are on strike, their action pointing towards pensions, pay and conditions. Not being a UCU member, I am still at work this week - not a straightforward decision. In fact, in the past 2 weeks I have felt a growing sense of anxiety. A child growing up in the 80s, I have memories of the miners industrial action and all the aggression and violence associated with picket lines. Coming to work this week has been the first time I have had to cross a picket line in my working life and I have been aware of the stories building in my imagination, noticing how each one adds to the anxiety. And whilst I could see my attempts to avoid the issue (e.g. “how can I change my teaching so I can work from home?”), I knew this was an opportunity: to meet my fear with courage.
As I walked off the train and up the platform towards the picket line, I did my best to stay in touch with my experience – to not push it down and stay with the growing physical sensations. In the past two weeks, I have been practicing this on the cushion – each time a remembering of what was ahead arose, dropping the story and coming back to my chest, the shallow breath, the beating heart, the tightening shoulders. Practice makes perfect – or at least, practice makes one prepared. Preparation in this sense is not a rehearsal, as that can make us act from a script. Preparation in this sense is becoming confident in being open to, and being with experience.
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