Saturday, 30 April 2011

A Royal Wedding inspired spiritual awakening!?

Yesterday was the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. While the verdict is still out on whether I'm a royalist, anti-royalist or somewhere in between two things have never been in doubt: 1) I had great admiration for Princess Diana and felt personally devastated when she died on 31 August 2007, the date of my 17th birthday and 2) I can't explain it but I had this deep, inexplicable desire to be on the streets of London on 29 April 2011 to experience the wedding of William and Kate. So at 8:30am, I left my flat in NW London and made my way to my friend Lisa's flat in Battersea.

After having a strong cup of English tea, we made our way to Battersea High Street to watch the royal wedding on the big screen. We met some lovely people, saw Kate's (and Pippa's!) fabulous dress(es), listened to the exchange of vows, cheered when they were pronounced man and wife -- and later when they kissed on the balcony, had a lovely cocktail, checked out the street party a bit and then headed back to Lisa's flat to chill out. After a few hours as Lisa's flat, I went with Andy (a friend of Lisa's) into the heart of London via the South Bank where we met up with one of Andy's friends (Constance). I'd had plans to meet up with friends for dinner, but those had been cancelled. With nothing else to do, part of me wanted to go home, yet another part of me intrinsically wanted to stay out. I felt like I was waiting for something, only I didn't know what I was waiting for.

Andy, Constance and I walked along the Mall towards Buckingham Palace, which was still filled with people, despite it being 8pm by then. We took lots of pictures and met some more lovely people, including two bobbies and James, a Mancunian who had been serving in the British armed forces and had only 3 months left before he would retire from the service. It was just after 10 PM and I was starving -- I'd only had a soft icecream and a few pieces of pita with hummus and guacamole all day. We started searching for a Thai place to eat but couldn't find the one that Andy was looking for. As we headed back towards Trafalgar Square, Constance decided to get herself a Royal Wedding souvenir newspaper. For £1 she got the paper, a poster of Kate and William, a Royal Wedding CD and an umbrella. I hadn't planned to spend money on anything as naff as a royal wedding souvenir but 4 items for £1 was a bargain so I decided to get it too.

By the time I got home, it was just after 11PM. I was hungry, but not too tired, so I switched on the television. As expected, all the major British and US stations were showing highlights and re-runs of the wedding. For probably the 20th time that day, I watched the footage of the wedding, the hymns, the vows, the church. I found myself being brought back to my childhood and to the soothing sounds of hymns accompanied by the organ that would fill the St. John's Methodist Church in Montego Bay that I attended for much of my childhood. The feeling was strange to me -- because it was almost nostalgic -- although I've been a stated Agnostic for more than 15 years, and with the exception of a few weddings, I haven't heard a church service in almost 12 years.

I've always had a a good relationship with The Universe/God and most people who know me well know that I've very spiritual. I also find a great deal of peace in old religious buildings like the ones that are so abundant in Europe (I'm known to seek out and walk into beautiful old churches like the Notre Dame in Paris and just still there for hours in silence because for me, these places of worship are where I am most at peace). But I have always had a difficult relationship with the Church as an Institution -- the dogma, the rules, the schisms in Protestantism, the preacher/deacon as holier than thou, and the seeming lack of alignment between the label people attached to themselves - Christians - and blatantly unChristian-like behaviour, a sentiment aptly expressed in the song One Day Christian by Lovindeer, one of my favourite tracks growing up.
It is a tension that I think many people of a 'younger' generation can easily relate to, and which has caused many to turn their backs on religion, but is something that some of the previous generation find difficult to understand. In fact, my Mom, who's been a Methodist since she was 15years old and who doesn't quite understand the difference between agnostics and athesists thinks I'm an atheist, something that's caused her a great deal of anxiety.

This nostalgic feeling became even stronger when I popped the Royal Wedding CD into my computer and started listening to the tracks and felt myself being moved my tracks like "Jerusalem" by Parry and "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" by John Wesley, the father of the Methodists. I went to bed feeling strangely unsettled. When I woke up on Saturday morning, the first thing I did was to play the CD again - partly to see if the feeling of the night before was a fluke and party because I wanted to recreate the feeling of peace I always feel inside when I hear certain kinds of religious music. Strangely, I found myself doing something I've never done -- a Google search on "The Spectrum of Protestantism". I navigated to a page that contains a very comprehensive guide of the major religions, including Protestantism. I started with what was familiar to me -- the page on Methodists. It's been years since I've heard the affirmations or beliefs of Methodists and I don't think I had ever seen them written down before. But as I began to read the affirmations and the foundations of the Methodist doctrine i.e. the "We believe that..." statements, I found that many of them resonated with me and I began to cry - spontaneously and uncontrollably (No, I'm not pregnant and I don't have a hormonal imbalance!).

What does it all mean? Well...I'm still asking myself that question and I believe it's a question that I will keep asking myself for years to come. It's clear though that I'm on the verj of some sort of spiritual awakening. But what I think it means is that I am coming full circle; that the Universe/God is calling me to examine my spiritual and religious beliefs and to bring them into alignment in a way that works for me. It calls me to ask myself the questions: who are you? what do you believe? what is your faith? what is the role of religion in your life? what is your spiritual compass? how are you currently living your life? how would you like to live your life in the future? how does your everyday life align with what you believe i.e. your values, what you do professionally and in the community? Is their a community of like-minded people that you can seek support and comfort in as you take this journey?

I have yet to find the answers (perhaps I never will) but I know that what is essential to me is to embark on a journey of discovery. I suspect that I will find my 'home' in a place where I can create my own spiritual path, my own personal relationship with God, as I understand, experience and define her.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Starting over

In 2007 I was put on gardening leave for 3 months (This is standard in England. If you're head-hunted to work with another company, you're often asked not to come back to work again the day you hand in your notice i.e. you're expected to go home and garden. It does have it perks though because you do  get paid for the whole time you're on gardening leave). Always the busy-body, I didn't know what to do with myself so to calm my anxiety about what on earth I would do with 3 months off work, I came up with a project. Inspired by an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show (I can't remember what the show was about) I came up with an idea to create a magazine, Verj Magazine, for women who are on the verge of .... whatever .... a nervous breakdown, a promotion, a change in life's circumstance, or the eating a piece of cake that has way too many calories.

Being me, I wanted it to be big, to reach others, to find a way for others to be involved. So I fleshed out the concept, emailed friends and friends of friends, told them what I wanted to do and asked ordinary women to send me their articles with musing about whatever they were on the verge of. I enjoyed it, and was and still am grateful that so many people participated, and devoted time and effort to write and re-write articles and graciously allowed me to edit and publish them. Still others visited the Verj site every month to read the articles, to live vicariously through others and in some cases, to see themselves in others' stories.

But what started out as a hobby with a big vision quickly became an overwhelming endeavour. When I started my new job three months later, I was still editing Verj which meant I was working ALL the time -- evenings and every weekend from morning till night. I didn't know how to stop or to scale back, mainly because I hate stopping anything that I've started but also because I didn't want to disappoint those who were contributing to Verj and who were reading it.

A lot has happened since 2007. I've had two other jobs since then and came up with two new concepts that required all my time. But how do you give more when you have no more time? I couldn't decide how to scale back Verj or whether to close it down but the Universe had its own plans -- the site went down and I lost all the files for the Verj site. I had deleted them by "accident" (I don't believe in accidents. I think everything happens for a reason and the Universe made a decision for me that I had trouble making myself. In order to get my new project off the ground, I had to stop Verj as it was then). I'm still working crazy hours and once again find that my various projects and interests need more time than I have.

So I'm stopping. And starting again. Experimenting with going with the flow, taking things easy and rediscovering my love of writing -- just for the sake of it. No deadlines to meet, no one else's articles to edit but my own (and I'm not doing much of that either, so beware of typos and grammatical errors!), no pressure. I'll write what I want to write, when I want to write, a public journal of sorts for the not-too-private musings of a woman who all to often finds herself seeking the meaning of life in every moment -- or venting about some annoying, or positively infuriating thing that's happened. I don't know how many verjes I will find myself on as I start over on this new, hopefully more "organic" path. Right now, I'm the verj of making dinner, watching TV and talking a longish soak in the tub!