The Art of Self-Mastery (or Being Aware of the Monkey Mind…)
January 2016

It felt exhilarating to hold my body erect in the flamenco posture after a two-year break. I stamped my feet to the rhythms that have become embedded within me over the years, and moved my arms and hands ‘braceo’ with no pain my back and neck. I was reminded of the first time I danced flamenco in Berlin. In spite of never having lived in Spain nor knowing anything of its cultural roots, it had felt as though I was coming home, the movements and music of flamenco somehow already known to my heart, mind and body from a previous life.

Autumn Journal, Part 1

Today is a beautiful, sunny, fluffy-cloud morning. My body and muscles are aching from the flamenco lesson last night. Yet there is something else. A sick and nervous feeling in my stomach, a deep and empty hunger, which is physically and emotionally painful, and that doesn't go away when I eat. I connect this feeling to disappointment with the laziness and lack of motivation in my being. Watching Denis working so hard on designing the website for the retreat, I constantly feel guilty —about not writing enough, not looking hard enough for work, not helping enough around the flat, not doing anything enough. I wake up feeling bad and with a sense of guilt that lingers throughout the day.

I feel all over the place with regard to the goals I had when I returned from India in March. My novel is moving slowly, my coaching work is moving slowly, everything is moving slowly. And I am stuck in my brain as to what to do next. Whenever I make a plan for the day, it seems to go belly-up. I end up sitting on the couch every evening watching repeats of English films, wasting time, wasting my life!

In fact, what the hell am I doing with my life?!

Dancing flamenco after two years has awoken the beast of regret within me. I sit at my computer staring at my inbox. My old flamenco school in London is running a one-year full time professional dance training next year. Maybe I should contact my ex-teacher? I've dreamt forever about being a dancer and the protruding spinal disc in my neck is much better for having had a long break. There's also a new online novel writing course starting in November, which would be a great support to get my novel done —and this particular writing school has the added benefit of having real contacts within the literary agency who were closest to accepting my original manuscript. God, I'm just so scared… scared to even think about applying. I keep thinking back on the past 6 months with regret —regret for not continuing my French lessons, regret for not finishing my novel, regret for not doing more marketing, regret for not meeting more people in Lyon.

Why do I feel so full of regret?

I know the reality of the past 6 months has been a very different unfolding altogether. Denis and I have been busy travelling to the western and eastern borders, as well as several regions in the south of France searching for a home. I've spent time getting to know a whole new family; Denis's mum, his aunts and uncle. I've been studying French and learning about an entirely different culture. All this takes energy, and yet I feel as lost as when I first arrived here —my whole being torn between what I need to do, should do, want to do and wish to do… my dreams seem to be tearing at the seams and I'm falling down an abyss of darkness and regret.

As for the Gurdjieff book (written by one of his students, Charles Stanley Nott)? I'm not sure whether it's helping me or not to be reading it. Perhaps it is indeed sewing many questions and doubts, though of course that's just me blaming a book for my problems! Ridiculous, right? And the truth is I am questioning and in conflict with everything in my life. The emptiness in my stomach is there and I can't go on day to day being worried and stressed out all the time. As Gurdjieff says, ‘We have no will when we succumb to our emotions and feelings and mind — [instead] we must do.’

The seat of beginning to have an ‘I’ that is the master of all the other centres of my organism means doing the work. Not on the whim of a desire, or want, or need even. It means to do and create with a purpose and clarity to master myself. He says that ‘mastery’ has to be enacted with an effort that does not come naturally to us, and this is what it means to put our will into action. To not be reactive to those around me and to respond to every situation with a just objectivity —i.e. not to be ‘nice’ for the sake of being nice, so that people will like me and massage my ego— and to understand that it is up to me to move and act and do.

Yet I feel so stuck! It has been a while since I've had the discipline of keeping daily, weekly or monthly agreements. I know they work, however, a more important aspect I am not manifesting at the moment is a willingness to ask for support, or to be supported to make those agreements that will take me forward.

Autumn Journal, Part 2

Denis has been on my case to talk about what's going on with me. I didn't want to at first, but he was insistent, so we went for a couple of beers and we sat and talked. He pointed out that I am asking and holding too many questions in my mind —about writing, coaching, dancing, painting, moving house, etc.— and too many questions hovering in the air makes me feel overwhelmed and freeze up. I need to focus on one or two, the important ones, and then just do —get into action, stay in action and keep doing, even if I don't understand the bigger picture right now. Which means that instead of making insane ‘to do’ lists of everyone I have to contact, simply contact one person, or to actually update my CV and send it to someone. It doesn't matter if I don't get an immediate response; the work is in the doing. It is the same with my novel. He said I was freaking out exactly as I'd done the previous time, when I wrote my first draft. With an end in sight, signing up for a writing course is merely the distraction that keeps me from completing the damn thing. The point is to finish it. I can worry about agents and editors and publishers later, when there's actually a manuscript to send!

He's right of course. I calm myself down enough to listen and sit with the discomfort. Support comes in many forms, and however much or little I ask for, at the end of the day (or I should say at the beginning of the day), I still have to put my arse in the chair and write!