All the fun of the fair

 
Life can be fun. It certainly may not seem like it, when everything's gone wrong and we're back into 'living in the dark' again. But once more the key is in how we see things: it's a matter of our point of view. If we have fixed ideas about how things 'ought' to be, we're likely to be in trouble when we meet up with the twisted reality of wyrd...

So play with a different point of view for a while: play with the idea that this reality isn't meant to 'be' anything at all. It's no more than a quest, a game, a joke - though often one with a twisted sense of humour behind it!

Life as a fun-fair... a weird place, where we find ourselves "searching through these carousels and carnival arcades" (to quote Mark Knopfler) for no apparent reason. Flashing lights, raucous noise, distractions everywhere; chaos and confusion. Voices yelling, screaming, laughing, crying... tears for fears, or sheer exuberance. We paid our entry fee on coming here: now all the rides are free. Which one shall we choose next? - the choice is ours!

There's only one catch: we're part of this crazy circus. We can't just stand aside and watch: we're in it - "the hell if you're willing, your name's on the billing", as the old Donovan song puts it. There's only one way in, and only one way out... in the meantime, we're here. So we may as well enjoy it!

It's only a game. That's all this is.

Why? We don't know. And it doesn't matter. It is - that's all.

And it's the only game in town - the only game there is. So we may as well play it for all it's worth! Take it seriously, but not too seriously - it is only a game, after all...

So lighten up... be 'enlightened'! Choose your own rides: and join in the fun of the fair!

Riding the roller-coaster


Look around at the fair. To the left is the carousel, its old gallopers reminding us of the 'good old days'. Beside it is the Tunnel of Love, as tawdry and tinselly as ever - if we're not in that mood, we might feel it's a little overrated! To the right is the Ghost Train, in whose atmosphere of gloom and doom we've already spent a disordinate amount of our time - despite its being nothing like what it used to be... In the background is the circus tent; behind us are stalls selling a wide variety of sickly candy - anything but a wholesome diet, your parents would say! - and over there is the hall of mirrors. But first let's go on forward to the biggest ride of the lot: the Scenic Railway, the roller-coaster.

There's no doubt that life is like a roller-coaster... one moment we're up, the next we're way, way down... And back up again, with an unexpected jolt; then down again into the darkness, with people yelling all round us in an odd mixture of fear and enjoyment. And this is supposed to be fun? Well, yes: it is, if we let go of holding onto everything. But at the same time there are some things we do keep hold of in this wildly lurching world: your seat, for example! The one constant in all this is ourselves, twisting and turning through space and time: so what do we feel here?

Up and down, up and down again; then a sudden swing round a corner - almost felt like we were going off the rails then...! This whole thing is so rickety, it hardly seems possible that it can all hold together: but it does. Somehow... Gawd only knows how!

But watch the emotions: a swirl of fear, then exhilaration - an ever-changing torrent of feelings. As fast as they come, they're gone: if we try to hold onto any one, we get run over by the next, welling up from within at the next move. We can't control them, either: we can look ahead to see what to expect, from the way the rails are going, but expecting and experiencing are two very different things... emotions literally 'move outward in the moment'. Yet we can watch them, passing through us, passing by, without holding on to any of them, without letting any of them grab hold of us. In there, somewhere in there, is a real sense of aliveness, a true sense of power as the power within flows through. Not a transient happiness, not mere ephemeral fun - but joy. "You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star..."

I suppose I'm hardly one to talk: last time I went for a ride on the roller-coaster at Luna Park, I was too busy trying to make sense of how it worked, to take much notice of what was going on around me! Being 'in my head' was a way of avoiding being there in body, I suppose: another habit, another trick of the senses-taker...

But a suggestion: this is probably a good time to go out to a real fun-fair, and put some of this into practice. Experience the analogy: the fun-fair as a microcosm of the wider world. Yes, I know the fairs are tacky, expensive, and often don't seem to be much fun - especially if you're on your own. It's hard work to make it fun. But then so is life, isn't it? It's all in your point of view...

All the rides are like this. We choose them, too: crazy obstacle courses, or some absurd box lurching, twisting, stomach-wrenchingly swirling from side to side in the sky. But what do we do if it suddenly stops being fun, if it all gets too much? Once we're on the ride, we're on it: we're committed. No matter how rough, we can't get off until it's finished - not without getting really damaged rather than merely shaken around a bit... So what do we do?

Wait it out: that's all we can do. We can't blame anyone else for it: we chose this ride, after all... But we know it does come to an end: everything, whether 'good' or 'bad', comes to an end eventually. If we need to, we can recover then. But in the meantime, while it's still going on and all seems just too much, the only essential is not to panic. That only wastes energy, scatters it everywhere but where it could be some use. A few tricks can help, to keep the panic at bay, together with a little discipline: look straight ahead, for example, and keep breathing in long, smooth, deep, regular breaths. We don't try to control the fear, but work with it: stand back from ourselves, so to speak, and watch the emotions passing through, neither attached to them, nor detached from them, but 'non-attached'. All that standard stuff: mystical-sounding clap-trap that always seemed quite useless - until we discover we need it now!

Just like the rest of life, really...

And the fun, the joy, is not in the action but in the process. Not in holding on to any one emotion or action, but in all of them. In being them, rather than doing; in being alive. There's a lot to learn in the fair...

The hall of mirrors


After a few rides, we'll need a rest: take a break to clear the dizziness and the scrambled sensation in the guts. Wander into the hall of mirrors, perhaps. But is it any better in there?

Reflections. Everywhere we look, there are more reflections of ourselves. And distorted reflections at that. As our point of view changes, so do these images of ourselves: here, there's a 'me' that's stretched; there, there's another that makes me look as fat as I sometimes fear I am. In another, a matched pair, I see myself reflected and reflected and reflected from alternating sides, on and on into infinity. And over there is one that's really strange: at first I can see myself quite clearly, but upside-down; but as I get closer it suddenly goes all chaotic and confused, and then reappears the right way up, but somehow stretched and magnified. Odd... I don't quite know whether to laugh or be frightened: there's something a little weird going on in here...

Again, a bit like life...

I look around my home: a mirror of my life. Reasonably tidy, a bit cluttered, probably just too much stuff. Books and papers everywhere, system manuals side-by-side with books on psychology and magic. A computer printer that's been awaiting repair for weeks; flowers in a vase that have probably been dead even longer; and of course a puddle of unfiled invoices in a corner. But the floor is clean, the washing-up is done, the bed made; and over there is the Chinese streamer with its coloured threads drifting in the breeze, interweaving like the threads of wyrd. And my grandfather's brass microscope on the top of the bookshelf, a friend's painting on the wall: old memories. All pretty much a reflection of me, I suppose.

How does your home reflect you - your state of mind, of heart, of being? Look around you: see the reflection in where and how you live. And see how what it is reflects in you, in what you do, how you live. Accept it for what it is: "I am what I am!" - if we want to change it, we first have to recognise what it is...

The nature of wyrd itself suggests that life would be like that: everything a reflection of everything else. Since the same threads of life that make up the wyrd pass through everywhere and everyone, 'out there' would naturally be a reflection of 'in here'. And the bits of ourselves we don't like will tend to be even more prominent 'out there' precisely because we're not looking at them 'in here'. We can access the same stuff either way: it often seems easier doing so by looking at the outside reflection - by looking at what's going on in the world 'outside' of us, the world that seems to be 'not-I' - than by delving deep inside. We can choose - as long as we remember that it's all the same stuff. The inside is the outside is the inside: what we see is always a reflection.

But there are two important catches. One is to recognise that much of what we see is our 'projection' onto the mirrors: the more we dislike something, and the more we hide it in ourselves, the more it will appear outside, to maintain the balance of the reflection. Whichever way it comes, it'll be an issue that our wyrd requires us to face. We can't escape our wyrd: there's no evading the Fates. So we can face it either as happenings 'out there', apparently outside of our control; or we can deal with the issue 'in here', by finding the courage and the awareness to look at what we're actually asking for from life.

It's our choice: it's always our choice. But since it's our wyrd, there's also always a twist...

And that's the other catch: all those mirrors 'out there' distort things, to a greater or lesser degree. Things also change according to our point of view: depending on the kind of mirror, the reflection may change as we move, but it'll still be distorted. Rather like the relationship between want and need, the mirrors often reflect in metaphor rather than literally: it's up to us to interpret the metaphor, to make sense of what we're being shown. With practice, we can learn to interpret even a wildly distorted mirror: but it's easier to start with those that are reasonably predictable!

Some distorting mirrors are like 'yes-men', in that they only show us what we want to see, whether it's true or not; others always show us up in our worst light. Neither are much actual help if we're trying to work out what's going on around us. But that's often all we'll get, if we ask others to help as mirrors: because of all the fears that are floating around in the culture, people are often afraid or unwilling to tell us the truth that they see. A true friend, then, is one who'll risk reflecting back exactly to us what they see or feel, with compassion yet without 'protecting' us from realities that might hurt.

So try what one colleague calls a 'reality check'. If you feel you're certain about something - particularly an intuitive certainty - take the risk, and talk to your friends about it. Ask them to respond in the moment, without thinking: not their considered thoughts, but their immediate responses to you. Watch the mirroring in action: let go, treat any criticism not as an attack, but as a reflection of your own inner uncertainty, echoing through the wyrd. What do you learn?

In the end, there's almost no point in arguing with people, or fighting with them over what is true or not-true - because what we see 'out there' are mirror-masks, reflections of our own inner selves! Fighting with others is as foolish as fighting with our own reflection in the mirror. It is 'out there', of course: but it's also 'in here'. And it's often far more effective - if not necessarily simpler, at first - to deal with the issue inside, by looking within, rather than by struggling in futility against the chaos and distortions of the outside world.

Everything around us is a mirror, reflecting the threads of wyrd that pass through us all: the outside is the inside is the outside. But we do usually have the choice of which mirrors we wish to face: it's important to choose with care. There's always a choice; but there's also, as always, a twist...

Walking the tightrope


Perhaps a little bewildered, we leave the hall of mirrors by what looks like a back door. As we blink in the suddenly bright light, the door slams shut behind us: then we realise where we are. A tiny platform, high above the circus ring: and the only way out is by walking the tightrope! It's a long way across on that wire: but it's an even longer way down if we don't make it... There is a something like a safety-net down there, but it's mighty small: and even if we do land in it, there seems to be some kind of weird contraption attached which would put us right back on this rickety little platform again. No easy way out: it's either across... or down... Some puzzle!

The wyrd has a habit of dumping us in the infamous sink-or-swim scenario, apparently to force us to learn the hard way some lesson we've been avoiding. I have many memories of situations like these - particularly from the haphazard way in which I used to run my business. Somehow I survived them all - I've often no real idea how! But looking back I can see in each case the aspect of reality that I'd left out of balance: the aspect of myself that I was refusing to face in the hall of mirrors. One way or another, it seems, the wyrd would find a way to get me to deal with it... placing me back on the platform at the beginning of the tightrope again and again.

But oh! the embarrassment in looking back at some of those issues! Definitely some sizeable examples of the silliness-barrier there...

Think back to some examples of your own. What kind of weird hoops and balancing acts were you put through before you got the lesson? And what did you learn?

How do we get across the tightrope? The short answer is 'very carefully...'! But it's not just a question of balance. There's also a matter of timing: if we go too fast, we'll almost certainly slip somewhere; yet if we go too slow, trying to control every fraction of every move, we'll also fall. Reality has its own ideas about timing, and won't wait for us to catch up!

A nice illustration of this - given this circus metaphor - is juggling. In principle, it's extremely simple: you throw one ball in the air, and catch it; then another; and another. The problem is that you have to do this with all three at the same time: and they won't wait! The trick is to let go, to allow yourself to catch them without trying to control the process; and also to allow things to 'go wrong', too, especially while you're learning. Try it sometime!

And there's also a matter of commitment: once we start, we have to keep going. In fact trying to turn round and go back is probably the most dangerous thing we can do - but that's exactly what we'll try to do if we panic. That's one reason why so many of us - I, for one - spend so much of our time avoiding commitment. But the wyrd has that habit of throwing us in at the deep end if we wait around too long - and we find then that we're committed, whether we want to be or not!

"How on earth did I get myself into this mess? More to the point, how do I get out of it?" A familiar feeling, perhaps?

For many issues, we don't actually have a choice about whether we face them: the wyrd will make sure of that. It seems to be our fate: we can't evade it - the same issue just keeps coming back and back, harder and harder, until we do finally face it. But we do usually have some choice as to when, and how - as long as we do take that choice before the wyrd takes it for us. If we're honest, we know we can see - or sense - these situations coming; we can feel that sense of 'impending wyrd'. And it would probably be wiser to deal with it while we have the chance - rather than have it deal with us, so to speak. It's a long way down otherwise...

The balance of how we deal with issues is important, too. It's easy to overbalance: if we go too fast or too slow, if we don't keep awareness of what we're doing, or if we try to control, we'll lose it. What happens next depends on how badly we've overbalanced... most often we only know about what's happened when we land in the net! But it's a long drop, and the ropes can be harsh: we'll be lucky if we get away with only a few bruises. Sometimes it can be a lot harder than that...

Quite often, with hindsight, we can interpret some 'misfortune' - an accident, an illness, an end to a relationship or a business - as a weird kind of message, forcing us to face an issue of our own. Time to slow down, deal with it; rest, even. I can certainly see how I was so afraid of loneliness that I wasn't giving myself the time alone that I needed: so the wyrd gave it to me. I didn't exactly like the way it gave it to me - some very painful times there... but I have to admit that it was the only way I'd have faced it. My choice, either way, I suppose...

Think of an example of your own. What was the message there? (Remember that it may well have been in metaphor - 'hungry for company', 'starving for company' - so you may need to look deep inside for an answer.) What did you learn? And how would you get the message back to the wyrd that you'd rather learn it a different way next time?

Each issue we have to face is our own personal tightrope. We can't ask others to do it for us: it's our problem, our own fate, our own wyrd. If we cling too much to others, or allow them to cling to us, there's no way we'll be able to balance on the rope: then we're all in trouble. And some of us may miss the net on the way down... we've all seen examples of that...

This is a tightrope. But like the tightrope, there are well-understood ways to tackle that balance. We learn to be aware, for example, that it is indeed a long drop: we don't deny that fact, but we also don't feed it with our fears. So we don't look down: we'll only panic if we do! The way to deal with the tightrope is to get a clear direction of where we want to go - that tiny-looking platform on the other side - then look straight ahead, just place one foot in front of the other: and just keep going. In many ways that's all there is to it.

It really is a bit like life!

Bring on the clowns!


On the ground at last: relief! But who are those weird people in the shadows? Uh-oh: it's the clowns - and it looks like they think we're part of the act! That's another fine mess we've gotten ourselves into!

This whole tangled, tortuous mess of life is just a chaos of clowns. It is a joke, there's no doubt about that - though often one in dubious taste. It may not seem much fun at times to be on the receiving end of yet another one of life's custard pies, though the watchers may well think it's hilarious - perhaps especially as they're not the ones it's happening to at the moment! But we'd better get ourselves in the right frame of mind to enjoy it, because it's slapstick time, whether we like it or not...

So often we'd like things to be ordered, controlled, sensible, rational. We don't want things to be silly and stupid: we want things to make sense, to have a reason, a meaning, a purpose.

The short answer is: they don't. Life is also crazy; life is also stupid; life is also pointless. At the least, it includes those aspects into itself: so it won't always make sense.

Life is. That's all...

Everywhere is chaos: and there's no point in complaining about it. It is. In science, for example - or at least in engineering - there's probably only one true law: Murphy's Law. But being a law, it also applies to itself, and usually cancels out - so what we think of as 'order' is better understood as chaos cancelling chaos. Not so much probability theory, you might say, as improbability in practice... And there is, of course, a twist, as the new mathematics of chaos demonstrates: evolution is 'chaos with feedback', simple systems can be surprisingly complex, complex systems surprisingly simple, different processes can follow similar patterns, and similar-looking processes follow very different ones. As one writer put it, "behind apparent order lies an eerie kind of chaos; yet behind that chaos lies an even eerier kind of order". So even the chaos is weird!

The ordinary turns out to be weird; the weird twists of wyrd turn out to be the ordinary, the normal reality of life. And we thought this was serious? It's time we took some lessons from the clowns!

Yet behind it all there is 'an even eerier kind of order'. And we can use that to enjoy the weirdness, rather than trying to fight against it. It's not always easy; and it is, of course, weird. We've come a fair way along it already: but now it's time to put it more into practice. So it's time to leave the circus and the fun-fair, and return from the metaphor to our everyday world. And move onward within it, steadily, each in our own way, one step at a time.