The Agony of Nothing

This blog post is the last issue of The Healing Journey, the letter I send out to subscribers. You may subscribe here to receive the email.

This past August my parents and our family suffered the loss of Maggie, our beloved Great Dane, to bone cancer. A few weeks after Maggie died my mother announced that she was getting a new puppy. I was surprised. When Maggie was deteriorating my mum had stated very clearly that she would never get another dog.

“You said you weren’t going to get another dog,” I reminded her.

“I know,” she answered, “But I can’t bear the agony of nothing.”

“The agony of nothing,” I repeated, impressed by her ability to name so aptly our existential human emptiness, “That’s it. Right there. That is what it all comes down to. If we cannot learn to bear the agony of nothing–”

“We’re doomed!” she interjected.

That wasn’t exactly what I was going to say. I was going to say that if we cannot learn to bear the agony of nothing then we are destined to get a puppy to make the pain go away. But what happens when the puppy dies and we are once again left with that “deep-down, black, bottom-of-the-well, no-hope, end-of-the-world, what’s-the-use loneliness”? (Thank you, Charlie Brown.)

Well, we can always find something else to temporarily relieve the dread. There is no shortage in today’s world: shopping, sex, TV, booze, dope, chocolate cake. On and on it goes.

Eventually those things stop working, too, and the Black Hole returns. What then? How do we bear the Agony of Nothing?

By spending time with it.

Yup. When when we stop trying to a-void the Void, when we make friends with the thing we fear most, it becomes transformed. Solitude is no longer lonely and Silence is no longer empty.

It takes great courage to do this. Exploring the foreign territory of our inner lives can be terrifying. It is the Great Unknown, after all. I myself have uncovered a hundred forms of fear living inside of me. By getting to know these fears intimately and confronting my terror head-on, their power has been massively reduced. And I’m happy to report that I have been liberated by at least eighty-seven of them. Maybe eighty-eight.

This is how healing actually happens. Interior freedom occurs when we walk through the fear rather than run from it, work with the pain rather than alter it. Entering fully into the Agony of Nothing creates, miraculously, the Possibility of Something. That Something is better than a puppy. Because it is, in fact, Everything.

Thus begins the astonishing process of living from our Everythingness instead of from the agony of our nothingness. And it is a process. And puppies are most definitely allowed.

From the fires of love,


Take Care

I recently posted about making a major life decision and how difficult it can be when perfectionism or the fear of making a mistake is a dominant, controlling factor. Another element that hinders my own healthy decision-making is the desire to protect other people from their hurt feelings.

The decision I made to return to Canada directly impacted a number of people, and one person in particular, whom I shall call Maura, was especially affected. She and I had been living together in community for 8 months and I knew that if I left she would be alone, hurt and even betrayed by my choosing to go. The thought of inflicting these feelings upon Maura was enough to make me stay. The voices of dissent were pretty loud: How could I do this to her? Leaving her was totally unconscionable; an unforgivable, selfish act.

These negative thoughts plagued me and I wavered, thinking it would be better to sacrifice my own well-being to save Maura from her pain.

Red-flag moment. Save Maura? When I get into saving someone else I know I am in big trouble. I have moved out of the relative safety of taking care of someone and into the dangerous territory of care-taking. There is a big difference between the two.

“Taking care” involves looking after someone’s needs, being of service, helping out. Care-taking is about looking after someone else’s needs at the cost of my own and serving the ego’s desire for approval and esteem. It is not helpful. To anyone.

If I had stayed to protect Maura from her grief not only would I have been compromising my own needs, making me emotionally sick (and possibly even physically), I would also have been depriving Maura of her own life process. Not my job.

Care-taking is controlling behaviour at its most subtle. I tell myself I am protecting Maura therefore I am doing a good thing. I am noble. I am a saint! In fact, I am simply trying to orchestrate an outcome over which I am entirely powerless. I cannot save Maura from herself.

The consequences of care-taking can be dire because in trying to protect the other person I eventually become angry and resentful. If I had stayed in community with Maura I would have begun to see her as the one now keeping me from living my fullest and best life. And even though she didn’t ask me to protect her, even though I took it upon myself to save her, she would have been the one to blame for my faulty thinking. See the insanity? I sacrifice myself and it’s her fault.

Leaving Maura was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I wrestled with the question of what was right and agonized over whether I was wrong. In the end, I chose to put my own well-being first. (Even writing that sentence feels uncomfortable.) Doing so required an enormous amount of trust that my own liberation would somehow mean Maura’s liberation, too. Even if it caused her pain.

Inspiring Message of the Day: Am I able to embrace the concept of self-care? Do I attend to what is life-giving for me? If I am putting myself last on the list and it is costing me too much I will begin to trust that my own deepest needs can come first.



It is just before 5 a.m. and there is a ghostly bird whistling somewhere outside in the dark. I am not able to identify a bird by its call. Some, like the chickadee, are obvious. I got to know the sound of a baby coot because there was one living on the nearby lake and it peeped incessantly. The bird I’m hearing now could be a wood pigeon or an owl. Its sound is almost a cry, somewhere between a hoot and a coo. A hoo.

I was awake at three, possibly because of jet lag, having arrived back in the UK after 3 weeks in Canada. But it’s been a few days now so it is more likely the mind unable to fall back to sleep after being woken to go and relieve the bladder. I was dreaming of giant crocodiles and Steve Irwin, bless his Crocodile Hunter heart.

The mind is also being kept awake by its desire to ruminate further on a major life decision. The decision has been made but how it loves to go over and over the details! I employed all meditation techniques to no avail. Finally I got up to write.

Making decisions at the best of times let alone major life ones is never easy for the recovering perfectionist. I once stood in the linen section of a giant store trying to decide which sheets to buy. I was probably there for an hour before I left empty-handed. If I struggle to decide whether the cotton-striped or the plain flannel are right for me you can imagine what happens when I have something really important to discern. Total mental chaos leading to eventual paralysis.

I have gotten better. There is hope. Change is possible. And yet I still seem to have to go through a certain amount of turmoil before I actually decide what to do. Sticking with the decision is also difficult. Depending on the level of impact on others I can experience all kinds of guilt and shame and remorse. Ridiculous but true.

So I’ve made a major life decision. I’ve decided to move back to Canada after 19 months abroad, leaving the community I’ve been living in and the job I’ve been working at. It is the right thing to do and yet the fear comes at me in myriad ways threatening to pull me back and keep me down. I need every resource at my disposal to remain steadfast in the peace that came with the final decision. Because believing the doubt does not bring peace. It just sets me back in indecision. And indecision is really just another form of control.

Control is the perfectionist’s drug of choice. Getting off it is a lifetime journey of letting go practiced one decision at a time. Luckily, or unluckily, depending on your view, Life itself is the rehab centre. We’re given countless opportunities each day to release the fear and trust in the Unknown. Like the bird singing in the dark trusting day will come.

Inspiring Message of the Day: Despite my fear of making a mistake I will stick to my decision. I will surrender perfectionism and let go of trying to get it right. I will practice trusting the Unknown.

Wait Here Before X-ing

Dearest Readers,

(Aside: Forgive yesterday’s post. Because I committed to blogging six days a week for one full year I sometimes let myself get away with the absolute minimum in order to meet the goal. Unfortunately that can mean asking you to accept slapdash inspiration on days when time is an issue!)

Yesterday as I was driving back from Keno City I hit a bird. Not a small bird but big, grouse-like creature. Big enough to make a sound when the impact hit. Big enough to feel.

Actually, I should say the grouse (or ptarmigan) hit me. It flew out from the side of the road and straight across into the truck. Wham! I looked into the rearview mirror and saw a poof of feathers fly up and then the body of the bird roll and bounce out from under the vehicle. Awful.

“What should I do?” I thought. “Stop?”

By the time I had answered that question I was a long way down the road. So obviously the answer was “no”. I didn’t stop. Was that callous of me? Some might say, “Don’t be ridiculous. It’s a bird.” Others might be horrified. “You could have at least pulled over and moved the poor thing to the ditch, Celia!”

Later on down the road a bunny rabbit ran out from the side of the road just as I passed it. There was another vehicle right behind me and the fast little thing made it to the other side just a hair (I couldn’t resist) ahead of the speeding wheels of the other car. There were no other vehicles on the road. Why had that rabbit chosen to go right then? When the risk was highest? Here come two cars in a row. Go now!

And why had the grouse flown into the truck?

This reminds me of the times in my own life when I’ve thrown myself into situations without thought or careful discernment. I’ll just fling myself into this thing right now because I just have to go now and SMACK!

Painful consequences. “Oh why did I have to do that?”

Much improvement has been made, believe me. I take ridiculous amounts of time to make decisions now. But that time-taking determination has been borne out of getting a whallop one too many times. Look before you cross the road. Look both ways. Now look again. All clear? Are you sure? Okay. You can go.

Who knows why animals feel compelled to throw themselves into oncoming traffic. I know why I’ve done it. Impatience. Fear of not getting what I want. Sometimes it is more compulsive. I’m driven by a self-destructive force and am powerless to make a healthy choice. Whatever the reason the outcome is never fun and there is rarely goodness to come from such behaviour.

How to trust that waiting is the right thing to do? How to trust that Higher Guidance?

Practice. Practice waiting and seeing. Practice allowing Higher Guidance to have the reins. Practice watching the unfoldment of events (in the situation you’ve let go of) and then bear witness to the results. When things work out better than we could have ever planned we will gain new trust in the Wisdom of Waiting.

Only then can we really fly.

Inspiring Message of the Day: Even though I want to fly NOW I will wait and see if the skies are clear before I take off. I will begin to trust that by doing so I will be given the wings to soar.

(By the way, tomorrow I will be leading a Cultivate Your Courage Teleclass and I hope that some of you will join me.)

Lost and Found

Dearest Readers,

Good news! I am now blogging from a brand-new (used) 13″ MacBook and she’s an absolutely lovely little thing. The brilliant team at Meadia Solutions also managed to recover the contents of the hard drive off the iBook I lost last week.

All together now: Hallelujah!

This means that the 16 pages of GITA that I had painstakingly excavated from the Ether is intact. I don’t have to start from scratch. I was prepared to do that. I knew the chances of recovery were slim and that I may well have had to go back to the beginning. I was steeling myself for the results of the “operation” with a combination of gritted teeth and total surrender.

The surrendered part of me even began to be excited by the idea of having to start all over again. It felt like an opportunity to free fall. The gritted-teeth part of me, however, was not so excited about beginning anew. This idea felt more like having to climb Mount Everest. So you can imagine how thankful I am that those 16 pages are still in existence.

It was interesting to see the different reactions in people to the dilemma. One guy, a journalist friend, said, “Hey, I’ve lost stuff and the new draft was actually way better. A clean slate can do wonders for the piece.” His reaction helped bring on the excitement.

But another guy, a computer technician, grabbed his heart and practically fainted. He understands the importance of backing things up and for him it meant a monumental loss. His mock-heart-attack made me very glad I got the work back.

Last week, when I was in no man’s land, waiting for clarity on how to proceed after the laptop got cooked, I had tea with a fellow artist. During our discussion we spoke of all the challenges and the joys of creating and striving and persevering in our craft. When we parted she said something to me that hit me with such a weight that I had to write it down.

From my little notebook I now give you her gem:

“Let’s get together again and share about the desperately courageous act of trying to create.”

Whump. I don’t know where that hits you but if you’re an artist (or if you avoiding being an artist) it will hit you between the eyes, in the heart, the gut and the groin. Why? Because she nailed it.

It takes courage, desperate courage to create art. Creating is an act of trust. Something is going to come. Moving into that place of trust is often glorious, seldom easy and mostly terrifying. What keeps me going is believing deeply in that old adage about the artist being the instrument. It’s not about me.

So today I will get back to the writing of GITA and I will do so with 16 pages of a draft to support me. But if I didn’t have those 16 pages I would still summon that courage, that desperate courage, and I would begin anew, trusting that the ideas, the characters, the story would be there.

BTW, thanks be to the God of Hard Drives.

Inspiring Message of the Day: Today, despite the terror of beginning anew, I will jump in to the act of creation with Courage and Trust.