MERLIN – mini thoughts on heartache

*originally a tweet

I want to tell you a story. It’s about stubborn pain – you know, the stuff that won’t shift. If you’re with stubborn pain of your own it may (or may not) help. Either way. Here’s MERLIN.

It was early 2019 & still winter. Stark dark strange light in the air – like midnight decided to be day, you know. Winter winter. And I was feeling four years old after being betrayed, twice. In ways I didn’t expect, by people I never expected. It was whiplash of the heart. The chambers inside had all the candles snuffed out. Lost in the darkness of myself I kept wandering about stubbing my toes and kept falling on my ass and blundering into the soft sides of myself which bruised even further. I became afraid I’d never get out. Fear became a kind of anger and I punched at my heart chambers, trying to escape somewhere I’d once loved being. All the punching caused my heart to swell further, so much so, I thought I might suffocate. Suffocated by my own heart bruises – what a way to go eh…

My lungs were crushed back into my ribs by the ever expanding heart bruises. And we all know the lungs house all the words, don’t we? The heart didn’t care, it flattened the world of words. So I struggled harder inside the heart, i would not lose my words, “I’ve nice strong acrylics” I thought, “I will scrape my way out.” I’m a Gorton girl, I can fight dirty. And so I ripped a hole through my heart. A good big tear. Hooray! Freedom! But no… blood! No time for a snorkel nor flippers, oh no, i was hit in the face by my own frenzied actions.

“You know how to swim, what’s wrong with you?” said the roaring of blood sending me cascading through the dark heart chambers. I was too afraid to scream in case my own blood engulfed me further, you know, pull me under… further under… and where IS further under? Is there a place beyond the inner? Is the seabed the bottom, the end, when there’s fire in the core below hard rock?

I refused to go under. I grabbed onto my usual outer activities for relief. I called friends and listened to their anger, nodding along as the inner foundations of my world crumbled anyway. I worked harder, writing about painful things happening to fictional people and some enjoyed the honesty. An honesty I have no real choice over “I am honesty, I AM” I chanted into the night as if to coax the Sandman closer, forever wondering what merit praise has for something that can’t be helped.

I fell backwards into my new age roots, by sellotaping crystals to my heart and called out to the unicorns to carry away my self-pity “help me not feel this” I begged. But they were too busy at some other pony gala with “high vibing“ people to nay-away my woes. “I am rubbish” I thought until defiance protected my ego: “FUCK YOU stupid HORNED HORSES! One day I will find you and burn your stables down!”

Still further backwards to my pagan past I fell, maybe the ancestors had answers back in the faerie hills of Ireland. Maybe The Lady Beneath the Cloak of Crows wanted this blood? Maybe she was feeling ignored? Perhaps I could appease her with…? i wrote symbols with watercolours on post it notes, danced in circles for hours, and gathered fat pink rose petals for her…

I stuffed gaping empty coffee jars with plump petals & my sweat & my mumbles & just stuff stuff stuff. On top of the pain and petals went seeds, flying saucer sweets, and big blobs of honey and cacao. I sealed the jar and tied the reddest of red ribbons around the top. On to my sagging tired body went winter clothes – parka, docs, fluffy mittens and out into the wind I threw myself… away in search of the faerie bird: Kestrel.

Cold and snotty, my breath hung in hopeful silver clouds capable of carrying ignorant/wise monkey to nirvana before me. I sat and waited. Waited beneath the tree where Kestrel normally meets me. Kestral is kindness. She looks after changlings as well as fairies and I was convinced she’d understand the importance of the jar. That she’d feel the tremoring inner contents and hurry to grasp the chaos and carry it away to The Lady Beneath the Cloak of Crows so I could be saved. But Kestrel had gone. She’d flown somewhere else. I was alone with only the early morning winter for quiet dark company. But… Persistence/blind folly are my strengths so every morning over ice in my rustling parka and odd woolly socks I went. Under the sleeping tree I’d sit. But Kestrel really had flown away. I was overcome by deep sulking. Jealousy. Obsessed, thinking of Kestrel with better magical people, shimmering her orange sunlight on someone more worthy, someone less of a middle-age clown drowning in her own blood because she ripped open her own heart chambers. I was a dickhead.

“Only I can make the altar of hope into a grave” I woed (Yes, it was this level of sulking: Deep Level Sulking) “fuck you then magical creatures. I will be human, who needs you?” And I threw my jar into the branches and stomped away to do proper human things like…Therapy. Only by now I could talk in nothing but Red coloured bubbles that had the habit of popping, LOUD and unexpected, showering us both in shock. And blood. Such popping makes a clown of the blower and mocks the cleverness of the listener, so I had to go away. My buffoonery was infectious, I was making dickheads out of all I touched with my blood bubbles. I ran away…

To sweat on dance floors, to cry in toilets, to yell at people on social media. (All the usual human things) BUT. Still the bloody heart. Still. The. Bloody. Heart. Full of jumbling memories & bubbling hot blood. Too many bubbles within – all the dancing had whipped them up now and my lungs were struggling to breathe…”So this is drowning” my inner faerie would whisper every night as the sandman lap-danced lusty movements of sleep above me to the crackling sound of unbirthed blood bubbles stuck in my throat. Never once would Sandman kiss me goodnight – not even a peck – night after night, only temptations of sleep (twat) until I could take tired angry sadness no more… and climbed out of bed to do something…

I went on twitter (as you do) and I listened to you birds – some happy, some sad… all songs were welcome. And then, I saw a name I’d not seen in a while. Gen-la Kelsang Dekyong. It had been some years since I’d heard them speak. And my charcoal heart lurched. I would seek her out, seek her out to sit near her. It was everything! I would beg, steal, and borrow to get a train ticket. Let her show me peace. Peace will mend these swollen torn burnt chambers, oh I was certain, so certain…

I arrived at Manjushri KMC with my old prayer beads wrapped around my wrist like a janitor jangling keys and yoga mat over my shoulder like Robin Hood. I ate little and chanted for hours until Amitayus danced an animated jig on my head and a fly died in the blistering heat of our voices, it’s body slapped onto my prayer book. I lost my mind. I wept. “It all dies and it’s rubbish and it’s pointless.” Only the fly wasn’t dead. The bluebottle revived itself. But I didn’t. I left the temple in a peculiar rage.

What kind of trickery is this? That I should feel so certain, be so convinced by what I see… only to be mistaken?

Am I mistaken?

Am I? And if so, about how much? Fire burned through the blood filled chambers within, charring everything. Chants rolled around my mind. I felt parched, like how a dragon’s throat must feel. But for the first time in weeks I bypassed the sandman shaking his ass, and fell asleep. For hours I slept. It was Merlin who woke me later that night…

BANG BANG BANG on the retreat entrance. Through the glass in the doors I saw him. An older white-haired man wearing a purple raincoat, he was juicy plump and looked like a lost member of the Grateful Dead. He was banging his walking stick on the doors and shooing at a young Buddhist volunteer. “dick” I thought, smiling sympathy at the young helper before entering the kitchen for green tea. I sat in the softest chair trying not to hate the man for being loud and rude… when he sat down beside me *sigh* and smiled. Politeness made me smile back, but resentment shone from my skinny lips like poison gloss.

“for everyone they say,” he rambled and I closed my eyes. His accent, Irish. I’m transported home, in a way. There’s something in his tone that shakes charcoal from the inner chambers of my heart. “For everyone, but yet no lift, how do I get to my room on the top floor?” He shakes his stick and I ignore him. Shut up, I’m here pretending to be a good Buddhist and you’re ruining it. “Bastards” he adds. I look at the door, is it rude to just leave? I stand to go. “Will you help me?” He asks, and I look back at him… Something about him asking so honestly disarmed me completely. I waited to hear what he wanted.

“I need your tea” he said simply. Rage. Completely disproportionate and electrifying like Zeus’ lightening through my mind. ‘get your own tea stupid hippy man.’ I thought. But He looks at me and I hand him the cup. Only for him to laugh

“I don’t want it unless you give it freely” and he chortles like a big purple skinned walrus. All I want to do is smash the cup in his face. But I chose to condescend instead. “You shouldn’t have shouted at the volunteer like that you know” he shrugs. “So we’re all three of us bastards, who cares?” and with that, I sat back down. I’d been seen. And it didn’t matter.

He grumbled about Buddhism – the inner/outer expressions of oneness, the cruel realities of being alive – the suffering and desire to alleviate other people’s suffering. “It’s a big fucking wheel” he said with something like laughter. I wasn’t really listening, stuck on what he’d said about “giving freely” or not at all. I realised my problem was me. I realised he’d been quiet a long time when he finally asked “why are you here?”

And suddenly I didn’t know. To say “I loved hoping to be loved in return” or “Someone stole what I would have given freely” felt stupid now. Instead I talked changes: “I made it worse by struggling against the changes.” I offered, as if wise “You struggled against it being what it was; shit” he offered, again too simply. “It’s normal. Who wants to feel their broken-heart? Still…” he said slurping my tea “broken things need to be broken before mending” and what I thought would make me angry instead stilled the blood bubbles. “Hey you” he shouted at the volunteer “help me up” and without a flicker of the resentment I’d felt, the Buddhist helped him to his feet. “You should go home Alexandra” said Merlin as he left the room with a bellyful of (MY) tea. A generous exchange for offering me a way out to be fair.

The next morning, I wandered out so early only the nuns were awake, I gathered a small handful of sand from the beach and filled a little paper bag with it. I didn’t know what I wanted it for, perhaps just ownership. I sat down, tired of all the doing, the collecting, the trying. Damp sand wet my arse through my jeans. “My heart is charred and bruised, ripped and torn”. Was my mantra “And now I gather sand, for no real reason and my arse is wet”. I was absurd. I couldn’t help laughing “I am torn, ripped, and burned, sandy and wet” and just like the Jesus bluebottle resurrected in the heat breath of mourning – something within me settled – something eased. Maybe if I just let myself be … I closed my eyes …

The heart chambers disappeared. I was submerged in a soft sea of blood. Somehow I could breathe. Somehow currents pulled me along. Below me hooves pounded hard impossible ground. Somewhere above me, the familiar scree of the kestrel in a far off sky…

Nine months on and this morning is the first time I’ve woken without dread shivering through me. There is peace. And from this stillness, a remembrance of Merlin. Nine months is not lost on me either. When I first heard Gen-la Kelsang Dekyong they spoke of forgiving everyone “for we are all each other’s mothers”…

And so I decided to share with you, in case you have a similar stubborn pain that will not shift no matter how many petals, or sweets, you throw at it. Perhaps you too can find value in sinking to be carried, rather than struggling to swim away. Who knows eh? I don’t. But I do know you’re a probably a lovely bluebottle.