Written February 2012
“Everything in life can be broken down into moments of transition, or moments of revelation. This had the feeling of both. There is a greater darkness than the one we fight; it is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The war we fight is not against powers and principalities; it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender. The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.”
G’Kar, Babylon 5, from Z’ha’dum, Season 3
The above quote is from an American science fiction television series called Babylon 5 written by Joe Michael Straczynski. It ran for 5 seasons, spawned several TV movies and sequels and had a huge impact on the face of American television which before then had been episodic in nature.
Babylon 5 created huge landscapes of narrative spanning many episodes with seeds for character and story arcs planted in season 1 not being fulfilled until the end of season 3 or even later. Through these characters we were able to witness the change and transformation in them against a backdrop of events happening around them; the macrocosm of the universe mirroring the microcosm of the individual. Babylon 5 is about choices, consequences and responsibilities.
Straczynski made the extraordinary decision, and mammoth task, to write over 100 episodes himself including the TV movies; a feat unheard of in American television at that time. Season 1 began broadcasting in the UK in 1994. Please remember that year as it comes up again later.
The first time I heard that quote, my body covered in goose bumps. And it still does in all the years since it was first broadcast in 1996. Its resonance goes way beyond anything I have felt before or since. It reminds me of my own journey to wholeness and to the discovery of who and what I am, a journey still very much in transition, for it continues to be born in moments of revelation.
Long journeys are shaped by a series of smaller journeys each of which helps one to unearth parts hidden long ago. It is as though we become archaeologists searching for evidence of our existence submerged by decades of other people’s flotsam and jetsam, their action or inaction, their neglect, their choices, their responsibilities or lack of, and their unwillingness to accept the consequences of those choices.
For me, my moments of revelation come only after many months in the wilderness of what if’s, of emptiness, of depression, of resistance, in desire that the fantasy will survive the onslaught of illness and pain, the struggle against the moments of grief and anger, resisting what is in hope that what is, isn’t.
As the quote says, there are moments of transition and moments of revelation. When I awoke from a fitful sleep at 3 am one morning, I definitely had the sense of both. My moment of transition catapulted me headlong into a moment of revelation.
These moments of revelation are to be treasured. They don’t surface many times in one’s life so it is always the best choice to make good use of them when they do emerge out of the deep crevices of the mind and soul and spirit and to listen intently to what they have to say. For me, these moments are calming and soothing and stabilising as well as providing answers to long held questions that remain from early childhood until this moment in my life some 50 years later.
These revelatory moments are there to bring solace, healing, understanding, conclusion and completion, and in most cases, just another beginning. Many of these moments provide an individual solution to a specific issue but when all are collected they become a greater view of one’s life, a bigger picture, a map outlining a journey. Looking back at older revelations from the wisdom of the present can aid a re-perception of the now and help us to understand more our current experiences.
- Why has my heart palpitations carried on for so long?
- Why does the fear continue to rise seemingly from nowhere to scar my continued existence?
- Why were my muscles always screaming for rest?
- Why do I feel so worthless and lacking in confidence?
- Why does my body seem to have trouble swallowing and digesting the very nutrients it needs for living?
These are some of the deep unanswered questions weighing me down.
How does one get to experience a revelatory moment?
You have to be ready to view your deepest fears and those issues that are causing your physical and emotional symptoms. We resist looking until the pain we are enduring exceeds the pain of the unknown; it is only at this point we jump, open our eyes and listen with our ears to comprehend what is before us.
The pressure builds with illness and disease, terror and fear, anxiety and breathlessness until one is willing to stare intently at the pain and emotions whose source is the epicentre of the experienced symptoms. These moments rise like a volcano erupting suddenly, unexpectedly, expelling rivers of unnecessary crud and dross over the landscape of the soul, body and mind. Everything that is no longer of service comes spilling out covering large swathes of terrain, a terrain that is us. Floating in this dross are diamonds of hope, small oasis’ of information and knowledge that can change perceptions, our perceptions.
In my revelatory moment at 3 am, I remembered when I was at junior school, probably around 9 years of age. That day at school, a picture fought its way to the surface through the mists of my mind, an image presenting a stunning vista with blue rivers cutting through green drenched hills and valleys, and all in 3D; my very own Jerusalem. It had, what appeared to be, contour lines running through the slopes just like a drawn map would have.
I set about trying to emulate this image and started to build a model out of polystyrene sheets cutting and following the contour lines. I spent many hours fashioning the sheets, sticking and pasting all the parts together. My excitement surged when the time arrived to show my teacher all this hard work. I placed the parts on a tin baking tray and filled the tray with water. The polystyrene started to float about on the surface of the water and began to fall apart, self destructing right before my eyes. The result didn’t even have a sense of likeness to that which had been in my mind’s eye. It was a pale shadow, a glimmer of nothing, a ghost.
The intensity of those feelings overwhelmed me. Something within had shattered beyond all hope of repair. The sense of failure and destruction of confidence and sense of worth was palpable causing darkness to enter my soul, the death of hope and the death of dreams. My disappointment, frustration, anger and worthlessness became the record I spent years replaying over and over again. It is as though my map of life had splintered into millions of razor sharp pieces making the rest of my journey increasingly hazardous and very insecure.
With this one event, I had planted a seed of destruction within that everyone around simply continued to water. My parents, siblings, relatives, peers, schools friends, work colleagues, all played their part in magnifying the rotten core within.
During that same school year, I experienced another situation where I was the first boy in my class to wear long trousers. This was mainly due my physical size – short trousers looked silly on someone of my stature. I hadn’t felt any different that morning wearing my new outfit but the other boys in the class were definitely peeved and made their displeasure quite vocal. I didn’t realise it at that time but they were simply jealous of my status.
To counter these “threats”, my parents gave me some money to buy these bullies some sweets after lunch (bribe may well be a better description). This made things all the worse as they then expected more sweets to stop the bullying. It is situations like this that we realise that our parents don’t necessarily have our best interests at heart.
Much later during my apprenticeship at the age of around 16, a boy kept touching my bottom. Whether he was gay or not was not the cause of my distress. He was showing contempt for my personal space and ridiculing me in front of his friends. We were surrounded by metal working tools, huge lathes and milling machines; not a place to start a fight. I could sense my fists tightening ready to punch him squarely in the face. My anger surged to a level that scared me. I had not felt anything that fierce before. An internal conflict grew within as I weighed the consequences of violence towards him. Being beaten to a pulp up by him and his friends later was just one of the possibilities. The other was that I would surely be sacked from an apprenticeship that I enjoyed. As always, we are faced with choices, consequences and responsibilities. I knew what the possible consequences were so decided to ignore this boy’s attempt at ridicule and stuffed it deeply away preferring not to look at it again. And so, rather than let it go, I chose to carry those deep feelings with me for many more years.
Many other events occurred during my time at school and at work that affected my ability to do well. I have experienced gender dysphoria for many years and during a particularly dark period I felt unable to express my feelings to anyone. One of my work colleagues, whom I considered a close friend, could be an ally in this so I approached him for some advice. Within 10 minutes, he had told everyone in the section about our private conversation and so they had even more ammunition to tease me with. The sense of betrayal was overwhelming. It took me a very long time to trust anyone else.
Pivots & Tipping Points
We meet during our lifetime, pivots, tipping points and critical masses. These can come in many shapes and many guises. They can be a situation that initiates a series of chaotic events or a person who appears in our life for just a moment, or for several years, that has an influence greater that one would expect. They could be someone next door, or thousands of miles away across the other side of the world. That event or person is simply a catalyst prompting a moment of transition to materialize. It becomes a phoenix moment where the old is burned away ready for an unknown new to take its place.
My year of chaos began in 1994 (that year again). Four funerals and a wedding later, I was about to die metaphorically speaking only to be reborn in a different guise 12 months later. The light at the end of the tunnel was no longer a train on collision course. The source of illumination was a spark of understanding, of appreciation, of discernment, a new perception of life and existence. 1994 was a significant tipping point where the old was ripped away suddenly, to be replaced with a gradual morph into something new and unknown, but actually quite exciting. Before then, life was about maintaining the status quo at all costs at the expense of my mental and physical health. After then, life is about experience, letting things happen, and certainly my health hasn’t been good but that is due to the body releasing all the toxins of past misdemeanours.
The positive influences for me are just two people; Simon Parnall and Joe Straczynski. Both of these characters ignited something within me that began to ripple throughout the rest of my life; Simon for his software design skills and Joe for his wordsmith dexterity and flair.
I had worked with Simon at the BBC for many years and during that time I learned a great deal about designing software from him. I had not been formally trained at school or college because microprocessors, in the early 1970’s, had only just been invented and the personal computer was still several years away. I thus had to learn on the job. The PC’s then were a pale comparison of the PC’s you see on your desk now. A simple USB memory stick now would have taken up a large room then and probably required a small version of Battersea Power Station to run it.
For me, training in a topic doesn’t usually have the desired effect as I find it difficult to sit down, read for hours and absorb new information. I learn by doing and by osmosis, by seeing the way others approach the same problems. I do read books but for reference more than anything, just to clarify topics and to reinforce the knowledge.
Simon, for me, opened great chasms in the rock face exposing rich veins of creativity in my soul sparking the flames of inspiration and originality lying dormant within. Simon showed by example how to construct and develop software in logical ways breaking the problem down into simple tasks that could be designed and changed without affecting the whole. The thought processes he demonstrated inspired me to think in different ways about software and especially, how to think outside the box. I am still now, some 25 years later, being visited by ideas and concepts and ways of thinking that Simon had so brilliantly encouraged. Doing is easy, ideas are difficult, original ideas are few.
As for Joe, even though he is many thousands of miles away, the distance is insignificant compared with the impact he has had on my writing style. It is that old chestnut osmosis again. From a youngster, I had always had trouble voicing my inner feelings and thoughts and failed all of the English tests and exams I took during my school and college years. No one truly understood me as an individual so I eventually became invisible; simply a coping mechanism to limit the hurt and pain.
Through Joe’s writing, through his use of words and phrases, through his expertly crafted sentences, I discovered a hidden well of self-expression I had never experienced before. For me, this new experience, this new way of confidence and boldness drew out the buried pain I had concealed for so many years. Not only was I releasing whole swathes of dark emotion, I was able to uncover major parts of myself that had crusted over for protection.
Why have I described more negative influences than positive ones? That is because there are many more negative influences. Let me explain.
Difficult situations arise in our lives for the express purpose of showing us what is within, dark areas, traits if you will that we have hidden from view. They are only dark because we have learned that the fundamental qualities we possess are somehow offensive, wrong, immoral, sinful, inappropriate and probably a surreptitious mixture of all of the above. Those virtues which define us as individuals are deemed incorrect, not by ourselves but by other people. We are constantly looking for approval from our parents most of all, our siblings, and then those others we come into contact with during our lifetime.
As we grow from babies to teenagers to adults, we act and react. If we do something that is applauded, we simply repeat it. If we are scolded for something else, we learn very quickly not to do it again. When those so-called erroneous attributes are such an integral part of our nature, it becomes exceedingly difficult to manage hiding it inside. Those attributes fight for expression for years, surfacing as and when they please and usually at the most inopportune moments only to be squashed when someone complains.
For me, my particular “challenging” attribute was gender dysphoria. This is an experience where the body does not conform to one’s own image of self. It doesn’t seem to fit and feels like a badly cut suit that rubs in all the wrong places. There were times when my parents “caught” me cross-dressing and, as a response to their negative reaction, I became very skilled in hiding it. Threats of doctors and hospitals were the order of the day as well as loud and angry voices. I felt like I wanted to be invisible. And so that part of me became invisible, hidden away where no one would find it and eventually, I had successfully hidden it from myself too.
Like everything that falls between the cracks, this too came bubbling up from the depths to awaken another series of chaotic events. Experiencing the denial and resistance of my gender issue triggered a loss of 3 stone in weight almost leading me to the final choice of a bottle of tablets.
Put simply, some people are there to act as a mirror to reflect back to us our hidden traits, the guilt and the anger trapped in our body we are ignorant of, or simply refuse to deal with. People are there to help us shake loose the dross we have collected over the decades from yet another set of individuals. People are there as a constant reminder that we have to always look within to find the ultimate cause of our pain and suffering for it is in how we feel about that person’s action that is the key. We wouldn’t turn over this rubbish ourselves voluntarily for it is far too painful an exercise; we have to be pushed.
You see, it is not the person that hurt us by what they did or said; they are simply a trigger, a reminder, an agent provocateur, that prompted a memory of an event that occurred many years or decades in the past. Put even simpler, when someone says or does something that annoys you or you feel anger rising from deep within, look at this as an opportunity to clear accumulated rubbish from earlier times. You can only deal with things when you become aware of them.
Some people surface occasionally in our lives that become positive influences. They are there to ignite a spark of creativity, to regenerate the skills, abilities and talents that lay dormant within. Some of these skills may already be known to us but suppressed due to events or experiences that drive it beneath the surface. Their simple role is to help us rediscover those inherent gifts. You don’t require many such visitors during a lifetime because their impact creates tsunami levels of ripples that for lasts for years if not for decades. They simply plant a seed and step back for you to continue to water and nurture.
Babylon 5 quotes Copyright © J. Michael Straczynski and Warner Brothers