Thursday, 8 December 2016

The astonishing power of the single step backwards.

At this very minute, the wisest thing I know is: take a step back.

It doesn’t sound like much, does it? I am clearly taking my obsession with the small things to sub-atomic levels. In fact, this one is huge.

I always sort of knew about taking that step back. Take a deep breath, look at the thing in context, understand what it is really about, refuse to enter the three act opera, let it go. Yada, yada, yada. I knew all that but somewhere deep inside I didn’t always believe in all that or could not apply all that or even thought buggery bollocks to all that.

And suddenly, without realising it, I have become The Queen of Stepping Back and it has made more of a difference to my life than I could have imagined.

I realised this morning, as something charged towards me which would normally send me into a tailspin but didn’t, that I was stepping back without even thinking about it. Over the last few months, I’d built a habit of stepping back. I’d tried it out with the stupid, irrelevant things, like someone being rude on the internet. I’d tried it out with slightly more important things, like professional troubles. I’d tried it out with really big things, things that bish and bash my heart.

And finally, when a grand test arrived, I found myself doing it without thinking and there it was – that crucial sense of distance, so that the swirling vortex did not pull me in but went on spinning away without sucking me into it.

This is really very surprising. I’ve spent half my life getting sucking into the vortex. And now, there it is, having to do without me.

Taking a step back can sound slightly passive, even disengaged. I don’t mean it like that. I think it’s very active and very robust. You make a choice. You can rush in, hurl yourself into the drama, try to change the things you cannot change, take everything personally, get yourself into a state. Or you can step back so you can see the whole picture and decide that the absolutely lovely thing is it is not your picture. And in one bound, you are free.

It takes, I have discovered, a lot of practice. You do have to build the mental habit. There are no fairy wands and wafts of stardust, not in this lifetime. But if you put in the effort, one day you may find yourself, to your rank astonishment and incredulous delight, stepping back instead of dashing forward, on the sturdy floor instead of on the mad ceiling, in the real world rather than in the created vortex.

It helps if you have help. Four friends were magnificent today, as if they had entered some kind of magnificence competition and were doing it for a bet. Two were magnificent on the telephone and two were magnificent in life. They were funny and understanding and kind and big of heart and authentic and wise and true. The red mare was magnificent. The brown mare was magnificent. The dogs were at their most antic and comical. Even the dear old Scottish sun came out, defying the weather forecast.

I’m not so bonkers as to think I have cracked the secret of the universe and may rest on my laurels. I’ll get caught in mistakes and wrong constructions and pointless tangles. I'll end up crying when I could be laughing. But today, in a situation where once I would have been trapped, I was free, and I wanted to write that down. Something actually worked. I adore it when things work, and I hang out all my metaphorical flags in astonishment, in delight, in relief.


  1. Well done :) You have in a way Schillered your own self as well as your mares. You've taught yourself the small things thoroughly and perfectly, and then when you needed it, there was the perfect shining flying lead change the first time it was requested.

  2. Oh. This is true. Absolutely. "Not my circus, not my monkeys" I read somewhere this week.

  3. Oh. This is true. Absolutely. "Not my circus, not my monkeys" I read somewhere this week.

  4. Oh. This is true. Absolutely. "Not my circus, not my monkeys" I read somewhere this week.


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