Rattling the chains

“It’s what’s called a floating floor,“ had said the workman who had come to remove yet more chunks of my son’s wet room, “but that will mean absolutely nothing to you,”
“Actually, it does.” Not only is the term fairly self-explanatory, but I was heavily involved in the gutting and redesigning of my son’s home. Had I not known before, which I did, I would certainly have learned about floating floors back then when we had ripped the place apart.
“Oh,” said the workman. “I just assumed…” Yes, he had. And why would that be, then? Because I am a female? And a middle-aged one too?

It was on a par with the other workman engaged to do some maintenance on Nick’s decking, who condescendingly explained to me, several times, how wood swells when it dries in summer and shrinks when it is soaked by all the winter rain. I too had shrunk… from correcting this misapprehension, for I too had made an assumption… that it was a simple mistake and that he really did know how it worked and had simply said it wrong. It was an assumption that would cause havoc with my son’s woodwork…

Making assumptions seldom works out well. My son is very fond of the old saying about what happens when you assume anything, yet we are really good at taking things for granted where other people are concerned. Even with open minds and the best of intentions, we almost automatically work out what we would think, know or do if we were in what we perceive to be their shoes. The trouble is, we are not… our perception is partial at best, faulty at worst and we have no way of knowing the entirety of another person’s experience and knowledge, nor do we have their character. All we are doing s projecting our own onto theirs and expecting it to fit.

We are just as good at making assumptions about ourselves… and often get them just as wrong. The surface levels of the mind are in constant dialogue with each other,  and at least one of those levels is replete with what we think other people will, or might, think of us. Much of this comes from a learned, but  often erroneous, perception of who we are.

“A real man wouldn’t do that…”
“Women can’t change a tyre/put up shelves/lay bricks.”
“You’re too old/too young/too fat/too slim to do/wear/be that.”
You’ll never be able to/be as good as/be good enough to…”

These and a thousand other negative judgements, most of which are blatantly untrue, are picked up from many places as we grow up and grow older and colour our opinion of ourselves. We assume them to be true, even when there is a niggling doubt about their veracity. They can be crippling, often to the point where  we begin to believe they are true and never make the attempt to prove otherwise, even to ourselves.

If the judgements and assumptions that others make about us and superimpose upon us are based largely on how they would behave in a given situation, why does it never occur to us that the perceived flaws that they are projecting onto us may, in fact, be their own?

Those who feel they have no control over their own lives may try to control those more vulnerable than themselves. Those who feel that they are not good enough will often pass that feeling on to those over whom they have authority. It is not necessarily deliberate… it  is the ego’s mistaken attempt at self-defence.

Maybe, if we could see beyond the accumulated assumptions about ourselves that we have simply accepted over the years, we could be and do far more than we think. Why should gender or age define our talents or how we allow ourselves to express our personalities? Maybe confident curves would totally rock that little black dress…and maybe that dream you have held in your heart is no so impossible after all.

It makes all the difference if you have someone who believes in you… someone who is ready to support you as you try and celebrate the attempt as much as the possible success. A little genuine encouragement and belief can make the improbable possible. But we do not all have the blessing of a supportive friend or partner in our lives. Or do we?  Well, maybe we could.

There is one person who is with us every step of the way, from the cradle to the grave and who knows our story better than anyone else… and that is our self. We are never wholly alone, no matter how lonely we may feel; there is always a part of us that exists at a deeper level than the surface chatter of the mind. If we can free ourselves, even a little, from the chains of assumption and judgement that we have accepted from others, we can learn to believe in ourselves. And that makes so many things possible.

The Mystery Schools, from ancient Greece to modern schools like the Silent Eye, have always taught that we should learn to know ourselves. It is a common misconception that this simply means learning to know our own faults and weaknesses so that we can address them and make progress as human and spiritual beings. It also means learning to know and embrace our strengths, gifts and talents…celebrating our lives as whole and entire beings. Works in progress, whose faults are part of the unfinished learning process and whose gifts show a glimpse of the spark of true beauty that can be ignited within each of us.

Change can begin at any point in our lives by challenging the assumptions about ourselves that we have accepted over the years. Next time you say ‘I can’t do that…’, ask yourself ‘why not?’. Is there a practical reason… or do you ‘just’ believe that you cannot? Belief in yourself is a door that only you can open, and when you do, others will believe in you too. You may even find that they always did.

Unbalanced scales…

“…so, we’ve being doing this for a while…”
“Twelve thousand, four hundred and ten days to be exact.”
“…and I still don’t really know.”
“Know what?”
“What flowers you would prefer for Mother’s Day.”
“Ones with roots.”
“For the garden?”
“Obviously.”
“Or you could have fish…”

…which is why we ended up at the local aquarium place and why, a little while later, we were watching the newly acclimatised fish settle into their new home.

It was fascinating to watch the little corydoras, with their long, trailing fins, as they excitedly explored their environment. Almost straight away, they were joined by another small fish, a phantom tetra who seemed to feel he belonged. Phantoms are shoaling fish and he is the last of his kind in my tank until I can replenish his shoal. Although no more than a tiny fish, he Is beautiful, with velvety black fins and an iridescent ‘eye’ on his flanks. He too has a long, trailing dorsal fin, set at a similar angle to that of the new arrivals. He has apparently decided that he is now a corydora and seldom wanders far from his friends. He is determined to become part of their shoal and ‘fit in’… even though he doesn’t.

While the young corys dash around and rummage through the substrate in a constant hunt for food, the little phantom follows them, yet looks at a loss. Phantoms are shy fish, preferring to hide, where the corys are gregarious and playful extroverts. They are bottom-feeders, while the phantom is not, yet they swim in the open and at all levels, while the phantom prefers to stay close to the bottom and safe hiding places in the plants. Nevertheless, little phantom fish is now doing a very good imitation of a corydora, so desperate is he to fit in with them.

We are often guilty of projecting human behaviours and emotions onto other creatures, but I could not help but be struck by the little phantom’s illustration of something many of us do, or are expected to do, at some point in our lives. The only thing the phantom has in common with the corys… aside from them all being fish… is the shape of one fin. Yet he is prepared to set his own nature aside and conform to an alien model, copying the behaviour of others in order to be accepted. It is unnatural; he seems rather lost and confused, and his own beautiful being is subsumed by the need to belong. The sooner I can provide him with a shoal of his own kind, the better.

Later, I watched the fish in my son’s pond, and finally got a good look at our wonky fish. It happens every so often… some disease or other will twist a fish’s spine, leaving them otherwise quite healthy, but with a curvature that makes swimming more difficult. We have seen it before, and Bent-Tail proved to be a better teacher than his able-bodied counterparts until he flew away.

Wonky-fish is the worst case I have seen though; his spine bent almost perpendicular to his body and he is unable to swim properly at all. Like Bent-Tail, all my research does is throw up methods of euthanasia, and like Bent-Tail, that will not be happening. Wonky-fish is perfectly healthy apart from the twisted spine. He is, in fact, a beautiful mirror carp and has grown, in spite of his problem, to a foot in length. Being a dark coloured fish and preferring the depths, we did not see him until he had grown and by then it was far too late to try and effect a cure.

I watched him today as he played on the surface in the sun. He cannot swim in a straight line at all… the movement of his tail, because of his spine, sends him in circles. When he first showed up at the surface last year, it was heartbreaking as he seemed so frustrated, but he soon adapted.

He knows how to swim… there is a pond full of teachers demonstrating every technique. When he sought to conform, all he did was wear himself out and struggle to little avail.

Now, instead of desperately thrashing around, he has learned to ride the currents in the pond and use them to sail gently to where he wants to be. He has learned that it only takes a slight movement of his tail to carry his resting body effortlessly through the waters. He trusts me to throw food within his reach, yet he does not rely solely on me to feed him, he forages quietly for himself too. Instead of swimming with the crowd, he has made a home for himself beneath the irises, where the roots hold him steady and keep him safe from predators. And, by gently going his own way, instead of trying to be what he is not, he is better able to be part of the life of the pond, playing with the other fish in the sun.

Little Wonky-fish follows his own light, in spite or because of the difficulties he has faced. He does not swim with the shoal. He is one of a kind and, like his predecessor, a wonderful teacher.