Burning Shame

(About the wheel of pain, Cape Town – 18/01/2018)

Every person should read this book. Gay and straight people. ‘The Velvet Rage’ by Alan Downs is one of the most powerful readings I recently did.

The book describes with astonishing precision a mechanism I have been trapped in. Something that it is not exclusive to myself but that applies to every person who receives a constant negative reinforcement/message during his life from a non-inclusive/hostile environment. Something than the book defines as ‘shame’ which is described as the feeling that some of us are flawed individuals. That in essence there is something about us that is at least a disadvantage if not something that makes us defective.

In this case, and that is where this book focuses, the fact that someone is gay and has to live constantly with the feeling of being essentially flawed. But the same applies with other discrimination factors in this society: race, physical appearance or social class for example (hence the importance of understanding this topic). Things that define who you are, who are intrinsically part of you (you cannot change those things) for which you have been constantly receiving a negative appraisal or reaction from the people around you.

The book touches many issues but the backbone of the narrative explains how the pursuit of success and perfection (excelling in all the aspects of your life: career, partners, physical shape, lifestyle, etc.) is a compensating mechanism for the feeling of flawless and shame (that’s the term the book uses) that most of us have been storing inside throughout our upbringing within a non-inclusive (and most times hostile) environment.

There are 3 phases clearly identified. So after drowning ourselves in ‘shame’ during phase 1, most of us enter phase 2 which is defined by being driven by this overcompensating mechanism to show the world we are not the flawed human beings we grew up thinking of. Obviously that mechanism doesn’t lead to anywhere… We spin the wheel of compensation compulsively without knowing we are doing so, until it crashes and we get ready to enter phase 3. The phase where we shift the attention towards ourselves, towards who we really are. A phase where we source joy and validation from the relationship we have with ourselves instead of obtaining those from external sources.

Compensating for shame was one of the mechanisms behind the unsustainable life style that lead me into my sabbatical. A mechanism in the shape of the pursuit of ‘success’ and proving myself above all, bringing my life to a collapsing edge. Same scenario as uncontrolled money driven capitalism would lead this planet: a breaking point after all resources are burnt. The therapy, support, readings and reflection I had during the months preceding my departure made me understand that. Also, made to realize that the compensating mechanism and other behaviours I had, were just a way for me to burn that pain and shame I had inside. There was lots of non-acknowledged (and therefore, unprocessed) pain inside of me that was the fuel for all the toxic mechanisms that occurred in my life.

Becoming aware of the pain and understanding the acting mechanism, although not easy process, was liberating. Once you stop the spinning wheel of burning shame, you start to see your life and things in a different manner.

I said few times in this blog how privileged I am. Having the opportunity, time and money to do such reflective work on myself is not a thing everyone can do. As I mentioned when I wrote about homeless people, many humans do not have a safety net or cushion to mitigate the crash when it comes. That’s why I started the trip with the idea of giving something back and sharing the knowledge I have acquired during the process.

The issue of burning shame is very present in gay men, although many other groups participate of the same mechanisms. And society tends to portray gay people in a non very healthy manner. There is a bad press about certain behaviours many manifest. But behind any destructive behaviour that our society condemns, there is a person suffering, a person that is burning pain. Pain received by the environment.  People in LGBT community carry a huge amount of internalised pain, in most of the cases, without themselves noticing. So, rather than playing the victim card,  it is time of taking responsibility. Us, as society. It is time to uncover the mask and see the real face. To identify the pain we collectively create.

Since I read the book, I have been discussing the subject and with friends and other people I met on my way. It was more like an informal thing, based on the spur of the moment. But when I was in Cape Town, I felt I had to do bit more than feeding homeless. So I embraced the idea of doing something for gay men/women who were in a difficult situation.

Pride Shelter, 1 Molteno Rd, Oranjezicht, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa         https://www.pridesheltertrust.com/

Pride Shelter in Cape Town hosts gay men/women who are in a situation of vulnerability and/or exclusion. People who had been attacked or expelled out of their places by their family or neighbours (just for being gay), people who had lost their job (and therefore income) because they were gay, people who got trapped in drug addictions leading them into the loss of their jobs, house, health and/or families…. The list is vast, but if you dig down the history of everyone there, the common link is the pain that everyone carries. A pain that is originated, ultimately, by the rejection and hostility that people around them had because they were gay.

So I contacted the shelter, they asked me how did I think I could help them and I offered myself to have a talk with the residents on the topic of  ‘Burning shame .

I am not an expert in gay issues. I am not a therapist. I am just a person who has been through quite a lot and learnt very valuable lessons from it. And I just wanted to share that.

So we had the talk. And it went well. They listened to me and I listened to them as well. All I did was to tell everyone in the most honest manner, what have I been through. And despite that in appearance my history might look different from theirs, I made them see that I am not different from any of them. I was processing same feelings, just that I had luckier circumstances and better environment. We were all burning pain that comes from the feeling of disconnection and rejection from the environment around us.

Everytime environment makes someone feel inferior, unworthy, deffective, inmoral, inappropriate or just not as good as the others, we are wheeling the wheel of pain. And pain is at the root of any destructive behaviour we have towards ourselves or towards others. The more destructive the behaviour, the more pain is behind that.

It is time for society to understand that. It is time to stop the wheel.

Message In a Bottle

(A message received,  Cape Town – 15/01/2018)

If there is something I am convinced about it is that the Universe is playful. I will explain.

Everything you really wish, comes to you. But here’s the playful bit. It doesn’t come to you when you want it. You don`t know when it is coming to you. The universe sends it to you when you don’t expect. Even more, many times you don’t recognise when it finally comes to you. That is the playful part the universe plays. It is like sending a message in a bottle. It is received at some point, but you don’t know when that bottle is going to reach the shore and the message acknowledged.

I was living in my home town, Granada, in the year 2003 when I met a german couple. At that time, I was so bored in my home town, that I was very keen on socialising with foreigners and anyone who would broad my horizons and mindset.

Tom and Klaus. We had few drinks and took them around few places in the city centre. At that time, speaking in english was way more rewarding than speaking my own language. I know is silly, but that was my mindset at that time.

I had a big crush on one of them: Klaus. What a interesting sexy man. He was different, nothing to do with predictible boring locals from Granada (I know I know… that was a silly way of thinking but, again, that was where my mind was at that time).

The theatrical part of me was fantasising the idea of Tom getting food poisoning and staying in the hotel. Or just him tripping in a stair. Or a huge fight with Klaus and quick divorce… (teenagers fantasies) but I knew that it was more useful to use that part of my brain for other more creative purposes.

So I politely and discreetly detached myself from them. There was no point to maintain that contact, as I thought it was not honourable to meet them wishing one to be much closer and the other one much further. I blamed my university commitments for limiting my time with them. We had a couple of coffes before they left Granada.

The following 15 years were a rollercoaster for me. So that memory was stored at the back of my head.

So let’s go back to the present moment and the time where this blog is being written.

That night in Cape Town was hot. And there was full moon. I normally prefer to go to the Manhattan (one of the gay bars in town) to have a sundowner, chill and talk. Cape Town scene is quiet (at least this year has been) so places are not hectic, and there is a feeling of a little family there. I mean, you start to know people and when you get there, just start a chat with who you bump into. The kind of interaction that happens in a bar where everyone knows everyone. It is a pleasant thing. Specially when you are alone in a city.

But that night the Manhattan was particularly dead. I did not encounter the acquantainces I normally do, so I had my drink alone. The drink was there, I only needed the conversation to complete the moment.

Smartphones are our providers of everything nowadays. Tickets, food, sex, shopping, news, friends…. etc. are sourced through the device. Not saying it should be like that, but reality is that we are getting more and more things through them. So opened Grinder to initiate a conversation.

Flicked through few introductions till I started a conversation with someone. We chatted, swapped pics and briefed each other about where we were coming from and what we were doing in South Africa. As the Manhattans was close to its closing time, we agreed to meet at his hotel bar for another drink.

We met at the place and ordered a drink to start our conversation. Went to the terrace so he could smoke. And there, under the moon and hearing the sea waves, I realised the bottle with my message 15 years ago reached the shore of the Cape Town. The man front of me was Klaus.

The memory of the episode in Granada was so distant, and we both have changed (specially me, lost my hair and grew a beard instead) that we did not recognise each other instantly. 15 years later, and 9000km away I ended up meeting the person once I wished so much to do. Just him. Tom did not have to trip the stairs or get food poisoned. Klaus was travelling across South Africa and we ramdomly met again.

These kind of coincidences take me out of my standard mode. It is not the first time something like that occurs. And always catch me off guard. There he is. What I wished for. But do I really want it? Specially now, after such a long time…. I have changed so much in this time… is this really what I want? What is the purpose of this happening now?

I don’t have an answer for those questions. I don’t understand why the universe gives you what you wish at a different time. What is to learn with such thing? I keep thinking is because the universe is playful. And perhaps real needs and wishes don’t have an expire date. They are timeless.

I took the experience as it was. A pleasant coincidence and re-encounter. It was a pleasure to close that circle. To meet Klaus again and reinstate contact. He is still happily married with Tom and I realised that, as much as he is the same beautiful interesting person, my perception and wishes have evolved. Perhaps the Universe allowed me to meet Klaus at the point I could manage my wish in a constructive way.

I am sure that if I visit Berlin we will reinstate our coffee tradition. The three of us.

P.S. Klaus and Tom are fictional names. Elegance protocols 🙂

The Grinch

(A Christmas Tale, Cape Town – 24/12/2017)

I don’t like Christmas. Or lets put it this way, it makes me apprehensive. And the truth is that Christmas always disappoints me. Although if we are really accurate, then we should say it never does: everytime is as deceiving as I expect. Maybe I should look it that way. Christmas always deliver the drama that is inbuilt in it.

Last Christmas I stayed away from a family one. It was going to be a fun one. I was on a sabbatical, in sunny Cape Town and with no duties of any kind.

One of my Cape Town friends, Legolas, invited me to the Christmas Eve dinner party he was organising. I met Legolas when we were teaming together in the Fellowship of the Ring, but that is another story and movie.

Twelve people were attending to the dinner. Like in the last supper. Twelve gay men. What a contrast to the standard family dinner.

– ‘Yes, it was going to be fun’ – I thought.  Lighthearted silly witty funky time in opposition to the heaviness that I always have in my family Christmas celebration. I do love my family but their heaviness is sometimes bit of too much.

One day before the dinner, I went out with Legolas for a sundowner. ‘A warm up for tomorrow’– I thought – ‘So I can meet some of the attendees, which will make tomorrow’s easier’. Because, believe or not, I am bit shy. Although I manage it better as I get old.

I had few drinks with Legolas and the people he introduced to me on that evening, but I went home early. I know myself and if I have a heavy night, the next day I am grumpy and, therefore, not very social.

Those who know me might say at this point that I am always grumpy…. but I can be way way grumpier. As well again, this is another condition I am managing better as I get older.

The next morning I did few bits and bots. Read my book, took a bit of sun and bought some wine and chocolates for the dinner. Phoned my family to wish them a great evening and I got myself prepared. Legolas texted me to check with me that I was going to be in time.

What happened over the next hours would certainly make an unforgettable Christmas.

I arrived to Legolas’ place in time. But we were six people only. Good! It is good not to be the last person joining. So I started to chat with the people. But soon I realised that I was the last person to arrive. Apparently the missing people dropped or never confirmed. That was weird, but still six people could be a good bunch. Actually more manageable than twelve. So there was a good side to it.

There was some table food and snacks, just to get started, I assumed. But before anyone would make an attempt to get seated, one of the guys presented his excuses and told everyone he was going home.

Apparently the gang from the night before had a long night. So he was tired. And, same as me, he wasn’t a very sociable guy when tired.

That was odd. We were down to five.

Few minutes later down the line, the host went to the toilet. But after several min he did not get back. That was even more odd. As he was not responding to our calls we decided to look for him….. When we went to check on him, we found a sweet Christmas scene.

Our host was peacefully sleeping at his bed. The long night the day before made him feel unwell/tired. So, like in the tale, our host was sleeping peacefully. But, unlike the tale, prince charming would not wake him up with a kiss.

We were down to four.

The four remaining people: an israeli/dutch couple, a friend of Legolas and myself tried to continue the momentum and live to the Christmas spirit. But the air became weird at that point and soon the couple decided to leave. I don’t know at which point they agreed such thing… perhaps a look into the eyes of the other was sufficient to do it.

So the couple left. We were down to two.

At this point it was clear that the evening would not bounce back. So Legolas’ friend and I started to clear the place. Thank god there was no table set or a meal cooked. Just the finger food and snacks. So we managed to clear everything and left for the gay bar, which by the way, was empty.

It was certainly a rather different celebration for Christmas Eve.

Next morning, noise in the house woke me up. Although the house was empty the previous day, the following one was full of people. And the kitchen was cramped with my other two housemates cooking a big meal.

Apparently they were organising a big Christmas meal for them and their friends. I was not informed about that, so I immediately understood I was not part of the plan. I embraced my dignity mode, to ensure they would not invite me because embarrassment or obligation.

I pretended I had plans for the day and I got out of the house as quickly as I could. Left the house with no plan or place to go. But the good thing about being in Cape Town during Christmas is that I could go to the beach.

And that was what I did. Spent the whole day at the beach in the most unconventional way I ever spent Christmas. Sunbathing in my swimwear.

I wanted an unforgettable Christmas and that is what I had. That is for sure. Careful what you wish for, they say……

Needless to say I was grumpy most of that day. But I already said I am a grumpy man.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Ladles of Love

(A lesson learnt, Cape Town – 17/12/2017)

Sabbatical years are a gift and a wonderful thing to experience. But the reasons behind the decision of taking such a major step are not so pleasant most of the times. Sabbaticals on people who are on their mid life transition are normally the result of reaching a point of exhaustion or no go. A point where a change is needed.

My developing circumstances leading to my sabbatical were quite hard. But I will cut the story short.

Our lives are cyclical. Things start and end. But the cadence of the different cycles embedded is different. Some parts of your life end at the same moment than other areas of your life thrive. You could end up a job or being unemployed but your love life is booming. Or your family life. Or you could go through a divorce, but your work life is at its peak. So there is always something that keeps you going.

That was the case for myself in the past. But for some reason, my entire life crumbled in the period preceding my sabbatical. Age, work, health, love….. everything just crumbled front of me and a new start was needed. There was a clear rift in the timeline of my life, from which everything has to be new after it.

Like in a storm, clouds built up quite quickly. And torrential rain takes you almost unprepared. If you are a weather expert, maybe you could guess what was brewing in the background. But for most of us, it is hard to notice these things until they are imminent.

So I could not foresee the storm that came onto me. Although I do have now a clear understanding of what happened in my life. But it is only after you hit bottom that you react and start to process the events. The period preceding my sabbatical was therefore, dark and painful. There was lots of pain I was burning and processing, most of the times without noticing.

During that difficult time I received support. Lawyers, doctors, therapists and friends. Some of the help I paid for, some of the help was free. In both cases, I was extremely lucky to be in a system that could offer me that free help and to be in a system where I was able to afford the help I needed.

We, first world citizens, and middle classes are extremely lucky. What we think is just a basic service, is a luxury and an out of reach possibility for the majority of the population in the world. And when, for some reason, we fall off the cliff and crumble down, we have lots of cushions and safety nets around us to mitigate the crash. The majority of the people in this world do not have that.

I was very aware of this when I started my sabbatical. And because of that, I wanted to give something back. It was not a trip of pampering myself with all the luxuries my money could afford, but a journey of knowledge, spiritual growth and giving as well. That is why I wanted to do some volunteering. And South Africa was perfect for it.

Although I tried to sort out volunteering work before my arrival, the fact was that nothing was arranged when I arrived to Cape Town. So after my initial days trying to resolve my accommodation and settling, I started to search for some volunteering work again.

I cannot remember how I came across to Ladles of Love. Someone mentioned it and I searched for the Facebook page. They provide food for the homeless people of Cape Town 3-4 times a week. There is a specific location for each of the days, so they cover the entire city. No qualifications or experience is required. Neither a commitment. You just turn up the day you want to help. That’s all.

I have to admit it was not what I initially expected. I wanted to work with kids. But on the other hand, the setting for Ladles of Love was perfect. Easy and flexible. And in any case, I could go there and help until something else is found.

My experience with Ladles of Love lasted 6 weeks, until the end of my time in Cape Town. Feeding the homeless people taught me many things.

When we see a homeless person in the street, we tend to see him/her as an isolated case. Hard to place that person into perspective. But when you see 200 homeless people in a single moment, you dramatically change your perception of it.

In these moments, you could see the whole spectrum and all the phases of the journey of social exclusion. From people who you could not guess they are in such a situation if it wasn’t because they attended to the event, to people that have gone so far in the road of being homeless and socially excluded, that you could hardly feel that they belong to this world.

Obviously it takes time to get use to the contact with these people. Initially you feel grossed and approach them in a ‘colonial’ way. You are the wealthy man doing a charitable act towards people of another world. But as you get more and more exposed to them and started to see the process behind (how pretty ‘normal’ these people looked at the beginning of the journey to end up transforming themselves in almost ghostly creatures), you end up feeling that there isn’t much difference between you and them.

They are not aliens from another planets. They are just humans who were born in a more fragile and hostile environment than you. Some of them never fell off the cliff, because they never had the chance to be up. But some of them, had their life crumbling. Same as me. But with the difference that there wasn’t a safety net to cushion them.

When I looked into their eyes, I saw the same thing there is inside of me. A soul burning and processing its pain. And their pain, is our pain. Society tends to make us believe we are isolated individuals. But we are not.

My attitude towards the volunteering work shifted as I progressed through it. I preferred to do the tasks that entailed more contact and interaction with them. I know that I did all of that from the comfort that my first world citizen position provided me. At the end of these feeding sessions, I went back to the comfort of my nice accommodation to eat kind of food that these people would never eat.

And at some point you feel that you need to stop your exposure to it because it is something that drains your spirit. So much unnecessary pain that we create and it is impossible to help everyone. My actions would not change the fate of these people (that is the hardest thing to process), just mitigate their suffering.

I learnt that I am not different than them. That is the most valuable lesson I got from it. I am just privileged person living in a system that enables the comfort of some people at the cost of the sacrifice of others.

Silent Angels

(About the caring network , Cape Town – 12/12/2017)

Everyday, everywhere there are silent angels around us. Kind spirits next to us that help us to get through things. Sometimes they help you in a dramatic situation, sometimes they are to provide the back up and stabilising role that ensure certain phases or events of your life are going smoothly.

They are discreet. Sometimes so discreet that we don’t acknowledge their role and how beneficial is for us. Perhaps they are even performing that role without noticing themselves. And in the same way, we might become silent angels ourselves towards other people.

Some of them are already present in your life and their role gets activated in certain circumstances. And some of them just appear in your life at an specific moment, just to take a different path when circumstances change.

They are around us all the time, but in order to see them it is important to sync with love and kindness. The more you are able to synch with, the more you are able to receive and give. The law of attraction they say?

The cards were laid for me almost from the moment I arrived to Cape Town. The people who would be important for me, the people who would play a role during my time in Cape Town providing me with a point of anchorage, were present from the beginning. As if everything was prepared and waiting for me.

Prior my advent I worried so much trying to sort things for my stay in Cape Town… all in vain. None of the arrangements I tried to resolve, apart from my plane ticket, were resoluted by the day before my arrival. But it turned out that things magically deployed themselves, like in a domino effect, as soon as I landed in the city.

So from the initial moment I arrived to Cape Town, a group of silent angels were taking care of me. Willem (I already have written a post about him), Astrid, Lizanne, Qusai, Retha, Verushka, Jako…. each of them with a different role, but all of them a group of people creating a network or love and care around me.

Astrid and I were meant to connect. Firstly, she was in law relative of Willem. Secondly, she was an architect and good friend of a work colleague of mine (Matthew Barac). And thirdly, and most odd, turns out she was my next door neighbour when I found accommodation for the time I had to wait till I could move to Willem’s place. How odd is that?

So as a good neighbour, Astrid offered her support during my time in Cape Town. She gave me keys of her house in case I had an emergency and to cover the transitional period between places. Also, she offered her car and she provided me guidance on what type of volunteering and help I could do while in Cape Town.

Astrid was always there for me. Always happy to meet up and chat. We shared about architecture, travelling and spiritual growth.

I knew Lizanne since 2014, when she was living in London. Being the sister of my former partner is not an easy role, as it is not always easy to isolate us from the shadow of him. But we did very well. Lizanne was constantly in the background, checking up on me on regular intervals and providing support. Lizanne’s mom, Retha was also in Cape Town during the festive season, so we all spend good time together. We did excursions, we went for meals and we went for drinks. I met some of her friends. We had spiritual conversations about being present, about meditation and philosophy. Just to align with the things that were brewing inside my spirit at the moment. We created our own space.

Qusai and I meet on my fist day out. We went for a drink around the stadium area and since that moment we became friends. He introduced me to his friends, showed me places to hike, beaches around the city, restaurants and bars to go. He hosted me during few days on the transition from one accommodation and the other…. He cooked delicious meals, went to parties together and made me see me how beautiful and pleasant life can be in Cape Town.

And same as them, everyone else was playing a role in during my time in Cape Town. So despite I spent a great deal of time on my own, everything I needed was given to me from day one. Everything is present for you from the initial moment. Why worry?

I am fond of the beautiful moments I shared with all of you. At the end of the day, we are just in a universe where particles are in constant movement and collision, which is what produces interactions. Your energy is what channels your path and which particles you will find in your way. Attraction is what it makes particles collide and meet.

Hopefully we will cross paths again and we will keep sharing.