In the Footsteps of Mrs. Dalloway and Virginia Woolf’s Compassion

I have always enjoyed London Town. Now that I do not work in town, each time I travel from my home on the edge of the Greenbelt, into central London I feel quite excited.  I always fall in love with my birth city all over again especially when I go into the heart of her; feel her lively beat, see her classic beauty and experience the depths of her experience.

London never fails to enchant me, even though I have known her for most of my life for I am a little more than a half-century old and she is older than me and ever so much wiser. Therefore, she has so much to give. This I drink up while I walk her streets and take in all she has to offer.  For London Town never fails to give me something of value. Not material value, for I am not an avid shopper. I am talking about a refreshed cultural, intellectual, emotional and spiritual perspective which I find invaluable.

The square mile of Piccadilly is where I gravitate because I simply love this part of town; for the regal ambiance, the architecture, the cultural fare and the social liveliness.  To get there, I take a bus to St John’s Wood Station and hop on the Jubilee Line because I know in seven to ten minutes I will be walking out of the underground into the bright sunshine of Green Park with St. James’s in view.  In the summertime, I sigh with happy relief when I see the glorious expanse of green grass with the residents and people who work locally and visitors – all types of people – spread as far as the eye can see, on blankets enjoying their chats with their companions or simply reading or relaxing in this beautiful space that edges Buckingham Palace.

While – Charlottesville, Virginia USA riots in rage displaying all the discriminatory dialogue and behaviour I thought the world had decided was redundant, and the plight of Sinead O’Connor (who in effect represents millions who suffer from mental illness) is channelled on I try to think positively while wishing that the ever-bright and compassionate Russell Brand – who gives an intelligent analysis of O’Connor’s situation – would instead find her and lead her to safety and the support he seems to understand she needs. Or perhaps our beloved Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry on behalf of Heads Together can help her; they seem committed to helping those with mental health issues; I trust their connections would know how to give O’Connor the right support.

I try to put aside my worry on behalf of the troubles of the world and those in real need; I try to control the guilt I feel for taking some precious time off while my children are away, to invest in my own well-being; to give myself a little respite with the following adage in mind:

While you might not be able to change the world, or your country, or your city, or your town, or your family, or your partner, or your child, you can change your own self. And, if you change yourself for the good, then, in turn, you may have some influence through a good example to your child, your partner, your family, your town, your city, your country, and then the world.

This is a summary of the original words said in a slightly different way by a spiritual leader of the self-development movement called Mussar (in Hebrew): the 19th-century Talmudist Rabbi Israel Salanter who said:

‘When I was a young man I wanted to change the world…Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself.’

While I know today I am just one person in our current 7.4 billion world population and I cannot find a solution to all the issues and challenges that face the world, I do care even if I often feel at a loss how to sort out our world issues or those who reach out in the media for help.

Sometimes the world and its issues seem too big a challenge for me to consider let alone think about. When I feel like this way I revert to seeing how I can affect and support my own small world – my own family, my community, the potential reader, my close friends and myself – in the hope any effort I make will lead to inspiring and helping worlds close and beyond me. That is why, of late, I have taken to caring more about my own well-being. If I don’t I will be useless to my own family and then any one else I can inspire or help.

To know yourself allows you to give yourself what you need to survive and thrive. This way you will be in a better, and stronger position to serve others.

While ‘Service Not Self’ is a classic British motto – like Keep Calm and Carry On – both of which I support 100% since I became a single parent I have adopted quite a different motto. Initially, I put my son’s needs before my own but in truth, if I keep doing this it would not have served my children or me. I do things a little differently now. I am teaching myself how to put myself in the equation of my own life. When airline stewards instruct you to put on your oxygen mask in case of an emergency they tell you to put yours on first; by saving yourself first only then will you be in a position to truly help others.

If I could save America, this is what I would say to Trump: Mr. Trump, with all due respects, as President of the USA, in effect 323.1 million Americans today look at you as their leader and perhaps even a father-figure or protector: you are responsible for Americans while you are in office. Next time perhaps send in the National Guard to restore peace. Surely, there should be a ‘no tolerance’ policy for the type of behavior being conducted in Charlottesville. Perhaps, Mr. Trump, you could consult with his Holiness the Dalai Lama and have him go to Charlottesville with you to appease the demonstrators and the local communities. No good comes from violent communication or discriminatory thoughts.’

Something is obviously going wrong in this era. Our current generation, with all its privilege and all the options at each and everyone’s fingertips (due to innovative thinkers like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and the guys at Google among many others in the bright-mind trailblazing communities in the world) is not producing enough effective leaders and activists similar to such leaders of the past such as Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., amongst others. While King was a highly vocal leader, quietly and effectively Mother Theresa did her work and Gandhi reduced his personal world to simple living and appearance to adjust his focus 100% on what was important on behalf of the people.

While the voices and disturbances being made in Charlottesville will appear as a mark in the echelons of history I fear it will not be for the right reason.

Here is my message to Sinead O’Connor: Sinead, I wish I had a magic wand to heal you; to remove all the sadness, self-doubt, pain and suffering you are feeling and experiencing.

While magic will not help you, I do wish we could both go back in time and have tea with the poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) and the author Virginia Woolf (1982-1941). I think we would both gain from listening to their feelings about their own suffering in their lifetime. They might even tell us that like other artists, before and after them, that it was these experiences that fuelled their creative lives and inspired their works. Like John Keats (1795-1821). Like Vincent Van Gogh (1953-1890); amongst others.

We could talk to Woolf about her motivation for her novel Mrs. Dalloway that effectively portrays the plight of mental illness; particularly post traumatic syndrome.  I know this might be something you do not want to do, and it might be hard for you to listen to what Woolf has to say, but perhaps it will help you in some way and then you can allow others to help you, so that one day you can return the kindness, and help another person in your own way.

Now, I know this can’t happen. Woolf, as you know took her own life. But, I am just imaging such an opportunity to open your own eyes to another person’s reality; what Woolf did achieve with her fiction because she did bring an awareness then, and she does now, about mental illness through her writing efforts in Mrs. Dalloway. This is what has prompted this feature on my blog in response to Russell Brand’s Trew Recovery post about you; and what prompts me to say to you now that giving up hope in one’s own life or G-d forbid considering taking one’s own life should never be an option. A person should never have to go to that place and feel there is no hope.

Mrs. Dalloway, this one offering by a writer (for there must be many good writers who discuss and help readers with the issue of mental illness through fiction and nonfiction) will serve any person struggling with helping a person who suffers from a mental illness. While I never wish the outcome of the plight Virginia Woolf created for her character Septimus Smith Warren on any family or friend or professional, the reality is today, like yesterday in Woolf’s time, mental illness was and is now still a misunderstood and mistreated condition which results in too many people considering suicide as the only option to end their suffering. We, the modern world must find more positive and helpful ways to reach such a person before its too late. Nothing is more precious than life. Nothing is more important than giving something the compassion and love they need to manage and live their own life.

And, then Sinead, we could perhaps talk to Rossetti about the role of poetry in her life; a solitary life where mental illness hovered close by. I am particularly interested in a dialogue with Rossetti so I would like to go and meet her with you if you don’t mind. I also want to thank her for her poems. I will explain a little later why, so do stay with me until the end of this feature that I hope you might read.

After a talk with Woolf and Rossetti, we could return to 2017 and perhaps find people to help you heal yourself. For my prayer is that kind soul of a man, Russell Brand finds a way to save you from a plight that has robbed us of so many innocent good people, as well as artists who gave us so much and could have given us more.

Yes, I am so selfish, I want more of you. Just like I wanted more from Amy Winehouse; she was magnificent but she slipped out of life and I wish she hadn’t.

Virginia Woolf was the same; one moment she was there and then she was gone. What a loss to her husband and the world.  But all is not lost to us: when I open her books I hear her voice and I learn from her. I can even walk where she walked in London Town like I did today.

Today, I thought of you Sinead O’Connor. While I prayed for the ever-good Russell Brand to help you, I visited the Royal Academy of Art Summer Exhibition. I looked at work by new and experienced artists. I was in a place that honors the individual and invites the individual to submit work once a year and if that work is selected it can hang on the walls for all to appreciate; whether they are a first time artist or a seasoned artist. This annual tradition has been entrenched in London Town since 1769 when the first Summer Exhibition took place.

Then, I walked through the very busy galleries of the National Portrait Gallery to study the wide scope of impressive and inspiring submissions of the Annual BP Portrait Award.  Submissions from first-time as well as experienced artists.

These two shows in London Town affirmed what I already knew but it was a good reminder: Opportunity is available to any person who makes the effort.

When considering the plight of a city of Americans in the South, as well as a beloved Irish singer-song writer, it is clear we are living in challenging times. So many people have unmet needs and are occupied with opposing, or negative or misleading voices in their consciousness. Voices which often are not true; that takes a person away from a healthy reality and way of being;  these voices can be replaced. The future can be different from the past; it takes effort and wisdom, and the humility to ask for help and guidance. It takes fortitude to embrace a new way. Positive can replace negative.

I think Dr. Deepak Chopra and also Andy Puddicombe and Rich Pierson who founded Headspace are doing a great service to humanity. Guided meditation helps a person remove negative thoughts and energy from the mind and body to make space for the good, and for healing.

The future of the world relies on positive energy and inner peace of the individual. Meditation and prayer is one way.  Healing from Ancient Wisdom from the East is another way.  India and Sri Lanka hold keys to healing as do other cultures.

We have lost so many human beings who never found the key to the gold mine of potential and goodness that dwells in the heart of man. For, I truly believe the Creator in His infinite wisdom and in an act of kindness bestows on each of us, every human being, everything he or she needs to live and thrive in their lifetime. And, the Creator of the Universe provides all the means of healing in the world through people and sources in Ancient teachings and in Nature.

I saw a clip of Sinead O’Connor talking about her suffering; and her needs. I heard her pain, I saw it too. She has publically reached out for help through YouTube. We are responsible to listen to her and help her: but how? Maybe her voice is the voice necessary to wake up millions to the plight of the person who is misunderstood and suffering – wherever they are in the world. I hear her. I see her. Now please can someone find her and help her?

Today, I invested time in my own well-being.

Rather than focus on my own work at home, I left myself behind and viewed work of others, artists to inspire me and prompt me to open my small world up to the world at large.

I walked in the sunshine. I passed people and offered up a smile to everyone. I gave what I had to give today; a smile of goodwill. It was not much perhaps but it is what I had to give. Maybe one day my work – writing or art or both – will inspire or console or help or enlighten someone. That is my prayer but as of today, I am a human being with good intention and a dream. Yet, as I walked I could not forget the troubles of the world or the fact that I have lost people who I once cared about, who I would not be able to phone on my return home to share my discoveries of the day.

Virginia Woolf once said: ‘If I was bringing a case before G-d, Christina Rossetti would be my witness.’

In mid-February 2015, when my mother was in a coma in ICU after a near-fatal heart attack, I was in the midst of poetry research for an assignment for an essay as part my undergraduate studies. On the Wednesday night at 10.40 p.m, my mother died. A few nights before I sat up all night reading Rossetti poems to her. When I got to the poem Remember I was choked with tears but I still read on:

Remember me when I am gone away:

Gone far away into the silent land…

During that night, nurses stood by my mother’s bed and listened to the poems and then left to continue their holy work of caring for the very ill or the dying. In the morning, that group of nurses came to talk to me. They said:

‘We heard your voice all night. Our work is often lonely, more often challenging. We often lose someone in the night. The poems gave us strength. Thank you.’

Perhaps when I meet my mother again, over tea in Heaven she will let me know if she heard me reading the works of Christina Rossetti; I believe the soul hears everything in the in-between time but I really want to know this 100%.

Perhaps my mother has already met up with a spiritual mentor of mine (who passed away in 2013) who once said this to me:

‘There are no answers down here and there are no questions upstairs.’

As the day comes to the end here in London Town I pen here the closing lines from Rossetti’s poem Remember:

…Better by far you should forget and smile

Than that you should remember and be sad.

I cannot sign off  without quoting a modern day poet, the compassionate and articulate Rag n’Bone Man who I feel says it best when he sings:

We are only human after all.

Lastly, here is one last message for Sinead O’Connor: please accept the help you need. If you can see Russell Brand who seems such a helpful and wise person, or a compassionate and understanding health care professional, I hope that happens today or as soon as possible. Please consider help from Ancient Eastern Wisdom. If you can meet Dr. Deepak Chopra, I sense he will guide you to the healing you deserve and need. When you are feeling a little better and you feel ready, perhaps you can return to your work and guide others to their healing through your beautiful voice and art.

Photograph credit:  Virginia Woolf’s London. Town meets Country. London, England 1923.…22044.26175.0.26614.….0….

Recommended resources:

Russell Brand: Trew Recovery regarding the discussion about mental illness with a feature on the plight of singer-song writer Sinead O’Connor.

Heads Together: A New Campaign to End the Stigma Around Mental Health

Remember by Christina Rossetti:

Summer by Christina Rossetti:

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Rag n’ Bone Man: We Are Only Human

Dr. Deepak Chopra

Healing  retreats; Sri Lanka

Royal Academy of Art Summer Exhibition; only until 20 August 2017.
Note: they take submissions for 2018 this coming January from the first time and experienced artists. Good luck.

National Portrait Gallery, BP Portrait Award 2017 Exhibition: also open to new and experienced artists. Check the website for 2018 submission details. Good luck.

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