It gives me enormous pleasure to be part of Sophie Sabbage’s Lifeshocks blog tour and I’d like to thank Natalie Connors at The Book Publicist for inviting me to take part. In a slightly different, and very personal post, I’m delighted to be able to share a piece from Sophie’s Lifeshocks and an example of a lifeshock of my own.
Published by Coronet on 14th June 2018, Lifeshocks is available for purchase here.
HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED IF LIFE IS TRYING TO TELL YOU SOMETHING?
This is a book about all the unwanted and unexpected moments in our lives. They surprise us, they blindside us. They shock us. They command our attention. Some bounce off us, other strike deep into our being. These moments are collision points between how we see life and how life actually is. These are lifeshocks.
In her new book Sophie explains how lifeshocks awaken us. She offers her own deeply personal story as well as other case studies as a vehicle for bringing the theory and teachings to life. She focuses on three kinds of lifeshocks we all receive: limiting lifeshocks which challenge our arrogance and appetite for control; exposing lifeshocks which challenge our affectations and pretences; and evoking lifeshocks which challenge our closed-heartedness.
This groundbreaking new book reveals how these lifeshocks can bring healing, transformation and peace.
An Extract From Lifeshocks
Nowhere to Hide
There are moments in time when our internal perceptions are confronted by external events, when what is assumed, wished for or imagined collides with what actually is. I would later learn a term for these moments from the man who became my spiritual mentor: lifeshocks.
One of my most memorable was just after I’d finished my studies at university. I read English Literature, which I loved for what it gave me that my life didn’t; my large library overflowed with antidotes to my inadequacies. It was hallowed ground.
As I packed up my student flat to go home, I bought a roll of black rubbish sacks, filling them with about five hundred books before storing them in the garage at my parents’ house in London. The books included the beautifully bound collections my godmother had given me as a child, as if she knew in advance how deeply I would fall in love with literature. When I came to pick them up a few weeks later, they were gone. Believing the sacks were full of rubbish, Mrs Yeldham, my mum’s cleaner, had thrown them all away. The following morning, I barely registered the degree results, a first class, that arrived in the post. I was too gutted to take in that information.
Ever since I was a child books had been my sanctuary from the inner voice that made me too ugly, too clever, too weird, too intense, too loud, too privileged, too fat, too emotional, too difficult and too damn much.
At the age of ten I read Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird in one sitting on a family holiday in New England. We were visiting friends who lived in a white, wooden, ocean-front house at the top of a cliff on the coast of Maine, with a view across the Atlantic Ocean. It was summer. Their garden was in full bloom and the table was laid for a fresh lobster lunch, but I wasn’t there. I was in Maycomb, Alabama, with Jem and Scout, as they found gifts in the tree outside Boo Radley’s place. I begged to be excused from socialising and was permitted to sit under a tree with my book while our hosts cooked lunch.
Lobsters scream when thrown in boiling water and I cried listening to them. My dad tried to reassure me it was just a release of heated vapours whistling out of the shell joints, but I didn’t believe him. Though I wasn’t brave enough to save the lobsters, I refused to eat them, which gave me another excuse to keep reading about the complexities of race, class and injustice in the American Deep South of the 1930s. I finished my book under a tree in the summer sunshine, occasionally distracted by the great black-backed gulls laughing overhead, and listening to more lobsters scream.
From then on, I kept company with novelists and poets. I would bring them home after school or university and sit with them in the small hours, inviting them to change me. I wanted to be someone else, to be rewritten; to wake up one day cast as Cleopatra or Anna Karenina – beautiful, revolutionary and epically loved.
This lifeshock – hearing the words, ‘I threw them away’ from the distraught, abjectly apologetic woman who had worked for my mum for years – forced me to face the unhealthy aspect of my love affair with books. Granted, it was a very first-world loss, but it led me to admit that no number of books could provide permanent refuge from my deepening insecurities and the interminable noise in my head. They were not a temple. They were books. Brilliant, beautiful, mind-bending narratives that often fed my soul when it was hungry, but could not save me from my loneliness, my longing or my shame. I cried all day. I couldn’t stop. I kept saying sorry to Mrs Yeldham, who was almost as upset as I was, but the dam had broken – the one I had built with the complete works of Austen and Dickens, Shakespeare and the Brontë sisters, Maya Angelou and Mary Oliver. Eventually my mum, who was also there that day, got a bottle of wine from the fridge and poured three glasses. And we sat with Mrs Yeldham, getting drunk.
Sometimes we need to lose what we are hiding behind to see that we are hiding. It took the sudden loss of my library to expose the emotional distress beneath my intellectual poise. Without my books, I felt naked. I had written a first-class dissertation about mad women in literature and women who wrote their way out of madness, while my own madness spiralled out of control. I think that was the day my conscious quest for ‘Something Greater’ began.
My Day of Lifeshocks
Imagine a cold wintry Monday in 1996. You’ve just brought back your father-in-law from South Wales to Lincolnshire as his wife is dying and, because he is disabled as a result of a massive stroke and completely deaf and blind on his left side, it isn’t right to leave him alone 250 miles away. The phone rings at 6.30AM to say your mother-in-law has just passed away. It sounds a pretty sad moment doesn’t it? It’s one of those times Sophie Sabbage might define as a lifeshock.
That’s what happened to me, but just after I rang the school where we both taught to say my husband and I wouldn’t be in, as we had to deal with a family death, my sister rang me. I’ve never forgotten her tone as she said, ‘I don’t want to add to your troubles but Dad has just been rushed into intensive care with a suspected heart attack.’ Lifeshock number two on the same morning.
As we spent the day juggling phone calls, making funeral arrangements, supporting my father-in-law and dealing with our grief, we also had to find time to travel a 60 mile round trip to collect my mother and take her to see Dad in hospital, not knowing if he would survive.
Next to Dad’s bed in the intensive care unit where he was being closely monitored, Mum looked very pale and unwell. As we were leaving it all became too much for her and she simply keeled over, unconscious on the floor.
Lifeshock number three on the same day.
At that point we had my mother-in-law in the morgue, my disabled grieving father-in-law at home, my Dad on the brink between life and death and my Mum incapacitated as we looked on in horror.
That day seems to me to be one of Sophie Sabbage’s lifeshocks days. A day when the individual has to make a choice about their life.
Now, not all of the outcomes were good, but my husband and I see that day as pivotal in our lives. We’d never intended to work until retirement age, but that day cemented our resolve to live our lives to the full.
And we have.
We ‘retired’ very early, taking the risk that we could live on our savings. We’ve travelled the world from Antarctica to Zanzibar. We’ve had fun. We’ve laughed – a lot! And we’ve had some bad times too which make the good ones all the sweeter in our 35 year marriage. And as we plan ahead with Bali, Indonesia and Hong Kong coming up as our next trip we definitely think our ‘lifeshock’ moments have helped us live our lives to the full.
About Sophie Sabbage
For sixteen years Sophie Sabbage was mentored by Dr. K. Bradford Brown. He was a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and Episcopalean minster, but he drew on ancient spiritual traditions from far and wide as well as modern psychological wisdom and practices. His work synthesises Western psychology and Eastern philosophy in a powerful, accessible and modern way that anyone can use for their development. For over twenty years Sophie Sabbage took Dr. Brown’s work into corporate companies through her company Interaction – from British Airways to Unilever and the NHS. She is still a Senior Trainer with the educational charity he co-founded, in which she teaches people from all walks of life how to engage with their lifeshocks.
Since her diagnosis she has been delivering talks and workshops to cancer patients to empower them to listen to the lifeshocks that this brutal disease delivers in ways that empower them mentally and emotionally. She is the author of the bestseller, The Cancer Whisperer.
Sophie lives in Kent with her husband John and daughter Gabriella.
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