Coombe Abbey is a majestic and imposing castle nestled in the rolling undulations of the borders that unite the Coventry and Brinklow countryside. A stunning and breathtaking venue for a gathering of Fellows from the Professional Speaking Association. When I walked into the imposing entrance I was instantly catapulted back in time to 12th century living of isolated monasticism, royal plots and family curses. A musty and surreal historical presence oozed effortlessly from every nook and cranny. Centuries of whispered ancient secrets created an atmosphere pregnant with paranormal possibilities. I felt emboldened by the mesmerising energy of such a wonderful yet dark building. No wonder castles are becoming the venues of choice for those seeking to hold business meetings with a difference. They add a real gravitas to any occasion that announces your importance like a fanfare of trumpets welcoming you back into the deepest fold like a crusading knight in shining armour.
I suspect it was around the age of four when I fell in love with castles. Fairy tales enthralled me as I listened to my grandmother telling me about beautiful princesses who lived in magical kingdoms. Despite the omnipotent power of the obligatory wicked stepmother or the ugly witch, every story ended with a ‘happy ever after’. The gorgeous princess (beautiful on the inside as well as on the outside) always got her man who was a brave and fearless prince who had risked his life to find her. The princess would be whisked away to an opulent castle surrounded by her heart’s desires whilst she continued to sing with creatures in the forest, undertake tireless charity work and was loved by all who knew her. More than anything I wanted to be a princess and live a magical and enchanted life.
This adolescent desire has never really left me. It was a harsh shock to realise that princes also have intense insecurities and their ability to slay a few dragons and keep me safe was outside of their remit. I needed to sharpen my own sword and embark upon a crusade into the big wide world. There is nothing quite like a bit of adversity to build your castle walls. A failed love affair, a career that breaks your heart or a boulder of responsibility that sucks joy from the magic of your life. When we are hurt we activate a primal need deep within us that erects a protective wall so tough that NOTHING can hurt us again. Over the years our walls often thicken and grow at such an alarming rate we begin to lose sight of who we really are inside.
The illusion of safety inside these castle walls is strengthened by a heavy drawbridge, aggressive archers with a penchant to aim their arrows where it hurts and a moat so deep that monsters lurk in its muddy depths. Having felt under attack for so long, we view most things as an advancing enemy force who wants to invade our personal space and take from us. And so we wait. Feeling safe. Feeling protected. As our supplies of food, water and emotional nourishment become depleted, we start to worry frantically about our future. Did we stockpile enough? Should we have been more frugal during the good times? Can we last until the point of our natural death? When all supplies have finally dried up, some of us still choose to stay where we are, stuck inside these thick oppressive walls as we live in hope that our ‘prince’ is just around the corner. Besides we are too frightened to venture out into the unknown – we have forgotten what it’s like.
There comes a point in everyone’s life that when faced by the probability of a slow and painful death, we may decide to let down our drawbridge and ride off into an adventure to reclaim our hidden self. Surprisingly, ‘the enemy’ is never as frightening as the controlling tyrant we had envisioned for so many years. Surprisingly, ‘the enemy’ is often a little bit like you. Surprisingly, ‘the enemy’ wants what you want – to feel safe, to feel loved and to live a life that has meaning and purpose. A mind at peace, a mind not focussed on harming others, is stronger than any physical force in the universe. When you realise that ‘the enemy’ is a projection of your shadow self you accept that you truly do possess all the resources you need inside to attain whatever you want. Your life’s circumstances do not define who you are, they reveal the essence of who you really are inside. If we strive too hard for the ‘happy ever after’ we lose sight of the magical land we are blessed to inhabit. Every second of every minute of every hour is a sacred gift that we can cherish or disregard. Protective walls don’t stop us from getting hurt, they stop us from enjoying the exhilaration of life.
Regardless of whether or not my Prince Charming ever rides in and carries me off into the sunset (good job that I’ve joined Slimming World or he might find me a heavy burden!), I am determined to pull Excalibur from the rocks and begin to love and accept my own inner demons for what they really are.