“I read a book one day and my whole life was changed.” – Orhan Pamuk
I was recently asked by a friend, to recommend a book that would help her develop a sense of the true nature of the soul and how she can access this wellspring of wisdom and heart-knowledge. My collection of “soul inspiring” books is as wide and expansive as the soul itself, so I narrowed the field to my Top 5 Books That Will Hug Your Soul. I’ve chosen each book because of the way it brings its own unique approach to how we can get a little closer to knowing that elusive inner voice that is our soul.
After much soul searching, here are Five of my favourites and why.
1. Anam Caraby John O’Donohue.
Poet, philosopher and scholar, O’Donohue was the ultimate ‘Soul Whisperer’. His magical use of language, storytelling and Celtic Mysticism helps seekers make “the invisible …become visible”. Sadly, O’Donohue died suddenly, in 2008, leaving a gaping hole in the lives of his dedicated followers. Thankfully, he left a rich body of work including Anam Cara, Gaelic for ‘Soul Friend’. Many writers try to use the mind to reach the soul, but O’Donohue’s use of Celtic wisdom, allows direct access to the inner sanctum. Your soul will find a friend in this exceptional book.
2. After the Ecstasy, the Laundry by Jack Kornfield.
Buddhist monk, psychologist, and author of the equally profound book, A Path With Heart, Kornfield offers another insightful book that helps us find equilibrium after we reach states of grace and enlightenment. Kornfield explores how we can return to our earthly and often mundane chores whilst maintaining our heightened states of awareness. This book is for anyone who can’t live a hermit’s life, but seeks to bring soul-inspired living, into their everyday lives, even whilst doing the laundry.
3. Kitchen Table wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen.
Physician Rachel Naomi Remen discovered how stories have the power to heal both through her work as a doctor and as a patient. Using the kitchen table idea of sharing our collective stories, she encourages us to embrace mystery, to form stronger connections to each other and to live a soul-inspired life. Using her patients’ true stories, and sharing her own challenges with a chronic illness, Remen shares with us many remarkable journeys of discovery, and of unexpected paths that lead to inner strength, courage and peace, often, when it was least expected.
4. Daring Greatlyby Brene Brown.
Following the stupendous success of her Ted Talk and book, ‘The gifts of imperfection’, Brown gifts us with another soul expanding gem, ‘Daring Greatly. She believes that exposing our authentic selves may feel difficult, even dangerous, but living on the outside of our potential is worse. Brown says we need to embrace vulnerability and “step into the arena”, tap into our souls to find meaning and purpose, and dare to live our best life possible. I love this book because without courage, we cannot overcome our limiting beliefs, and access our soul’s potential.
5. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.
This extraordinary book tells of Tolle’s journey from a state of depression and fear to fully awakened state, after he experienced a profoundly transformative event after his 29thBirthday. A decade later, Tolle finally understood the experience and developed his new philosophy and understanding about the mind and human consciousness. Embracing the teachings of masters like the Buddha and Jesus, Tolle helps us identify the false self and shows us how we can all access our deepest and most authentic self and free ourselves of self-inflicted pain and live a life, free of illusion.
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” ― Leo Tolstoy
For the dear souls who signed up to my blog, I’m sorry that there’s been a long break in transmission, but changes were afoot, and they needed all my attention. Here’s what’s been going on.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’m always fishing, not for fish, but for knowledge, for information about what makes us who we are, and about what is learnt and what is innate. I do this because the journey of self-discovery can yield some great insights that help us live a better life.
For example, I knew that I hadn’t learnt the essential skill of resilience as a child. No one’s fault, it’s just the way the cookie crumbles, but it doesn’t stop me trying to develop this important skill now.
It’s never too late to change – it’s an ongoing process. The way I do that is to continually test my boundaries and as I do, gain important feedback. Each time I try something outside my comfort zone, I’ll know by my response whether I have the skills to cope. When I don’t cope well, I know I need to discover why I feel out of my depth. After a good dose of self-analysis and reframing my thinking, I’ll try again.
If I succeed, I feel empowered knowing that I’ve made progress towards taming my fear. This kind of learning helps me expand the boundaries of my life, as opposed to a tiny life lived in fear.
As a young professional woman, my world was expansive and exciting but a decade ago, after I became ill with a mysterious illness, I developed anxiety and my world shrunk so much, that I became stuck, unable to move forward or backward. Life couldn’t get any smaller. My house was the only “safe” place. The irony is that while on one level home felt safe, it was also suffocating. It was a no win situation.
So, to continue pushing my boundaries, I chose to do a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) course, to become a pastoral carer. The practical part of the course was conducted in a hospital and an aged care facility, two places I avoided like the plague, especially hospitals. I’ve had a bit of a phobia of hospitals after my health crisis, and so I wasn’t sure how I’d manage the practical part of the course. Of course it wasn’t easy, in fact it was truly confronting, especially the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). I’ve never seen so many machines attached to one person. I found myself in the largest trauma hospital in my city. The most challenging and traumatic of cases would be found here. Talk about really testing my resilience! Along with the ICU, there was the spinal unit, mental health unit, cardiac ward, every single unit was challenging in its own way. I met people dying from cancer, those who went in for a small routine operation then woke up a paraplegic, mental health patients unable to string two words together because they were zombified by drugs. It was an eye opening experience.
If we don’t have solid foundations, that is a strong sense of self and resilience, then helping those who are suffering can tip us over the edge.
A program like CPE is challenging not just because there’s much to learn about effective listening skills and the art of being present, but you are also required to do many hours of reflective work and here’s why.
We need to know ourselves well before we can help others. We need to discover, our blind spots, our prejudices, and to find out if we really have the strength to face really confronting situations. It doesn’t mean we need to be perfect, but being aware of beliefs, especially our negative beliefs, means we are then able to develop new ones and, whilst we’re working on our beliefs, we can work with people, always being aware of our own limitations.
We learn very quickly, that we cannot bring negative, unhelpful beliefs or fears to the bedside, because not only won’t we bring comfort to the patient, we could cause them distress and, even harm ourselves in the process. If we don’t have solid foundations, that is, a strong sense of self and resilience, then things can go pear-shaped, very quickly.
During my course, I realised that I struggle with people of a particular character. Many of us believe that we’re not judgemental, but enter any public place, with a myriad of personalities and a mixed bag of socio-economic backgrounds, and you’re sure to find someone who will annoy or even intimidate you. Self-reflection helped me understand that I struggle with intimidating people, which I’ll write about in a future post. The course helped me delve into the reasons why I felt intimidated. I was then able to slowly change my beliefs as a result of my growing awareness.
This was followed by another freeing moment, when I realised that anxiety would no longer rule my life and that I was capable of much more than I’d led myself to believe. This turn-around occurred about half way through the course. I went from walking through the wards on jelly legs, to finally feeling safe and comfortable being in the hospital environment, and meeting people with all kinds of life-threatening conditions and injuries. I was forced to face my own feeling of vulnerability which wasn’t easy. Again, it was a signpost that I’d not developed resilience as a child. I’d never felt truly safe or empowered, but the great thing about self-reflective work and having a great supervisor, I was able to drill down and find out where those fears came from, and reframe my beliefs and thoughts.
The other thing I learnt about myself is that while I loved being with patients and helping them through a difficult time, I found it equally hard being in such grey and visually sterile environments. Don’t get me wrong, hospitals are amazing places – full of caring and skilled staff, working long hours, doing all they can to save people’s lives. But, wanting to help, can work against you if the environment isn’t right. I know pastoral carers who love working in hospitals and I thought that I should too, but I don’t, because I’m different. I struggled with the lack of fresh air, open windows, colour, the presence of nature. The only living thing was the humans. I know the reason for not allowing plants, but colour? Why do we have to have grey walls and not mauve or sky blue, or a forest scene?I haven’t found a hospital like this in my home town yet, but if I do, I’ll be there in a flash!
I know some people will think this strange, after all, shouldn’t I be there to help people and not worry about the wall colour? Yes, but it must be a good fit for both parties. During our course, we also learnt to identify the environments that help us thrive, and therefore give the best care. Choosing the right place to work is as important as self-care, a necessarily, often ignored by those in caring roles. Self care is as essential as giving good care. Because my peers all felt at home in a hospital, I thought that I should, too but I realised that sterile places are detrimental to my wellbeing. While I was no longer afraid of hospitals, the environment drained me. I understood that I prefer to work in more natural places, and that’s ok. It’s not a weakness, it’s not a fault, it’s just who I am. It’s horses for courses.
I believe we are like tuning forks and certain jobs, places and people will resonate with us, while others won’t. I believe much of our growth journey is about discovering, what is a good fit, and not because someone says it is, or because we think we should fit our round selves into a square holes.
So, as much as I liked the idea of working in a hospital, I discovered a new place, which for me, is a most unlikely place, and one I stayed away from for many years. A place that is disliked or ignored by many, but nevertheless, unusual circumstances have lead me there. It’s a lovely old weather-board church, run by a progressive, female minister, who wants to build a loving community, and like tuning forks, our motives are in tune with each other. During my course, patients claimed to be “spiritual” and not “religious”. The minister and I want to help create a spiritual space for our community, without rules, and dogma, and instead, to connect through our spirituality. It’s an exciting time as I get to use my new pastoral care role and use it to spread love, support and caring to our local community.
I don’t how long I’ll stay, but it feels right at this moment. That’s the other thing I learnt from my CPE experience. Any of us can unexpectedly land in hospital and so plans should be kept very loose. I’ve agonised for too long about finding the right path and making the right choice. Woody Allen got it right when he said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”
So where to now? Well, I’m dipping my toe into the pastoral care waters, in my local community and allowing my inner compass to guide me.
How about you? Have you had feelings of heading somewhere other than where your head is telling you to go? Is your heart, your soul trying to take the lead? Will you follow it?
If I were to pass on one piece of advice that I received time and again from my hospital patients and especially from those in aged care, it’s to seize the day my friends, because you never get another one like it, and you never know what’s around the corner!
“At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice.” – Maya Angelou
My commitment to writing regular posts fell by the wayside some months ago, not because I wasn’t writing, but because I seemed unable to finish anything I’d started. While I felt I had a lot to share, I’d become frustrated at my non-existent output, until I realised that the best course of action was to do nothing, let things be, surrender to life as it is right now.
But what does surrender really mean? Is it like giving up? And where does acceptance fit into all of this? I knew that these were concepts that would be helpful in living a more balanced life, so I thought I’d explore these concepts further. Read more →
“The road to enlightenment is long and difficult, and you should try not to forget snacks and magazines.” – Anne Lamott
One of my goals for 2018 was to sit and eat breakfast, without distractions, and certainly not scoffing my food whilst simultaneously putting on a load of washing, and reading a book. I wanted to slow my life down, and breakfast seemed like a good place to start.
Dr Joe Dispenza says that the only way to change a habit is to change the way you do things, so to have a more mindful breakfast, I changed from eating in multiple places, to sitting on my very neglected front porch. As I re-familiarised myself with this lovely space, I took a moment to look around me. What caught my attention was the telegraph poles and their gently swaying wires that weave their way through my suburb. These tall, lanky poles and wires, instantly transported me to another time and place, to my younger years, travelling those long distances in the family car. It was a time when journeys to a new holiday destination took days to complete. The journey itself was a mini holiday as we ducked and weaved into cute little towns, each with its own unique architecture and personality. It was a time when we would have to stop and eat at a local fuel station diner, as there were no fast food outlets back then. Yes, those drives seemed to take forever, but then, it meant we had more time to just be, the pace of life, slower, gentler. We had time to stop and eat, time to visit the local botanic gardens, or buy some local produce or hand-made wares. Every town and every landscape was unique. These days, car trips are completed in a quarter of the time, thanks to super highways and byways, we skip the smaller towns and gulp our food while our cars gulp up the miles, on monotonous and continues streams of ashphalt.
While there were challenges back in the day, I still look back with fond memories because life was simpler. There weren’t the distractions of social media, 24 hour news cycles, endless stories of disasters. Road trips consisted of big old, spongy, roomy cars, with the voices of bored children drowned out by a static-filled radio station. When the game of ‘I Spy’ had exhausted itself, and our throats were hoarse from loudly belting out our favourite car tunes, there was little to do, but stare out the window. Kids these days might burst a blood vessel at the idea of not having an electronic device to entertain themselves, but I loved looking out the car window in a trance-like state, watching the road’s edges move in and out like a grey wave, melting into the asphalt under our car, and then there was the telegraph poles. I’d amused myself by trying to focus on each pole as it came closer and then zipped past blurring into the backdrop of the countryside. But it was the wires that I loved to watch the most. I loved the way they looked like they’d been delicately draped across each pole, how they seemed to move like gentle waves rising up to kiss the top of the telegraph poles and then slowly drooping back down like a jilted lover, only to rise again once more. It felt like a metaphor for life. Up, down, up, down. Continuous lines that went on, unbroken, no matter how many towns we passed. I was fascinated by how a simple wire could connect people, and before mobile phones, was often the difference between life and death. I would be mesmerised watching the sway of these simple strands of metal, interrupted occasionally by a flock of birds, happily surveing their domain.
I would often just stare, looking but not seeing, my mind viewing but simultaneously not thnking. I think this is what I miss the most. I was lucky, as a child, it was a time of greater freedom, few responsibilities, of not having to worry about anything, but mostly, it was having time to zone out. It wasn’t a deliberate time out, as we seek to do these days with a scheduled mediation or mindfulness practice, it just happened naturally as a part of everyday life, a time when we lived more slowly and in the moment.
In our ridicouls drive for economic growth, we have created lives filled with endless chatter, input, output, deadlines, manic drives for growth, that there is little time for gazing. When’s the last time you looked at the night sky, or sat quietly watching the sun rise, or simply sat in a park, without a book or device and just watched the trees sway, people walking, clouds emerging and disappearing? I know I can’t remember.
The other day, I was due to meet a friend for a coffee. She didn’t turn up because she had double-booked herself, so I sat there and wondered, “What do I do now?” I didn’t bring anything with me to occupy my time, because I knew I’d be busy catching up with my friend, and I’d gone to a little extra effort putting on a nice outfit. I thought, do I sit here alone and treat myself to a lovely cup of tea and just watch the café as it goes about its daily rituals, or go home? I didn’t really want to go home because I was in the mood for some social exposure, one of the downsides of working from home. I decided that I was going to test myself to see how I would manage sitting alone, with nothing to distract me. I’ll be honest and say I found it difficult to start with. The not-so-nice part of my mind was trying to tell me that if I stayed, I might look like a looser, sitting there alone, obviously I had no friends! But the wise part of me said, who said there’s anything wrong with enjoying some time on your own, enjoying your own company. Plus, the creativity I’d been trying to foster, I now know, flourishes when I allow myself time be still and empty, creating a space for inspiration to drop in.
It was such a freeing and inspiring experience, that I promised myself that I would take myself out on a date again. Whether it’s sitting alone in a park, a cafe, or staring at telegraph wires floating in mid air, I understood the great benefits of creating head space. I’m not so great at dedicated meditation practice, but I am able to just sit and stare into the distance, to just be still, with my eyes open, feeling, more than seeing all that is around me. I’ve decided to stop berating myself for not being a great “traditional” meditator and instead, I’ve found a method that allows me to be physically and mentally still. Sometimes I find stillness when I draw or sew, but the body is still active. To be able to be fully present in mind and body is a real gift. It slows down our nervous system, calms our breathing and just gives our neural circuits, a much needed rest.
So, as we watch as the machine slowly wind up after the holiday break, consider making time to if not stop, at least slow down long enough to notice life around you. It seems counterintuitive to take 10 minutes out of our crazy busy days to indulge in a little quiet time, but just like an over-tired toddler, a short nap or break, leaves us refreshed and able to tackle the noise and demands of the rest of our days and weeks.
By gifting yourself time to notice a telegraph pole, or opening your eyes to the magic of simple events in your neighbourhood, you may not only create a little peace inside yourself, but you may also notice how some of life’s simple sights and events, when put together, create that rich canvas that is the lived experience.
What helps you zone out and find a moment of inner calm? What have you noticed today? Why not write these in a journal. You might be surprised at how some of the simplest things can bring you some peace-filled pleasure.
Don’t forget that you’re human. It’s ok to have a meltdown. Just don’t unpack and live there. Cry it out and then refocus on where you are headed. – Unknown
I, like many others, write a blog primarily to inspire others, to share possible solutions to life’s varied challenges. Along with it being a place that provides me with a creative outlet, it’s also a place to share insights that hopefully leave you, dear reader, feeling better. I recently wondered, what I should do on those days when I’m facing a seemingly unsolvable problem? Do I just write some lame piece about the problems with the colour beige, or wait until I’m able to solve my problem? I faced this dilemma a week ago. Despite my best attempts, I just couldn’t find a solution, not even a hint about what was ailing my mind, let alone how to fix it. My feet were stuck in mud and I was just having a pox day. We all have pox days, but what happens when you just feel like sinking into those murky depths of your mind’s mood, feeling every inch of despair? Is it ok to do that, especially in our “Be happy” obsessed world? I think, like a good detox, sometimes, it’s ok to slide into the mud. Mud is after all good for our skin, right?
Of course, you don’t want to make a habit of it, but sometimes, we just need to wallow in our sadness or misery. When our feet hit the bottom, we have ground upon which to propel ourselves back up. It’s unnatural to think that we can always feel great. It’s the sadness that acts as a contrast against our joy, helps us identify our different feelings. Without contrast you have beige.
On my recent pox day, the more ferocious my self talk was about just getting over it, the deeper I sunk. It was made worse by the annoying and constant spruiking by social media “life coaches” telling me that I can choose to be positive. While it’s true that in some situations, we can choose how we feel, at other times it’s not easy, nor possible. For example, anyone who suffers with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) will tell you that when your bowel is cranky, so is the rest of you. It is know well known that our gut biome affects our moods and vice versa. Sometimes our sense of sadness is triggered by out of control hormones, or we are exhausted after caring for a loved one, or we have been sick ourselves. Fighting our biology to ensure we are always happy is exhausting and so sometimes, we just need to wave the white flag of surrender and move into acceptance.
We also need to take care not to fall into the “fake your emotions till you make it” kind of thinking. Pretending we are ok when we’re not, leads to a build up of emotions that may be unleashed when least expect it, e.g. behind the wheel of a car, or trying to discipline a child. Pent up emotions can also impact our health. In IBS, these emotions can exacerbate an already fragile gut.
I’m not saying don’t find a positive angle, or seek the lesson in a difficult situation, but sometimes you just can’t find the positive or the lesson, at least not while you’re in the middle of your maelstrom. I’m talking about giving ourselves permission to feel sad, explore it, see what it shows us, and then move on.
When our beloved dog passed a few years back, I couldn’t believe the depth of my sadness. She was a rescued Greyhound who had been treated so badly, that she came to us a bundle of threadbare nerves. Just as she was settling in to her new life, she developed bone cancer. I couldn’t understand why, after all her suffering, when she finally found a loving home, that this could happen. My sadness was so deep, I thought I’d disappear in it. I didn’t even try to hold back the tears, not even in the supermarket. I couldn’t stop the flow, nor did I want to. I was so truly, deeply sad. Slowly, the tears became less frequent, the huge hole in my heart began to mend a little at the edges and over time, it sealed enough so that I felt less of the rawness of my pain.
If I’d shut off my feelings or shoved them down, that deep sorrow would’ve eaten away at my body. My health would have suffered. Plus the lesson I learnt, some time later, was that her presence and her passing, revealed to me not only the depth of pain I was capable of feeling, but that it was equally matched by a depth of love.
So how do we navigate the darker waters of our lives? For starters, it’s important not to judge ourselves for feeling sad, but rather, give ourselves permission to have a bad day. A good cry always helps release the raw edges around pain, as does writing in a journal. When feelings are too overwhelming, it’s important to get support from a loved one or a professional counsellor. Sometimes, going into nature can greatly help us catch our breath and restore a sense of peace back into our bodies.
We each need to find what works for us. Personally, I have found that feeling my emotions and letting them work through me like an invisible wave of energy is more helpful than resisting, not acknowledging my true feelings and putting on a false, happy face.
I think that to be truly balanced people, we need to feel the fullness of joy, sadness, frustration and exhilaration. It’s what gives our lives colour, we need the colour black to understand white. All emotions, but particularly our less favourite ones, can alert us to a conflict between our minds and our hearts, or that we simply need to work through our feelings of loss.
It is emotions that act as little red flags, telling us to look at our feelings and the associated situation more closely. We can ask, is my anger telling me that I’m viewing a situation from an old childhood wound or am I justified in feeling angry? Is my sadness telling me that I’m lacking resilience that would help me deal with certain setbacks?
Our painful emotions can highlight a hole in our knowledge and understanding giving us the opportunity to rectify it. Talking to a wise friend or professional counsellor or reading a good book on the mind and emotions, can help fill the gap in our knowledge.
Finally, if you are feeling sad, or experiencing any other negative emotion, be kind to yourself. Humans feel the highs and the lows. Take time out from your busy schedule and treat yourself to something beautiful and nurturing. The human journey can be a challenging one. It’s more than ok to feel sad sometimes, but it’s even more than ok, to treat ourselves with love and compassion, and a hot chocolate!
Whether you are happy or sad, why not be kind to yourself anyway.
“In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.” – Susan Sontag
I recently heard an interesting question put forward by a podcast presenter. She asked her guest if she would recognise herself from ten or fifteen years ago. The question drew my attention not only because it was a thought provoking idea, but also because an hour earlier, I’d stumbled across something I’d written ten years ago, to my mentor, during a dark time in my life. Reading my own journal entry, shocked me. I couldn’t believe that I had written those words. If I didn’t see my own handwriting, I could have sworn, it was the work of an imposter. Did I really feel and think like that? How could I not see that I was making things worse by the filters through which I was viewing my world and my situation? Was I blind to my own thought patterns? Clearly I was. I struggled to recognise this younger version of me.
As I read my story of despair and loneliness, I felt sadness for that young version of me, but as I peered down the time tunnel, I could also see with such clarity, how my thoughts and beliefs made a difficult situation, even more difficult. Experience has taught me that rather than judge myself for the choices I made, nowadays, I show compassion for myself, because after all, most mistakes were made due to a lack of awareness. We all do the best we can with the tools we have at any point in time.
In this particular journal entry, I could see how my old myself was swelling with self pity, blocking my ability to view my own thought processes that were compounding an already difficult situation. Yes, I did find myself in a rather pox place. I’d been very sick for almost a year, finally able to go on a holiday with my family, only to come down with the flu the minute we arrived at our beautiful alpine location. While the rest of the family went off skiing, having snowball fights and seeing the sights, I was sick and alone in a hotel room, day after day, and only started to feel better the day before we headed back home.
At the time, all I could see was the injustice of the moment, as though some invisible adjudicator deemed me unworthy of good health and happiness. This of course was just faulty thinking. There is no force, or high power that simply wants to play us like puppets, dishing out positive or negative situations, depending on what mood it’s in. This is simply looking for someone to blame. I do believe in a greater power that is benevolent and the creator of all things, but I don’t believe it is a judgemental force. What I do know is that for the most part, I was the lead player in creating this situation. Getting sick was often the result of being unable to deal with stress. I lacked the skills of resilience when facing adversity. I was a black an white thinker and loved to punish myself for what I saw were dreadful failings. I wasn’t the first, nor will I be the last to get sick on a holiday, but with my blinkered eyes, I couldn’t see that.
It is so hard for us to see the progress that we’ve made over time. As multiple years cross our paths, those changes simply blend into the fabric of daily life. It’s not until we are given an opportunity to time travel and visit a younger version of ourselves, that we can contrast and compare, to see if, and how we have evolved; if our views have altered, our beliefs softened, our wisdom expanded.
It is one of the reasons I have journaled for the past decade and diligently kept each book. Whenever I feel like I’ve made no progress, usually during one of those moments when an old unhelpful belief rears its ugly head, I’ll re-read an old journal entry to remind myself that while some beliefs may still be a work in progress, many others have truly been transformed. While my physical body still presents some challenges, the real “I” has changed for the better, even though it’s often challenging work.
Sometimes, we also find that a part of our life remains stuck in the same difficult situation we once found ourselves in. For example, while my health is better, I’ve never regained the good health I enjoyed before I collided with a mysterious illness. It’s easy to think therefore that little has changed, but this isn’t true. While our physical bodies might not appear to have transformed, our minds on the other hand, are capable of great transformation, so much so, that over time, these changes can then go on to positively affect our bodies. I’m so much better than I was even five years ago, but not the same as ten years ago. But then that is only natural as my body is also ten years older. Occasionally, I still experience physical pain but I don’t suffer from it like I used to. The pain hasn’t changed, but my relationship to it has. The old me suffered deeply because I focussed on the injustice of the situation, whereas now I realise that nothing is fair or unfair, it just is. My pain has also reduced because I’ve dropped my obsession with being pain-free. Through acknowledgement and understanding I now know that it’s not a matter of fairness or justice, I simply experience certain symptoms.
Mindfulness and breathing techniques have also helped deal with physical and emotional pain. When I think I’ve not changed, I can see that I truly have. Our memories can gloss over events, alternating between emphasising the good, and the bad. It is through our journals that we get a clearer understanding about how we were truly thinking and feeling at the time.
“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” —William Wordsworth
If you don’t write in a journal, I suggest trying it. Not only is it a record of your own life, but the process of writing often frees us from the endless babble that takes place in our head. People who journal often find that allowing thoughts to flow onto a page helps them gain clarity because seeing their thoughts in writing, often helps them see more clearly what it is they’re thinking. Oftentimes, the mind will rerun thoughts in an endless loop. Putting thoughts into writing, tells the brain that the matter has been recorded, and so there is no longer a need for that particular train of thought, to keep running along the same continuous track, never reaching its destination.
Try keeping a journal and see if it might bring with it a new way of seeing your thoughts and gaining insights into beliefs that may not be serving you. Once you can identify a negative thought, try to delve deeper and see if you can remember a time when you may have heard a carer bring up this viewpoint and how it might have influenced your own thought development. Once you are aware, you can choose to replace a negative thought with a more positive one. If you still struggle with this process, someone like a counsellor can assist with this process.
“Life is a lively process of becoming” Douglas Macarthur
Recently, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for some time, at a small local art show where she was displaying her beautiful ceramic work. I was in awe of her skill and courage to purse a more challenging vocation in the arts, rather than her formerly safe job as a teacher. As I excitedly embraced her, I said, “I didn’t know you’d be here today.” To which she replied, “It’s good to see you too, and you should be here too.”
In a rather diminished and child-like voice I said, “I’d love to…maybe…one day.” The rather different response inside my head instead was “Um, duh, No. Why would I be here. I don’t have anything to offer. I’m not a bona fide artist. I’m not formally trained in any medium, why would I be here?”
But then I thought, hang on a minute, over the past few years haven’t I’ve tried my hand at ceramics, photography, sewing and print making and writing. Surely this counts for something, and isn’t there a clue here as to what my passion might be?
While I hadn’t been prepared to call myself anything remotely “arty”, I have been in exploration mode, looking for a new world in which I want my future self to inhabit. The journey into creativity isn’t an easy one for people with low self-belief. Criticism is rife in our world at the best of times, sadly, it is deeply intrenched in the world of creativity. I was beginning to tire of pretending that I wasn’t creative so, I’ve decided I am going to give myself permission to…
Mess around and waste time, paint and/or fabric or whatever other materials, as I practice, practice, practice
Try different creative pursuits, mediums, techniques
Explore! Remember that thing we used to do as kids. Get dirty, climb things, cut and paste anything we could get our hands on, and sticking them to anything and everything we could find. We’d try this with a dash of that and then asked, what if I turn it upside down, or inside out, add a little salt, or soil or a beautiful leaf that’s just been offered to us by the autumnal apple tree in our backyard? “What if?”, is what we constantly asked. We didn’t look for outcomes. We looked for solutions in the process itself. Creativity in childhood is a vibrant, courageous and brilliant time. But sadly, as we get older, some of us can lose this precious skill, this gift.
As soon as I had a quiet moment I explored my ideas around how I saw myself in relation to creativity. I realised that when I got my ego out of the way, and it’s demands for impossible standards of skill and qualifications, that I was slowly growing a nice little body of creative work that wouldn’t look out of place at a small local art show. Importantly, despite not having a Doctorate in creativity, I can at least call myself an Artist-in-training and heaven forbid, even display some of my work!
So far there have been a few wins in the photography stakes, particular success with one of my favourite subjects, flowers. That’s one of my babies at the top of this post. And with each blog I write, there is often a “like” here or there, so my writing can’t be too bad either.
Then I thought I’d try my hand at a long burning desire to screen print on fabric. While these first attempts are quite simple, I just fell in love with the vibrancy and joy that comes from even the simplest of designs. I also love the tactile nature of this process and you get to see the results immediately. This simple leaf design has become one of my favourites and as it’s printed on a tea towel, it makes drying the dishes just that little bit more pleasurable. I did say a little bit!
The print below was made by creating simple butterfly cut outs from the cheapest of cheap materials, newspaper! I started with orange on one side and blue on the other and then one of those happy accidents happened, and the two colours began to blend, creating a beautiful purple in the middle. Who would have thought!
The person who couldn’t call herself creative or artistic also made quilts, various other funky bags and soft toys. The list seems to grow the more I look!
She who has struggled to call herself creative also crocheted these baskets and then as I looked at what else I’ve crocheted, the list grows here too.
It’s so easy to forget what we have achieved over time, to dismiss the many things we have tried or created simply because we don’t consider ourselves “qualified”. If you grew up with little emotional support, or for whatever reason suffer with low self esteem, you too might also be very hard on yourself and think that what you achieve is never enough. I know that my crochet basket photo is not perfect, and that I’ve probably made a few mistakes in writing this post, but I’ve decided to leave a few flaws here and there. There is no longer room in my life for perfectionism because it affected my health, and I’m certainly not wasting any more time waiting for the day when I’m supremely qualified or perfect. It might matter if you’re a brain surgeon but I’m not a surgeon who works on bodies, my work is in the mind and why we think what we think. Which is why I’m exploring an old/new passion, exploring vulnerability by exposing my work and my journey, and learning to be brave through creativity and seeing where it takes me.
So when someone asks me what I’m “doing with myself these days”, I’ll bravely reply that I’m a CREATIVE-IN-TRAINING. I will no longer skirt around the issue or make excuses for what I do. With my brave boots on, I step forward into my ever evolving life.
I invite you to join me in declaring what it is that you love, and finding ways that you can become at one with that thing that you love.
Don’t waste another day not living as a whole person.
“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” – Dr Seuss
This morning, as I woke to a chilly morning, I had a hankering for daffodils. It happens every year when the weather turns cooler. But rather than think of these golden globes with fondness, I felt melancholy, a deepening pit of sadness, ironic given that they are such a bright and cheery flower. I thought the sadness was due to the fact that I nurture a secret dream of moving to the country, a place with winters cold enough to grow daffodils. Sadly, it’s too warm where I live for these bursts of sunshine to grow. Perhaps my melancholy was just an unfulfilled dream that left me feeling blue, instead of sunny yellow.
Born a forensic psychologist, I wanted to uncover the thoughts behind these feelings. Why would thinking of such a pretty, happy flower make me sad? As I probed my feelings, I realised that daffodils remind me of a very happy time in my childhood when we would spend school holidays at a family friend’s farm. It was a time when I got to see more of my father, and the pressures and worries of city living were magically erased as we drove past the farm gate. I loved the draughty old farm house, the open fire that smoked like crazy and left us smelling like burnt sausages, the crispy frost that snapped blades of grass in two as we raced to the top of the hill, collapsing on the grass, simultaneous gasping for air and laughing…and then there were the daffodils. I’d begin my daily vigil beside the little mounds, as the hidden miracles pushed and shoved at the earth, striving to burst their sunny disposition from the dark and slowly warming earth. Watching their challenging attempts at emerging from the dark and morphing into a new creation was to become more than just a childhood memory. It became my life’s metaphor when I faced my own challenges and was called to emerge from dark times, changed, from whatever life experiences I was dealt at the time.
My sentimental feelings weren’t just about childhood memories. There was a deeper sadness beneath it. For 10 years I’ve struggled through a range of ongoing and undiagnosed health issues. More days than I care to remember have been spent in bed, or trapped inside my own home. It’s been as though my own metaphoric daffodils have been continually moving through the dark earth, with unrelenting regularity, struggling to find a way to push out of the dark and into the light, until now.
Through journaling and with the energetic help of a lunar eclipse, I’ve come to understand the sadness. For years I’ve been fixated on physical healing and addressing my anxiety and fear based thoughts, and while I understand where my fears come from and have begun to address these, I’d missed something really important. Underneath it all, lay a deep wound that needed healing. Yes, it’s that onion layering thing, and just like the skins of a daffodil bulb, I was removing the outer skins to reach a core wound.
Painful emotions are messengers alerting us to disharmony between our heart and mind. For me, the sadness aroused by the daffodils came from the sadness I felt for my younger self, the little girl I once was, and how her life had turned out. Don’t get me wrong, I have so many things to be grateful for, truly I do, but I also feel a sense of loss at the many hours, days, weeks spent in bed or at home, too unwell to join the other mothers at school morning teas, or to travel, to do more than the bare minimum with my children, being unable to extend my circle of friends as I often had to decline invitations to social events, eventually those invites stop coming, and to the woman who I thought I would become and who would change the world. A thought leader, shaker, mover, change maker. I was going to fully embody my Aquarian characteristics, the humanitarian, the disruptor. None of this came to pass. All that happened was that I disrupted my own world and with great ferocity.
And so I was stuck, feeling sadness, regret and unsure how to deal with it. I know that in all painful situations, there is often a nugget of wisdom hidden within the pain. What could I glean from this painful memory? And so I began to journal.
What I found was that I wanted was to contact and warn my 10 year old self and say, “When you meet the guy with the weird moustache, steer clear. See that fancy looking job? Don’t take it. Your boss will suck you dry and slam dunk your self esteem. Every time your mother yells at you for making a mistake, it’s not your mistake that’s got her riled up, it’s her own life and frustrations bubbling up to the surface. You just got in the way of some emotionally toxic spray that was unleashed, and sadly, some of it will land on you.”
Then I realised I that all my rumination, worries, sadness wouldn’t change a thing.
Instead I stumbled upon a healing formula for my wound.
The past is done! Part of the pain was from frustration at not being able to change the past. Realising that what’s done is done allows some closure.
I did the best with what I had. Remembering this fact is vital to healing past wounds. We create pain when looking back from the rich tapestry of knowledge and experience we’ve gained and trying to see a past situation from our current wiser self. If we’d known then what we know now, we’d make different choices, but the fact remains that we didn’t know and it’s why we did what we did, with what we had at our disposal at the time.
Healing balm mantra – Apply Daily: “I did what I did with what I knew then. I did the best I could. I send my old self love and know I did the best I could.”
Forgiveness. Sigh! Forgiveness is the key to healing so many wounds, yet I find it the toughest of processes to work with. I was blaming my current adult self for stuffing up the potential life of my younger self. That’s crazy I hear you say. How could you have known what was coming? Exactly. This is faulty thinking at its best, then add to it my own peculiar ability to blame myself for everything that goes wrong (see item 2 – doing the best with what you’ve got) and you’ve got little room for forgiveness. In this case, fault finding comes from that sticky toxic spray I mentioned earlier. The one that made me think I was to blame for everything that went wrong. Those toxic remarks from care givers can be tough to dislodge and this is where self love and forgiveness helps. As psychologist Rick Hanson says, …”the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones.” So, it’s time to develop a Teflon brain for negative experiences and velcro for the good ones.
So with this special lunar eclipse entering our skies and consciousness, I’m going to lay to rest into the dark earth, the old ways of seeing my childhood, mistakes of adulthood and slough off some of that toxic spray. With the new moon, I call in new skin to heal my wound and layer it with love and forgiveness and from this rich soil, new daffodils of wisdom can grow and shine their sunny faces towards mine.
What old pain can you heal and return to the earth, and what new nugget of wisdom will you add to your blooming flowers of knowledge and insight?
“At the deepest level, the creative process and the healing process arise from a single source. When you are an artist, you are a healer.”
Rachel Naomi Remen
Some time ago, a woman with an astonishing and uncanny ability to tune into my mind and heart, suggested I look at creativity as a way to promote physical healing. Despite her spookily accurately psychic skills, I politely thanked her for her advice, but long-standing physical health issues like mine, required a more aggressive approach like supplements, continuous mindfulness, mediation, eating all the “right” foods, and working with a naturopath and/or integrative doctor. Oh, and don’t forget a good dose of self-help books, workshops and courses. Sounds exhausting doesn’t it? And yet, for ten years, that was my modus operandi, and yes, I was exhausted on all levels. If you listen to the many experts, particularly the social media medical “experts”, mine was the textbook approach for holistic health and I, was its number one student. At times I made some progress, only to take one step forward and two steps back. It’s been slow and frustrating and didn’t really create the change I knew I needed.
In fairness, the one thing I didn’t do well was meditation. Sitting for 20 minutes or more left my legs feeling numb and I found the whole process painful. Chronic thinkers have great battles during meditation. I know, I know, the battle is a sure sign we need it more than most people, but this ongoing battle wasn’t getting me anywhere. That’s when I thought I’d try the other thing I’d been resisting and that was take the psych’s advice and try creativity.
Since leaving childhood behind, I became estranged from any form of artistic pursuit. Not because I wasn’t interested, but because my carefree childhood evolved into adulthood shackled by perfectionism. Like oil and water, perfectionism and creativity don’t mix. It’s basic chemistry and you can’t change that, but you can transform it.
Two years ago, my daughter began sewing classes. I watched with envy as each week, she brought home wonderful new creations, resplendent in vibrant and funky fabrics. I’ve never had a desire to learn to sew, and yet, something about the art of making, the attraction of beautiful fabrics and the joy of holding something you created kept pulling at me. I knew then that creativity, the thing I’d been trying to ignore had finally found a way to reach me, handcuffed me and wouldn’t let go.
Despite my chronic perfectionism issues, I found the courage to dive in. Things went well for a while because as a beginner, I could rationalise that mistakes were natural when learning a new skill. But as time went on, the mistakes naturally continued, as each new project had it’s own challenges, and some days my brain malfunctioned due to chronic insomnia. This is where the battle to transform perfectionism into creativity really began.
My programmed mind repeated it’s well worn howl that I was hopeless, incompetent and why couldn’t I remember things like everyone else. On and on it went, but something had shifted in me. A little voice said, “I’ve had enough”. There are times in our life when we reach a crossroad. We’ve learnt enough to know that these intersections represent the opportunity for deep, profound change. But do we have the courage to take the path never travelled, to step into the darkness of a new and as yet unknown path? I decided that I’d had enough of doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome, and following the old road that got me nowhere. It was time for something different.
So in that moment of angst, as I sewed another row of stitching that had to be unpicked, again, I stood on the threshold and took a deep breath. I quickly processed the thoughts in my mind. “Here’s the chance for change kiddo”, my little voice said, trying to be heard over the perfectionist mind. “Take the stitch unpicker, breath deeply and in a meditative and mindful way, gently unpick the stitches. Go on, you can do it.” And so I did.
Two things happened here. Firstly, I found that I could use the “mistake” to not only rip the stitches out of my perfectionism trait, but secondly, I could use this as my kind of meditation. I know that mediation is very good for stress reduction and for general health, but with my hyperactive mind, I needed to find another entry point. Unpicking stitches did that for me, as did the process of sewing. This might sound strange to non sewers, but there is something therapeutic in the chugging rhythm of a sewing machine.
I won’t lie and say this process was easy because it wasn’t. With each stitch, my mind would try to derail me with constant little snide remarks. “Careful you don’t rip the fabric. Is anyone else unpicking their work? I can’t believe we have to do this again?” But just as we do in meditation, I watched the thoughts, let them pass and went back to work.
My process of discovery, of healing through creativity is just beginning. While I’ve never recovered my health completely, I have made progress. But more than physical progress, I’ve made emotional and spiritual progress. I’m better able to deal with physical ailments but importantly, I live a more peaceful life, regardless of my physical health. And that is the true gift I found in creativity.
Is there something your heart has been calling you to follow that you might be ignoring? Perhaps today you can take one small step into exploring this call.
“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” – Albert Einstein
“Let there be an opening into the quiet that lies beneath the chaos, where you find the peace you did not think possible and see what shimmers beneath the storm.” John O’Donohue
For some time now, I’ve been pushing, twisting, doing mental somersaults all in an effort to find some kind of direction. Hence why it’s been a while between posts. I’ve written about this previously, and while I found that there was some confirmation that I was perhaps onto something, nothing has shown itself as my true North.
One idea was to perhaps take my fledgeling creative purists to another level by doing some formal training, that way I could confidently say I am a this or a that. Yes, I have a bit of an issue with being “qualified” as a way of legitimising myself. Not ideal, I know, but the universe has a way of nudging us, sometimes imperceptibly in the right direction. There are hints galore if we take a moment to notice. Each path I pursued trying to find the “right” artistic course, hit a road block. Nothing seemed to fit what I needed. People wouldn’t respond to my requests for information or the courses were in the wrong part of the country or had already begun.
I thought perhaps that I may have been barking up the wrong tree, but then I realised I was doing that thing that I always do, and that is to go straight for the Gold medal, for the qualifications, for the legitimate recognition, even before I’d allowed myself to play, to experiment and explore my new crush.
There are two aspects to my angst. One aspect I know is shared amongst many creatives and perfectionists and it’s the need to feel “legitimate”. For me, this slippery path leads right back to self esteem. The need to feel like I’m not wasting time or resources, because there is a “worth” issue here. Also the need to make sure I’m the best I can be and quickly, because perfectionists hate the messy, explorative birthing time that comes from the creative process, and yet, it is that very same messy exploration that helps cure perfectionists of “imposter syndrome”.
It is the creative process that cures us of those barb wire covered walls that we build up around ourselves. The walls that we put up to protect ourselves from what was for some of us, an over supply of criticism and a scant offering of praise. As children, many of us didn’t receive all the tools we needed from our caregivers to become compassionate, courageous and confident people. As adults, through our life’s challenges and with insight, we can gift ourselves empowering thought processes and become centred and resilient adults.
At the moment, my life seems to be filled by nothing but roadblocks or dead ends. I grumbled about my obstacles to a friend, who suggested that it might be a time of transition, a time where, like an empty, unploughed field, we need to be in fallow, to rest, to allow the soil to be filled with helpful microbes and critters. To try and plant too early will produce a weak crop, but to wait, means a greater chance of success.
There are times in our life when great changes are taking place, in our physical bodies, in our mental frameworks and deep down at the soul level. Unfortunately, for many of us, our connection to the seasons, to the cosmic cycles and our own milestones have all but disappeared in our 24/7 lives. We often miss the signals that alert us to slow down or to start something new, or that something is changing. To notice and celebrate the many and varied stages in a human life.
I’m a victim of the 24/7 life cycle and so for “doers” like me, being still is about as easy as trying to prevent a child from bouncing on a trampoline. Many of us find it hard to remain in limbo, to trust that there is some kind of cosmic force working behind the scenes, getting things ready for our next incarnation. Ready to reveal a new door to an unknown destination.
These interruptions to our “normal programming” are signs that we are being called to make new choices. We can think the same thoughts, do the same things and therefore remain stuck in the same old patterns of thinking and being. Or, we can try to push through the painful process of birth and emerge as a new born, with new ideas and a more expanded view of ourselves. It is by changing our beliefs and our thoughts that we can expand into a greater, wiser self. While changing our long held beliefs can be challenging, once we’re alert to our faulty way of thinking, there is no going back. To be aware is to know. To not act on it, is to create suffering for ourselves.
Dumping an old, outdate part of ourselves isn’t always easy, but if we don’t embrace that which is asking to be born, we create turmoil in our minds and over the longer term, this can often lead to a breakdown in health and/or relationships.
So how do we navigate our way forward when we are becalmed and seemingly going nowhere? Here’s what I do. In my 24/7 life I lacked dedication to my meditation practice, but when my life seems suspended in limbo, I ramp up my meditation and mindfulness practice. Some days it’s challenging to be still, so I use creative practices such as photography, gardening or sewing as my practice. Some people use cooking, walking, riding a bike, colouring in; the form and practice don’t matter.
What does matter is finding a way of becoming aware of the chatter in your mind. Often it will resist the very things we need to change. The mind can provide valuable clues as to what needs addressing. The “zone” as people often refer to it, is a place where we can not only realise own own harmful thinking, but again, paradoxically, it is also the place of inspiration and navigation. Direction, guidance, ideas, all that we seek resides in this place. It is the place of our wise soul. We just need stillness to access it and to be brave enough to follow its guidance.
If you are feeling growing pains right now, like your feet are stuck in mud, gift yourself some time to really tune in to how you feel about different aspects of your life. There is no need to make rash decisions, just listen for a while and then explore what other possibilities exist outside of your current world. There may be something about to bloom out of the darkness.