Acceptance and Surrender. They’re not the same as Giving Up.

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Image: Bernard Hermant

“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.

As I journeyed through 10 years of poor health, I thought the only course of action was to fight! I accepted the western medical model of humans as machines, something was broken and needed fixing. I lived a typically delusional life, thinking I could control my world and even the lives of others. I thought that taking the bull by the horns was the way to success. Well, a 10 year fight resulted in little change, except that my bank account was now gasping for air. It wasn’t until I read an amazing book, with the somewhat disturbing title, “How to be sick”, by Toni Bernhard that I knew I had it all wrong. I’d heard about the concept of surrender through various books on Buddhism, but couldn’t quite accept, that surrender wasn’t the same as giving up. It turns out, there is a significant but subtle difference.

Bernhard offered some great insights into surrender but it was my friend who pointed out, that the energy of both the word and concept of defeat is very different to that of surrender. Defeat, or giving up feels quite helpless, hopeless and lacks energy. Whereas surrender or acceptance, has a peaceful feeling about it. It’s where we remove our white knuckle grip of the wheel, and allow the unseen field that creates everything, to take the wheel for a while.  Feeling defeated often occurs when we are hell-bent on controlling everything in our lives, despite numerous hints that we are not in alignment with where we should be, physically, emotionally and/or spiritually. It also occurs when we lack faith that perhaps, as hard as some situations are, that there is something to be gained from it. If we look close enough, there may be some nugget of wisdom, a learning  that we can extract from the situation that will help us grow and evolve as human beings.

In addition, giving up sometimes means we relinquish our personal responsibility to make the changes that are needed, often and unfairly diverting responsibility to others. The roadblocks we encounter in life, can be processes that redirect us to a path this is more in alignment with our unique gifts, whilst providing us with an opportunity to use them.

When I sit with the true energy of surrender, it feels more like a gentle letting go of the wheel, and allowing my life to unfold in ways I don’t know or understand. Because we often come from a place of control, at some point, we can lovingly, as opposed to angrily, accept that the way life is unfolding, or the we are doing things just isn’t working. Perhaps it’s a timing thing, perhaps its our egos interference, placing unrealistic demands on us, others or the universe. Perhaps it’s just unexplainable circumstances.

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Image: The Truman Show

There is nothing wrong with positive thinking, positive psychology, striving for happiness etc., but we are often misled into thinking that if we control our lives, we’ll be spared heartache and hardship. Control is a mirage….it doesn’t exist. We’re fooled into thinking we are the executive directors of our life story, but this is no more real than the Truman Show. There is a greater force, or sheer luck, depending on your beliefs at work behind the screen. Some of us are just lucky enough to be kissed by a unicorn when we’re born. You know the type, everything just always falls into place for them. Then there are those who seem to do all the right things, and yet one disaster after another crushes these poor souls into a corner. Is it luck, is it a person’s viewpoint, is it like attracting like? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that our society is really pitiful in helping build resilience into our thinking minds. Lessons on resilience should also include learning about surrender, and acceptance. This blog is just my feeble attempt at trying to understand these concepts and open what I think is much-needed dialogue into “real life”.

Back to understanding surrender. The poet Mark Nepo says the act of surrender is like a fish finding itself in a different current from the one it was swimming in. The fish could try to swim upstream to escape the current, but it will get nowhere except become exhausted. Surrender also allows us time to ponder our journey and discover the new place we find ourselves. My new year plans to create great change in the world have turned to custard and I now find myself asking, where to now? My friend suggested that perhaps it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be, perhaps certain doors aren’t open yet, or because other events have to unfold first, certain learnings have to be attained, planets realigned.

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Image: William Farlow

Writer Sally Kempton says of surrender, “…what looks like inaction is often simply a recognition that now is not the time to act. Masters of surrender tend to be masters of flow, knowing intuitively how to move the energies at play in a situation.” Nero says of his fish story, that we have to be prepared to surrender into whatever current appears at any point in our lives. Kempton also speaks of flow, and adds the importance of intuition. In our modern world, we are all misled into thinking that because we have achieved great feats like curing diseases, redirecting rivers, and landing on the moon, that our cleverness means we can control all aspects of our lives, both our inner and outer world. But our brains are also prone to the whims and fancies of our ego, which is prone to the dominating fears of the day. When we tap into our intuition, we’ll often see that attempts at controlling our lives, are often ego driven and behind our ego, is usually our deep-seated fears. I now see surrender as pulling my fear-driven mind, out of the driver’s seat, and letting my intuition speak to me. Notice I didn’t say take control! Intuition is more like our guidance system. It suggests the best route for us to take, but never controls our lives against our will.

“Make the best use of what is in your power and take the rest as it happens.” Epictetus

In her second thought-provoking book, ‘How to live well with chronic pain and illness’, Bernhard, who suffered with chronic health issues since 2001, after contracting a mysterious virus, knows all about the need for surrender. Despite trying all available treatments over many years, Toni’s health has not improved. She speaks of the day she realised she may remain chronically ill for the rest of her life, but rather than feel overcome by sadness, she says that eventually, using Buddhist practices of surrender, she  felt liberated, “as if a great burden had lifted: the burden to get better.” Without the burden she says, she found the freedom to live the life that she has, rather than constantly fighting for what may not come, restored health. The key here is that she hasn’t given up, she remains hopeful that advances in medicine may one day find a cure, but she is also accepts that there may be no cure. She says that this acceptance has helped her “be at peace with my life as it is.”

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Image: Photo by Rakicevic Nenad

Which brings us to Acceptance. Surrender is that moment when we take our ego’s hands off the wheel and we find, often reluctantly, that our car is heading in a different direction, like that current Mark Nepo spoke of. Nepo says after surrendering into the flow, that we can practice acceptance when we find that we’ve “run into driftwood, or a stone, or you run into the bank”. He believes that accepting that block, the interference or stalemate, allows us a moment to look at the bigger picture and perhaps view our lives from a completely different angle.

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” – Elbert Hubbard

Teresa Bruni says that whilst facing her own health crisis, she read an article by a psychologist suffering with the same illness, whose advice was to never accept the illness. Bruni says that she had tried this approach for many years and made her feel like she was in a never-ending battle. When Bruni said, “Okay, this is where I am. I accept it. Now what?”, her health began to improve.

As Bernhard discovered, surrender and then acceptance did not improve her physical health, but it did improve her mental health. They were the keys that helped her to live her new kind of life, with more meaning and peace.

Bruni says that acceptance and surrender “released so much counterproductive energy that my body was able to use that energy in a productive manner, to heal.” Of course these two principles don’t apply just to health, they are just as powerful in relationships, in work situations, in all aspects of life where we find ourselves hitting a brick wall.

So acceptance and surrender don’t mean we simply throw our hands up to the heavens, rather, it’s an opportunity for emotional and spiritual development, a chance to look at life from a new perspective, to understand that as Lao Tsu says, “there’s a time for everything” and to know, that with courage, and patience, a great unfolding and evolving may be taking place. Sometimes growth comes in the most challenging and difficult circumstances, but often, from the greatest pain, can come the greatest insights and understanding.

So whatever challenge you may be facing, whether it’s in relationships, in health or other areas of your life, remember that life is full of paradoxes, don’t give up, but loosen the need for control, accept and surrender into where you are right now. With your eyes open, lie back into the stream and see where the current takes you and what it has to teach you.

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Image: Annie Spratt

 

 

 

 

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It’s more than OK to feel sad, sometimes

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Whether you are happy or sad, why not be kind to yourself anyway.

Namaste

The cure in creativity

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Ella Jardim

“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.

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Annie Spratt

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.

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Image: keep calm-o-matic.co.uk

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

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A time to stop. A time to listen.

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“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”.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

May stillness bring you clarity and direction.

Namaste.

Are you dodging fake bullets?

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“Happiness can be found in even the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Dumbledore

Being an electrical activity, a light bulb moment has the ability to make your body feel the zapping, surging force of a lightning strike, and yet, all that  has taken place is  a couple of microscopic neurons suddenly exploding! In a good way.

It’s like a tiny little tendril waiting patiently, knowing which direction it wants to head in, but it remains stagnant until we turn on the light of understanding. Then a literal explosion of forward momentum occurs and a whole new thought, idea, belief can be born.

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Image: pbs.org

I experience these explosions often, as there is still so much growing up to do. Several light bulb moments occurred recently. Last year I employed the services of a writing mentor  because while I felt my writing was good enough for my blog, I wanted it to be better. I hated the thought of making mistakes. (Yes, perfectionism is an ongoing theme in this blog). Unfortunately my mentor has become super busy and is no longer able to assist me. When I read her email ending our working relationship, I was shocked, sad, and then immediately thought, I’d better find someone else quickly. While I appreciated her writing prowess, I also realised that I enjoyed her company and the excuse to visit a quirky writer’s cafe on the other side of town. The frist lightbulb illuminated my need to get out more, and that I, personally had to make this happen and not rely on others to create the opportunity. The second lightbulb shone brightly on an important issue that needed addressing. The idea of releasing work that hadn’t been “scrutinised.” Scrutinised is such a harsh word. It means to examine closely, carefully, with critical attention, the latter being the anxiety provoking action that I like to avoid. Scrutiny might result in being told I’m not as good as I hoped. Such insecurities definitely need a coach, a mentor, a backstop, or is it a crutch? The silly thing is, I’ve got a dozen drafts sitting, waiting release, but without being scrutinised, they sit, stacked up, blocking my faucet of creativity.

Advice is under your nose

I shared this situation with my partner, who is a very down to earth type, and who I sometimes think is too black and white to understand the complexities of an anxious mind. But his was the advice I needed. He pointed out that I always looked to others for support, back up, to rubber stamp me before I took action. He asked me, “What would happen if your blog was successful, and you became popular?” I told him I didn’t know. “You’re afraid of success,” he said.  I’ve heard this said before and it never made sense to me. Something about being successful means having to then take responsibility for yourself. I told him I didn’t see why I would be afraid of ‘fame and fortune’. His simple reply was, “If you are successful, then you’ll be out there, on your own.” Many successful people will tell you that it’s lonely at the top, but what my partner meant, was that I would have to stand on my own two feet, I’d be responsible for my own success or downfall. As I was journalling my way through these new ideas, these words popped in my head.

“If you keep a low profile, you won’t get hit by a critic’s bullets”

–  Wisdom Elements

Perfectionists hate criticism and obviously the more successful you are, the more likely you are to be noticed, leaving the field wide open for supporters and detractors to enter in and spray you with bullets of what they really think!

To remain buried at ground level, to become familiar only with the roots and stems of our growing potential, means we never actually see the beautiful blooms that grow above the ‘safety zone’. How sad to never see the unique shape and colour that comes from our own blossoming. It takes courage, resilience and perseverance and the mind of a self-actualising warrior to pop our heads above the field. And courage to know that any criticisms are just fake bullets and reflect more about the critic than their target.

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As someone who is learning to tune in to her own intuition and universal signs, I was able to see things differently. Whereas I thought that losing my writing mentor was a sign that perhaps I wasn’t to continue writing, when I tapped in to my body, I realised that this idea didn’t feel right because I love communicating both in written and verbal form. Instead, I saw that losing my mentor, was yet another opportunity for me to overcome my fears of imperfection and to learn to be independent, to stand on my own two feet. I may not have learnt this as a young person, but regardless of age, I can learn it now.

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Can you take a single step forward?

Stepping forward into new territory is often anxiety provoking, but remaining still, stuck in fear stagnates our growth. The question then becomes can we find the courage to yell, “Jump!” and follow through, or will we remain in the undergrowth like fungi, amongst old, outdated beliefs that do nothing but decompose our life potential? Remember, above the undergrowth is sunlight and your own blossoming self.

Is there an area of your life where you can take the first step towards sunlight?

 

The Ending is a New Beginning

A photo by Ben White. unsplash.com/photos/4K2lIP0zc_k

“God Smiles When You Be You.”  – Rick Warren

As we approach the end of another year, I was tempted to do a review and re-examination of the past year, but this time I resisted the urge.  As a chronic over thinker, I tend to review each waking minute of every day, and for once I decided that this practice was no longer necessary. It appears that the merry-go-round of examining outcomes, cost/benefit analysis and trying to extrapolate valuable data so as to prevent future mistakes was finally coming to an end. Why? Because I decided it had to stop.

Years of analysis, doctors, naturopaths, acupuncturists, homeopaths, not to mention nutritionists, eating plans, exercise plans and hundreds of books on the mind and spirituality, all helped me gain an understanding and awareness of how my thoughts impacted my health. However, eventually you reach the pointy end of your journey where you choose to stay stuck or to step out, usually into unknown territory.

My foreign land is in the realm of feelings. I am unfamiliar and unaccustomed to letting go. Letting go of what I thought I was and how I defined myself, which was usually through  the prism of work and/or the praise worthy demonstration of some unique talent. Chronic illness allows you to do neither of these. You loose your work and as for gaining lavish praise for your unique talent? Forget it! Some days, the best thing you can do is get out of bed gracefully. Believe me, when you’re sick, it’s a huge achievement.

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Photography is one way I am experimenting in creativity

And so, with identity stripped away, it seems there is little left but skin and bones and this is where the yucky void is to be found. Many of us avoid it like the plague by indulging in too much liquor, drugs, sex, food, worry, extreme sports, anything that keeps us from ourselves.

The point of no return

But I’d had enough. I wanted out of my old and battered life and to embrace something different -to try on a new coat, something technicolour and funky. It was my point of no return. Once you’ve seen a glimpse of your true self, you can never return unchanged. It’s like trying to fit into your old size 8 jeans when you have outgrown them by 3 sizes.

So what I glimpsed was an understanding about how I’m wired. I am a left and a right brainer. That means I have equal capacity to analyse (left brain) and to create (right brain). This is normally a good thing, except when your brain becomes unbalanced. I unwittingly let my left brain run my life. While the left loves knowledge it also loves to analyse, normally a handy skill, except when this is coupled with low self-esteem. In this case, the analyst can become a harsh critic and judge whenever a new activity is attempted. In my case, the critic became my ruler in all its definitions; both dominating, and in the way I measured myself and my work against others. My right brain has been trying for YEARS to restore the balance, seeking even the smallest crack in the wall that I’d built around my self-esteem to find release. It constantly sought opportunities to allow my creativity to spill forth and be expressed, but the harsh critic always shut me down. Any attempts at artistic endeavours were quickly abandoned because my first attempts were naturally never perfect. Sadly, it was through illness that I became aware of the imbalance. It’s the main reason this blog exists. I hope others will take heed and learn to honour and express all aspects of who they are.

So with this insight, I realised this imbalance was the result of hearing a few too many criticisms and not enough praise as I was growing up. No blame here. I know my parents had endured the same which is why they parented the way they knew how. So, knowing all this, where to from here?

Well, I know I have a kick-ass, pain in the butt critic but it’s my choice whether I listen or not. Perfectionism is an impossible master to please. In a recent attempt at a sewing project I made the same mistake twice. Truly a first world problem but to me, it triggered all the old feelings of shame and incompetence and I wanted to quit. But I dropped an arm into the ugly place of despair and pulled myself out before I hit the bottom.

Here’s what worked for me.

I call this process, “Project Hello Me”.  I took a deep breath, reminded myself that I was a beginner and began to hum a jolly tune as I unpicked the work. I repeated the process when I made the same mistake and actually had enough awareness to realise that I was being given a wonderful gift, an opportunity to really test my new commitment to change. Repetition builds new neurones and brain pathways, and I wanted a major highway in my brain that built loving acceptance of both my mistakes, and my achievements.

The bottom line is that I am choosing to change records. I want my life to a play to a different tune.

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I won’t lie and say that I’m cured. This is like learning to walk. It’s just the first step. My other Achilies’ heal is comparison. I see the brilliant work of experienced artisans and feel pathetically inadequate compared to them, but again, I refer myself to Project Hello Me and repeat the pattern of demolishing the old and creating the new.

Uncovering the Real Me

But what I’m really doing is not so much creating the new me, but rather, uncovering the “real me”. Looking through a clearer lens. Stripping away dusty old walls that have kept my true identity hidden from myself and others. Like most children, I built up walls to protect myself. I realise now that when something means so much to us, we feel we cannot risk having it destroyed by unaware adults whose criticisms, although well intentioned, can be completely misinterpreted by young children. I never wanted to risk trying something creative in case it was a complete failure, hard to swallow when it means everything to you. But that’s a scared child’s interpretation. A loved and secure child will make and create just because they have to. And now, so will I.

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I wanted to set up the change even before the new year is welcomed in. I wanted the river to begin flowing now, I’ve wasted enough time. So I’ve begun to dabble, explore and investigate new possibilities. Always with what the Buddhists call, ‘The beginners mind’.

So as we leave 2016 behind and allow the events and memories to be added to the cache of the collective experience, I say thank you to you wonderful readers and followers for listening to my rants and raves, to my highs and lows and providing me with a forum in which to share my experiences and insights.

New years are often a great opportunity for change.

How can you embrace a more authentic version of yourself in 2017?  What new experiences can you try your hand at to help you to find your true self?

My wish for you in 2017 is that you rediscover and reconnect with your authentic inner magnificence. And to remember that we are all a glittering facet of a greater cosmic diamond, that Divine force that creates all there is.

Wishing for you a safe and happy holiday and many joy-filled blessings in the New Year.

Namaste.

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Wisdom Elements

Beginners Perfection Curse

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Image: theseeds4life.com

 

“There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky, And you ask, “What if I fall?” Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?” Erin Hanson

When I was little, like so many children I would try anything. I would attempt to fly, bake a cake with mud and flowers and paint and draw whatever inspired me at that moment. None of it attempted for money, praise or recognition. The beauty of childhood is that we do these things purely for the experience of the experience, for the ability to try something new, for the challenge of making the unknown into something known. It is a beautiful Divine existence that sadly, for many of us, will last a few of our precious early years of life before the flame is all but extinguished.

Readers of this blog will know of the angst I’ve felt as I’ve tried to negotiate my way through the maze of man-made thoughts ought to and shoulds, and back into the beautiful valley of Divine inspiration. My old ways of doing this was to simply become way too busy to make time for anything remotely creative, but a brush with poor health forced me away from the drone-like activity that had become daily life, and turned me back towards the winds of inspiration. Back into that time of childhood exploration.

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Let me be upfront here and announce that while my intellect knows the process, knows the deal and the pitfalls, it’s still a challenging path to walk. I absolutely know that the only way to become better at something is to make a start and practice, practice, practice. Makes sense right? No one, not even Einstein was born knowing how to ride a bike, and yet, my loopy thought processes believed that it’s ok for others to be beginners, but just not me. Can anyone else relate to this kind of thinking? No beginners mind for this gal.

Being the ‘thought detective’ that I am, I wondered, why am I so damn hard on myself? Why do I expect to be perfect from the get go? What kind of unrealistic expectation is that, and where did it come from? And, how did I even realise there was a problem?

Well, I recently took up sewing and joined a class of beautiful sewing soul sisters. I love the therapeutic way the machine lulls you into ‘the zone’ and I get to play with beautiful fabrics which nourish my soul. I recently completed the main part of a small child’s quilt which I make to donate to a kids in need. The almost completed item just needed a few lines of decorative sewing to complete it, but the lines are random and require the sewer to let go and just sew a few swirly lines. The completion of this quilt hinged on six random lines of sewing and yet, I couldn’t do it. I procrastinated for days until I had to take action. The first attempt was ok as was the second but then I sewed a rather bad line. I stopped and felt myself tensing up, then without missing a beat, my brain, affectionately called ‘Tofu man’ started up. “You should have spent more time practicing. Look at the complex work the other ladies are doing and you can’t sew a few lines that don’t look like you’ve been binging on booze. You should just stop before you embarrass yourself”. On and on it went and worse still, it became more vicious as it continued. I took the quilt home and just stared at it, feeling numb. How could such a simple thing leave me feeling sad, defeated and empty?

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Image: pinterest.com

I love sewing, I love being able to use my hobby to make things that I can gift those in need. I love the companionship of my sewing classes, but if I didn’t take control of Tofu man and his insatiable appetite for cruel criticism, I would end up giving away yet another thing I loved, all because of a bunch of inherited thoughts and beliefs. Wow, this was tricky territory. In the past I blamed my parents, after all, they were highly critical but to them, it was their way of helping me make the right decisions, to avoid mistakes that I would later regret. However, their fears were not my fears. They grew up during a long and brutal war, they never fulfilled their childhood dreams, they knew the world as being unpredictable and scary and so they sought to arm us kids with the necessary defences to protect ourselves. Problem is, all this does is lead to living life in fear, always waiting for something to go wrong, which it does if that’s what you focus on, and it removes any sense of trust that things might go right. It also blocks creativity because the act of creating requires imagination, courage and trust in oneself.  So blaming parents was not going to get me anywhere. Instead, I found forgiveness and compassion more helpful, but it still didn’t remove my angst.

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Image: sewhandmade.info

This is where the leap is required. I’ll be honest and say I hate the leap! I’d become so used to my companion of many years called the ‘Control freak’ that I’d developed that horrible condition called Stockholm syndrome, a psychological phenomenon in which a hostage develops empathy and positive feelings towards their captor. Despite the pain and suffering my control freak heaped upon me, I preferred to remain in the comfort of the know as opposed to leaping into the unknown, even though, deep down I knew that it was bound to be better than where I was, that I would be removed from the stale breath of the one who speaks words of ill towards me and instead find a new and invigorating companion.

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To leap is to leave Control Freak behind. But leap I had to. As I took out my slightly imperfect quilt, I reminded myself that the child that receives it will be joyous and grateful and will not have grown into a critical adult yet. The imperfect lines mean a human made it and not a machine, and if I was honest, as a first attempt, it was pretty good.

The healing begins

I won’t lie and say that I am cured of perfectionism, I was after all quite perfect at self-criticism. No one could catch me in the self rejection stakes because I was a world champion. Not a great claim to make but an honest one. Re-wiring the brain of old habits isn’t always easy but I’ve found a few techniques that help.

  1. Before I begin something new I take a few deep breaths and try to centre myself and close the door on Tofu Man.
  2. I remind myself that I am exploring new territory and like an explorer I may stumble over rocks, then walk easily through green valleys and possibly find a gem during my travels
  3. If I notice Tofu man trying to edge in, I’ll tell him to go sit at the back of the bus because I’m now in the drivers seat.
  4. If I feel like I’m not doing well, I’ll close my eyes and breath again, and really feel into it. I’ll remind myself that this is an exploration of the heart and soul and not a “real” life and death situation, and no matter what the finished product looks like, it’s living in the process that really matters.
  5. I also remind myself that the healing that results from overcoming this debilitating perfectionism condition will lead to better mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. I’ll focus on health, not squiggly, imperfect lines.
  6. And most importantly, I remind myself that in 100 or even 50 year’s time, that no one, absolutely no one is going to care if I sewed a straight line or a crooked one!

So dear perfectly imperfect friends, don’t bow down to a bunch of neural circuits that will cut you off from joy and fulfilment. Instead, join me and gather up your shield and sword and embody the warrior princess or prince. Then go in to battle with your old nemesis, your old you, and fight to regain that childhood part of you that loved creating, without the monster and megaphone that was always trying to correct you, to stifle you, to accuse you of wasting time and money, all of which you may have taken to  mean that you weren’t good enough. I know most parents never intended for this to be the message but as children, we lacked the cognitive skills and life experiences to truly understand what was being said, but now we know better. Now we can make a truly remarkable change.

I encourage you to release those old, outdated fears and walk a new path, even if the way isn’t absolutely clear. What’s one step you can take towards reclaiming your right to full expression living, faults and all?

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