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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Don’t ignore that tap on the shoulder

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Image: canyon-news.com

There is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen. – Rumi

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had something tugging at my sleeve for many years now. It feels like a pestering tug that won’t let up, that keeps stubbornly trying to get my attention and just won’t go away. I knew that I had to acknowledge that ‘unseen’ part of me, that deep presence, the place of knowing that can only be felt and not reasoned. I didn’t want to acknowledge it because I knew that it was coaxing me into action. It would push me into that super uncomfortable zone, the place where all shields are down and you go out, fully exposed. But the time had come. I had to listen.

That “thing” that was desperately trying to get my attention was my soul’s yearning, it was calling, begging me to follow a hunch, with no details, instructions or landing sight. And I’m not talking about “purpose” here, I’m talking about something that needs to be  undertaken, for it’s own purpose. I was being called to open myself up to a mystery, to tune in to a desire, a yearning buried so deep, that I was no longer completely sure what IT was. What did it look like, feel like, taste like? Is it something that excited me? We are so good at cutting ourselves off from our deepest passions that a mere spider’s thread connects us to our golden orb, our soul. That orb is like the light that shines from our heart when we are totally immersed in our pleasure, in the “thing” that makes us unique, in the thing that takes us out of time and space, and drops us into the timeless dimension.

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But why, oh why, do we allow the very thing that excites us, that sustains our souls to perish, little by little, like a neglected toy, gathering dust and mould in a darkened corner? We neglect our “joy generators” at our peril because in today’s detached world, we need something to anchor us, to help us connect to our authentic selves and to the infinite and creative source of all existence.

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Image: Highheelrunner.wordpress.com

Tofu-man takes control

I was one such person. Many years ago my love of music saw me performing in very small venues with a band of wannabes and even after a long day at the office, performing had me on such a high that I thought I would burst. Every cell in my body began to shimmer with joy and satisfaction, with no agenda other than being in love with the act of creation, but then, my mind took control. It told me that I could never make it to the top because of a lack of talent, looks, connections, the X factor, you name it, the excuses came thick and fast. And so, because of a bunch of dialogue made up by a lump of tofu like mass inside my skull, I gave it away. Years later, my creative soul tried tapping me on the shoulder again, but this time enticing me with art, then ceramics, but each time, tofu-man stood like judge and jury and began to pronounce my ideas as being guilty of a crime against my ego, that following such silly creative pursuits was wasteful of time and money, contributed nothing to the world economy, would not keep the insatiable machine of industry fed and was about as useful as concrete wings on a bird. So again, I gave up. Not realising that I had just replaced my own wings with concrete ones.

Fast forward many years and I learnt to ignore my creativity, and instead adopted a “normal life”, pursuing the nice house, car, balancing career, family, friends, pets etc., leaving me no time for anything else. Phew! It meant tofu-man would be happy, at least for a while, but then slowly but surely, my body began to crumble. You see egos don’t have the brains to understand that suppressing one’s ‘soul-vocation’ in favour of following social dictators would eventually hurt my body, my soul, and ultimately, all of me.

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Hundreds of hours of self-analysis made me realise that Tofu-man was not me, he is just a bunch of programs that were passed on from other tofu brains whose initial intention was to keep us safe, but sadly, this kind of thinking is based on fear.  Over time, this fear was used to keep us all under control, to make us conform so that we remain on the economic treadmill, earn money, spend money and keep a few individuals in the monetarily rich life they had become accustomed to. To control the masses, there is absolutely no room for individuation, for soul expression or living a passionate life. We are told that creativity doesn’t pay the bills. No, it doesn’t always produce monetary results, but it does nourish our hearts and souls and helps pave the way to better health and a more satisfied life. Creativity calls for chaos, for challenging the social norms, for expressing beauty for the sake of it, for shaking people out of their stupor and saying, “Hey you? Look at this amazing photo of the soon to be extinct white tiger.” It triggers us into creating music that soothes our frazzled nerves one minute and then propels us into social action the next. Creativity provides solutions to problems, it is meditative and healing. I’m guessing if creativity was at the top of our priority lists, that we’d reduce our hospital admissions by 80%.

For me, a sick body forced me to see for the first time that tofu-man had been running my life. He’s not just my judge and jury, but also my jailer. He’d kept me from the things I truly loved but was afraid to follow. So, despite being around the “middle” age of my life, I say to my tofu-man, no more. I’m taking back control. Last week I took my first guitar lesson in years and wow did it feel good!  The next day I purchased some watercolour paints and coloured pencils. Just looking at the beautiful colours sets my heart a racing.

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And to my tofu-man I say thanks for trying to protect me, but your kind of protection is like spraying weed killer on a plant that’s about to blossom. We often do this to our children too. Just as they’re about to open their buds and burst into the world in a blaze of colour, we pass on tofu-man’s fears and shut them down. Well, it’s never too late to make scrambled tofu with your ego, instead of letting it run your life. If you can relate to this but don’t know how to move forward, then here’s a suggestion.

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Find your silly happy

Find a quiet place and put on some music that calms and soothes you. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and time travel to happy childhood moments when you were doing something that made you silly happy. If like me, you buried your silly happy moments deep in your memory banks, don’t worry, be patient and just sit with it. You may have to try this a few times.

If that doesn’t work, then you get to play, to experiment and try a whole host of creative things to see if you can reconnect with that deep joyful love that you once had for a particular activity. Take photos, join a choir, learn an instrument, take up sewing, restore furniture, gardening and so on.  Counselling, Hypnotherapy or Art therapy might help too. Whatever you do, don’t give up, keep looking. Your health, wellbeing and full expression of your life depend on it.

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When pain means gain

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Life is very interesting… in the end, some of your greatest pains, become your greatest strengths. Drew Barrymore

I’ve not posted for the past few weeks, due to a strained back muscle which made it hard to sit at my desk but that wasn’t the only reason. My usually overflowing pool of inspiration was empty, barren, devoid of a single drop of inspiration. Very unusual for me but there was a reason. It was the calm before the storm. This often happens just before “The big reveal”, a valuable lesson often hidden in a maelstrom.

This week’s lesson came courtesy of a couple of catch ups with wonderful friends whose company I enjoy and whom I greatly admire. I love listening to their stories of travel, of achievements at work and of their children and how they ride the ups and downs of life. Sounds pretty good you say, so where’s the problem? The problem was that once again, I felt awful because I felt I had little to share. Years of ongoing health issues disrupt careers, travel plans, adversely affect family life and as an unwanted bonus, can increase anxiety. Compared to most of my friends, I felt like a loser, especially when I allow my unconscious mind take hold of the reigns.

Those of you familiar with my posts are aware that I’m constantly doing an archeological dig in my mind. I hate feeling awful, inferior, shame, incompetent and it’s why I am constantly searching for hidden land mines and hoping I can disarm them before they blow up in my face. The little suckers are formed in childhood and so they are buried under tonnes of history and therefore hard to find.

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So I wondered why I couldn’t allow myself to accept myself just as I am right now? And was my idea of who I am even accurate? Anyone who has suffered with long term physical health issues knows that it can turn your life upside down and yet, I continued to blame myself for getting sick in the first place. Ridiculous I know. I grew up with an anxious and constantly worried mother which deeply influenced my own thought processes. I know I got sick because of being overly worried and anxious and so I blamed myself, but I was unable to think any other way. So why couldn’t I just forgive my mother and myself, accept and just move on? Why couldn’t I find some compassion for us both?

Digging and delving into pain

Even though I’ve written about self-esteem before, like most sticky, messy beliefs, this one in particular, comes with many layers that need uncovering and healing. As long as there is pain and discomfort associated with a belief, there is still more digging to do.

With back pain as a great access point into a bit of self-pity and then into the self, I began to peel away the layers. I took a deep breath and said, “Ok, let’s go in boots and all. No holding back. Let’s feel the depth of this pain and see how far it goes. Let’s just wallow in it, completely cover ourselves in the muck and explore.

Here’s what I found. Firstly, I know that I feel inadequate around people who I believe are more intelligent than me and who seem to have their lives together. Despite hardships, which everyone faces, they seem to come out the other end wiser and just get on with their lives. I on the other hand, unknowingly suffered with anxiety since childhood and years of stress took their toll on my physical health which has never fully recovered.

So a) I felt like a loser because everyone else “seems” to cope with great difficulties but it doesn’t affect their health and then b) anxiety affected my memory and so because I struggle to remember a lot of information, I felt stupid. So as a result of getting sick I felt like a stupid loser. Great. Now that we’ve hit the cesspool at the bottom of this pit, where to now?

Well, I could either wallow in the muck and eventually drown, or find a way back up to the light. Not always easy, as my favourite Star Wars character, Yoda says, “Beware of the dark side. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will…” Luke asks if the dark side is stronger. Yoda replies: “No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.” Despite the hurt, despite the pain, self-pity can be seductive. It gives us all the reasons in the universe to explain our failings, our lack of achievement. Easier to blame than heal.

Well, I’d had enough of pain, of self-pity and of seeing things from this distorted angle. The digging helped me realise that I’d created a ridiculous story based on false ideas. Firstly, I have completed post graduate study at university and before children, held a job that helped a great many people. My memory worked perfectly fine. Secondly, anyone who suffers with anxiety will know how debilitating it is both in mind and body. No one asks to be anxious. We sufferers will have inherited a genetic tendency from our parents, but importantly, many a happy child can become a hive of nerves if they are not raised with confident parents. Genetic tendencies will be amplified and once we are in fight or flight mode for long enough, we rewire our brains to be on red alert all the time.

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Image: memegenerator.net

Unearthing the truth

So, what my dig revealed was that I’d completely distorted my own perceptions of my life. What I thought was real, were warped truths.  I’d turned a series of isolated events into the entire meaning of my existence. I blamed myself for something I lacked which could only come from my parents, a sense of self-worth and self-love. No blame here. My parents could not give me something they themselves didn’t have. And finally, anxiety can be running just under our radars, influencing all our decisions and behaviours, leaving us unaware until our lives start to derail and pain steps in. So when friends share their stories of adventures and good fortune, I’ll no longer feel sadness, envy or inadequate. Instead, I’ll share the joy in their achievements and also give thanks for mine. No matter how small they may seem, just getting through the day with the anxiety ball and chain around your ankle is sometimes the greatest accomplishment.

The skill in living a “good life” is in being able to identify the derailments as unconscious beliefs and that we have a blind train driver behind our locomotive. Rather than blame others, the weather or bad luck, if we can be brave enough to look closely, pain, sadness, depression are often signals alerting us that we may have to look within and only then, will we be able to steer our own lives down the right track.

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If you know something isn’t working in your life, but you cannot see what is influencing your decisions, then seek out a counsellor or psychotherapist because we all need a little help sometimes. A fresh set of eyes can often help us see things differently and there is no greater gift than clarity, because it means that each insight brings us closer to our authentic selves.

Have you been able to use emotionally challenging events to grow in wisdom and understanding?