“I read a book one day and my whole life was changed.” – Orhan Pamuk
I was recently asked by a friend, to recommend a book that would help her develop a sense of the true nature of the soul and how she can access this wellspring of wisdom and heart-knowledge. My collection of “soul inspiring” books is as wide and expansive as the soul itself, so I narrowed the field to my Top 5 Books That Will Hug Your Soul. I’ve chosen each book because of the way it brings its own unique approach to how we can get a little closer to knowing that elusive inner voice that is our soul.
After much soul searching, here are Five of my favourites and why.
1. Anam Caraby John O’Donohue.
Poet, philosopher and scholar, O’Donohue was the ultimate ‘Soul Whisperer’. His magical use of language, storytelling and Celtic Mysticism helps seekers make “the invisible …become visible”. Sadly, O’Donohue died suddenly, in 2008, leaving a gaping hole in the lives of his dedicated followers. Thankfully, he left a rich body of work including Anam Cara, Gaelic for ‘Soul Friend’. Many writers try to use the mind to reach the soul, but O’Donohue’s use of Celtic wisdom, allows direct access to the inner sanctum. Your soul will find a friend in this exceptional book.
2. After the Ecstasy, the Laundry by Jack Kornfield.
Buddhist monk, psychologist, and author of the equally profound book, A Path With Heart, Kornfield offers another insightful book that helps us find equilibrium after we reach states of grace and enlightenment. Kornfield explores how we can return to our earthly and often mundane chores whilst maintaining our heightened states of awareness. This book is for anyone who can’t live a hermit’s life, but seeks to bring soul-inspired living, into their everyday lives, even whilst doing the laundry.
3. Kitchen Table wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen.
Physician Rachel Naomi Remen discovered how stories have the power to heal both through her work as a doctor and as a patient. Using the kitchen table idea of sharing our collective stories, she encourages us to embrace mystery, to form stronger connections to each other and to live a soul-inspired life. Using her patients’ true stories, and sharing her own challenges with a chronic illness, Remen shares with us many remarkable journeys of discovery, and of unexpected paths that lead to inner strength, courage and peace, often, when it was least expected.
4. Daring Greatlyby Brene Brown.
Following the stupendous success of her Ted Talk and book, ‘The gifts of imperfection’, Brown gifts us with another soul expanding gem, ‘Daring Greatly. She believes that exposing our authentic selves may feel difficult, even dangerous, but living on the outside of our potential is worse. Brown says we need to embrace vulnerability and “step into the arena”, tap into our souls to find meaning and purpose, and dare to live our best life possible. I love this book because without courage, we cannot overcome our limiting beliefs, and access our soul’s potential.
5. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.
This extraordinary book tells of Tolle’s journey from a state of depression and fear to fully awakened state, after he experienced a profoundly transformative event after his 29thBirthday. A decade later, Tolle finally understood the experience and developed his new philosophy and understanding about the mind and human consciousness. Embracing the teachings of masters like the Buddha and Jesus, Tolle helps us identify the false self and shows us how we can all access our deepest and most authentic self and free ourselves of self-inflicted pain and live a life, free of illusion.
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” ― Leo Tolstoy
For the dear souls who signed up to my blog, I’m sorry that there’s been a long break in transmission, but changes were afoot, and they needed all my attention. Here’s what’s been going on.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’m always fishing, not for fish, but for knowledge, for information about what makes us who we are, and about what is learnt and what is innate. I do this because the journey of self-discovery can yield some great insights that help us live a better life.
For example, I knew that I hadn’t learnt the essential skill of resilience as a child. No one’s fault, it’s just the way the cookie crumbles, but it doesn’t stop me trying to develop this important skill now.
It’s never too late to change – it’s an ongoing process. The way I do that is to continually test my boundaries and as I do, gain important feedback. Each time I try something outside my comfort zone, I’ll know by my response whether I have the skills to cope. When I don’t cope well, I know I need to discover why I feel out of my depth. After a good dose of self-analysis and reframing my thinking, I’ll try again.
If I succeed, I feel empowered knowing that I’ve made progress towards taming my fear. This kind of learning helps me expand the boundaries of my life, as opposed to a tiny life lived in fear.
As a young professional woman, my world was expansive and exciting but a decade ago, after I became ill with a mysterious illness, I developed anxiety and my world shrunk so much, that I became stuck, unable to move forward or backward. Life couldn’t get any smaller. My house was the only “safe” place. The irony is that while on one level home felt safe, it was also suffocating. It was a no win situation.
So, to continue pushing my boundaries, I chose to do a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) course, to become a pastoral carer. The practical part of the course was conducted in a hospital and an aged care facility, two places I avoided like the plague, especially hospitals. I’ve had a bit of a phobia of hospitals after my health crisis, and so I wasn’t sure how I’d manage the practical part of the course. Of course it wasn’t easy, in fact it was truly confronting, especially the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). I’ve never seen so many machines attached to one person. I found myself in the largest trauma hospital in my city. The most challenging and traumatic of cases would be found here. Talk about really testing my resilience! Along with the ICU, there was the spinal unit, mental health unit, cardiac ward, every single unit was challenging in its own way. I met people dying from cancer, those who went in for a small routine operation then woke up a paraplegic, mental health patients unable to string two words together because they were zombified by drugs. It was an eye opening experience.
If we don’t have solid foundations, that is a strong sense of self and resilience, then helping those who are suffering can tip us over the edge.
A program like CPE is challenging not just because there’s much to learn about effective listening skills and the art of being present, but you are also required to do many hours of reflective work and here’s why.
We need to know ourselves well before we can help others. We need to discover, our blind spots, our prejudices, and to find out if we really have the strength to face really confronting situations. It doesn’t mean we need to be perfect, but being aware of beliefs, especially our negative beliefs, means we are then able to develop new ones and, whilst we’re working on our beliefs, we can work with people, always being aware of our own limitations.
We learn very quickly, that we cannot bring negative, unhelpful beliefs or fears to the bedside, because not only won’t we bring comfort to the patient, we could cause them distress and, even harm ourselves in the process. If we don’t have solid foundations, that is, a strong sense of self and resilience, then things can go pear-shaped, very quickly.
During my course, I realised that I struggle with people of a particular character. Many of us believe that we’re not judgemental, but enter any public place, with a myriad of personalities and a mixed bag of socio-economic backgrounds, and you’re sure to find someone who will annoy or even intimidate you. Self-reflection helped me understand that I struggle with intimidating people, which I’ll write about in a future post. The course helped me delve into the reasons why I felt intimidated. I was then able to slowly change my beliefs as a result of my growing awareness.
This was followed by another freeing moment, when I realised that anxiety would no longer rule my life and that I was capable of much more than I’d led myself to believe. This turn-around occurred about half way through the course. I went from walking through the wards on jelly legs, to finally feeling safe and comfortable being in the hospital environment, and meeting people with all kinds of life-threatening conditions and injuries. I was forced to face my own feeling of vulnerability which wasn’t easy. Again, it was a signpost that I’d not developed resilience as a child. I’d never felt truly safe or empowered, but the great thing about self-reflective work and having a great supervisor, I was able to drill down and find out where those fears came from, and reframe my beliefs and thoughts.
The other thing I learnt about myself is that while I loved being with patients and helping them through a difficult time, I found it equally hard being in such grey and visually sterile environments. Don’t get me wrong, hospitals are amazing places – full of caring and skilled staff, working long hours, doing all they can to save people’s lives. But, wanting to help, can work against you if the environment isn’t right. I know pastoral carers who love working in hospitals and I thought that I should too, but I don’t, because I’m different. I struggled with the lack of fresh air, open windows, colour, the presence of nature. The only living thing was the humans. I know the reason for not allowing plants, but colour? Why do we have to have grey walls and not mauve or sky blue, or a forest scene?I haven’t found a hospital like this in my home town yet, but if I do, I’ll be there in a flash!
I know some people will think this strange, after all, shouldn’t I be there to help people and not worry about the wall colour? Yes, but it must be a good fit for both parties. During our course, we also learnt to identify the environments that help us thrive, and therefore give the best care. Choosing the right place to work is as important as self-care, a necessarily, often ignored by those in caring roles. Self care is as essential as giving good care. Because my peers all felt at home in a hospital, I thought that I should, too but I realised that sterile places are detrimental to my wellbeing. While I was no longer afraid of hospitals, the environment drained me. I understood that I prefer to work in more natural places, and that’s ok. It’s not a weakness, it’s not a fault, it’s just who I am. It’s horses for courses.
I believe we are like tuning forks and certain jobs, places and people will resonate with us, while others won’t. I believe much of our growth journey is about discovering, what is a good fit, and not because someone says it is, or because we think we should fit our round selves into a square holes.
So, as much as I liked the idea of working in a hospital, I discovered a new place, which for me, is a most unlikely place, and one I stayed away from for many years. A place that is disliked or ignored by many, but nevertheless, unusual circumstances have lead me there. It’s a lovely old weather-board church, run by a progressive, female minister, who wants to build a loving community, and like tuning forks, our motives are in tune with each other. During my course, patients claimed to be “spiritual” and not “religious”. The minister and I want to help create a spiritual space for our community, without rules, and dogma, and instead, to connect through our spirituality. It’s an exciting time as I get to use my new pastoral care role and use it to spread love, support and caring to our local community.
I don’t how long I’ll stay, but it feels right at this moment. That’s the other thing I learnt from my CPE experience. Any of us can unexpectedly land in hospital and so plans should be kept very loose. I’ve agonised for too long about finding the right path and making the right choice. Woody Allen got it right when he said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”
So where to now? Well, I’m dipping my toe into the pastoral care waters, in my local community and allowing my inner compass to guide me.
How about you? Have you had feelings of heading somewhere other than where your head is telling you to go? Is your heart, your soul trying to take the lead? Will you follow it?
If I were to pass on one piece of advice that I received time and again from my hospital patients and especially from those in aged care, it’s to seize the day my friends, because you never get another one like it, and you never know what’s around the corner!
“At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice.” – Maya Angelou
My commitment to writing regular posts fell by the wayside some months ago, not because I wasn’t writing, but because I seemed unable to finish anything I’d started. While I felt I had a lot to share, I’d become frustrated at my non-existent output, until I realised that the best course of action was to do nothing, let things be, surrender to life as it is right now.
But what does surrender really mean? Is it like giving up? And where does acceptance fit into all of this? I knew that these were concepts that would be helpful in living a more balanced life, so I thought I’d explore these concepts further. Read more →
“In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.” – Susan Sontag
I recently heard an interesting question put forward by a podcast presenter. She asked her guest if she would recognise herself from ten or fifteen years ago. The question drew my attention not only because it was a thought provoking idea, but also because an hour earlier, I’d stumbled across something I’d written ten years ago, to my mentor, during a dark time in my life. Reading my own journal entry, shocked me. I couldn’t believe that I had written those words. If I didn’t see my own handwriting, I could have sworn, it was the work of an imposter. Did I really feel and think like that? How could I not see that I was making things worse by the filters through which I was viewing my world and my situation? Was I blind to my own thought patterns? Clearly I was. I struggled to recognise this younger version of me.
As I read my story of despair and loneliness, I felt sadness for that young version of me, but as I peered down the time tunnel, I could also see with such clarity, how my thoughts and beliefs made a difficult situation, even more difficult. Experience has taught me that rather than judge myself for the choices I made, nowadays, I show compassion for myself, because after all, most mistakes were made due to a lack of awareness. We all do the best we can with the tools we have at any point in time.
In this particular journal entry, I could see how my old myself was swelling with self pity, blocking my ability to view my own thought processes that were compounding an already difficult situation. Yes, I did find myself in a rather pox place. I’d been very sick for almost a year, finally able to go on a holiday with my family, only to come down with the flu the minute we arrived at our beautiful alpine location. While the rest of the family went off skiing, having snowball fights and seeing the sights, I was sick and alone in a hotel room, day after day, and only started to feel better the day before we headed back home.
At the time, all I could see was the injustice of the moment, as though some invisible adjudicator deemed me unworthy of good health and happiness. This of course was just faulty thinking. There is no force, or high power that simply wants to play us like puppets, dishing out positive or negative situations, depending on what mood it’s in. This is simply looking for someone to blame. I do believe in a greater power that is benevolent and the creator of all things, but I don’t believe it is a judgemental force. What I do know is that for the most part, I was the lead player in creating this situation. Getting sick was often the result of being unable to deal with stress. I lacked the skills of resilience when facing adversity. I was a black an white thinker and loved to punish myself for what I saw were dreadful failings. I wasn’t the first, nor will I be the last to get sick on a holiday, but with my blinkered eyes, I couldn’t see that.
It is so hard for us to see the progress that we’ve made over time. As multiple years cross our paths, those changes simply blend into the fabric of daily life. It’s not until we are given an opportunity to time travel and visit a younger version of ourselves, that we can contrast and compare, to see if, and how we have evolved; if our views have altered, our beliefs softened, our wisdom expanded.
It is one of the reasons I have journaled for the past decade and diligently kept each book. Whenever I feel like I’ve made no progress, usually during one of those moments when an old unhelpful belief rears its ugly head, I’ll re-read an old journal entry to remind myself that while some beliefs may still be a work in progress, many others have truly been transformed. While my physical body still presents some challenges, the real “I” has changed for the better, even though it’s often challenging work.
Sometimes, we also find that a part of our life remains stuck in the same difficult situation we once found ourselves in. For example, while my health is better, I’ve never regained the good health I enjoyed before I collided with a mysterious illness. It’s easy to think therefore that little has changed, but this isn’t true. While our physical bodies might not appear to have transformed, our minds on the other hand, are capable of great transformation, so much so, that over time, these changes can then go on to positively affect our bodies. I’m so much better than I was even five years ago, but not the same as ten years ago. But then that is only natural as my body is also ten years older. Occasionally, I still experience physical pain but I don’t suffer from it like I used to. The pain hasn’t changed, but my relationship to it has. The old me suffered deeply because I focussed on the injustice of the situation, whereas now I realise that nothing is fair or unfair, it just is. My pain has also reduced because I’ve dropped my obsession with being pain-free. Through acknowledgement and understanding I now know that it’s not a matter of fairness or justice, I simply experience certain symptoms.
Mindfulness and breathing techniques have also helped deal with physical and emotional pain. When I think I’ve not changed, I can see that I truly have. Our memories can gloss over events, alternating between emphasising the good, and the bad. It is through our journals that we get a clearer understanding about how we were truly thinking and feeling at the time.
“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” —William Wordsworth
If you don’t write in a journal, I suggest trying it. Not only is it a record of your own life, but the process of writing often frees us from the endless babble that takes place in our head. People who journal often find that allowing thoughts to flow onto a page helps them gain clarity because seeing their thoughts in writing, often helps them see more clearly what it is they’re thinking. Oftentimes, the mind will rerun thoughts in an endless loop. Putting thoughts into writing, tells the brain that the matter has been recorded, and so there is no longer a need for that particular train of thought, to keep running along the same continuous track, never reaching its destination.
Try keeping a journal and see if it might bring with it a new way of seeing your thoughts and gaining insights into beliefs that may not be serving you. Once you can identify a negative thought, try to delve deeper and see if you can remember a time when you may have heard a carer bring up this viewpoint and how it might have influenced your own thought development. Once you are aware, you can choose to replace a negative thought with a more positive one. If you still struggle with this process, someone like a counsellor can assist with this process.
“Life is a lively process of becoming” Douglas Macarthur
Recently, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for some time, at a small local art show where she was displaying her beautiful ceramic work. I was in awe of her skill and courage to purse a more challenging vocation in the arts, rather than her formerly safe job as a teacher. As I excitedly embraced her, I said, “I didn’t know you’d be here today.” To which she replied, “It’s good to see you too, and you should be here too.”
In a rather diminished and child-like voice I said, “I’d love to…maybe…one day.” The rather different response inside my head instead was “Um, duh, No. Why would I be here. I don’t have anything to offer. I’m not a bona fide artist. I’m not formally trained in any medium, why would I be here?”
But then I thought, hang on a minute, over the past few years haven’t I’ve tried my hand at ceramics, photography, sewing and print making and writing. Surely this counts for something, and isn’t there a clue here as to what my passion might be?
While I hadn’t been prepared to call myself anything remotely “arty”, I have been in exploration mode, looking for a new world in which I want my future self to inhabit. The journey into creativity isn’t an easy one for people with low self-belief. Criticism is rife in our world at the best of times, sadly, it is deeply intrenched in the world of creativity. I was beginning to tire of pretending that I wasn’t creative so, I’ve decided I am going to give myself permission to…
Mess around and waste time, paint and/or fabric or whatever other materials, as I practice, practice, practice
Try different creative pursuits, mediums, techniques
Explore! Remember that thing we used to do as kids. Get dirty, climb things, cut and paste anything we could get our hands on, and sticking them to anything and everything we could find. We’d try this with a dash of that and then asked, what if I turn it upside down, or inside out, add a little salt, or soil or a beautiful leaf that’s just been offered to us by the autumnal apple tree in our backyard? “What if?”, is what we constantly asked. We didn’t look for outcomes. We looked for solutions in the process itself. Creativity in childhood is a vibrant, courageous and brilliant time. But sadly, as we get older, some of us can lose this precious skill, this gift.
As soon as I had a quiet moment I explored my ideas around how I saw myself in relation to creativity. I realised that when I got my ego out of the way, and it’s demands for impossible standards of skill and qualifications, that I was slowly growing a nice little body of creative work that wouldn’t look out of place at a small local art show. Importantly, despite not having a Doctorate in creativity, I can at least call myself an Artist-in-training and heaven forbid, even display some of my work!
So far there have been a few wins in the photography stakes, particular success with one of my favourite subjects, flowers. That’s one of my babies at the top of this post. And with each blog I write, there is often a “like” here or there, so my writing can’t be too bad either.
Then I thought I’d try my hand at a long burning desire to screen print on fabric. While these first attempts are quite simple, I just fell in love with the vibrancy and joy that comes from even the simplest of designs. I also love the tactile nature of this process and you get to see the results immediately. This simple leaf design has become one of my favourites and as it’s printed on a tea towel, it makes drying the dishes just that little bit more pleasurable. I did say a little bit!
The print below was made by creating simple butterfly cut outs from the cheapest of cheap materials, newspaper! I started with orange on one side and blue on the other and then one of those happy accidents happened, and the two colours began to blend, creating a beautiful purple in the middle. Who would have thought!
The person who couldn’t call herself creative or artistic also made quilts, various other funky bags and soft toys. The list seems to grow the more I look!
She who has struggled to call herself creative also crocheted these baskets and then as I looked at what else I’ve crocheted, the list grows here too.
It’s so easy to forget what we have achieved over time, to dismiss the many things we have tried or created simply because we don’t consider ourselves “qualified”. If you grew up with little emotional support, or for whatever reason suffer with low self esteem, you too might also be very hard on yourself and think that what you achieve is never enough. I know that my crochet basket photo is not perfect, and that I’ve probably made a few mistakes in writing this post, but I’ve decided to leave a few flaws here and there. There is no longer room in my life for perfectionism because it affected my health, and I’m certainly not wasting any more time waiting for the day when I’m supremely qualified or perfect. It might matter if you’re a brain surgeon but I’m not a surgeon who works on bodies, my work is in the mind and why we think what we think. Which is why I’m exploring an old/new passion, exploring vulnerability by exposing my work and my journey, and learning to be brave through creativity and seeing where it takes me.
So when someone asks me what I’m “doing with myself these days”, I’ll bravely reply that I’m a CREATIVE-IN-TRAINING. I will no longer skirt around the issue or make excuses for what I do. With my brave boots on, I step forward into my ever evolving life.
I invite you to join me in declaring what it is that you love, and finding ways that you can become at one with that thing that you love.
Don’t waste another day not living as a whole person.
“Let there be an opening into the quiet that lies beneath the chaos, where you find the peace you did not think possible and see what shimmers beneath the storm.” John O’Donohue
For some time now, I’ve been pushing, twisting, doing mental somersaults all in an effort to find some kind of direction. Hence why it’s been a while between posts. I’ve written about this previously, and while I found that there was some confirmation that I was perhaps onto something, nothing has shown itself as my true North.
One idea was to perhaps take my fledgeling creative purists to another level by doing some formal training, that way I could confidently say I am a this or a that. Yes, I have a bit of an issue with being “qualified” as a way of legitimising myself. Not ideal, I know, but the universe has a way of nudging us, sometimes imperceptibly in the right direction. There are hints galore if we take a moment to notice. Each path I pursued trying to find the “right” artistic course, hit a road block. Nothing seemed to fit what I needed. People wouldn’t respond to my requests for information or the courses were in the wrong part of the country or had already begun.
I thought perhaps that I may have been barking up the wrong tree, but then I realised I was doing that thing that I always do, and that is to go straight for the Gold medal, for the qualifications, for the legitimate recognition, even before I’d allowed myself to play, to experiment and explore my new crush.
There are two aspects to my angst. One aspect I know is shared amongst many creatives and perfectionists and it’s the need to feel “legitimate”. For me, this slippery path leads right back to self esteem. The need to feel like I’m not wasting time or resources, because there is a “worth” issue here. Also the need to make sure I’m the best I can be and quickly, because perfectionists hate the messy, explorative birthing time that comes from the creative process, and yet, it is that very same messy exploration that helps cure perfectionists of “imposter syndrome”.
It is the creative process that cures us of those barb wire covered walls that we build up around ourselves. The walls that we put up to protect ourselves from what was for some of us, an over supply of criticism and a scant offering of praise. As children, many of us didn’t receive all the tools we needed from our caregivers to become compassionate, courageous and confident people. As adults, through our life’s challenges and with insight, we can gift ourselves empowering thought processes and become centred and resilient adults.
At the moment, my life seems to be filled by nothing but roadblocks or dead ends. I grumbled about my obstacles to a friend, who suggested that it might be a time of transition, a time where, like an empty, unploughed field, we need to be in fallow, to rest, to allow the soil to be filled with helpful microbes and critters. To try and plant too early will produce a weak crop, but to wait, means a greater chance of success.
There are times in our life when great changes are taking place, in our physical bodies, in our mental frameworks and deep down at the soul level. Unfortunately, for many of us, our connection to the seasons, to the cosmic cycles and our own milestones have all but disappeared in our 24/7 lives. We often miss the signals that alert us to slow down or to start something new, or that something is changing. To notice and celebrate the many and varied stages in a human life.
I’m a victim of the 24/7 life cycle and so for “doers” like me, being still is about as easy as trying to prevent a child from bouncing on a trampoline. Many of us find it hard to remain in limbo, to trust that there is some kind of cosmic force working behind the scenes, getting things ready for our next incarnation. Ready to reveal a new door to an unknown destination.
These interruptions to our “normal programming” are signs that we are being called to make new choices. We can think the same thoughts, do the same things and therefore remain stuck in the same old patterns of thinking and being. Or, we can try to push through the painful process of birth and emerge as a new born, with new ideas and a more expanded view of ourselves. It is by changing our beliefs and our thoughts that we can expand into a greater, wiser self. While changing our long held beliefs can be challenging, once we’re alert to our faulty way of thinking, there is no going back. To be aware is to know. To not act on it, is to create suffering for ourselves.
Dumping an old, outdate part of ourselves isn’t always easy, but if we don’t embrace that which is asking to be born, we create turmoil in our minds and over the longer term, this can often lead to a breakdown in health and/or relationships.
So how do we navigate our way forward when we are becalmed and seemingly going nowhere? Here’s what I do. In my 24/7 life I lacked dedication to my meditation practice, but when my life seems suspended in limbo, I ramp up my meditation and mindfulness practice. Some days it’s challenging to be still, so I use creative practices such as photography, gardening or sewing as my practice. Some people use cooking, walking, riding a bike, colouring in; the form and practice don’t matter.
What does matter is finding a way of becoming aware of the chatter in your mind. Often it will resist the very things we need to change. The mind can provide valuable clues as to what needs addressing. The “zone” as people often refer to it, is a place where we can not only realise own own harmful thinking, but again, paradoxically, it is also the place of inspiration and navigation. Direction, guidance, ideas, all that we seek resides in this place. It is the place of our wise soul. We just need stillness to access it and to be brave enough to follow its guidance.
If you are feeling growing pains right now, like your feet are stuck in mud, gift yourself some time to really tune in to how you feel about different aspects of your life. There is no need to make rash decisions, just listen for a while and then explore what other possibilities exist outside of your current world. There may be something about to bloom out of the darkness.
I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination – Jimmy Dean
Today, as I write this, the wind is blowing ferociously, the remnants of a tropical cyclone. The wind also acts as a great metaphor for this post because, today, I have let go of the need for a path or purpose, of a mind constantly searching, and instead have thrown myself at the mercy of the wind, allowing it to guide me. It’s a leap of faith.
In today’s world, not seeking direction sounds like madness. How can one be happy about not finding their purpose? Isn’t it the holy grail, the thing that will make us happy?” Well, yes and no.
Yes, we all like to know why we’re here, how we are to use the gifts we are given, and not waste time going down multiple “wrong” roads.
No, because seeking “the” path and purpose is not only exhausting, it can actually throw us off track, off our path. Confused? So was I, which is why it has taken me over a decade and a battle with poor health to get a handle on this.
Here’s what I’ve learnt. Years ago, a wise teacher told me that as a perfectionist, I wanted to know “every damned step” before I made a move. At the time I thought, well yeah, of course I do, otherwise how can I know which way to go, right? She also said, “The steps only appear, once you make the first move.” At the time, this made no sense. How can I step forward if I can’t see where I’m supposed to step?
Well the secret is in stepping where there is no step. Sounds crazy but stay with me. I’ve learnt that we often don’t get a billboard with arrows saying “Go this way”. Instead, we have to make the first move in whatever direction “feels” right and then the next step appears.
This is where intuition comes in. It’s that gentle sensation, like butterfly wings that flutter around your heart, hinting that you’re onto something. It doesn’t give exact instructions, just a feeling, a hint to use our soul as a weather vane, see which way it’s pointing, then head in that direction, no instructions, just follow the breeze. When we take the first step, if it’s in alignment with our soul’s desire, and not just our head, then the universe will reveal the next step. It’s our reward for being brave, trusting and using “feeling” as a compass, not just logic.
Intuitive Processes and Creativity
Here’s how this intuitive process worked for me. Regular readers know that 10 years of poor health forced me to examine how my thoughts were impacting my life and health. Perfectionism is bad for your health and your career. I could no longer work in my field of marketing communications, or do much else. On the advise of a stranger, I took up a creative pursuit. Mine was sewing. The stranger also suggested not doing it as a career or creating a business, but simply as an exploratory process. I had no idea what she meant. Perfectionists only do things that have useful outcomes, but being unwell, I had no choice but to do art for art’s sake.
Stepping into the creative unknown, I had no idea how or why it would help, just that I should trust my gut and follow this lead. Creativity restored my connection to my intuition, calmed my mind and allowed new insights to emerge. My health improved enough for me to consider my other passion, protecting our beautiful planet. But in what capacity? The next invisible step was about to emerge.
Recently I saw a story on the environmental impact of plastic bags, and decided to stop moaning, take action and find an organisation I could help lobby for a ban plastic bags. My search led me to the website of not-for-profit group, Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland. They help protect wildlife, their habitats and campaigned against plastic bags. Something about their website attracted me, like a hidden force. It was a heart flutter moment that prompted me to call and see if they needed a volunteer. I spoke to the lovely manager who gratefully accepted my help. I felt an instant connection.
Remember, if we take the first intuitive step, the universe will reveal the next. It did for me. The manager said they welcomed all help, but desperately needed someone with marketing communications skills. Bingo! When I surrendered the need to know the path, magic happened. I was happy to help make coffee but instead, the universe gifted me the chance to use my work experience and do something purposeful. As an added bonus, and to confirm I was in the right place, I discovered that the manager and I both share a love of sewing.
While I still have poor health days, challenges managing teenagers and juggling the needs of a family, relinquishing the search for a purpose has led to internal peace. When I gave up the need to know, a purpose found me. And it’s not to say that this is “the purpose”, it’s what is right for me right now. It’s all about letting go, and letting be(come).
Intuition is your greatest gift. If you can’t feel guidance, make time to be still for at least 5-10 minutes every day, whatever time you can spare. Don’t discount the advice of family and friends and your own mind, but always check in with your internal compass and see which way it’s pointing, because your heart and soul will always be your best guides towards your next step.
Have you felt any flutters that might be trying to guide you?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 in my mind 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.
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.
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.
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?