When changes are unseen

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Image: animal photos.me

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.

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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.

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Image: bigthink.com

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.

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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

Therapeutic Journaling

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.

Happy Writing and Happy Discovery!

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Daffodils and Memories

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“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” – Dr Seuss

This morning, as I woke to a chilly morning, I had a hankering for daffodils. It happens every year when the weather turns cooler. But rather than think of these golden  globes with fondness, I felt melancholy, a deepening pit of sadness, ironic given that they are such a bright and cheery flower. I thought the sadness was due to the fact that I nurture a secret dream of moving to the country, a place with winters cold enough to grow daffodils. Sadly, it’s too warm where I live for these bursts of sunshine to grow. Perhaps my melancholy was just an unfulfilled dream that left me feeling blue, instead of sunny yellow.

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Born a forensic psychologist, I wanted to uncover the thoughts behind these feelings. Why would thinking of such a pretty, happy flower make me sad? As I probed my feelings, I realised that daffodils remind me of a very happy time in my childhood when we would spend school holidays at a family friend’s farm. It was a time when I got to see more of my father, and the pressures and worries of city living were magically erased as we drove past the farm gate. I loved the draughty old farm house, the open fire that smoked like crazy and left us smelling like burnt sausages, the crispy frost that snapped blades of grass in two as we raced to the top of the hill, collapsing on the grass, simultaneous gasping for air and laughing…and then there were the daffodils. I’d begin my daily vigil beside the little mounds, as the hidden miracles pushed and shoved at the earth, striving to burst their sunny disposition from the dark and slowly warming earth. Watching their challenging attempts at emerging from the dark and morphing into a new creation was to become more than just a childhood memory. It became my life’s metaphor when I faced my own challenges and was called to emerge from dark times, changed, from whatever life experiences I was dealt at the time.

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My sentimental feelings weren’t just about childhood memories. There was a deeper sadness beneath it. For 10 years I’ve struggled through a range of ongoing and undiagnosed health issues. More days than I care to remember have been spent in bed, or trapped inside my own home. It’s been as though my own metaphoric daffodils have been continually moving through the dark earth, with unrelenting regularity, struggling to find a way to push out of the dark and into the light, until now.

Through journaling and with the energetic help of a lunar eclipse, I’ve come to understand the sadness. For years I’ve been fixated on physical healing and addressing my anxiety and fear based thoughts, and while I understand where my fears come from and have begun to address these, I’d missed something really important. Underneath it all, lay a deep wound that needed healing. Yes, it’s that onion layering thing, and just like the skins of a daffodil bulb, I was removing the outer skins to reach a core wound.

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Painful emotions are messengers alerting us to disharmony between our heart and mind. For me, the sadness aroused by the daffodils came from the sadness I felt for my younger self, the little girl I once was, and how her life had turned out. Don’t get me wrong, I have so many things to be grateful for, truly I do, but I also feel a sense of loss at the many hours, days, weeks spent in bed or at home, too unwell to join the other mothers at school morning teas, or to travel, to do more than the bare minimum with my children, being unable to extend my circle of friends as I often had to decline invitations to social events, eventually those invites stop coming, and to the woman who I thought I would become and who would change the world. A thought leader, shaker, mover, change maker. I was going to fully embody my Aquarian characteristics, the humanitarian,  the disruptor. None of this came to pass. All that happened was that I disrupted my own world and with great ferocity.

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And so I was stuck, feeling sadness, regret and unsure how to deal with it. I know that in all painful situations, there is often a nugget of wisdom hidden within the pain. What could I glean from this painful memory? And so I began to journal.

What I found was that I wanted was to contact and warn my 10 year old self and say, “When you meet the guy with the weird moustache, steer clear. See that fancy looking job? Don’t take it. Your boss will suck you dry and slam dunk your self esteem. Every time your mother yells at you for making a mistake, it’s not your mistake that’s got her riled up, it’s her own life and frustrations bubbling up to the surface. You just got in the way of some emotionally toxic spray that was unleashed, and sadly, some of it will land on you.”

Then I realised I that all my rumination, worries, sadness wouldn’t change a thing.

Instead I stumbled upon a healing formula for my wound.

  • The past is done! Part of the pain was from frustration at not being able to change the past. Realising that what’s done is done allows some closure.
  • I did the best with what I had. Remembering this fact is vital to healing past wounds. We create pain when looking back from the rich tapestry of knowledge and experience we’ve gained and trying to see a past situation from our current wiser self. If we’d known then what we know now, we’d make different choices, but the fact remains that we didn’t know and it’s why we did what we did, with what we had at our disposal at the time.
    • Healing balm mantra – Apply Daily: “I did what I did with what I knew then. I did the best I could. I send my old self love and know I did the best I could.”
  • Forgiveness. Sigh! Forgiveness is the key to healing so many wounds, yet I find it the toughest of processes to work with. I was blaming my current adult self for stuffing up the potential life of my younger self. That’s crazy I hear you say. How could you have known what was coming? Exactly. This is faulty thinking at its best, then add to it my own peculiar ability to blame myself for everything that goes wrong (see item 2 – doing the best with what you’ve got) and you’ve got little room for forgiveness. In this case, fault finding comes from that sticky toxic spray I mentioned earlier. The one that made me think I was to blame for everything that went wrong. Those toxic remarks from care givers can be tough to dislodge and this is where self love and forgiveness helps. As psychologist Rick Hanson says, …”the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones.” So, it’s time to develop a Teflon brain for negative experiences and velcro for the good ones.

 

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So with this special lunar eclipse entering our skies and consciousness, I’m going to lay to rest into the dark earth, the old ways of seeing my childhood, mistakes of adulthood and slough off some of that toxic spray. With the new moon, I call in new skin to heal my wound and layer it with love and forgiveness and from this rich soil, new daffodils of wisdom can grow and shine their sunny faces towards mine.

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Image: flikr

What old pain can you heal and return to the earth, and what new nugget of wisdom will you add to your blooming flowers of knowledge and insight?

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How creativity saved me

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Creativity is Intelligence Having Fun

Albert Einstein

When I first began my blog, I was in a very dark place. Ten years of undiagnosed chronic illness can strip away any sense of self, leaving you empty and bare. Nature hates a vacuum and so with my former life gone, I had to find other ways to exist in the world. The diminishing effects of illness forced me to find a way life and that takes time and a whole lot of exploration.

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Being too unwell to do anything strenuous, my exploration led me to crochet, which surprised me as I was not a crafty/creative type of person. At least that’s what I told myself. As someone who had enjoyed life in the exciting world of broadcast media, music and public relations, I never imagined that crochet could ever bring me joy or satisfaction. The remarkable thing is that it brought me these and so much more.

Without realising it, I found myself slowly being engulfed, in a nice way, by the peace and stillness that comes from creativity. Learning a new skill requires concentration, making it a great way to still the mind. The rhythmic process of creating stitch after stitch makes your body feel like it’s floating in a beautiful calm sea. Watching a skein of wool slowly morph into a beautiful blanket is simply magical. It has become a tangible way for me to express and engage in creating beauty in the world. While creativity is a powerful way of bringing attention to social issues, it can also be a sublime way of connecting with the heart of our creative souls.

 

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Engaging in a creative pursuit, whether it is gardening, cooking, designing houses, writing etc. has the potential to heal and open a path to self discovery. The health benefits include the calming effects of mindfulness because most creative acts require concentration so your mind can’t wander, worrying about your colleague’s rude comment, your shopping list, or that  you forgot to call your mother.  Your craft will demand your attention and in doing so, will put you into “The Zone”.  Activities like gardening also have the added benefit of injecting you with sunshine, fresh air and a chance to exchange your negative energy for some positive earth giving power. Dancing is good for the heart, body and mind. Learning new dance steps stimulates the mind, music uplifts and inspires us, and emotionally, we benefit from the social interaction that comes from participating in group activities.

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As a strongly visual person, I love seeing images that excite my brain and soul. Colour excites me and I easily lose myself in a sea of psychedelic rainbow. Colour and beautiful pictures bring peace and tranquility in what can at times, can seem like a harsh world, where we are increasingly surrounded by concrete and other hard and unnatural materials and structures. That’s why I strive to incorporate as many beautiful images in my posts as I can. I know that I feel uplifted by beautiful photos and artwork and so I want to fill my readers with not just inspiring words, but also with colour, magic and wonder, and a smattering of wisdom, when I find it.

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Have you explored the power of creativity? If you are one of many people who feel intimidated by the idea of doing something creative, then start small. Place a bunch of wildflowers in a vase, bake a cake, or buy a colourful plant for your home. These are all acts of creativity. Start small. Don’t overthink it. Feel it and see where it takes you.

Wishing you a creatively explorative day. 🙂