“I write to express, to share, to release ideas that demand air time, to feel like I’m doing something worthwhile, offering any wisdom that comes my way, through intention or intuition. I write because I must.” Silvana, Wisdom Elements I’m not a formally trained writer, simply an accidental one. Years ago, when I became … Read more Writing for Wisdom
“Creativity is putting your imagination to work, and it’s produced the most extraordinary results in human culture.” Sir Ken Robinson In 2006, my so called happy, normal life, collided with a mysterious health condition that turned everything topsy turvy. Just like the Hanged Man in a Tarot deck of cards, I was turned upside down … Read more Curating Creativity
There is nothing worse than going through a really difficult time in your life and feeling like no one understands, or worse, to feel like you are travelling through a dark tunnel all alone. I know what this feels like having been through enough dark nights of the soul that all together, lasted a … Read more Feeling Supported
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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?
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 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Before I begin something new I take a few deep breaths and try to centre myself and close the door on Tofu Man.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
Life is so much kinder and wiser than your mind imagines. Trust and be still. – Mooji
Some days, I wish my bed would swallow me whole, incubate me for a while, then spit me out, rearranged, refashioned and with the “Forward” button firmly pressed.
Instead, I’m having to do it the hard way. Get up, get dressed and face the ever mounting brick walls that seem to expel themselves out of the ground, like rogue weeds. They appear each time I do something that I think will move me forward. It seems my idea of “forward” or progress needs redressing.
Today is just another in a long string of days pushing me into muddy swamps and endless questions. As someone who’s suffered with long term chronic illness of an undiagnosed kind, I did what many people who seek answers do, and that is read self-help books, do courses, workshops, seminars, study counselling – you name it, I’ve done it.
So I get that my thoughts affect my life, that my anxiety has an undercurrent of distorted childhood thinking and these two need to be remoulded into something new and useful. For many years I thought that if I found my “thing”, then the ensuing passion would thrust me forward like a massive tsunami, dumping me on the shore of everlasting happiness, wealth and abundance. That’s ‘The Secret” right? No actually, it’s not. You see despite uncovering that I make a good counsellor, and awakening my deeply dormant creative interests, these discoveries are not facilitating the miraculous healing I was after.
Instead, the past weeks have brought a hormonally challenged body, a strained back muscle, aches in new places and a bewildered mind that couldn’t understand why my health had suddenly shifted into reverse, again. I felt like I was the passenger in a vehicle with a crazy and evil driver at the wheel. I was sure that doing my artistic pursuits like sewing would provide the answer, but instead both my overlocker/serger and sewing machine simultaneously quit working, with little or no explanation. It seems, my machines are mimicking my physical body. So if I strip away the desire for perfect health, my work as a counsellor and artistic pursuits, what am I left with? Nothing, and therein lies the answer.
At various times in our life, we are called to strip back, spring clean, sanitise and deodorise our old houses to make way for the new. Years ago, I would have thrown a tantrum the minute my life went AWOL, submerged into a sloppy pool of self-pity, crying, “foul” at the umpire. The gift of being a long-term wellness seeker means that I’ve learnt to look at these obstacles with different eyes. No longer do I seek to blame the universe, or simply think I’ve been cursed for some kind of karmic indiscretion. Instead, I see that failing machines, failing bodies and failed attempts at keeping busy are all attempting to keep me still. Enlightenment can only be gained by being anchored and going within. As long as I’m writing, sewing, gardening or counselling others, I’m not allowing me to be my ‘self’, I’m not creating the space to be still and enter the void, that place that I’ve tried to a-void! But the signs are there. Stop or be stopped. Time to rest and not achieve. Time to be still to be refilled because only then can creativity flow from the great cosmic cauldron of inspiration and creation.
So if you find yourself suddenly up against an endless row of barriers too high to leap over, step off life’s travelator for a while and just be. Just as Star Wars heroes Hans Solo and Chewbacca set their intention to enter another dimension, they hit the “warp speed” button and then sat back and watched the light show, knowing that as their craft enters that space between worlds, that they are no longer in control but instead at the mercy of “the force”. They have in mind their destination, but only greater cosmic forces will determine if they reach their destination and their prize.
In reading the galactic map around us, stargazing and meditating under a full moon, we will come to know those moments in life that need warp speed and those that need us to be suspended in the void. Allowing ourselves the gift of stillness means we can expel the old and then refill with the new, giving us all we need to be thrust into the new and unknown frontiers of our evolving life.
Have you found a way to tune in to your soul’s navigational system?
There is no love without Forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without love – Bryant H. McGill
Let’s face it, there wouldn’t be too many people who would willingly do an archeological dig inside their own brains, looking for sticky, messy, or even painful emotions. Why would we? It’s unpleasant and at times distressing work and if we’ve not tended house for a while, we’re afraid of being swamped by the build up. But clean we must for our own wellbeing, our relationships and our world.
I was recently forced into one of those dark corners by an old email that somehow re-emerged in my most recent emails folder. The email consisted of two messages between myself and someone close to me whom I’ll call Jenny. In this open and honest email exchange, Jenny and I expressed our sadness at the difficulties our relationship endured over the years. In my email, I asked for Jenny to forgive me for not being the kind of support person she needed in our earlier years . As I read this old exchange, I was pleased that I was able to be empathetic and understand life from her perspective and also glad that I was able to be humble enough to explore the world of forgiveness. However, something in that exchange, really jarred me. There was a sharp stab in this act of seeking forgiveness. It was unpleasant and I tried to escape it but I knew enough about emotions that I had to face it head on. What I realised was that for most of my life, I’ve blindly accepted blame for anything and everything that goes wrong in my personal and professional relationships. I’d developed a distorted view around faults and problems and made them my own. Even world problems. Somehow, I “should” have been a stronger woman, vocal, activist, a better friend, or been more compassionate etc. etc. In this particular relationship with Jenny, there was a third person who really was responsible for providing the support that she needed, and that was her mother. Being still quite young and naive myself at the time, I did not have the capacity to provide any emotional support for others, let alone myself. So can I ask forgiveness for something that was not within my conscious mind, and was not my responsibility?
After much digging, scratching and processing, I realised that the answer was yes. As I read these emails again, I realised that forgiveness has two sides. We offer the hand of forgiveness to those we’ve hurt because whether or not we were aware of what we were doing, the bottom line is that someone ended up experiencing pain as a result of our words and/or actions.
And that’s where the other equally critical side of forgiveness comes in. We must also forgive ourselves. More often than not, we operate from our unconscious mind, that is, our thoughts are generated by automatic programs or beliefs that we formed as children. Those beliefs and thoughts that cause pain and conflict, are often associated with past hurts, often from our childhood, so it’s no wonder we unconsciously pass on our pain to others.
The jarring feelings from this old email told me that I had to look at why I was always accepting blame and unable to forgive myself. What distorted thoughts and programs were operating here? Those familiar with my work will know that I have a little monster called the “Mental Monster”, that part of my brain that messes with my mental state. He’s the beast who is always attempting to undermine my sense of self-worth. If someone feels a sense of worthiness, then they’ll retain this sense even when they make mistakes. Where there is a lack of self-love, any mistakes we make are not seen as just poor choices, as in, “Oh, I made a poor choice there”, instead low self-worth says, “Oh, I’m just a bad and useless person”. We would never say this to a friend or a child. If we need to correct the behaviour of a child, we don’t say, “You’re stupid for speaking badly to me”, we say, “I don’t like your behaviour and the way you spoke to me”. There is a huge difference.
So what did I learn from this email from the past? That it’s never too late to correct past mistakes. Even if others don’t forgive us, we know that we are now conscious enough to know that we would never repeat our old behaviours. We can be thankful that the difficult situation offered us a chance to grow and learn valuable lessons.
You may ask about the role other people play in challenging relationships and about their responsibility in the situation. Well, when we truly value ourselves, think with an aware mind, and open heart, and can honestly see that the other person also played a part in a failed relationship, then through self-love, we acknowledge that it was not all our doing and again, bring in compassion for all concerned. From this position, we are then able to wish for the other person that they too may grow in awareness, forgive ourselves for our part, and wish for them the same awareness we have achieved. This should truly be our greatest wish for everyone.
So what happened to my relationship with Jenny? After spending years gathering knowledge and insights and sharing them with her, she found the process of looking at old wounds too painful and preferred to let things be as they are. I had an incentive to look at my thoughts because mine had made me physically sick. We never truly regained what we’d lost. While I was able to apologise for my part and bring forgiveness into my side of the relationship, sadly, Jenny felt too much pain when she tried to delve into her own beliefs. At least I knew I’d done what I could to bring some healing to the situation. Today, we are civil and friendly enough when we meet, but the closeness we once had has disappeared. Being an optimist, I still believe that one day, Jenny may have enough insights to realise that she is more than her thoughts, heal old wounds, befriend me again and be free of the chains that bind her. We can change our thoughts and therefore our lives, and while it’s not always easy, the will to do a little digging and repair work can restore some of our most precious relationships, and that is truly worth the effort.
“Sometimes, in order to move forward, you need to stop moving, be still, and feel for the wind. Then allow it to blow you in the right direction.” Silvana Nagl
I don’t know about you, but I’m glad to have many beautiful friends, all steaming ahead in their respective careers. They are producing wonderful websites, podcasts, luscious logos, growing practices and an ever growing army of followers and clients. And then there’s me. You see I too had tried to hitch a ride on the “you can have anything”, affirmation-manifestation train with my own practice, but each time we left the station, the train broke down. Being a slow learner, I kept pushing, despite my body hinting that I should stop.
I thought I wanted that highly visible kind of success, but the harder I tried, the more the brakes were put on. Perhaps I was heading in the wrong direction?
Occasionally I would listen to my body, rest, feel a bit better and then I’d go, full steam ahead again, trying to design a new logo, wasting precious hours on my website and all the while, ignoring that niggling, subterranean voice that says, “something’s not right here lady”. Like anyone who feels their self-worth is measured by their work, I ignored it, and ignored it, until, down came the curtains to my much anticipated return to the stage, yet again. For someone who has ‘wisdom’ in her business name, I was pretty good at ignoring my own intuitive guidance and ‘wisdom’.
The crunch came last week, when my body crashed and I was again forced back to bed. I was angry, sad, frustrated, confused. Why was it, that just as I seemed close to taking my business to another level I was waylaid again? Well, I wasn’t checking in to see which direction the wind was blowing. Clearly, I was constantly running against the wind and I didn’t realise that the mini tornadoes called health issues, were trying to turn me around, and point me in a different direction. Slow learner I know!
Doing the work I’m known for and good at, this time, I booked in for an appointment with myself, the wise counsellor, and not the ego maniac. I took myself deep into the murky depths to look at what was going on. What I found wasn’t pretty, but I knew from experience that I could make it nice again. What I found was the perfectionist trait, again, dangling in the dark cavern of my mind, but attached to this thought was my old nemesis, the self-worth monster. Despite years of coaxing and trying to appease this insatiable beast, and its perfectionist side-kick, they remained wedged between old, rock-hard beliefs and thoughts, fighting many attempts at eviction.
The way I, and my clients find these blocks is through awareness. Are you able to be still long enough to observe your own thoughts, watch your own behaviours? These provide much needed clues and a pathway to transforming ugly monsters into soft fluffy toys. My “aha” moment came during the seemingly innocuous activity of sewing. Yep sewing. It’s one of those activities that requires focus, is almost meditative and usually doesn’t allow for distractions. Last year I attended a beginners sewing class and instantly fell in love with the process of creation and playing with funky fabrics. I rushed out, bought a sewing machine, yards of adorable material but then was stopped in my tracks again. The problem was, the fabrics were too beautiful. “What?” I hear you ask. Yep, tragic right? As a perfectionist, I didn’t want to learn to sew using beautiful fabrics, nor could I work with old cheap and cheesy Christmas fabric either. Now these fabrics are simple cottons, not silk or organza, but they have pretty designs on them and I didn’t want to waste them. Yep, I grew up with a scarcity mentality and this kills creativity. Of course, there is the possibility that I wouldn’t mess things up and make something lovely, but I only thought of the possibility of failure and loss, not ‘success’. Eeek! Some serious work needs to be done here.
So what does perfectionism, sewing and fabrics have to do with running a business? Everything! You see I’m a good counsellor and I help people, but I don’t need wicked websites and extraordinary e-books, or punchy podcasts to be a ‘success’. Tackling my monster, I’ve learnt to be ok with doing ‘my thing’, ‘my way’. When I stopped long enough, I noticed that the weather vane directed me towards helping people from community agencies like those who help victims of domestic violence, and providing phone support, rather than working form a clinic. And I realise that it has to be this way because I also need to honour and feed my creative side, to sink my face into a bundle of beautiful cotton material and whiz up a gift for a friend, or for a sick child. Running a busy practice is all consuming and while I love my work, I am also more than my work. Of course my writing, sewing and soon to add fabric design doesn’t pay the bills, so in terms of the materialist view of success, it’s an outright failure. But measured in terms of personal value, satisfaction and joy, the success that comes from pursuing heartfelt interests, is off the scale.
Can you find a place in your life where you can let go of the flagpole and fly with the wind?
“Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.” – Yo-Yo Ma
Some time ago, I was grappling with focus, as in trying to focus on one thing I loved, instead of many. You see I have many “loves” or passions, that all pull me in their own respective directions. Unlike my neighbour who says she has no interests outside family and work, I have an encyclopaedia of delicious creative underlings all vying for my attention, from counselling and mentoring to writing, sewing, photography, gardening, the list goes on and on.
So how to focus and do “that one thing”? I recalled some advice from a clever coach who asked his students to try and identify what I call the “time munchers”. He used sensible words like, “identify those activities , those pursuits, where time seems to stand still and yet so much time has passed without you realising it”. I have to admit that all my interests are time munchers but there is one that seems to call more loudly than the rest and it is writing.
When I’m doing the dishes and staring blankly at the foaming water, dialogue forms in my head, as though a secret little stash of ideas just sits, waiting to hitch a ride on a soapy bubble and float it up into my “head-o-sphere”. Or when I’m making soup, in a queue at the supermarket, or sweeping a floor. Ideas emerge from the ether with little effort or even a request on my part. And so, many hours are happily munched away as my fingers transmit the offerings into shapely things on a screen. And then they wait, and wait, and wait in cyber-land until I channel a brave archetype, and realise that it’s ok to share these musings. You see I, like many writers I suffer with the “good enough syndrome” – that debilitating state of mind that judges and critiques and compares and never seems to be satisfied.
So, to cure this syndrome, I had to remind myself that anyone can call themselves a writer, there aren’t any prerequisites, no forms to fill in, no DNA checks required – you call yourself a writer because you love to write. I’m also a photographer and a crocheter because these are the things I do. I may not have a PhD in any of my interests but I make no claims to be an expert, simply a lover of creative pursuits. Creativity is like manna from heaven, a golden faucet allowing inspiration to flow and inspire, a poultice for a wounded heart or a frazzled mind.
Twice today I’ve munched away my time doing something I love, and I sincerely hope you will too. Take courage and take the first step towards doing something that helps you jump on that space-time continuum, where you disappear into the “time munching” field of creation. Taking the bold step to follow creative urges, particularly when we are newbies, does take courage but each time you make a new beginning, you will strengthen your courage to step into the unknown, after all, despite all our cleverness, no one knows what tomorrow holds.
So to help you make a start in following your passion, I shall leave you with these beautiful words, from a truly expert wordsmith, the late and great mystic John O’Donahue, from his book “Benedictus”. John truly understood the divine act of creation and that we have to simply trust our own hearts and intuition, make a start and follow that which is already here.
“Indeed, our very life here depends directly on continuous acts of beginning; but these beginnings are out of our hands; they decided themselves. Beginning precedes us, creates us and constantly takes us to new levels and places and people. There is nothing to fear in the act of beginning. More often than not, it knows the journey ahead better than we ever could.”
So what is your passion? Why not take one small step towards it today.