Don’t ignore that tap on the shoulder

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Image: canyon-news.com

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

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

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

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

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Image: Highheelrunner.wordpress.com

Tofu-man takes control

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

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

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

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

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

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Find your silly happy

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

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

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When pain means gain

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

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

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

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

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

Digging and delving into pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Image: memegenerator.net

Unearthing the truth

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

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

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

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

 

Forgiving Unconscious Living

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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What’s your meaning of success?

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“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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Can you find a place in your life where you can let go of the flagpole and fly with the wind?