A time to stop. A time to listen.

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“Let there be an opening into the quiet that lies beneath the chaos, where you find the peace you did not think possible and see what shimmers beneath the storm.” John O’Donohue

For some time now, I’ve been pushing, twisting, doing mental somersaults all in an effort to find some kind of direction. Hence why it’s been a while between posts. I’ve written about this previously, and while I found that there was some confirmation that I was perhaps onto something, nothing has shown itself as my true North.

One idea was to perhaps take my fledgeling creative purists to another level by doing some formal training, that way I could confidently say I am a this or a that. Yes, I have a bit of an issue with being “qualified” as a way of legitimising myself. Not ideal, I know, but the universe has a way of nudging us, sometimes imperceptibly in the right direction. There are hints galore if we take a moment to notice. Each path I pursued trying to find the “right” artistic course, hit a road block. Nothing seemed to fit what I needed. People wouldn’t respond to my requests for information or the courses were in the wrong part of the country or the course had already begun.

I thought perhaps that I may have been barking up the wrong tree, but then I realised I was doing that thing that I always do, and that is to go straight for the Gold medal, for the qualifications, for the legitimate recognition, even before I’d allowed myself to play, to experiment and explore my new crush.

There are two aspects to my angst. One aspect I know is shared amongst many creatives and perfectionists and it’s the need to feel “legitimate”. For me, this slippery path leads right back to self esteem. The need to feel like I’m not wasting time or resources, because there is a “worth” issue here. Also the need to make sure I’m the best I can be and quickly, because perfectionists hate the messy, explorative birthing time that comes from the creative process, and yet, it is that very same messy exploration that helps cure “imposter syndrome” sufferers and perfectionists of their ailments.

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It is the creative process that cures us of those barb wire covered walls that we build up around ourselves. The walls that we put up to protect ourselves from what was for some of us, an over supply of  criticism and a scant offering of praise. As children, many of us didn’t receive all the tools we needed from our caregivers, to become compassionate, courageous and confident people. As adults, through our life’s challenges and with insight, we can gift ourselves those empowering thought processes and become centred and resilient adults.

At the moment, my life seems to be filled by nothing but roadblocks or dead ends. I grumbled about my obstacles to a friend, who suggested that it might be a time of transition, a time where, like an empty, unploughed field need, we need to be in fallow, to rest, to allow the soil to be filled with helpful microbes and critters. To try and plant too early will produce a weak crop, but to wait, means a greater chance of success.

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There are times in our life when great changes are taking place, in our physical bodies, in our mental frameworks and deep down at the soul level. Unfortunately, for many of us, our connection to the seasons, to the cosmic cycles and our own milestones have all but disappeared in our 24/7 lives. We often miss the signals that alert us to slow down or to start something new, or that something is changing. To notice and celebrate the many and varied stages in a human life.

 

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I’m a victim of the 24/7 life cycle and so for “doers” like me, being still is about as easy as trying to prevent a child from bouncing on a trampoline. Many of us find it hard to remain in limbo, to trust that there is some kind of cosmic force working behind the scenes, getting things ready for our next incarnation. Ready to reveal a new door to an unknown destination.

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These interruptions to our “normal programming” are signs that we are being called to make new choices. We can think the same thoughts, do the same things and therefore  remain stuck in the same old patterns of thinking and being. Or, we can try to push through the painful process of birth and emerge as a new born, with new ideas and a more expanded view of ourselves. It is by changing our beliefs and our thoughts that we can expand into a greater, wiser self. While changing our long held beliefs can be challenging, once we’re alert to our faulty way of thinking, there is no going back. To be aware is to know. To not act on it, is to create suffering for ourselves.

Dumping an old, outdate part of ourselves isn’t always easy, but if we don’t embrace that which is asking to be born, we create turmoil in our minds and over the longer term, this can often lead to a breakdown in health and/or relationships.

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So how do we navigate our way forward when we are becalmed and seemingly going nowhere? Here’s what I do. In my 24/7 life I lacked dedication to my meditation practice, but when my life seems suspended in limbo, I ramp up my meditation and mindfulness practice. Some days it’s challenging to be still, so I use creative practices such as photography, gardening or sewing as my practice. Some people use cooking, walking, riding a bike, colouring in; the form and practice don’t matter.

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What does matter is finding a way of becoming aware of the chatter in your mind. Often it will resist the very things we need to change. The mind can provide valuable clues as to what needs addressing. The “zone” as people often refer to it, is a place where we can not only realise own own harmful thinking, but again, paradoxically, it is also the place of inspiration and navigation. Direction, guidance, ideas, all that we seek resides in this place. It is the place of our wise soul. We just need stillness to access it and to be brave enough to follow its guidance.

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If you are feeling growing pains right now, like your feet are stuck in mud, gift yourself some time to really tune in to how you feel about different aspects of your life. There is no need to make rash decisions, just listen for a while and then explore what other possibilities exist outside of your current world. There may be something about to bloom out of the darkness.

May stillness bring you clarity and direction.

Namaste.

Throwing Caution, Paths and Purpose to the Wind

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I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination – Jimmy Dean

Today, as I write this, the wind is blowing ferociously, the remnants of a tropical cyclone. The wind also acts as a great metaphor for this post because, today, I have let go of the need for a path or purpose, of a mind constantly searching, and instead have thrown myself at the mercy of the wind, allowing it to guide me. It’s a leap of faith.

In today’s world, not seeking direction sounds like madness. How can one be happy about not finding their purpose? Isn’t it the holy grail, the thing that will make us happy?” Well, yes and no.

Yes, we all like to know why we’re here, how we are to use the gifts we are given, and not waste time going down multiple “wrong” roads.

No, because seeking “the” path and purpose is not only exhausting, it can actually throw us off track, off our path. Confused? So was I, which is why it has taken me over a decade and a battle with poor health to get a handle on this.

Here’s what I’ve learnt. Years ago, a wise teacher told me that as a perfectionist, I wanted to know “every damned step” before I made a move. At the time I thought, well yeah, of course I do, otherwise how can I know which way to go, right? She also said, “The steps only appear, once you make the first move.” At the time, this made no sense. How can I step forward if I can’t see where I’m supposed to step?

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Well the secret is in stepping where there is no step. Sounds crazy but stay with me. I’ve learnt that we often don’t get a billboard with arrows saying “Go this way”. Instead, we have to make the first move in whatever direction “feels” right and then the next step appears.

This is where intuition comes in. It’s that gentle sensation, like butterfly wings that flutter around your heart, hinting that you’re onto something. It doesn’t give exact instructions, just a feeling, a hint to use our soul as a weather vane, see which way it’s pointing, then head in that direction, no instructions, just follow the breeze. When we take the first step, if it’s in alignment with our soul’s desire, and not just our head, then the universe will reveal the next step. It’s our reward for being brave, trusting and using “feeling” as a compass, not just logic.

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Intuitive Processes and Creativity

Here’s how this intuitive process worked for me. Regular readers know that 10 years of poor health forced me to examine how my thoughts were impacting my life and health. Perfectionism is bad for your health and your career. I could no longer work in my field of marketing communications, or do much else. On the advise of a stranger, I took up a creative pursuit. Mine was sewing. The stranger also suggested not doing it as a career or creating a business, but simply as an exploratory process. I had no idea what she meant. Perfectionists only do things that have useful outcomes, but being unwell, I had no choice but to do art for art’s sake.

Stepping into the creative unknown, I had no idea how or why it would help, just that I should trust my gut and follow this lead. Creativity restored my connection to my intuition, calmed my mind and allowed new insights to emerge. My health improved enough for me to consider my other passion, protecting our beautiful planet. But in what capacity? The next invisible step was about to emerge.

Recently I saw a story on the environmental impact of plastic bags, and decided to stop moaning, take action and find an organisation I could help lobby for a ban plastic bags. My search led me to the website of not-for-profit group, Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland. They help protect wildlife, their habitats and campaigned against plastic bags. Something about their website attracted me, like a hidden force. It was a heart flutter moment that prompted me to call and see if they needed a volunteer. I spoke to the lovely manager who gratefully accepted my help. I felt an instant connection.

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Image: Wildlife Preservation Society Queensland

Remember, if we take the first intuitive step, the universe will reveal the next. It did for me. The manager said they welcomed all help, but desperately needed someone with marketing communications skills. Bingo! When I surrendered the need to know the path, magic happened. I was happy to help make coffee but instead, the universe gifted me the chance to use my work experience and do something purposeful. As an added bonus, and to confirm I was in the right place, I discovered that the manager and I both share a love of sewing.

While I still have poor health days, challenges managing teenagers and juggling the needs of a family, relinquishing the search for a purpose has led to internal peace. When I gave up the need to know, a purpose found me. And it’s not to say that this is “the purpose”, it’s what is right for me right now. It’s all about letting go, and letting be(come).

Intuition is your greatest gift. If you can’t feel guidance, make time to be still for at least 5-10 minutes every day, whatever time you can spare. Don’t discount the advice of family and friends and your own mind, but always check in with your internal compass and see which way it’s pointing, because your heart and soul will always be your best guides towards your next step.

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Have you felt any flutters that might be trying to guide you?

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 been blindly accepting 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, louder, better, activist, or 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 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 we were aware of what we were doing or not, the bottom line is that someone ended up experiencing pain, be it emotional or physical 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 we realise, most of the time 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.

The jarring feeling I experienced from this old email was telling 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? Well, those of you familiar with my work will know that I have a little monster, whom today I’ll name the “Mental Monster” because he messes with my mental state. He’s the beast who is always attempting to undermine my sense of self-worth. If someone feels an inner sense of worthiness and value, they’ll know that they are still worthy and loveable, even if 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”. If we need to correct the behaviour of a child, we don’t say, “You are 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 from an aware mind, and open heart, and can honestly see that the other person also played a part in a failed relationship or situation, 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 us for our part, and themselves for what has transpired, and wish for them true personal growth, for this should truly be our greatest achievement.

So what happened to my relationship with Jenny? After spending years gathering knowledge and insights and sharing them with Jenny, she found the process of looking at  old wounds too painful and preferred to let things be as they are. I guess 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, but at least I knew I’d done what I could to bring some healing to the relationship. 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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