The ability to wait

There isn’t much fun about waiting… Though some people say that half the experience is anticipating it and preparing for it. I guess what I am talking about is the aimless waiting, waiting for something to change or shift or waiting for things outside of your control to come together. Some people talk about precious time being wasted when we wait – like waiting for the bus or for the washing machine to finish so you can take out the clothes in order to get on with the day.

I think the virtue of waiting is underestimated. There are some valuable skills in waiting. When you wait you have to surrender your idea of having control over things, you have to be with your restlessness and boredom and face your powerlessness. And I am not sure we do these things enough.

There seem to be a lot of energy in society spent on proving one is in control – that one is productive and efficient – and surrounding oneself with an air of busyness. Waiting and busyness don’t go well together. I think a lot of us feel urged to distract ourselves instead of waiting. Or we feel like we have to fill the time with something useful.

I think we tend to associate waiting with being idle. And being idle has got a bad name:

 

No wonder our adult parts – the conscientious, image-oriented and anxious selves – feel uncomfortable when we have to spend time doing nothing.

I also think many of us associate waiting with being told off as a child for being too eager, too excited and too demanding. Waiting was a punishment or a frustrating thing we had to do to get what we wanted.  How many of us has experienced an adult telling us to do this annoying waiting-thing and then sit down with us to figure out how to do it and what it’s like.

No wonder our inner children – the excited, impulsive and eager parts of us – feel like waiting is boring and an awful state of lonely restlessness.

So if waiting is more than being idle or being forced to delay gratification, what is it then?

As I get older people feed back to me how they appreciate my ability to wait, my patience. I wait for a mood to pass, I wait for the energy to shift in a difficult situation, I wait for the next wave of conversation to come (rather than create it), I wait for life to get less busy so friends and I can find time for each other, I wait for time to heal the cracks in suffering relationships, I wait for opportunities to come along. I have practised a lot of waiting in my life. Doesn’t mean I can always do it but I find that its a useful skill to have.

Waiting is not a passive state. Waiting, for me, is an attentive state; a caring, listening state. Listening in to my body, listening in to life, listening in to a situation. And trusting. Trusting that things change even if I don’t actively interfere. Even if I don’t ‘do’.

Because life is bigger than me and there is so much I do not know, so much I do not understand. I am seldom capable of confidently taking action because it is impossible for me to know what the ‘right thing’ or most appropriate thing to do, is. So I wait. And in my experience inevitably the thing to do comes to me. Like in some strange dance with life, the next step appears on the ground under me. And because I was attentively waiting I noticed it. Sometimes it’s other people who brings the steps, sometimes its something I read or ideas that come into my head. Sometime stuff just happens and I dance along. Then it slows down. And I wait again.

When I was younger I found this dance difficult. I judged myself harshly when I went through times of waiting. I shamed myself calling me names like avoidant, lazy, indecisive, unambitious and lacking drive. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, not contributing, not out there enough changing the world, fighting the good fight.

But getting older I realise it just didn’t ring true to me deep down. I don’t want to be super-poductive and ‘out there’ because I don’t feel that rushing towards the good life and fighting for change actually creates the world I want to be in.

I am still waiting for the words to describe the world I want to be in and how I imagine the journey there…

 

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Grieving every day

As far back as I can remember I have experienced times of intense sadness. Feeling like a heavy weight is dropped into my solar plexus and at the same time as if some creature is clawing at my insides. It makes me feel exhausted and restless at the same time; exhausted with the unexplainable emotional pain and restless to make it shift. Mentally restless to understand it, figure it out and come up with a way forward. Physically restless because the pain is so uncomfortable; a sense of loss, violence and meaninglessness. As if I’m too empty and too full at once.

When I was younger the big question was always “why?”. 

Why am I feeling like this? What have I done? What have I not done? What have I done wrong? Is it me? Is there something wrong with me? Why would I be feeling like this unless I’ve done something wrong? 

I would be looking for what I might have missed. Scrutinise things I’d done, choices I’d made and how I’d treated people. 

As I grew older I became more aware of this individualised idea of happiness that seems to have rooted itself in our western minds. That we alone are responsible for our happiness; that happiness is something we can just choose, something that happens if we think the right thoughts or chant the right chants. Many seem obsessed with happiness and how it’s achieved and how to spread the happiness vibe. It’s a bestseller.

Grief, sadness and pain doesn’t seeem to have much value. They are responses to be gotten over or fixed. Find the cause and get it sorted. Pain is just a messenger about something you need to look at. Then you can be happy, be your true self free of pain. Happiness is the way and we can all be happy if we want to…

With all this in mind I kept scrutinising myself. What was I doing so very, very wrong? How to change my thoughts to change my world? Its just mind over matter, right?! 

I used to hide when I felt sad. Cause nobody wants to be around a buzz killer, a party pooper. I thought people didn’t like my philosophical questions, my ponderings about the point of it all, my quiet staring into space and unenthusiastic responses. Also I just felt too tired to face people. People often want to help and relieve pain and this would leave me with a choice between two evils; pretend people was helping me to make them feel better or be honest and make others feel restless and sad too… It can be a real dilemma so I chose to not be around people because I would feel responsible when my moods and behaviour made others feel powerless.

During me teenage years I was quite sure I wouldn’t be able to keep surviving my intense states of sadness and meaninglessness. But now I am 35 and I have made it through countless of these states. And I’ve started thinking differently about them. 

Realising I am not an island was one of the first big things to help me change my approach. I don’t know why we are being sold this idea that we a separate and disconnected. I know it feels like that at times and I know nobody is ever going to experience me or the world the way I do, but that doesn’t make me an isolated being. It just makes me unique. Like everybody are unique. But we are still made from the same matter – or clay as John O’Donohue calls it. We may be islands but we are all connected by water, by this world we are living in. Connected by our humanness; by bones, flesh and blood, by birth, illness and death. 

Once I realised this I started wondering whether this sadness was truly just mine…

The wonderful German word “Weltschmerz” can be understood in two ways. Either it could mean that you feel overwhelmed and dissatisfied with the world; that the world – or your view of the world – is causing you pain. Or it could mean that you are feeling the pain of the world. 

Believing that everything is interconnected and inter-existing makes my pain not just mine. My pain may not start with me. Sometimes it does yes, but more often than not the pain I feel comes from my relationships with people around me, from being aware of pain in their lives. And some states of sadness are about the world, about feeling the grief of living beings across the planet, the despair and vulnerability. Deeply sensing the frustration of people fighting for a fairer world or people trying to raise awareness about the impact we have on the environment. 

There is so much pain in the world. So much pain.

And many of us have lost the rituals and containers that could help us feel less overwhelmed in the face of this pain. Rather than thinking of us as interconnected and face the pain of the world, we think of pain as having an isolated cause that the individual needs to deal with… Or we simply try to distract and numb ourselves from the pain.

So what to do when one feels the pain of the world?

Probably this is one place where religions of different kinds have something to offer. Loving prayers and getting together with others to remind ourselves that there may be something bigger than us out there. Choosing to trust in a higher power can alleviate some of the overwhelm.

Or nurture a spiritual practice; some people find ways to protects themselves against feeling the pain and others find ways to bear it. 

Or become an activist. 

I don’t have a religion and I don’t have the discipline to uphold a spiritual practice. I can’t really see myself as an activist. 

So some years ago I decided to try and grieve everyday. To honour the pain and the sadness. Because what seemed to happen was, that I would be relieved when I didn’t feel the sadness and then feel resentment when it came back. So I thought that if I stayed in touch with it and felt it on a regular basis it might stop coming in these intense waves…

It sounds good in theory. But then life happens and I forget or I change my priorities. So sadness takes a backseat for a while but I can’t stop being who I am and I can’t stop feeling life so intensely. So sooner or later I am forced to feel the pain again. And I think to myself: What happened to grieving everyday? What happened to being in touch with the pain of the world and honouring it? 

I am coming through a time of business to more calm living and now sadness has hit me square in my belly. It’s so intense I forget all I’ve learned about this pain, I feel lost and overwhelmed. My mind gets restless but a voice inside says: Write about it. Write!

And I write and I remember. The pain, the many ways I’ve tried to deal with it throughout my life. I remember interconnectedness and I remember how much I feel everything. 

I remember how I’ve been wanting to write about grieving everyday for over a year.

And here I am writing. Grieving. And remembering why I believe in grieving everyday.

Some pain is personal and individual and recognising individual pain and it’s cause can be very important. But some pain might be universal and this kind of pain may need a different approach. Overall I believe we need to rethink our relationship with pain and sadness and not see them as villains to be conquered or avoided. 

The film “Inside Out” tells a story about how important sadness is for our humanness and how it can help us connect with each other. Being happy and enthusiastic is valuable but being in touch with pain and showing vulnerability is equally important.

We need to honour our shared pain, all that we’ve lost, all the hurt we’ve inflicted on each other and the planet. I believe that if we are in touch with pain and allow ourselves to grieve it can help us find ways to live more harmoniously in our communities…

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Who needs a father anyway?

Who needs a father when there are so many good men in the world doing their best to relate to women (and men) in kind and meaningful ways…?

It was father’s day here in the UK very recently and as always it makes me feel slightly torn. I enjoy the posts I see on Facebook where friends share their love and appreciation for their fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers and any other kind of father one could think of. I loved the look on my partners face when he came to tell me his sons had brought him chocolate because of father’s day. I just generally feel joyful when people show each other that they care.

But another part of me gets annoyed with father’s day and I catch myself having inner dialogues about “how superficial and commercial it all is”.

When I take a closer look at my annoyance I find that it is just self-protective palaver designed to keep certain feelings at bay. Feelings of sadness and confusion – a deep grief that never really eases or shifts.

When new people come into my life – or when I do training and talk about my life – at one point people will ask about my family and my parents. And I will often just talk about my mother and my siblings. Some people will continue to talk about my parents in plural or they will ask about my father and this is when I say “I don’t have a father”. And I really, really mean that; I grew up without a father – or even a stepfather – and I still don’t have a father. Because the man who contributed to the creation of me has never taken an interest in me.

My mother decided to raise me on her own and she also decided not to get into a relationship again, which meant that there were no male role models close to me as a grew up.

Even though my mother’s feelings towards my father must have been complex, she never said a bad word about him to me; when I was young she would tell me very simple stories about him when I asked. Stories about how he looked and how he worked on ships.

My mother also seemed very aware of her own limitations raising me as a single mother. She made sure I spent time with my great aunt and uncle as well as families of friends so that I could experience different kinds of family lives and learn social skills that she couldn’t teach me.

As I got older life got more complicated for me and I began to wish that I had a father – someone who would love and support my mother but also someone who could help with the conflicts between my mother and I. I started to wonder why my mother was on her own and why my father wasn’t interested in me and in my powerlessness to change the situation I started believing that I was cursed. That there was something evil about me and that this evil had put a curse on my mother and I so that neither of us would ever be loved.

This belief was in some ways easier to cope with than the anger I felt towards my mother – the anger just caused me more pain and shame while the belief that I was cursed gave me something to work with.

If I could just be “a good girl” and keep the evil under control, then things could change.

The irony is that knowing my mother as I know her now, I am pretty sure she never wanted me to be “a good girl”. My mother has always supported my self-expression, autonomy and uniqueness and I know she noticed it when I began to struggle as a kid.

She did what she could to support me but I imagine it was difficult as I began to withdraw emotionally and refused to talk about what was going on. Looking back, I also think it was near impossible for me to express all the thoughts and feelings I had as I was only 8-9 years old and didn’t have a language for it.

I have a very clear memory of deciding not to talk about the things I was struggling with because I didn’t think anybody would understand (I barely understood myself) but also I was worried about contaminating others with all the horrible things I felt inside.

Keeping the belief that I was unlovable alive, wasn’t difficult – it’s pretty easy to make sure you love people who can’t or won’t love you back and there it is: proof that you are unlovable. I’ve done that a lot. Also I used to avoid building friendships that I wanted to last because I couldn’t cope with the pain of separating from people.

But I didn’t get to control everything in my life – luckily! So somehow people started coming into my life who just seemed to like me and care about me without me doing anything to deserve it…

As the years passed I slowly got more comfortable around men who were nice to me – though I still get pangs of paranoia and think to myself that they are only kind to me because they want something from me. But I kept finding the courage to trust and little by little my experience of having meaningful friendships with men helped me create a new belief system within me. Belief in my own worth and my own strength; that I could trust my own judgement about what I needed, about my boundaries, that I had the skills to look after myself in a gentle way and that I had something valuable to bring to the world.

Most importantly I began to receive the love that was offered to me.

I don’t know what my life would have been like had I had a father – somethings might have been easier and somethings might have been harder.

I do know that I deeply treasure my relationship with my mother and had I had a father it would not have been what it is today – simply because the dynamics between us would have been different.

I also know that I really like how I am (well, most of the time anyway); I like the values I have, my outlook on life and the way I experience the world. And I would be a different person had anything in the past 35 years turned out differently than it did.

Part of being who I am, is living with this grief in the pit of my stomach; it is not quite loss, not quite longing, not quite abandonment or rejection. It is more like an emptiness or nothingness, a not knowing but at the same time it has density and a certain heaviness to it and its dark, dark blue…

This blog is written to celebrate all those men in my life – past and present – who have related to me in ways that made me feel loved and valuable.

Men who were able to meet my needs for safety, joy, choice, nurturing, respect, mutuality, acceptance, consistency, integrity, openness and growth.

Thank you!

The black-blue pain may never dissolve but your presence in my life has made it easier to carry.

The list of men who have helped me on my journey is actually surprisingly long. I have begun to write it out in more details and with stories but it suddenly felt too personal and exposing so maybe that list is for another post on a later occasion…

 

Highly Sensitive People in an Insensitive World by Ilse Sand

Finally holding the real thing in my hands.
What an amazing journey it has been so far; from meeting Ilse Sand in 2008 because she was one of the only therapists working with highly sensitive people in Denmark at the time, to reading her book the first time in 2010, then moving to England and realising how much I wanted to be able to share Ilse’s writing with people I met over here and while teaching and travelling.
Translating the book was exciting and hard work but the toughest bit turned out to be trying to find a publisher. In December 2015 things suddenly picked up and a contract was signed with Jessica Kingsley Publishers by the end of the year – and now it’s here! All those months and months of work made tangible.
It’s been a great privilege to work with Ilse Sand on getting her book published in English. I’ve learned a lot about how the publishing world works and feel a bit more confident about one day writing my own stuff and getting it out there.

Get the book here

Please note that JKP books are available in UK, US, AUS and Canada – choose your area in top right corner of the website.

More about Ilse Sand and her work: www.highlysensitive-hsp.com

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/highlysensitivepeopleIlseSand/

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There are things more important than surviving

This survival of the fittest idea…

Am I the only one who thinks we (as a human race) need to stop telling ourselves and each other that we have to be strong, be fighters, be resilient and prove our worth?

Am I the only one who doesn’t find it helpful to think of the world as a battle ground where you have to bulldoze or be bulldozed, fight or be dismissed?

If we keep pushing this idea on ourselves and each other (and the children of this world) the way our societies work might never change. We are just going to be locked in eternal battles, trying to impress each other, have our little piece of limelight, our little slice of security and resources.

I don’t want to fight to be heard, I don’t want to be a fighter to be taken seriously. I want to be seen as worth listening to even when I don’t shout or speak with big gestures.

Throughout my life I have found it so difficult to be alive, to be a human being in this world. But I kept hanging in there because of the important people in my life and I kept hoping that I would find ways to make it easier for me to be here.

The biggest turning point towards a more meaningful life was when I realised that I do not need to do anything, say anything or behave in a certain way to be okay. There was a moment where I felt loved, not by anyone specific, just deeply loved. It wasn’t a thought, it was a felt experience that filled my entire body – and in that moment I knew that I am okay just as I am, that being alive is more than enough.

This moment is still with me and I call on it to support me when I feel vulnerable, when I am intensely overwhelmed and experience myself as desperately displaced. I have a ring I wear when I want to remind myself of this truth; that I am loved and lovable just as I am in any moment.

I don’t have to justify my being here, I don’t have to please anyone, I don’t have to prove I deserve love, I don’t have to fit into any category to be allowed to walk this earth. All I need to do is just be me, all that I am and stay true to my values.

I trust in the way of the gentle soul and I believe in walking on the sacred ground below us with care and consideration.

I believe that we a custodians of this beautiful planet and not owners of anything that exists here. I believe in treating all things with respect and carefully thinking about our actions before we make decisions.

And maybe this will not make me survive the harshness of this world but I do not care. There are things so much more important to me than surviving – and eventually we all die anyway.

I may not be a great warrior who will change the world but I do not care. The world will change and who gets the credit is for others to fight over.

I refuse to live my life in survival or fight mode.

I don’t want to fight, I don’t want to be resilient, I don’t want to prove my worth.

I just want to live a gentle life and love the people who are close to me.

I really do think Self Care Rules

Getting proper rest when I feel overwhelmed can be tricky. After more than a month of looking after myself, I am finally able to have a fairly lazy day without
a) feeling guilty about doing nothing
b) feeling like I “damn well better rest so I can get better!”.
It’s such a silly tension; the to do list is just getting longer and longer and I just get more overwhelmed. But I can’t rest because the to do list is nagging at me and when I do do things they don’t feel up to my usual standards so then I get annoyed…
When I am in it I can’t see how its ever going to stop – how I can untangle myself from this paradoxical web. But one day at a time things get better. I do bits when I can, I schedule in time off, I make rules around social media and I get lots and lots of hugs (and cups of tea of course).
And then one day I find myself here; feeling pretty alright. Second day in a row!

So yes I really do think self care rules 😀

See more here http://wp.me/p5ELi7-3s

Feeling the ground beneath my feet

I used to live in a state of constant overwhelm and anxiety.

Only I didn’t realise it at the time, because it was all I knew. I suspected something was wrong; the suicidal yearnings and impulses to self-harm were good tell tell signs, but I didn’t understand them as such. I thought I was being selfish and attention seeking and I did what I could to try and control these shameful things that lived inside me.

I thought that what was wrong was me, that I was a terrible, rotten and disgusting human being. Everything I felt, all the pain, powerlessness and confusion, I truly believed it was all my own fault.
I found ways of coping. Self-discipline and self-control were good ones – they made me feel like I was doing something to correct the wrongness. Escapism was good too. And lots and lots of it. Escaping from my body, my mind and my un-understandable emotions. Escaping into books, films, dreams, other worlds and relationships – anything that would distract me from me.

When I began to ask for help from others, I thought that what I needed was some sort of psychotherapy or drama therapy; something that would help me analyse and express my emotions. Something to help me create some order in my chaotic inner world. I didn’t have the money to get a private therapist so I asked for help from mental health services. This turned out to be a much more complicated journey than I could have ever imagined.

I was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 22.

With the diagnosis of schizophrenia came the obligatory psycho-education and CBT based group sessions. I was not impressed to say the least. I began to realise, that trying to get the help I believed I needed in the mental health system, was going to be quite a battle.

I did however find it helpful to start thinking of stress and stressors. This wasn’t something I had really considered before – I had been so focused on being strong, surviving and controlling myself. And I really struggled to see how my life should be stressful or bad. Others clearly had it much worse than me. But I came around to the idea that I was stressed and amongst other things showing physical signs of this. Fatigue, tenseness and eternal headaches helped me get referred to the Physiotherapy Clinic at the Psychiatric Hospital.

Now I have to say, that if I could choose only one big turning point in my journey towards a more fulfilling life, this was it.

In “Living with Voices” by Romme and Escher I write about my relationship with my physiotherapist: “During a 3 year period of on/off physiotherapy I experienced  building a relationship with a man, based on trust and mutual respect for the first time in my life (…) He helped me experience my body as a safe place and I realised how tormented I was by anxiety – like a deer always ready to take flight.
For the first time in a long, long time I felt able to be in my body, feel my emotions, think my thoughts, hear my voices and feel that whatever I was experiencing was all right, and that things were going to be okay. (…) Discovering that I could live through a whole hour without having a single self-destructive thought or impulse and once in a while even enjoy being me –  was very unfamiliar and quite scary. That maybe I deserved to live after all – and live without constant fear and pain. That perhaps there was a way of healing years and years of dissociation, of separating myself from myself and others.” (p. 149)

It was a long and slow process to get to the point I describe above.
The work my physiotherapist did with me was based on Body Awareness Therapy. It was a mix of simple massages techniques and physical exercises and it was all about grounding and centering. Everything we did was designed to help me stay in my body – become aware of my body from within.
I used to think I had loads of body awareness because I had been dancing for many years. But I slowly realised that there is a big difference between being aware of your body from the inside and being aware of your body from the outside. The body awareness I had learned through dance was all about observing myself and controlling my body. Being aware of my body, of my movements, of sensations and feelings from the inside was a whole different ball game.
At first it was frightening. I think I expected to be overwhelmed because that was how I had experienced myself for as long as I could remember. That, as soon I would come back to myself from my various escapisms, I would be completely overwhelmed with my sensations, emotions and thoughts.
I had to learn that I was safe in my body, that my adult selves could handle the things that used to overwhelm me as a kid. By doing gentle stretches and movements I could calm myself down, calm my senses and find peace.
In various trauma and anxiety work, there are strategies and visualisations we can use to create inner (or outer) safe spaces. This is what my physiotherapist did with me. Today if I get anxious and nothing else works – no calming self-talk, soothing exercises, no music or walking or distracting works – what I do is I revisit those sessions. I will draw the safeness I experienced back then into the here and now. The memory of this deep sense of safety is ingrained in my body, available to me when I need it.

I think it is vitally important that we continue to create body-memories as adults that can support us and maybe help balance out painful body-memories from the past.

Today when I stand in the woods on the hill, looking out over the valley where I live, I can actually feel the ground beneath my feet. I can feel how solid it is – or how muddy it is when it’s been raining, as it tends to do in these parts.
I am not just watching my feet on the ground, registering it as if observing someone else. I really feel it. I feel my feet in my socks, in my boots and the soles of the boots connecting with the soil or the stones. I feel the cold damp seeping through the leather and I feel the warmth of my blood trying to dispel the cold.
Experiencing the world and connecting with my surrounding from inside out is only possible because I have found a way to be in me – literally be in me, in my body.
It still takes a lot of work and I still get easily overwhelmed emotionally, mentally and physically. But knowing how to  ground myself and get back to my centre is the foundation of everything else for me. It’s my roots, my base, my starting point, my anchor.
When I get lost in fears, thoughts, fantasies, insecurities, expectations, excitement and busynes, my body is always there to bring me back to the reality of here and now. My breath is always here, my heart beat is always here and if I contract the muscles around my core I can feel I am here.
The simplest way to ground myself is just to gently tense and release my muscles – in my leg, hand, stomach or feet – to the rythm of my breath. Breathing out as I tense and breathing in I let go and relax.
This works for me.
The amazing thing about body work is that you can find your own way of grounding yourself, the possibilities are endless. But it might take some dedication and patience to find what works for you.

 

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The forgotten body

I think that the way society works today, it can be easy to forget the body. Even though we are bombarded with stuff about body image, food, exercise, healthy living and the importance of appearances, none of this really connects us to our body. Rather it disconnects us because it is all about how it should be, not how it is.
How it really is here and now, for us as individuals in our individual bodies.
What would we be without our bodies?
What could we do without the body?
The mind takes up so much of our time – even when we do physical tasks and exercise, we can easily find ourselves in our minds rather than our bodies. With screens playing such a dominant part in our lives, in schools, at home and at work we are forced to be in our heads, thinking, analysing, planning and entertaining ourselves using our head based senses (sight, sound, smell, taste). And the body-based senses get neglected.
The body based senses are not just in our skin. It’s our entire nervous-system which is connected to everything in us; our bones, organs, muscles, other soft tissue, fluids etc. I find the more I connect with my body the more amazed I become. Everything the body does – all the time! Everything the body experiences – all the time!
Even though my body presents me with limitations, challenges and suffering I still think it is an amazing mystery to be explored and celebrated…