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…

 

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 😀

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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.

 

groundingandcentering

The perks of being a sensitive, worrying person – anticipating worst case scenarios

Some say you have to think positive for positive things to happen. That is not my experience.

And I am not sure it is something I want to try.
Because life happens – and yes our attitude towards things when they happen is important. How we receive things and respond to them is essential.

But to me thinking that I can affect things in advance by thinking positively is actually a bit scary. Cause what if I do all the positive thinking I possibly can and life still throws crap at me. Is it then my own fault? Did I not do it right? Did I not do it enough?
What if by thinking positive thoughts I am actually suppressing what is really going on in me? Will that not have consequences?
Being optimistic, trusting and hopeful feels good. I like it when I am able to do it. But for me it is not something I can enforce or choose. It comes from deep within, it is something which is nurtured to grow – not just by me but also by my surroundings.

I have been told I take things too seriously and that I think too much. And I do think a lot. But I don’t think it’s a problem.
In the past months I have been worried. Oh so worried. It has taken up a lot of my energy and my imagination have had me enthralled with all sorts of disastrous scenarios. And that may not sound very healthy to some of you.

But here is what you don’t know if you haven’t tried it.

When I arrive at the situation I have been anticipating I feel prepared for anything. Literally anything. There is nothing life can throw at me which I haven’t already thought through. 
And when things go well – as they most often do (partly because I am prepared) the sense of relief and gratitude is amazing.
And if things go really really well – if things go well beyond anything I could have expected or hoped for, if people are kind or things just flow effortlessly – it is the best high in life.
It is not a restless high. It is a blissful humbling high and a sense of being connected and looked after by something much bigger than me.

Highs and lows are the spice of life. If you don’t have them – create them!

Self Care rules!

As I tend to write about things at great length, I have decided that from now on, I will do short summaries of my blogs. In the beginning of them.

I believe I have some great things to say but I know all about lacking the concentration to read lenghty stuff. And I want to make my writing as accessible as possible to as many as possible. So here is the short version of Self-Care Rules:

Summary

I see self-care is an important part of life and it is not something we are taught much about. We are told to look after ourselves but what does it really mean?

I think we need to figure that out for ourselves. We need to decide what we want to achieve by looking after ourselves. Do we want to comfort ourselves, do we want more energy, do we want to feel loved and happy, do we want to find peace and calm or excitement?

I don’t think there are any rules when it comes to self-care; I think we have to create our own guidelines and draw from our wisdom about ourselves. I find it helpful to check in with myself using body work but other people may have found things that work for them – like going for a run, having a chat with a friend, cleaning or cooking and so on. Once we are able to check in with ourselves and find out how we are doing and what we need in the moment we can decide what to do. What kind of care to give ourselves. Sometimes self-care may be to stay in bed all day and sometimes it may be to commit to doing a marathon. It will be different for each of us at different times.

I like lists but mainly as inspiration for those times when I am fuzzy headed and can’t think of things that might be helpful. A list can help me remember and spark my creativity.

The last thing I want to say is that I think it is important to be at the receiving end of the self-care you give yourself. I find this part difficult because I have to be in two modes at once. I have to be responsible, caring and giving as well as receptive and open.

The long version

I am a passionate fan of self-care – of looking after ourslves.

Two things have happened recently that made me think of writing a blog post about this passion of mine.

First of all I came across a post on facebook where a woman expressed her frustration with being told to look after herself. She recognised that people who said this to her were well-meaning but it made her really frustrated. She explained how it made her feel isolated and that people were really saying that she had to look after herself beause no one else would. In a society that is rapidly becoming more and more individualistic we can’t expect others to have the time or energy to care for us or support us anymore. And often people who do do the caring – either in work life or personal life – may find that nobody is caring for them.

Being a big believer in taking care of ourselves reading her post threw me a bit. I started worrying about how people might receive it when I say “take care” or “look after yourself”. Whether my friends might find it too imposing or holier than thou. I could also feel myself getting a bit defensive and wanting to respond to the post. But after I let the uncomfortable feelings settle, I started to see this womans point. And it got me re-examining my stance on self-care.

The other thing that happened was getting an email from Healthy Minds asking if any of their volunteers were interested in coming in and talk about self-care for the radio show. As I was already spending some time thinking about the issue, I thought doing an interview might help me structure my thinking a bit and maybe also write something.

And here I am.

So what does it mean?

What is self-care? Well the obvious answer would be “to care for yourself”; so I guess it then depends on how we understand the word to care. It could mean to support, to take an interest in, to empower, to look after basic needs, to comfort or to keep an eye on. It could mean to love. When I care about somebody else it is almost always because I feel some level of love for them; I want them to be okay and to feel loved.
But we all have differerent associations with words. Caring might mean something very different to somebody else.

When I was first introduced to the idea of looking after myself I was in my early twenties and it was all to do with my mental health, learning to manage my illness, revolving around stress and symptoms. And that was great – becoming aware of how being stress felt and how it affected me was very needed at the time. But it took years for me to figure out what to do about it.
Stress and anxiety had been my main mode since early childhood and I hadn’t a clue how to look after myself. I hadn’t had any clear rolemodels to learn from either and I am sure I am not alone in that.

In a post industrial society, we grow up with this pressure to produce, achieve, contribute, earn a living and prove our worth. And looking after ourselves becomes about having fun, having loads of exciting experiences like travelling or about being fit and eating healthily. Nobody talks about what it really means to look after oneself – what it looks like under all the generalisations and health guidelines.

Self-care rules

So I struggled for years with how to look after myself – and what it meant. My head was overloaded with all these rules and input I got from my surroundings telling me what self-care was.

Self-care had become all about what I “should” do – what was “right” and what I was supposed to do to feel better. But even this idea of “feeling better” seemed vague to me. Self-care was like an empty mantra and even though I tried to do the right things it didn’t make much difference to my general state of being. I was caught in this language of right and wrong and feeling guilt and shame when I didn’t do what I should or didn’t do enough. Even though I was trying to look after myself, my language and attitude towards myself hadn’t changed. I was pushing myself and blaming myself for things not getting better. The same vicious circles which I had been caught in in my teenage years – now they just had a different theme.

Today I believe that there are no rules to self-care. No right or wrong. It is something deeply individual and even within the individual it may need to be something very flexible as well.
But how did this way of thinking come about?
I started meeting people who cared about me – without having to. People who weren’t family or friends, people who just seemed to like and value me with no strings attached. These were people working in mental health and they really didn’t have to like me. They could have done their work without liking me. And I did meet health care professionals who kept the so-called proffesional distance and clearly neither liked or disliked me – but also didn’t connect with me in a meaningful way.

Defining self-care for ourselves

The people who did connect with me, taught me something immensely valuable – that it was possible for me to feel safe and calm with others and eventually within myself. They showed me a lot of trust and as my trust in them grew I found myself beginning to trust myself. It felt like a circular thing that happened in the relationship – I trusted them and they trusted me and somehow the emotional experience grew to the point where the rational realisation came: that if they found me trustworthy and I trusted their judgement it had to mean that I could trust myself.

Trusting myself I slowly began to take my own inner wisdom more seriously.

So I started to think about why I would care for myself, what I wanted, what I wanted to achieve by self-caring. What I wanted it to do for me.
I thought about times when life had felt worth living, when I had enjoyed being me. These times seemed to be about feeling connected, feeling close to others or to myself or to nature. Also it was about things feeling meaningful – not in a rational way but on  non-verbal level. Moments of feeling alive.
I think this will be different for each of us. For some it might be about feeling at peace or feeling happy or content, for others it might be about feeling safe, nurtured or comfortable. It could be that you want to feel excited, to feel able or full of energy.

But for me looking after myself means to support myself to feel connected with the things that makes life meaningful to me. Like having deep and authentic conversations with other people. Or being able to walk in nature and enjoy the sounds, sights and smells. Or to lose myself in a piece of music or forget time as I am painting or writing.
These things doesn’t just happen by themselves. I have to look after myself, create the spaces where they can come along.

What do I actually do?

If there are no rules, how do we know what to do? If we don’t have a manual or a list to follow, how do we get started?
Don’t get me wrong – lists and guidelines are good. I have them. But I have made them up myself and I see them as inspiration rather than rules. When my head is fuzzy and I am low on energy remembering what I can do to support myself can be hard. Having a list to look at can help remind me what has been useful at other times. And maybe it can help me come up with something that is relevant for me now.
For me things are very changeable. I will have different needs at different times. Sometimes I will have more than one need and I will have to prioritise – and quite often I will have opposing needs which is when it gets tricky. Chosing to do one thing can feel like a betrayal to other needs that parts of me might have.
The pathways to getting what we want out of caring for ourselves, may look very different at different times and in differents situations.

For me the key is to tune into myself, into my body and my soul-feeling. I find it helps me to do physical grounding exercises like body-scan, tension-release, bouncing or swinging arms. It helps me get into my body. And then I can ask myself something like: How am I really right now? How do I feel? How is my soul? How is my body? What do I need? What am I longing for right now?
But I imagine there are loads of other ways to check in with yourself e.g. go somewhere you feel safe, listen to music you like, do mindfulness or meditation, go for a run, clean or have a chat with a friend.

Sometimes I can’t connect with myself and I might have to just do something that I find normally works and then see what happens. Hence having a list of things to do.
But when I do manage to connect with myself I will listen inward and get a sense of what might be a helpful way forward. Checking in is something I try and do in the mornings in order to create a day that feels balanced. Some days I will have to re-assess my needs and maybe do something different than what I had hoped or planned.
My need in the morning may be to spend time with my plants sometimes during the day – but if I get into a conflict with my partner I may need to do something more physical to channel my agitation. Staying flexible and aware takes some practice and I am still learning.

And to bring it back to the Facebook post I mentioned in the beginning I have a growing belief that self-care does not exclude receiving care from others. Rather the opposite. It is not either/or but both/and.

We care for ourselves by inviting and allowing others to care for us too. And caring for others can sometimes be like caring for ourselves. Giving love and support and feeling needed, are some of our most essential emotional needs as humans. So allowing ourselves to give and receive care is part of self-care in too, I think.

My (not so) secret ingredient to self-care

When I was nearing my thirties this is how far I’d come in my self-care journey. I knew what I was hoping for and I knew I needed to tune in, be aware and stay flexible and creative.

Sometimes I felt I was doing well but a lot of the time I still felt like something was missing. That I wasn’t really good at this self-care thing and that it was too much hard work with not much effect.
One of my main priorities in my self-care regime had been (and still is) regular massages. Getting a massage does a lot of things for me – and it had taken me years to learn to recieve  a massage, to feel okay with being touched and to relax into it.
Knowing what it is like to not feel safe with physical touch, I continue to treasure massages as if each one is a little miracle. But finding a good massage therapist is key – it is more about the person than the actual technique they use, I think.

Anyway – back to the secret ingedient.
If possible at least once a month I would go have a therapeutic massage with a woman who I felt very safe with. And one day while I was lying there, I thought about why in the massage, I found it so easy to get to the place I was looking for when self-caring.

A lot of my ideas around self-care had come from receiving different forms of massages and doing bodywork – it seemed like the portal and the foundation.
How I felt when receiving massages was the measure which I would compare other things against. Did I feel as safe, as connected, as peaceful, as blissful, as loved, as gentle?
So what was it that was happening when I received massages, that didn’t seem to be happening when I was looking after mysef in other ways? What am I doing here that is different?

And then I had a lovely, simple epiphany; I was on the receiving end. I was just lying there and all I had to do was be open, relaxed and receptive.
I thought back to the things I would do to look after myself and how I was always in giving mode, in caring mode, responsible mode. Somehow I wasn’t able to be in giving and receiving mode at once. And so my self-caring efforts would often be a bit wasted. They’d be good for me, no doubt, but they didn’t go very deep or have any lasting effect.

I keep getting massages and I keep practicing being open and receptive, so that maybe I can do it in other situations too.

I keep working on my self-trust because I think that it is the key to being more receptive to my own self-care. If I can trust that what I am doing is okay, then I may relax with myself and slowly become more open.
I readily admit that I am still not very good at being on the receiving end of my own self-care.
I have to keep reminding myself.
And be gentle with myself – accepting that more often than not, I just can’t.
Underneath the frustrations with my own inability to trust and receive, there is a sense of sadness.
Feeling the sadness helps me move away from judging and pushing myself.
And I know that looking after myself is going to be a life long journey.

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Thoughts on Change #3

creating change -continued…

Knowing when to wait…

I am presently reading “Runes of the Earth” by Stephen Donaldson (7th book of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever). In this book the reader is told the story about an old man, Anele, who feels he is solely responsible for the grim state of affairs in “The Land”. Different forces are causing havoc and Lord Foul, The Despiser, is once again trying to find a way to break the Arch of Time to destroy the earth. Thousands of years ago, Anele’s parents had been given The Staff of Law and they spent their lives healing damage that had been done to The Land after Lord Fouls previous attacks. They taught Anele everything they knew and when they died, they left The Staff of Law in his care so that he could continue their work. Anele however had always felt too astonished with the Earthpower and the wonders of The Land and therefore unworthy of wielding the powers of the Staff of Law. He decided to go live in a cave and spend his time learning to listen deeply to all parts of The Land in the hope that he would then better understand how to meet its needs. Consequently he did nothing and carried out no healing for many many years. He just listened; “Trying to determine the form of service that was right for him” (p.460)

One day he feels a great unease in The Land and ventures out to have a look at it but leaves The Staff of Law behind him intending to come back for it when he has seen and understood what is causing the unease. He is then caught in a Fall – a great moving aura inside which time breaks – and he is transported thousands of years into the future and thereby separated from The Staff of Law. He is so distraught with his own failure to act and to heal as he was destined to do that now where he has lost The Staff, he goes mad. His mind becomes fragmented, trying to protect him from his unbearable guilt and shame. Initially he thought himself unworthy to take on the task of healing. He has tried to find a way to approach his birthright, his responsibilities and powers but is torn away from his life and thrown into a world in distress. He judges himself harshly and believes he is witnessing the future consequences of his own inadequacy – his hesitance, which he sees as cowardice, is the cause of the approaching ruin of The Land.

I can relate to Anele’s story in several ways; for a good half of my life I have judged myself too afraid of responsibilities, too weak, too lazy, too unworthy and to unskilled to be able to have an impact on the world. I told myself I was fleeing, pacified and petrified by my fears of failure. But in moments I would experience thoughts such as:

“I am learning to live with pain”

“I am trying to listen and understand what is needed here”

“I need to see a fuller picture, have more pieces of the jigsaw-puzzle in place”

In seemingly clearer phases I would see myself as waiting rather than fleeing. And I was waiting because I had to; to gain more experience, to receive more information and to get to know myself better and learn to play myself like an instrument. Rather than willing myself forwards, waiting seemed to be a way of honouring something deeper in me, something I could not and still cannot articulate or understand. I had to start trusting that in all my insignificance, ignorance and powerlessness I was also part of something bigger, much wiser than me. A moving energy or consciousness that had intention and direction that lay beyond my limited mind. I had to try and accept the slowliness of my living and trust that I had to keep living – however painful and pointless it seemed at times.

– and when to act…

Urgency and emergency, the sense of crisis and the unbearable pains and injustices we have to face over and over again, make us want to rush. Understandably; we want to change things as quickly as possible, relieve hurts, mend what has been broken, set wrongs right and make sure that injustices are not repeated over and over. We want the solutions to be clear and simple, we want to find the causes, point out the offenders and ensure ourselves that we have made the world a better place – whatever that means to us as individuals. It is only natural when we feel deeply and care deeply that we look for ways to change things within our own lifetime.

But if we do not believe we can make a difference we might chose numbness and distractions and live to meet our own basic needs and leave the fate of the earth in the hands of others. Again an understandable response to the overwhelming amount of pain.

When I rush or when I close my self off, I do it to protect myself from various things and I forget to trust.

It is probably unlikely that there is ever a perfect time to take action, but I believe it is good to keep an eye on timing. Try to get a sense of the bigger picture, listen to what is going on around you, get a sense of the atmosphere in a room or a conversation before deciding what to say or do. Tuning in on the space and the people we want to have a meaningful conversations with can at times be worth much more than the actual words we use.

Our collective intelligence.

In my front yard there is a lovely little apple-tree in a large container. It is only a few years old and has started to bear fruit. But the young branches need training in order for them to carry the weight of the growing apples without breaking off from the trunk. So I need to find a way to help them grow more horizontally which will make them stronger and able to fulfill their function as fruit carriers.

I wonder if the collective consciousness or intelligence of humanity needs some kind of gentle training so that it can bear its fruits without breaking off from the trunk; the core, the earth, the life source… A sustainable training that will enable branches to grow stronger, a deeper fundamental change in how we grow and expand, moving towards a way of living that honours the earth that sustains us. I don’t know what this gentle training would look like but in my own life I have found that I benefit greatly from slowing down, listening deeply and allowing things to unfold in their own time. When I am caught in the sense of crisis I feel like I have to do as much as humanly possible and not stop till all is done – or I break… But if I am able to step back, I might find that less is more. That my full intervention is not needed but maybe just my witnessing is enough to change the course of events. It is hard work to balance the sense of power and powerlessness. To be aware that I am powerless and powerful at the same time and that my actions can have unforeseen consequences, that something done with best intentions may cause harm and something done out of frustration might be helpful for someone…

Inspirations and aspirations.

I began to listen to popular music quite late – when I was around 13 years old in 1995 – and the first pop-artist I got excited about was Michael Jackson. Not knowing anything about him or the media attention he had had for more than 15 years I dived into his music without any preconceptions. Not only did his lyrics speak to my struggles at the time, they also seemed to weave themselves into my deeper values and already forming beliefs about myself and the world. “Man in the mirror” is a good example of this. Whenever I hear or read outcries about all that is wrong with the world, this song starts playing in my mind. In the words of Gandhi the song basically tells us to be the change we want to see. If we think the world needs more kindness, more consideration, more listening, more dialogue, more shared decision-making and more awareness we need to nurture these things ourselves; in ourselves and in our own lives.

I have found a lot of inspiration in the practices and ideas called “The Art of Hosting and Harvesting Conversations that matter”. The name itself strikes a cord in me and I like the values beneath the different practices. I have chosen to believe that if we can slow down, put aside our ideas of right and wrong and remember our sameness as well as our uniqueness, we might be able to connect in a way that enables deep, fundamental training of our collective consciousness and intelligence. We may be able to have conversations that raise our awareness and help us make sustainable changes within and around us.

Another concept that speaks to me is “facilitating” – making possible. My partner asked me recently: “What do you think are the circumstances under which love can grow?” I talked for a bit, sharing fragmented ideas. Then I was quiet for a bit, trying to listen deeper into myself and go beyond the words of love, growing and circumstances… I tried to remember times of love and then a thought formed in me that I then shared: “I don’t think it is love that grows. To me love is an eternal force; to me it love is not much to do with our emotions and attachments, love is life itself and divine energy. Love is everywhere all the time. Love doesn’t grow but our awareness of it can grow – or be diminished. Love is there to sustain us, very willingly.”

It is a very cliché idea that love is all we need but I can’t help thinking that love is exactly what we need to create change. We need to connect with that energy, life-force, sensation or whatever you want to call it – we need to allow ourselves to be aware of the love that is available to us, around us and within us. To me love is the fabric of our souls and it is in every cell of my body and in the living material world around me. Being aware of love is not a complacent state, there is still discernment and urgency but there is no moral higher ground and no rush to dampen fears.

I would love to spend my life facilitating spaces and conversations where our personal and collective awareness of love can grow. I am not sure what it looks like, whether there is a right way or a good manual.

But I want to try – one little, slow and trusting step at a time.

Thoughts on change #2

Creating Change – Continued…

Human littleness and complexity.

Trying to look at the whole picture of pain and injustice will have to wait a bit as I have started to think about our human littleness instead. I am remembering how it feels to be walking alone on the moors, moving away from all artificial light and at some point looking in to the pitch black darkness of night. No outlines, no sense of direction and feeling blind and lost. On a clear night though, the night will not envelope me in complete darkness and looking upwards and into the skies, the endless amount of shining stars tells a story of limitless space and of our human littleness. Our insignificance and powerlessness in the face of the entire universe. Sometimes experiences like this can invigorate and inspire people; make them decide to make their mark on the world in the short time they have here. Sometimes at can throw people into despair and existential distress. Deeply feeling ones own powerlessness is scary. We are such vulnerable and limited creatures in our little bodies made of soft flesh and fragile bones. No matter how much knowledge we put into our heads, our minds cannot understand much of the complexity of life. And as the wonders of technology are making the world smaller, the amount of information we receive every day about anything and everything has become ginormous – enough to break anyone’s mind if they tried to grasp it all at once.

The complexity of human life is intriguing to me and I struggle to understand how we continue to exist. Here on earth we are approximately 7 billion people and each of us live in our own unique little universe created by all the experiences we have had – whether they are conscious to us or not. All that has been happening around us, all that has been said and done – all of it has shaped our present way of thinking, our subjective way of perceiving the world. I sometimes do this thing where I imagine every person as a sphere and the world full of billions of spheres, of personal universes moving about, weaving in and out and between each other. Colliding, moving apart, changing directions and paces, transforming as they glide through time and space. All of these unique little universes are moving about, trying to figure out how to live and in doing that they sometimes cause pain. Some more than others, some deliberately, others semi-intentionally and unintentionally.

Pain.

I think pain is a natural human condition and I am not sure that the way forwards lies in minimising pain, stopping people who cause pain or seeking retribution for pain caused. I think we all cause pain one way or another, to ourselves and others. Should we all be punished? Should we be at loggerheads with each other about whose pain is more deserving of acknowledgement or about when causing pain is justified? I believe it is good at times to give attention to pain, try and understand it but it is interesting to me that in trying to relieve pain we sometimes end up causing pain… Some times it is accidental, sometimes the wider social norms justify it and sometimes individuals and groups are completely aware that they cause pain to relieve their own.

None of us know the full extent of the consequences of our actions. Most of the time we do not know whether the stone we throw into the water will cause a tsunami somewhere far away or if it will bring life-full movements into stagnant waters. We cannot know and maybe that is good – we might be paralysed with fear or go mad with the sense of power if we knew. What we can do is look to the past; we can look into our own life experiences to try and extract what felt meaningful, what felt deeply honouring of all life and then consider how we can support the creation of more of that, more of those moments. We can also try and pinpoint personal and collective patterns that seemed to limit the amount of life-full moments we ourselves and others experience.

I want to go back to the list of things I find it painful to think of so I will pluck up my courage and write on. In this moment I feel pain when I think of:

  • The continuing conflict between Israel and Palestine

  • The fear of terrorism

  • The racism and discrimination billions of people face every day

  • The beating and raping of children, women and men all over the world, every day.

  • The intensive farming of animals so that humans can eat stressed out, medication-filled meat.

  • The demolition of ancient forests

  • The abuse and neglect of animals that are dependent on human kindness because we have domesticated them

  • The exploitation of the land; for gas, oil, minerals, metals and other assumed essentials.

  • The injustice to all native people in the world who have been and continue to be colonised

  • The plight of the aboriginal people in Australia

  • The extreme unequal distribution of resources and food globally

  • Food waste

  • The industrialisation of food. We do not need processed food…

  • The loss of human connectedness with the spiritual world – forgetting that there is more in this world and to life than us

  • The dumping of endless amounts of non-degradable waste in the underground, in the oceans and in space

  • The perceived need for weapons and warfare

  • Child soldiers

  • People feeling more safe with things and objects than with other people

  • The pornofication of sex and the fear of sexuality and physical intimacy

  • The hunger for money and fame that drives some young people

  • Elitist thinking

  • The “them and us” thinking that creates divides and justifies injustice

  • The millions and millions of people isolated and restrained in prisons and mental health institutions and that they are considered by some to be beyond help and second rate human beings

  • The growing amount of asphalt and concrete sealing us off from the earth beneath us

  • The architectural demonstrations of power and exclusivity that is deemed appropriate and even necessary for administrative, governing and financial buildings

  • People being forced out of their homes

  • Man-made pollution of the air that we need to breathe

  • People who don’t know how to connect meaningfully with others

  • TV-shows and advertising that manipulates and distracts us from living. And all the money spent on those…

  • The justification and celebration of violence in mainstream media

Many of the above items are just headings or titles for long, long lists of more specific incidents. Writing abstract titles seemed to be the only way my mind could handle the awareness of all of this. The things that need our attention and consideration in the world are innumerable and we can only do so much; both as individuals and as groups, communities and societies.

Chosing what to do and how to do it is a daunting task…

Thoughts on change #1

Creating Change

What do we need in order to create

sustainable long-term changes around us?

This is a question I often ponder. Whenever I encounter distress, pain, brutality, ignorance and injustice, my mind starts going over different understandings, different causes, different ways of action, different solutions and their possible consequences. Witnessing distress and injustice can be triggering; first of all I feel the pain of it deep inside. I feel sad and powerless and I grieve.

Anger and the power to act.

I also feel anger; sometimes because the grief and powerlessness is too unbearable and anger gives me a sense of fire and power. Sometimes anger burns inside me, drives me and helps me not to get stuck in the pain. Sometimes the anger is just anger; a boundary I consider sacred has been crossed and I want to clearly express this to the offenders; that there are places that I believe you cannot trespass, whether they be physical or immaterial.

But beyond the anger, the powerlessness and the grief there is a deep yearning; not just to impose on others what I consider right and wrong but more-so to raise awareness and create sustainable changes. I don’t want superficial change – I don’t want this never ending battle of wills where, what is wrong and right is decided by those who know how to make the most noise, have the hardest arguments or the force of majority or legal power.

What kind of changes is it that we want?

The world does change constantly. Even if the whole of the human race did nothing but sit and daydream, things would change, the world would change. This is in some ways a relief to me. But when I look at the mentality of western society it appears to me as if there is a stuckness and a repeating of patterns. It is as if we are mentally caught in a dualistic dance between the righteous and powerful and the wrongdoers who need to be punished and change their ways. I think it happens on all levels of society and in all circles; it happens in families in subtle ways when children are raised to fit in to a certain idea of “normality”. It happens in schools and institutions where the theatre of “the survival of the fittest” is played out. It happens in organisations where hierarchical structures keep a few people in power and responsible for the lives and well-being of many. It happens in politics where fear-based decisions seem to be being made daily.

And again I wonder how can we change these collective habits and ways of thinking. How can we create deep change, true change – change that comes out of love for life rather than out of anger against wrongdoers. Change that comes from a place of trust rather than a place of fear and resentment. Change that will last and not just be a tokenistic gestures to makes us feel better…

The amount of things in the world that I would like to see change is overwhelming. Writing this piece has given me the idea to write a list of those things but as I am probing around my mind to come up with items my insides start screaming: “No, no! No, we do not want to see it all, face it all, feel it all. Please, do not make us remember! Please do not go there. Please don’t look!”

And I hesitate…

The Possibility of Healing

I wrote this a while back and it was first posted on www.journeyingwithsensitivity.wordpress.com

Sometimes I am not sure what is meant when people talk about healing. So when I decided to try and write this piece I looked it up on wikipedia where it says: Healing – literally meaning to make whole – is the process of the restoration of health to an unbalanced, diseased or damaged organism. And here is what it says in my Webster’s comprehensive dictionary: Heal – 1) to restore to health or soundness; make healthy again; cure. 2) To bring about the remedy or cure of, as a wound or disease. 3) To remedy, repair, or counteract, as a quarrel, breach etc. 4) To free from sin, grief, worry etc.; purify: to heal the spirit – v.i. 5) To become well or sound.

Now it looks to me as if I need to understand and accept the duality of being healthy and being unhealthy which I am not sure I truly can… But for the sake of this piece of writing let us say, that there are processes that facilitate our minds and bodies to move from states of pain to states of less pain, from damage to undamaged, from unease to pleasure or peace, from ill-being to well-being. And that those processes are called healing. I guess we can also think of them as transforming, recovering, curing, restoring, regenerating, mending, changing or fixing.

That out of the way I will get started on what I actually wanted to say.

It is believed in different circles and faiths that spontaneous healing is possible – healing that does not happen from human medical interference but by divine forces or God’s grace. Amongst many others there is a group that I find quite interesting. It is an international gathering of people called Bruno Gröening’s Circle of Friends who do work on volunteer and donation basis to inform people about healing as well as collect documentation of healing that occurs. Below is a short description of their work but more information can be found on their website.

The Bruno Groening Circle of Friends is an informal gathering of people who have recognised the value of Bruno Groening’s teachings. These are passed on in hundreds of groups which meet around the world. Instruction is given for the proper physical and mental attitude necessary for the absorption of Divine power. The ”healing stream”, which is clearly perceptible in the body, gives help and healing, even in cases of chronic, degenerative and serious organic illnesses.”

From http://www.bruno-groening.org/english/default.htm

Stories of spontaneous healings have been told for thousands of years – maybe even longer. I do believe that healing can happen in ways that science and medicine cannot explain with their views on life and the world.

A question that intrigues me is, that if healing from pain, illness and distress is possible, then why does it not happen more?

I know that within myself there are intense contradicting forces. Parts of me long for peace of mind, a pain-free, energised body and strong health without inflictions like asthma, allergies, stomach problems, muscle tension, flues, inflammations and injuries. But there are also parts of me that hold pain and illness in great reverence. These parts fully believe that pain is a natural human condition and also something we need in order to learn. Caught between these contradicting parts I do not expect myself to have all my maladies spontaneously healed and then live a long and healthy life…

At the moment I am finding myself very inspired and excited about Stephen Donaldson’s three triologies about Thomas Covenant – again, as I went through this excitement some years ago as well. In the 7th book “Runes of the Earth” there are some interesting reflections on healing and I will just share some short excerpts to give a general sense of what I want to reflect on:

Anele’s hands trembled as he studied the Staff, and his blind gaze seemed to ache with yearning (…) How much recrimination and self-loathing had he suffered before he had fallen into madness?

The touch of the Staff might heal him as well.

(…)

In a small voice he murmured unsteadily: ‘I am unworthy of such astonishment. The day has not come yet when I may be whole’ His throat closed on a sob. When he has swallowed it he whispered: ‘Until that time, I must remain as I am.’

(…)

For a while, Linden could not stop her tears. The day had not yet come – she believed him; there was no falsehood in him. But the thought that he needed to remain as he was hurt her more than she could express. With the Staff she possessed the power to impose any healing that he might require. Yet he refused her. He was not ready – or his circumstances were not”

(p.467 – 468, Runes of the Earth by Stephen Donaldson)

Here it seems as if there is much more to healing than just the act of itself; closing a wound, expelling illnesses from the body or mending a fragmented mind. That healing does not only affect the person healed but also the surroundings; we are presented with the idea that circumstances can be ready for healing as well, or not. That healing is not only about one person’s willingness and readiness but also about the bigger picture and deeper consequences for everyone involved.

In a cure-oriented society it may be hard to understand and accept that some people do not want healing. It may be even harder to grasp that there could be a deeper -even unconscious – personal or collective need for somebody not to heal and remain in pain or disabled. Most people within care and treatment professions are oriented towards helping, easing or stopping suffering; personally I think we need to talk more about the problems with involuntary treatment and artificial elongations of lives. The main character in the book mentioned above is a physician dedicated to helping others and following her journey of trying to see beyond the old man’s madness and refusal to be healed is fascinating:

She wiped her eyes on her sleeve. ‘Look at him,’ she told Liand. ‘He’s choosing to be this way.’ His madness, like his blindness, was necessary to him still. ‘If I try to heal him, he’ll fight me. And maybe he is right. He certainly has the right.’ “

(p.468, Runes of the Earth by Stephen Donaldson)

The idea that we might need pain and illness for reasons we cannot yet comprehend can ease some of my personal frustrations a bit. Both as someone who regularly experiences physical pain and emotional distress as well as someone who cares about others and feel the urgency for relief from pain around me. I have times where I am completely overwhelmed by a sense of meaninglessness and of disillusionment with the state of the world. I rage against the forces – divine or human – that does not allow healing to happen where it seems so needed. But it helps me to read things like the book mentioned above, following a character’s journey towards greater understanding of the complexity of life. It can help me to connect with a part of me that humbly says: “What do I really know? And who am I to judge? How can I with my limited perceptions understand what is truly needed in the world?”

This does not mean that I stop caring or yearning to see change – or that I do not think I need to take action where I feel able. But I try to remember that all I can really do is focus on the here and now, do my best to honour my own values and trust that if I try my best, healing will happen when and where the people and circumstances are ripe and ready for the deep change that healing might be.

What if we could learn to #BeWithPsychosis?

Here are some of my reflections on living with distress and challenging sensory experiences

Journeying with Sensitivity

Just want to share some reflections I had recently.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I will meet you there.
~ Jalal a-din Rumi

The report Understanding Psychosis seems to have caused a stir in some circles. I have been standing on the sidelines curiously watching the reactions wondering what it is all about.
When a person puts forward a version of reality that does not resonate with our own it can feel threatening – whether it be so-called psychotic experiences, so-called delusions or more generally accepted religious beliefs or scientific theories.
Human beings are flock animals – we prefer that reality is the same for all of us. We need a sense of safety and somehow explanations can make us feel a bit safer. We find relief in knowing ‘why’ something is the way it is. And we like to have others agree with…

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