Category Archives: ego

13Sep/16

5 Habits for a Clear Mind – Step 3: Nourish Your Soul

 

To be happy you need to tune into your inner wisdom and nourish your Soul.

This is the most crucial Habit, because without this step you remain unconnected to your true self, and therefore lose your capacity for that strong, unmoveable inner joy, fulfilment and alignment.   Let me say this again: connecting, nurturing and strengthening your Soul Voice is your key to happiness. So when I said in part 1 of this series that ‘happiness is all in the mind’ I was only half right. It is in your mind and body and soul, interlinked in an unperceivable and magical way. Your Soul is the essence of life, the energy that makes you you. It is what makes you the unique and amazing individual that you are.

So how do you nourish your Soul Voice?   This is the million-dollar question and the answer isn’t the same for everyone. The lucky ones among us have a natural connection to their Soul Voice that has kept them on a congruent path for most of their life, or has led them to make changes throughout the course of their life that have brought them back to what their true inner selves’ needs and desires. But because this is not what our society teaches our children, most of us don’t learn how to do it. Our education system is focused on solid measurable matters, information and statistics. It deals with concrete facts not fuzzy concepts. It doesn’t concern itself with happiness or self-actualisation because it wasn’t designed for that. State education was only established to teach our children to become workers and economic contributors to society, not to become fully expressed – and happy – human beings.

Over the last few years the tide has been slowing turning, as research is increasingly showing that happiness and self expression actually creates better workers and higher productivity. As a result there is more motivation from government and businesses to investigate the ‘softer’ side of education and self-development.

But as parents we want to be able to provide our children with all the knowledge, experience, and skills to be happy. We don’t want them just to get a secure job and have enough social skills to get through life, keep healthy and provide us with grandchildren. We want them to be happy. Deeply, joyfully happy and in love with their life. We long for them to be happier than us. We know – now we are over 30 and have experienced the (sometimes bitter) teachings of life – that meaning is important. We may not know what the meaning of life is (except after that 3rd glass of wine…) but we know that our journey towards it, attaining it, losing it again, living it is the most important journey of life.   We know that the mind-numbing mundane, following the herd, doing what everyone else is doing is the death of our Soul, and therefore the death of us.   So we long for our children to have that joy and happiness that we know is possible, but that we weren’t taught how to value or create. We know we can give them a better start than we had, simply because we’ve been lucky enough to live in an era in which learning and self-development, and self-expression is possible, and even starting to flourish.

But how do we teach them if we are still learning ourselves?   By being ourselves in all our flaws, but daring greatly and falling and getting up again and trying again. We learn what works for us, and we teach our children what we know by modelling and talking and teaching when and how we can. In our own unique way.

So back to my original question, before I got sidetracked by the meaning of life! How do you connect and nourish your inner Soul Voice?

You experiment.   You become a scientist, an artist, a child playing and measuring and experimenting with different activities and habits to work out which ones nourish your particular individually amazing soul.

Most importantly, the activities should light you up, recharge you, bring you joy or a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. They are usually pleasurable, but not purely in a hedonistically way (i.e. all day, every day, lacking meaning and leaving you empty). They can be difficult and not enjoyable at the time – think struggling with the structure of a novel for days, weeks or months, and then it all coming together and working like a dream. It wasn’t all fun and happiness, but the daily pursuit of a meaningful goal can be extremely nourishing.

How do you know you are nourishing your soul? You notice when you feel peace, joy, expansiveness, connection to self & others, connection to things or causes bigger than yourself, excitement, a deep inner knowing, contentment, lightness, fulfilment.

Does nature nourish your soul?

Does nature nourish your soul?

While we are all so very different, there are still some commonalities that can help us identify activities that might nourish our Soul. Look for activities that get you into flow, into creativity, into your body, and into nature. When I first started trying to connect with and nourish my Soul I realised that many of the things that worked could be described as ‘primal’. For example: music, singing and dancing, walking, being in nature, hugging my child, quiet, stillness and meditation, connecting with others.

Personally, I’m still learning how to nourish my soul and find my inner joy. I know that writing, walking, being in nature, seeing the sea all nourish me. I know the right kind of music (I’m listening to it now, as I write) raises me up and makes my soul soar high full of love and joy and possibilities.   I know that happy, light-hearted family moments fill me with love and recharge my soul. I know when I act with integrity – especially with regard to parenting my children –  it has a strong drip, drip effect of nourishing my soul. Concentration and challenge – what is often called flow – is nourishing for our heart, mind and soul. But what creates challenge, focus and concentration for one person does not for another. Be it equations, silverwork, writing, painting, working with a patient in clinic, gardening, problem solving ….something will work for you. For me, I love writing. Sometimes it’s hard for me, and I don’t want to sit at my computer when there are so many books tempting me with their words and secrets, but when I start and I am challenged by what to write next and have to concentrate on developing a structure that will work, deciding what to include, delete and how to address my audience, I am in flow and I feel connected to myself and to the readers that may read my work. I am nourished. My soul has been at work, it has been nurtured and spoken to, and listened to. It brings a certain kind of peace.

This peace and fulfilment can last for quite a while, or it can be punctured in a second when the kids start arguing. So don’t think I float around in a cloud all day, instead understand that that deep nourishing of my Soul recharges my physical, emotional and spiritual batteries and strengthens my resilience. By nourishing my Soul I have what I call a clearer and stronger Inner Guidance System which helps me navigate through my life. Whether that is simply guiding me with wisdom on what path to take professionally or listening to my intuition when comforting an angry or sad child, I think and act more in line with my values and who I am when my Soul is nourished. I can hear it more clearly over the shouts of my Ego Voice and know that it has the answers I need.

My challenge to you is to start experimenting with nourishing your own Soul.  Do the things that bring your joy, peace and fulfilment. Prioritise them, create habits around them.  Recharge your batteries, strengthen the connections you have with your Soul, with your inner being. Listen to the inner wisdom that this deeper connection allows you to access it and follow it’s advice and guidance rather than the fearful voice of your Ego.

Please let me know in the comments what activities nourish your Soul. What lights you up and brings you joy?  Until next time,

Thea

xxxxxxx

 

There is Nothing Wrong with You!

What’s Being Said in Your Head?

5 Steps to Inner Joy

18Aug/16

5 Habits for a Clear Mind – Step 2: What’s Being Said in Your Head?

Ego vs Soul wisdom

 

Habit 2: Notice what is going on in your head.

 

Knowledge is power.

As we discussed in Habit 1, we all have conflicting desires, thoughts, opinions and beliefs that have developed from our evolution, our upbringing, our experiences and our culture. To help understand and deal with the ebb and flow of all these influences I find it useful to divide them into two dominant identities; our Ego Voice and our Soul Voice.

Unhappiness is often simply a result of the battle between Ego vs Soul taking centre stage.

I describe the Ego Voice as our scared voice. It’s the voice that keeps us safe from the tiger, from social exclusion, from going against our parents’ belief systems, from other people’s judgement.   It’s there to protect us from the myriad of threats that it has evolved to interpret and anticipate. It does a very good job of keeping us safe from physical and social harm.   However…and you knew this was coming didn’t you…it also keeps us from being our truly authentic self. It keeps us small and hidden, afraid to be vulnerably courageous and express our brilliant selves to the world for fear of failure and judgement.

Our Soul Voice on the other hand is the grounded, wise, connected voice that comes from deep inside of us. As I write that – ‘deep inside us’ – I know that this is not a scientific statement. Science has not discovered some part of our body or brain that is designated as the space where our soul or personality or self resides.   But I know that most of you reading will understand that phrase. You know that you have an inner wisdom that you can tap into sometimes – some of us more than others. It manifests itself as that nagging feeling that something is wrong, or the conviction that a decision is right, despite it not being logically so. It’s that feeling you get as you step into the 100th house you’ve looked at and know immediately it’s the one for you. Or the unrivalled sense of peace that envelopes you on a crisp winter’s day walk. Our Soul Voice has a feeling of alignment, of connectedness, of being grounded in nature and the universe.

For most of us in our modern frantic lives, our Ego Voice is usually in charge, often completely suffocating our Soul Voice. It does this all in the name of protection and safety – as the brain is designed to do – but is unhelpful in modern life, where there are fewer physical dangers and even fewer survival threats.

Our Ego Voice is also encouraged and manipulated by the culture we live in in the western world. The pressure to be successful, to be the best, strongest, smartest, richest or thinnest tells our brains that these measures are crucial for our self worth. It defines what is (supposed to be) most important to us, and not surprisingly over time we begin to believe it too. Our Soul Voice’s desires to live a simple life, to be kind rather than competitive, to switch off social media, or to downsize to the coast are ignored and squashed because they don’t fit with the biggest, better, strongest image of success that we have been inculcated with.

I know that many of us are aware of these status, money and power driven standards in our society and we know that we can choose differently, and indeed many people do. Some of us become teachers despite the scorn and low pay, some of us parent our children with love rather than fear in the playground while tutting tongues and shaking heads are all around. Lots of us ignore the latest fashionable trends and buy the jeans that we’ve always bought, knowing they suit us and our lifestyle. Lots of us choose fresh food over pizza most days. Others save money and build a nest egg for retirement while resisting the constant calls to bring sunshine into their lives with the latest gadget, bigger house or new car. We all know that we can make decisions that live outside of our media culture’s dominant values as we do it every day.   We do this when our Soul Voice is strong enough and persistent enough to lead the way.

However, for every decision that the Soul Voice makes I would guess there are at least 10 that our Ego Voice makes – maybe more – as we go through our days on automatic pilot. You head the messages from your Ego Voice: to wear the bland, safe clothes that will make you fit in, rather than that floaty dress that you love and makes you feel like a goddess; to go against your urge to make that casserole for the friend who’s having her kitchen done, cos you don’t know her that well, and she might think you’re a bit creepy;  to not risk doing the school run without make up in case you meet someone who may judge you for looking so ‘tired’ or ‘rough’.

So Habit 2 is all about noticing what is going on in your head. Start listening to all the thoughts and urges and impulses and whispers in your head. Notice what they are saying, from what place they are saying them (peace or fear, love or hate, acceptance or resistence). Are they coming from your Ego Voice or your Soul Voice? Can you begin to build up a picture of each of these voices as they are inside you. Can you recognise their characteristics?

Notice when and how you tune into your intuition and gut feelings.

Notice what triggers your anger, your fear, your automatic responses that you perhaps regret after the event? Is there a common theme? Is there a voice from your childhood that is coming out in your Ego Voice? What fears is it feeding? Are they real fears? Are they helpful?

Get to know that negative, fear based Ego Voice that’s only trying to protect you. What is going on when you are in stressed and overwhelmed and in threat mode. Learn to see your emotions as feedback. Not good or bad – just feedback.

And get to know what makes your heart and soul sing – this is the key to connecting and strengthening your Soul Voice. We will look more at this in the next Habit.

Remember – if you are feeling ill at ease, overwhelmed, unhappy, stressed, anxious or depressed, it’s probably due to an internal battle between your Ego Vs Soul.  But if you listen hard enough you’ll learn to distinguish between the two, and start to choose more often the option that nourishes your soul rather than be a slave to your ego.

 

 

21Apr/16

Vulnerability feels like Sh*t!!

theajolly.com-2

 

Last week I had a meltdown. A perfectionist, beat-myself-up, my-life-is-doomed type of meltdown. It wasn’t pretty.  I said horrible things about myself that I’ve never ever said in front of my children. I kicked and threw things around the kitchen, slammed doors, shouted and ranted about the house like a spoilt brat.

It was triggered by a sudden, intense vulnerability hangover, and compounded by my tiredness and inability to effectively deal with the shame and anger that came with it.  Under the force of my shame-ridden ego I crumbled and allowed it to run amok through myself and my family.

You might be wondering what a vulnerability hangover is and why it can cause such a reaction?

A vulnerability hangover is Brené Brown’s term for that strong feeling of shame and fear that completely envelops you after you have been brave and vulnerable and open and honest and shown yourself to the world.

Brené Brown describes it as:

“the feeling that sweeps over us after we feel the need to connect… and we share something deeply meaningful. Minutes, hours, or days later, we begin to feel regret sweep over us like a warm wave of nausea.”

Watch Brené discuss her own vulnerability hangover here with Oprah.

In my case I had just sent out a personalised email to 15 women from my network who I admired and respected, many of them friends.  I had offered them ‘first-dibs’ on a new pilot coaching programme I am creating which is to be the first step in my (very meaningful to me) life’s mission of spreading compassion around the world – starting with helping women create a strong inner trust and confidence in themselves.

I wanted to connect with these women. I was sharing ideas that were important and incredibly meaningful to me. And due to the nature of email, I had no immediate feedback on how (or if) these women would respond.

So a few hours later the wave of nausea swept over me and fear kicked in.  My whole body was screaming: ‘What the hell have you done!?’

And my ego took over.  My poor, terrified, protective ego decided it needed to defend itself against this attack on it’s identity and existence.

But because you can’t attack shame without putting it under a very big spotlight and talking about it to others, my ego started attacking everyone within shooting distance: me and my children, and later my husband.

My ego fought as if it was fighting for it’s life – that’s the power of shame. Shame threatens to cut us off from others. It threatens disconnection. We are programmed to seek connection and belonging, so much so, it is now becoming understood that disconnection and even the fear of disconnection are the drivers of addiction and mental illness.

It is possible to practice shame resilience and get better at dealing with these vulnerability hangovers and ego hijackings.  And I was somewhat practiced myself at doing this.  However, I had recently come back from a 2 week family holiday and was still feeling jet lagged, out of my routine and generally not strong enough emotionally to deal with a massive shame attack.

So instead I succumbed.  What was I ashamed of?  Of being judged, of those wonderful women thinking that I thought they needed help from me, of asking for money, of daring to dream of a world where everyone was kind to themselves and kind to each other. Who the hell did I think I was!???

And what made it worse was the anger that came with it.  This anger, sparked by fear, crashed through our house like a storm.  It was unexpected and shocking.  It allowed all this bad stuff, these bad, cruel, vicious words to stream from my mouth with such ease, without a care for their affect on my children. Even though I had heard those words before – when previously I had felt these things – I had NEVER said them out loud.  I had never let my children hear those words of self-hatred and doom that I used to feel so often. Why did they come out now?   I don’t know exactly, but some of the reason could be that I have recently had my marina coil taken out, and have stopped taking antidepressants – so my hormones have free reign!  Ha! Is it worse to have a cocktail of chemicals running  amok inside me, or my own unique blend of hormones having a party?  Ask me in 12 months when my hormones have (hopefully) settled down whether this is the ‘real me’ or just the withdrawal symptoms of stopping chemicals that mess with my body, brain and mood.

But what I do know is that as shocking as this meltdown was, it made me realise that these occasions don’t occur with regularity anymore (and with such ferocity) because I’ve trained myself to be more mindful and conscious of my emotions and triggers.  Four or five years ago this was more common, and I used to call it Falling into my Black Hole of Doom.

Yes, I’m more hormonal now, but I was also physically and emotionally tired, and due to our holiday was out of the practice of nourishing myself so I could withstand the onslaught of these emotional attacks.

Another thing that has changed is the speed with which I recovered from this ‘episode’.

During it I alternated between resisting the anger and accepting it.  I was attached to the emotions – I totally believed that I was shit and my life was completely doomed – but also the next second was aware that if I just let the emotions pass through me everything would feel better tomorrow.  It was a new and weird feeling to me because during my previous meltdowns I was never aware of what was going on. I was completely on board with all the emotions, believing them completely. There were THE TRUTH.  This time I got glimpses that there are not the truth and so I didn’t need to resist them so strongly.  They could not harm me because they were not true.

That evening I watched 6 hours of Jane Austen.  This is how I know I was in a bad place. Jane Austen productions are my go-to escapism when I’m in my Black Hole of Doom – like Brené and her Downton Abbey marathon.

So, why am I sharing all the gory details with you?  What’s the point of this story?  Well the main thing is that although vulnerability – being brave and open – feels like shit, it is so worth it.  It is what makes us grow. Despite the fear of disconnection, vulnerability is actually what connects us deeper to others.  It is what makes us human. It signifies that we are daring greatly, prepared to take risks to follow our dreams, or to be the person we are, to be seen, to do the things that are deeply meaningful us – and that enables us to have deep meaningful connections with others, which is what we all long for.

That’s why it’s important to share this.  I don’t want you to like me (shit, yes I do, but that’s obviously not my motivation for sharing my flaws).  You might even judge me for having no self-control and shouting at myself in front of my children.  But the important thing is to be honest and talk about shame, because shame can’t survive out in the open.  We all suffer from shame, and we need to talk about it.  Shame resilience needs to be part of our vocabulary.

So, here’s one woman doing just that.  Care to join me?  If so, please comment below, or, if the vulnerability is too much email me to share how this resonated with you.  Create those connections, put the spotlight on shame so it can’t survive.

Thank you for reading.

 

p.s. Here’s a video I made after my vulnerability hangover/shame attack.

 

04Mar/16

The Secret to Inner Happiness that We Keep Ignoring

IMG_0001

The secret to inner happiness is very simple.  It’s such a simple concept but it’s really hard to grasp and understand with our heads and our hearts. We need to know this secret in our bones for it to work. That’s the difficult part, but the idea is simple.  Here it is:

There is Nothing Wrong with You!

Yes You!   You, the one who keeps trying to improve herself, thinking ‘If only I learnt how to do this, think this, lose this weight, earn more money, then I’ll be OK. Then I’ll be happy. Then I’ll be worthy.  Then people will approve of me. Then everything will be ok. Then I can be me.’

Please, for the love of God, let all that go!  It’s a load of shit!   None of that stuff will make any difference because the voice in your head that is telling you you are not good enough now, will still be there telling you you aren’t good enough when you’ve published your book, found your dream partner, been promoted or made a million pounds.

That voice is trying to keep you safe.  It’s not evil, but it is manipulative, cunning, sneaky and bloody determined to keep you small.  Every day you go about your day with good, kind, worthy intentions but get  bombarded with feedback which paints a picture of a You that is frustrating and disappointing.  You know it’s not the real you, because you have so many hopes and dreams. You know you are a good person, but the constant chatter telling you that you slipped up again, that you are not as thin and fit as X, and not successful as Y, and have children who behave far worse than about every other family you know, gets into your skin and bones. It begins to feel real, even when you know it isn’t.   Unfortunately feeling – because it is embedded with strong emotions – has a stronger effect on us than cognitive reason and intellectual knowing.

I can’t remember the number of times over the last few years I’ve said to people – friends, therapists, coaches – “I know it rationally but I don’t feel it. I don’t feel it in my bones*. My body doesn’t know it.”

For example I know that I am the best mum that my children could ever have.  No one else could do the job because they need ME.  I know that intellectually, rationally, even in my soul, but emotionally I keep getting pulled back to all those times the voice in my head (and perhaps other external voices) told me I wasn’t a good enough mum, and I believed that instead because the emotions make it more real. It’s like I have many emotional reference experiences of feeling like a bad mother, but not so many of emotionally celebrating and acknowledging being a fabulous, loving, perfect-for-my-children mum.

This is how our brains work. They are programmed to sense danger, to notice things that are wrong (it’s called the negativity bias in psychology circles – here’s an article about it and other things our brains have evolved to do.) so we mustn’t get annoyed with it. We just need to be aware of it, and accept that it is normal.  Then when it happens we can laugh and say: “Whoops, I’m getting all caught up in that one mistake because of the negativity bias. I’m forgetting all the good stuff that happened today, let’s focus on that instead.”

So how do we get to feel in our bones that there is nothing wrong with us?  How do we know emotionally that we are good enough already?   As I said, this isn’t an easy or prescriptive thing.

It’s taken me 5 years of mindfulness and happiness practice and courageous opening up to myself to get to the point where I could finally let go of what my ego was telling me would prove I was ok.  I got to the point where I had learnt so many things which had helped me in lots of ways, but still my ego was in charge of the feelings in my bones! What finally worked for me was to let go of all the things I was clinging onto.  I’d been desperately clinging onto the idea that having a successful coaching business would prove to me and the whole world that I was worthy and deserved a place on this earth. I had been playing rather unsuccessfully at running a business (or a few different businesses) over the previous 12 years, but always coming from this place of fear and needing to prove myself.  My business and ideas were good, but my motivation was so contaminated by fear and so chained by my fear of letting myself be truly seen that it was always bound to fail.  So I had to give up my stop/start business completely and accept myself without it before I was able to let go of that damaging fear-based ego belief once and for all.

I can honestly say, it was the scariest thing I have ever done in my life.  I felt completely naked. Just me. Just me as a mum and a wife. Just a mum. Just a wife. Shit! I’d been trying to run away from that label my whole life – even before I had children.  Scared the fuck out of me. But I did it because I knew I had to. And over the course of a couple of months I realised that nothing bad actually happened after I’d told people ‘I’m not working.’ ‘No, I have stopped my business.’ ‘I’m in transition at the moment. I need to take a break before I decide what to do.’   I was basically saying to the world:  Look at me. I’m a mum. I’m a wife. I’m me. And I’m ok with that! And I was.  I was ok with being me. Me with no bells and whistles attached proving my worth. Just me. And it felt – it feels – great. I feel liberated. I feel like my cage has gone.  I know there are other smaller cages that my ego still keeps me locked in that I will discover and free myself from as I move through life, but at the moment this has been such a shift in my whole being that I can hardly believe it.

But to be able to let go of this ego-driven goal and belief I also had to connect to my true inner self, so there would be something to take the place of my ego voice and goals. This connection to my true self has come through walking outside, listening to music, mediation and writing. Lots of writing.  I’m still learning to connect with myself – I’m a newbie – but I’m loving learning how to. And the rewards of doing so are so huge: a feeling of peace; increased flow and losing myself in what I’m doing; feeling light-hearted – less serious and heavy; and having more clarity around what I really want to do.

Now I can start my business again without the fear that if it goes wrong I will be a failure, or not worthy of love and belonging.  I feel free to be myself and express myself and try things that I would have been too scared to do beforehand.  I can now dare greatly knowing that I am still the same wonderful person whether I succeed or ‘fail’.  My flaws or failings don’t define me. They make me me.  And owning them makes me braver and ironically more able to succeed in the future. I am building my business from scratch again, but it feels so different to the striving that drove me before – and which wasn’t very successful.  I now feel more creative and expansive.  I am patient and doing this properly rather than desperately wanting everything to happen now!  I know how I want to make my difference and I know I can make it work. I know I can do it my way this time and be successful.

Wish me luck!

 

 

*Brene Brown introduced me to this phrase and I love it.

 

Written at The British Library, London while listening to Muse, Drones and The 2nd Law.

 

26Jan/16

5 Ways to Connect to Your Inner Joy

Happiness-raspberry-1

 

I am happy.

My heart is light and full of joy. Everything around me is beautiful and my life feels truly blessed. I feel deeply connected to my true self, to the people around me, to nature and to the Universe (whatever that means).

As my previous blogs show, this is not always the case.  To be brutally honest, it was not often the case over most of my life.  Yes, of course I had many happy moments, joyful days, blissful times – but rarely were they just there for no particular reason. You know, just there happening during a normal day, with nothing specific to trigger them except an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for being alive in this moment; for this life that I’m blessed with. The joyful moments usually happened because I felt I had ‘achieved’ something. This joy for nothing particular is not normal to me.

This year though, I’m experiencing this lovely, loving state much more easily.  It’s like I can take a deep breath and step into it, like stepping into a sunbeam streaming through the window.  This ‘skill’, ‘ability’, ‘gift’, ‘talent’ whatever it is, seems like it has just appeared overnight, like a present bestowed on a small child after she spent a year wishing to the stars for it.  It feels wondrous, miraculous yet also so normal and easy.   A small voice in my head is asking: ‘Why haven’t I been able to do this before?

But it didn’t just happen.  It has come from a life of striving, of searching for my own truth.  It’s something I’ve been working on for years and years and years.  My diaries when I was 13 were full of soul searching, and have been ever since. This soul searching has brought me to my knees several times when I’ve been in dark pits of despair because I knew that there was this truth out there for me to reach, but I just didn’t know how to. All this soul-searching was eventually soul-destroying.

Because when it comes down to it that’s what I’ve been searching for. My soul. My truth. Myself. Me. The ‘true’ me.

And I could never give up.  I could never settle for a ‘normal’ life, and do what was expected. I had to keep searching for my soul because it was dropping clues that I needed to live life and love life my way, that I should follow this dream forever.

However, because my ego has been in charge all of my life, I never befriended my soul.   I kept searching and longing to find it inside me, but I could never really get it to stay around long enough to recognise it. My ego would always come in threatening this new friendship and persuading that this sparkly new life was too dangerous. So although I occasionally I got to dance with my soul, my ego always put it back in a cage where it was protected by layers of armour and heavy chains.

Just in case.

Just in case it got out and people would see it.

Now, though it seems like I have found it.  We have yet to get to know each other well, but we are friends.  What have I done differently to finally be reunited with my soul?  (Wow! – it feels a bit weird to write that. A bit woo woo. But what else do you call that inner part of you that is really you, untainted by the demands of ego?)   Over the last 6 months I have done 5 things that have helped me to reconnect to my inner self.  I didn’t know at the time that these were the answer, rather I knew that it was a case of ‘I’ve tried everything else, this is really my only choice now.

Here’s what I did.

I Let Go

I finally let go of who I thought I should be. This shadow self who has been with me for as long as I can remember. I had to say goodbye and release this wonderful woman who has been almost in my grasp for over 30 years. I fought it til the end, resisting, resisting, resisting but deep inside (my soul) knew it was the right time. So I took off my armour and showed my naked self to the world.  No, I don’t have a business. No, I’m not ‘doing’ anything at the moment’ (apart from the not-so-small job of looking after 3 children), ‘No, I’m not sure what I’m going to do‘  ‘I’m a mum‘. This is me and I am proud of myself. This is me, and I’m OK.

I had to admit to the world that this was me. I am a mum and a wife. And that is all.

Sounds simple doesn’t it, but it was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  And I am very proud of myself for doing  it.  Finally. About bloody time, Thea!

 

I Started REALLY Writing.

I have been writing on and off since I was 13.   Getting things out onto paper really helps me make a sense of my world.  It’s the way I express myself.  I’m an introvert who thinks a lot and words are my love, my drug, my medicine, my enduring pleasure.

Last September on my birthday I decided to start writing everyday.   I chose to write Morning Pages, as recommended by my coach Joanna Martin and by legendary writer Julia Cameron. And boy did it open me up!  That 30-60 minutes everyday grounded me and showed me to myself as nothing has ever done before.  I felt connected to myself and the peace (though often fleeting) that came with is was manna from heaven.  Essentially it woke me up.

 

I Used my Mindfulness Skills

Did I mention that letting go of who I thought I was meant to be was hard?  Yes? It was.  Because my ego came out to play big time since this shadow self was it’s biggest weapon, and it definitely didn’t want to say goodbye to it.  Any time it felt threatened it just had to wheel out this ‘perfect Thea’ and off I’d go into self-hatred and Should Land.  So I battled my ego with awareness and kindness.  I allowed myself to be scared and imperfect and to be me, by showing myself compassion and completely leaving judgement outside the door. Judgement has been my constant companion, like, forever, so I was quite happy to see the back of him. I never judge other people, so why did I give myself such a hard time?

Being mindful of what I was feeling, and why these feelings and thoughts came up, while also being non-judgemental and compassionate is the core of mindfulness. I used these skills to get me through the resistance, vulnerability and nakedness of freeing my true self from it’s heavy armour.

 

I Got Outside in Nature with Music

I chose to be more active this year.  I stay in my house too much so I made myself go outside. I take my headphones and music and go walk outside.  It’s been nothing short of amazing for me.  It loads me up with inspiration and connects me to the world, to Mother Nature, even the Universe.   It has made me feel like I’m not alone, but instead have a gournded link to the earth through my footsteps, but also a strong link of light up into the trees, the sky and whatever energies are beyond.  This is where I feel like I can channel joy and energy and motivation. This is where I feel it.  It’s becoming like a temple for me. I haven’t been out today and I’m getting ‘itchy feet’ so to speak.

 

I Said Thank-You, Thank-You, Thank-You

I have long believed that Gratitude is the foundation of happiness, because happiness cannot be accessed without it. (I am giving it a capital G on purpose!) Writing gratitude journals is a great habit to have because it does get you in the habit of noticing what you are grateful for each day. But this year I’ve stepped things up a little.  I’ve said Thank You out loud when good things happen.  I’ve danced around the kitchen table with my arms in the air saying Thank You to what ever is ‘out there’ (if anything at all) for providing me with such wonderful things, feelings, experiences and people. I have smiled and laughed with gratitude and I have been humbled by it too, especially when it comes from my children.  I lie in bed at the end of the day saying Thank You to whoever and whatever is listening.

 

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Written: In my office in the garden with a hot water bottle warming my feet, listening to Muse: Aftermath, The Globalist, Drones and Follow Me on repeat.

 

 

09Jan/16

How Could a Mother do That!?

The view from the doorway

The view from the doorway

 

I’m standing in the wooden doorway of my youngest son’s bedroom.  It’s a small bedroom – him being the third child – only just big enough to fit a smaller-than-standard high bunk bed and a thin, tall but still too small chest of drawers.  Piles of his stuff and toys sit on the homemade, wonky shelves underneath the bed –  I keep tidying them but I can never get rid of the sense that the room is in a perpetual state of unloved disarray.  It is one of the resentments that Zach has about being the youngest child. But that’s another story.

Today we are arguing about bedtime. Again.

He is standing halfway up his small ladder, his boyish face full of undisguised anger toward me.  In that moment the feeling is mutual. I have a battle going on in my head between two voices, two instincts, two different views of the world.  And I can feel my body too: tense, scared, pumping adrenalin, getting ready to fight.

I hate this place. I hate it with a passion, and with a fear that I cannot seem to get away from, get over or control.  I visit this place often in my parenting life and it is the root cause of all my feelings of shame and unworthiness.

This is because being in this emotional place scares me into not loving my child.

In this emotional place I choose to protect myself rather than my child. My love for him cannot speak in this space, it’s like I cut it off, just to save myself.   What makes me do that?  I’m a mother for goodness sake – aren’t we meant to protect our children to the death?

What makes me do that?    What am I so scared of?   These questions have been on my mind for a while now. For years and years, in various forms.  Through the ups and downs, and through depression.  Long enough for me to now be really curious about the answer rather than mulling over it as a way of beating myself up.  Long enough for me to have extended enough love and compassion to myself despite acting like this, despite feeling I don’t deserve it.  Long enough to begin to forgive myself for this treacherous, unmotherly vice.

So we fight.  But this time I notice what I’m thinking and feeling. I desperately want to get to the bottom of these questions, which means I have to be mindful. I have to notice.

Here’s what I notice: I hate feeling so out of control, because it makes me act in mean and horrible ways.  I’m also feeling ashamed because I can’t control an 8 year old, and that triggers the shame of being a failure and a bad mum. I’m ashamed that I react so emotionally to such a normal parenting problem. So I’m angry at myself, but I’m also angry with him because he is spoiling everything.   It’s all his fault because he doesn’t need to be this unreasonable, this mean, this angry – it’s entirely unnecessary.  Why can’t we all love each other and be nice to each other?   Then I notice that I’m wracking my brains trying to work out what to do (not easy when you are so emotionally triggered). And this not knowing what to do is the ‘caught in the headlights’ moment.  Do I fight or flee?  My brain senses that I probably don’t need to do either – being calm and kind would probably solve the situation best of all, but that is impossible given the adrenalin already pumping through my veins. It ain’t gonna happen – unless I walk away and calm down.  I think about this for a second, then my ego steps in and shouts in my ear:  But HOW DARE HE?  So I’m back in with my boxing gloves on.  How dare he ignore what I say, and speak to me like that? In my own house, when I sacrifice EVERYTHING for him! How bloody dare he!?

So all this is going on in my head as I stand in his doorway unable to love him like a mother.

I don’t remember what happened in this instance, and I hope that I walked away.  But I probably didn’t because is has ended very badly many times. I’ve screamed at him until my throat is hoarse.  Or in an ice cold rage I’ve stood holding his door shut while he’s been crying inside. I’ve even turned his light off and held the door while he is screaming in fright. My little baby, begging me not to be mean to him.  Why and how could a mother do that? Because she needs to protect herself. Now can you see why I hate being out of control?  It’s all about the emotions ‘making’ me do things I wouldn’t normally do. Being who I am not. Except I must be, because this is me acting like this.

So why and how can a mother act like that?  I’m only trying to protect myself, like an animal caught in the headlights. Believe me, I know how weak that sounds.  But here’s the worst thing. Here’s the completely fucked up thing that is going on.

I’m trying to protect myself because I’m scared.  But the very thing I’m scared of is the thing I do when I’m scared. So being scared makes what I’m scared of happen.

So my fear is really a fear of the fear.  Which makes the fear come true.  That’s so messed up.

How on earth have I got myself in this situation?  Another question for me to answer.

After mindfully noticing what was going on on the threshold of Zach’s room, I began contemplating why I was so scared in the first place.

Firstly I concluded that there must be some trauma from my childhood embedded in my psyche for me to be so scared of negative emotions. True my parents weren’t a whole lot emotional, but I can never remember being aware consciously that emotions were bad.  Maybe somewhere inside me I was damaged and I needed to find out exactly what had happened so that I could heal myself and move on with life without getting so triggered by my uncomfortable emotions.

Next I read a book by Miriam Greenspan called Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The wisdom of grief, fear, and despair, and I understood that these emotions come along because we are human, and not necessarily because anything specific happened when we were children. It might have done, actually the probabilities are high, but either way we’re going to feel fear, grief and despair in our lives whoever we are.  It’s actually the fear and attempted avoidance of the fear, grief and despair that makes things seem so much worse. She even argues that it’s only by accepting and working through fear, grief and despair that we can really experience and enjoy gratitude, faith and joy. Brene Brown also argues that we cannot selectively numb; when we numb pain we also numb joy.

Then I thought about how my ego might be involved with all of this? My ego: that protective, monkey-like, child-like, scared, cheeky and rightious, easily humiliated, legacy part of my evolved human brain.  How big a part was it playing in all this fear and fear of fear?  Well probably quite a lot, mainly because I’ve allowed it to.  I sometimes think my ego is really me, and it’s voice is really my voice. So I listen when it says ‘How dare he?‘ and I agree, ‘yes, how dare he!‘ and I let my emotions whip up again.  And I listen when it says ‘if you let him speak to you like that, you are the biggest failure as a parent that the world has ever known! Loser!‘  And I say, ‘yes, you’re right. We can’t let that happen.  Better make him know his place. Better make him sorry.’  (Note: this never works…it only makes children and adults want REVENGE.)   And I listen when it says, ‘if you walk away now, he’ll have won. And then you’ll never be able to control him because you are conditioning him to act like this. Ramp it up baby! Ramp it up!‘  And, sadly, we all know how that ends.

So I realised that this wasn’t me being an awful, terrible mother. This was me being human.  And probably (I dared to hypothesise) it was all actually pretty normal, and not particularly unique to me. Please let it be so.

Here’s my current theory about what’s going on.  Long ago I established some reliable coping mechanisms to deal with negative emotions.  I took on the role as peacemaker, an emotional-smoother-overer, trying to make sure everyone was OK. And I suppose it worked a lot of the time. I could create harmony out of impending chaos or collaboration out of potential arguments. It felt good, so I did it more.  However it doesn’t work all of the time – and nor should it – emotions are there for a reason.  So my increasing failure to keep or create harmony when bringing up my family meant that each time a potential emotional situation reared its ugly head my fear ratcheted up a bit more, because the stakes were raised. The threat was higher, because defeat was more probable. So then the fear went up some more and so on until I find myself screaming at my 8 year old  – my gorgeous sensitive loving 8 year old – for getting out of bed. All because my coping mechanisms from years ago don’t work any more and I’m getting carried away by fear induced hormones that trigger my inbuilt flight or fight mode.  All the while aided and abetted by a very loud and unchecked ego.

Mmmm. What now?

My challenge is to work with my fear.  My fear of my fear of being a horrible mother.

First step – more noticing what is going on when fear visits.

Second step – more saying no to my ego and the stories it tells me.

Third step – more walking away when I feel triggered by fear and/or my ego.

Forth step – I don’t know.  That’s another blog post I imagine!

Let’s see what happens.

Wish me luck!

 

 

Written:  At home, on the table in my bedroom overlooking the garden.

 

IMG_0999

 

 

11Dec/15

The Meaning of Life

existingwithmeaning

 

This last weekend was a hard one.  Or rather, I seemed to find it hard.

Things could be ticking along all fine and dandy one minute, then the next I would become emotionally overwhelmed or red-hot angry.  On Saturday night I got so angry with my husband, for being mildly irritated by something I said, that I could only speak monosyllabically to him for the rest of the evening – which is so unlike me. I usually react immediately and get over it quickly.

At one point on Sunday I was suddenly hit with a such deep and intensive despair that I had to take myself off to bed for over an hour. It was as if my body commanded me to, in order to survive. I lay in the same curled up position for the whole time, slowly allowing myself to recharge and regain my equilibrium, trying to have faith in the whole damn emotional process.

It was not a nice place to be. But I’m learning that it’s an OK place to be. It’s a necessary part of life and mindfully attending to these moments or episodes and accepting them is the only way to learn about and heal ourselves.  Emotions like anger and despair are useful because they are usually telling us something important.  They act as a wake up call for us to examine our lives and attend to what needs to be attended to.

In my case, my anger was telling me I was upset that I hadn’t seen my husband all week due to his work, and all day due to him taking our youngest son to a rugby match in London.  My (ego’s) anger was triggered by him being irritated with me when he should be happy to be spending time with me after so long (!). But the real reason behind it was that I didn’t like not seeing him all week – again! Fucking again! And then you can’t even discuss minor parenting decisions without getting irritated with me! ‘Fuck this shit!’ said my ego, egged on by the clarity of alcohol.

The despair on Sunday was linked to this: it was a sense of hopelessness that nothing will change, and that I didn’t think I could bare the burden of being the only parent to our children during the week any longer. I can do it – and I do it well – but not in the way I could if I had a partner around to support me, and not without the cost of wearing myself out constantly. And not without the cost of not being true to myself, even burying myself.  I recognised the despair as the regular call from my heart saying: ‘We are not meant to live like this” And my anger was saying “We are not meant to FUCKING live like this!”

It is all to do with creating meaning. Of being fulfilled – which comes from living with purpose and meaning.  If I had a reason to live like this it would be OK.  For both of us to work hard in our separate ways in order to achieve our family dream, business dream, or sense of personal fulfilment would be OK.  We might not choose it, but we might, if the costs and rewards weighed up.   But for me, there is no clear meaning to our crazy, separate, stressful life.  This was confirmed to me in bright lights when I read the following passage on Sunday evening.

 

Meaning-making is a defining charactoristic of what it is to be human. As we need food in order to survive and grow, so too we humans seem to need a sense of meaning in order to thrive and to avert despair.  According to the psychiatrist Victor Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau, the search for meaning is the primary motivational force in human beings.  Existing without purpose or meaning, for humans, is like existing without air.  You can only go for so long before you choke. A life without meaning chokes the soul. Spiritual suffocation is the bedrock of the emotion we call despair – and a major reason for its pervasiveness in a spiritually and morally vacuous culture.

 

So it seems that I need to work on making my life more meaningful and fulfilling. I can do this with my husband and my children but I must also do it for myself. What is meaningful to me?  What will make me get up everyday and get to it with energy, enthusiasm, and excitement?  What ingredients does my life need to have in it daily, weekly, monthly, and in the future to make me feel fulfilled? What needs to be in my life to counter the hard work and seperateness of our life now? What changes do I need to make?  What boundaries do I need to put in place?  And  how can I cultivate my gratitude and appreciation of life rather than focusing on the negatives?

I do have meaning in my life already of course.  I have 3 amazing children who I have chosen to bring into this world and to look after personally.  I have an understanding, loving husband and a community of family and friends who I love. What is missing is my own personal purpose.  And a joint life plan with Chris – my amazing, dynamic, creative husband. I just need to make it happen.  Not everybody needs this. But I do.  I need clarity and meaning otherwise my ego starts getting angry at people I love, or I find myself folding into the fetal position to make it through the day.

 

 

Written: Started at home, finished in the cafe at Southwater County Park, Horsham.

03Dec/15

Her Dark Secret.

An Honest Truth

 

Five years ago I was a mess. I had three young children under 9 who were wonderfully cute, amazing and special, and like most children, were also programmed to push their parents over the edge.

I duly obliged.

It had been coming: a gradual descent into a pit of despair. My own personal pit was decorated with failure and unmet expectations. It was sprinkled with a depression caused by not being the kind of mum I had always imagined I would be. You know the one – the light-hearted, bubbly mum who plays games, always laughs, bakes cakes, is in control of the shopping, cooking, laundry, school letters, bills, gardening, all the while running a successful business or career and being the model of emotional intelligence, kindness, patience and courage. She also looks amazing and has the best sex on the planet with the husband she still fancies the pants off. You know her very well don’t you?   She’s in everyone’s expectations, all over the media and worst of all, in our own minds.

It seems that during the previous years, unbeknownst to me, the dark, silent tentacles of Perfectionist Mum had ensnared me completely and dragged me down deep. The more I struggled to be free of this constant sense of failure the further I seemed to fall. The more I strived, the ‘less perfect’ I became.  It all sounds dramatic now, but it felt humiliating and dangerous at the time, and I couldn’t get myself out of it.  I didn’t realise then, that the expectation of perfection I had had for so long was impossible to achieve. All I could focus on was how I had messed up again, and again, and again, and I couldn’t understand how it could happen to an intelligent woman like me who was trying so hard!

So one night 5 years ago during a fairly standard argument my oldest child shouted at me; ‘Mum – you just expect me to be perfect all the time!  I can’t be perfect! 

It was as if he had thrown a bucket of water over me.  I woke up.  In a second he had shown me the truth, bright, ugly, and finally, finally visible to my blind and deluded mind.  I immediately understood that my constant expectation of perfection was not only damaging me, but a million times worse – it was damaging my children.

It was the changing point in my life, and since then I have continuously learnt about the toxic condition of perfectionism, read many, many positive psychology, mindfulness and self-development books, watched hundreds of TEDTalks and attended courses and workshops. I have had coaching, CBT and therapy and I have experimented with different ideas, practices and habits and have found what works and what doesn’t work.

All this learning and exploration has made me so much more aware, mindful and grateful. It’s made a huge difference and I’m a much calmer, happier person. I’m also a better mum.  However, I have still been striving for a certain something.  Peace, or Success, or Happiness, whatever they are. There has still been a sense of something missing, or lacking in my life or me.

So I am still learning.

Finally though, I am able and willing to listen to the real inner voice inside me.  Not my scared and vulnerable ego which is driving all the relentless striving, but the strong, solid wisdom within me which knows that I am amazing and whole.

I still have my striving ego, desparate to protect and prove itself, but at least now I have another side to hear too.

My own voice.

13Oct/15

Hello!

The Lilypa

 

It’s always difficult to know what to say in the first blogpost.  I’ve introduced myself (and my ego) in the About section. I’ll just briefly say that this is a blog about me discovering myself, unpeeling the layers of armour, insecurities, fears and beliefs that I’ve collected through my 43 years of life, so I can be who I am, rather than trying to be someone I think I should be.

Sometimes it will just be musings about me and my life.  Sometimes I’ll be talking specifically about my ego.  I’m going to feel self-indulgent writing this – useless navel gazing some people would say – but I know that it’s a deep need inside me to not only understand myself and the world, but to share what I learn with others who are also on the self-knowledge journey towards peace and happiness.

I’d love you to join me.

Thanks,

Thea