Category Archives: mindfulness

04Mar/16

The Secret to Inner Happiness that We Keep Ignoring

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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

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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.

 

 

15Jan/16

This says all I need to know.

A lovely friend shared this poem on Tuesday and I felt it was written just for me.  It encapsulated all that I have going on in my head and what I could let go.  Some of which I do let go sometimes, most of which I don’t.

The fact that I related so strongly to it, means, of course, that I am not alone. Many other people also feel like this – I am not unique, we are all connected by how our minds work.  By the pain and suffering that our constant thinking creates within us.

 

She Let Go

She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.
She let go of fear. She let go of the judgments.
She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming
around her head.
She let go of the committee of indecision within her.
She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons. Wholly and completely,
without hesitation or worry, she just let go.
She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a
book on how to let go… She didn’t search the scriptures.
She just let go.

She let go of all of the memories that held her back.
She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.
She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.

She didn’t promise to let go.
She didn’t journal about it.
She didn’t write the projected date in her day-timer.
She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper.
She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope.
She just let go.

She didn’t analyse whether she should let go.
She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter.
She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual
Mind Treatment.
She didn’t call the prayer line.
She didn’t utter one word. She just let go.

No one was around when it happened.
There was no applause or congratulations.
No one thanked her or praised her.
No one noticed a thing.
Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.

There was no effort. There was no struggle.
It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad.
It was what it was, and it is just that.
In the space of letting go, she let it all be.
A small smile came over her face.
A light breeze blew through her.
And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.

 

How beautiful is that?

It seems that the author of this poem is disputed. A few sites list Ernest Holmes or Jennifer Eckert Bernau as the author but most credit Rev. Safire Rose.  Thank you to whoever wrote it.   It reminded me of my connectedness in this wonderful world, and the ease with which we could all be happy if only we allowed ourselves to let go.

 

Written:  After a walk in the crisp winter sunshine at Woods Mill, Sussex.

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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.

 

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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