Archives for category: Spirituality

I have a week left in Kenya. So many thoughts and emotions have passed through me in the time I’ve been in East Africa. There are times when the expectations and requirements of this job have seemed totally overwhelming; where I’ve had no time to stop and digest what I have seen or heard, and I’ve had to push on with writing, researching, asking further questions, whilst often lacking the confidence that what I’m doing will actually make a difference.

Humanitarian work, human rights work, development work. All them giveth, and they taketh away. An average day can feel exhilerating, hopeful, frustrating, desperate. It takes a certain amount of strength to face some of the stark and difficult realities of poverty and injustice; to challenge the authorities even when you know that they may well ignore you and continue to sit back as another crime or violation is committed under their watch; to walk away after interviewing a victim of human rights abuse without being able to offer any immediate assistance. We have to remain confident that doing something – raising awareness at international level, lobbying politicians and demanding accountability from State authorities – is better than doing nothing at all.

A Kenyan woman sits in the rubble of her home after being forcibly evicted from a slum in Nairobi

A Kenyan woman sits in the rubble of her home after being forcibly evicted from a slum in Nairobi

On a bad day I feel guilty and hopeless about all that I have seen and can do little about. I feel angry with the State official who lies to my face, denying that a forced eviction has taken place and that hundreds have been made homeless; or worse stll, refuses to even discuss such matters. I feel ashamed that a victim of human rights violations will be hoping for so much more from me than what I can provide. When I’ve had quiet meditative moments, I’ve contemplated forgiveness; forgiving myself for any action which I feel was not really in my character, or may have offended or disappointed others. I can only hope that in consciously keeping my heart open that I can connect with people beyond the expectations of what I can and cannot give. The same applies to dealing with the authorities. I have worked to release the anger I’ve often felt towards them, and try and understand them and the situation on a deeper level; to have compassion even for those I disagree with, and to continue to connect with the pure light that shines in each and every one of us but is so often darkened by psychological and environmental factors.

And on a good day I feel nothing but gratitude. Gratitude for finding myself back in East Africa, a place that gives me inspiration and fulfillment. Gratitude for having a space to myself to explore ideas and emotions away from the familiarity and distractions of home. Gratitude for the nice weather (most of the time) – the huge African skies and the gentle heat on my pale skin. Gratitude to the people I meet, for welcoming me and increasing my respect for different cultures and customs. Gratitude for every new lesson I learn from my work and from the conversations I have with friends and colleagues. Gratitude that no matter what challenges I experience, there is always a quiet place to retreat inside myself, to reflect and regain some peace.

The view of the valley from where I'm staying in Nairobi

The view of the valley from where I’m staying in Nairobi

I’m looking forward to going home. But I am also looking forward to reflecting on all that I have seen and done here, and finding the inspiration to use these experiences in constructive ways that not only seek to help victims of human rights abuses, but also the aid workers themselves. Self-care is essential in this line of work, and I see this journey I’ve made as an opportunity to recognise and put into practice the tools that are necessary to hold these powerful concepts of compassion, forgiveness and gratitude in our hearts no matter what the circumstances.

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Hidden or suppressed emotions manifest themselves in mysterious ways. When I got back to my hotel room after a relatively uneventful day in the office – which, rather than feeling grateful for I found dull and anti-climactic after the long and busy days of the last week – I didn’t know whether I wanted to scream with anger or burst into tears.

Was this the Monday blues? General exhaustion after spending last week rushing around, chasing the stories behind the Government’s closure of Uganda’s main independent newspaper and other media houses? Or the angst of not knowing what’s going to happen with this job or my future in general? The reasons behind my bad mood seemed hard to pin-point, but either way I’d had a short fuse throughout the day. Moments of irrational anger and irritation arose over the slow internet connection in the office, or because the people I’d hoped to meet in Kampala weren’t answering my calls or e-mails, or because I couldn’t go swimming in the hotel pool after work. This last inconvenience being due to today being a public holiday in Uganda – except, obviously, for my organisation who carried on its fight for human rights whilst the rest of the population enjoyed some time out. The swimming pool was therefore teeming with Ugandan families practising their splashing skills, which severely diminished my chances of having a relaxing evening swim.

And so it was in this state of inner turmoil that I turned to yoga. An obvious solution for many perhaps; but I’ve been a little out of practice over the last few months, preferring to immerse myself in other forms of powerful energy healing. It was only when I returned to the practice the other day with my friend – in an idyllic setting overlooking the River Nile – that I remembered the value of yoga; the way it both invigorates and relaxes, moves you to break into a sweat but also calms you down to a state of stillness and clarity.

The beautiful River Nile in Uganda

The beautiful River Nile in Uganda

The yoga I did today targeted the liver and gall bladder – organs which, in the Chinese meridian system, are where anger and anxiety are often held. And just allowing myself those 45 minutes to observe and accept whatever physical or emotional pain came and went as I held each posture was truly transformative. By the end of the practice my irritation had lifted and was replaced with a feeling of pure bliss.

And not only that. Giving myself that time out has opened up my creative channels, at a time when I felt I’d been suffering badly from writer’s block. My inability to write, and my anger and short temper, were all interlinked of course. Writing is another healing exercise for me, but one only made possible if I allow myself space to breathe and be still amidst the fast pace of human rights work. Which is why as well as returning to yoga, I have also returned to Julia Cameron’s morning pages; letting all the crabbiness I sometimes wake up with – this morning being a perfect example – spill out onto the page before I get up and get on with my day.

I am grateful to have these tools at my disposal. When times get tough and I start battling with my emotions, I know what I can do in order to calm down, rebalance and reconnect. And in doing so, creativity once again flourishes.

So, here I am on an early Sunday morning in Nairobi. Seated on my own at the hotel restaurant eating my second breakfast of the day; the first being the dissatisfying dried up morsels provided by Kenya Airways. There is a light, misty rain falling outside the window, but nevertheless a warmth in the air that is unquestionably African.

I feel calm, relaxed. Maybe the calm before the storm, as who knows how the next week will be as I navigate my way from meeting to meeting, most of the time on my own, with people I’ve never met and where we’ll be discussing the thorny issues of post-eleciton violence and extra-judicial killings. And then there’s the Nairobi traffic to deal with – the long queues of matatus (small mini-buses) and 4x4s and impatient drivers forever lurching forward and thereby adding to the bottleneck.

Nairobi Traffic Jam

Nairobi Traffic Jam (Photo credit: rogiro)

And the endless security regulations I have to remember the minute I step outside – don’t walk alone at night, make sure you know who your driver is, don’t carry too much money on you, call your manager each day to confirm you’re safe….

Whilst to some extent I do appreciate the strict security guidelines which assume human rights defenders such as myself to be a possible target of attack – whether by hostile authorities or a poverty-stricken opportunist whose perception of the wazungu (white people) is always clouded by dollar signs – I am overwhelmed by these rules and regulations. I have travelled to Uganda, Palestine and Sri Lanka on my own and never received such preparation. And I do wonder whether all the talk of security risks and the strict do’s and don’ts which accompany this type of work may at times instill fear rather than comfort in the traveller.

A walk around the grounds of the hotel and its neighbouring areas has reminded me of the real and immediate problem with crime in Nairobi. I have to let myself in and out of every entrance gate or doorway with my hotel swipe card, and the place is swarming with security guards. The crime levels now are no doubt as they were the last time I lived here seven years ago; so high that it’s almost certain that either you or another expat you know will be a victim of theft, robbery or car-jacking at some point. Which many would argue is the very reason why we need these seemingly melodramatic security guidelines when conducting business here.

But if certain external realities haven’t changed in seven years, there are a lot of inner realities that have. The last time I was in Kenya for an extended period, in 2006, I had become a tired, cynical and vulnerable person, who sought solace in cigarettes and several bottles of Tusker beer each night. Just a brief walk around the hotel grounds earlier brought back many memories, of emotions and attitudes I held at the time which were either destructive or misguided. I am now such a different person from the exhausted, disillusioned person who fled a disastrous relationship and unrewarding NGO work in East Africa seven years ago.

Nowadays my concern with finding the nearest drinking hole to process the day’s traumatising experiences or drown my sorrows has been replaced by a desire to find a quiet place to meditate. I noted this with a laugh to myself at Heathrow airport, as I wondered on arrival there whether I could find a prayer room to have a  few peaceful minutes with myself before flying. Gosh, how times have changed.

A meditation room - every public building needs one!

A meditation room – every public building needs one!

Admittedly, the old habits have seeped back into my life since resuming human rights work. My coffee intake has tripled (I’ve had three so far this morning, which is particularly excessive for someone who’d reduced to about one a week in recent months), my sleeping patterns are unpredictable and I find myself craving a drink or three after a stressful day. But these habits and addictions are matched by another powerful force which, more than anything else, helps me meet the new challenges I’m facing. And that is a degree of inner peace. I say this cautiously, as inner peace is not an end game but a continuous and fluid process; there one second and gone the next. But since ‘waking up’ – connecting with my soul and becoming the consious observer of what I do, say and think and how it reflects on the deeper truth inside me – I’ve found some peace. Of course there are still times when I muddle through life unconsciously, careering from one problem to another, ignoring my see-sawing emotions, too engrossed in getting somewhere else. When this happens it’s usually a bad day, where I feel disjointed, unbalanced, insecure and irritable. And I know what I need to do to resolve it.

A conscious pause every now and again lifts this negative energy. It may be for 20 minutes in the morning before work, meditating by candlelight.Or  it may be writing Julia Cameron’s cathartic morning pages – letting my first thoughts and emotions of the day spill out onto the page. Or it may be connecting with my heart, and the heart of those I come across each day so that I can communicate better, even in the face of tension or hostility. Or, most powerful of all, I will do some chanting and gentle Qi energy movements which both ground me and fill me with nourishing, positive energy.

Pagan_meditation

These are all quiet, personal moments which help me to let go of the day’s or week’s troubles and anxieties, and truly touch base with myself; connect with my soul and remind myself of who I really am beneath whatever image I may have portrayed that day. And because of these new, essential habits in my life, I know this time in Kenya will be different. I do not yet know how it will be or what challenges I will face, but aside from the security protocols and institional procedures, I have my inner guide to give me real strength and resilience.

There is a debate which has been circulating on Facebook which I got sucked into last week. It concerns the Dalai Lama and whether his search for inner peace should be interpreted as an indifference to injustice, especially if it messes with a personal sense of calm.

Dalai Lama1

 

This sort of debate I realise is a challenge for me right now. On the one hand I’ve been respecting and practising much of the Buddhist principles of meditation, non-attachment and letting go. On the other, I am now working for one of the most outspoken and respected human rights organisations whose responsibility it is to speak out – with force and anger if necessary – on grave injustice. As already noted in my previous blog post, I am entering a new chapter in my personal transition which requires integrating all I have learned on a spiritual level in a meaningful way, as I go about working on difficult or upsetting issues which are likely to provoke negative emotions and energies.

It got me thinking again about anger and how we use it. There is no doubt that political change often occurs after anger has resulted in positive or constructive action. But is this the emotion that should really be guiding us? Or has it become our default reaction to life’s challenges because of the political system we live in, which we know tends to favour the privileged and neglect the needs of the impoverished or voiceless? Even if we look at the United Nations system – supposedly a bastion of peacemaking – we see that much of our international relations is governed by the interests of the five permanent members of the Security Council, some of the most powerful nations in the world.

It is hard to imagine our world not being governed according to the political interests of the most powerful countries. But that is what the Dalai Lama, Buddhists, shamans, yogis and millions across the globe – from the temples of Asia to the forests of the Amazon – are indeed trying to do. They believe that the day will come – maybe not in our lifetime, and maybe not in the next – when this type of political system will evaporate and be redundant, because our lives will be governed by a far greater force than money or power.

They are preaching a completely new system of thought and action, which starts at the individual level through meditative practice, but which is truly expansive and universal in scope. It is only once we look deep within ourselves and realise our connection with every living soul on this planet – beyond boundaries, or front lines, or negotiating tables – that we might be able to realise a shift in our entire ideology and philosophy. When we connect with the purity of love and compassion which exists beyond the habits, attitudes and energies we pick up from our social environment, our anger falls away. Indeed, conflicts so often rage on because the warring parties are unable to let go of the anger and negative emotions which burn inside them.

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OK, so I know sitting and meditating, and connecting with our pure and positive energies isn’t going to bring peace overnight. It won’t succeed in stopping the exchange of fire between two warring parties and it won’t succeed in getting a resolution tabled at the U.N. But dare we let ourselves believe that it is one small step in generating a whole new conception of life and how we relate to each other? The Mayans would argue that we have indeed reached a new and profound phase in human existence – we entered this phase on the 21st December last year, when we moved to a higher state of consciousness. We have entered an age of greater awareness, and a re-connection with wisdom which has been lost through the previous age of rapid technological progress and a neglect of Mother Earth. There may be many more wars, more bloodshed, and more environmental disasters before we truly realise this new phase in human existence – this is all part of the Shift of Ages. But the indications are already there of many millions of people challenging the current world system; not only by taking to the streets as we’ve seen with the Occupy movements and the Arab uprisings, but also choosing to engage in spiritual practice. Whether we choose to get on board and be part of this shift depends on whether we are ready to let go of old structures, ideas and thoughts which we have been bound by for hundreds of years. If we want to see real, transformative and positive change on our planet, then we must start from within.

Week One of my new job is complete. What a big change this has been to my routine. Being the new girl in school has required some patience and trust in myself, as I get to grips with new systems, new people, new discussions.

I can see that the biggest casualty is likely to be my creative writing, as I turn my attention to the more structured form of human rights reporting and documentation.

And yet, as I write these words I realise that I needn’t think that just because I’ve got a job all my spiritual and creative practices are lost – I’m writing now, aren’t I? And I’m also realising that meditation, chanting and all those spiritual exercises I’ve been doing the last few months may be more essential now than ever.

Because now is all about integration. It is time to take all that self-reflection and soul discovery into the outside world and use it to connect with those around me. There is no point in meditation, yoga or other spiritual practices if we don’t use it in the real world. So I’ve been looking at ways to manage my anxiety and angst as I navigate my way through all the uncertainties and self-doubts that come with a new job. There is one exercise recommended to me by a dear friend of mine, who always has nuggets of spiritual wisdom when I need them. It is great when you want to connect with those around you – complete strangers, people you feel threatened by, those who you believe you will get on with and those you think you may not. You close your eyes and picture your heart, and within that heart stands a small image of your perfect self. It is an image of unconditional love, one that is free of judgement or any negative habits or attitudes developed through our life experiences. You then picture that perfect being that exists in the heart of all others – see through the outer veneer, the ego or the facades – and connect.

Heart cartoon

There is something so simple and rewarding about this exercise. I did it before my job interview, and I did it before going into work yesterday; and in doing so, I was able to live the rest of the day without that ego voice getting in the way, telling me I’m not interesting enough, or that people won’t like me, or that they’ll be horrible to me. Instead, I felt myself connecting with those around me without fear or judgement.

The first days of a new job are never easy. And the change in pace and environment for me has been rapid and overwhelming. Where I spend my days now – in a bustling office, where discussions about human rights and democracy in Africa, about civil unrest or injustice or slum-dwelling or police brutality circulate around me continuously – is a world away from the quiet life of self-reflection and solitude I’ve had for the last year. The last time I did this kind of work, my emotions were highly reactive – I was easily drawn into and made miserable by the internal politics of the office, or the external politics of the harsh world we live in. This time I feel things will be different. My intentions for this job go beyond doing it well and fulfilling whatever commitments or objectives are required (within reason, remembering that human rights work is necessarily idealistic, at times over-ambitious and also highly demanding).  I also want to be proactive in expressing my inner truth; to let go of negative emotions and habits which have held me back previously, and to not be afraid to open my heart and manifest its desires. In doing so, there will be an inner strength that can carry me through whatever challenges may lie ahead.

In the last week I have surrendered to the power of prayer. I am not a Christian, and I do not consider myself religious. But I have been on a spiritual journey the last few months, which has taken me from feeling complete darkness and a loss of identity to a process of gentle healing and letting go, to a connection with soul; to understanding my inner truth, my purpose and the real route to my happiness.

In order to let my soul speak, I have had to endure long periods without work, without  busy-ness, without all the distractions which over the years have contributed to me never really confronting or listening to the voice inside me. If I had listened, I would have heard it say, ‘Enough…you don’t need to please everybody, you don’t need to act out other people’s perceptions of who you are or who you should be, you don’t need to be perfect – no one is’. Letting that voice be heard required me to give up old habits and the life of intense work and endless partying I was so familiar with, and allow space for stillness.

This year  has been pivotal. I started it by chanting every day for 21 days, to bring joy and luck for the year ahead. Chanting is a new exercise for me, one I’ve wholeheartedly embraced after feeling the considerable benefits of its sounds resonating and vibrating through my body. No matter how bad my day is, if I sit and chant for half an hour the weight lifts – I am no longer dwelling on the past, or fretting about the future, I am totally present and as a result all my worries slip away.

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I spent February applying to study a Phd, and for a scholarship to fund those studies. I still wait to hear whether I’ve been successful, but I’ve already been offered a place at two Universities so I take that – along with the encouragement I’ve received from the academics who want to supervise my research – as positive indicators that the funding will also follow.

And this week I received the glorious news that my job application to work at Amnesty International – for three months on their Kenya programme – was successful. This has followed an intense period of emotional upheavals, as I waited, lost confidence, had doubt upon doubt, and dreaded the possibility of another job rejection. I went through enough of them last year. All the while I was busy manifesting – chanting for my cause, raising the vibration within me to be at the same pitch as my dreams and desires. This was my prayer – the simple spiritual exercise of chanting, which doesn’t require a Bible, or a church, or a deity. Chanting and meditation helped clear those negative emotions – the doubts and fears – and replace them with calm and clarity. It helped me maintain an open mind and heart – allowing space for positive energy to flow freely.

This job speaks to my soul as it allows me to use my skills in a setting I’m familiar with, on a short-term basis whilst I move through my transition and embark on the next chapter in my life. This was the sort of job I yearned for last year but couldn’t attain. But the time was not right last year – I was going through the in-between time or ‘neutral zone’ of my transition. It’s a place of uncertainty, of resistance, of dark nights of the soul – when you are no longer sure of what you want or who you are, when you strive to hang on to old habits and beliefs, when your inner voice that says ‘Enough!’ is trying to make itself heard.

Live your own destiny

Letting go is a long process, and I’m sure for me as for anyone else the job is never done. But I do feel that a new energy is pulsating through me. This year, as I’ve put something out into the ether – job or Phd applications – and received positive or encouraging responses, I’ve felt I’m actually hurtling, free-falling, towards my destiny. There may be more tough times ahead, but I’ve already come out of my darkest moment and am now heading towards the light of my soul’s desires, with greater confidence and courage.

It was nice to wake up this morning and realise for the first time in well over a year that I will soon have a job to go to. But with that realisation also came another – that in the past few months I had really learned to accept not having a job. After months of resistance, I had managed to appreciate the time for what it was – an essential period of reflection, growth and creativity. Without it, I would not be what I am today – content.

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Mindful Next – Change and Transition

Because transitioners at some point have to face the grim reality that in order to achieve our dreams we’re going to need some cash flow, I’ve returned to the daunting task of jobhunting. I’ve managed to avoid this activity, and the full spectrum of emotions associated with it – from hope to hopelessness, courage to fear, anticipation to anxiety – for a few months. In fact, towards the end of last year I made the decision – consciously and willingly – to let go of this feeling that I must find some job, any job. I decided to pursue other creative interests and projects which perhaps wouldn’t help my finances but would help my soul.

I was lucky, and I remain forever grateful, that there was no rent to pay; that my parents whose roof I live under would allow me the space and offer support in whichever way they could. And through having the space to explore, and understand, and let go, I am finding my ‘true north’ – the spirit within me which is happy, joyful, driven and creative; and this has given me the confidence that this transitioner is heading in the right direction, and all is well.

I am now faced with the significant challenge of integrating my spiritual practice into the everyday external realities we are confronted with – in this case, high unemployment and a very competitive job market.  The last few weeks have been a real test for that glorious feeling of power and clarity that arises when we connect to our inner truth.I’m sure many jobhunters can relate to my personal experience. Here is a brief overview:

Three weeks ago, I applied for a job which, when I first heard about it, seemed ideal for me. When I went about filling in the application form, I felt on a real high – excited by this opportunity, empowered because I felt I was shaping my new reality according to my dreams and desires, and therefore confident that everything was going to work out as it should.

Each day, as I’ve waited to hear the outcome of the job application, I’ve lurched from quiet optimism to self-doubt to all-out rage. The society we live in, and the current economic climate, apparently dictates that there will be stiff competition for any job, and that you are likely to be left dangling – hoping for a positive response, but in the end perhaps not getting any at all. Take the example of this job: after submitting it, I was told interviews would be held on Friday the following week and that they’d let me know if I was shortlisted. Friday came and went, and I heard nothing. In came the rage and despair. Over the weekend I heard that there were 250 applications for the position I’d applied for, and that shortlisting hadn’t yet been completed. Hope once more triumphed over the pessimism which had temporarily taken over. On Wednesday I received a call from the organisation I’d applied to; without warning, they asked me some questions related to the required knowledge for the job. Caught unawares, I felt I stumbled over my answers. I was not told at this point whether I had in fact been shortlisted. The phone call was followed by feelings of hopelessness and anger that I’d been asked these questions without time to prepare for them. Then on Friday I was told that I’d been invited for interview, and that it would take place the following day – on a Saturday. This sent me into a panic – it seemed such short notice, and odd to be holding an interview on a weekend day. I was then told a mistake had been made and that in fact interviews would be held the following Monday.

So yesterday I had an interview, by phone. The e-mail inviting me for interview had actually indicated that I was to go to the organisation’s office, but this turned out also to be a mistake on their part. After the interview I was told that the next round of interviews would take place within the week, after further shortlisting. And so once again I’m in the place of not knowing, a place where self-doubt and fear thrive.

For me, the process of jobhunting has been a reminder of the challenges one faces when applying all one’s inner strength and resources gained through meditation and spiritual practice to everyday external realities. It has been a major test on my ability to stay calm, to embrace uncertainty, to show gratitude for even the most agonising or painful situations. Although I am a different, and stronger, person than the one who was jobhunting a year ago, whilst I’ve been left hanging waiting for a response to my job application, all those familiar feelings of doubt have returned. My negative voice has crept in: Why is even the ideal job such a struggle to attain? I’ve spent hours on this application and why this punishment in return? Is this going to be disappointment, and rejection, again? What’s wrong with me? Am I going to return to that dark place of despair and fear I was in last year?

A place of not knowing is one of the most challenging places to be in. I’ve lived in that place for well over a year now, and have managed to embrace it, even enjoy it at times. But when a new challenge comes along in that place of not knowing, it can feel agonising, disorientating, excruciating. It feels like one extra provocation just when things seemed stable and safe.

But if these things are indeed sent to try us, then at some point there will be something to be gained from such experiences, whatever the outcome. Perhaps the only way to deal with the pain of not knowing, and all the negative emotions which can arise from it, is to examine how we respond to the situation, and what that says about us. Then maybe next time we can handle the place of not knowing with more calm, courage and gratitude.

If last year was my year of growth and acceptance, 2013 is turning out to be my year of gratitude and forgiveness. A lot of my thoughts and meditations have been directed towards these goals. There’s been 2012 to deal with – the rejected job applications, loneliness, uncertainty, heartbreaks and family crises. But then there is also a whole lifetime, from the moment I was born to where I am today, which is worthy of a pause for thought and consideration.

Why? Because no matter how much we wish to avoid it, our past is part of us – it’s what makes us who we are today. We try to shut out and forget the situations in our past which hurt us, when actually it may be possible to recognise them as positive influences that have shaped us, or which have taught us something.

Acceptance of the past is an exercise of the heart, or if I am to be more prosaic, the soul; as we accept all that has gone before, we can learn to love who we are – all our qualities, including those we’d rather not speak about. When we achieve self-love, we are ready to cross that rainbow bridge situated in the fourth chakra – the heart – which transports us to a state of higher consciousness, where we can see our inherent and natural beauty that overrides our ego’s quest for perfection in the eyes of others.

Anahata chakra symbolizes the consciousness of...

Anahata chakra symbolizes the consciousness of love, empathy, selflessness and devotion. On the psychic level, this center of force inspires the human being to love, be compassionate, altruistic, devoted and to accept the things that happen in a divine way. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To connect more with our heart, and with our soul, may well require a major letting go of all that we thought defined us, of all that we thought was familiar and acceptable in our life. This is often where depression sets in; our soul is crying out but we are resisting the call, not wishing to let go of our youth, of old habits and beliefs – even those darker ones that have developed through unpleasant incidents in our past. And this is where acceptance, gratitude and forgiveness are essential. We are letting go, but we are also recognising and showing respect for all that has defined us and got us to where we’re at today.

This process inevitably implies a journey deep into the past – particularly to childhood, where so much of what happens can determine how we approach our life in adulthood. For me, as I’m sure for others, this is far from easy. Those years between around 5 and 15 were on balance the worst in my life. But in examining them during my meditations, I made a discovery about my heart – the seat of creativity, of desire and intimacy and all those obscure emotions, feelings and processes that cannot be explained through the rational mind. As a child, my heart was open – meaning I was creative, I loved to dance and sing and write. I wrote poems and short stories, and I imagined myself as a famous, glamorous actress or, in my younger years, as a beautiful and agile fox (my favourite animal). And I wished to be friends with everybody – to give and to receive love unconditionally.

But I lost my connection to these qualities of the heart when I was subjected to bullying from the age of 8 to 16. During this period I felt isolated and hurt by the malicious words of my classmates. When they weren’t purposefully excluding me from friendship circles and group outings, they were laughing at me for wearing the wrong clothes, or reading the wrong book, or saying the wrong thing. It is no surprise then that during that time I also developed an eating disorder. medium_331146387And there were other clear ramifications of having a closed heart. It meant for many years after that, as I grew up into a young woman, I let my head lead the way – rightly or wrongly – in so many decisions. To have listened to my heart at this stage would have been to surrender to something far less rational and more fragile and uncertain – and I couldn’t open myself up to such vulnerability. All I wanted to do was prove my strength, coolness and level-headedness whatever life threw at me. I channelled my energies into achievements and maintaining a specific image – activities of the ego.

These are habits and behaviours I have been slowly letting go of. I see the value now of returning to the heart/soul dynamic of our existence:

The soul presents images that are not immediately intelligible to the reasoning mind. It insinuates, offers fleeting impressions, persuades more with desire than with reasonableness. In order to tap the soul’s power, one has to be conversant with its style, and watchful.

Thomas Moore

What has this got to do with gratitude and forgiveness? In order for us to tap into emotional qualities of the heart and soul, we have to understand what may have shut down those qualities in the first place. And although a childhood trauma may have had negative consequences, it is only by accepting it as part of our life that we can gently let go of our obsessions of acting or being a certain way, and instead listen to the subtle voice within.

The parts of us that get ignored or outwardly rejected retreat to the realm of the unconscious. They become part of the shadow, split off from the persona. The persona is made of aspects that bring us love, while the shadow, those that seem unacceptable. As adults, part of our fourth chakra work is to reunite the persona with the rejected shadow for the purpose of balance and wholeness.

Anodea Judith 

I can now see the important qualities and experiences which have emerged from my troubled childhood. Isolation and loneliness gave me a warmth and compassion for others less fortunate and a determination to speak up for people whose voices were not being heard. A lack of nourishing relationships with people my own age was made up for with a deeper connection with grown-ups; and to this day I feel a natural closeness to people more mature than me. And ultimately, it is often through the bad times that we are most creative – these times are a license for us to be as imaginative and irrational as we like. And by unleashing our creativity we bring ourseves closer to our true nature – one that seeks a gentle balance between head and heart. medium_2245436130

 

 

 

 

Happy Year of the Snake Everyone! If you follow the snake’s guiding principles, you can’t go wrong…..

More trends for The Water Snake Year.

I woke up this morning at war with the snow. It had managed to highjack my weekend, causing me to cancel much anticipated arrangements as I feared a slippery accident if I was to venture too far afield. In addition to which, the wintery season seemed to have penetrated deep into my soul as well as my body; I spent much of last week feeling enclosed, sombre and a little tearful. At the start of this year I thought I had entered my spring, even if it was winter around me – I felt light and confident and ready to explore new challenges; but in the last week a darkness seems to have descended over me, much like the darkness I see outside for most of the day. I have to remind myself that we appreciate happiness so much more when we feel a little pain every now and again – this is the yin and yang, the light and darkness, of our existence.

And instead of moping around indoors, feeling trapped by the snow, I decided to go out and appreciate it. The snow is beautiful after all – its soft silence, the way it gives a chrystalline finish to even the most mundane surroundings. I may not be able to enjoy the weekend quite as I had planned, but I can at least go down the road and see the natural beauty of this most inhospitable of seasons.

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And by doing so – by feeling the crunch of snow underneath my feet and enjoying the footprints left by the birds and the icy images on the lake – I enabled that darkness to lift a little.

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I can see we have to move through this season, both outside and within – accept it, appreciate it, and look for the fresh and clear beauty that lies beneath it.

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An Irish Mindfulness Meditation Blog: Self-care, resilience, meaning and personal development.