Archives for posts with tag: Anger

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.

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.

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.

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.

Another year is about to draw to a close. And what a year it’s been, it seems for most people I know. 2012 has been the year of drama; of emotional upheavals, of extreme weather conditions, of personal tragedies and major transitions.

Fireworks

Fireworks (Photo credit: bayasaa)

The world didn’t end on 21st December, but then that was never really the prediction. What the Mayans and others have predicted is far more subtle and powerful, and far easier to hold both belief and hope in; the dawning of a new world in which we let go of the selfish ego and all our negative habits and beliefs. A world in which we feel the universal connection and no longer view ourselves as separate and isolated, or divided by religious, political or geographical boundaries. Where greed and self-interest no longer govern our desires, and instead we are driven by love and compassion. This sounds like a massive and ambitious project, and it is; we were never going to see changes overnight when the 21st December finally arrived.

I myself had the flu for that entire week, which stayed with me throughout most of the Christmas period. I didn’t feel much like celebrating anything, or even engaging in some major transition predicted by so many millions to occur during this time. But on the 21st December I did at least manage to sit myself down in a quiet place and consider the year so far – my challenges, my achievements, and all that I have overcome – as well as setting some intentions for the next year ahead. Such an exercise isn’t about new year’s resolutions that never get honoured; it is, again, about hope and belief – that we can move through whatever difficulties and dark periods that we experience, and learn from them. Our intentions should be about personal growth – about learning to love ourselves and to forgive others, and taking concrete steps to achieve these goals. This might mean promising yourself a special moment or treat each week that’s only for you; or forgiving someone who you have felt hurt by. Our personal growth is also about letting go of anxiety, anger and fears and maintaining courage that we are on the right path, even if that path can at times seem murky and full of obstacles.

And so intentions for the year ahead aren’t about making promises that can’t be kept – we have to be honest with ourselves, about what we need in order to really grow and realise our true nature and purpose in life. Material goods are important in achieving goals, but having spent a year in unintentional unemployment, I know now not to wish for a new job and loads of money. The last year hasn’t brought me material wealth, but it has brought me other gifts of courage, strength and moments of inner peace which no money can buy.

There have been tears – a whole ocean of them. There was a dark night of the soul, or did I have more than one of those?! But I’m reminded of a great quote by the spiritualist Mooji (and whether you believe in God here is irrelevant):

“Sometimes God challenges you to find strength you don’t have.
Only like this will you go beyond your imagined limits.
You must be pushed so far that you are forced to be humble. Only then, when your pride and arrogance are crushed, will you discover muscles that are not yours.
You will find and use the muscles of God. When you completely abandon yourself, your ego, this miracle becomes possible”

 

So congratulations to all that made it through this difficult year. Remember all that you’ve achieved, and all that you have the power to manifest in 2013, through honest intention and active commitment. By letting go of negative habits and beliefs, and encouraging love and compassion in everything that we do, perhaps we can put the world of darkness behind us.

 

Dear Gaza

It is with great sorrow that I hear the latest news about another massacre, another bombing, another retaliation. I feel sorrow for the rising death toll, the pictures of weeping mothers and wives, the murder of children too young to even understand the struggles of their parents, families and neighbours. And I also feel sorrow becuase I know that each death, whether it’s in Gaza or in Israel, will only fuel further hatred, and further violence. I watch as the vicious pattern unfolds once again – attack and counter-attack, claims and counter-claims, threats and counter-threats. A new generation growing up with nothing but anger in their hearts.

In fact anger is everywhere; from the Government ministers to the international solidarity activists holding demonstrations outside Israeli embassies throughout the world, from one Facebook wall post to another, anger is pervasive. It is behind every political statement on Palestine, and every military action on either side.

I know this anger, and I’m by no means immune to it. It is anger that has spurred me on in Palestine, that strengthened my resolve to work there after witnessing the Wall, the settlements, the aggression of the Israeli soldiers in the West Bank. I am only now just processing that anger, releasing it in waves of sorrow and distress after holding it in the pit of my stomach for so many years as a Palestine activist. I am familiar with the anger I hear in the voices of commentators, and even my own father – so incensed is he by what is happening in Gaza right now.

But this time round, dear Gaza, dear Palestine, I am not one of those angry voices. I will not be attending any demonstrations, and I will not be writing press releases or political statements. And I will not be engaging in any of the aggressive political point-scoring, some of it between friends on separate sides of the fence (both politically and physically). I don’t say this with pride, and I do say it with more than a little guilt. My decision doesn’t come from a place of pure wisdom or higher authority, but from a place of accepting one thing: I don’t see the purpose of my anger anymore, and if anything I’m fearful of it – of what this negative emotion does to me, and to anyone engaged in the Palestinian situation. Does Gaza need my inner conflicts, confusion and frustration leaking out into any action I take for the so-called good of Palestine? Because anger often comes from this deeper, more obscure place of inner turmoil. It is not always constructive, or effective – I question now whether my anger over Palestine has really achieved anything over the years except perhaps alienating a few people and breeding further hatred. And what can hatred ever achieve? With anger, and hatred, we lose all sense of balance or compassion. It is easy for our emotions to take over when visiting Palestine, but how often do we stop to question their source and their purpose? It is only once I find the  meaning behind my own emotions and actions that I can understand the emotions and actions of others.

And so, dear Gaza, this time I stand back. I read what I can, and I’m screaming inside. But I will not be expressing my grief on the podium, or in the newsletter or conference room.  Please don’t mistake my non-action for apathy. My non-action comes from a place of understanding that clinging on to anger will serve no purpose except greater suffering. There are many positive actions that can be fuelled by people’s anger over injustice. All respect, and my most sincere wishes, go to those who transform their anger into something beautiful and empowering for the human race. I would one day love to join those who are mindful of every action and reaction, and who have a clear vision of what peace can and should look like, regardless of race, ethnicity or political positioning. But for now, my silence is the strongest thing I can offer as a  sign of love and compassion in this mixed up world.

For more reflections on Palestine activism, anger and mindfulness please read this blog piece from Mindfulness for NGOs: blog « Mindfulness for NGOs.

I’ve made an odd and unsettling discovery these last few weeks. It’s that I can’t watch or ready anything that reminds me of Palestine, and my time there.

It has been a year, almost to the day, that I left that place. I walked away from my beautiful flat overlooking a valley in Ramallah, with tears in my eyes. I knew my time there was up – on many levels, it was simply not sustainable, or fulfilling, for me to be there. And it appears that I am still getting to grips with that fact to this day, one year on.

The view from my apartment in Ramallah

They say that grief comes in five stages – first, denial; then anger; followed by bargaining; followed by depression. Then, finally, acceptance. Well, as some of you may have noticed, I’ve certainly been dragged – kicking and screaming – over the steps of anger and depression these last few months. Bargaining is a more obscure concept, but I can see that’s what I’ve been doing as I’ve slowly pulled myself away from further job applications for human rights or humanitarian positions.

And before these stages, I guess I was in denial; this is the emotional tool we use when living in an environment of intractable conflict, grinding poverty or blatant injustice. We withhold, and deny, the tears when we see another victim of human rights violations, or another humiliation or indignity meted out against an innocent civilian – who may well be a close friend or colleague – because to cry would reveal a disrespectful weakness in front of those who remain stoic and steadfast in the face of adversity. To cry would also suggest we cannot cope with living and working in such an environment, which would then beg the question, why are we there in the first place.

Perhaps the tears I’ve shed the last few months have made up for the restraint, and resilience, exercised through all those years of fighting an idealistic battle for justice and en end to poverty and inequality without daring to admit either distress or defeat. Or maybe the tears were for bigger and deeper sorrows and regrets – I’m still not sure.

What I do see now is that I am far more vulnerable, and far less resilient. I made this discovery last week whilst filling in a survey put together by a group of academics from the U.S., on the subject of stress, burnout, trauma and resilience in human rights workers. The survey provoked in me a mixture of feelings, which raced through me like a torrent – sadness, anger, hopelessness, anxiety. Some of its questions included:

Have you personally witnessed serious violations of the right to shelter, food, water, and other basic rights?

Have you worked with someone who has suffered serious reprisals or threats of reprisals for their work?

Have you personally witnessed disaster or conflict affected communities?

I found myself answering yes to so many of these questions, in reference to so many incidents and situations I’d come across in my working life. This is not a normal way to exist! I was thinking to myself.

Then things got worse – I was then asked about coping mechanisms, and how I respond to difficult situations. And with each answer I realised that my way of dealing with so many difficult situations has been to normalise it – because any other reaction, such as crying, or getting too angry, would appear disrespectful among friends or colleagues in such environments, who live these experiences every day or week or month throughout their life.

If I wasn’t normalising it, I was certainly having an internal battle against my emotions – not letting myself grieve and instead distracting myself with more work or drinking copious amounts of alcohol. It is only now, after having some distance from these events and situations, and whilst I’m spending so much time confronting my emotions, that I realise how much I internalised – whether it was the trauma of witnessing human rights abuses, or of friends being arrested or injured, or simply feeling under-appreciated and worthless at work. This might explain why when I go through a survey like this now, I feel my heart rate increasing, and start to panic. Feelings of hopelessness and self-doubt stayed with me for the rest of the day.

The next day, I had the same reaction when watching a trailer for a new documentary film released this week, Five Broken Cameras, about the nonviolent resistance in Bil’in, a village in the West Bank. As its soundtrack of solemn, urgent Arab oud music played to footage of the village under fire by Israeli soldiers, I started to panic. I had to switch it off before the five minute trailer finished. Great, I thought to myself, in a state of disbelief – I can’t even watch a video clip. In it were the faces of people I may not have known directly, but I saw them every day in the campaigns we ran, in the press releases we wrote demanding their release from prison or for the Separation Wall to be dismantled. What then followed was a sad emptiness and feeling of guilt. This is the same guilt one gets when being faced with untold human suffering, when one chooses to turn the page instead of reading on. I seem to have leapt from one extreme to another; from reading every news item on Palestine and the Middle East, and every article on detention, or torture, or any other realities that have informed, and inspired, my activism – to not being able to look at or engage with anything.

Yet this is what we have to do once we allow in the grieving process; once we recognise that we are not the superheroes or pillars of strength and determination we thought we were. We have to do whatever it takes to recover, and to heal. But NGO workers and activists, and anyone who is working on human rights issues, can spend years denying themselves this recognition that maybe they cannot cope with all that they have seen; that maybe they need to look after and love themselves as much as they try to do the same to others. We instead hold the anger and grief of what we see and experience inside us, and live to fight another day. And yet I’m learning now that the biggest and most challenging confrontation we have is ultimately with ourselves.

Summer is drawing to a close already – the weather appears to be changing, after a brief Indian summer which we’d been promised since a very rainy June. This summer, as everyone gave in to Olympic fever, there has been a real buzz in the air; an atmospheric lift which has seen most Londoners being more friendly, more laid back, and living more in the moment – apparently putting their worries on hold to enjoy this most unique of holiday periods. They’ve put aside the cynicism for which us Brits are famous, and embraced new experiences and interests, the most notable being the unequivocal support which has been shown towards athletes of all races, backgrounds and physical abilities, whether at the Olympic Stadium, from the sofa at home, or in conversation on the train or in the pub. We all hope that the mood, and attitude, will last and be utilised meaningfully on a political, social and economic level.

Embracing the summer spirit: Notting Hill Carnival

Now it’s time to knuckle down and prepare for the autumn. Many view this with dread, as the season signals an end to outdoor parties and socialising and the start of more time spent at home, with oneself. It is a time to go inward, and reflect. Well, this is no new activity for me – I’m actually wondering how I embark on the autumn’s self-reflection when I seem to have spent a whole lot of my summer navel-gazing.

For thirty-somethings like myself, it appears that this whole year is one of change, which is sometimes frightening, sometimes exhilarating. How many people do I know who are questioning their life, where they’re at, where they’re going? Who, fearing the great unknown, are either continuing to be stuck in a job they don’t enjoy, or are unemployed and fluctuating between moments of excitement and moments of utter self-doubt. Sometimes it seems so much safer to stay in the former situation in order to avoid the ramifications of the latter – the highs and lows which I’ve talked about over the last few weeks. I certainly feel like I’ve learned a huge amount about myself – my fears and insecurities, my anger, my resentment – over the course of my transition, and none more so than in the last three weeks, when some gentle massaging and prodding from an acupressure practitioner seemed to open up a whole new chapter of my journey. Perhaps this would never have happened if I wasn’t out of work and forced to dig deep in order to make sense of why I’ve turned my back on old habits and old identities, to face a life of trying to be more honest about who I am and what I want.

When you embark on a transition, you don’t necessarily realise that it’s not just about leaving one career behind to try and build another. A transition goes to the very heart of our emotions and our identity. If we want to really feel happy and fulfilled, we have to do more than find a different job; we have to confront ourselves and ask, from one fleeing moment to another: How does this make your feel? If you’re feeling down, or agitated, or anxious, why is that? What is it that gives you confidence right now?  What is it that nourishes you?

Perhaps we need to remember that tears, like rain, play a nourishing role. They help us to grow.

We also have to admit to those negative emotions, which we try so hard to fight or to brush under the carpet. If we don’t want them to fester inside us, leading to illness and dis-ease, we have to do more than admit to them; we have to accept them into our lives, as part of us. It’s only by doing this that we can learn from them and learn about ourselves and who we really are. In my case, I’m beginning to realise that there’ve been many times when I’ve tried to ‘rise above’ a difficult situation, when in fact what I’ve probably done is buried it deep inside me, bottled it, instead of fully processing or even feeling it. This is understandable when you’re doing human rights or humanitarian work – we wouldn’t be very effective at our jobs if we were constantly in tears at every injustice we witnessed or experienced. But also in our everyday personal lives, it’s difficult to stop and confront our feelings. Whilst living under the same roof as my parents, I find myself hiding my emotions all the time in order to try and maintain a harmonious environment in the house – one that doesn’t upset or offend my parents, or lead to an argument or tensions. But this is not natural – we cannot remain strong and stoic all the time – and sooner or later the real emotions come flooding out, and our vulnerabilities and fears are laid bare. It is only once we fully release those emotions that we can really heal.

Why did a few sessions of acupressure unleash such strong emotions in me, causing me to cry on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis? Some of my friends have laughed when I’ve questioned this; You were working in Palestine for a year, you’ve been doing human rights work and activism for ten years, and now you’re living with your parents and trying to manage their emotions as well as your own – and you wonder why you’ve been crying?? It’s very hard for us to see these things for ourselves, much like it’s hard to admit to that term used to describe the emotional turmoil felt by development workers and activists – burnout. But if we see burnout as it’s described by the Activist Trauma Network – symptoms of irritability, feelings of hopelessness/helplessness/cynicism, non-enjoyment of activities enjoyed in the past, difficulty in making decisions, inability to stay focussed, and fatigue or other physical effects – we realise that such emotions are common, and likely to be experienced by every person doing this kind of work.

Were my tears an expression of all of the above? Perhaps. Or perhaps I was crying over the heartache of failed relationships, or over the difficulties of my childhood, or over the hurt I’ve felt whilst dealing with each family crisis. I may not have the answers, but I do believe that the tears were necessary as part of the journey of transition. It is only once we have truly uncovered our emotions that we can begin to heal.

And so as we embark on the season of reflection, I think it’s important to try to embrace whatever comes, good or bad, much the same way we embraced the joy of the summer. It is only from truly experiencing darker moments, living and feeling them, that we can better understand ourselves, and appreciate the happiness that follows.

Alternative therapy works in mysterious ways. Little did I know that an acupressure session with a Qi Master trained in the Korean tradition of Eastern medicine could be so powerful. Now I don’t want to scare readers off here – this is not a blog post about the pitfalls of dabbling with medical practices which are not from our own tried and tested Western tradition. I’ve learned a lot in the last two weeks about the importance of addressing mind, body and soul holistically. What I’ve found is that in Western medicine although we may believe we’ve fixed ourselves by talking to a psychotherapist or taking anti-depressants, this is not always enough. Sometimes we have to go even deeper than what is bugging us in our minds, and work at what is buried in the pit of our stomach.

When I first visited the acupressure clinic two weeks ago I thought I was fine, generally. So life hasn’t been great recently; I’d returned from Palestine last year full of a mixture of sadness for having left, anger over what I witnessed and experienced there, and disappointment over what I was coming back to – unemployment and dependence on my parents. On top of all of this I had a major family crisis at the beginning of this year which threatened to completely crack the veneer I’d built for myself of being solid, strong and able to overcome anything.  I worked through all of this, reminding myself of what I was grateful for, of how lucky I was, and that this was exactly where I needed to be right now – just still, and with myself. I’ve been embracing this time as much as possible – writing, spending time with my parents, taking dance classes, baking. I’ve been busy!

And so it was with all these nuggets of self-assurance that I entered the acupressure clinic to have my first session. I was seen by a Senior Qi Master. ‘Qi’ simply means energy – and refers to the thousands of energy channels we have throughout our body which, according to Eastern medicine, can sometimes get blocked – in different areas and for different emotional or physical reasons. These blockages may manifest themselves in a variety of ways – through a pain in one of our limbs, irritable bowels or skin, or through our emotional responses.

A one hour session with a Senior Qi Master consisted of a consultation and a massage which lasted only 20 minutes, during which time the Qi Master pressed various acupressure points on my body as a way of releasing energy blockages, which was accompanied by strange vocal sounds a bit like a gush of running water; these sounds are meant to stimulate the energy flow within the body.

After the first session I left the clinic feeling slightly confused and perplexed by what I’d experienced and been told in that one hour – apparently I was holding a lot of anger, which was manifesting itself in a blockage in my liver and bowel area. Indeed, when the Qi Master pressed her fingers into this area, it was noticeably, and surprisingly, painful.

Staring down into the lake near my home is a great way to bring calm to an over-cluttered mind.

Two weeks on, and I have been in tears on most days, to the point of hysteria at times. I’m not one to cry much – perhaps I haven’t cried enough in my lifetime. But I was not expecting this assault on my emotional wellbeing. I’ve had my days of feeling low or depressed like anyone else. But when you can barely face getting up in the morning, or having a conversation with anybody; when the slightest glance at an upsetting piece of news or even a loving message from a caring friend, sends you back down the well of self-pity – then you know this is no ordinary bout of the blues. The tears were, quite literally, uncontrollable – liable to appear at any moment, unannounced. At my darkest moments I seriously wondered whether I was cracking up. I started planning my funeral – what people would be saying about me, what music would be playing, who would know or care about my tragic death….alarm bells were ringing at this point; these are the signs of depression – that complete self-absorption, where nothing else really matters other than how lonely and upset you feel at that moment. Every person you talk to, every programme you watch or article you read, appears to provide a reminder of how grim and hopeless your life is. This is not helped by the consumerist society we live in; I found myself resentful of some car advert which portrayed the idyllic life of a couple falling in love, having a baby, and owning their perfect vehicle.

This would appear to be a step back from all the progress I’ve made over the last few months in what I had named in January as my year of growth and acceptance. Only a few weeks ago I was embracing the abundance of opportunities presented to a girl in transition, and now I find myself crying over a car advert. How was I to know that an hour with a Qi Master would have this effect? Even she told me, on my return there last week, looking all dishevelled and forlorn, that she had never seen anyone have quite such a powerful reaction.

What was quite astounding, and confirmation if I needed it that it was indeed the acupressure that was bringing out these emotions, was that after my second session the pain had subsided – both emotionally and physically. It didn’t hurt so much when she pressed the area around my liver, and afterwards I felt like something had lifted. This is not to say that those dark feelings have disappeared completely. I’ve had my moments since then, when I’ve felt desperate and lonely, when I’ve had to walk out the house and head straight to the nearby lake and sit there for a while watching the birds, through my tears, to reach a semblance of calm. Any kind of grieving is a process after all – those emotions don’t just evaporate overnight.

What can one take from this? Perhaps my reaction to the treatment was so strong because I had opened myself up to it – part of my process of surrendering and being present over the last few months. How often do we escape or cover up our real emotions, thereby allowing them to fester and grow inside us? It has also been suggested to me that this is ‘the healing crisis’ – a moment when we have a breakthrough which may appear to come out of nowhere and can be extremely painful, but which puts us on the path of truly being healed from all the negative emotions we’ve buried in our subconscious over the years.  Only time will tell. It was not a mistake to subject myself to this Eastern therapy. If something needs to be released, then we should let it out, no matter how painful it is. The process of healing whatever has caused us pain is an erratic journey – two steps forward, one step back. The challenge is to not let that discourage us from continuing on our path, and learning from whatever life throws at us.

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.”

Paulo Coelho

Last week I spoke of the tears we all shed during the Olympics – tears of joy, of wonder, of warmth. And only this week I spoke of some funny situations that perhaps only a transitioner would find themselves in. But it’s not always fun and games, and the tears of a transitioner are not always ones of joy.

Since my last blog post, I’ve been crying quite a lot; in fact, I’m in a perpetual state of holding back tears. Maybe it’s all that anger that the Qi Master told me, after an acupressure session, that I was holding in my stomach, along with any other emotions stuck there that are now releasing themselves, often against my will. The absence of any of my regular routines of yoga, Tai Chi or dance classes in the last few weeks since I had knee surgery probably hasn’t helped and has thrown me off kilter. My belief that getting wasted at the weekend would somehow be a good idea in this state of imbalance may well not have helped either.

A poem by Julia Cameron. Last week I finished her book ‘The Artist’s Way’, a 12 week course in unleashing your creativity (but it actually does a lot more than that). I think I’m having withdrawal symptoms!

Whatever it is, a transitioner’s tears are often letting out a whole lot more emotion than is easy to define or attribute to one particular disappointment or grievance. I cried today when my friend told me she got married. That’s not really the reaction a friend expects when giving such news (and luckily this was an online exchange so she didn’t have to know…although now maybe she does. Sorry, I hope I haven’t caused offence with such spontaneous tearfulness). Yesterday I read the poem attached to this blog post, and burst into tears; and carried on crying for a good solid half hour, my parents blissfully (and thankfully) unaware in their other rooms.

Call me ungrateful, or blind to all the good things I have in my life. But actually I have been seeing those things, and reminding myself religiously of them, every day. I have a safe and welcoming house to live in, and two very supportive parents, and some wonderfully encouraging friends. I have time to be creative, to write my blog and discover new and exciting projects to work on. But when you’re going through a bad patch as a transitioner, all these positives get pushed out by the so-called negatives; or, to use another term, those nasty little demons of anger, resentment and fear.

In my case, I start looking at the last ten years of my life. All that time spent fighting injustice and extreme poverty in various countries (or at least that’s what I hoped I was doing, but in these dark moments even that is thrown into serious doubt). The organisations I worked for with such commitment, often with little appreciation or support. The year I spent studying hard for a Master’s degree whilst living in a squat. All that hard work, so how do I find myself here, in my thirties and living with Mum and Dad? No matter how well you get on with your parents, such a situation can never feel quite right; I thought I’d grown out of depending on my parents years ago. Added to this my continuing dread every time I look for jobs – any jobs – and find myself despairing because I actually have no idea what I want to do. The self-doubt that accompanies longer term visions – mine being to write a book or to do a Phd – and which can take over if any person questions my motives or expectations. And then there’s the gaping hole that is my private life; my desire to go out and have more fun often dampened by the reality that this is not so easy whilst living in suburbia with my parents and with no income.

A cure for those emotional or creative blocks: bake a cake. I baked this yesterday – it’s a blueberry and hazelnut muffin cake.

At times like this, the transition can seem like a long, dark tunnel with no light at the end of it; and one in which everyone else appears to be whizzing past, apparently able to see the light more clearly than me, despite all my efforts at ‘knowing myself better’. Whilst others have been working on their jobs, their careers, their marriages, their children, I’ve spent a whole lot of time working on myself. But am I any wiser? Searching for my inner truth appears to be a much longer journey than I had anticipated, and not always one that brings fulfilment, or even clarity. There are days when everything simply seems terribly unfair, when one can’t get past the loneliness or emptiness of a life of uncertainty. We’re only human after all, and tears are natural, even healthy. Maybe I’m making up for all the tears I’ve held back and buried in the pit of my stomach over the years. Tears release what sometimes dare not be admitted or publicly revealed – our vulnerability, our desperate need to be loved, to be appreciated, and ultimately to be happy.

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