Archives for posts with tag: eastern medicine

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.

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.

It’s been a week for odd and unexpected interactions. I escaped what I feared was a Buddhist cult after feeling uneasy by the rigid prayers and worshiping practices of its followers; nothing like the dharma of the Dalai Lama or Thai and Burmese traditions. I had a psychic screening at Tate Modern’s new, contemporary art and performance space called the Tanks, which was followed by a spontaneous discussion about personal affirmations and poetry with a participant of the performance art piece in the Turbine Hall.

English: Shibboleth, Tate Modern, London

English: Shibboleth, Tate Modern, London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I even spoke to some boys at a house party in Brixton – haven’t done that in a while! But the reason it’s been odd is that I’ve found myself opening up in unexpected ways – talking to people I barely know about quite personal matters.

Take today for instance. I visited a Qi Wellness Centre, where I was given a traditional Korean acupressure and sound massage. According to the Qi Master who saw me, I’m holding a lot of anger. Chinese medicine – and its adaptations in Korea, Japan and elsewhere – is all about finding the underlying causes of a particular ailment; trying to understand on a deeper level what is happening to a person when they suffer a physical complaint. In my case, as the Qi Master performed the massage I could feel tensions and knots most acutely in the area of my liver and intestine; which according to the Chinese meridian system, has a direct connection to my right knee – where of course I’ve had an injury for several years. Knots in the area of our bowels are associated with holding onto and repressing anger. The Qi Master asked if I felt I held anger over anything. Funny that, as only last night I was watching a programme about Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which has been responsible for thousands of deaths and child abductions in northern Uganda and neighbouring countries. This was a conflict I worked on for several years, whilst living in Uganda and Kenya, so perhaps no surprise that I would react in some way. But the emotion that arose whilst watching this programme was hard to describe; I felt myself tensing up, and although part of me wanted to cry another part of me wanted to throw something at the television – particularly when the face of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni appeared, as he is as much to blame as anyone else for the grinding poverty and injustice faced by the population of northern Uganda.

I told the Qi Master that perhaps I hold anger related to the work I’ve been doing the last few years. Although this surprises me, because actually I’m not an angry person. My reaction last night to the programme about Joseph Kony was in some ways more extreme than any I had when I actually worked in Uganda. The same applies to when I read about another Palestinian demonstrator being shot at during a protest against the Israeli occupation in the West Bank. I want to shout, scream or cry in a way which didn’t really seem to affect me during the year that I lived in the West Bank and had all of that happening on my doorstep. So yes, maybe I have repressed anger, I found myself admitting to the Qi Master.

She then went on to discuss how tensions in our stomach or bowels may be inherited, or may be a symptom of a previous trauma, or a current emotional problem. I had an eating disorder when I was fifteen, I found myself suddenly blurting out. That was a bad period for me; if I wasn’t holding a lot of anger then I was certainly holding a lot of grief and insecurity – over my appearance (a bit plump with braces) and over the fact that I was being bullied at school and had no friends. I’m glad, and extremely grateful, to say now I’m over all of that. Or apparently not, if the pain in my intestine and bowels, and by association my knee, is anything to go by! I wait to see what comes up in my next session.

On a lighter note, I have to talk about my Tate Modern experience. This is worth a mention, as usually on a visit to Tate Modern gallery one expects to see a beautiful painting, or an impressive and abstract installation. Bar a few predictably provocative pieces in the Damien Hirst exhibition (nevertheless impressive), what my day in Tate Modern was all about was communicating with strangers. The newly opened Tanks in the basement of the gallery had a room with a series of desks and chairs, separated by dividers. At each of these sat a psychic healer; if I wanted to, I could be given a ‘screening’, I was told by the bright and chirpy female usher, as if this was completely normal in an art gallery. I thought, why not? I’m a girl in transition, this time is all about new discoveries. I then found myself being interviewed by a redheaded, bohemian looking woman who, after asking me the basic question of what job I do (which, actually, isn’t the easiest question for me to answer right now), launched into a far deeper inquiry with ‘what are your thoughts on honesty?’ and ‘do you consider yourself an honest person?’ This was followed up by questions such as ‘do you consider yourself a spiritual or religious person?’ and ‘what are your thoughts on power…How would you like to exercise power’ I have no idea what all of this was about – there was no big insight or nugget of wisdom at the end of it. I was simply told that the exercise was part of a bigger creative project aimed at fusing art with spirituality and politics, and that I may be contacted again by e-mail.

Not long after that, I found myself in the Turbine Hall – the sprawling space at the entrance of the Tate Modern which is used for free installations and creative art displays. Here too, unexpectedly, I ended up talking to someone I barely knew about quite personal issues. There I was, sitting on the floor checking my phone, when I man in his sixties (who up until that point had been running up and down the hall with a bunch of other performance artists) sat down next to me and asked, out of the blue, whether I keep any special words close to me, in my pocket or my bag, to give me strength or encouragement. I found myself opening up again, quite spontaneously, telling him about the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and some of her exercises which encourage these kinds of creative affirmations. If I’d been approached by this man in the street, or on the bus, I probably would have shied away like anyone else, or worse still thought he was completely bonkers. But because he was in the Tate Modern, in a place of ideas and creativity, I talked to him like it was quite normal to be approached in such a way. It turned out he had decided to try contemporary dance a few years ago – ‘because you can be terrible at it but still do it’ – he told me. And now here was, taking part in a piece of participatory peformance in the Tate Modern.

All this suggested to me that, unlike the stiff, wary personas that us Brits tend to emulate on the bus or train, or even at a public gathering among strangers, we actually do like to communicate with each other. If we are in a safe space, where we don’t feel threatened and where we can just let go and join in, we actually open up and want to share our experiences. Says the girl who’s writing a blog….but all these incidence have shown to me how if we surrender, if we give a bit of ourselves, then we may be surprised by what occurs, and by what we get back in return.

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