We learn from adversity

RedHorse

I once rode a beautiful but challenging horse around a track at an outdoor school. I knew it was a very difficult horse to ride and that it was very sensitive and easily spooked.

The track was in a circle and was bordered by an 8ft broadleaf hedge with a gap a few metres wide for access. Unfortunately, as I was riding around the track some people suddenly appeared in the opening laughing and making a lot of noise. The horse was spooked, spun round, cleared the hedge and on the way over flicked his body catapaulting me into the air. I landed flat on my back on the track. I lay there able to see everything but unable to move. People came running but stopped a few metres short and just stood and stared. After what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was probably only a few seconds, I was able to move my arms. I remember hearing a gasp and someone say, “She’s alive!”

Luckily I’d had the sense to wear full body protection as well as a hat and I’d just been badly winded with no serious damage.

I got up and I knew there was one thing I had to do. I had to get straight back on the horse. I knew that if I didn’t I was admitting defeat and might never ride again. So I completed my session and enjoyed many more hours of riding in the days and years that followed.

The experience undoubtedly made me a better rider. I was able to think about what had happened and what I would do differently in the future. I could easily have avoided going on the horse in the first place and stuck to quiet easy to ride horses or not ridden at all. It was embarrassing falling off but at least I tried.

We don't develop resilience by being happy every day. We develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.

It’s a lot like this with habits too. The really important thing about habit and habit change is the thing you are training is not the behaviour but the failure of the behaviour. It’s getting back on the horse after you have fallen off rather than never falling off. For example, if you want to stop smoking, or you want to lose weight you don't say "Oh I'm addicted I can't give up!" - you try, you fail, then you try again.

 You just keep getting back up on that horse.


Your imagination gives you wings

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Imagination is lighter than a feather and faster than light because anyone can be anywhere at any time. Imagination is more beneficial to people who know that what they don’t know is more than they do know, which sadly, most adults don’t know.

If you look around you everything you see started in someone’s imagination: the inventions, the works of art, the buildings.

Tomorrow the human race will be different than it is today. We are changing and it is our minds that are changing our bodies and our world.

The active imagination is a way of getting high without drugs. Thinking in new ways releases chemicals that reprogram the brain. Thinking new thoughts, therefore, create new a new brain that can’t tell the difference between reality and imagination.

Our mind is divided into two parts, the conscious mind, and the unconscious mind. There is an awful lot of information stored in the unconscious mind; all those stories and experiences from the past, things we thought we’d forgotten all still stored safely away. There is so much in there that we actually remember very little of it when we are conscious. Things move so slowly in the conscious mind that from the viewpoint of the unconscious mind it can seem that the dreamer has fallen asleep when he leaves the unconscious to “wake-up”. The two minds seem to always be at odds but they are like an old married couple that lives on just to be together. The ideal is for them to have a real marriage, for the conscious mind needs the intuitions and feelings of the unconscious mind for it to function properly.

We can explore the unconscious using ‘active imagination’. This means having a dream while we are awake so that what is happening can be followed. You can guide it yourself and explore what the conscious mind regards as a strange country. It is one of the best ways to bring the two minds together.

There is a difference between active imagination and fantasy. A fantasy is more or less your own invention and remains on the surface of personal things and conscious expectations. In active imagination, the images have a life of their own and the symbolic events develop according to their own logic (if your conscious reason doesn’t interfere).

The more difficult the task is for one to do the more valuable the time spent permitting the unconscious mind to come into consciousness.

Concentrate on a mental picture. Let it begin to stir and become enriched by details until it moves and develops. If we concentrate on this inner picture and are careful not to interrupt the natural flow of events, our unconscious will produce a series of images that make a complete story.

Travel to another dimension of time and space by giving your own imagination free reign. You might be surprised how it takes on a life of its own – just as the unconscious has a life of its own, independent of the conscious mind.

As Steven R Covey once said, "Live out of your imagination, not your history."


Change = Growth and Transformation

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“I’ve lived in the village all me life“, the plumber proudly told me as he fixed my blocked drain. He went on to tell me how he went to the pub Friday night, shopping on Saturday afternoon, and did the garden on a Sunday. The ambit of his life was restricted to just a few streets, his world encompassing a daily shuttle between the pub, local shop, and local residents' homes when they needed plumbing or odd-jobs doing. Most evenings (apart from Friday) were spent in front of the television with his wife and the biggest decision they had to make each day was what to have for dinner. His was a quiet life of comfortable habit.

In the Biology of Desire, neuroscientist Marc Lewis studies how habits form. “Habit“, he says, is one of those words we bandy about rather too casually. We think of habits as mild preferences or chosen routines, nothing we need to commit to – and certainly nothing that binds us. But the brain does not comprehend habit quite so loosely. The more we repeat a behaviour that gives us pleasure or comfort, the more defined become the neural pathways activated by that behaviour. Think of the brain as a snooker table, says Lewis. The more ingrained a habit becomes the deeper the groove it chisels into the brain’s surface until the neurons that respond to it form a trough, like the table’s pocket, which exerts the neurological equivalent of strong gravitational pull. Habits are addictions, says Lewis. Neurologically speaking, there is nothing to tell them apart.

People clearly can and do change. We are changed by traumatic experiences: Divorce, bereavement, illness. So, perhaps the more interesting question is not to ask if we can change, but if we can direct change. Can we consciously create a new version of ourselves?

We’ve all heard the Jesuit saying “give me the child at seven, and I will show you the man“. Yet as adults we laugh at our youthful delusions and forgotten goals. The principle traits that characterise us can and do shift. In general, people become more agreeable and less open to experience as they grow older. People who’ve spent small lives can become more neurotic; those who’ve been open to new ideas and experiences become more extrovert.

The cost we ought to be thinking about is what happens if we don’t change? If we don’t embrace change we stagnate and lapse into emotional arrest. We cease even trying to jump the hurdles that life places in front of us. For those of us that have life left in our years rather than years left in our life we have to learn that change is the principle of life.

The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we expose ourselves to new experiences.

“It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.” Roy T. Bennett.

If you would like help changing a habit or transforming part of your life, or maybe give a special gift to someone, check out my mentoring offer here.


Intuition connects us to the natural world

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The moment we choose consciousness rather than the tired out collective consciousness (behaviours we have inherited from our family) is when we start to think for ourselves. It's when we stop our lives unfolding according to someone else’s plan. It’s the transformative moment – it’s when we get to choose the life that’s ours and ours alone.

By becoming overly attached to the things (and people) that we like but don’t necessarily need, we become their slaves. We become distracted from thinking about and pursuing our real goals.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells the story of how a mouse does not know it has been caged for quite some time: “It doesn’t realise it has been trapped. There is a little cheese hanging on the hook just inside the door and it tempts the mouse inside. The door snaps shut. The mouse thinks to itself, “I wonder what that noise was?” But is doesn’t realise what caused it because there’s this nice beautiful piece of cheese hanging from the hook. The mouse nibbles the cheese, maybe takes a few rest breaks, and a little glass of wine with it, they enjoy themselves and think “yum, yum, this cheese is really good”. And, when the cheese is gone, they think “Well, I’ll be on my way now, and I’ll find somewhere else to go, be and do”. But they can’t get out. The door is closed. They are trapped. They are trapped by this thing that initially was something that was the lure of temporary pleasure. Maybe it even put them to sleep a little bit, like when you eat too much then you drowse a bit.”

That’s how people become trapped away from their true souls. You offer them something pretty, or something nourishing, or something delightful, and you get them to enter the cage and the door snaps shut immediately. And, they have no idea of what’s happened for a long period of time. They might be drawn to a new partner and think “Oh look, they are having a nice time, that’s a nice house; they look like they’re having a nice time and eating nice stuff”. But, it isn’t long term, it isn’t nourishing. It isn’t what lasts. You could say that at that moment they have overwhelmed their own intuition. They need to be more conscious of transformational moments and take them instead of being so easily seduced away from them.

The mouse with the full belly was convinced all the choices were right – at least for a time – until the full belly was gone. Pleasure is the motive choice, it’s the anesthesia, especially for women, often inherited from women who felt they had no status, or whose status was received from the men they were married to. It’s not useful for setting a good example for their children.

It’s the quality of what they choose that’s the issue – they shouldn’t choose anesthesia, they shouldn’t choose the full belly if it puts them to sleep.

It is such a wonderful thing to be born. It is just incredible how everything comes together to form a human. This shouldn’t be wasted. Everyone is needed; everyone has a role to play. The thing to remember is what besides intuition can a person possibly rely on in order to develop and to grow in order to transform themselves? How else can they grow from something ego-driven into something soul-driven? Dreams are intuitive, daydreams are intuitive, and visions are intuitive. Everything that proposes an image or symbol is intuitive. And this plays a role. It generates the energy within the belief system, or within the intuitive system, or within the psyche – however, you would like to say it. It enables the person to think the thoughts that they weren’t able to think before and they have a choice whether to investigate them, or whether to refute them. But, the question is, “Who chooses?” At this point who chooses? Your soul? Your ego? Or the strange demon who appears to have possession of you?

You don’t need to understand your childhood. You just need to remember that the authority of your internal voice is much stronger than your external voice. To make use of it you have to increase your self-esteem, your self-love. You need to learn to trust your instinct. You have the gift of a brilliant internal guardian that stands ready to warn you of hazards and guide you to the best solutions. Intuition connects us to the natural world and to our nature. Every thought is preceded by a perception, every impulse is preceded by a thought, and every action is preceded by an impulse. Listen.

Rely on your intuition, your true being.


Like mother, like daughter, like daughter...

Art by Jane Redfern

When I was a child I always felt like I was on my own and no one 'had my back'. My dad was very controlling and wanted everything doing his way. I realise now that my mother as the co-dependant was controlling too - making us children behave in such a way so as not to trigger his temper (though she didn’t realise she was doing it at the time). I was bullied all through school but if anything was ever said my mother always seemed to take the other person's side. I remember looking at her once, in the kitchen wearing her apron doing the washing up, and I thought to myself "At least she looks like a real mum". Both my parents had high-pressure jobs and worked long hours and I spent a lot of time alone.

A few months ago there was an incident in a car park. My daughters wanted to go shopping and I was going to wait in the car. My youngest daughter opened her door a few inches and said that there was a strange woman in the next car glaring at her. She didn’t want to get out of the car and they both just sat there waiting for her to go. The woman then, not realising I was sitting there, or that my other daughter was in the back (we have blackout windows in the back), got out of her car and started blaming my youngest daughter for banging her car with the door. She was surprised to see me and I got out of the car and told her how ridiculous it was because my daughter hadn’t even got out of the car and I had been there all the time. I pointed out to her that there were no marks on her car either and was very assertive when talking to her. When I got back in the car my daughters both said that they hadn’t thought I’d stand up for them and I’d really surprised them by standing up to this woman. (This was the new me though – in the past I wouldn’t have stood up to her).

Recently, my mother had a lot of problems with some men doing some building work at her house and I had to go and speak to them. I was very firm with them and told them their behaviour was unprofessional and unacceptable. My eldest daughter came with me and recorded the conversation. After my mum had listened to what had been said she said that she had been worried about me talking to them because she thought I wouldn’t stand up for her and that I’d let them manipulate me and try and get her to agree with what they wanted to do. I was really surprised and after giving it some thought I went to see her a couple of days later and told her how I’d felt as a child. She admitted that she’d always worried about not wanting to upset people and would take the side of the other person because she was afraid they’d be angry with her if she didn’t agree. I realised that I had been the same in the past. The old me would have let the builders manipulate me, and she was right, I would have tried to get her to comply so as not to annoy them.

Following this, I spoke to my daughters and asked them if they had ever felt that I had taken someone else’s side instead of defending them. Of course, they said yes, and gave me some examples of instances where I hadn’t defended them because I hadn’t wanted to upset the other person. I told them I was sorry and we discussed it and talked about what had happened with my mum and the builders too.

It was very strange recognising my mum’s behaviour in my actions. In the past I was just totally unaware I was doing it, the same as my mum had been unaware of how her behaviour had affected me.

It made me think about how some of our actions can be completely unconscious and yet be so easily seen and witnessed (and felt) by others. It’s a pattern that is very hard to break; the main challenge is to make ourselves aware that we are doing it.

This pattern of behaviour is called transference - basically, I expected other people to react like my dad did and so I would act in a way so as not to trigger their temper. It also led me into disastrous relationships with narcissists.

It's like we wear a mask when we put ourselves out in the world. It’s our defence and buffer zone that we create against the cruel world and people. It's the persona, a mask that hides our intimate inner self, protecting us from hurt. Sometimes we wear the mask for so long it fuses itself to us and it is very difficult to remove. For me, a head injury in a car crash caused the mask to crack and loosen. I still presented the fake me (the people-pleaser) to the world for quite some time, but at more and more regular intervals I heard the muffled voice of the ‘real me’ (the Self) trying to make itself heard from underneath the mask.

After this incident and the conversations that followed so much seemed to fall into place. I had been surprised by my mum's response. I thought she would deny her part in it and blame it all on my dad, but she didn't. I was surprised at my daughters' response too because I was just totally unaware of what I'd been doing and the damage it was causing. It was certainly good to talk it through and bring everyone's awareness to it.

I will still have a mask because I know the persona (mask) serves us as our personality, the social adaptation that we as individuals must make to society as a whole (i.e. when I was a nurse I wore the uniform and acted in a way expected of me as a professional). But when we wear a mask, it is all right so long as we don’t forget the real self within. We must be able to remove the mask and be true to our Self. In the past the persona or mask no longer served me, I served the mask. Now the mask serves me.

Would you like me to help you to identify negative behavioural traits in your personality and help you to overcome them? Take a look at my mentoring offer here.  Contact me to discuss longer 3, 6, or 12 month offers. Gift vouchers are also available to help someone you love overcome deep-set problems in their lives - give the gift of self-love this Christmas!

Artwork by Jane Redfern.


You can do it if you practice...

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As a child, I loved to draw and to paint. The best present I ever received was a set of Winsor and Newton Inks and some Rotring pens. Even when I was in primary school I sold paintings to my classmates, mainly pictures of Snoopy, and I’d won two major art competitions before I was nine years old. But my mum would often say to me “You’re not good at art like your sister, are you? She’s really good at it.” And my dad would be saying “Art is a waste of time, you’ll never earn any money from it. You need to do something that will help you get a proper job.” Ironic really, because he was a chartered engineer and draftsman, designing fire engines and drawing intricate designs for a living.

The thing is, art is like many other things, the more you do it, the more you practice, the better you get.  I remember a friend drawing a picture of a car. She said to her mum, “I can’t draw cars, my picture is rubbish!”  Her mum said, “It isn’t very good, but would you like to be able to do it really well? I could help you practice every day for the next two weeks and I guarantee if you spend just fifteen minutes a day practicing drawing the car, in two weeks you’ll be really good at it!” Of course, my friend said yes and two weeks later she was drawing amazing pictures of cars. Her mum could have said “No, your picture’s really good! You should be proud of it! Don’t put yourself down!” It would have boosted my friend’s ego temporarily but two weeks later she wouldn’t have been any better at drawing cars.

I didn’t have the support my friend had, and at times I went long periods without getting my pens out.  When I was older and got married if I got my pens out my husband would say, “You’re good at art but not good enough to make any money out of it. You’re wasting your time” and the pens would be put away again.

I'm older and wiser now and I no longer listen to negative people who criticise others for things they can’t do themselves. My pens are out now and staying out. I love to paint and to draw. And the more I do the better I get.

Picasso once said, “I am always doing things I can’t do – that’s how I get to do them.” Imagine if someone had said to him, “You can’t draw people!” I doubt that he would have listened to them, instead, he would have continued practicing.

How about you? Can you get back into doing what you loved to do when you were younger? Brainstorm how you can bring that back into your life now. And a little bit more the next day. And so on.

Whatever you want to do, put in the hours, and get really good at it. Practice every day to improve. Don’t just use affirmations to try and pretend you are good, put in the work and constantly strive to improve.

As Picasso said, “Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”

Start today! Set aside at least a few minutes every day to practice. Become an expert at what you do.

VWXmas

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Believe in Yourself

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Last week a man in a car, coming from my right when I was driving, seemed to think he had the right of way (he didn't) and he proceeded to blast his horn and give various hand signals when I didn't stop. At first, I felt very annoyed, but then I stopped myself. I didn't have to let his rudeness and bad manners (and bad driving) affect my day. I could choose not to let it affect me. He had to go around with all that anger inside him but I didn't. I chose not to. I carried on and picked up my daughter and enjoyed a pleasant drive home.

Buddha was well known for his ability to respond to evil with good. There was a man who knew about his reputation and he travelled miles and miles to test Buddha. When he arrived and stood before Buddha, he verbally abused him constantly, he insulted him, he challenged him, he did everything he could to offend Buddha. Buddha was unmoved. He simply turned to the man and said, “May I ask you a question?” The man responded with “Well, what?” Buddha said, “If someone offers you a gift and you decline to accept it, to whom does it then belong?” The man said, “Then it belongs to the person who offered it.” Buddha smiled. “That is correct. So if I decline to accept your abuse does it not then still belong to you?” The man was speechless and walked away.

This is a great way to deal with rejection and criticism. Don’t let someone else’s view destroy the way you feel about yourself. That doesn’t mean not to listen, but don’t just accept their view either. We all have a right to our own viewpoint and your perception of yourself is very important.

Use this strategy when you encounter people who reject or verbally abuse you and know that you don’t have to make their perceptions your own.


Break Free: Don't let anyone hold you back

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I often say to people, “You are a free person, no one has the right to tell you what to do or to hold you back". But the problem is, a lot of people aren’t free because of the people they have chosen to have around them. They choose (yes, choose) to be around people who restrict them, kill their spirit, and stop them chasing their dreams. It’s like self-inflicted incarceration.

The thing is though, no matter how hard it is for you to get away, get away you must. No matter how hard it is to extract yourself from a situation, it is possible.  Cut yourself free.

I’d like to share this story with you:

An old fisherman had pulled his boat into port with a large basket filled to the brim with crabs. A young man was walking by along the dock and noticed the basket had no covering to secure the contents. He beckoned to the old Fisherman, “Why don’t you put a cover on the basket so that none of the crabs escape?” The old man answered quickly. ”It’s the strangest thing, every time one of them tries to climb out, three or four of the others grab its legs and pull it back in. It’s strange behaviour but at least I don’t have to worry about them escaping.”

Humans are much the same. Crab mentality, also known as crabs in a basket mentality, is a way of thinking best described by the phrase "If I can't have it, neither can you". While any one crab could easily escape, its efforts will be undermined by others, ensuring the group's collective demise.

In humans, members of a group will attempt to reduce the self-confidence of any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envy, resentment, spite, conspiracy, or competitive feelings, in order to stop their progress.

Be aware of this when it is happening to you.

Never let the attitude of those who don’t want to see you succeed hinder you from appreciating the other good and better things that this life has to offer.


Listen carefully

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Listening carefully to someone is the best way to show that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. When you listen to someone, not just with your mind, but with every fibre of your being, it sends them the message: ”I value your opinion” and it helps to forge a deep human connection. Very few of us are good at listening. Years ago I was involved with someone who hardly stopped talking. I could be with him for two hours listening to him talk and not once would he ask my opinion or listen to what I had to say (or tried to say). I realise now that people like him lack what scientists call ‘sensory acuity’ (an ability to pay attention to the cues around them) but also that they probably weren’t listened to much as they were growing up.


A symbol for healing

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Symbols can play a powerful role in the process of healing and recovery. As humans, we have all had experiences of loss and trauma. We’ve experienced losing loved ones, maybe our health, or lost a much-needed job. It’s inevitable. Nothing in this world lasts forever. The problem is that we are never prepared when bad things happen and we struggle to process it. It certainly can’t be fixed by an hour-long therapy session or a weekend workshop.

If you find yourself stuck and unable to shift you need to move through the loss and distress and reconnect with your meaningful purpose. This requires symbolisation of the experience.

One way to symbolise your experiences is simply by talking about them. Telling your story to someone can be cathartic and healing. It can move the pain and trauma into a story that is unique to you. It makes your feelings and emotions about the experience conscious. You give the experience words, a name, and a description.

Another way to use symbolism for healing is to find a symbol that can pull you through an episode of distress. When you are in distress your psyche will naturally be attracted to a symbol that can heal you and move you forward. You cannot overcome serious psychological crises but you can outgrow them. This is the goal of the symbol. For some this solace can be found in nature or being with animals. It can be anything that transports you to another place, another time, and a different way of being that contains this magical elixir of healing. The symbol will help you to move beyond your current experience into the future.

If you have a traumatic event that you need to deal with, write in your journal about it, express how it made you feel and what emotion it still raises in you. Where does it lie in your body? How do you feel about yourself in relation to this experience?

Once you have finished reread it and create a symbol for your story.  First state your intent maybe about how you have learnt a lesson from the experience, how it was not your fault, or that you would not be who you are today had you not had that experience.

Next create a symbol of healing, letting go. First, fill yourself with a feeling of peace and acceptance. Then ask the universe/God/Nature/your higher self to give you a symbol of healing. It will appear instantly. Take the first thing that comes to you. Do not doubt it or try to change it. Write it down. It could be an object, a song, an animal even.

During the week reflect on your symbol. It should take the place of your traumatic memories. As the symbol contains both conscious and unconscious content, it is a far more powerful remedy for healing the psyche, because it takes into consideration the unconscious aspects of the trauma that you are not aware of.

Take time to reflect on how you feel about the event and the effect the symbol has on you.

When I did this exercise I received the oak tree as a symbol – tall, strong, and well-rooted.

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