Dancing in the shadow

The self of my dreams came the day I found out that there was gold hidden in my darkness, that there was light shining in my bad behaviour, and that there was power hidden in the traumas of my past. Debbie Ford

One of the less obvious influences on Chakradance, often overshadowed by the more apparent influences of the Hindu-Tantric chakra system and shamanic trance-dances practices, is Jungian psychology.

While the Chakradance facilitator is all too aware that his or her role is to ‘hold space’ for the experiences of the dancers, a very Jungian concept, as is the use of mandala art to ‘contain’ the numinous experiences and energy of the dance. These Jungian aspects are often not obvious to the dancer.

I often refer to Jungian archteypes that people may encounter in their dance journeys, these will often manifest as visions of scenes that play out as interactions between archetypes like mother and victim, warrior and servant.

I have written about archetypes in these other posts. 

The experience of Chakradance is described like a ‘waking dream’ where the dancer lets go of their conscious, thinking mind and allows the unconscious mind to communicate through images, feelings, colours and insights.

This week another Chakradance facilitator posted about Chakradance as a way to interact with our shadow, a Jungian concept for the aspects of self that we are either unaware of or actively suppress because we are ashamed of that aspect of ourselves.

At a time when my shadow, in the words of Led Zeppelin, looms taller than my soul, and having just read a truly awe-inspiring post by a Jungian writer – see here – I felt one of those lightning bolt moments.  (Like a lightbulb moment but way more dramatic.)

Something’s coming up. Let’s see if it can articulate itself here…

Chakradance is a journey within. Using the chakra system as a map to consciousness, we dance beyond the everyday, five sensory awareness into a deeper experience of ourselves. With our eyes closed and our imagination as a guide, during Chakradance we experience our inner world as a waking dream. Many people see visions in their mind’s eye, encounter beings, ancestors, animals, different landscapes which all tell a story about the disposition of our inner self.

In the new Chakradance cycle, called Freedom, we have a different guide for each chakra who takes us on this journey. But I have found many people intuitively find their own guides in the dance as well, be they humans, ethereal beings or animals.

After participating in a Chakradance cycle, many people are surprised at the visions and experiences, not to mention the insights and transformations in their real lives, that they encounter.

It is so astonishing to uncover this unconscious aspect of ourselves, and to realise our conscious, day to day self is like the tip of the iceberg in terms of the multitudes we all contain.

So when we immerse ourselves into the sound and movement of chakradance, what will often arise is aspects of ourselves that we have not been aware of. This can be visions, emotions or insights that are experienced in a loving and beautiful way. Sometimes we are ready to shift and release less attractive aspects of ourselves. These might be long buried memories, strong emotions, or even aspects portrayed as menancing creatures who come out of our subconscious dark zones. 

Like a deep-water diver, encountering sharks or other prehistoric and primal creatures that we may be afraid of, our first reaction to these is often fear or repulsion. But just as sharks have a vital role in the ecological wellbeing of the ocean, so our own shadow has a purpose. 

This is what I believe: That I am I. That my soul is a dark forest. That my known self will never be more than a little clearing in the forest. That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self, and then go back. That I must have the courage to let them come and go. That I will never let mankind put anything over me, but that I will try always to recognize and submit to the gods in me and the gods in other men and women. There is my creed. D.H. Lawrence

For me, when I began my Chakradance facilitator training, and I was dancing and studying the modality intensely on a daily basis, I had a number of powerful experiences. The most profound for me was an experience in the Solar Plexus Chakra, which not only happened in the dance but also in my dream life. This showed me something was shifting at a deep level in my psyche.

I was awoken from a dream, quite literally, with a bang. In my dream, a large metal pot or cauldron blew its lid with a loud explosion. As a result of reading Jung and experiencing Chakradance, I was becoming more curious about the messages my subconscious communicates to me in my dreams.

After waking from this dream, I felt quite agitated and unable to go back to sleep. There was the strongest feeling that this dream was an important message from my subconscious and I intuitively felt it was somehow related to my solar plexus chakra. So after discussing this with my Chakradance teacher, I moved on to this chakra. During the dance, I had a very powerful experience.

The dance of Manipura (the solar plexus chakra) begins with a flame, and as the music intensifies, the fire increases, and I danced like wildfire. I became one with the fire, I was fire, flickering and wild. It felt incredibly liberating and powerful, and then all of a sudden my perception shifted dramatically.

The experience transformed from being elemental fire, to being ON fire – being burned, encased in flames – and all the powerful emotions that came with it. Horror, fear, panic. Even knowing it was just in the dance, the emotional reaction was profound. 

I had flashbacks to memories of being hurt as a child, and a great rage rose within me. Ending up like an animal in all fours, I growled and raged, releasing suppressed emotions held within me since I was a powerfless five year old unable to fight back against her abuser. 

It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses- and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism. The individual seldom knows anything of this; to him, as an individual, it is incredible that he should ever in any circumstances go beyond himself. But let these harmless creatures form a mass, and there emerges a raging monster. Carl Jung

Recovering in child’s pose, I found myself saying to myself, “that was then this is now, it is safe to be powerful now.”

As I incanted this affirmation, came a vision of a fiery cauldron burning away the hurts of the past, all those experiences where I was persecuted, shamed, or abused for expressing my power.

I would love to report that since then I have never been less than powerful in my life, but it doesn’t work like that. In my life aspects of my shadow, like that scared and angry child, the one who was unable to be powerful and speak up, are still there.

The difference is that I know she is there, and I can see when that energy emerges, when I get petulant or sulky, when I over react to perceived criticism or rejection. These days, I am more mindful, more aware.

And I have made a sacred place for her, where she can be safe to express whatever she needs to. It’s my way of integrating her, without annihilating her. Because she’s part of me. If she hadn’t taken on all that rage and shame for all those years I may not be here today. Today instead of wishing her away I try to honour her. She’s a feisty five year old who screws up her face when she’s not happy and I love her!

I have also tapped into an inner wellspring of power that I never knew I possessed. Now when I dance the Solar Plexus I embody the energy of a fiery God – Shiva Nataraj – or a powerful warrior and feel these numinous qualities flow on into my life.

We need more people who are not ashamed of, or embarrassed by their pain, but who can instead respond to their own and others’ suffering – as an unavoidable facet of the human condition – with love, patience, sympathy, nurturing and respect. True happiness, after all, does not exclude sadness, but rather embraces it within the living paradox which personal wholeness demands. Maureen B Roberts

So what is this shadow? And why do we have it. And yes, you do.

Renowned psychologist Carl Jung believed that on the journey to discover your inner secrets and mysteries, you will encounter the dark, hidden crevices within your psyche. He called this place the “shadow self.” It is also called the lower self, animal nature, the alter ego, or the inner demon – the place where the unowned side of your personality lives.

The shadow is the parts of ourselves that we may try to hide or deny. According to Carl Jung, it can be said to consist of energy patterns, known as selves or sub-personalities that were disowned — pushed down into our unconscious in childhood, as part of our coping strategies.

Jung created the Archetypes model, a concept to describe how our unconscious minds are fragmented or structured into different “selves” in an attempt to organize how we experience different things in life.

Your shadow self is the part of you that stays unknown, unexamined, and out of the light of your conscious awareness. It is the part that is denied or suppressed because it makes you uncomfortable or afraid. Whatever doesn’t fit your image of your ideal self becomes your shadow.

Jung asked, “Would you rather be good or whole?” Many people choose goodness, or more accurately ‘correctness’ as a means to belong in society, and as a result, are internally fractured. There is your persona, the part you want the world to see, and your shadow, the part that you don’t.

What we call civilized consciousness has steadily separated itself from the basic instincts. But these instincts have not disappeared. They have merely lost their contact with our consciousness and are thus forced to assert themselves in an indirect fashion. This may be by means of physical symptoms in the case of a neurosis, or by means of incidents of various kinds, or by unaccountable moods, unexpected forgetfulness, or mistakes in speech… modern man protects himself against seeing his own split state by a system of compartments. Certain areas of outer life and of his own behavior are kept, as it were, in separate drawers and are never confronted with one another. Carl Jung

Jung believed that what you resist in life tends to persist and even become stronger. If you resist your dark side, it becomes more solid. Hence by trying to be good and suppress our shadow side we actually make it more powerful.

As Jung often said what we refuse to face in ourselves, we project into others and onto life creating an external world that seems to reflect our own worst nightmares. We create self-fulfilled prophecies of the stuff we least want.

I think I first became aware of my shadow 18 years ago. Having hit, in 12-Step parlance, my rock-bottom through alcohol and drug abuse, I found myself sober in a 12 Step program. Suddenly I had no Dutch courage, no medicine, no anaesthetic, and no buffer between myself and reality. I had started using alcohol to numb my feelings at age 15 so at age 25 I had acquired zero emotional maturity or coping mechanisms that didn’t involve a drink, a fix or a pill.

I found myself sitting in cold and dank church halls and community centres – where many AA meetings seemed to be held – with hideously bright fluorescent lighting – “ve have vays of making you talk.” Even though I had spend much of my ‘drinking years’ in dank bars, the veneer of alcohol always made everything sparkle, it gave me a warm inner glow, and the dim lighting covered a multitude of sins.

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. Joseph Campbell

Now I felt exposed, transitioning from a creature of the night to an attempt at daytime normalcy, I found myself squinting and blinking at the brightness of the world, like a mole forced out of her hole. Supermarkets were particularly painful. The combination of the bad Muzak, over-lit endless aisles of stuff and people was pergatory for me.

Especially the people. Early detox from alcohol is defined by it’s combination of the physical shakes and extreme paranoia. I was sure every person in the place was watching me trying to wrestle control of my hand to pick up a packet of cereal or extricate money from my wallet. If someone actually spoke to me, it all became too much, the walls would start closing in and I had to abandon all my shopping and leave.

It was a shock to see what a ‘shadow’ person I had become, more comfortable in the dark, shadowy side of life, invisible, afraid of the most ordinary things.

In the AA program I was forced to confront my ‘defects of character,’ another ways of describing the shadow aspects of my behaviour. For someone who had meticulously avoided any emotions, or difficult aspects of myself, this was a hideously confronting process. On a daily basis I was faced with the choice of facing my shadow or facing complete annihilation. It was not a happy time.

We approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations. It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle. Sigmund Freud

But, through this process I learned to be increasingly more comfortable with myself, all of myself, and embarked on a path of self-awareness and self-acceptance as I had never known before.

It was to be my first of many experiences, where I discovered that facing my shadow, no matter how painful or undesirable, brought untold gifts.

Eventually though I found myself again at a rock bottom. Having crashed and burned emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually not long after my fortieth birthday, again I was searching for answers.

As appealing as it was when I was happy, from this depressed state I found much of the New Age stuff very shallow. Wishful thinking, affirmations, faking it until we make it, are sometimes helpful to get out of the rut, but they cannot be long term life plans. True authenticity comes from facing the shadow. That stuff that lurks just beneath the surface that we push down with a myriad of avoidance strategies from sedation to excess busyness.

I am highly suspicious of any practice which focuses only on the light or positive aspects of our being. We are all made up of dark and light. A really simple way to uncover your shadow self is to see what really irritates you in others, what drives you bonkers. Is it disrespect? Arrogance? Greed? Inconsideration? Guaranteed the stuff you most resent in others is stuff you deny or repress in yourself. This is called projection, we literally use others as a screen to project our shadow traits onto.

Our journey of Self-Exploration is a bit like Dante’s Inferno. Before making our way out of “hell” we must walk through the depths of our inner darkness. Many religions symbolize these experiences well. Two famous examples include the case of Jesus who had to face Satan in the desert, and Buddha’s encounter with Mara (the Buddhist Satan) before his “awakening”.  Mateo Sol

We all do this, so there’s a couple of options, suppress it and keep frantically chanting OMs hoping that no one realises our murderous rage within, or acknowledge it. Take a look at it. Next time you judge someone else, either for the positive or negative – even jealousy often is us projecting our unowned good qualities on another person – witness that.

Be curious. Dive into it. Ask yourself, can I be disrespectful, arrogant, inconsiderate? Maybe sometimes these qualities are actually useful. Especially when used consciously.

When I stumbled upon Chakradance, something lit up inside of me. Here was the best of the New Age. A practice that combined ancient wisdom with modern psychology. It drew upon the Chakra system, shamanic dance and Jungian psychology. All practices which resonated with me. And best of all, it was music and dance! I had always found great freedom and liberation from my difficulties by pumping up the stereo and dancing myself silly. Chakradance gave me a framework to use this for my healing.

Any practice which takes us out of the conscious mind and engages with the unconscious, be it dance, creating art or music, meditation, immersing ourselves in nature, will help this more primal side of ourselves to emerge.

In Chakradance we dance into our unconscious, and then we create a mandala drawing so we can express all this beautiful untapped energy, and all the powerful images we encounter which help us to recognise these hidden parts of ourselves.

Showing the best and dividing it from the worst age vexes age. Walt Whitman

Because the shadow is often made up of primal instincts and urges we have repressed, as well as tribal and ancestral traits we have rebelled against, I feel that the base chakra is particularly relevant to this work.

When I was in India last year I took the opportunity to see an Ayurvedic doctor. In Ayurveda all aspects of self, mind, body and spirit are addresssed. So as part of the consultation, he discussed the state of my chakras. He felt that my physical and emotional symptoms indicated my base Chakra was weak – almost non-existant! – and needed activating. I have been practising the mantras he gave me and the chanting practice. When the Chakradance Reboot Your Base Chakra eCourse came up I immediately signed up.

I am a great believer in divine timing. As my shadow self seems to be bursting out causing me to act, think and feel in ways I find very overwhelming and challenging, I have this beautiful practice of Chakradance to ease me back into my body, to help me integrate all these aspects of self. Chakradance is gentle like that, it doesn’t force things to come up in the psyche, Jung believed that could be counter-productive. But when stuff is ready, it rises, and it feels so good to be able to dance through and integrate my shadow work.

In the base Chakradance we connect with our power animal. Dancing our power animal is one of the most powerful shamanic practices to revitalise and strengthen our spirit. Each animal brings its own strength, wisdom or medicine, and a connection to our primal, instinctual nature.

Mine is an animal who hibernates seasonally, and as such as we head into Winter here, I am reminded of the restorative power of cave-time, time to withdraw from the world, rest, nourish and replenish the body.

The work of the soul is not always sparkly and full of surrender-gasms. As Caroline Myss said the truly powerful and great spiritual moments are usually accompanied by great humility or suffering, as the metaphor of the birth of the messiah in a stable illustrates.

In my eyes, indisposed. In disguises no one knows. Hides the face, lies the snake. And the sun in my disgrace. Chris Cornell

During this time of increased shadow rising, I became increasingly depressed. Perhaps instead of something rising up, it was a place I descended into.

Weirdly my darkest nights of the soul coincided with the tragic suicide of my musical hero Chris Cornell. I felt that right there was my shadow, I so empathised with the darkness that took him on that lonely night in Detroit.

I drew on my love for my son to get me through, like a candle illuminating the dark I knew I had to survive the darkness for his sake. It sounds melodramatic I know, but when you are hanging on by a thread, you use whatever power you can.

Depression can be seen as a descent into shadow. It certainly feels dark, and as though every negative and undesirable aspect of self takes front and centre stage. However there is also a palpable shift in awareness as if a doorway into a previously hidden part of life is opened.

Depression is a wilderness where nothing makes sense or has meaning. As long as it doesn’t take me out completely, this mental blackout can be helpful. It often forces me to challenge what truly has meaning in my life, what has substance, what brings vitality and joy. And similarly to recognise that which does not.

Leading up to this bout of depression I had done some work with a spiritual healer that included soul retrieval. In fact I could pretty much pin the beginning of my descent to that time. I became curious about this link between soul loss, soul retrieval, shadow and depression so I began to read more about it.

Soul loss is the idea that parts of our soul or spirit break away during traumatic life experiences, leaving us less vital. In psychology this idea is known as dissociation, where a person may have no memory of the trauma or seem disassociated or overly detached from their current life.

In psychology they are not concerned with where these lost parts go, but in many shamanic traditions, there is an understanding that these parts have gone to places in non-ordinary reality or the ‘spirit world.’ Shamans are experts in tracking down and coaxing back these lost soul parts to be reunited the body of the person they were splintered from. This is soul retrieval.

Many years ago when I was studying shamanism in Bali, I had a conversation with a friend about this. As a psychotherapist he pointed out that the mind is always trying to find balance or equilibrium, and as such rejects anything that threatens this. Bringing back soul parts after many years, especially soul parts that were splintered off on account of trauma, must throw this balance of the psyche into turmoil.

I wish that soul retrieval were safe, simple, and filled with the white light of love and light that people think it is. But something cannot be powerful and safe at the same time. Mary Shutan

Interesting alongside this deep suicidal depression, I also had other old dysfunctional behaviours crop up. And I craved cigarettes so badly I actually asked a drunk guy for one, fortunately he said no. I haven’t been a smoker for over sixteen years.

What I began to intuit is that some of the soul parts that had come back were pretty dysfunctional when they left.

Whether you see these parts as repressed aspects of self or lost soul parts, the effect of bringing them back into consciousness is the same, they are strangers to the psyche who has been getting along just fine – or so it thinks – without them. Sometimes it is not a happy reunion.

And seemingly they had brought some of their old dynamics back into my psyche, throwing me into turmoil. In a way my shadow selves were ignited and fueled by this process, and I was left in a frightening shadow world where all I could see was darkness and hopelessness. Much like the teenage addicted and suicidal me.

You will have to stand someplace you’ve never been willing to stand before. Go to places you have deemed off limits. This is the time to take off the shell of your past and step into the rich possibilities of your future. Debbie Ford

Fortunately, weeks ago I had signed up for a Spontaneous Transformation workshop on stress and overwhelm. Spontaneous Transformation is a beautiful technique that addresses this very issue by dialoguing with these soul parts and helping them address the trauma in order to find a resolution, recognition and integration.

Through this daily practice and through Chakradance, I have found peace with myself again. And beyond that, these angry and hurt parts of myself actually taught me a lesson or two about how I could be kinder and support myself better in my life.

In India, the Hindus practise Aarti, which literally means an illuminating light in the darkness. I believe by bringing the light of awareness onto our shadow we can find gold there. Don’t throw away the treasure in your cave because  you’re scared of the dark – light a candle and see the gold in there.

Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.) Walt Whitman

Hari om tat sat. Namaste. Blessings.

Try Chakradance – Rhythm for your soul



Holy crap! This stuff actually works

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Entirely by accident, I conducted a little experiment on myself in the last month or so.

In the lead up to Christmas, I finished up teaching Chakradance and holding shamanic circles for the year. Things were super busy at work and at home, and my yoga and meditation practice waned.

Then we went on a family holiday, which was more family than holiday, it has to be said. And suddenly I found myself in perhaps the worst head space I have been in the longest time.

I was irritable, anxious, unsettled and restless. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or where I wanted to be, but it definitely wasn’t where I was and what I was doing.

I knew I should be meditating and exercising and doing yoga, but I just didn’t feel like it. I didn’t feel like doing anything.

Knowing I was a stone’s throw away from a serious depressive episode, I knew I needed to do something about this funk I was in.

When I got back home, I wrote myself a plan for the remaining days of my holidays. I wanted to paint my studio, and prepare for the classes I would be running in the new year. I wanted to complete the online chakra course I was undertaking, that I hadn’t been able to devote enough time to. I also had enrolled in a meditation course on the centering prayer practice. And the garden looked like a jungle so I had to whip that into shape before I had my students come over.

I wanted to write too…

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So I planned out my days, beginning with yoga and meditation, alternating with periods of physical labour, exercise, chores, study and writing. Of course leaving time for my reward activities reading, having a cuppa, catching up with friends and watching the entire seven series of The Gilmore Girls on DVD.

As a result I have been doing several sessions of meditation, yoga, and chakra exercises a day. I have been in the garden, in the sun, reading and writing prolifically. 

It took about four to five days for me to realise I felt calm, I could sit still without my mind racing, I didn’t constantly feel like I should be somewhere else doing something else. I felt present, grounded, content.

More than just an internal shift, I was aware the this presence positively impacted my connection with others, where I had felt irritated with my son, and fallen into near constant nagging, I now found myself able to sit and talk with him – and more importantly, listen – about his latest computer game obsession.

‘Holy crap!’ I thought to myself ‘This stuff actually works.’

Which may seem like a duh! moment to many of you. I mean this is what I practice, what I write about. I suppose I just hadn’t had a chance to compare myself with and without these practices for a while. It really took me by surprise for a number of reasons.

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First, I think it was a great reminder why these techniques are called practices or disciplines, that’s because you have to actually do them, consistently, regularly, with discipline, to get the results.

Second, I have a short memory. And I don’t think I’m alone here. How many of you have either been sick or injured and thought ‘I will never take my health for granted again!’ That may last for weeks or months, depending on how sick or injured you were, but pretty soon the mind is back to complaining about the traffic and being on hold, and why is my coffee not hot enough?

Being in a state of grace is a little like that. When I’m practising my disciplines, I still feel life with all its slings and arrows, I still get heartbroken and yelled at, and upset. The difference is that I get to empty out regularly. So that stuff doesn’t accumulate. What happened to me in the last month is that all the little shitty bits of life had their way with me, and I hung on to the residue, I wasn’t emptying out my bucket. And pretty soon I was overwhelmed and drowning in my bucket of crappola.

Three, having experienced a more balanced and calm state of mind, pretty consistently for a few years now, I find I now have way less tolerance for being out of sorts.

Now, I’d like to say that I am never going to get slack again, but we all know that’s not true. It’s just a really great opportunity for me to take stock and observe the tangible effects of what I do on my state of mind, body and spirit.

I said it before, I’ll say it again, holy crap, this stuff actually works!

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It’s interesting to unpack the components of the daily ‘to do’ list, because I think I intuitively stumbled onto something quite insightful. Without intentionally doing so, I realised my list incorporated aspects of clearing myself physically and mentally – of stresses, concerns, and tension – allowing me to empty out and surrender more fully as I sat in meditation. As I wrote in my last post, it is helpful to smooth and soothe the body and nervous system before we can ‘just be’ in spirit.

From experience I know a day’s plan must balance activities I NEED to do with activities I LOVE to do. My personality disposition lends itself to a ‘work then reward’ system. So I tend to start with something like going to the gym (work) with a period of reading in the sun (reward). 

Interestingly I discovered some of the ‘work’ aspects actually made me feel fantastic. After the gym, I had a endorphin high, after half an hour of weeding I felt the soothing effects of having my hands in the soil (more on that in a minute), the invigorating effects of sunshine as well as the sense of satisfaction at seeing the very apparent results of my labours. 

Seeing the positive results of these aspects of my day certainly made it more appealing to do the work. I think too, I was reminded that procrastinating over uninspiring or difficult tasks is really draining and even depressing. It feels like the elephant in the room, that thing I’m avoiding, a large inert mass sucking up all my mental and physical energy.

When I talked with a friend recently about my procrastination she told me of a system that worked for her. Basically you set a timer for 25 minutes and you do the activity with the agreement that at the end of that time you can switch to something else.

Faced with a week of time off and a massive to do list, I decided to test this practice out, with great results.

Starting a task when you have only a small allotted time is psychologically motivating. I found I didn’t procrastinate because I had a sense that I didn’t have ‘enough time’ to complete the task. Strangely I found quite a few tasks were more than adequately achieved in that time. Even larger tasks were obviously impacted upon in the time. It seems that by launching into action, and seeing results, the effect was very motivating.

After a few days, as my mood improved, my list was getting smaller and my sense of achievement grew, I found myself looking forward to the very tasks I had been putting off.

One of these tasks was the garden. I have a large garden at the back of my place, which surrounds the studio where I teach Chakradance. As last year intensified, I really let go of maintaining the garden. As such it is now overrun with weeds.

Every time I saw the state of it, I felt a range of negative emotions, shame, dread, self-disgust. It was as if the garden was an outward sign of my inner deterioration.

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To be honest, 25 minutes a day seemed like a drop in the ocean of my weedy wilderness, but I knew I had to do something. Once I got past the mental barrier of the overwhelming scale of the task, I really enjoyed the activity. I sat on the earth, I stuck my hands in the soil, the sun was shining, I played music and sang. 

During this time I was writing my last post on the base chakra, and I realised this sitting on the earth, alongside my energetic chakra practices was really grounding me.

As I listened to Anodea Judith talk about the earth, she said that one handful of soil contains more diverse microbes than there are people on the planet. Even though we can’t see it, the earth is teeming with life.

Gardening makes me happy, I thought. And then I stumbled upon this article which put some science into my experience. Antidepressant Microbes in Soil: How dirt makes you happy. Apparently the microbes in soil actually contribute to serotonin levels in the brain, and thus may have similar function to antidepressant medication. Not to mention the uplifting effect of sunshine and fresh air – it’s win, win, win! So get your gloves off, and dig those hands in the dirt.

From feeling completely paralysed with a sense of indecision and loss of faith, I have found myself reconnecting with the simple wisdom of daily disciplines. I picked up the book that inspired this blog, The Wishing Year, by Noelle Oxenhandler, and reread it.

What I always loved about this book was the author’s deep scepticism about much New Age thinking – or its lack of critical thinking. And yet, she practises wishing, setting intentions and following them up with the practical hard work it takes to allow them to happen. Noelle writes that magic starts where the practical leaves off – providing the conditions, the synchronicities that allow our practical actions to take root and flourish.

There’s no point wishing for my garden to be weeded, but somehow by creating a beautiful space for my classes, by gardening and painting the studio, it seems to create a shift in my attitude and an energy around my creative space, and suddenly I was receiving calls and bookings for my classes.

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Noelle had three wishes – a house, a man and her soul. Whenever I read her intentions they strike a chord so deep inside me. Yes! That’s what I want too!

So…

Inspired and spurred into action, I set my seven intentions for 2016. They may look familiar to some of you…

1. A home

2. Community

3. Purpose

4. Vibrant health

5. Abundance

6. Joy

7. Love

Ah, see they are lovely intentions? Aren’t they? These are the original seven intentions for this blog. And as I write them out and reflect on where I was when I wrote them and what’s happened since, well, I feel a bit teary. Because there’s been massive growth in all those areas.

Last year I got so excited by going to Bali and studying shamanism. It was such a pivotal experience, it showed me I really could do just about anything if I set my mind to it. It seemed so unlikely as a single, working mum that I could disappear off to Bali for three weeks to study shamanism. Bali, the land of the gods, that mysterious paradise that always seemed open to others but not to me.

Intoxicated from my foray into this cocktail of travel and esoteric study, I thirsted for more. I got myself really confused, there were so many appealing possibilities. Should I study shamanism or druidry, should I do this course, or that workshop? Should I travel back to Bali, to Ireland, to India, to Uluru? Should I quit my day job and put all my energy into Chakradance? Should I quit Chakaradance and take a big promotion at a work?

This kind of thinking becomes so all-or-nothing, black-and-white, and yet life takes place in the spaces in between the extremes.

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In the end I wound myself up into a tight little ball. A couple of people who know what they’re talking about suggested that if I was serious about commiting to a spiritual path, it didn’t really matter which one I chose, the important thing was discipline and practice. In particular a daily meditation practice. I desperately needed emptying out from this mental maelstrom. 

Getting so wound up in future plans that you can’t be in the present moment is the great trap of the modern lifestyle. Life begins in the now, in this present moment, every moment, surrender to this moment and you find your flow. Otherwise you have abandoned your body in the now, whilst your spirit is tripping off into the future, and there’s no wholeness in that.

I’m not saying don’t make plans, but a plan is just a rudder to plot your direction, then you live the journey out in the succession of now moments.

Hence the daily to do list. Bring it back, keep it simple, do what’s in front of you. The basic Spiritual 101 I learned in my early days of 12 step programs. 

Since then, the storm has passed, some degree of sanity and clarity has descended. I decide to finish what I have started, namely my Druidic studies and my studies and practice of the chakra system, and shamanic dance. I have settled on a meditation practice, with regular times to engage in shamanic dance and journeying. I’m doing regular exercise. I’m making time to socialise and have some fun.

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Oh I know this all sounds paradoxical, making plans and writing lists, setting timers and intentions, yet being in the now and in the flow. And there’s no exact science to it. Some days I’m anxious and out-of-sorts trying to do my list and meditate with a million thoughts raging – a million opportunities to return to God as Cynthia Bourgeault would say. Yet I have found it’s just not possible for my monkey mind to ‘just be’ outside of a certain degree of disciplined practice. ‘Just being’ ends up just lounging around procrastinating and feeling bad about myself for doing so. Or the paralysis of indecision, where to start?

So it is a paradox, but I have also found that sweet spot where it all just works. I’m in my day, I’m following a plan and yet somehow I’m in the flow, things become effortless and enjoyable, my mind becomes quiet. When unexpected things crop up, I allow them space in my day. 

Honestly though, I just don’t believe spiritual practice is meant to feel good all the time, I don’t think that’s the end in itself. Feeling calm may be a pleasant by-product at times, but the end itself is that constant intention to return to God, or source, or whatever you call that deep presence, the rest is icing on the cake.

I am rather fond of the icing though…

I have set the intention to go to India at the end of the year, it seems financially prohibitive, but if the last two years have taught me anything, it is that when I set a clear intention, act is if that’s what’s happening, and work towards that reality, it usually happens. 

Well, I’ve put it in writing now, so let’s just wait and see…

Blessings!

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The Happiness Trap


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We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. T S Eliot

It is always fascinates me watching how my blog posts unfold. It feels like a force beyond me is involved.

At first there is nothing, no ideas, no words. I don’t tend to force my writing anymore. I don’t set targets to write a certain amount of words or publish a certain amount of posts. I know that the ideas come when they come.

This post began with the recurring theme in my life of presence, of the power of now.

Then the magnetic force of intention comes into play and suddenly related ideas are being fed to me from everywhere. I see books, have conversations, things pop up online.

This is a kind of synchronicity. The coming together of meaningful events or ideas that provide significance or guidance. Events that occur coincidentally and with meaning, that cannot be explained by the usual conventions of causality. To me synchronicity is the meeting of intention and attention.

I read a wonderful story about actor Anthony Hopkins and synchronicity. Anthony was seeking a copy of the book of the movie he was making, The Girl From Petrovka by George Fiefer. The book was out of print and so you can imagine his surprise when he sat down at a London Underground train station and saw that very book sitting on the bench.

Years later as Anthony was filming the movie, the author George Fiefer dropped into the set and was lamenting that he had lost his only beloved copy of his book that he had painstakingly annotated. Anthony pulled the found copy out of his coat and asked, is this the one? It was. The very same copy.

Not only had Anthony found the book when he needed to read it, but the author’s notes in this copy had significantly helped him to prepare for the role.

Another powerful example of synchronicity was described by Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl was deliberating on whether to get out of Vienna during the Nazi reign. He had a young pregnant wife, but was also concerned for his parents who did not have visas to leave for America with him.

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Feeling conflicted he went to a cathedral and prayed for guidance. Returning home he found a marble slab that his father had rescued from a destroyed synagogue, it contained a fragment of the Ten Commandments “Honour thy father and mother.” So he stayed.

Frankl helped untold numbers of people during his time in the concentration camp, and after with his powerful work on the importance of life’s meaning.

In the end he lost his parents, wife and unborn child, but he had made the choice based on what he believed his life meaning was, to help others through their trials.

Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfil or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself, by giving to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is. Viktor Frankl

I read this story in an article in The Atlantic on Frankl which posed the question of whether meaning is more important than happiness. It suggested that happiness can be a rather selfish pursuit, always focused on our own comfort and needs, and that when these needs are fulfilled there is little incentive to care about anyone else.

Meaning, on the other hand, tends to make us search for our place in the web of life, and on how we can contribute for the wellbeing of others. As a recent psychological study in the U.S. found, the pursuit of happiness is associated with being a ‘taker,’ while the pursuit of meaning corresponds with being a ‘giver.’

So what does all this have to do with my theme of presence and the power of now?

Well, to start with, I think we can only appreciate meaning and synchronicity when we are fully present, in the moment, not rushing around preoccupied with past worries and future fears. And…

Oh well, I may as well just tell you the whole story.

A few weeks ago I was at work, in the library. I found myself in the not-unfamiliar position of finding a task I could do at the back of the library away from everyone as I was feeling pretty upset. Yet again I was trying and failing to have a relationship with the man I love. Yet again I was left confused, gutted, and distraught.

As I wallowed mindlessly in my heartbreak, the stocktake scanner beeped at me, alerting me to remove a book from the shelf.  A book called The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

This a book that so many people have told me I should read over the years, and I had tried, but it never really resonated with me.

This time I started reading and it was like a life-support system. I know that sounds dramatic. But the reality is, after decades in and out of suicidal depression, I have some pretty well-worn neural pathways that take me to that dark place very quickly. The only way out is through extreme mindfulness, but it’s not easy to be mindful when you feel that bad.

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There was something quiet and simple about the Power of Now. Tolle wastes no time in telling the reader how to be mindful, so I just kept doing what he said.  Then the dark thoughts came back, then I’d do what he said, then… Well, you get the idea.

Focus attention on the feeling inside you. Know that it is the pain-body. Accept that it is there. Don’t think about it – don’t let the feeling turn into thinking. Don’t judge or analyse. Don’t make an identity for yourself out of it. Stay present, and continue to be the observer of what is happening inside you. Become aware not only of the emotional pain but also of “the one who observes,” the silent watcher. This is the Power of Now. The power of your own conscious presence. Then see what happens. Eckhart Tolle

It’s no overstatement to say I was amazed by the contrast between how I felt when practicing presence or mindfulness and how I felt as soon as I slipped back into my pain-centred being. And it wasn’t that I was avoiding the pain I felt, I was feeling the pain, I just wasn’t adding to my pain by dredging up all the ‘whys’ and ‘what ifs’ of past and future focused thinking. In the now I was just very sad. And then I just was. And it wasn’t that bad. To just be, now.

This is not the first time I’ve used mindfulness techniques, and Tolle is by no means inventing anything new here. It was just the right messenger at the right time.

I was reminded of reading a book called The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. Also focusing on mindfulness, the book describes how our thinking, as tied up as it is in fight or flight parasympathetic stress responses, can add significant suffering to our lives, particularly in the form of anxiety and depression.

Harris advocates using mindfulness to accept and create space for our feelings, whilst allowing our actions to focus on our core values. For example I may feel sad and fearful, I can acknowledge those feelings, breathe and be present, yet still act with dignity and do whatever I need to do today. That may be work, or taking care of children, or even taking care of myself.

Happiness is not a goal. It is the by-product of a life well lived. Eleanor Roosevelt

In a follow-up book The Reality Slap, Harris describes his grief at hearing his son’s autism diagnosis, and his journey back to finding worth and joy in life again. Harris is adamant that his approach is not about avoiding feelings, or affirming away challenging emotions.

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In yoga class, the teacher is taking us through the five niyamas. Last week’s theme was santosha. Santosha is contentment, but not the contentment that comes from getting what we want. Rather santosha is the contentment we find within, that enduring inner flame that continues regardless of outside circumstances.

The second ‘limb’ of yoga, the niyama are contracts with oneself. The practice of these niyama: self-purification (Shaucha), contentment (Santosha), self-discipline (Tapas), self-study (svadhyaya), and self-surrender (Ishvara Pranidhana), ideally create an environment of positive discipline in which to pursue the path of yoga.

Santosha implies a total acceptance of what is, with a particular focus on what is to be appreciated in any moment. It is unconditional contentment. It is an acknowledgement that underneath the hurly burly of life’s ups and downs is a true self that is always okay. The same self that Eckhart Tolle refers to. The self that exists only in the now, not thinking of the past or the future.

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. Viktor Frankl

Try it for a moment. Take some deep breaths and bring your awareness onto right now. Feel the weight of your body sitting on the floor or a chair. Feel the air around you, listen to the sounds close by and in the distance. Just feel how it feels to be in your body, without judging your body, feeling the heartbeat, the breath, the blood pulsing. Feeling into your senses, into the experience of being alive.

If you feel any discomfort in your body, just breath and allow the discomfort. Observe it. Where is it in your body? Is it large or small? Does it feel hard or soft? Warm or cold? These may sound like strange questions, but it is amazing when we become fully present with our pain and observe it in this way how it does become a tangible thing, just another thing that is a part of us right now, it doesn’t have to totally define us though.

If you had a moment there where you managed to be present and stop thinking about the past or present, how did it feel? Did you feel that you had tapped into a real sense of living in the moment? Of being truly alive?

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So here I am.  Finding myself heart-broken, sad, angry, and all that is around me indicates a focus on presence, on meaning. On contentment. As much as I want to rail against this, experience shows me it’s the way. We always have a choice, life circumstances may be beyond our control, but our attitude towards them is not.

We need much less than we think we need. Maya Angelou

Wayne Dyer says that what you carry around inside of you is what comes out when life puts pressure on you. Like an orange that when squeezed will only ever produce orange juice, because that’s what inside. So the sadness and anger that comes out is from within me, it’s not anyone’s else’s.

Alternatively, those of us who can be present, contented, mindful, and centred in our inherent peace, will radiate that.

We become what we focus on.

When our goal in life is to be happy, anything less that that is a failure. All we can see is what we don’t yet have.

It is also fleeting. While we chase after that person, job, possession, or even that spiritual ideal, which we think will bring us happiness, we make our contentment external and conditional.

We also set ourselves up for a neverending cycle of chasing the ‘next thing’ to make us happy, we may even experience anxiety and depression when these things don’t work out, or don’t bring us the feelings we crave. This is the happiness trap.

When we focus on what meaning our life has, it is possible we can be quite unhappy with our external life circumstances, and yet by living a value-driven life, we can experience the true contentment that comes from doing something meaningful and lasting. Acting from values tends to create a lasting sense of worth, which in turn positively influences our inner contentment.

I learned this… That if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours… In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. Henry David Thoreau 

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Mindfulness is certainly the buzzword du jour. Its benefits continue to shine in research studies. Yet just how easy is it to practice?

My experience is that it’s only when my thoughts are problematic that I have the incentive to detach from them. Hence my mindfulness practice can wane somewhat when I’m feeling good.

Somewhat paradoxically, if I do not maintain a mindfulness practice when I am feeling good, when the bad times hit, it can be harder to start practising then. Who wants to be mindful of painful feelings? Like any practice, it takes time and consistency to train the mind. Being fundamentally lazy, I tend to fall back into old habits and well worn neural pathways pretty quickly.

Happy thoughts and projections for the future seem harmless and often quite pleasurable. It’s only when my thoughts turn to the dark side, as they have this last few weeks that I really recognise the need for me to be the master of my own mind.

Stuck at home with the flu, no TV, and very few distractions, I began to see how desperately I wanted an escape from my own mind. Social media was filled with the disasters of the world, which I felt both devastated by and powerless over.

Instead of escaping the present, I stayed with it. Left with little distractions, I made that choice to stay present, even though the present seemed pretty crappy.

What I found there was my true self. My essence. That part of me that is unchanging, unaffected by the external. The observer, the witness, my spirit. She goes by many names. I call her home.

For when we tap into this presence, all else falls away and our power, our awareness is brought into a state of oneness. We are centred and it truly feels as if all our disparate parts have come home.

We are fragmented into so many different aspects. We don’t know who we really are, or what aspects of ourselves we should identify with or believe in. So many contradictory voices, dictates, and feelings fight for control over our inner lives, that we find ourselves scattered everywhere, in all directions, leaving nobody at home. Meditation then, is bringing the mind home. Sogyal Rinpoche

I realise I have not been meditating so much, or journeying, of late. My spiritual practice has been entirely about my classes. Somewhere along the line I had lost that fearlessness that allowed me to delve deeper within.

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By attaching myself to external needs, I had neglected the internal ones. When those external needs weren’t met, I was left alone in the awareness that somewhere along the line I had abandoned myself.

What seemed like an external crisis became a necessary wake up call to reconnect with the power within. The power of presence. The power of now. It’s time to come home.

Little by little as you left their voices behind, the stars began to burn through sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice, which you slowly recognised as your own, that had kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper. Mary Oliver

Blessings!

Sources:

There’s More to Life Than Being Happy from The Atlantic

The Mysterious Power of Synchronicity

Images from Facebook. Sources unknown.

Sunshine and daisies and depression

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Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I’ve suffered from bouts of depression since I was 13. The black cloud is always there lurking, waiting for the moments when I’m over-tired and stressed, disappointed in life, but it’s only truly debilitating for me at times.

Normally, if I take good care of myself, and the depression is not too prevalent, I am a very happy, perky, glass half-full, capable, type of person. I love to smell the roses, roll around the grass, and pick daisies in the sunshine. I love to dance and smile and laugh.

Possibly my tendency to depression started even earlier. I do remember lying in bed at night as a young child, ruminating. Worrying about my Dad being out in a storm – he had a habit of falling and breaking bones on rainy nights. Worrying about the Earth suspended so precariously as it is, spinning in infinite space. Worrying about infinity, because I couldn’t fathom the concept. I knew there was a big bang, but what was before that? How can something come from nothing?

Worry is encoded in my DNA, inherited and finely-honed by generations of Irish women. It is my gateway drug to depression. Left alone long enough, in a negative mind-spin, and I can go from content to despair in 180 seconds flat.

Here’s the rub. Life can be great. It can be fun and joyous and fulfilling. Life can also be right up in your face all mess and guts and mud. Because that’s reality. And sometimes reality is all those things at once. The love and the stench of life.

Robin Williams’ tragic death this week has got so many of us, me included, all thinking about life and death. And depression.

I guess, for me, it feels like I lost a member of my extended family. I didn’t know the guy, but he featured in my life for three decades. Like the eccentric uncle who lives overseas, who you never actually see, but sends ridiculously funny postcards from exotic locales at Christmastime, and you just adore him from a distance.

I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but this week quite a few of the people I love are seriously depressed. And even though I have experienced depression, it’s one of those things that when you’re not in it, you don’t really get it. I look at my beautiful, talented, “so much to live for” friends and just think, but why?

If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do. Stephen Fry

I read a great article this week called Meditation Isn’t Enough – A Buddhist perspective on suicide by Lodro Rinzler. He touches on the stigma of depression, not only in society at large, but in the Buddhist community. I have found this to be so in many communities that focus on a spiritual way of life. Many make claims, to which I have subscribed in the past, that if you practise (insert technique/program here) well enough, it will heal all your ills.

I have seen some Buddhist teachers make remarks about depression as a form of suffering; that one should be able to meditate and have everything be okay, in lieu of prescription medication. That is not true; meditation is not a cure-all for mental illness… Buddhists can’t just take everything to the meditation cushion and hope it will work out. When things get tough, as in to the point that you can’t imagine getting out of bed in the morning tough, you need help. And there should be no shame in seeking it. Lodro Rinzler

I have suffered periodic bouts of depression since I was 13. Depression and puberty hit me in one fell swoop and I went from a moody but pretty sparky kid, to a sullen, tubby, and terminally sad teenager.

I was put on antidepressants as a teen after an attempted overdose, but I didn’t stay on them. I’m not sure why. As a young adult, I ‘self-medicated’ with alcohol and recreational drugs, until I found myself in rehab and a 12 step program at the age of 25.

The 12 step program absolutely saved my life from alcohol and drug misuse, but never really addressed the depression and anxiety that underpinned it. As such last year, 14 and half years free of any mind-altering substances, I found myself suicidally depressed. I was also extremely physically unwell at the time. In fact, I basically crashed, broken down in mind, body, and spirit.

My body ached with heaviness and lethargy. I was tired all the time but couldn’t sleep. Trying to talk to people or be out in the world was physically painful. My focus, concentration, cognitive, and speech faculties declined rapidly. I felt completely worthless and alone. And then, it got worse…

Finally a good friend intervened and told me to go to the doctor. She lovingly said to me, “How bad do you want this to get before you admit you need help?” At that stage I was unable to sleep, eat, work, or leave the house. I was having back-to-back weeping or panic attacks.

I don’t want to see anyone. I lie in the bedroom with the curtains drawn and nothingness washing over me like a sluggish wave. Whatever is happening to me is my own fault. I have done something wrong, something so huge I can’t even see it, something that’s drowning me. I am inadequate and stupid, without worth. I might as well be dead. Margaret Atwood

My anxiety was such that I would spend the day circling my flat, deciding to do one thing, say a load of washing, then getting distracted by the need to vacuum the floor, buy food, and wash the dishes – activities that only a few months before I seemed to manage with ease. And after telling myself how completely useless a human being I was, I’d end up on the floor in fetal position, sobbing, and thinking that really I should just kill myself because it wasn’t getting better and everyone (my twelve year old son included) would be better off without me.

That to me is the nature of depression. I HONESTLY thought my son would be better off with me dead. That’s crazy town! I know logically no matter how bad a mother I am – and really I’m okay – my family would always rather have me here. Plus the fact I have been very close to families where members have suicided and I know the devastation. Yet, none of that was powerful enough to overcome my depression.

There is no point treating a depressed person as though she were just feeling sad, saying, ‘There now, hang on, you’ll get over it.’ Sadness is more or less like a head cold- with patience, it passes. Depression is like cancer. Barbara Kingsolver

If you are fortunate enough to have never experienced depression, I find this blog post by Allie Brosh explains it rather well…

And people offer all kinds of unhelpful advice, “why don’t you go for a walk?”, “you need a hobby,” ” stop worrying!” “you need to go out and have fun!” “I felt sad when… and I did… and it got better.”

Now while all these suggestions, in addition to good diet and exercise, are wonderful ways to manage inactive depression, when I am in a depressive episode, I can’t do any of those things, and you suggesting I should, only makes me feel even more hopeless and sad.

During this time, my favourite periods were when I was completely numb, all cried out, no real anxiety, just a low level hum. As long as no-one looked at me too closely, or knew me as the vivacious, bubbly, happy sort I could be, I could pretend to be okay.

I didn’t want my picture taken because I was going to cry. I didn’t know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of my throat and I’d cry for a week. I could feel the tears brimming and sloshing in me like water in a glass that is unsteady and too full. Sylvia Plath

Fortunately between my friend’s entreaties and a moment of lucidity where I realised it was possible that if this continued, I could kill myself against my own will, I realised that none of my fears about medication could be worse than this.

As I said, I realise my thinking patterns exacerbate my depression, and I’m sure my days of self-medicating did some disastrous things to my brain chemistry. I have tried to correct this balance with diet, exercise, meditation, vitamins, essential oils, bodywork, and positivity.

However I understand depression is more complex than that, if changing my thinking, my diet, practising mindfulness, and energy work were enough to cure depression, mine would have gone long ago. My depression is a chemical imbalance, a medical condition and like other medical conditions, sometimes medicine is required.

When you’re lost in those woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize that you are lost. For the longest time, you can convince yourself that you’ve just wandered off the path, that you’ll find your way back to the trailhead any moment now. Then night falls again and again, and you still have no idea where you are, and it’s time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off the path that you don’t even know from which direction the sun rises anymore. Elizabeth Gilbert

Colin Wilson has written many books, from his first seminal work The Outsider at 24, to the one I’m currently reading Super Consciousness at 75. His life’s passion has been to understand consciousness through the examination of the great writers.

Why were the existentialists so dark and nihilistic? Why did the romantics, after discovering a world of beauty and love, invariably die to suicide and alcoholism?

Wilson suggests that many artists and writers experience glimpses into another consciousness, a place of such sublime beauty that everyday life seems, by comparison, depressingly bleak and dull. He cites the poems of W H Auden as conveying what he terms ‘life failure’ the sense that all the life force has simply gone out of a person, all the feeling, the passion, the oomph. It’s a rather neat description of depression, isn’t it?

It’s no use raising a shout.
No, Honey, you can cut that right out.
I don’t want any more hugs;
Make me some fresh tea, fetch me some rugs.
Here am I, here are you: But what does it mean?
What are we going to do?
W H Auden

Wilson had much to do with Abraham Maslow – who wrote extensively on peak experiences – but unlike Maslow who believed these experiences were random and out of our control, Wilson was sure that there was a way to create the environment for these experiences to occur.

I tend to agree. While depression is undeniably a chemical and genetic illness, there are, albeit rare, cases where depression has been cured by a spiritual awakening, Eckhart Tolle being the example that springs to mind. Tolle had a spiritual experience at the depths of his depression that not only transformed him, but resulted in many books that have given hope and comfort to many other people.

While I am very grateful to live in a time where I can take medication to alleviate my depressive symptoms, I don’t necessarily equate that with a solution to the underlying problem. Having experienced the states of both ‘life failure’ and ‘super consciousness’ that Wilson and Tolle and many others like William James write about, I want to investigate this more.

Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better. Rainer Maria Rilke

Wilson writes that the ingredient lacking in ‘life failure’, that is so obviously present in ‘super consciousness’ is feeling. Now, I know folks may jump at me here, depression is full of horrible feelings, but hang on a tick. The feeling he refers to is that sense of feeling a part of all of consciousness, all of life, a feeling of connection. Depression, for me, is the complete opposite of that, it’s like someone has cut the cord to that connection. He also says a key factor is ‘absorption’ – in the sense of being truly engrossed in something we love, for me it would be writing.

These ingredients – or the lack thereof – speak to me of the heart chakra. The connectedness, the deep feeling states, and the love and deep absorption in actions that are ‘close to our hearts.’

Depression for me is associated with lethargy and a lack of will to power. As such I associate it very much with a weak or inactive solar plexus chakra. The solar plexus also governs the intellect, and to me there is no denying that depression is, initially, an illness of the intellect.

During my intensive chakradance work as part of training to be a facilitator, I had some intense experiences with this chakra. Since then I feel my inner fire has been fully ignited and by tapping into that fire, I can produce a state of energy and vibrancy which can override my natural inclination to inaction and depression.

Now, I am not for one moment suggesting I have a cure for depression, Like all medical conditions I recommend expert medical help. I do believe that there are ways to help the energy body become more resilient. For myself, depression is intricately tied to being a deep thinker and highly sensitive empathetic person, as such I am susceptible to other people’s emotions and indeed the emotions of the world as I empathise with the horrors occurring on a daily basis.

In the past, I thought suppressing this “dark side” of my personality was the way. Attempting to distract myself with happy thoughts and gratitude – which are valid practices in and of themselves, not a cure for depression. I realise now, that denial makes it worse, what I seek now, is integration.

“Depression'” means literally “being forced downwards”… When the darkness grows denser, I would penetrate to its very core and ground, and would not rest until amid the pain a light appeared to me, for in excessu affectus [in an excess of affect or passion] Nature reverses herself… Anyway that is what I would do. What others would do is another question, which I cannot answer. But for you too there is an instinct either to back out of it or to go down to the depths. But no half-measures or half-heartedness. C G Jung

In Jungian psychology the shadow is the part of self we try to deny but that must be integrated for wholeness. Depression has been my life-long shadow. Yet I see how it has taught me. Without depression I would not have empathy with the pain of others. Without depression I would not have spent long periods alone, deep in thought in a quest to better understand myself and my place in this world. Without depression I would not have sought with such hunger the words of the great writers and poets and musicians, whose soothing words salved my aching soul.

It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me. Stephen Fry

I need to be careful between the discussion of depression, as in clinical, and a broader sense of ennui or existential despair… I have both so I find it tricky. My friend says depression is not really the shadow, as the shadow is part of our normal self. Feeling bad and down isn’t necessarily a pathology, whereas clinical depression is. Similarly stress and anxiety are entirely normal and necessary responses to circumstance, but an anxiety disorder is a pathology.

The recognition and acknowledgement of my depression, the fact that it does co-exist in me with a very sparkly, bright personality is a good place to start. When I tried to ‘white light’ my depression away, to suppress and deny it, I got sicker. It is vital for me to integrate all parts of my being, to let go of the idea that the sparkly persona is preferable, to embrace myself as a whole self.

The realization of the shadow is inhibited by the persona. To the degree that we identify with a bright persona, the shadow is correspondingly dark. Thus shadow and persona stand in a compensatory relationship, and the conflict between them is invariably present in an outbreak of neurosis. The characteristic depression at such times indicates the need to realize that one is not all one pretends or wishes to be. Maxson J McDowell

So I need to make peace with my existential angst, to welcome it home and offer it a seat at the table with all my other archetypes of self, to hear its wisdom and balance out its rampaging, ravaging pain with other aspects of my being.

This is where meditation and energy work are, quite frankly, da bomb.

Connecting with the earth, the sky and my heart – using meditation techniques like the one I described in my last post – connects me to a deep and abiding source of energy and love. Every time I meditate, dance, pray, chant, or visualise light around me or others, I tap into this ancient wisdom.

My preference is to keep my body as clean of man-made substances as possible, including medication. But there is a point when that becomes foolhardy. Western medicine has saved many lives, that other therapies might have lost, and vice versa. It’s important to me to be open-minded to all therapeutic modalities.

Therapy in-and-of itself can be a mindfulness practice, where you bring your full attention for an hour each week to what is expressing itself in your body and your mind. Lodro Rinzler

It’s not that the medication has taken my depression away, but it has alleviated the symptoms to the point where I can function. To the point where I can read, and focus in meditation and dance, and write and talk. So for now, I take my medication both medical and energetic – and I thank my lucky stars that depression hasn’t taken me out, because boy has it come close at times.

And there’s nothing on my medicine packet to say any of this energetic and meditation stuff is contra-indicated, so if you haven’t already, maybe give it a try.

The lotus is the most beautiful flower, whose petals open one by one. But it will only grow in the mud. In order to grow and gain wisdom, first you must have the mud – the obstacles of life and its suffering… The mud speaks of the common ground that humans share, no matter what our stations in life… Whether we have it all or we have nothing, we are all faced with the same obstacles: sadness, loss, illness, dying and death. If we are to strive as human beings to gain more wisdom, more kindness and more compassion, we must have the intention to grow as a lotus and open each petal one by one. Goldie Hawn

Affirmations on depression (adapted from Therese Borchard’s article on Every Day Health)

I am valued even when I’m not productive.

I am loved despite my sadness.

I am not unwell because of a lack of effort or a failure at adjusting faulty thoughts.

I am appreciated even when I can’t contribute much.

I am needed even though I may feel worthless.

I am separate from my depression.

I am not any less of a person because certain people can’t understand my illness.

I have persevered and persevered and can celebrate my tenacity.

I am much more than my opinions of myself.

My brain is my friend.

My pain won’t last forever.

I am resilient.

I am a silent warrior.

I am okay where I am right now.

 

Bless!

 

Title image:

healthydunia.com

 

 

Out with the old, in with the new

buddha 3 effects

“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.” Buddha

The tricky part about believing that our intentions create our reality is what to do when negative thinking or even a spectacularly bad mood hits.

I realise my last post was very upbeat, and that’s how I felt at the time. Inspired, in the flow, super-confident of my manifesting abilities. Since then, being back at work, back in the suburbs, preparing for, what quite frankly feels like, ‘The Onslaught’ of the year kicking into full gear, I just haven’t felt quite so zen.

This seems reasonable, surely one is not expected to maintain this positive frame of mind 100% of the time? A few stolen grumpy hours under the doona with 20 episodes of a trashy TV series, in complete panic about how to pay one’s car registration, that’s okay, right?

Reading further on into Wayne Dyer’s Wishes Fulfilled put an end to that kind of thinking.

“Never let your attentiveness to what you are in the process of manifesting be side-tracked by external pressures of any kind”

Never? Like, ever? Even when I’m super-hormonal? Geesh.

I don’t know about you, but I have great intentions when they are new, but then I waft and wane a bit. I get a bit over being ‘good’ all the time. I get lazy and well, bored.

All the writers I have read seem to agree on the importance of attention and consistency in manifesting intentions. Apparently you can undo all your good work with some inattentive thinking.

This makes sense to me. My thoughts have been running this show with a news-flash like stream across my mind for my entire life, I don’t ask for them, they’re just there, and the majority of them are not particularly helpful.

There’s a lot of old recordings playing,

“why did you do that? you did what? again? your writing sucks! who do you think you are anyway? they don’t like you, they think you’re a pretentious twat”.

Or just banal rubbish like “how does the windscreen get so dirty on the inside?”

I could go on, like my mind often does, but I won’t.

Now I don’t pretend to understand the mind, or where thoughts come from. I only know that I don’t make this stuff up, it’s just there. If I could choose my thoughts, they’d all be positive, because that’s what I want in my life. So I tend to agree with the concept that Deepak Chopra and Wayne Dyer talk about. That I may not create my thoughts, but I do observe them. I am the constant presence that hears and reacts to my thoughts. Which means I get to choose which thoughts I like and which ones I don’t.

Like the old story of the two wolves. You know the one. It’s an old Cherokee Legend. A grandfather talks to his grandson.

“There’s a battle that goes on inside of all humans.”

He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.

One is Evil – It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good – It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

My friend also puts it this way, let your unwanted thoughts die of neglect.

It’s like positive parenting, focus on the good, ignore the bad, unless it involves fire or sharp objects.

Rolling along with the analogies…

Imagine your mind is like a computer, it has been programmed to act in certain ways from birth. However, not all of these programs are helpful. Some may have been encoded by well meaning parents or teachers who constantly told you that the world was a dangerous, scary place and you should value safety above all else. This encoded you to be fearful, worrying, ever vigilant of potential threats, adverse to risk-taking.

However, now you want to embrace the abundance of the universe. As the sage Norwegian eighties pop group A-Ha once sang “it’s no better to be safe than sorry”. You want to take risks. You want to be open and receptive.

In order to do this you can reprogram your mind with new thoughts and affirmations, like this one from the I am discourses by Saint Germain:

 “I am the almighty governing presence of my life and my world. I am the health, well-being and harmony, self-sustained, which carries me through everything that confronts me.”

I also find doing a regular stocktake of my thinking helpful. This is something 12 Step programs refer to as an inventory. You basically write out all your angry, fearful, guilty, negative stuff and then you ask yourself what made you think or act like that? Usually there will be these old programs running, that you may not even be conscious of. Things that, in the words of Mary A. Hall:

“you having been believing were the real you”

But they’re not! They are probably someone else’s thoughts that you picked up somewhere and just accepted as truth.

I believe these old programs contribute to addictive behaviours and depression, speaking as someone who has suffered from depression – since puberty tipped me over from being a sensitive child into a full-blown, hormone-fuelled nihilist.

Depression is exacerbated in me by a lack of speaking my truth, feeling disempowered, repressing anger, being inauthentic, fear of other peoples reactions, a lack of self care, and self-abandonment.

In other words, the complete opposite of Shakespeare’s adage:

“To thine own self be true.”

Lest we all feel the task is too hard, I’ll finish with two suggestions Wayne Dyer gives, which I think are very manageable and which should tide us over until we become fully enlightened beings.

1. Acts of kindness

Studies have shown that serotonin and oxytocin (chemicals that make us feel good) levels are increased when giving, receiving, and witnessing acts of kindness.

2. Five minutes before sleep

Spend the five minutes before sleep thinking and feeling into positive “I am” statements. This ensures you enter your subconscious dream state with the positive intentions you wish to imprint on your subconscious mind – as opposed to all your worries and concerns. This will ensure you wake feeling positive and aligned each and every day. It can also assist in physical healing as your body heals during restful sleep.

And finally, here’s an affirmation I love from The Book of Stones: Who They Are & What They Teach by Robert Simmons and Naisha Ahsian – for Rose Quartz.

I open my heart to receive and express the energies of love. My mind, heart, body, soul and spirit blend in perfect harmony as I manifest my true self.

Bless.

Further reading on Acts of Kindness:

http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/kindness-research/2153-elation-the-amazing-effect-of-witnessing-acts-of-kindness

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/priya-advani/random-acts-of-kindness_b_3412718.html

http://www.actionforhappiness.org/10-keys-to-happier-living/do-things-for-others?gclid=CLbB5LnXpLwCFQQwpAodVC4Ajg