A big benefit of counselling is increasing our emotional landscape. In psychosynthesis, Assagioli’s ‘egg diagram’ is a handy visual for showing our capacity for sorrow and joy as well as different levels of consciousness and our connection with Self.
I often well up (or sob) at something that hits me either because it’s so beautiful or sad.
Happy tear catalysts include a video of people dancing in celebration after succeeding in protecting the earth, drinking water and sacred ground from the Dakota Access Pipeline, a stunning piece of art, a moonscape and many, many other things (especially involving acts of kindness and compassion).
Similarly, I regularly cry at the news or horrors which I won’t repeat.
Often, the kinds of emotions that were ‘allowed’ when we were growing up are used to suppress feelings that were deemed intolerable. For many of us, feelings like sadness, fear and anger were discouraged. For some of us, even ‘positive’ feelings like joy (for example, if a parent was depressed and needed quiet) might have been discouraged.
Often, in an effort to numb ourselves from pain, shame, fear and trauma, we similarly cut of our capacity for joy. By healing what’s repressed – both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’, we can live life more fully.
I regularly recommend Elaine Aron’s work around the Highly Sensitive Person to clients as, so often, sensitivity is seen as a bad thing. Obviously, we don’t want to be so raw that we’re incapacitated (although, looking back, I see that when this was the case for me, it turned out to be a good thing as it made me make some big changes in my life) but sensitivity and empathy are strengths.
This time of year can make us feel more raw in lots of ways – bursting with love for people and also cranky and irritable.
When we accept all of our emotions as fleeting and equally valid, it can be easier to handle no matter the intensity.
When you think of the weeks ahead, does anything spring to mind as a time when you may feel emotionally overwhelmed?
What might you do in such moments to support yourself through it?
How might you better honour (or hone) your sensitivity to a range of feelings and emotions rather than numbing yourself?
While I already blogged here about over-riding impressions of Assagioli’s house (where so much of psychosynthesis theory and practice was developed), I think this poignant note to himself about the messenger being the message is worth revisiting.
What is your message? Is the way you live your life congruent with that?
I remember being active in the peace movement for many years and preferring the emphasis on peace rather than anti-war but even so, I remember not being able to own my inner anger. I was particularly conscious of wanting to be an ambassador for peace if I was wearing a badge of some sort.
After all, peace activists getting angry and violent about the frustrating issues they’re working to improve isn’t very congruent.
As I got older and better able to recognise that anger is a perfectly healthy and natural response to certain things, I became less likely to act out (or in, in my case, I tended to take it out on myself) unconsciously, and better able to use it as a clue about something in my life that I needed to change.
That’s just one example. Another might be not being angry enough. I keep breaking off writing this to shake a tub of pebbles, as recommended by Rainbow’s vet, when she’s chewing electrical cords (I want her to have as much fun exploring as possible but need to nip anything potentially hazardous in the bud while she’s a kitten).
Even though it’s for her own good, shaking the tub (not hurting her at all but creating a sound that doesn’t fill her with delight), I feel like evil personified. This is my stuff. I need to over-ride my resistance in order to train her well and be congruent with my message of ‘No.’
It reminds me of a wonderful day I spent on an equine leadership course with the fab Melody Cheal some years ago. By the end of the day, I was able to lead the horse through the obstacle course (nothing major, just some turns but I think it was my first time ever meeting a horse up close and when I went over to introduce myself in the morning, I’d apologised as a default for not having any food for him) just with my intention and the memory still awes me now.
In my Feel Better Every Day work, I now love ‘modelling imperfection’ (as a therapist friend used to casually say when she made a mistake). It has been so freeing to recognise (probably only in the past few years) that not only do I not need to be perfect but my imperfections are what’s helped me cultivate empathy and I can direct some of that at myself when needed.
In what area/s of your life do you feel most ‘on message’? Most congruent?
Are there areas where you feel like you’re talking the talk but definitely not walking the walk? Self care and paying attention to what energises and what drains me are big ones for me. They’re at the heart of much of my writing and client work yet, no matter how much I know that they transform everything, on occasion, something might feel that bit too self-indulgent. In these cases, I need to relearn that they’re important habits to cultivate and maintain.
If you’re struggling to identify areas in your own life, you might want to talk to a friend (or coach or therapist) to work on the issues you think you’re clear about but may be giving mixed signals around. If what you’re doing isn’t working for you, it could be that just a few small tweaks are needed to help you become more congruent and in the flow.
How can you become a stronger ambassador for your message, whatever it may be?
‘I take pleasure in my transformations. I look quiet and consistent but few know how many women there are in me’ ~ Anais Nin
We all have many different aspects to ourselves. Some feel more familiar and comfortable (maybe we learned as children that being strong was valued so we’re perfectly at ease taking on the world’s woes while unable to handle even a hint of vulnerability) and some just feel like glimmers of what might be.
I’ve always loved Liam Neeson* but am especially impressed by his recent transformation from dramatic actor to action star in his 60s (with Unknown, Taken and so on).
I don’t know how these roles came about but imagine there might have been times where they felt so far out of his comfort zone that he wondered what he was doing. And yet he’s completely reinvented himself.
Of course actors get to experience different ways of being as their work, processing all sorts of emotions to get to the heart of the part (although they’re acting, the best ones embody the roles by getting in touch with a inherent truth that affects people who see the performance) but we can learn from them.
If you imagine yourself as an actor and think about the roles you’ve been inhabiting in your life most recently, which ones please you? Which are you bored of? Which dare you not even audition for the part?
I’m not suggesting you abandon your life as you know it to embrace a long forgotten aspect of yourself but how can you honour all these parts of yourself?
How would you like to give the different aspects of yourself more voice this coming year? Which parts of yourself are in need of a break? Which parts could use better lines and more direction?
You might want to spend a few moments with pen and paper and seeing what emerges. You might also want to create a vision board that honours all the different aspects of yourself instead of trying to present a homogenised version of yourself to the world.
Play, experiment and have fun. Try on an outfit that you might never normally wear but which your inner action star (or whatever part is seeking a voice) might delight in.
* pictured above with James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio, discussing his process and career
If you’re interested in crystals, you may want to start by exploring clear quartz. Often neglected as not as exciting or pretty as some of the other stones, it remains one of my favourites.
I’m writing about it today because, having been working with a clear quartz crystal for a couple of days now, I’ve been reminded by how powerfully it can cut through all the confusion and help us see things more clearly.
I don’t want to limit its uses to clarity (like all stones, clear quartz has many talents – each particular rock will have its own energy although many will share certain characteristics. The way it’s treated (left natural? Cut and shaped?) will also impact it so, for example, a sphere is likely to bring a softer energy than a wand) but clear quartz, well, rocks.
It can be (energetically) as sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel. Yes, the incision will need time to heal but wow, look how what needed to be removed has been excised!
Clear quartz’ stony siblings (amethyst, rose quartz and citrine) bring their own spins on the energy. Amethyst can offer a softer energy and is great for connecting us to our spirits, rose quartz can be a wonderful emotional salve and citrine can offer a citrus like burst of joy and optimism.
In terms of helping me see things more clearly (and deciding to take action), this clear quartz has been a wonderful gift. And yet, sometimes, not seeing things clearly has its compensations. It enables us to stay comfortably miserable or simply mildly dissatisfied. We may feel our heart sinking or know that we’re moaning but forget that we have the power to change things.
Of course, once we know what needs to change, we need to use our will to change things. And to temper that, we need to use love, too (kindness, compassion and acceptance both with ourselves as we take what can feel like scary steps and the people we’re dealing with).
Whether or not your clarity has come from meditating with crystals (or meditating at all) or a simple flash of insight, how can you best honour your new knowledge?
What baby steps can you start taking today? And how can you be as kind to yourself (and others involved) as possible as you go through this transition?
If you’re interested in finding out more about working with crystals to create the life of your dreams (not nightmares), check out my special New Year’s Eve (daytime) workshop to help you release all that’s holding you back and move into 2014 feeling lighter and more focused.
I had a gorgeous trip to Florence (via Paris) this week for 2013’s Psychosynthesis Research Conference. The theme was ‘The Soul in Professional Practice’ and the selling point for me (apart from FIRENZE!) was the visit to Assagioli’s house.
During my training, we heard a range of stories about the creator of psychosynthesis. He comes across, in all the stories I’ve heard, as a really good man. Seeing his handwritten note, ‘The messenger is the message’ brought home his walking his walk.
An eclectic soul (hence psychosynthesis is so integrative drawing on psychoanalysis and Eastern practices and philosophy, too), Assagioli wanted to keep his beliefs away from the science. In the intervening century, the world has become more open to different ways of doing things (Assagioli was imprisoned by Mussolini’s government for his Jewish background and progressive writings).
I imagine the Italian psychiatrist / psychoanalyst struggled a great deal to balance his beliefs and medical training while pioneering this new approach to working with mind, body, feelings and the transpersonal (spirit).
Apart from just being in Florence, it was great to get a sense of how he’d lived (and to read references to the ‘intelligent Italian’ in Freud and Jung’s collected letters).
It was interesting to see his workboard where he’d experimented with the early theory (as a student, it was presented as the finished theory so seeing his question marks around aspects and, I guess, the messiness that real lives entail, was more inspiring to me than all the polished, finished things).
Similarly, the view from his desk inspired a little Happy Dance from me. We’d learned about his ‘evocative words’ techniques (think affirmations, but choosing just one word representing a quality you want to amplify in your life) but how wonderful to see his most prominent placement of Serenity and Pazienza (Serenity and Patience). (Patience is something I have to work at. Big time. It’s like that old cartoon: ‘What do we want?’ ‘Inner peace!’ ‘When do we want it?’ ‘NOW!’)
Some of what I’d heard about him made him sound like a saint of sorts so this made him seem delightfully human. But ignoring all the (some of them fab) speakers and theory, and lovely people I met from around the world, the biggest lesson I’ll remember is Assagioli’s encouragement (we were shown bits of his manuscripts) to listen to ‘the pull of your soul’.
What Assagioli sensed all this time ago is being borne out by modern science. He spoke about storing reserves of joy and we now understand that while we feel emotions like joy, pride, love, hope, awe and so on, we create a natural performance enhancing hormone, DHEA, which, while feeling pretty amazing, also inhibits the stress response and creation of cortisol.
While the whole trip (especially choosing trains over planes) was something my spirit craved, the biggest gift I gave myself was crossing Florence to find a pool and being allowed to use it. Wherever I go, I love to swim and visit public libraries (the one I spent the most time in had a gorgeous courtyard and views over the stunning cathedral next door).
My swims are normally pretty easy to arrange but even having researched in advance, it appeared that the gorgeous public pools (mostly outdoors) were closed for the winter. Still, the lovely hotel receptionist saw that a local gym was offering free trial swims.
With my Italian being limited to ‘Magnifico!’, ‘Bellisimo!’ and ‘Grazie’, I knew I was taking a risk (wasting limited time in Florence getting spectacularly lost and potentially NOT getting to swim). But when I found it, I spoke to someone with wonderful English and, even though I offered to pay saying I lived in the UK, was told I could swim for free. Magic.
In your own life, can you think of a big gift (trip/course/experience of some kind) that your soul seems to crave?
How about little things you can build in each day?
What is your soul/spirit/whatever you want to call it pulling you to do right now?
If you want to, sit comfortably and just allow yourself to get a sense of what you need most in this moment. It might be a hug from someone, listening to a particular piece of music, visiting your favourite forest/beach/lake/gallery, singing, cooking or painting, exploring, having a mini dance break… You know better than anybody what’s best for you.
We’re all different and have varying needs day to day. Paying attention to whatever it is your spirit needs and doing your best to deliver will pay enormous dividends in mood boosts and overall wellbeing.
Creativity coach and The Artist’s Way author, Julia Cameron, calls it, ‘Filling the well’. Sonia Choquette (whose delightful Trust Your Vibes draws on a fair bit of psychosynthesis theory but in a wonderfully accessible, friendly way) suggests giving your spirit a name and conversing with it to really tune in to what’s right for you.
Have fun checking in with your spirit as well as mind, body and feelings. Just asking yourself, at different times throughout the day, ‘What do I need right now?’ will help you become more fluent in understanding yourself.
We live in such a busy, noisy world, becoming better acquainted with this wise part of yourself can not only make life feel so much smoother but enables you to access all your resources more easily.
All images (c) Eve Menezes Cunningham 2013
Even though Jane Fonda has long since eschewed her ‘No pain, no gain’ mantra from her workout video phase, there’s a part of many of us that thinks that growth, recovery and healing has to hurt.
I only embarked on counselling training (after years of coaching myself into overcoming inner feelings of hideousness) when I felt ready to delve into past traumas and finally do whatever it took to heal ‘properly’.
Comfortably uncomfortable with my default setting of self-loathing, I didn’t want to hear it when told that it was all about acceptance and allowing, self-compassion and so on but they’re key to everything.
Fortunately, the type I chose (psychosynthesis), is a transpersonal psychology and one of the earliest exercises we did in the first week showed me that I didn’t have to cut open wounds to heal or have what felt like the equivalent of emotional surgery. I could simply be open to healing.
I don’t want to dismiss that natural grieving that can (and often does) arise. I regularly remind clients that although my practice is called the Feel Better Every Day Consultancy, it CAN be hard.
But it doesn’t HAVE to be.
Even when it’s so hard that you feel like you need a ‘closed for refurbishment’ sign so you can just pause life and focus on recovery (something I longed for at one point), it’s worth it.
Still, it was delightful to hear clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst and psychotherapist Phil Mollon reaffirm my own experience at an Energy Psychotherapy workshop I attended recently.
‘It doesn’t have to be hard work,’ says Dr Mollon. ‘It doesn’t have to be painful. It can be gentle and easy.’
Talking about energetic techniques including EFT, he explained that many people are so surprised by how much better they feel afterwards that there’s a tendency to minimise how badly they’d been feeling before the treatment. Roger Callahan (founder of Thought Field Therapy which inspired EFT) called it ‘the Apex effect’.
Mollon explains that because it can’t track the process, the dramatic shifts in emotional states can be confusing for the brain.
If you’re interested in blending your counselling / coaching / yoga therapy with EFT (or any of these services on their own), click here to find out more.
They are available in Witham, Essex (and everywhere via Skype and telephone)
Image courtesy of Markuso / freedigitalphotos.net
I recently interviewed the delightful David Emerson and loved his description of using yoga as a way to become friendlier with your body.
You can find out more about his Trauma Sensitive Yoga programme in Boston here
Click here to buy his co-authored book, Overcoming Trauma through Yoga (mine’s on order and I can’t wait to read it).
Having trained as a yoga therapist with Heather Mason at The Minded Institute, I see that I’ve benefitted from his approach. She trained with Emerson and was one of the first people to bring Trauma Sensitive Yoga to the UK, working with people struggling with traumatic stress at the Maudsley in London.
Learning to breathe and move differently and changing the way we feel about ourselves and our lives not just through becoming stronger and more flexible on the mat but taking on more in our lives is just one of the things yoga can help with.
While Emerson’s focus is on helping people who’ve survived traumas find safety and comfort in their bodies, pretty much everyone I’ve ever met has forgotten to treat their body with friendliness at some point.
How many times have you experienced self-loathing of varying degrees when you were ill or while looking at our society’s ‘ideal’ body types in magazines or on TV?
The whole ‘your body is a temple’ idea can make our bodies feel even further removed when we feel far from sacred, whether that’s due to abuse or trauma or simply feeling a bit overweight. But friendliness is something we can all aspire to.
In psychosynthesis, we’re reminded that although we have bodies (and minds, and feelings), there’s more to us than that. It helps us to look at the bigger picture.
Psychosynthesis works with the body as well as the mind and emotions (and spirit). While clients sometimes think it strange at first, working symbolically with their bodies (when this is appropriate) as well as tracking physical sensations can open us up to enormous wisdom. And yet we humans often need to relearn how to access this.
I’ve started talking to some of my yoga students and clients about this idea of becoming friendlier with their bodies, not just through yoga (although it’s a wonderful way that has many benefits) but even through the things we tell ourselves (silently) or say about ourselves (when talking to others).
Dr Emoto’s studies with water, where the cellular structure changed when people said kind things or horrible things, indicate that we humans (made up of much water) can reap even greater benefits as we learn to send kinder thoughts to our own bodies.
Next time you’re in the shower or bath, take advantage of the opportunities to become friendlier with your body. Shampooing and conditioning, thank your hair (yes, even if you’re worried about hair loss). Massage your scalp with kindness. As you moisturise, send a little thank you to each part of you.
Appreciate your feet for carrying you through each day, helping you with each next step (writing this, I remember how much I used to hate feet. Even my own). Appreciate your legs for helping you stand, your knees for allowing you to be flexible and bend and jump.
If you’re carrying extra weight from pregnancy, experiment with appreciating the miracle that you – thanks to your body – were able to create and deliver a new life into the world rather than bemoaning the loss of your old jeans… Which feels better?
You get the idea. It may feel strange at first – imagine saying ‘Hi’ to a mistreated kitten. It may be wary at first but once you continue to shower yourself with friendly thoughts, you’ll begin to relax into it.
Thank your whole body. And if there are issues (back aches, recovering from surgery, parts you associate with pain of any kind), experiment with sending that part extra love.
In your yoga practice (or when you go running, cycling, swimming or whatever you enjoy doing – remember to let all your activities feel friendly and fun), rather than wishing you could stretch further / be faster, THANK your body for helping you do so much already and act as if you’re on the same team.
This will help you make healthier choices regarding food, rest and all sorts of things.
Experiment with it. And have fun.
Image courtesy of khunaspix / freedigitalphotos.net
‘We’re not meant to be perfect. We’re meant to be whole’ Jane Fonda
When I heard Jane Fonda on Oprah (catching up yesterday), I was able to see how much more whole I’ve become since I heard her speak at a VDay conference in New York when I first went self-employed in 2004. She, Eve Ensler, Gloria Steinem and Sally Field were at the first press conference I attended as a freelance journalist.
Since then, all my work (my journalism, coaching, complementary therapies and now counselling and yoga therapy for mental health) has been about healing and wellbeing. Even so, there’ve been many times when I thought wholeness was for other people and not for me.
When I began my psychosynthesis counselling training in 2008, I’d been coaching, NLPing and EFTing myself (as well as clients) for years, helping myself override an inherent sense of unworthiness and self-loathing. But when I wasn’t actively getting myself into a resourceful state, I felt pretty broken.
An early meditation during the psychosynthesis training brought to mind an image symbolising this sense of brokenness. I was literally buried, in a skip, under piles of rubbish bags. Although I’d known I’d have to delve into past traumas (you can read about my apprehension at the time about starting personal therapy in the Telegraph here) in this meditation, I felt powerless, like broken, discarded, unlovable garbage. Then I felt the bags of garbage being lifted off me.
Psychosynthesis is a holistic form of counselling, embracing the transpersonal. So as well as looking at people’s wounding, it looks at potential. During this meditation, I realised that, while I would have to work at it myself, surrendering and letting go of some of the ‘garbage’ that was burying me was also essential.
I sketched the image on a Post-It note and when life (apart from juggling work and life with study and revisiting painful parts of my past) felt particularly tough, I’d remember to surrender* what I couldn’t fix myself. (This didn’t come naturally to me and I even got a small tattoo as a reminder to myself that life is more peaceful and better when I remember to ask for guidance and let go of the things I can’t control).
All these years later, I am so much happier (even when I’m not consciously working at it) than I believed possible. I love that psychosynthesis includes (in addition to its roots in psychoanalytic psychotherapy) room for people’s spirit and guidance.
When I work with clients now and can see the pain they’re in and their fear that it will never end, I’m almost grateful for my own because I know from experience that, no matter how bad things seem, there’s a part of us that wants to heal and be better. By nurturing that part, we can flourish.
Click here if you’re interested in psychosynthesis counselling in Essex (or by telephone or Skype).
* surrender as (as Oprah said to Caroline Myss), ‘Doing all that you can do and when you’ve done everything that you can do, you surrender it and let it go to the power and energy that’s greater than yourself.’