Soul nourishment

Know thyself

Thank you to everyone who read, shared, liked and commented on my last post. I was really surprised by the response and also really heartened by the support and also the interest in something that obviously strikes at the heart for so many. The response to that article really got me thinking about the importance of connection in motherhood, and indeed parenthood. The amount of page views and shares really showed me that this is important and something that people really do care about. I never had any intention of writing about motherhood as such, except to touch on it occasionally in the bigger conversation about connection, and because I’ve written about motherhood in the past, felt a bit ‘over it’ actually. However, this article got me thinking about motherhood in the context of connection and I realised it's something I’d overlooked in my quest to unpack and explore this topic.

 

There was one comment in particular that really caught my attention and taps into my whole fascination and theory about the importance of connection. That comment was that the perspective in that article  [http://www.andreakelly.org/andreakelly/2014/8/1/the-courage-to-connect-and-courageously-support] had the potential to change women’s personal journeys of motherhood … and from there the world. And from there the world. Bingo. That’s what I’m talking about. She went on to say that if women could ‘get this’, then think of the harmony and the love and how deeply connected it could make families, communities and more. I cannot tell you how amazing it feels when you’re trying to explore, explain and share an idea that you truly believe in, when someone, somewhere says something in response and you know they 'get it'. The way I felt when I read that comment, as well as the comment itself, illustrates perfectly why I am so obsessed with connection and why I believe it’s our number one hope of bringing more peace into our own lives and indeed the world.

 

I’m talking from my own perspective as a mother mostly to other mothers, so while I don’t mean to exclude fathers and other guardians, because all are heroically important, I will mostly refer to mothers and motherhood and leave it to you as the reader to slot your own situation in. 

 

At the heart of the last article was the importance of connecting with and supporting new mothers in not striving to be everything to everyone and get 'everything done' at a time when, especially with an unsettled baby, just surviving seems to be the only thing that we’re realistically able to tick off the list … and that’s ok. It’s so important for more experienced mothers to connect with and share the wisdom of hindsight with newer mothers to help bust the myths on what motherhood is, what’s important and in doing so, reshape the all too often unrealistic expectations. Expectations that can lead to pressure, frustration, isolation and depression.

 

The first point I’d like to make is that this feeling is not unique to new mothers. Of course a screaming newborn is a rude shock into the world of motherhood emotions, but the expectations and distorted perceptions of priorities persists throughout motherhood. Unfortunately you don’t get to a point where you ‘get it’, tick it off and move on, at least I haven’t, not yet anyway. Nope, it goes on and on and is in many ways one of the shared experiences that defines motherhood. I even think, with the advantage of hindsight and my own experience with a grumpy bugger of a baby, if you have an unsettled baby, and this frustration and feeling of being torn becomes a part of your life from the get go, then maybe, just possibly, it’s mother nature’s way of giving you a head start. Better start practising, better get used to this, she’s saying, better figure out how you’re going to cope because this ain’t going away!

 

Sure, I know a screaming baby is a pretty in-your-face, heart wrenching horror of an ‘opportunity’ in bloody good disguise, but that could be a very handy way of looking at it. Your baby won’t cry forever, but crying baby or not, you will feel this way again … and again, and again. And whatever happens, in whatever way, you will get through this. You may find the miracle cure, you may not. You may come through unscathed, but you may also be scarred for life. But no matter what, while you will undoubtedly learn a lot about your baby, you’ll learn most about yourself.

 

It’s a worn out phrase that babies don’t come with a manual and of course it’s true, but it reminds me of of how sometimes there’s too much focus on the baby and not enough focus on the mum. Bear with me, I’m not saying for one moment that we should ignore our babies and indulge ourselves, that they’ll sort themselves out while we carry on with our lives as if we don’t have a screaming baby. Besides, screaming babies are pretty hard to ignore - that’s the problem, right? But what I am saying is that sometimes focusing all our energy on ‘fixing’ an unsettled baby while ignoring ourselves won’t do anyone any good either, and that focusing our energy, and at least a reasonable portion of our brain space, on understanding ourselves can be a much better investment. One of the reasons is that we may never find the magic solution for our unsettled babies and by seeking to find the ‘cure’ day after day, we run the risk of setting ourselves up for failure on a deep and dangerous level. The other reason is that while the baby will definitely, I promise you, stop being unsettled, at least at some point, the feelings of expectation as a mother, the juggling of priorities, the sense of overwhelm and frustration will come again and again in different forms and for different reasons, and the best chance any mother has of coping constructively with these feelings and learning to thrive in spite of them is by knowing herself.

 

No, babies don’t come with a manual, but by the time you have a baby, you will have accumulated a fair bit of data about what makes you you. What makes you happy, what makes you frustrated, where your strengths and weaknesses are, what your issues are. Any stress in life will magnify the things you know about yourself as well as highlight that which you didn’t know, and that which surprises you. Motherhood, if nothing else, is an epic journey in self discovery and self development. And therefore, if one thing’s true, and this applies just as much to dads and guardians, is that knowing thyself is probably your greatest tool for connecting with that baby, with your children and making this roller coaster ride of parenting as positive and fulfilling as possible.

 

Connection is the key, but it starts with yourself. It starts with listening to your inner voice, to your instincts and often, you will have to actively practise listening in order to even hear that voice, but it is there and it needs to be heard. This is where your truth is, and the more you can intentionally connect with and listen to that inner voice, the louder and more easily heard it will become. It is your first and most important mission as a parent, as a mother, as a woman, and you will need to draw on it time and time again. No one else can do it for you and it will take courage to learn to commit to it, but it’s the most important thing you can do because it’s through this voice that you will know how to nurture yourself first. By nurturing yourself first, you can mother your baby in the way that you are at peace with and have the courage to teach your partner the way that’s best for you and your baby. It will give you the courage to question the expectations you place on yourself and to make decisions that feel right for you.

 

When we connect with and support new mothers, and indeed all mothers and parents, to tap into their inner wisdom, their inner truth and peace, we enable and encourage them to parent in a way that is most unique, heart-centred and most effective for them. This is the most perfect form of parenting any parent can gift their children. It creates happy, secure and nurturing homes and enables us and our little people to go out into the world and connect with our communities from a place of greater understanding. By knowing thyself, by having the courage and commitment to listen to ourselves first, we create a feedback loop that changes not only our own lives, but those of our kids, those of our communities and indeed the world. When I have the courage and commitment to listen to my heart and let my words and my actions be guided by its truth, I allow others to tap into a primal human desire to do the same. Our kids need us to be true and at peace, whatever that means to us, so that we can guide them authentically. And kids know, babies know - they haven’t lost that instinct, it’s still raw, in tact and functioning for them; it’s us adults that have many a time lost touch with our inner truth. It takes courage to listen, it takes courage to believe and act, but when we do, things change. Life becomes easier, more enjoyable, more peaceful.

 

I know screaming babies are awful and I wouldn’t want to go back to that, but I can see with hindsight that I did miss an opportunity. I missed the opportunity to begin the journey of nurturing myself and listening to my inner truth much, much earlier than I did. We learn things at precisely the time that we’re ready to learn and I can’t turn back the clock anyway, but I do hope that my own hindsight can make someone else’s journey a little less prickly. I hope that the small amount of peace and wisdom I’ve found inside myself thus far can help just one other person see the importance of knowing thyself, trusting their instincts and in doing so, help others to do the same. True connection starts within ourselves, inside our own hearts, and the magic of doing this is that once we do, we can’t help but form more authentic connections with others, whether that’s our own kids, or people reading blogs on the internet. It’s a way of saying, “It’s ok, I understand”, and if that’s not a way to make better homes, better communities and a better world, I don’t know what is. 

Photo credit: Fe Ilya, "All My Loving" via Flickr

The courage to connect and courageously support

I often think about mothers of newborns and very young children and wonder how smartphones and the advent of Web 2.0 has impacted and changed the experience of early motherhood. When I first became a mother, smart phones were only just entering the market so Facebook and all the other social media icons were not yet as ubiquitous to every day life as they are now. I see posts from friends with babies and toddlers sharing milestones, cute photos and videos, and also the not-so-cute times. The sleep deprivation, the frustration with teething and sickness, the inability to ‘get anything done’, the urgent and dire need to ‘get out of the house’, the overwhelm of trying to fit too much into a day and then think of something to cook for dinner. Whenever I read these posts, it takes me back to a time when I too shared the same experiences, but didn’t have a smartphone to be able to tap into a willing cheer squad.

 

 

I was thinking about all this recently when a friend of mine with a very young baby wrote a post about being worn out looking after her unsettled colicky baby. Her post and replying comments took me right back to when my second child was a baby and also very unsettled. It reminded me of how I felt during that time and how I became isolated and depressed, even though I didn’t really know it at the time. My overwhelming desire was to reach out to her and help her in the way I wished someone had have been able to reach out to me. I wanted to tell her what I wished someone had have been able to tell me.

 

When my baby 'turned' from being a content, quiet little baby into a tormented, frustrated, crying little red ball at about 6 weeks, I think I would have liked my older self to have looked my younger self in the eye and tell me about the necessity of having the courage to trust my instincts and prioritise self-nurture. That this, regardless of what I believed was most important and what being a ‘good’ and ‘capable’ mother meant to me, that these things had to come first. I know what the younger self would have thought too. She would have brushed it off as obvious to the point of being irrelevant because the real priority was to figure out how to settle this baby so I could get all this other stuff done. In other words, I, like many others, I daresay, theoretically saw the importance of nurturing instincts and understanding unrealistic expectations, but not to the extent of being able to prevent myself from becoming isolated and depressed. Making the link between instincts, self-nuture and maintaining meaningful and healthy connections with others, along with the active pursuit of accountability for your own well-being is probably difficult to do without the 20/20 vision of hindsight.

 

And so day after day I’d try something new, looked for those magic gripe drops, tried the swaddling technique that was slightly different to the 7 others I’d tried, upset myself and my baby with control crying, soothing music, a more rigid feeding routine, altering my own diet, stressed myself out by trying not to be stressed and read yet another article telling me my baby was upset because I was stressed and that he was merely taking cues from me, so I should sit down and have a cup of tea. Viola! Not.

 

Looking for solutions is fine, but there's rarely a silver bullet and sometimes not even a name for ‘it'. The truth is some babies cry, a lot, and sometimes we never really find out why. Just when you think something’s ‘done the trick’, you’re just as likely to have the wheels fall off and have to head back to the drawing board … again. Early motherhood is demanding, even when everything’s smooth sailing, and downright treacherous when it’s not. When you're new to this, to this enormous, relentless job, your instincts are probably your best friend. But we can’t see instincts, were never taught instincts at school and they were possibly not even mentioned, or merely skimmed over at your anti natal class, they’re not to be found in the baby isle at Coles and your mum probably brushes them off as inferior to actual experience. But your instincts are important and they need to be honed and developed, and the only way to do this is to practise listening to them. It means being kind to yourself, it means being your own mother in a way, and making that your first priority because in truth there is no other time that you need to mother yourself more than when you become a mother yourself. If you’re so tired and exhausted and confused that you can’t even imagine having instincts, but you know you need to breastfeed and bond with that baby, if that's all you can manage, well that's absolutely enough and that’s more than ok.

 

It's all so intense and magnified when you're 'in it', but time marches on and when you look back you realise how small a time in your whole life it actually was, and therefore so precious ... and tiring, and hard, and scary, but always never the less, precious. I wish new mothers were told more strongly and relentlessly that if "all" (as if it's nothing!!) you do is sleep, breast feed and talk to your friends during this time, punctuated by some walks outside, and snuggles and talks with your partner, best friend or significant other, then you're doing a brilliant and perfect job. So ingrained is the expectation that we will be ‘super mums’ immediately (whatever that means anyway), that we’re not even explicitly told to have these expectations, we just automatically do. Now that you’re a mother, you’re supposed to have everything sorted - a perfectly content baby whose different cries you fully understand and efficiently respond to, an immaculate house, a tidy pantry, delicious and nutritious dinners, washing and ironing up-to-date, a tidy social life and coffee calendar, an exercise regime, baby weight lost, swimming lesson and baby yoga, blissful breastfeeding with copious amounts of milk, a nice fat baby, and let’s not forget, extreme happiness because everybody tells you these will be the best years of your life. 

 

Now I hate to sound cynical, but seriously? I’m skeptical and I feel strongly that these often unspoken expectations are not only unrealistic, but dramatically increase new mothers’ likelihood of experiencing feelings of failure, isolation and depression. It’s often said that failing to do anything about a problem is the same as contributing to it, and it seems to me that while most of us would agree that these kinds of expectations are unrealistic, we tend to smile and go along with them anyway. What we really need to be taught is how to unlearn them. We need to be told the way it really is and supported in being much, much more realistic in what the job actually entails, its excruciating demands and what’s actually important.

 

We are living in a period in time where most of us were brought up being told we can do and be anything. We’re used to technology and with that comes a certain impatience and expectation that everything can be ‘fixed’. If you don’t like something, don’t tolerate it - get an app, read an e-book, find a guru, fix it! And again, I’m a modern woman and I not only like that approach, for the most part, but I employ it often in everyday life to huge advantage. However I’m also becoming increasingly aware of the need for real connection in life to tap into the collective human wisdom that remains essentially unchanged through the ages. It’s so easy to get caught up in ’stuff’ and become deaf to the knowledge that has accumulated through millions of lives lived. What mother looks back and says she really should have done more housework! No mother, ever. There’s something in that, why ignore it?

 

For me, I felt like everyone had a million suggestions as to how to 'fix' my baby and I felt enormous pressure to 'solve' his problem, which in turn lead to nothing but an enormous feeling of failure and depression when I couldn't. This feeling was further compounded by my expectation that I could also get everything else done, but I couldn’t, and neither did I let it go. What I wish someone would have said to me was to stop focusing on trying to 'fix' him, and instead shift to focusing on how I was going to get through this. I needed to bring down expectations and nurture myself so I could stay relaxed and solid for my baby. I now know that it's absolutely ok if that means that all you do for days on end is sleep together and feed. Let it be. Or sleep together when possible and play blocks with your toddler. Whatever, the point is it’s just a moment in time and this too will pass. Take the time to intentionally trust yourself and nurture your instincts. Your mental health and ability to cope will be greatly strengthened and your baby will respond to your focused, calm attention. 

 

Perhaps even if this had have been said to me, perhaps I wouldn’t have been able to hear it anyway because I know how ingrained my own expectations of myself were and I now also know how unrealistic and dangerous they were. It takes great courage to question your beliefs, to interrogate your modus operandi and that’s because within it we entwine our identity. Our identity as a ‘good’ mother, a ‘hard working’, ‘organised’, ‘thriving’, ‘natural’, ‘capable' mother are all wound up in our expectations of ourselves and compounded by a society that both praises these apparitions and expresses awkward discomfort with being different.

 

Mothers however, if nothing else, must be courageous, and let me tell you, even though I for one often felt as far from courageous than is humanly possible, it comes with the job; mothers are instinctively courageous. One thing you learn about courage though is that it’s not as sexy as brave. It’s often unseen, unheard and often feels exactly like fear, but the difference is that it’s relentless. It doesn’t go away and deep inside you know to trust its voice. Sometimes it sounds very different to your own voice, the voices of your friends, your family and even the voice of the world, but you’ll know it because deep down, you know it’s the truth. This is what mothers need to know.

We've got the apps, we've got Google, we've got the medicine and the natural remedies, we've got the research, we've got the studies, we've got society at large telling us what’s right and what’s wrong, but what we perhaps haven’t got is the connection that none of that can ‘fix’ anything without the ability to tap into and trust our own instincts. To share what hindsight has taught us about what’s important at a time that’s so fleeting. To help develop the courage to define our own priorities based on love and self-nurture, rather than an unrealistic and impossibly outdated super-mum machine ideal. It’s probably easier in a lot of ways to go along with the machine, but it doesn’t change anything and it unnecessarily contributes to the already present and inherently unavoidable risk of post natal depression. New mums need to be told that it’s ok to not do it all, it’s ok to not even want to! It’s ok to not be ‘perfect’. It’s ok to feel overwhelmed and depressed. It’s ok if your baby cries a lot - he won’t cry forever so let’s just now see how to get you through this in one piece, with your sanity in tact.

 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we’re all more technologically connected than ever before, and while this definitely presents challenges for people becoming more isolated despite and maybe even because of all that connectivity, it also represents an unprecedented opportunity for meaningful connection. Mothering new babies, whether it be for the first time, or with a small tribe of toddlers, pre-schoolers and older kids, is extremely demanding. We get through it and come out the other side with wisdom and stories, regrets and triumphs, myths and myth busters. No two stories are quite the same because we’re all unique, but we all have something to share, something that might just resonate with someone who’s in the thick of it and who needs to be told, quite simply, it’s ok. And perhaps if it’s said enough our collective wisdom will impact the expectations placed on new mothers and increase their support and well-being. It is, after all, without a doubt, one of the most important jobs in the whole world so it need to be kept real and courageously supported. 

Canteen therapy

I had a bad dose of PMT the other day (wow, that's another whole topic, but let's not go there today!) and felt awful. I woke up with the devil and all his negative force inside me, had a big cry in the shower feeling I couldn't possibly go on (you know those cries), followed by a big snuggle and talk with my man to stabilise, then went off to a day in the canteen at my kids' school. It wasn't exactly what I felt like doing, let me tell you, but I have experienced the magic of canteen therapy enough to have been able to manage a fairly open mind.

 

I set off feeling grateful actually that I was going to be doing something that would keep me busy and give me a few laughs in a comfortable environment. Although I wanted to curl up, hide from the world and mope for the day, I know that can be a speedy spiral into negativity. Actually, it was better to have someone lead me in completing simple tasks and being productive.

 

Well the short of it is that I was right. It was much, much better to be busy with friends doing something useful. This was very, very good therapy. Incredibly effective, zero negative side effects and a plethora of compounding positive effects in addition to the almost absolute decimation of the original symptoms. Remarkable. And it got me thinking, of course, about connection, again.

 

Group therapy, occupational therapy, diversionary therapy, the importance of community, belonging, acceptance, as well as the sisterhood and women's business, in mental health and managing life's usual and unusual challenges. There seemed to be two key elements of my canteen therapy today that were fundamental in achieving the positive effect it had;

 

1. Being led and kept busy, but not frantic, in continuous, but undemanding tasks (purpose & diversion)

 

2. Accepting, embracing and even nurturing company (belonging & acceptance)

 

These two ingredients gave me something to focus on other than my PMT, allowed me to feel purposeful when I would otherwise have felt lost, frustrated and overwhelmed, and gave me a sense of belonging and of connectedness as the antidote for isolation.

 

When I reflected on this transformation of my mood, I felt like it was deeper than it seemed. Like it tapped into something more ancient and soulful and much bigger than me and my mind. It reminded me of ancient and tribal women brought together around tasks like food gathering and preparation, basket weaving etc, and was struck by the benefits of doing this and how I felt like I'd just spent a day doing the modern day equivalent.

 

Made me think about how depression and PMT and menopause rage and financial pressure and marital unrest and domestic violence and abuse and, in fact, all the things that make us sad and that hurt us are kind of taboo in our modern world. We have bugger-all accessible mechanisms to cope with these things and the things we do have set up to help people are often, unfortunately, repelling, or unattractive, or un-accessible to those who need them, often because they’re designed to remedy a crisis, rather than prevent that from occurring. I’m not knocking that either, we need to help people in crisis, but what I’m getting at are the simple mechanisms in life that serve our fundamental human needs and help prevent little things degenerating into more than they need to be.

 

We are often isolated in our modern lives, ironically when we've never been more technically connected. And that maybe the best preventative measures and most effective therapies for our mental well being are the very things that our modern world has either consciously or inadvertently decided are not important. Communities of people connecting over simple, meaningful tasks. Once upon a time baskets had to be weaved, food had to be gathered and prepared and people had to live in groups or they would have perished, and while we don't have the necessity of those tasks any more, we still have the need for the experiences those tasks provided the framework for.

 

We can shop now whenever we like with earbuds in listening to whatever we choose without an ounce of human connection. We can even operate the check-out ourselves so we can even avoid baseline pleasantries, and sometimes that’s very convenient. And our lives are so busy, we outsource much of our work because our scarcest resource is time. And I'm into that - I love convenience, I like a busy life and all its modern, convenient perks, and I love outsourcing or using machines to save myself some time.

 

But today I thought about it in a different way. I wondered how much that simple act of getting together with friends, or family, or a group of fellow volunteers, or avid hobbyists, or sports lovers, is missing, or overlooked in our modern lives as a way of providing some of the elements crucial to human survival. Things that maybe our modern lives could easily tend to disregard and how I was so glad to have had the opportunity to get my fix today, right when I needed it most. I’m not so much trying to make a sweeping statement suggesting that we’re all devoid of belonging to groups and therefore of feeling purposeful and accepted, but rather just to think about how good these kinds of structures are at providing some of the critical elements of life.

 

It’s good to feel purposeful, to feel like you belong and are accepted. We’re human, these are basic needs and having the mechanisms in our lives to intentionally access these psychological super-vitamins contributes to overall well-being more than I, for one, have given them credit for. And in this technologically hyper-connected modern world we live in, perhaps it’s more important than ever to cultivate an awareness of the unchanging human need for real connection; purpose, belonging and acceptance, and to intentionally seek and create experiences that feed us in this way. 

Connection shows up in forming better habits

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook a piece about her addiction to her scales and weighing herself. It wasn’t an extensive post, but it was enough to get a sense of the pain behind this habit and how much of a challenge it was for her to quit it. I really felt for her because I know what it’s like to have created a habit in your life that’s based on negative feelings. I knew that it was going to be hard for her to change her habit, especially because the thinking behind the habit had to change too. That’s the hardest bit, I think. But I was also incredibly proud of her for having the awareness of the need for change, the love for herself to recognise what it was and why it was bad for her, the determination to change it even though it would probably be much easier to ignore her soul voice, and the courage to share her thoughts.

 

It doesn’t matter that I’ve never had an addiction to weighing myself and have in fact never even owned scales. It doesn’t matter a bit because it’s not actually about the scales. It’s about the ‘things’ we’ve employed in our lives to please others, out of obligation, because we think it’s right, as a way to push down and ignore our own feelings, out of fear, out of a feeling of scarcity, of feeling inadequate, of striving to be better, to appear better to others … ay ay ay! Always negative at the core and always drowning out, ignoring and sometimes consciously contradicting the inner voice of our souls.

 

That inner voice can be a problem, a rebel. It doesn’t care about conformity, doesn’t care about ease, about comfort, doesn’t care about anything but the health of our soul, our essential selves. But that can be inconvenient, can’t it? We argue with it. 

 

But having a body like that WILL make me happier. 

I’m stressed, I deserve a glass of wine, and then another… 

My family can wait - this report is more important than them right now. I’m doing it for them!

 

So we push it down. We dumb it down. We ignore it. We make it go away … until we can’t hear it anymore. And we keep doing the thing that does not make us happier, it makes us weak because we come to depend on it and we are, therefore, stunted in growth until we become aware of it, reach out and kick away the crutch.

 

We all have our ‘things’ and the only way we can become aware of our own ‘things’, our own crutches, and help each others with theirs, is through connection with one another. By reaching out and sharing her crutch, my friend did two important things;

 

1. She made it possible for others to recognise their own crutches, scales or different - she created an opportunity for her friends to identify with her and in turn, possibly become more aware about themselves.

2. She allowed me to recognise similar feelings and challenges that I’ve faced in my own life, and moved me to connect with her in encouragement and understanding.

 

Sometimes we don’t want to tell people about these things, sometimes we don’t even see them for what they are, so deaf have we become to our inner voice. But when we see others sharing their challenges and their journeys, there’s something that rekindles that inner voice. Something that tells us it’s not so bad, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, I’m not the only one. It may be uncomfortable, we may look at that soul voice askance and wonder if it’s possible that it could be right after all. We could still doubt it, but never the less, at the very least, we wonder and maybe, just maybe we reach out to that person. And then magic starts to happen.

 

The real beauty in this is that it gives us the opportunity to recognise that we are not that different from one another. Her thing’s scales, my thing’s alcohol or striving, but at the core of it, the core reasons or motivations for employing the crutches in the first place, for ignoring our inner voice and ending up with a negative habit, are similar feelings. Feelings that have to do with feeling less, of negativity, of a lack of acceptance and an absence of sufficient connection at the root issue.

 

But guess what? If I feel like that, then chances are that other people feel the same. If I’m not perfect, then chances are that others aren’t either. Nobody is perfect. It’s an illusion we create in our minds as a result of our feelings of scarcity and lack and inadequacy, and they’re fed and bolstered by a society of thousands of humans all doing the same. But if we connect enough to know that we’re not alone, then we can probably connect enough to also see that if negativity and lack and scarcity and inadequacy mentalities are possible, then it’s plausible that so too are the reverse. And that’s how we evolve as human beings. Through connection, we become more aware, braver, more aspirational, more free, more loving and more open. Through connection with others, we see what is possible in ourselves.

 

Photo credit: Marcus Jeffrey via Flickr

Seeking connection as a perspective changing strategy

It never, ever ceases to amaze me how critical it is to be well connected and how much of a difference it makes to outlook on life, everyday experiences and happiness in general. No, I'm not talking about 'connected' to the Internet and its various tools of connectivity at all. What I'm talking about is that deep connection we have with the people we love, primarily our partners, or spouses, and children.

 

You know when things start to feel overwhelming, when life seems too busy and too noisy, and pretty much just plain hard work? When little things bother you way more than than you know they should, when negatives are magnified and positives seem almost non-existent? Well I wonder, in those times, if you stopped for a moment and honestly assessed how connected you are to your spouse, partner, significant others, kids, friends etc what you'd find. I wonder because I think there is a distinct and definite connection between how connected we are to our key people and how happy, resilient and positive we feel.

 

My husband and I had drifted and our 'connection', our tuning in to each other and giving to each other had ebbed away. It happens in a busy life, doesn't it? The tide's going out and things just don't feel as good as they should. You lose your zing. But then we talked, we got back on the same page and we reinvigorated ourselves with the motivation to GIVE to each other again and what a difference!

 

It’s amazing how much of a difference being aware of and taking notice of this can make. I think that often all those annoying things, all that feeling of overwhelm and of things being just a bit too hard are not the things themselves, right? We know this; it depends on our state of mind, our perspective. But consider how much being deeply connected to our number 1 people can totally change that perspective - it's MASSIVE. It's like having a team, that we're not alone, and being reminded of that, somehow, can suddenly make things seem exciting again.

 

And the best bit about it is that we can instantly turn that connectivity up a notch by giving. Do something beautiful for your partner, listen to your kids, give of yourself, and your connectivity instantly increases and so does your perspective. It is not out of our control - we get to create our level of connectivity and our perspective. Next time I'm feeling low, or overwhelmed, or unmotivated with life in general and it all feels a bit too hard, I’m really going to try to remember simply reconnecting as a strategy. Give of myself, be of service to those I love, show them I love them, open up, invite them in, reconnect. When I nurture my deep connections with the people I love, my perspective and my life changes. I love that because not only is it truly win-win, but completely within my control at any point in time and in any situation.

 

This is new for me, but I see it’s a habit worth cultivating. I know that when I’m feeling cranky, frustrated and negative, the last thing I want to do is connect with anyone. My internal rage is telling me it’s all their fault, whoever ‘they’ are, and that if they could only see all they owe me for causing me to feel so upset, then I might start to feel better. How unrealistic! Like scratching a mozzie bite; if I just scratch a bit longer, it’ll just stop itching. Wrong! If you scratch a bit longer, it’ll get itchier and you’ll end up with a sore and later a scar. You need to go in a totally different direction, put your mind to something different.

 

It’s time to re-wire and make new brain pathways, for me anyway. Imagine understanding that feeling frustrated and negative and cranky were symptoms of not having my desires met. My desire to feel understood, like I matter, that I’m appreciated, that I bring value to the world and to the people I love, and that I am loved and accepted. What if I knew that at the heart of all the superficial goings on and ups and downs of life, that I feel good when these desires are met and crappy when they’re not. And what if when I knew that when they are not being met, that I could simply reach out and seek connection to change my perspective and realign my outlook, and therefore the way I felt. I imagine that’d be a pretty worthwhile thing to practise.

 

So I tell you what; I’ll try this for one whole day tomorrow and then report back to let you know how I went. That is, I’ll practise two things tomorrow; 1, the awareness of my negative feelings and my inner desires not being met, and 2, taking the action of seeking connection as the antidote instead on focusing on the negative. In other words, I’ll try to find ways to fulfil the desires that aren’t being met. That is, I’ll not scratch, but seek connection through giving that which I wish to receive instead. 

Photo credit: Felipe Bastos via Flickr

Connection, and how some is better than none

I'm pretty fascinated by connection. Connection as in people-to-people connections with one another, ... and I should apologise in advance because I'm not sure how well I can organise my thoughts, let alone articulate them well enough for you to make sense of them, but I really want to try. The idea has been on my mind for about a year now and it's not going away! I see its effects, its magic, everywhere and I'm super-conscious of my own feelings and experiences with it. I notice its power in different ways, surprisingly small, yet powerful ways and I'm fascinated with how people, including myself, resist it while others crave it, and yet that as humans, we all need it like water and oxygen.

 

I am an introvert. What that means to me is that I need more time on my own than I need to be with other people. I don't think anyone is either an introvert or an extrovert, but rather that we all tend to prefer life somewhere on the introvert/extravert continuum and for most that place is more skewed one way or the other. Because I am more skewed toward introversion, I am more inclined to spend time on my own and sometimes feel a reasonable amount of resistance to social invitations. Admittedly, there are times when invitations feel more like obligations for me and I do struggle with guilt about feeling that way, especially when I really genuinely like the person or people. I'd just rather be on my own most of the time.

 

So hopefully I've framed that well enough to now point out the really fascinating thing; yep, you might have guessed it ... that regardless of the resistance I may feel in approaching or committing to some sort of social event, meeting or use of my time, I mostly always feel better for having done it. In the end, it's good to connect with people and it seems that for all of my feelings of resistance, it's something that stimulates, enlivens and even inspires me.

 

I wonder how much of this resistance has to do with having introverted preferences and whether that introversion has any relationship to the 'lone wolf' mentality? For me, I think the 'lone wolf' mentality is a product of not understanding myself and my introverted preferences enough. Not understanding that I need more time alone than with other people meant it was very hard to understand what that resistance was. Not understanding meant I would feel things like obligation and then resentment, and also overwhelm at the thought of managing these relationships and friendships. These negative associations with friendships and socialising encouraged the 'lone wolf' thinking to set in because it helped me, erroneously, to understand why I was feeling this way. The lone wolf can be a bit stroppy and starts thinking it doesn't actually need all these friends ... why would you with all this negative energy surrounding the inputs to those friendships?

 

But you know that whenever there's negativity around something, it usually means something's wrong. There's resistance to something that identified clearly and worked out properly will be much better and well worth the discomfort. It took a long time, but I began to realise that being a lone wolf wasn't for me and that actually I did like connecting with people and being social so what was the problem? It was simply understanding that I needed more time by myself than I did with fiends and that in order to enjoy friends and all the benefits of being connected to people, I had to make sure I had enough time on my own as well, and often first.

 

It was no longer black and white - I am not a lone wolf and I am not a complete introvert, I just needed to acknowledge and accept that I like lots of time on my own. Not that I didn't want to connect, not that I didn't need to connect, not that I didn't want or like friends even, and not that having them was an overwhelming responsibility ... just that I needed to stop, understand and accept the amount of time I needed to balance that with being on my own.

 

Since coming to that understanding and acceptance, I have felt so much more relaxed around people and have been able to enjoy their company much more by being fully present. And do you know what that means? Do you know what that facilitates? .... Deeper, more meaningful and fulfilling connections that make me feel alive, inspired and like I belong. Isn't that just the most beautiful and fascinating thing?

Dancing for yourself

“Dance for yourself” is a Truthbomb I got from Danielle LaPorte recently and, as usual, it seemed uncannily perfectly timed and, of course, it got me thinking …

 

I’m a person who generally struggles with doing things just for myself. I think this has mostly been the case since I’ve become a mother, and since I’ve been a mother for nearly 9 years, I can’t actually remember much about what the nuances of life, like ‘doing things for yourself’, felt like before I was a mother. Sometimes though, it’s not that we can’t remember, it’s just that we’re thinking of things in the wrong way. Like asking the wrong questions - of course the answers are probably going to be a bit off the mark.

 

So two things came up when I started to unravel this;

 

1. I am not a person who struggles to do things for myself. I have always done things for myself and for no one else but myself. They are things like reading and writing and running. Reading and writing are things I have always done for myself, even as a little girl. These are things that represent, therefore, my true soul. Things that come naturally and, which I recognised at even a very young age, nourish me. Running came later, but it’s reading and writing’s triplet.

 

2. I have learnt for whatever reasons and, in who-knows-what ways, over time, that these things are idle and non-productive luxuries that detract from the ‘real’ work of life. In other words, I have learnt to associate guilt with doing these things, and I think this feeing has been exacerbated by motherhood. Naturally.

 

I would think this would be quite a common feeling for women, both mothers and not, because we’re taught so relentlessly to value the things we can see. We can see money, or at least the things it can buy, and so what we value is heavily weighted toward that which can produce or create money and that which it can buy.

 

But women and mothers (not saying men don’t, I know they do too, but I’m just talking as a woman to women), have more to bring to the table. It’s the innate, the instinctive, the feeling from inside, the quiet voice of the soul that we’re usually conditioned to ignore, but who whispers relentlessly. It knows our truest nature, what nourishes us and who we really are. Listen.

 

I know the things that matter to me, I know the things that make my heart sing and my eyes go bright. I know the things that make my daughter’s heart sing and what makes her eyes go bright. She loves music and just can’t help moving her gorgeous little body around when she hears it. Why should she ever, ever feel guilt or shame or shyness about doing something so harmless and which comes so innately to her? It’s ridiculous, and yet, here I am recognising the fact that I have learnt to associate guilt with the things I love.

 

So Danielle’s Truthbomb said, “Dance for yourself”, and I know what that means to me. It means honouring the things that nourish me, that always have nourished me, and therefore lead me back to my soul, by retraining myself, rewiring my brain to associate these things with their true meaning and purpose - to nurture my soul, to make me full, to make me me.

 

This won’t just happen all by itself. I know it will take commitment and ‘doing’, rather than just thinking. I mean today I needed to rest, I’m tired and I’m apprehensive about a very busy upcoming few days. So good on me, I read and drank tea and now I’m writing. This is good, but it’s only the start. What’s the good of doing that if I then feel guilty about not doing all the things I could have done instead? Absolutely nothing, no good in it at all.

 

And there you have it. Once again, it’s not only the ‘doing’ - that can often be the easy bit. The step up comes from how I feel about what I do, the thoughts I associate with the thing I did. I can choose to feel as if it nourished me and was therefore probably the very best thing I could do with my time, or I could feel guilty and think about all the other stuff I ‘should’ have done instead.

 

Today I choose to feel the way my special things naturally make me feel instead of overlaying them with useless feelings like guilt. That’s what dancing for myself means to me.

 

Rewire that brain! Choose nourishment. Choose contentment. Choose soul. Then practise, practise, practise. 

Writing to practise writing ... even if it's rubbish

Keep calm and just write.jpg

My greatest challenge in starting this blog is … starting it.

 

I mean we’ve all heard the stories and read the blogs and listened to the podcasts about how hard it can be to keep on writing, to keep on sticking with your blog and getting the content out, right? Well that’s just making me feel really rubbish right now because I can’t even seem to get started!

 

It’s not that I don’t want to get started, and it’s not even that I don’t know what to write, because I kind of do, but it’s just that I’m a person who likes order and I like to know how things fit together. This means that I want to know the greater plan before I start writing my stuff and as I don’t have that greater plan yet, I’m staring down the barrel of never starting.

 

Unfortunately for you, dear reader, that means that you now have to read this rubbish about how I’m struggling to get started and you know what? I know that’s really an insult to your precious time and I’m sorry. The only reason that I’m continuing with this vapid line of thought is that 1) I know I don’t have any readers yet, so ‘you’ are merely a vague avatar in my own mind, and 2) I need to practise writing and publishing it no matter what, or I’ll never, ever write anything.

 

So this is an exercise in rubbish writing, but for the greater good. And to be perfectly honest, my internet connection is also rubbish at the moment so I’m waiting for it to improve and decided I wasn’t going to let that become an excuse!