There is a huge interest in mindfulness right now, and rightly so. It is an extraordinary practice that has the capacity to elicit incredible personal growth, wisdom and insight.
Sometimes though I think the mainstream narrative doesn’t run deep enough. We see mindfulness as a place of silence and peace away from the chaotic busyness of modern life.
It certainly is, able to provide a haven for the overwhelmed and over stimulated. But it is also so much more.
Scratch the surface of the practice and you start to develop greater and greater awareness of the patterns of your mind body and heart, how they intertwine and where your personal identity, behaviours and responses come from.
It’s effectively slow and peaceful therapy.
But it’s also so much more than even that. It’s a pathway to a sense of mysticism and divinity. Modern secular mindfulness has often stripped any talk of divinity out of the practice, but go deep enough into your self and you cannot help but meet the breath-taking and awesome mystery of this life and the interconnectedness of all things.
Spend a weekend away on a meditation retreat and you will absorb the natural world in an entirely new and profound way. It will pulse and creep and shine with energy that was previously unnoticed as you rushed to grab your keys, jump in the car and race to work, or your friends, or wherever you happen to be going in our incredibly over-scheduled lives.
And the funny thing about mindfulness, is that after a while, you start to wonder which came first – the busy mind or the busy life? Is our inability to concentrate and our frantic busyness a product of our schedules? Or are our overburdened routines a symptom of our collective inability to sit with silence and truth?
After almost 16 years of mindfulness practice, I notice that my mind becomes busy when I fail to pay attention to my intuition, to where my heart and soul is leading me. Struggling to come to terms with what is happening in my life, I automatically seek to fill up every waking moment to avoid sitting with myself.
And so I create busyness all around. I dive into work, into Facebook, into some other distraction to avoid paying attention to the whispers of my soul. Because usually listening to my soul involves risk and uncertainty, it involves a fear of disappointing the ones I love as I step outside of the comfort zones we have collectively agreed upon.
Real mindfulness is about learning to sit with that difficulty and that discomfort and becoming an open and deeply non-judgemental listener and advocate for your inner world.
It’s not just a nice peaceful moment in a stressful day or a holiday break that calms the nerves – it’s a way of life that involves courage and truth and heart and mystery.
It’s about leaning in to find out who you really are after you drop the iPhone and the schedules and the roles that you identify with so strongly.
When I really listen, and I mean really, really listen, I discover a pathway laid out before me. A job I need to leave or take, a relationship that I’ve outgrown. It’s hard to lean in sometimes. But I notice that the more I open to myself, the more my inner world becomes peaceful, bright and joyfully alive.
I used to be terrified of disappointing people. But I have seen again and again how listening and following my own sense of inner truth can be initially challenging for my nearest and dearest, but often points them in a new direction that is eventually beneficial for them too.
To me, this points to the interconnectedness of all things.
We are not separate and when one person shifts towards greater and greater authenticity, there is an almost magical energetic transmission that happens that gives others the permission to be who and how they actually are as well.
And who are we really?
Mindfulness teaches us again and again to come back home to our bodies, our hearts and our minds, to show up fully for the never ending mystery of discovering Who We Actually Are. In so doing we touch on something profound and universal that points to ourselves and this life as being more awesome, beautiful and magical than our tiny egoic minds could possibly comprehend.
What is the divine feminine and what does it look like when she rises? It looks like a beautiful celebration of individuality and an honouring of the sacred life force of every person, animal and living thing.
Mental health has become such a big topic over the past few years. While the massive rise in anxiety and depression is painful, the way the public is starting to engage and sympathise with these issues is heart-warming and needed.
I can’t help feeling however, that there is a key component missing in the discussion – and that is a sense of spirituality in the suffering. The common narrative is that if you struggle, you’re broken. It may be becoming much more normal. It may be even slowly accepted. But you’re still broken. Talk to someone. Get help. Get fixed.
There is no sense of the meaning in the suffering, the bigger picture of the soul.
It is my experience that true healing comes when I have been able to step outside of the ego-narrative I have about myself, to connect and identify with a sense of myself as being profoundly connected to something bigger, universal, profoundly powerful and divine.
In those moments, I open to myself, to my struggle. I am able to embrace myself, my fragility and whatever is troubling me with an open heart.
I think it’s become unfashionable to talk about God. Many of us hold religion accountable for some of the World Wars, or guilt about sex, or homophobia. And obviously there is truth in the corruption and bigotry at the heart of some of the world’s institutions. The humans running them are flawed and imperfect (just like the rest of us).
But let’s not throw the religious baby out with the bathwater. At the heart of any religion is a desire to understand our reality in a meaningful way, to connect and celebrate the beautiful mystery of this life.
We need those feelings of wonder and awe. We need to look at the stars and marvel at the enormity of the universe that we find ourselves in. We need to feel like we are intricately connected to the fabric of the mystery and trust that there is an intelligent design to it all.
I know there is. Not because I have studied doctrines and have decided with my rational mind to believe, but because I have opened to the depths of my soul and discovered time and time again that transcendent blissful release of knowing something bigger than me. Of dissolving the tiny, imperfect, struggling ‘I’ and being humbled by a sense of myself in the bigger picture.
In those moments have been my deepest healing. Where I have transformed my pain into wisdom, and my hurt into love.
We need a sense of the transpersonal in our discussions of mental health. We need to give our struggles meaning and to connect to a pure sense of universal divine love that knows that every one of us is holy. Every one of us has a place and that we are all intimately connected to each other and to the universe that we live in.
We all long to be connected with each other and to something bigger than ourselves. We need to feel useful, like we’re contributing to a tribal pictures in which we play a meaningful part.
What if anxiety and depression weren’t something that made you broken, but a lineage of human pain that you need to heal? That you have chosen to take this pain in this life and to move the human race forwards, to heal the collective wounds we have inflicted upon each other with our warring, and our patriarchal dehumanising institutions.
What if you were incredibly brave and incredibly needed to do this work? How would that shape the way you see yourself and your struggles?
I believe this is the truth. All of us are holy. All of us are beautiful. All of us are needed. Those struggling with mental illness are the brave warriors who have chosen to transmute the pain of generations.
It’s entirely possible to do so but it is not easy. It’s the work of a lifetime. To keep going, to have the deep, deep courage to face your demons and heal, you need faith, you need trust, you need to know that you are sacred and this world is sacred and your struggles are profoundly meaningful.
So let’s start looking at mental health with this lens and maybe we will start to get somewhere.
I’ve been reading some of Brene Brown’s work recently in which she talks about the ways we numb our emotions.
We live in a culture saturated with opportunities to stuff down how we are really feeling - entertainment, shopping, internet, alcohol, coffee, sugar, processed foods, sex, drugs, TV, busyness. But there is a heavy price to pay.
When we turn away from our difficult emotions they don’t go away, they just hum underneath the experience of our lives every day, making us feel sluggish, low, tired, anxious, or any other descriptive word that isn’t clear, vital or alive.
The thing is, running from pain is a hell of a lot worse than actually turning to face it. Learning to sit with, allow and feel our difficulties all the way through is a large part of mindfulness practice.
A huge reason why so many of us run away from ourselves is that we have been shamed for feeling certain ways, leaving us believing that we have ‘no right’ to feel how we feel. This is a completely false assumption. We feel how we feel. It is fact whether we like it or not. The only choice we have is in deciding what to do with our emotions.
If we numb, push away, deny and pretend they’re not there, then they are much more likely to seep out at our loved ones without our meaning to. They’re outside of our awareness and out of our control.
We can never work skilfully with ourselves or our lives until we have learned to acknowledge the realities that dwell within.
By learning to feel what we feel, we create a lot more space within us. If we can develop the ability to tolerate discomfort without lashing out or shutting down, we are free to respond more skilfully and wisely in every situation, improving our life experience exponentially.
Pain can be triggered from emotional wounds in childhood. Think of this as like landmines buried in our bodyminds. If an external situation touches just the right sensitive spot, then we can explode with undealt-with emotional trauma, splattering ourselves and anyone who is nearby.
Often we didn’t lay the landmines, it wasn’t our fault. But it is still our responsibility to clear them up.
Finding a landmine is actually an opportunity in disguise. Your life force, or chi has been trapped in that landmine for years – decades even. Learning to turn towards your pain, feeling it all the way through, is an opportunity to process and reintegrate all that energy, leaving you feeling clearer, more whole, more creative, loving and happier.
At it’s heart, pain is the seed of wisdom. As Glennon Doyle Melton has been known to say, pain isn’t a hot potato we need to throw away as quickly as possible, it is a travelling professor, full of the life lessons that are ours to learn.
By turning away, denying or pushing away your pain you are prolonging your learning, pushing away the possibility that you could become a bit more wise, a bit more compassionate, alive, vital, healthy and a bit better at this human gig.
Pain can also be a real indicator that something in your life isn’t working, that you need to make changes. It is an inbuilt regulatory and warning system that we ignore at our peril.
Mindfulness meditation teaches us the skill of opening to ourselves in every moment, whether it is brutal or beautiful. And the thing is, really feeling your emotions isn’t that bad. It’s a bitter-sweet release.
The trick is to let go of the story your mind is telling and sink deep into the body, feeling how the energy of that emotion is landing in you. It might be sharp vibrations through your solar plexus, pangs across your heart, a feeling of ‘stuckness’ in your throat.
Whatever it is, see if you can get curious. Welcome it even. Know that it has something to teach you. Feel it deeply, all the way through. Your body might burn up, you might shudder or shake, burp or yawn. All of this is healthy and natural ways of releasing dirty chi.
Felt all the way through to the end, emotions burn away. And you are left clear, calm, centered. Your understanding of a situation might shift to a new perspective. You no longer feel the need to reach for that numbing agent.
In order to do this, developing some kind of practice is extraordinarily helpful - yoga, tai chi, meditation. The container and the discipline of the practice helps you learn to hold your pain without becoming overwhelmed, lost or stuck in it.
None of us get through life without pain, it is an inbuilt part of the human experience that we can never dodge.
Turning to face yourself is harder, realer, better. It’s a medicine for our times. There are lessons waiting in our bodyminds . We must gather the courage to put down our running shoes and receive the wisdom our lives are waiting to teach us.
Growing up I was exposed to a lot of different cultures and ways of thinking. The first four years were spent in the Highlands of Scotland in a small rural community. This was followed up by attending the Maharishi School – an educational institution that taught the Mahabharata instead of the Bible and Sanskrit instead of French. I was given a mantra at the age of 5.
At the age of 8, I was moved to a public school in Lancashire. Life was rougher here. One girl broke a boy’s arm by pushing him over in the playground.
Then we moved to Guernsey where I attended Melrose. The fancy all girls school was worlds away from either the Indian influenced Maharishi school, or the scarier world of UK public school. It was scary in a posher, cliquier way.
As a teenager I was then sent to one of the top co-educational boarding schools in the country set on Canterbury Cathedral. The girls wore broaches and tails and the boys wore top hats.
Amidst all of this change I was trying to define a sense of self. Learning the ropes of society and culture, except society and culture didn’t seem to agree on very much. I tried to conform, to morph myself to fit in to each new environment.
It didn’t feel very good or powerful. There were so many questions, so much about my previous experience that didn’t fit into the context in which I found myself. A powerful and well-liked girl at the Aristocratic boarding school commented that she didn’t like poor people, people laughed and nodded. But I knew plenty of ‘poor’ people that I loved and treasured.
Everybody in these cultures seemed to know the ropes, and more confusingly, they all thought they were right. But they couldn’t all be right.
It’s all made me think a lot about truth. What is true no matter where you are? And who am I in this hugely varying world?
As a child it was very confusing. As an adult it has been amazingly liberating. If there is no absolute truth of culture then perhaps I’m free to define myself as I see fit. I get to choose what’s true for me.
It is my practice to question every cultural assumption and sift through it for any wisdom, discarding the rest. This mirrors a lot of what you would hear from healers and coaches about ‘limiting beliefs’, the ideas masquerading as truth that we all carry around in one way or another.
Vipassana insight meditation (or mindfulness) has been an incredible tool with this. I feel like it has helped to wipe clear my internal decoding system to be able to connect with what is absolutely true for me.
After all of this reflection - testing and verifying beliefs and ‘truths’ - I’ve come to what I hope is a reasonably depthful and robust framework of beliefs.
I believe that everyone is doing the best they can with the resources and information they have available to them at any time. If you walked a mile in someone else’s shoes, you would understand their viewpoint better.
I believe there is more that connects us than disconnects us. Family, food and laughter is universal. We all cry tears, we all bleed red.
I believe this dance of life is a mixture of birth, death, fear, joy and above all love. That in the end, only love is left. I believe that understanding that one day we will all pass away, helps us to live with greater integrity.
I believe the world and the universe is an enormous place and it’s always good to know how much you don’t know. I try to continually be open to reassessing ideas, should new information or ways of being become clear. I believe in diversity - everyone is different, everyone has a place, everyone has a story - and that this makes the world stronger and more interesting.
I believe that in the end, we all have to be true to our own internal compass. Society and culture will impose ideas and beliefs upon us, but in the ends it’s up to us to decide which ones we take into our hearts and live by until our dying day.
Whilst studying actor training at university, we went a lot deeper than you might imagine. We used presence practices to bring awareness to the internal process of being human. We spent a lot of time working on impulse – what drives human behaviour? Desire for status? Approval? Love? Money? Or something deeper and intangible? How could we believably portray this on stage?
This exploration coincided with the first time in my life when I was actually able to make choices for myself. I began to wonder a lot about how I would decide what to do next after leaving university. I was also preoccupied with a 'knowing' I had had.
Before attending my course, I felt an incredibly strong pull towards it. It was beneath rational thought. I just knew.
The course had lit me up in a way I could not have conceived of before. It was like a road map to creativity, depth and meaning, helping me to find myself.
Before I attended, I was deeply lost. So much movement and change and other factors saw me limping out of adolescence, broken and afraid, not knowing where to turn, except for this knowing, pulling me to Exeter.
How did I know?! I could not have dreamed up a better place to heal myself. What part of me was pulled in that direction? It seemed to me to be the same depth of impulse that we were seeking to achieve in our actor training. An instinctual, intuitive body-centred impulse that arrives through the life force of a person, rather than just from their heads.
We spent the first term at university trying to unlearn the conditioning of school – (sit still, reason, analyse, control your emotions, ignore your body), and learn how to play, be creative. Our society values rational thought and control, but it leaves out huge amounts of the human spirit. It strangles it.
I noticed again and again how powerful it was to work with genuine, natural impulses from the body, rather than from the head. It created theatre that was moving and profound with a deeper connection between the audience and actor. Creating from the head was removed from the moment. It was stilted and awkward, disingenuous.
I started to play around with impulses in my daily life. In simple choices we all make like ‘should I go out tonight?’ I began to sit quietly and listen in to what my intuitive body response was. My head usually had strong opinions, but my body spoke in a softer quieter voice.
As part of the actor training modules, I was training in a martial art and learning how tan tien, a spot about two inches beneath the naval, is the seat of our internal life force, or chi. It is the gut, the second brain, that we refer to when we say – ‘I just had a gut feeling about it’. I was learning how to make my body movements originate from this central point.
And outside of training sessions, I was curious about listening to this place as a guide for shaping my life.
It was always right.
My mind would be begging for me to take action on something, but a voice deep in my gut would say no. I would take action anyway and it would all end appallingly. Or vice versa.
I came to feel it as my homing beacon, my compass.
For three years I deepened my connection to my body through the different practices I was taught and it changed me.
Bringing presence to your body again and again unlocks all the ways in which you have buried your emotions within the body mind. It cleans your system, creating more space for your life force to flow. The more it flows, the more you cannot look at a sky without feeling awe and wonder.
As well as that, it makes you more sensitive. And the more sensitive I became, the more I felt like I could sense a guiding hand behind me. I didn’t know what it was, or what to call it, but I felt its presence and somehow, I felt it was connected to the intuitive body centred nudges that I was starting to learn to move from.
I began to be hungry for a sense of spirituality, of connectedness to something bigger than myself that explained the knowings I was experiencing, or a deepening sense of belonging to the natural world I could feel.
Too soon it was time to leave the cocoon of university and step out into the ‘real’ world.
I looked around at the adult world I was about to enter and honestly, it didn’t look good. I saw stressed, frustrated, miserable people chasing their tales for money, the light deadened behind their eyes. I saw people disconnected from each other and their families. I did not see any role model or any career choice in which I felt I could profitably use this sense of deeper connection to myself and the nature of being human that I had found at university.
I had no map of how to create my future, but I did have a process. I had the process of moving from one internal nudge and gut feeling to the next. I could see how this had created incredibly profound and connected theatre. Could it create a life worth living?
I had no responsibilities and so I decided to conduct an experiment into intuitive living and craft my life from this level of impulse within me, with what felt like a guiding hand at my back.
It’s been thirteen years and my conviction in the process has only strengthened. Ignoring the body and its intuitions creates disease, addictions and apathy.
Following the call of your soul leads you to face your fears, your inner demons, your past conditionings and it also leads you to find passions, callings and a profound sense of universal love. It is the path for the courageous and the people who want to genuinely live. I believe it is the path home to ourselves.
There’s this voice in me, she sounds like the voice of societal reason and feels like shame and fear and she tells me what will and will not be acceptable. I know who she is. I’ve battled with her many times. She’s my inner critic and she’s got opinions. She strongly feels I should just keep my head down and maintain the status quo and she also asks repeatedly ‘who am I to think about such lofty notions as creating a better world?’
Except there is another, much stronger force within me – the voice of my soul. She speaks through whispers and nudges, a sense of just knowing. She has innocence and playfulness and is the well-spring of my creativity. She couldn’t care less about the voice of societal reason. She urges me towards growth, expansion and living a wild, fulfilling and meaningful life.
The interplay of these voices can create internal dissonance – anxiety, depression. Your soul wants to go one way, a life time of conditioning says something else.
It is hard-wired in us to follow the rules of our parents and the communities we live in. Our tribal selves depended on the security and belonging this afforded. To leave the folds was to die.
And yet the rules of society have taken us down paths that we cannot tread for much longer. Our children are set to inherit a dying, drowning, burning world, devoid of animals and edible food.
The massive amounts of people experiencing mental health symptoms are not indicative of broken people, they are indicative of a broken world. And a societal toxic soup that believes some people, or forms of life are more important than other people. Humans are more important than animals, white people are more important than black, straight people have more rights than gay people, men are better than women.
We’re seeing such global chaos as these norms are challenged and a truer, deeper balance is struck. We each have depth and beauty, we are each a unique expression of divinity.
Inside each of us is the enforcer of the status quo and our conditioning. And there is also the voice of the soul. We drown her out with alcohol, with numbing Facebook scrolling, with never finding a quiet moment to sit down. If we sat down we would no doubt encounter the fear and the anger and the frustration of giving our lives for actions that do not align with the deepest truth about who we are.
Underneath that though, there would be a nudge. The soul doesn’t plot an action plan. Unfortunately, she doesn’t speak rationally. She will often point directly towards that which you most fear.
She just tells you the next step to take. And then the next, and then the next. Take enough steps and a truer reflection of yourself starts to form.
As you face your fear, you become stronger. A different, wiser, more loving you is forged in the fires of the transformation process. As you listen and then act, you feel lighter, freer. You start to like who you see in the mirror. Meetings crop up that help take you in a new direction.
At first it’s fucking terrifying. You don’t really know where you’re going, you only know you can’t carry on in the old way anymore.
Emotions surface relating to childhood instances when your soul was silenced in order to teach you to fit into the world as it was. In order to claim back your soul, you need to unearth and absorb all those painful moments. It’s a journey and a process. It’s horrendously painful at times and extraordinarily bright. But above all it’s wickedly meaningful.
That’s the direction to go in. Big money, flash holidays, status and approval within old systems mean little to the soul, who is the deepest truth about who you are. Pursue those if you must but everyone I know that has found themselves at the pinnacle of that pedestal has found it to be all glimmer and no substance. At best it's fun for a while, at worst it is a road to burn out and apathy. Eventually, we all crave something deeper.
Following the soul is a profound and mystical journey. It is what we are here for. It is a life truly lived.
Sit quietly dear one. And listen in. Who are you really? And what is your next step?
In the bright future of humanity I see each individual house with it’s own electricity and power sourced from wind, solar or ground to air source heat pump. I see people understanding that we are custodians of the land and the other creatures and so I see ponds for frogs, flowers for butterflies and bees and patches kept wild for other animals. I see cities of green vertical skyscrapers - housing birds, growing the food necessary to sustain life and cleaning the air.
I see no plastic. I see homes that understand that humanity is part of wider eco-systems where nothing is wasted, everything is reused in a constant cycle of death and rebirth.
I see people growing fruits and vegetables, keeping animals for food and trading goods at a local level so that all our food and shelter needs are taken care of.
I see the incredible empowerment of people that happens when they feel they can sustain themselves, rather than relying on large utility systems that ultimately keep us in bondage.
I think it has to happen at a grass roots individual level – we cannot rely on governments to make the changes we want to see in the world – we have to do it ourselves. I see it already happening.
I see each household making small incremental changes in this direction. I see more outside time, a much more visceral understanding of the sacredness of the earth and the fact that our deepest responsibility as human beings is to care for her and all the other inhabitants. We are not masters of the earth, we are sacred custodians.
For this to happen, each individual must drop that feeling of powerlessness that we all have – the feeling that we are nothing in the face of giant global forces, that large institutions run the show.
I see that this future is being helped along by invisible hands – the spirit that moves in all things. Statistically, evolution happened at a rate far exceeding that which would have happened if the universe were entirely chaotic and random. There is an intelligent design at play. You can see that when you spend any time in the natural world and observe the incredibly intricate dance of connectedness, death and rebirth.
There is a force within us all that is propelling us forwards. In your quiet moments, you can feel it. We have to lean into that and trust it. It knows the way. Just like migrating birds have a compass that only they can hear, we humans have an instinctual knowledge of how to get ourselves from where we are to a place of empowerment and harmony.
The enemy is fear and feeling not good enough and ultimately not trusting yourself – trusting instead the misunderstandings that some are better than others, and that wisdom, approval, satisfaction and empowerment can come from anywhere else but within.
Always, we think someone else has the answer. But they don't. Only we have the answer. We each have incredible value and talents and it is our sacred duty to unearth them.
This brings me to the second part of the future I see for humanity – with security in the fact that we can feed and house ourselves, I see each person freed up to work on whatever brings them joy, whatever they are passionate about. I see dancing and art and so many technologies and structures that we can’t even imagine right now.
We will be healthier, with more nutritious food and plenty of time outdoors, with deeper social connections and a sense of purpose.
It may seem like a far-fetched vision, but the reality of the digital age would have seem far-fetched only 50 years ago.
I see businesses that are rooted in social conscientiousness and collaboration. With an understanding that there is abundance – enough for everyone – people collaborate in similar areas when appropriate and compete less.
I see education systems that understand it is their responsibility to unearth the spark in each child, that it is a given that each individual will bring something new and valuable and unique to the community.
I see an understanding that rich or poor is irrelevant – at a soul level no-one is better or worse than anyone else. I see the resilience of the human spirit and the abundance of the earth – there is more than enough to sustain us humans on the planet if only we could organise ourselves properly.
And we can. Ants do it. Bees do it. They all work alongside each other harmoniously because they are all connected to a field of energy that has the codes within it for everything to run smoothly. Humanity also has those codes. We just need to learn to trust ourselves enough to listen and follow.
I think we all need to start learning how to hold this vision and working towards it. You cannot create something unless you can first imagine it.
At the moment we are bombarded with distressing images of rainforests being cut down and pollution while the media portrays the very worst in the human spirit. It makes us feel overwhelmed, distressed, hopeless. You can’t create a brighter place when you feel like that. You need to start to think differently, to shift yourself towards trust, hope, optimism. From there you feel more empowered to make small steps in the right direction. Once you’ve made small steps that bore fruit, you have the confidence to make bigger steps, and so on.
We are so much more than we know and we can create incredibly beauty here if we all work towards it, shifting all of the ways we give our power away. What if all the things you believed to be impossible actually weren’t? What if you could create more than you could imagine? What if you were connected to a force that WANTS you to grow into the best, boldest, most extraordinary version of your soul actualised on planet earth?
I'm not that worried for Mother Earth - she will carry on regardless. It's us I fear for. We're going to die one way or another - our way of life is going to die in order to rebirth this new future, or we are actually going to die.
What I would really like is for everyone everywhere to throw their arms up and say 'enough!'
Enough speed, enough stuff, enough running around like headless chickens in broken systems to prove that we are enough.
We have valued 'more! Better! Faster!' and totally lost touch with the magic and beauty in slow and soulful. It's like a deranged merry-go-round that we're collectively complicit in maintaining.
Whatsapp messages, Facebook messages and emails ping into our living environment 24 hours a day demanding immediate responses, unrealistic expectations on house management, childcare and working commitments meaning we feel like we do nothing well.
It's affecting our mental health and I believe is part of the environmental challenges we face as we don't give ourselves enough time to be open, to listen, to be free to create something new.
We look around at each other and we feel like we need to keep up, to compete with the Joneses, suck it all up, keep it all together. We tell ourselves that everyone else seems to cope (they don't), so why am I not enough?
Lynne Twist in her excellent book The Soul of Money describes her 40 years of experience working for The Hunger Project - a charity that aims to solve world hunger. She states that it is not a lack of resources that keeps some people well-fed while others starve - if it were simply a matter of redistributing food then the problem would be solved. It's humankind's issue with insecurity, with feeling like there is not enough and that we aren't resilient/capable/worthy enough that drives inequality, keeps us clinging to safety and normality.
She says that we all have the capacity to create positive change for ourselves and our communities - the first step is the belief that what you have and where you are is enough. And the second is being open to see that what you need is often hiding in plain sight.
It's really hard to do that when you're pulled in one hundred different directions and saturated in a collective soup of 'not enoughness'. You need space and time. Often finances feel like a rope around your neck, mortgages shackling you to payments, but I would counter that if you have a roof over your head and food in the fridge (running water! Mechanised transport!) then you have more freedom than you might think.
I'm committed to turning in a different direction. As a mother of 2 small children sometimes it seems like the pressure to be all things to all people is immense - a breadwinner, a carer, a PTA helper, a cook and a house manager. Trying to keep up with modern life can so easily make you feel anxious and overwhelmed. This is not because there is something wrong with you, it's your body/minds very natural response to an environment that is swiftly hurtling towards the edge of a cliff. All while you feel like you're rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
I want to get off, so I'm slowing down. There is a new way of being emerging and I know I want to be open enough, to believe in myself enough and to follow my instincts in order to move towards what will truly serve myself, my family and my community.
It's slower, deeper, better. At times it's scary and can feel very counter-cultural and it's not something anyone of us can do alone. We all need to move together.
Please then, let's drop the neighbourly arms race and this persistent feeling we all have of having to keep up with each other. Let's be honest about how exhausted we are and how overwhelming it all is and make space to start listening to the deeper whispers of who we are. Into that space, a new future for humanity is coming.
Because we really are enough. All of the solutions we need are here to collectively broker a new deal that benefits our health, our communities, our children and our planet.
There really is nothing more important than that. Enough is enough.
As a young girl me and my body were friends. We climbed trees, did cartwheels, danced and swam. But as the teenage years hit, things started to change.
I got my period, which I was taught to ignore. I didn’t understand my body’s rhythms so I became estranged from her. I also came to understand that she was a commodity, desired by men. Conditioned to please, I entered into situations that I didn’t feel totally comfortable with. As a commodity, I viewed my body harshly, I judged her hairy bits and wobbly bits, bits that were too big or too small.
At school I learned to sit still, to ignore my body’s need for movement, and to spend all my time in my head, in my rational mind. I felt dull and bored by life.
Then I began to practice yoga, tai chi and martial arts, being schooled to ‘drop in’ to my body. I was taught to sense my feet on the floor, to try and open up to an embodied awareness so that ‘the body becomes all eyes’. In this heightened state, the world is alive and vibrant, the colours more radiant. I learned to feel my body from the inside, rather than judge her from the outside.
I trained 3-5 time a week for 2 years and my sense of my body irreversibly changed. I began to FEEL. Feel the wind on my face, the deep pleasure of simply moving. I made peace with body’s appearance too. I decided that since this was the only body I was ever going to have, I might as well love her. I accepted all her wobbly bits. Except, she was having problems. She had acne and digestive issues.
I believed now that while I was OK with her appearance, there was something wrong with her from the inside. I sought to heal her. I took conventional medicine for the acne – antibiotics and roaccutane. These didn’t solve the problem but they did give me other issues with my liver and an unhealthy gut.
I tried Chinese medicine and herbal medicine and nutrition and juice fasts and Ayur Veda and meditation and yoga. All of these helped somewhat but not completely.
I learned about sex. After a beautiful week of juice fasting in Goa, India, I allowed my body to enter into an act that didn’t feel comfortable for me. For the last time. From a deep and fierce place inside me, I vowed to never, ever, ever let anything happen to my body that I was not 100% comfortable with. No one was ever coming near me again with anything but complete and total love for me, my soul, the person on the inside.
I realised completely and utterly that beauty and attraction are about the energy you put out, not the quality of your skin or the fit of your clothes.
I found complete and total love and came to understand that my body was utter perfection, that the acne and the digestive issues were not malfunctions but my body’s very clever way of attempting to achieve balance within her. I learned that I actually didn’t need healing, that all of me was whole and complete. From this new place of respect, I worked with a nutritionist and my digestive issues and acne went way.
I became pregnant. And now my body - who I had come to know and love – was changing. She was growing to accommodate a living being. It was frightening and wondrous.
I came to realise that the medical profession, in their well-meaning way, were absolutely terrified of the process my body was going through. They subjected my body to a never ending assault of tests, each midwife appointment leaving me with a sense of fear as they performed their duty by warning me of everything that could go wrong.
I learned about medical procedures at birth and how there is often a ‘cascade of intervention’, where one procedure creates effects that necessitate another procedure leading to emergency invasive surgery. I read about the dance of oxytocin – the cuddle ‘love’ hormone in birth and how this is the fuel of the process. I read that it is shy, it doesn’t like strangers and that adrenaline slows or halts the labour process. I couldn’t help but feel the midwives I was speaking to didn’t seem to understand that their fear was creating the very hormone that would interfere with the birth.
I became my body’s fierce gate-keeper. I trusted myself, I trusted my body. I birthed two healthy babies and the raw power of my body in labour took my breath away. She was magnificent.
I came to understand that my birth experiences were unusual- calm and natural. Almost everyone I spoke to had received intervention they felt uncomfortable with. Often, they felt powerless and traumatised.
And then I came to understand in a much greater way about my cycles, about menstruation. About the times of peak energy (ovulation), when it’s great to get things done. I understood that after this, my energy would start to wane and I could alter my schedule accordingly to fit in with my body. If I took responsibility for my own self care in this way, my mood and energy levels were much higher and healthier and my whole family benefitted as a result.
I never again wanted to work to a schedule that could not accommodate my body’s rhythms. I wanted to honour her – this incredibly complex collection of heart and lungs and digestive processes that allow me to feel and see and love and dance. What a spectacularly amazing thing to have a healthy body!
I learned of the deep, restorative power of menstruation, how it is the most potent opportunity to connect to my deepest wisdom. People pay vast amounts of money to learn meditation or have massages to relax and once a month, women have this opportunity to surrender to their bodies and receive deep nourishment and intuitive guidance if we can let go and retreat from the world. My cycles, rather magically, started to line up with the moon. I felt like a fairy goddess warrior queen.
I came to look at my body and at the earth and see a microcosm within the macroscosm.
The way we treat our bodies as women is the way we are treating this earth. We ARE the earth. Her bounty becomes our food, which becomes our bodies. Her air becomes the oxygen that runs through our blood, her water in our veins.
We have raped her of her sacredness. We have treated her as an object we are entitled to use as we please. This is not the truth. She has life inside her that is precious and beautiful and sacred.
In this crisis we find ourselves in, I believe that one of the first things we can do is start to honour our bodies. Get into her. Feel what she feels. Open to her pains, her longings, her tiredness and nourish her. Grow to understand her cycles and honour them (Love your Lady Landscape by Lisa Lister is a good place to start).
Listen to yourself. Put away the scales for good, drop the diets and eat what will love your body the most. Women’s way of being in the world, standing powerfully in the truth of our experience, is sorely needed right now and our bodies hold the key.
She has riches for you. She has the capacity for a juiciness and pleasure that is not normal for our times. She has an incredible radiance and a capacity for love that will blow your mind apart and break your heart open in the best possible way.
But we must learn her language, her rhythms and what she feels like from the inside. Become your body’s fierce gate-keeper and let nothing but love pass.