Why I won’t be fighting my cancer

Sometimes people talk about ‘fighting’ cancer or ‘losing the battle’ with cancer.

Quite early on I realised this wasn’t resonating with me. Aside from the fact that I am a pacifist and committed to non violence, I haven’t ever been in a fight. I am not trained, or experienced or inclined to fight. I can’t draw on my skills and strengths for the ‘battle ahead’.

When we try, push or fight we introduce stress automatically, it comes along with the judgments we have just taken on board, i.e. are we doing it ‘right’ or enough? And if fighting is what I’m supposed to do, does that mean dying is evidence of my failure? To be made responsible for my survival of this is not fair or useful or even informed. The truth is that we can do our best, thousands of brave souls have, but we can’t control the outcome.

The concept of being who we are not and trying to be where we are not, is certain to cause stress. Fighting anything is STRESSFUL because it introduces the concepts of winning or losing.

Which is why I won’t be ‘fighting cancer’.

I am however determined, and focussed on living. I have a life long experience of feeling, of exploring, of living and loving. I’m skilled at compassion and kindness, at reflection. And I’m courageous, I face truth and I face feelings and I sit with these things and converse with them and make friends with them. I don’t avoid them or fear them, I don’t fight them, I learn from them. Many feelings and experiences arrive, stay a while and go. I listen and learn. That’s my skills set. That’s my daily discipline.

I am living my life with love and with grace. I am courageously living each day with every beautiful experience life gives me, including cancer. I have always lived life to the full, seizing new experiences grasping new feelings about what is. This is something I am good at and can live now. I have always loved everything and everybody- welcoming people and adventures with an open heart. I would have lost only if I became other than my nature – love.

So I will love being alive and happy, and I will love sobbing with grief, I will love allowing my fear to flow through me, I will love laughing till tears run down my face. I will love getting out into the fresh air and I will love the duvet on days when that is all there is. This will take my focus and courage but it’s also something I am confident that I can achieve with determination.

I will love the beautiful people in my life and continue to love the lessons that people have taught me when they were not as I thought they should be, when they appeared cruel or unfair. This is the work I can do and the courage I can exercise.

I will do my best on my worst days. Because my aim is simply to be where I am with grace. This is my win-win situation. Whatever the outcome of my illness, my goal is achievable!

So if I have 5 years or if I have 35 years there is no ‘losing of brave battles’ for me. Every day I win and on my last day I will win. I will live today and I will live my final day fully in the experience of what is. That is courage, that is love, that is grace.

IMG_2040 Poem by Mary Oliver

I am free to be.

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Loving On

I stood on the wet sand with salt water splashing my sunglasses. It was a curious experience to feel a tug and and not to act. I couldn’t always see my daughter as she fought her way through the breakers out into the sea. The waves were high and unpredictable…

Years ago, on her second birthday in fact, I took her swimming – it was one of her favourite things to do. That morning she had unwrapped a soft toy, Piglet, and had attached to him so quickly that when it came to going in the pool, putting him in the locker gave rise to huge distress. I had to use all my skills of reassurance negotiation to manage that situation.

Later on I sat beside swimming pools on many occasions as a ‘spotter’. My daughter had been diagnosed with epilepsy and I had to remain alert, watching and ready to act, at swimming parties, and at school so that swimming lessons could take place.

The year before she went to secondary school we went swimming every Wednesday, she was homeschooled that year and physical health and physical education were our focus and priority. I remember standing in the shallow end practising the breathing with the arm movements for crawl, teaching her to swim. I remember that she couldn’t confidently swim more than a width when we started that home education year and by the end of it we were swimming lengths together which she alternated between crawl, breaststroke, and backstroke.

Over the last three years she and I have had holidays to Greece. We’ve shared deep heart-to-heart mother and daughter conversations in turquoise waters away from others’ ears. And we have counted our lengths together in the pool each day to take responsibility for our own regular exercise.

Now she was out in a rough sea, there were other swimmers and we had initially made our way in after an assessment of conditions. Yet after a few minutes I had said, ‘I need to get out! I’m running out of strength.’ I was concerned to save enough energy for getting back through the breakers to the beach. And we had battled our way back out of the sea. My knees were shaking and my legs wobbly – I had got too tired and I knew that if she had got in to trouble I wouldn’t have been able to help her. I’ve spent all those years protecting her and in readiness to save her and I knew I would be useless.

I could see she wanted to go back in, we both love the sea. ‘I’m a mermaid’ she said, ‘No! I’m a mermaid, I was a mermaid first,.’ I pouted. ‘Mum, you’re a crap mermaid!’.  ’Yes, you’re right’. She was a stronger swimmer.

I watched her go back in. Alone. And it wasn’t easy, sometimes a wave broke over her head, sometimes she got a face full or a mouthful of water, but then she was out swimming in the waves.

I stood, dumbfounded by my internal process. The familiar, habitual concern, that no longer has logical basis; the urge to join and ‘help’; the awareness of her being more capable than I am in this moment; the pride and relief at her strength and competence and the sadness of letting her go.

It’s also my ‘Further Lessons in Love’, advanced stage. Love is not simply an attachment but a commitment to listen and adjust. It’s about loving someone in the way that is best for them, not in the way we have got used to. When you’ve spent years being protective of someone it’s important to notice requests for space and allowing space. Don’t imagine I have learned this easily or with grace, however, I am committed to my advanced life lessons in love and listening.

We can become very stubborn in our beliefs about the right way to love and the right way to relate, but when we do we become arrogant. This was a theme in the therapy room this week and an advanced lesson for those willing to challenge their process of giving their type of loving to people who don’t want it or don’t understand it. Yes, that way lies heartache, but it is also born out of our insistence that we are right.

Letting go of this insistence is the first step. Listening to what is wanted is the second. Then listening to ourselves to see the best way to honour ourselves and the other person.

Adjusting our love by listening means we might need to take a step back. Sometimes it means taking several steps back and sometimes it means we can walk away, (as the saying goes, ‘don’t cling to the mistake just because you spent a long time making it.’).

Generally people know what they need and often they tell us quite clearly they don’t value or don’t need what we give. We can either change what we give or stop giving. Ending relationships and changing relationships are there to help us practice letting go. Often it appears easier to avoid change and thereby avoid grief. To stick by our habits. To keep loving on regardless. Later on, when we have stubbornly ‘loved on’ in our own way, regardless of feedback, when we are depleted and hurt and wonder why the love isn’t reciprocated, we can question whether it is indeed easier.

Unconditional positive regard, central to person centred counselling, requires listening to the other person’s world, understanding and responding to it. Listening and respect are key not just in a counselling relationship, but in all relationships. The therapy room is a good place for us to practice giving and receiving quality listening, empathy, respect and positive regard.

Love on, but love on with regard.

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The benefits of exquisite longing and of hope

I’ve recently been reflecting on loneliness, yearning and longing, feelings that my clients often report and with which I am very familiar.

Sometimes I long for another person, whether real or imaginary, and I’ve taken to considering, “Who is it, I long for?”. Is it that person, or is it the feeling I get when I am with them? And if it’s the feeling I get, why is it that I am considering the other person as the provider of this feeling? Are they really the sole provider?

Exploring this with myself and my with my clients I’ve become interested in what the longing tells us about us. Is it sometimes a longing to be known, understood, seen, loved, valued? How good those feelings are, how amazing, how enticing, how lovely, (how addictive).  Is that what we are longing for?

Without longing we cannot begin to discover what we need to provide for ourselves. It was longing, on a small scale, that has motivated me to get this cup of tea in my hand, to buy that picture, to write this blog. What was I longing for this morning? With the tea it was pretty physical, I was thirsty, with the picture I had to ponder some more to discover what I was longing for, it seemed to be for water, for nature and the feeling of peace and stillness. Do I get that peace and stillness from buying the picture? Yes, but it’s not guaranteed. Will I get it if I go to water and nature, probably, but again, it’s not guaranteed. So the feeling is not located in the picture or even in nature, is it?

My thoughts this morning are that longing is a wonderful experience, and that delayed gratification gives us a chance to explore the question of what, or who, we are longing for in order to discover the true need underneath, a need I would suggest that we may even be able to meet ourselves.

longing is the foundation of creation

I mentioned the cup of tea, the picture and this blog. The blog arises from my desire to be heard and understood. This understanding, I may or may not get from my reader, but it motivates me, energises me to act, to seek and so longing is the foundation of creation.

Each exploration can be taken a layer deeper, so taking this deeper, why do I long to be heard and understood? What’s that feeling? How would it be to do without it? So I pause, and I bathe in the memory of satisfying my longing to be understood and heard – oh, that feels so good – and now there is another feeling underneath… I know I’m accepted, my breathing frees up, I sigh. I know I am OK. So with a little self reflection I have now discovered that the whole writing of this blog is a lot of energy expended to go a round-about way of knowing I am accepted and OK. So I sit here and I smile and have a little chuckle, because it would be a lot quicker, and far more effective to practice mindful self acceptance. When I stop, when I pause my action, it’s not that difficult to find the peace of being acceptable. So the blogging and the print I bought from the National Gallery, two minor longings this morning, upon examination have led me to understand that I am looking for the peace of acceptance this morning.

Longing is the source of the drive, the energy to actively live. It is hope. So I invite you to stay with and experience longing, yearning, hoping and aching for something or somebody. Don’t fear it, don’t fear the hope and creation hidden within the longing, just look at it and get to know it. By pausing enough to consider what it is we are longing for, without impulsively shopping, contacting, acting, we have an opportunity to deepen our experience and maybe even fulfil our needs more satisfactorily.

IMG_3627

A photo of a print of a painting that I always nip in to see when I pass the National Gallery. A personal longing for peace, for release of held breath, takes me there and I stand in front of it and believe I fulfil my longing. Today I consider the possibility of fulfilling that longing without travelling to London, without taking a single step.

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Connection, disconnection, adjustment

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Gestalt Prayer

I do my thing and you do your thing.

I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,

And you are not in this world to live up to mine.

You are you, and I am I,

and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.

If not, it can’t be helped.

(Fritz Perls, “Gestalt Therapy Verbatim”, 1969)

I didn’t like this ‘prayer’ when I first heard it nearly 30 years ago. It seemed cold and uncaring, as if it was OK that people needn’t bother, needn’t make the effort to find each other, and to love and appreciate each other.

As time went on, the Gestalt Prayer became a source of strength and comfort. I stopped expecting myself to save the world and make everyone better or blaming myself for other people’s unhappiness.

I discovered the relief in letting go of my expectations of others: I even let go of needing people to ‘find’ me, to see, appreciate, recognize me. I am grateful, of course, that I did receive this in my therapy and in close relationships and I am equally grateful (now) that others did not take time or make effort to find me, and clearly had other things to do. This was a gift, as in grieving, I discovered I can thrive without.

As I continue my training in Zero Balancing there are two precious pieces of learning for me at the moment, ‘interface’ and ‘clean disconnect’. These are both held within a safe and non-judgmental and usually silent space within a session and are essential to allow the person to allow themselves to allow.

What do they allow? Well I’m still a student, but I would say the session allows the body and energy of a person to do what it does. As the Zero Balancer, I’m not there to ‘fix’ or ‘treat’ so my contact and my connection is not streaming me into the other person, it is ‘interface’ connection, a respectful, contact that you can feel in your very bones, that allows you to become more fully functioning, not to do as directed. Your inner wisdom will do its thing. For those of you person-centered trained, you will understand the big appeal of this to me.

I think we need contact to grow but not interference. There’s a little mantra in ZB work, ‘go in, do the work and come out again’ – which I’m sure any competent gardener will recognise. The ‘coming out again’ is respectful to both parties and minimises any capacity to interfere, to correct, to adjust another. I can’t help but wonder how personal relationships would improve if we practiced this clean disconnect and interface contact in our lives as well as in ZB sessions. Imagine if we could be separate, make contact that feels good and then disconnect, rather than holding on?

Now into my third decade of the Gestalt Prayer, and experience working within therapeutic relationships as well as personal ones, it seems to me that the Gestalt Prayer is maybe fixed and could move on with me? As I enjoy my separateness more, and have taken on the detachment of the Gestalt Prayer, I am also surrendering more to connection, when I have it, with others, less afraid now that I need that connection or can be destroyed by it, or loss of it.

We cannot lose ourselves until we find ourselves. Or put psychologically, we cannot experience the surrendering of our ego until we have found, got to know and strengthened our ego.

For me, for many, by this point in the therapy journey, the ego is less precious; defensive living and defensive practice less desirable; the mystery of love and connection,  of solitude and contact more appealing.

Experiencing a deeper sense of ‘oneness’ the more I am able to detach, getting closer by stepping back, I woke up one morning and rewrote the Gestalt Prayer for where I am today.

Miriam’s Gestalt Prayer for now

I don’t really know who I am

and I wonder who you are?

 

I see you, we are separate and unique

and in meeting, I see something of you

that I recognize is also something of me.

 

When I dislike parts of me and you,

that is a gift.

When I love parts of me and you,

that is a gift.

 

The wonder of our meeting is beautiful

and disturbing, stirring up every question,

who is it I reject, who is it I long for?

 

I wonder if I am you and you are me for a moment.

 

When we part, we are irrevocably changed

by our meeting.

 

I am I,

but not who I was or who I will be.

 

 

 

 

 

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Life Awakening

What is Life Awakening about? And how did I come to devise and write this concept?

Life Awakening began, believe it or not, during training in CBT for Trauma, when I found myself sitting at a table next to a colleague on a training day. You could call it synchronicity, being in the right place at the right time or simply coincidence. We had in the past briefly debated the merits of CBT and Gestalt therapy but we didn’t know much more about each other’s hidden interests in healing. As the day progressed, sparks and ideas began flying between us about how we could use what we know for helping people with trauma and we debated excitedly through the breaks and scribbled notes to each other during the sessions.

The evidence that post traumatic growth means that people who have faced death more often than not are irrevocably changed, excited me. They tend to be less materialistic, to value friends and family, to be more focused on finding meaning in their lives. I remembered clients and friends who often said, “My accident / bump on the head / divorce / illness was the best thing that happened to me.” Why did they say this? It seems they were referring to the benefits of post traumatic growth.

Given that these measured positive outcomes of trauma match The Top Five Regrets of the Dying (documented by Bronnie Ware) my colleague and I wondered if there was any way for our ‘lives to flash before our eyes’, without nearly dying? Wouldn’t it be good to be able to get back on track before a disaster brought us to our senses?

REGRETS

While we were both specialists in trauma, we came from different orientations and we were both engaged in interesting research – Jillian was studying the body in psychotherapy and I was studying ‘intuition’ and unknown-knowing. During the day we discovered that we both were individually pursuing interests in body work and the less explainable healing taking place under the name of spiritual or energetic therapy.

We started to discuss the idea of a life review – popular in many cultures is the idea we go through a life review after death – and whether this could be used in a therapeutic setting. We began to look at the importance of finding meaning, reviewing our knowledge of existential therapy and religious belief systems. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, we thought, if we could work with people and help them gain the benefits of trauma, if we could review our lives without dying or nearly dying?

We were looking for an approach that would give us post-traumatic benefits:

 People who Have Experienced Post-Traumatic Growth Say Five Things:

1.) My priorities have changed; I’m no longer afraid to do what makes me happy.
2.) I feel closer to my friends and/or family.
3.) I understand myself better, I know who I really am now. 
4.) I have a new sense of meaning and purpose.
5.) I’m better able to focus on my goals and dreams.
 
What Doesn’t Kill Us 
by Stephen Joseph 

Following the training we arranged to go away, to research and write and to meet up a few months later to exchange ideas. At our next meeting the Human Trinity Principles were born. We were really blessed to have a fast succession of ideas and inspirations, we drew diagrams, we brainstormed bullet points and we believe we brought all our individual training and years of experience into one concept. Using our different skills, I wrote voraciously and Jillian helped me make these writings readable, understandable and into a logical training order so that they could later be used within a professional training structure.

The premise of a Life Awakening life review is that in a structured process a person can gain insight similar to the life review process that many believe happens when we die. Life Awakening is the only therapeutic life review with a chronological structure as far as we know. We have now run 14 workshops, trainings and talks – the next is June 20th & 21st 2015 – and without exception participants have all benefitted, usually more than expected, read a few testimonials here. We’ve brought to this all we know (the tip of the iceberg) about body, mind and spirit. The work so far seems to have filled our hopes of being able to gain some of the benefits of trauma without experiencing trauma.

As therapists we cannot know everything about each therapy, and believe me we tried! Between us we have studied Person Centered Therapy, Gestalt therapy, Psychological Counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Animal assisted therapy, Psychosynthesis, shamanism, kinesiology, Zero Balancing, energy healing, reiki, therapeutic touch, laughter therapy, integrative therapy, authentic movement, somatic therapy and more. Between us we bring 40 years worth of study to the creation of Life Awakening.

The idea is that through using our structured process, the ‘seeker’ (we don’t use the word client or patient) comes to strengthen and increasingly use their Inner Voice to choose which direction, which discipline, which therapy is right for them from moment to moment. The facilitator needs to be impartial and non-judgmental. The facilitator needs not to judge that their own preferred therapeutic orientation is superior to another. Each seeker is unique so their therapy needs to be unique. One seeker may realise they need to go on holiday or join a dance class, another may need a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or to see a nutritionist, some may need psychotherapy and others may need assertiveness training.

All of us need to become more self knowing and self accepting and Life Awakening truly does this. The power for healing comes from deeper self knowledge and deeper self acceptance, not from a therapist.

Life Awakening is designed to take the power away from a therapist, or a therapy, a theory, or an approach and to empower the seeker.

After all, the person who knows you, who was with you every minute of your life, who will be with you after your therapy is over, and after the Life Awakening programme, is you. My form of psychotherapy is good, and effective but your Inner Voice is to be trusted even more. And so my form of therapy now is centered on strengthening your Inner Voice, trusting you not just me.

Life Awakening is not therapy; it’s self development, meditations, exercises. You can undertake it at home, online or with a therapist. By far the best results we have had so far are in workshops. Our next one runs in June beginning at tea time on Friday 19th and running for the Saturday and Sunday. The sessions are fun, and quite often mind-blowing. The facilitators are qualified and experienced and you can read their biographies here. Most people undertake the programme for personal development but a few are interested in applying this approach to their professional work as a counsellor, therapist, healer.

Why not join us this June and review your life? Look for the clues in your Birth Gifts and in your Life Patterns and Themes to discover who you have evolved to become Now.

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Path to Serenity

Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.

From the Tao Te Ching
 
Give yourself a break today, stop before you are full, finish before everything is done – enjoy the acceptance of yourself and your work just as you are without driving on with the goal of perfection.
 
 
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When words speak louder than actions: the language of love

I was always led to believe the saying, ‘actions speak louder than words’. There is no doubting the logic in this statement. However, through my work with couples and studying my own and other people’s ‘languages of love’, I have come to realise that actions speak louder for some than others, depending on their language of love.

Margaret (all client identities, genders and names have been disguised) worked full time in a job and was a great cook. She woke early every morning to clean the house and iron the children’s school uniform. She cooked two evening meals, so she could serve her husband delicious food after the children were in bed, she dressed the table, she dressed herself, she showed up every day. This to her was absolute love and the dedication of actions. Sadly it didn’t hit the spot for her husband and he left. He was drawn to someone else who thought every joke he made was funny, who affirmed his intellect and who admired the dimple in his chin, whose first actions on seeing him were to hug and touch him. Words and touch spoke more loudly to this man. This man is not a lousy, ungrateful s**t. he, like all of us, needed to feel loved by his partner and he could not read Margaret’s language of love and she was unaware of his language.

Andrew complained to his civil partner, ‘I spent 2 hours sitting on the sofa with you last week, eating popcorn and watching a movie and then you say we don’t have quality time together!’. His partner was unaffected by time spent this way because his language of love was about touch and quality time which includes, for him, eye contact. Andrew had effectively paid into a ‘love bank’ in dud currency and had satisfied neither of them.

So what are the five languages of love? These can be found in Dr Gary Chapman’s book of the same name*. They are 1) Words of Affirmation 2) Quality Time 3) Receiving Gifts 4) Acts of Service 5) Physical Touch.

Would you feel the most betrayed if you realised your partner was flattering another person or cooking for them? If you discovered your partner had been touching another or had bought them a gift or mended their lawn mower?

I only realised this week that words speak louder than actions for me, despite the logic of the opposite position! I expect that people will do things that are thoughtless, or hassle, or mistaken, things that affect me, make me sad, or stressed, or angry and I don’t judge these actions as proof that I am not loved by them – I too can impact other people negatively at times. What really makes me feel unloved is lack of empathy; I can get very hung up on whether someone has apologised or not for inconveniencing me and I can forgive instantly if offered words of understanding and empathy, e.g. ‘I’m sorry I left that mess for you to clear up’ works for me because I feel understood, better still, ‘You are a wonderful and kind woman and I love you’, is a massive pay in to my ‘love bank’ and will keep me going for weeks! Like Margaret’s husband I don’t need someone to do things for me, I appreciate it but it won’t hit the spot if someone wants to make me feel loved. I set great store by, ‘please, thank you, sorry’.

The opposite is true of Manjit, when her partner is late, or leaves the house a mess or doesn’t ask how her day was, she feels unloved, unconsidered and that her feelings are unimportant. Manjit likes ‘acts of service’ and gifts. An apology won’t work. She does feel loved when her partner buys her a gift or surprises her by cooking dinner and when she remembers to hang her wet towel up.

Many people feel that working 24/7 so they can buy their partner nice clothes and holidays is enough and are outraged to then find their partner wants them to make love to them as well! As if what they are already doing is not appreciated, not enough. It all comes down to love languages.

If you are feeling unloved, today’s blog is not a reason to blame your partner. Feeling unloved is your unhealed issue, your partner may be triggering awareness of it but they are not causing it. We can rant and rave or secretly ‘bash’ and criticise our partner for our feelings but this will not deal with the fear within that we are not loved.

Healing Meditation

Take a moment now and close your eyes, go deep within, into your heart and there beneath the anger, the resentment, the fear and the hurt, just connect with your heart, remember you are a loving soul, full of love to give and let that love expand out with each breath.

Smile into your heart until your heart smiles back at you. Ask yourself, ‘how can I be more loving to myself today?’  What understanding, actions, gifts do you need? What words do you need to hear? Give these to yourself.

When you are ready, (whether this is today, tomorrow, next year), then think about how you can be loving in the world, how you can connect with the loving soul you are and let your true loving nature shine in your life. Ask yourself, whose language of love do you need to understand?

We are all unique and we are all different and while it is not our partner’s job or our family’s job to make us feel loved, it helps make the world go round if we take the time to show our love. If we show this in the language of love that the other person can understand then we have struck gold!

 

If you enjoyed this blog, please share it, please sign up to it and please comment and discuss.

 

* Or google the languages on the internet and you can do a quick questionnaire to find out your own language.

 

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I have the body of Wonder Woman!

Do you remember the pose? Hands on hips, legs firmly planted a couple of feet apart, spine straight and head held high? Last Saturday, Dr. David Hamilton had us hold this position for two whole minutes, in his seminar on the Science of Self Love at the Tree of Life in Birmingham.

Blood tests and observational studies of people holding this stance show increased confidence, and also increased testosterone and lowered cortisol (the stress hormone).

David also offered evidence from MRI scans to show that we can re-wire our brains if we keep repeating new patterns. These may be actual, for example playing a scale, doing a dance routine or they may be in our mind, we may simply be visualising managing a situation in a different way, the brain scans show the same result and repetition grows new pathways. As those of you learning an instrument probably know, practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes fixed.

So it’s very important what we practice. Can you just pause for a minute and notice, what is your body telling your brain right now, what signals is it sending? And what are your thoughts telling your body? Just noticing may help you see more clearly the sort of repeated patterns of body and mind that have become your default way of being.

Our bodies, our thoughts, our muscles are all linked together and as you know, when I am teaching about the anxiety cycle, we can intervene at a chemical level (alcohol or prescribed drugs will temporarily reduce stress) or a physical level (I invite clients to focus on breathing, relaxation and posture) or a thought level (in therapy we look at the thoughts that are causing the muscles and the brain chemistry to cause a stress response) – whenever possible I encourage myself and others to avoid intervening chemically because we can alter our natural chemicals through working with the body and working with our thoughts.

I often liken our body to a blender or smoothie maker: If I press the ‘on’ button on my smoothie maker, it doesn’t think to itself, ‘I wonder if Miriam meant to switch me on or whether she just accidentally pressed the button when cleaning?’ or ‘I’m not sure if these pears are ripe enough to blend.’ The smoothie maker doesn’t reason or decide whether being switched on is necessary or fruitful (pun intended), it just responds to the switch. Our stress system is like this. If I think, ‘I’m late, it’s a disaster!’ I press the stress switch in my body, my body now produces the chemicals necessary to deal with a disaster and I have adrenaline racing around my system for what can be several hours. If something then startles me while my stress system is aroused, for example, another driver pulls in front of me, this adrenaline will be exacerbated.

So our thoughts can produce stress chemicals and our muscles respond, our breathing changes and our mood is affected. We can intervene by changing our thoughts, our body or our chemistry, they are all inter-linked.

depressed posture

I love this Peanuts cartoon, and Imogen from Body Intelligence and I use it on our International Body-Mind Workshops (there’s one this August 2nd, details below).  It was wonderful to hear David Hamilton (scientist, author and speaker) explain that due to neuro-plasticity (that means the brain wiring isn’t set permanently but is open to constant change) the work I do on my own development and with clients can make a difference quickly. Changing our self-talk and our thoughts really can have an impact, meaning that our brains change and this impacts our brain chemistry, our muscles and our health.

Changing our posture, can also change the chemicals in our brain. For many years I have known that the body work component of Gestalt psychotherapy can change our mood, and it was fascinating to hear how blood tests prove that different postures raise or lower our stress hormones, our cortisol levels. Of course knowing the theory won’t change us, it is action that re-wires the brain. If you haven’t read my posts on laughter yoga, the links are on this page. I honestly believe that I , and those I work with on a Monday morning in my Laughter and Happiness Group, have re-wired our stress responses through physical exercise and laughter exercises. We learn to laugh in response to triggers that might have once stressed us, like a visa bill, a traffic jam, the internet not working. We open our chests and breathe deeply – the signal to my brain is, ‘Miriam is clearly not in danger as her chest is open and her breathing is deep and her face is smiling’, my brain identifies this as happy and relaxed and produces the appropriate chemicals. This is why even simulated laughter has been shown to have the same health benefits as genuine laughter.

As well as the blood test results of those adopting postural changes, David was showing us brain scans of people who do repeated exercises (mental or physical) a few reps at a time with short breaks and how this massively increases the brain growth in the part of the brain being used. I don’t have all the references to the studies but you can find these in David’s books and on his website.

When Imogen and I joined forces to write and create our workshop based on the interface between Alexander Technique and Gestalt Psychotherapy she and I invited participants to focus on how certain thoughts fire our muscles into action. For example, Imogen invites participants to think, ‘I’ve got to do it now and I’ve got to do it right.’ Just try this for yourself now. Do you notice a change in your heart rate and muscle tension? Which muscles respond?

You can also try, ‘I can’t do it, I give up.’ What do you notice happening in your body now?

For many years as a Gestalt therapist, I have worked with the body, e.g.. ‘Try saying that sentence standing up, standing on the table with your arms open…. try saying that sentence curled up small, in a quiet voice…what differences do you notice in yourself..?’ and so on.

Alexander Technique teachers invite you to notice not to change, Gestalt therapists too invite you to notice how you feel in different postures or as the result of different behaviours. By undertaking Alexander lessons or psychotherapy we can learn to observe ourselves and we can choose to adjust ourselves in order to improve our wellbeing. We make the unconscious conscious and this gives us choice.

David Hamilton taught us that loving kindness, meditation and BODY MOVEMENT can all result in our arteries relaxing and widening. How great is this? Scientific evidence that love is good for our physical heart! Loving, kind and gentle people live longer. David’s new book about the science of self-love will be published in January and he’s doing talks and workshops on this at the moment.

If you are interested in learning more about your unconscious body patterns or thought patterns, then do come on the workshop on August 2nd with me and Imogen. It’s a relaxing fun day, we do floor work, teaching, experiential exercise and discussions. There are spaces for ten participants. Further reading on these topics you will find via David Hamilton’s website and on this website and on Body Intelligence.

So I have adopted a daily Wonder Woman practice, and by having the body of Wonder Woman for two minutes, I know I am now growing the confidence, the brain chemistry of Wonder Woman too!

Poster-2014  For the Body-Mind workshop on August 2nd 2014 is on this link.

You might also like my blog Mind Magic or a report about last year’s workshop.

Wonder-woman

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Laughter is Soul Medicine

Are you looking for a way to feel calmer and more balanced, to improve your health, your mood, or your connections with others?

You might think that laughter is a superficial answer to your problems, but please take a few minutes to think again, while I tell you why I became a Laughter Yoga Leader and Gibberish Professor.

I’ve posted elsewhere about the physical and emotional benefits of laughter but today I want to focus on what I see as the spiritual benefits of laughter. These I see as

• Taking a different perspective

• Choosing how we react

• Living with humour and joy

Very often the things that stress us are not as important as we think they are, and when we tell ourselves this is a ‘disaster’ our body responds accordingly, limiting our oxygen intake, tightening our muscles, increasing our stress. Laughter increases oxygen and relaxes us, but it also helps us take a different perspective. It’s quite funny really how worked up we can get because the internet is down, the washing machine broken or the traffic is slow. In Laughter Yoga we do exercises where we learn to laugh at the things we can’t change, such as our Visa Bill, getting wet in the rain or, as we practiced in December, receiving an awful Christmas present, or no presents at all!

From a psychological perspective the trigger is an event and the emotional response is a choice. Is it a disaster? Is it funny? You choose. The more we can choose that it is unimportant and not a disaster, the healthier and happier our systems will be.

Spiritually, I like to think of laughter as giving us the perspective of being able to laugh at ourselves, not in a cruel way, but compassionately. I think to myself, “Oh, poor you. You think your perception is reality, don’t you?”  For me, laughter can remind me these are just our human experiences, our training exercises, to help us develop our personality, our responses, our compassion and other qualities. It is necessary to have challenges so we can learn to choose our responses. And so many challenges turn out to be either assumptions in our own head, or situations forgotten about in the future.

In Laughter Yoga, we laugh for no reason, this means we are no longer dependent on other people or circumstances to make us laugh, we choose to laugh because it is good for us. It improves our physical health and our mood. This reminds me of Robert Holden’s ideas in Happiness Now! I remind my group participants that happiness is not, ‘when’ or ‘then’ (‘when I get that job’, ‘when I find my soul mate’, ‘then, when I was young’, ‘then, when I lived by the sea’) but happiness is there inside us, waiting for us to notice, to feel it and claim it.

This isn’t to say there aren’t times when we are filled with great sadness and then this becomes the emotion that most needs to be expressed. The perspective of choosing our responses to circumstances helps us be more resilient and to respond in ways that promote our health and those around us. For example, if we choose to get drunk in response to sadness or to overeat when we are angry, there are consequences for our health and for the people around us. If we choose to express our feelings appropriately, we minimise fall out and can move on more easily. If we have trained ourselves to laugh at the small stresses, we can devote our sadness or anger to the situation without feeding difficult emotions on into deeper intensity and distress when we then lose our car keys or the cat is sick on the carpet.

Roberto Assagioli, the founder of psychosynthesis wrote about the spirituality of laughter further in Smiling Wisdom:

Spiritual humour is a paradoxical combination of an attitude of serene and detached observation, the feeling of the oneness of life, and deep sympathy for and compassion with others.

From another angle, humour is the contemplation of the passing pageant of life….[the Sage] keeps his higher and real Self a detached and smiling spectator.

To attain such a state of inner freedom, it is necessary to use humour first of all toward oneself, gently making fun of one s little personal self which is so full of its own importance, giving itself such airs and taking itself so seriously, and which is touchy, restless and suspicious.

I invite you, me, all of us, to live with a little humour, to face the day with a smile, even if it’s a wry smile. Let’s take life a little less seriously. Laughter will increase your resilience so that when happiness is available you can choose it and take it, and when more painful feelings are appropriate you can feel more resourced to express those feelings clearly.

So when can you start?

This Saturday, 1st of March, I am beginning my

31 Days of Laughter

https://www.facebook.com/BlueSkiesMiriamGranthier

I am challenging people all over Facebook to follow my laughter tip for 31 Days and see if it changes their life. It’s easy, it takes a minute or two and you don’t have to travel anywhere or pay anything. Just click “like” at the top of my Facebook page and the tips will show in your news feed daily.

Of course if you want some more interaction you would be welcomed with a smile at my Laughter and Happiness Group. And if you can’t make it I will be posting laughter clips on my YouTube channel. In the meantime enjoy this clip of Laughter Meditation with me and my friends laughing, because we want to.

 

For more details about Laughter Yoga: http://www.blue-skies.org.uk/laughter-yoga/

Follow me on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/BlueSkiesMiriamGranthier

and twitter: Miriam Granthier @MiriamBlueSkies

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Is Love ‘blind’?

I’m not a cynic and today is a good day to express my inner romantic and reflect on falling in love…

I was with a client a few weeks ago discussing her relationship problems with her partner and we were remembering the stage in her relationship of falling in love and questioning why this phase ends in relationships and empathizing with the hardships in romantic partnerships. My training and experience usually leads me to consider the idea of falling in love as a stage of projection and fantasy which is later replaced with reality. I was reminded of the phrase

Love is blind ….

But is it, I wondered? I reflected on falling in love, I reflected on the love I have for my children, my clients. No, I decided, love is not blind. Love sees beyond the dross, the issues, the dramas. When we fall in love, we see our beloved in all their pure potential, we see the beauty in their design, we see the person they are meant to be. Our love gives us hope and faith in that person and their love, hope and faith in us lifts us up to be our best selves. What a wonderful time that is!

I feel that in my therapy practice I am usually not dealing with a lack of love in relationships but really a lack of hope or faith or trust. Is falling in love just projection and fantasy? Maybe. Or is it more than that? Is it insight? Is it this second sight, or other sight that gives us the hope and faith to love on even once we are smack bang in the middle of the baggage?

Sometimes people say, ‘Only a mother could love him / her!’ as a way of describing someone they see as unattractive. A parent can see the beauty in their baby, their child, that is hidden to others. I see the potential in my children of who they are, who they were born to be, their talents and their beauty. Of course my children are the most beautiful to me – I see through eyes of love. I don’t think that makes me blind, perhaps it gives me a sight of something invisible.

It’s February 14th today, and I invite you to see through eyes of love today, your partner, your children, your clients, the people in your life. When we first love someone, we see past the dross, the flaws, the hang-ups. There is time enough later to complain later about the flaws, the small print, the catalogue of hurts that build up after the ‘honeymoon period’, but for today, let’s fall in love, and see the true soul beauty of others, beyond the daily aggravations.

I will be blogging more over the next few weeks about how we can get tangled in our closest relationships and hope to help you understand the problems and solutions, but today, I invite you to just see the highest potential of those you love. There is also a short healing love meditation on my website on this link to Student Resources, under audio links it is called Heart Meditation.

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