Shamanism Moi? February 2020
Most of us have stories, often retold, about how certain things started in our lives. Someone says, “So, how did you two meet?” or, “When did you first become interested in Astrophysics?” and we trot it out, a part of our repertoire, a part of the story of who we are.
Shamanic work – journeying to meet spirit guides, rituals connecting me to the land and sky and powerful healing practices, are now a fundamental part of who I am. People who have met me in this chapter of my life are not notably surprised to learn this, probably because I am also a Hypnotherapist, Reiki Master and EFT practitioner. Shamanic work fits the overall concept that they form of me.
Yet, anyone who had met me around the time that I took a weekend workshop where I learned to shamanic journey would have probably been a bit perplexed. To be honest, at the time I was a bit perplexed myself. I had no idea what Shamanism was, no idea about Power Animals and other dimensions of reality. I worked in the corporate world and I was the mother of two very young children. The only reason I took the workshop was that it was led by Leslie Kenton, a writer, whose books on health and wellness I much admired. I signed up because I wanted to see her.
I actually found the whole process quite difficult at first and even considered not going back after the first day. Yet I am so glad I did.
Shamanic journeying has now been a precious part of my spiritual practice for nearly twenty five years. It has brought me joy, wisdom and great comfort; it has provided me with resilience and the strength to face uncomfortable truths about myself and others. Simple journeying, using a recording of a drum beat, taking place wherever I happen to be, sometimes lasting no more than ten minutes is a regular part of my day.
I have been thinking back to that weekend in the 1990s and to who I was then because my dear friend and colleague, Sue Farmer and I are offering an introductory workshop in April to share this powerful and profound practice.
Even if you are not especially attracted to Shamanism or have only a hazy idea of what it is, I urge to you to come and experience how it can benefit you as a self help tool.
If you are concerned that you won’t e able to, ‘do it’, like me on the first day of the workshop I attended, please don’t worry. Sue and I are both highly experienced and qualified hypnotherapists and we have devised a method to help you safely and comfortably journey to meet your Power Animal.
Photo by Manan Chhabra on Unsplash
As our celebrations over Christmas and New Year are fading into long term memory maybe the burst of energy and determination which we felt at the beginning of a new year, a new decade even, is beginning to dissipate.
So, if you made any New Year’s Resolution type promises to yourself.......how is it panning out?
Perhaps you are maintaining a Veganuary commitment, helpfully supported by bespoke menus in restaurants and promoted products in supermarkets. Or perhaps you are keeping this month alcohol free. Both are clearly great ways to give your body a break and a decent amount of time to experience the effects of making changes to what you consume. At the end of the month you will decide whether to continue or to return to your previous pattern. Either way, you will have kept your promise to yourself.
However, some resolutions are not just for a month. Some people will have decided to stop smoking cigarettes, to change the way they eat more permanently or to start a regular programme of exercise. If this applies to you, how is THAT going?
I hope it is going well, but I know from personal experience and from that of my clients, the going can start to get hard as January moves into February, as the days are short and cold and as the pressures of everyday life start to get a grip on us.
The rest of your life stretches ahead of you, devoid of the comfort of your familiar habits and blighted by the discomfort of the new ones.
So supposing, just supposing that you have already broken one of this kind of commitments to yourself... How are you handling it? And what are you going to do about it? Here are some things to think about.
Was it the right time for you? We can start a new habit on any day; it doesn’t have to be the 1st of January. Were you trying to stop smoking or start exercising when your job was going to be particularly stressful? Could you schedule in a better time in a few weeks when you stand a better chance of succeeding?
Were you prepared? Giving up smoking can be helped by nicotine patches etc. And by avoiding environments where other people are smoking, at least initially. Had you have you got a fridge full of delicious healthy food, ready for your packed lunches? Have you got the right kit for your preferred exercise?
Did you have a moment of weakness? If you gave in and had a cigarette, or a Big Mac or whatever, it doesn’t mean that you have failed. You can return to your new regime as soon as you like. No one is judging you.
Did you really, honestly, deep down want to do this? Or is it because you think you ‘should’? As a Hypnotherapist I know that it is almost impossible to help someone make changes if they don’t have a strong, personal desire to do so. Find some reasons and do a bit of visualisation. What would it feel like to have all the money you spend on smoking for other things? To be able to breathe better?
This might sound weird, but what were the good things, what do you like about your ‘bad’ habits? If you love the convenience and a soft, warm mouthful of a Big Mac, a complicated dish of crunchy vegetables is not going to do it for you. Smokers often like the fact that they can get some respite from work by getting out of the building for a cigarette. Can you replace the aspects you like in other ways?
Finally, if you started and stopped again, did you give it long enough to experience the positive changes that your new behaviour could bring to your body and mind? Maybe those people who maintain an alcohol free or vegan January are on to something. Why not commit to yourself to try whatever it is you want to change for just a month? From now until the same date in February? Four weeks should demonstrate some tangible results. Then you can make a realistic decision about how to go forward.
Image: Nathan Anderson. Unsplash
It was the last full day that we were going to be there for a while and it was an especially beautiful day, sunny but with Autumn crispness on the edges of the air, leaves turning red and gold and beginning to fall. It was also a Saturday, which meant that, understandably, of course, the stunning river and mountain walk through a national park, which starts just a few metres from our apartment building, would be full of walkers of all ages. We normally avoid weekends and holidays, because we can; we enjoy the luxury of having the tumbling river, the dramatic gorges, waterfalls and hills covered in olive groves and smelling of wild thyme, more or less to ourselves. This short break had been busy for us, we had filled our days with other lovely activities and we had done this walk many times before, yet we couldn’t resist.
So, I found myself following my husband along the river bank, the narrowness of the path necessitating our stopping to allow groups of people coming the other way to pass or to let younger, athletic looking people overtake us. This involved much smiling and nodding and hellos in various languages. Yet, gazing down at the crystal clean water gurgling and dancing as it rushed over rocks, I so wished that I could just be alone with this place. I wanted to imbibe it, to find my deep connection to tree, rock and river, to breathe in time with the breeze moving the leaves. The constant happy chatter of fellow walkers completely disturbed any attempt I made. I felt frustrated.
Strange how random memories can helpfully arrive at such moments. A spiritual teacher I followed for many years was once speaking about her own training; how she went from being irritated by other people chattingin the meditation hall to being grateful to them for helping her learn to maintain her inner focus.
So, for a short while I tried to practise her perspective, feeling gratitude to the happy chattering people because I was honing my skills on completely focussing on Nature, the breeze, the water and the rocks; focussing on my connection to ‘all that is’............
It was almost as if a voice spoke in my ear, but probably was just my own, somewhat buried but innate common sense. I was trying to focus on Mother Nature and my connection to ‘all that is’, while trying to ignore the dominant species on the planet, the species that I belong to. It was insane. My fellow hikers were as much a part of ‘all that is’ as the rocks.
The spirituality which I want to practise has to include everything and everyone, the lovely bits and the irritating bits. The Dalai Lama and Donald Trump. The crystal gurgling water and the woman who kept stopping to take selfies in the middle of a steep, muddy incline with no hand holds and with a queue of people backed up and wobbling behind her.
The practice became a kind of internal holding space, a non-judgemental allowing. If it all became too much, I tried to internally bless the other walkers. Did I manage to maintain this state of mind for the whole of the two and a half hour hike? No, of course I didn’t. But trying to and occasionally achieving it was wonderful.
I am blessed with many magical experiences in my life, both through getting together with like minded people or through my own work. When I attend an event, for example a beautiful women's drum circle recently (www.thedrumwoman.com), when one of my clients finds clarity and the courage to power through their own fears or when I am personally gifted insights through Shamanic Journeying I have a deep feeling of coming home to myself.
Which is lovely, isn't it? So why is it that very often, maybe one or two days after one of these powerful experiences, I find myself totally immersed in this material world and have to remind myself of its magical underpinnings?
This isn't a problem, as such. When I’ve noticed that this has happened, I’ve often berated myself for forgetting, but then I realised that feeling guilty was just part of my fragile ego's defense armoury. The magic in the community, the work I do and my own Journeying and rituals all ground me inescapably in my connection, my oneness with other people, with Mother Nature, Mother Earth and the Universe. Part of our ego's job is to enhance our sense of agency as a separate, disconnected being. My ego is very good at its job. Hence my awakening a couple of days after deep magical connection realising that I have been totally wrapped up in everyday concerns.
Just such an awakening happened to me yesterday. I was, to be completely honest, sulking. I had cancelled a trip to a much loved destination due to a work commitment which had just itself been cancelled. Then somehow, while vacuuming the floor, I suddenly found that my lower back (an ongoing problem for me) had seized up and the only way to not be in pain was to lie down. I had recently spent time and money on body work which had yielded really promising results and now I felt like I was in a worse place than when I started.
So I lay there, supported by cushions, feeling eons away from the woman who was drumming and dancing in sparkling sunlight only a week before. Where was my deep connection to all that is? Was it there at all or simply hidden under layer upon layer of resentment, physical pain and self criticism?
But then, from somewhere, my soul? Spirit? Who knows? came a barely distinguishable thought. More like a faint energetic whisper. This Life, that you enjoy feeling so connected to, isn't just the good bits. You can embrace all of it. The magic is always there.
And it was.
Very, very quickly, as I dived into my own feelings and thoughts, with the unconditional positive regard I offer to my clients, I found old familiar patterns which needed to be acknowledged, accepted and owned by me. The process holds that feeling of relief when we finally turn around to face and deal with old fears. Feelings of relief and subsequent freedom. Also, a noticeable lessening of physical pain.
At the beginning of this piece I asked why I seem to retreat from the magic when I have experienced it deeply and, certainly, I know that my ego is part of the reason I do so. I think also that this vacillation between the magical and the everyday is part of the dance involved in experiencing them both together all the time. Maybe I needed the events which led to my feelings of disconnection and desolation this week, in order to be able to hear that whisper and clear a major ancestral and childhood patterns. Who knows?
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Why don’t we meditate???? August 2019
I want to write a little about something which I hear frequently from my friends and clients and have experienced myself. It is about meditation. Sometimes it feels like this applies to everyone I meet. People think that meditation is a Good Thing. When they get the opportunity to meditate, maybe at a workshop or a retreat, they will say that they enjoyed it. And yet….. the next thing they say is that they don't practise meditation regularly at home. Within this statement is usually the idea that they “should” be meditating.
If you have a sustained regular meditation practise then the rest of this post is probably not for you. But for the rest of us...............
If we think that meditation is enjoyable and beneficial…...
Why don't we do it? What is going on?
Here are five typical scenarios and my suggestions for dealing with them.
“ I don't have time……….”
OK, I know that the standard response to this is, Well just get up twenty minutes earlier every day. No it has never worked for me either, and anyway, I need to have my coffee first and generally wake up a bit, otherwise I just go back to sleep.
The thing is - even five or ten minutes is better than nothing and you can do it whenever you can. Getting into your car for ten minutes during a lunchbreak or with noise cancelling headphones on a train.
“I was doing it every day after that great retreat I went on but then I stopped.”
This is a bit like thinking you may as well give up on a diet or eating plan because you binge on some forbidden food one evening…
But you know what? No one is keeping score and has marked you down as a meditation failure. Just start again.
“I keep forgetting to do it.”
It could be kind of interesting to ask yourself why you keep forgetting. (see further down this page). Of course there are all sorts of apps and reminders on your phone to help you. Just saying…
But again, no one is keeping score. Just do it when you remember. Only remembering to meditate once or twice a week or whatever, doesn't mean that you are not a spiritual person. The more you do it, the easier it is for meditation to become a habit.
“ I'm no good at it…..”
Ahhh I thought you said you liked it and thought it was beneficial to meditate regularly.
First of all, there are many different forms of meditation, maybe you need a different method. Also, what do you mean by not being good at it? Even if you can't always drop into a place of eternal bliss, the very act of sitting and trying provides you with some space around your thoughts.
“I don't actually enjoy meditating.”
This is a bit like the one above. Again, assuming you are someone who thinks, or says that meditation is a Good Thing to do, it could be interesting to examine why.
Is it that you are reluctant to just sit and be alone with yourself? I've often felt like that and experience has shown me that actually doing so is nowhere near as scary as thinking about it and often quite enlightening.
If you have tried and you really can't find any benefit from practising meditation then maybe you could try mindful walking through a park in your lunchbreak, or trying yoga or ecstatic dance? Maybe you're just someone who needs to engage their body.
You are not a monk sitting in a cave somewhere who has devoted their life to spiritual practise, (well at least, I'm assuming you're not). You are you and you are doing fine. Meditation brings innumerable benefits which can impact every aspect of your life. You are not a failure if you don't follow other people's ideas of how and when you should do it. Find your own time, find your own way.
If you'd like to refresh your practise and feel like revitalising your life, check out this workshop on September 28th.
Contact: 07962431250 or [email protected]
A Journey through my Shadow Lands 26.06.19
I'm a child again, maybe 9 or 10 years old. It's a Sunday evening and I'm on my knees, leaning on the back of the wooden pew in front of me. The vicar is intoning interminable prayers. I wonder if this is what Hell is like. Except that it is cold in the whitewashed, cavernous church. Somewhere in the middle of the prayers he says something like, "We have strayed from your ways like lost sheep and there is no health in us..".
Even though he recites the same prayers every week. Even though I know it's coming, each time I hear it I am plunged into a hopeless pit of despair. I am terrified of Judgement Day. Yet somewhere deep inside I've got a sense that there is something fundamentally wrong going on.
I'm a teenager and I’m gaining the objectivity that teenagers develop towards their parents. I feel that same dark hopelessness when my father makes pronouncements about people, always it seems to me, seeing them in the worst possible light. This often extends to me too. My mother has died and it's just him and me at home; there is no one to offer another perspective. I am in a dark tunnel with no light at the end.
So of course, I get older. I begin to realise that this constant judging of people, of me, and finding them, us, wanting, comes from his own pain. A deep lack of self esteem. When I return home, having moved away, I always feel the dark descending, alongside a heartfelt sadness for him. Because of course I love him.
I spend many hours discussing this with friends, sharing stories of men saying unkind things to us and about us. It happens to me a lot, in relationships and at work. I am easily crushed and my friends agree with me that it seems so unfair, because I am a nice, kind person. In the presence of a man who is judging and finding fault with other people, finding fault with me, I feel physically uncomfortable.
The years roll on. Through immense luck I meet some inspiring teachers. I attend courses and read books and finally, I receive the grace to be brave enough to look deep into my own psyche. This is not always a pleasant experience. Throughout the day, there is a thread of random judgemental thoughts - what people are wearing, how they are driving, how I'm being served in a coffee shop. It never stops and it always finds fault. I always find fault. I am horrified when I realise this. And yes, when consciously examined, these judgements nearly always stem from some insecurity or other buried in my psyche.
So there I was. I had found the courage to look deeply at myself and to find the very behaviours that I had always loathed in other people. I even understood why I was like this. I had inherited this unpleasant trait from my Dad. It wasn't my fault. I had grown up with it. It wasn't his fault either, I knew. As I said before, he had his own wounds. This issue had been addressed right? Well, no, actually. I was super aware of my thought patterns but, if anything, they were increasing not diminishing. Furthermore, I was still terrified of being judged and found wanting. The blame culture where I worked actually drove me into a bout of clinical depression. I knew that even though this was not my fault, and I couldn't blame my Dad, who was dead by now anyway, it was my responsibility to fix it.
And I did, or rather, I am fixing it. It has proved to be a long and many layered process - the reason that much of this is written in the present tense. So how have I approached this?
The work of Byron Katie (https://thework.com/) encourages moving from blame to taking responsibility.
Thich Naht Hanh (https://plumvillage.org/about/thich-nhat-hanh/) suggests being kind to these thoughts, welcoming them rather than rejecting them.
Working on an even deeper level, Carolyn Elliott, (http://carolyngraceelliott.com/) advocates not just acknowledging, but actually allowing yourself to enjoy your darker side, which disempowers those energies within us which block us from being the best we can be.
Throughout this process I often turn to Emotional Freedom Technique and Shamanic Journeying to help me.
I now understand that these judgemental thoughts are a protection mechanism in my psyche, a kind of " Judge others quick before they judge you," strategy.
I still work with them and on them. They are now just a shadow of their former selves, I no longer see them as a curse from my upbringing; I now view them as a gift. These are opportunities to deepen my work and to help my clients. Now, on the very rare occasions that I shrink from the judgement of others, it is just a reminder to go into myself and to deal with it. This work never stops.
Whatever happened in our past, happened. We can’t change it. But we can shine a light on ourselves to see how it has affected us. When we take total responsibility for that, we can work to fundamentally accept ourselves, all of ourselves and gradually with compassion and persistence, our experience of the world will change.
Contact: 07962431250 or [email protected]
A quick route into meditation
We have all heard of the benefits of maintaining a regular meditation practice. Anyone I have ever met who does this regularly usually agrees that even 20 minutes once a day can bring peace, clarity and a sense of perspective to their everyday lives. An additional benefit is that this regular practice makes it easier for us to connect with that sense of spaciousness and peace when we take an odd moment during a busy day – sitting back from the desk for a moment or taking a minute to sit down and focus on our breathing.
However, there are all sorts of reasons why maintaining such a regular practise does not happen and, as with other routines which we know are beneficial for us (exercise being a prime example) once the routine gets disrupted for some reason, we often fail to return to it.
This does not have to be an ‘all or nothing’ scenario. Even if we aren’t regularly going to the gym at the moment, we can still take the stairs rather than the lift or get off the bus a stop or two earlier and walk. Likewise, even if we are not currently maintaining a meditation practise, we can still take a moment during the day to connect to the peace and clarity within the deepest part of ourselves. Disengaging from the constant activity of the mind in this way gives our whole body/mind system an opportunity to reboot and refresh.
Still, this can be easier said than done in the middle of a hectic day, especially if we didn’t experience 20 minutes of said peace and calm that morning. Techniques can help enormously and I want to share one that I was taught by a friend of mine very recently. It is incredibly simple, but can actually have a profound effect.
Simply make a point of relaxing the muscles around your mouth – particularly the lower lip. This will cause your lips to part a little. Keep focusing on relaxing them. Go on – try it now. Take a few deep breaths at the same time and then just let your breath flow naturally. Notice what is happening to your thoughts.
Even as a fairly regular meditator, with years and years of practise behind me, I have found this technique remarkably helpful. At times when I am feeling very emotional, all the techniques I would usually use to reach a sense of clarity and stillness – slowing my breath, watching my thoughts etc, can take time to work. Yet simply relaxing these muscles helps enormously. The reason is intriguing.
If you are a very ‘verbal’ person (like me), your thoughts primarily take the form of words, rather than images for example. Even when we decide to stop and relax, our thoughts can keep going. Although they are thoughts and not spoken words, our speaking muscles still make tiny, imperceptible movements called sub-vocalisations. Consciously relaxing the mouth muscles prevents this and hey presto, the thoughts subside. As this happens, we become able to listen to what is going on inside ourselves and to be fully present to what is happening around us.
Try it and see….
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