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Rewiring Primal Fear – Hacking your way to A Blissful Life

survive

As an explorer of the wholeness of human experience, I have been exploring the Primal Fear Response, the angry, fearful toddler of the psyche. The part of the human nervous system, stored in the amygdala, that is based purely on survival and is designed to stay alert for possible threats. It is the part of the brain which takes over when we feel threatened or devalued….either in a physical sense or in an “imagined” sense. It creates that deep feeling of dread and hopelessness that can plague us late at night. It is responsible for nearly all unhelpful behaviours, including irrational thoughts, mood swings, hyper-sensitivity, addiction, depression, anxiety and self-sabotage. It can make us feel like we are helpless, drowning in negative emotions, powerless to do anything about it.

Although survival is an important function of the human nervous system, more often than not, the difference between perceived threat and actual threat becomes so blurred, that the primal fear response gets stuck on “red alert”. I like to view my fear response as my internal car alarm. For a long time mine was set on hyper sensitive mode, going off like crazy with seemingly innocuous events like a door slamming or a driver behind me on the road. Why does this happen? Well at some point during our lives the alarm system gets so overwhelmed, perhaps due a traumatic event such as a parent leaving or being bullied, that it gets locked on. The event or events can happen very early in our lives, sometimes pre-memory and pre-speech, so processing them and resetting the alarm can become very difficult if we try to think our way out of them. Over years of hyper-fear response we become so used to this way of being, that we forget this isn’t normal and adapt our lives to fit around these perceived threats. Our world shuts down as we see people and situations as potentially threating and do not engage, we avoid making changes to our lives as our alarm tell us this will be too much. Sadly this can result in us living a shadow of the life we have open to us. Very healthy normal human behaviours like playfulness, adventure, mischievousness and pleasure seeking can be supressed.  Instead they may be replaced with unhealthy behaviours like neediness, toxic relationships, numbing with food and drugs and keeping ourselves “small” to feel safe.

“Amygdala hijack is a term coined by Daniel Goleman in his 1996 book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Drawing on the work of Joseph E. LeDoux, Goleman uses the term to describe emotional responses from people which are immediate and overwhelming, and out of measure with the actual stimulus because it has triggered a much more significant emotional threat.”

We can spend years and thousands of pounds on various talk therapies and self-improvement workshops to try to “fix” ourselves out of these patterns, but is that the answer? Our fear response does not know the different between actual danger and a danger-filled thought. Maybe talking about our perceived failings and painful memories  further stimulates the amygdala into alarming that something is gravely wrong. So how do we switch the car alarm off and return to our natural state of playful, pleasurable curiosity with the world?

What I have found exceptionally helpful for dealing with my overactive primal fear is recognising (with support) that it is not a rational thinking and therefore, cannot be reasoned with or “solved” with rational discussion with it! Imagine you have a toddler who is in a rage and head-butting the wall. Would you enter a long discussion on why this wasn’t a good idea and negotiate with the toddler about stopping at some point? Of course not, you would intervene immediately and stop them. The amygdala fear response does not need reasoning with, it is out of control and needs to be told a firm “NO”. Once you stop jumping to its alarms and reacting, it automatically rewires  to respond in a far less hyper-sensitive way. Each time this process is repeated the alarm quietens more, until you only get a fear response when there is an actual threat.

This rewiring process usually requires support because when triggered by fear, it is very difficult (unless you have the mindfulness of a meditation master!) not to jump on board and react, either by shutting down, avoid life or getting angry. Personally I chose to avoid talk therapies as they made me feel more of a victim, and opted for somatic (works with body sensations) therapy and hypnotherapy. Both of these techniques were “solution-focused”. This means a focus on positive thoughts, behaviours and sensations rather than painful ones. The goal isn’t to fix a broken person, rather remind the body and mind that it is ok to have a positive experience of the world. Once guided back to this natural state of being I found my amygdala quietened down and my positive brain chemicals like oxytocin and serotonin flowed much more. I have found it is really very simple, whatever I focus on becomes my reality. Now I focus of pleasurable experiences and feelings about my world this is what I encounter again and again. Occasionally a random event or internal sensation may get my amygdala primed but I calmly and firmly say “No” and move on. Without the constant racket and reactions of fear I am finding my natural state is one of deep love, peace and joy with life. My heart is open to let in more connection and playfulness. I feel held and accepted by the world, why wouldn’t I be? Warm waves of bliss move over my body from eating good food, laughing with friends and smelling a flower…I am remembering my natural state of being!

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Here are my top tips for rewiring your way to feeling connected and blissed out!

  1. What I found essential, is learning to take full responsibility and ownership of this fearful, reactive part of your mind and stop falling into “victim” thinking. This is deeply empowering and prevents you confirming to your brain that you are a fragile, helpless person being flung around by a terrifying world. Only once you recognise you have complete choice not to respond will you start to be free.
  2. Get professional help. I can’t recommend this highly enough. I spent years trying to self-help myself out of perceived failings and fear and this was really exhausting and kept me stuck. I found somatic therapy and solution-focused hypnotherapy particularly helpful but it is important to do what feels right for you. I know others that have had amazing results with dancing, conscious connection work, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and massage.
  3. Recognise and let go of your inner “drama queen!” This is part of our ego which loves responding to the amygdala and creating elaborate stories around being a victim, avoiding important decisions and generally being dramatic. This may manifest as a sulky child, constant complainer, flamboyant crisis lover or poor little me victim. Find yours and own it! It will need bringing home with firm loving hand and given a more nourishing job to do from now on.
  4. Give yourself full permission to live a joyful, pleasure-filled life! Say “YES” to fun interactions and activities even if it feels a bit scary…Fake it ’til you Make It Baby!!

I found it took about 8 weeks of hypnotherapy (once a week) and home practice of saying “No” to my amygdala for it to shift my fear response to a healthy baseline level. I was shocked at how quickly a positive focused therapy changed my whole relationship to the world around me. Something which years of talking about my problems and analysing them had failed to do.

The alarm has stopped ringing constantly, the sense of peace is unlike anything I have ever known. My natural state is one of happiness, play and bliss, it just took losing it to fully appreciate that.

x

 

 

Shedding Old Stories…The Path to Bliss

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Maybe life was not designed to be difficult. Maybe that is a story I can let go of.

I reached a point recently when I questioned my struggle with life, questioned the searching and needing to change to be “good enough”. Was it all an illusion? Was the searching, in itself the root of my life problems? Had the searching taken over from just being, just accepting myself for the flawed and beautiful creation I was?

A shift was occurring. Such a subtle change, it came without any trying, and there in lay the magic of it…when I stopped trying I starting feeling free to be me.

Growing a momentum of its own, learning to be self-accepting unfolded rapidly in my life and starting manifesting amazing fruit. Others became my champions and stepped into supportive roles to help me create and celebrate me. Imagine a room of powerful, beautiful people all celebrating and seeing you as magnificent. This was my reality, when I let go and allowed myself to receive. Others are mirrors to our sense of Self. This was something I understood in a cognitive sense, but it took me time to truly feel and receive it from my heart.

Was it ok to stop trying so hard? If I let go of the struggle, what is left? So much of what I identified with as me was tied up in trying really hard to be good enough. Admitting this was all a story I could shed was difficult for my ego to face.  My wounds kept me safe and small, gave me excuses not to do things and not to shine too brightly. Without them I feel naked, authentic and limitless…not a feeling I was used to, yet one I longed for! I felt free, in a way only wild things do.  I am free to live the life I want to create, from the heart and not fear. I am free to follow what makes me feel alive, makes me feel blissful.

With no apologies I can now shout….”I am a Medicine Woman, a Witch, Priestess of the Earth…I am Artemis Rising, the Goddess of Wild Things being fully embodied and showing up to be see, heard and felt! Hell Yeah!!  Stepping into this heart path is the scariest thing I have ever done!

 

artemis2 by Vasilis Zikos
Artemis – Goddess of the Wild Hunt

 

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Marianne Williamson

I realised that this fear-bound keeper of inadequacy that kept me in check was ready to be met and held. She was the holder of shame and old stories, and was my protector in a world not yet ready to receive me. She gave me something to work into, work towards, the gateway into claiming my power.  Her divine purpose served, she has unlimited love and energy to give me. I trust that no truth can be hidden for long, and the truth of who we really are is just waiting to be uncovered. I have work to do in the world and I am ready to meet this with my full attention and love.

 

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Being Held by King Yew

 

 

My plant connections with Mugwort and Yew have been instrumental in creating my unfolding as a woman in her power. Helping me identify stories which were never mine to carry. Mugwort works to illuminate shadow aspects and subconscious parts of self which wish to be heard and integrated. She has shown me parts of my divine feminine power that have been kept secret and locked in shame, allowing them to be integrated and made whole. Her gifts are available to all, but require the ego to step out of the way. The journey to wholeness means facing our deepest fears and most shame-ridden parts…if you are willing to walk that path then Mugwort will guide you to the amazing beautiful held in those disowned parts.

Yew is the Great Cosmic Mother Tree. Keeper of Womb and Dark Mysteries. Her energy is amazing, like the deep throb of Earth breathing! She will hold you in a warm and complete embrace for eternity. I just rest in her twisted dark roots and feel nourished right through to my core. When I work with plants and trees in this way I feel so much bliss, I do need nothing else. Maybe this is what I will offer as my gift to the world?

Maybe life was not designed to be difficult, maybe this is a story I can let go of….

x x x

 

Feminine Intelligence – A Four Brained System?

female-power

“The brain that we think of as a necessity for intelligence is only one possible form a neural network can take and that is determined by ecological function and species shape; it is not essential to intelligence. As neurologist Antonio Damasio puts it, “the mind is embodied, not just embrained.”
Stephen Harrod Buhner, Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm: Beyond the Doors of Perception into the Dreaming of Earth

I realised some time ago that I have four complex neural networks with which to comprehend the world, my brain, my heart, my digestive system and my womb. Each contains a network of nerve fibres and neurotransmitters, the same biological tissue but arranged in different ways.  I find belief that complex intelligence is only held in the human brain very limiting and not based on anything but the reductionist thinking in science,  turning the body and nature into a series of separate pieces to be studied and understood.

Intelligence (noun) :

(1) the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations

(2) the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria

(3) the collection of information of military or political value.

(4) the act of understanding

I am certain early proto-bacteria sitting in primordial soup were dealing with “trying situations” and “manipulating their environment”.  Is it just luck that single cellular organisms combined in number and complexity to create the huge variation of life forms on Earth today? What drives the organisation and regulation of life? If us, the “intelligent” observer were removed from the equation, would nature just stop developing new and more complex organisms? Nature and life would appear to be intrinsically intelligent, continuously communicated and adjusting to the outer environment, forming complex ecosystems which are all interrelated . The alternative explanation would be that random DNA mutations over millions of years led to life diversifying into what we see today…and that just seems a bit too slow and clunky for the reality of what we have!

I believe, intelligence is inherent in the fabric of life, not isolated to the mammalian brain. I see the brain for of a receiver and processor of intelligence, taking in information from our inner and outer environments and comparing it to a set of experiences and beliefs in order to determine a course of action. The brain is no more the source of intelligence than a river is the source of water. Maybe like intelligence moves through us, and it is own choice to open to that, or not as we develop a deeper relationship with life.

 

In a “brain-centred” human experience much of the understanding of life can be missed. The brain is good at some things, but it lacks the ability to process in non-linear ways. By that I mean a comprehension of life beyond words, actions and matter. The brain likes to solve problems, deal with day-to-day issues and process experiences. It can be used or abused in many ways and depending on your level of personal development, it can be your best friend…or your worst enemy! Many spiritual paths speak to “conquering the brain and ego” controlling this wayward neural network into higher states and releasing attachment to self. This is one way perhaps, but a far easier way I have found is to accept the limitations of the brain and focus on cultivating other the forms of intelligence open to us.

As a woman I am very lucky to have four such intelligent systems open to exploration! Each with it’s unique way at viewing life and interpreting the world. What if I could combine my brain, heart, gut and womb intelligence into one beautiful collaboration of life experience? Devoid of reasoning and the need for linear problem solving, my heart, gut and womb intelligence offered a new way to meet life. All I had to do was listen.

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The Heart: contains 40,000 neurons which all communicate simultaneously, unlike the brain which only communicates over isolated neural pathways. The heart neural network develops before the brain in the foetus. Processing emotional intelligence, this network deals in feelings and responds to life through an interconnected web of feedback, influencing the brain and it’s decisions.

The Gut: contains 500 million neurones and the same neurotransmitters as the brain. Called the “second brain” research shows it is responsible for influencing our decisions and is controlled by the autonomic nervous system.

The Womb: unknown number of neurons…not something science has measured apparently!

Ok, so maybe science does not hold all the answers on intelligence? What can be measured and understood by the human brain, is therein, limited by the linear comprehension of the human brain. So how do we overcome these limitations? Here are a few ways you can start turning in to the “more than brain” intelligence:

  1. Accept your brain is limited in understanding life, love and all things non-linear and let it go! Open to new possibilities of understanding life.
  2. Welcome your emotions and see all of them as valid and beautiful. This is your heart trying to talk to you.
  3. Trust your intuition. Your “gut feeling” is real. The clue is in the name!
  4. Open to the unknown mysterious wisdom of the womb, the connection to chaos and Nature. It is cyclical like nature and ever evolving and changing…be open to receive.

When you meet life from the multiple ways it has offered you to comprehend it…it makes more beautiful sense. It stops beginning something to solve to something to embrace, and fully intelligent.

x x x

 

 

Riding the Wave of Creation

creation-goddess

“Creating authentic power means aligning your personality with your soul” – Gary Zukav

Everything is in flux, ever changing, evolving and realigning to the Path of Unfolding. This is the Way of the Goddess. It is certainly not linear, nor can be understood or predicted…it is Divinity in action. The Goddess is creating and destroying everything around us and within us and if you can get on board with that, and surrender to what wants to be birthed through you, then you can tap into Her Power, a power that gives you the unlimited capacity to co-create with her.

If you try to comprehend this power with your mind, you will become unstuck…for creative potential speaks to your deeper self, the part of us we meet in dreams and imagination. This can be felt by the heart, a multi-dimensional intelligence that has the capacity to listen and receive. The brain is too simplistic and linear in function and gets hooked on concepts and beliefs rather than feeling the awesome abundance of love and creation! The heart I find, bridges the language of the soul and translates it so the mind can understand and then act on guidance.  Science is now backing up what spiritual teachers have been aware of for years. Studies into heart and brain coherence, a state of high psychological efficiency in which the nervous, cardiovascular, endocrine and immune systems are working efficiently and in harmony, have shown that the heart coherence can regulate all other physiological functions in a positive way. I would propose that the brain cannot bring body coherence on its own, for however long you meditate! But if you quieten the mind long enough then heart intelligence gets the chance to take over. I don’t believe meditation “fixes” the brain into some new way of operating, rather allows the innate heart based perception system to take over the navigation of the ship!  Heart neurons are created before brain tissue in the developing foetus, so maybe we have always been designed to experience the world in this way?

Developing heart coherence involves deciding to generate positive emotional states such as gratitude, compassion and self-care, especially in times of stress or mental distress. Initially this can seem counter-intuitive, as why should we feel gratitude when we are struggling, but with mindful practice, moving to these positive emotional states becomes easier and stress is reduced dramatically.

“Heart intelligence is the flow of intuitive awareness, understanding and inner guidance we experience when the mind and emotions are brought into coherent alignment with the heart. It can be activated through self-initiated practice. The more coherent we are and the more we pay attention to this deeper intuitive inner guidance, the greater our ability to access this intelligence more frequently. Heart intelligence underlies cellular organization and guides and evolves organisms toward increased order, awareness and coherence of their bodies’ systems.” Doc Childre, HeartMath

Learning to navigate heart intelligence takes patience, courage and effort, and exposes you to your true vulnerability and also beauty as a human. It is about finding your grief and rawness and learning to embracing it. It means standing in a crowd of people feeling totally isolated and disconnected and still tapping into a voice within that says “stick with this, it will be ok.” It means allowing love and life to move through us, rather than grasping or controlling. It is the part of us that keeps going when everything else has fallen away, the inner guide, glimmer of hope. This is the path of the Heart Warrior.

I believe once you learn to use heart intelligence and allow your head to fully trust this way of knowing, then life begins to flow a lot easier. Challenges and disappointments are viewed through the lens of compassion and become opportunities for growth and expansion. An inner trust develops and even difficult people in our life become soul catalysts, chances to expand our awareness of our own blocks and wounding. Where the mind can interpret differences, the heart can feel connection and the common ground between our human struggles. The heart can help you navigate the confusing and sometimes dark path to your soul gifts…those parts of us which are often hidden from society and our heads tell us are “not acceptable”. Those great heart-breaking struggles that crack us open and lead us to new ways of being with ourselves and the world. Moving out of the way and allowing these parts of us to be seen can be scary, and the heart helps with that process.

Courage:  (noun) origin, Middle English (denoting the heart, as the seat of feelings): from Old French corage, from Latin cor ‘heart’.
(1) the ability to do something that frightens one; bravery
(2) strength in the face of pain or grief.

My experience has been that using my heart intelligence as a guide to what step to take next has been invaluable. At times my soul path has taken me down some very unfamiliar and challenging roads, roads I had no map for. This is the way of Life Unfolding, it is not based on what you know and understand, quite the opposite! Sometimes I was called to make decisions which made absolutely no sense to my rational mind, decisions which challenged my foundations and sense of identity. The Unfolding wanted me to slowly and surely dismantle everything I “knew” and felt safe with, bit by bit removing anything which did not align with who I truly was. Being lost and not knowing became my familiar friends. My soul likes to break me out of my comfort zone quite regularly…”What you want me to announce to the world I’m a witch and talk to plants?! Are you mad?” This process is not easy, not for the “faint hearted”! This required a strong, unshakable trust in my heart navigation system, one which took time to develop and continues to grow in me now. And is it all worth it? Is it worth leaving certainty and safety behind and jumping into the wave of creation? It is SO worth it!! I feel a level of joy and contentment from life that I did not know was possible. A blossoming is happening and all I have to do is trust, receive and follow heart guidance. This does not mean I have stopped being freaked out and lost from time to time, but I know my heart can handle this with grace, and brings me back to myself and the next step forward….

x x x

 

 

The Loyal Soldiers of Self

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“The Loyal Soldier — a courageous, wise, and stubborn sub-personality that formed during our childhood and created a variety of strategies to help us survive the realities (often dysfunctional) of our families and culture. It keeps us “safe” by making us small or limited, or by further traumatising us. It is the intrapsychic element that shovels chunks of our wholeness into our Shadow so that we will appear acceptable or invisible to the powers that be.”  Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft

Wouldn’t it be lovely if all the voices in our heads were on our side and working in the same direction! Just imagine what you could achieve from this place of inner cooperation and power. It could be like having your own super team of experts and supporters, all looking out for your well-being and success. Is that even possible? I hoped it was and was willing to find out. This week’s blog is about what I encountered on this adventure, deep into the dusty cupboards of my mind…

There are many routes to finding self-acceptance and a gentle ease in our own skin and no one way is “right” or “better” than any other. It is a life’s work, not a sprint as there is no real end point, more of a fractal unfolding.  Most paths however, involve a period of deep introspection and diving into the shadows of our psyches to find out what all the conflict is about. Some are forced into this through illness, depression or life circumstances, others simply have a deep longing for a more rewarding life, free of inner obstacles. My motivation was a bit of both. A longstanding anxiety issue and regular feelings of social isolation meant I had plenty of time on my hands to do inner work! Also, I had a general sense that I was missing out on so much, living a fraction of my life potential. But where to start? How to unpick the frankly chaotic inner battle going on and find out who is wounded, who needs the most attention and who is very determined to sabotage the whole thing! I needed a guidebook. Luckily I was handed one, and it was called “Wild Mind” by Bill Plotkin.

I have a bit of a soul-crush on Bill Plotkin and count him among the most influential people in my life. Not that I have had the pleasure of meeting him, but his writing really speaks to me and has provided an easy to follow road map to start integrating my sides of self. Rather than viewing wounded parts as “bad” or needing fixing, Bill’s model is one of wholeness and each part offers a unique gift to the full expression of that person. He weaves together depth psychology, wilderness rites and earth-based spirituality to create a 4-directional outline of the parts which make us whole. Each direction has an “immature” sub personality (a part which develops from our upbringing and culture) and a “mature” self (a part which is our essential nature, complete)

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The 4-directions of Self – taken from Wild Mind

In traditional, Earth-connected cultures  it is accepted that in order to progress to full maturity, you must undergo a rite of passage, involving a period of time away from your community, alone in nature. How can you hope to find your true essential self (true nature) if you are mixed into the very community that shaped your sub personalities? Personalities that helped you survive in your family, school and peer group, but are now outdated and limiting. If our need to find our true nature, in Nature is removed then what happens? Well you find cultures with lots of people operating from their immature sub personalities! You can find angry wounded children running countries, lots of scared inner soldiers fighting battles with a “threat” they perceive in the outer world, drama queens, bullies, critics, manipulators and generally lots of reactive behaviour.

So then we have a choice. To let our sub personalities run the show and feel bitter about never reaching a place of inner peace. Or we can arm ourselves with a tool kit and life experiences to make up for the rite of passage we did not receive. Bill provided me with such a tool kit and off I went to meet my loyal soldiers. The parts of my personality that were keeping me small and safe, but ultimately no longer served my highest potential. For each loyal soldier there is a beautiful process of welcoming them home. It is not about getting rid of them, they are part of my wholeness. This has four stages:

  1. Identify the Loyal Soldier, give them a name, draw them, talk to them, find out what mode of operation they are using to keep you “safe”. Are they willing to work with you, stop fighting and come home?
  2. Thank your Loyal Soldier – I mean, really extend deep gratitude from your heart for the service they have maintained for years of your life to keep you safe. They exist only to serve you, they just didn’t have the full information about the adult person you are now. Reassure them the war is over.
  3. Welcome your Loyal Soldier home – they have been fighting a lonely, fearful battle for decades, pull out all the stops, give them a hero’s welcome. Hold them close to your heart, this process can be filled with many tears, a part of you has come to know your love.
  4. Reassign your Loyal Soldier a new job – this initially is giving them a well earned holiday! You will know when they are home and trusting the “war is over” as you will no longer feel their behaviour is dominating your decisions and reactions. Once rested, this Loyal Ally has an amazing gift for you. It now serves from a place of love and will do everything in its power to help you thrive.

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Meet three of my Loyal Soldiers and Allies:

The Fixer – this part felt safe and worthy when she had something to fix, some perceived weakness or failing to get right. Running on fear based beliefs, she notices everything that might possibly be “wrong” in the inner and outer world and seeks to correct it. “Never enough” and “must be perfect” are her key beliefs.

Self-care Allythe gift of the fixer is to notice things and seek remedy. Once serving from a place of love, this part of self can spot my needs and potential opportunities to care for myself in beautiful ways. If I feel a bit tired or achy, this ally recommends a massage and invites me to get an early night! She now accepts I am good enough so does not seek to change me, simply protect and care for me.

The Lion Tamer – this part will do anything to avoid confrontation. She needs to earn my place in the world by staying quiet and apologetic, never threatening the people around me by being too much to handle. She would rather deny any needs and stay small than risk rejection or anger another. She is an expert at reading body language, tone of voice and subtle changes in behaviour…got to be ready for danger right? This part generates a lot of internal rage and confusion for other parts which do wish to be seen and heard!

Boundary Setting Ally – once on side the Lion Tamer became an excellent provider of personal boundaries for me. She understands human behaviour and spots subtle shifts in my space and those around me. If something is draining or inhibiting my expression, which may not be deliberate, she notifies me to take action and gives me options. Sometimes that is just saying “I am tired, can you stop talking to me now!” Other times it may involving leaving a situation quickly to protect my well-being.

The Outsider – this part never felt like she fitted in, so decided to take this into her control. Easier to chose to be isolated and different right, than risk actual rejection? She operates in two ways, firstly to make choices which isolate me, stay distant, and feel sorry myself. Secondly to see isolation as a hugely positive strength and superiority over other, weaker individuals. “Look at me on my big mountain, you couldn’t possibly understand how different I am!”

The Connection Ally it took a lot of patience and love to get Outsider to come down off her mountain, this part of me was very frightened. Once down and rested she is an expert at spotting new ways I can connect to others. She knows what it feels like to be alone and disconnected, so can help me reach out. She is so happy to have playmates again! 

Over time each soldier softened and relaxed and came on board. That is not to say they never go back to old patterns, the parts like the whole are human after all! But what I have found is that these personality traits do not run my behaviour and interactions now. If stressed or tired I may hide away for a bit or avoid speaking my needs, but I can view it now through loving eyes. I reassure the loyal soldier that I am ok, have a rest and start again….the war is most definitely over.

x x x

The Biochemistry of Bliss

neurons-in-love

I felt a more scientific post wanting to be birthed this week, so thought I would talk about one of my passions – the biochemistry of bonding and love. My background is biological science, particularly cellular biochemistry, genetics and nutrition. Although I do not practice this professionally nowadays, it has given me a good basis on which to pin other more soul-led concepts.

I am fascinated by what happens on a cellular level when we expand our awareness and open our hearts to more love and trust. Equally, I am keen to understand what happens biochemically when a person is traumatised, emotionally overwhelmed and generally living a life based on fear. How can we consciously work with biochemistry to encourage a state of feeling safe and connected? Can we bridge the gap between rational science and spiritual growth to best support a person’s evolution and healing?

One of my first “aha” moments for linking biochemistry to soul work was Bruce Lipton’s book – The Biology of Belief. Bruce is an American cell biologist who has devoted much of his career to studying the effects of our beliefs on DNA and gene expression. This sphere of biology is part of a larger body of research called epigenetics. Basically, what external factors, other than our DNA are responsible for influencing genes being switched on or off? This can include environmental factors such as pollution, nutritional intake, exercise and stress stimuli, but also our ideas and beliefs about life and ourselves. This is HUGE! Bruce and others have demonstrated that what you think can alter your body on a cellular level. You are not at the mercy of your inherited DNA, you are able to change which genes are expressed by your cells and therefore alter your biochemistry with your mind. This would explain the anomaly that has bothered scientists and doctors for many years – the Placebo Effect. If someone believes they are being given something to help them heal…then they, in a large number of cases, will heal. It is not the substance that matters so much, but a shift in their belief system which switches genes on and off to enable healing. You can extrapolate this to not just physical illness, but also dis-ease of the psyche and emotional trauma. The key is figuring out which set of beliefs are holding that person in a state of imbalance, and changing those beliefs to more life enhancing ones.Beliefs which encourage an inner state of self-care, love and connection to others and our own inner landscape. Maybe we can consciously alter our biochemistry to one of love-based neuropeptides such as oxytocin, rather than fear-based cortisol production?

oxytocin

Empowered with this information, I have been on a 7 year journey to uncover which of my personal beliefs are holding me back from expressing my fullest potential. Over the years I have played with several “belief modifying” techniques, some more useful than others. Mantras, Emotional Freedom Technique (tapping), meditation, plant medicines, dream-work and Sacred Fool work (making a tit of yourself to confuse the ego into new thinking!) Some loosened beliefs more than others, plant medicine and EFT where particularly transformative for me. The amazing thing about beliefs is that they are simply a series of stories we tell ourselves, they do not have any real substance and therefore can be changed quite easily. They challenge comes from how attached we are to those stories, If our fragile egos need to believe something about ourselves or the world in order to feel “safe” or “right” then letting that belief go can be tricky. This is why techniques that bypass the ego are very handy! You can chant a positive mantra about being lovable in the mirror for many months, but if the ego has a personal investment in you staying unlovable (perhaps because love is associated with betrayal or trauma) then the belief will remain fixed. What can help is chatting to the wounded sides of ego, such as the lost child and the armored soldiers which try to keep us safe and find out why they are holding a certain belief. This is a psycho-therapeutic approach, but sometimes those pesky beliefs lie so deep they cannot be accessed by talking. Sometimes you need to “cheat the system” and use biochemistry to get things moving.

oxytocin-molecule
This is Oxytocin

This is where knowing a bit about the biochemistry of love can help.  Oxytoxcin is a wonderful hormone and neuropeptide which is made in the hypothalamus of the brain and released by the posterior pituitary. It has an influence on many metabolic pathways and neurological responses, both in the brain and body, which I won’t go into depth about here. (Further information sources listed below) What is known is that oxytocin lowers blood pressure, cortisol and overall stress levels in the body and promotes a sense of calm, connection, trust and love. It is affectionately called “The Cuddle Hormone”. We get surges of oxytocin when we feel bonded to another person, whether that is a parent and child, lovers or friendship in general. It is released by pleasurable touch, hugging, massage, sex and a feeling of trust and safety with another. Of course if touch or connection is a fearful place for someone then oxytocin will not be released and over time the cell receptors for this peptide decrease. So not feeling safe with other humans means you stop receiving that feel-good signalling from the nervous system and the impulse to seek out these experiences diminishes. Studies have indicated that our ability to make and utilise oxytocin on a cellular level is largely determined by our first bonding relationship…usually with our mother. If this wasn’t a great experience, as with postnatal depression, stress, emotional problems etc., then oxytocin production and receptor sites on cells are lower than normal. The baseline for this cuddle chemical is low and therefore the calming effect of our nervous system fails to properly develop. In the absence of proper oxytocin release the nervous system is primed to experience the world as dangerous and unwelcoming. The sense of trust and love in others, and ourselves is lacking and stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline dominate our behaviour into fight or flight response.

So how can we use this knowledge to shift beliefs and alter our interaction to others into one of love and trust? Yes, you can buy oxytocin online, but I would personally not recommend this approach. What we want to do is encourage our innate oxytocin production through seeking out experiences that make us feel all warm and fuzzy!

cat-therapy

For me, this began with “cat therapy”.  I noticed when I was petting a cat on my lap and especially when it was purring, I felt completely blissed out! Warm waves of happiness and peace radiated through my body and I couldn’t get enough of my cat cuddles. I started consciously using cat therapy (which may be an actual thing, I just stumbled on it) to increase my oxytocin responses. This had a huge affect on my nervous system, within a few months I felt generally calmer and also more open to human interactions. Once those cuddle receptors got firing again I naturally started seeking out more bonding experiences and felt a lot more nourished from them. I think the key is to find what makes you personally feel blissful, as cats may freak you out! Cats were my “oxytocin reboot” but another person’s may be hamsters, nature or dancing with others.

Love chemicals enhanced, I began to feel a greater sense of connection to everything. The plant work I’d been doing felt deeper and more fulfilling. I wanted to hug people more and felt more caring towards myself and others. I realised this was my natural state of being. I started to believe I was lovable and connected and any conflicting beliefs started to wither away.

If the Soul is longing to connect us back to Source, to unlimited love, then I feel a good place to start is with our biochemistry…find what brings you bliss and follow it home.

x x x

Here are some reference materials if you are interested to know more about oxytocin:

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2011/aug/21/oxytocin-zak-neuroscience-trust-hormone

The Oxytocin Factor: Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love and Healing  by Kerstin Uvnas Moberg, Michel Odent

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3319675/

Letting Go, Letting God

soul-eye-2
The Cougar’s Whiskers – Art by Bill Brouard

One of the beautiful paradoxes of the spiritual path, the path to wholeness, is that the best way to make progress, is to stop trying to make progress! Realising that the”trying” is actually the biggest obstacle to surrender, to a power far greater than our own. Let me reassure you right now, you do not need to work hard or earn your way to experience your Divinity. You are Divine, you always were and always will be. So what stops us feeling this? Why do we struggle on, trying to control our lives and the world around us? Fear. It is the fear that keeps us living little lives, lives which feel painful and constrictive. And the fear is ok, more than ok, it is spiritual gold!  Fear is simply the polarity partner to Love, and therefore allowing one will give rise to the other. And that is where the “work” comes in, to allow fear…to really embrace it, but realise that it is not who you are. If you can make a subtle shift from seeing fear as something to avoid, to actually welcoming it as a gateway to find love…that is soul alchemy.

One big fear of mine is working on me right now….

“Is it safe to let go and trust life to support me?” When I feel into what is happening in my body, as I contemplate letting go, I sense a large contraction around my shoulders and upper back.  I can observe my mind coming up with lots of very “sensible” reasons why this is a bad idea. That is all ok. That is where the magic is happening. The holding on I can experience in my body and mind is also a longing, a deep longing to surrender to life in a far deeper way. And why wouldn’t I feel fear at letting go? In a world that encourages disconnection from our bodies and souls and the greater sphere of life…I have a very limited model of trust in life. That is all ok too, that is the gift of this human experience. Fear, mixed with longing, these are shaping me, teaching me how to be with surrender. A continuous fluctuation between resistance to life and surrender to life, it all wants to be felt and expressed through me…and I am welcoming it.

A powerful yet simple practice I was shown recently, during a retreat for women, was to offer our fears to the fire. Fire is an amazing catalyst for transformation and can help release believes, ideas or energy patterns which no longer serve us. Sitting in circle in the Earth Lodge, a magical womb like structure with an ancient and very holding energy, we took turns to have our deepest fears heard by the group. We hold a stick we have chosen from the forest, and with intention, pass all the fears into the stick as an offering to the fire.

Saying out loud, “I fear letting go because”….

–  I am frightened I will be let down. I am worried about what will happen if I release control. I am scared I will feel too much. I am terrified my heart will crack. I cannot let go because I will never be the same again.

Having these fears heard and received by others softens them, allows acceptance to begin the process of release. We then let our stick burn in the fire, alchemy takes place as you feel lighter, less controlled by those fears.

An important lesson for me has been to accept that surrender isn’t a goal or finish line to reach! There is no certificate that says, “well done, you have now surrendered to life!” It is more of a life practice, a love practice. We are all on the continuum of fear to surrender, relaxing and contracting in the beautiful wave of wholeness which we are.

x x x

Making Friends with Monsters

taming-the-inner-monster

Some days it can feel like whatever positive things are happening in my life, I find reasons to doubt it all and feel lost. An emptiness takes over and I desperately look for ways to feel ok again. I start making choices from a place of pain, unhelpful choices that cause more pain and I lose my healthy sense of self for while. And while the human experience is not one of constant happiness, I recognise this part of me very well, and know it is a part which I struggle to love. This is my Emptiness Monster, and no amount of chocolate, wine, distractions or hiding can calm her down…in fact she grows stronger the more I run away. Emptiness Monster is like an black hole in my solar plexus, sucking away life force and demanding I feed her. She operates as a self-care disabler, isolation junkie and shame dweller. For a long time I have been very angry with my monster, fought against her and wished she would disappear. It is very appealing to disown her completely, how could part of me be so determined to self-sabotage? How can part of me keep me so stuck, and for what purpose?

It has taken me several years of searching and inner work to arrive at the point where I wish to learn to love my Emptiness Monster. I wish to stop fighting her and find out what is beneath her emptiness. I sense that whatever her motivation and need, it cannot possibly be harder to face than the battle we’ve been in! I am just starting out on this venture but have received some very powerful messages already, from her and also my outer world.

One thing is clear so far…whatever my Emptiness Monster wants can only be provided by me. She is part of me after all. I feel I have all the nourishment and love available she could ever wish for, the challenge is to find out where the disconnection is? What has broken down and kept her pulling in the opposite direction?  This will require some deep inner listening and Self-Care. It will require courage to spend time with Emptiness Monster, but in a mindful way. Rather than reacting to the emotions it brings up, to sit in them with my heart open. This is an act of self-compassion. A beautiful opportunity to really flex my self-care muscles!  I do not know what will be on the other side, but what I do know is it important I meet this monster with love not fear.

cake-tea-with-demons

After all, what if this monster is actually a beautiful part of myself that has not been allowed a voice? A part so delicate and vulnerable that needs to be held not controlled or judged. What if behind that emptiness is a deeper longing, a longing to reconnect to self, find wholeness?  I am deeply grateful that I have reached a stage in my 30’s where I have the resources to meet my monster with love. Some do not get the chance in their entire life. I already know my love is big enough to hold this part, otherwise I would not have reached this point. The challenge may be in remembering this, while sitting in the fire of emptiness. But with a challenge comes the opportunity for growth and gifts…and I didn’t come so far to abandon this part now!

Challenge accepted I then consider, how can I best support myself during this process? An important part of self-care for me is remembering to ask for help. This is not a superhero mission, but one of kindness and nurture. What helps is writing this, naming my struggle is to bring it out of the shadows and into a place where it can be accepted. Maybe everyone has an emptiness monster? Maybe that is why any of us look outside ourselves for love and validation?  I want to allow the people I love to support me, just by listening, being present to my process. Some acts of self-care I will draw on are:

  1. Taking walks in nature – this helps me stay grounded and refreshes my energy and spirit.
  2. Reach out to others – call a friend, have fun, share what I am feeling…remember I am not alone!
  3. Mindfulness/meditation – take time to create a quiet, peaceful space to allow thoughts and feels to be heard.
  4. Exercise/good nutrition – simple acts of eating well and moving the body can bring stability and peace of mind.
  5. Play/lightness – remember this is all a fun game of life and not to take myself too seriously!

I will keep you updated on the monster befriending process, I am actually quite excited what this adventure will bring! To loving our monsters… x x x

tree monster.png

The Subtle Art of Receiving

happy-owl

In a culture which predominantly values productivity and material gain as markers of success and happiness, I see receptivity as an act of heart-led rebellion! By receptivity, I am referring to the art of “not trying so hard” as well as the ability we each have to soften and receive life/love. Receptivity as a state of being. A state of trust and openness to life, rather than an active state of doing something.

I have been observing nature over winter and trying to tune into the how the land around me receives. In the forest, the mighty oak trees appear dormant. I find a nook in the base of the twisted trunk and sit for a while, listening with my whole body as to what energy is moving in this apparently still place. What I can feel is a pull down into the damp soil, a dropping of tree and my energy into the Earth. It feels a little disconcerting at first, like I am being buried, but once I relax and let go to the sensation it is actually very blissful. I am being held and nourished by Earth. She offers this freely and without any expectation, all I needed to do was stop “doing” and receive. I love the way animals and plants are able to do this very naturally. Without the hang ups of “being good enough” or fear of taking too much they just receive what they need and then carry on! Energy is in constant flux between polarities of giver and receiver, a cycle of life force…yet as humans we can struggle to feel comfortable with this process.

After my blissful experience of Earth nourishment I was intrigued to observe other ways in my life I could be more open to receive? In what ways do I resist life or love being offered?  Am I providing space in my heart and life to accept gifts or am I too busy trying to get stuff done?! Can I master the subtle art of receiving life?

Goddess Receives

I would like to invite you into one of my daydreams…..

I am reclining on a bed of velvety moss underneath a majestic oak tree. Spring flowers are budding at my feet, wanting for me to invite them into bloom. Deer and fox attend me, waiting for my needs to be spoken, keen to bring me food and comfort. Women stand by, wanting to I’m being offered everything I could ever want. My body is worshiped, rain kisses my skin, birds sing to me, beautiful offerings from everyone passing by fall at my feet. I am filled with bliss. I am adored…simply for existing.

In reality however, the picture can be very different. I am actually quite scared of receiving kindness and love and it can make me feel a bit sick and panicky!! Mmm, yes there was learning for me here and I decided to practice receiving things in my life, even though it felt uncomfortable. I noticed a very clear “not worthy” belief which no longer served me. I am working with receiving as a new play activity, and little by little it is feeling more authentic and comfortable. I am feeling less obligated to immediately give back or apologise for taking up “too much time/space”. This may not all shift overnight, but I can sense my awareness and behaviour is modifying to a place of greater balance with what I give and take from the world.

I am very excited as since I started this receptivity practice, lots of amazing and beautiful little gifts have come into my life. People stop to offer me a back rub, a robin visits my caravan and sings to me, people cook me delicious meals, situations and opportunities to follow my soul path are lining up and all I have to do is open my arms and trust I deserve this.

x x x

Journey to the Shadows – Finding My Masculine

divine-masculine

I find myself in a female body in this lifetime, a body that feels everything so deeply, vulnerability, aliveness, pleasure, pain. Everything feels so real and raw. This depth of feeling can be terrifying and the longing to numb out and ignore the ever fluctuating movement of emotions can be overwhelming at times. For many years I hoped that if I healed the wounds that caused me pain, my difficult emotions would go away. But this is not how it works…the more I open to my many facets, the more I can feel. The more life can move through me and I am slowly learning to find the beauty in this, rather than fear.  I am learning to embrace the archetypes of feminine expression, and the Shadow sides that desperately want to be heard. I am also discovering that for my feminine energy to have some container of safety and healthy context, I also need to embrace the masculine power in myself and the outer world.

I can identify with several feminine archetypes: The Mother – giver of unconditional love and holding for myself and others. The Enchantress – a free and unpredictable maiden, weaving magic and enticing others into new ways of being. The Crone – a witch, medicine woman, at home with the dark sides of human nature and delves deep into chaos and death. The Creatrix – womb wisdom, holder of all creation, she who witnesses and creates reality without need for outcome or answers. The Innocent Child – wild one, playful spirit, keeper of secrets and magic.

One of the beautiful things about being human is that we also carry the Shadow aspects of Self, the parts which are immature and act from a wounded ego rather than an empowered identity. These shadow aspects can dominate our sense of self until they are held by the awesome love of our “big” selves. These parts are not bad and certainly do not need fixing,  they make us the whole humans we are created to be. I like to think of shadow identities as keys to doors. They lead the way to wholeness. Through their pain and confusion there is a magical door to a deeper understanding of our unique expression of love in the world. They hold special gifts, probably our most powerful gifts and offerings to the world.  I therefore want to give recognition to my magnificent shadow personas…..

primorial-mutant-self

The Manipulator, a woman who secures her sense of love and safety through control and devious means. The Raging Woman, she is seriously pissed off and will take it out on anyone who dares to get close, the destroyer of all intimacy. The Victim/Lost Child, she needs to feel abandoned and helpless, please save me I am nothing without you. The Escape Artist, numbing out is my way of operating, she can lead you down never ending tunnels of running away and addiction. The Superior/Smug Queen, she is better than all of this human bullshit, how could you could possibly understand me, you cannot so I will not waste my energy letting you in. The Dark Warrior, the fear fighter who keeps everything safe and under control , she can crush any physical and emotional threat into oblivion!

To find wholeness as a woman I feel it is important to own my shadow personality, to really listen to its need for love and acceptance. And to also take responsibility for how these shadow sides have shaped my outer experience, especially with men.

I sense humans, like nature, are a balance of both feminine and masculine polarities and to ignore or repress one is excluding potential opportunities for growth and nourishment. How can expect to be held and honoured by another in male form, if I am ignoring my relationship to the masculine side of my psyche? If I carry wounds around trusting men then maybe I do not notice when they try to show me love and protection? How can I offer myself what I am truly longing for? This line of enquiry has opened up a very interesting phase of inner healing for me. I asked to meet my inner masculine side and found a small frightened boy.

wholeness

My inner scared boy told me that he was unable to grow up because I had chosen to keep him there. My shadow feminine was angry at his weakness and lack of protection so chose to punish him by keeping him small and scared. Ignored and berated he kept quiet and small as what use was he to me. Well he hadn’t kept completely quiet, no part of self ever does. He had shown up as lots of fear and self-doubt in my life. How could I trust myself fully if my inner male was so squashed?! I felt a strong wave of grief as I realised this exiled part of me had been afraid for so long. I welcomed him back into my heart. This act of love transformed him almost immediately. Once released from my judgement he grew up and met me as my equal and opposite. I felt a strong movement of life force move through my body, I felt energised and nourished on a deep level. I felt held by part of me I had not experienced before, many tears of joy were shed.

The next day, as often happens after a powerful shift, I wondered if it was real, maybe I just imagined he had come home? Did I look any different? I checked, just in case! Well I still looked the same externally but my outer world was different, amazingly so. I saw people with new eyes and they related to me differently. Men started really showing up for me in a whole new way, with kindness, strength, wisdom and love. What they were offering may have been there before, but I was aware of it now and I allowed myself to let it in.

The gifts within the shadows are so precious… A lost little boy wanting to come home, ready to show me the love and protection which was always mine to receive.

x x x