Wednesday, 22 June 2016

An Amoeba goes out with a Paramecium….

An amoeba engulfing a paramecium….

Way back when when I was, I guess, 16, I was working my socks off to prove I wasn't stupid. I had to remain down in the fifth form after 'O' levels as three passes were needed to go up into the sixth form and I only got three…. Yes, I got the three, 'but art doesn't count' was touted out. So, there I was, the only girl out of 73 others, still in uniform, being 'held up as an example' to the others of what happens when you're 'stupid, lazy, and don't bother to work hard enough'. (What happens is SHAME, and the givers of this salivate as they walk past you with a smug look - nasty.)

So, I-Was-Going-To-Show-Them. And not because my mother told me to, or to show her that her pleadings of 'Just try, darling, just try!!!" might work. The thing was, I always had tried, it was just not known then that my brain didn't work quite like others' brains. I read 'well', but I actually made most of it up in my head so I wasn't actually answering the question asked. I could have a PhD if that could be based on the most gained 'read the question' and 'that isn't what I asked' comments written in fiery red ink in the margins of my books and exam papers.

So, I was allowed - how magnanimous of the headmistress - to begin my 'A' levels in English and Biology whilst I (successfully) re-took my failed 'O' levels. I loved biology and english and worked hard at them, but, of course, I was 'stupid' so I was never taken seriously. So….

There was one essay set for biology that I decided, I set the intention for, I willed, for which I was bloody-well going to manifest an 'A' grade….

'The Difference Between the Organism of the Amoeba and the Paramecium - discuss'.

I wrote long and hard. I drew really, really good (and they were) pencil drawings of said creatures. I wrote and I wrote, and then I wrote some more. (Everything I wrote was - apparently - way too short. Because, 'of course', I was stupid and lazy and didn't bother to try.)

I wrote all night - kneeling on the floor before my bed, the old foolscap paper (longer than A4) laid out on a sturdy atlas, torch becoming ever more dim as the night wore on. And then I wrote again the next day. And the next night (new batteries). And then I proudly handed in my 32 page essay.

I put it on Miss Ponting's shelf in the 'homework cupboard' on the main corridor - a small shelved room with space for marking to be placed above each teacher's name. One would then go back and collect the marked work the next day, or whenever…

Only about an hour later I went to drop off some other homework and was surprised to see my essay already back…..with the most enormous (foolscap sized) red R (for so bad it's returned un-graded) completely coving the front page - so much so that the downward, final stroke of the R had been written so forcefully that the biro point had cut right through the paper down to page 10….

I couldn't believe it. What had I done, or not done, now…?!?!???!???!

Friends gathered around me as I spluttered and frazzled, reading furiously to see if I could discover why this had happened…. Then they began to laugh….

"What?" I said.
"Look!!!" they said.
"What??" I said again.
"Looooooook!!!!!" they laughed. "You've written an essay discussing the difference between the orgasms of the amoeba and the paramecium!!!!"
They were, by now, rolling on the floor in paroxysms of laughter.

I had little idea of what they were speaking. No, I really didn't. I was very, and annoyingly, sheltered in my only-child, religion-riddled, upbringing. But yes, I had written 32 pages about the orgasms of the amoeba and the paramecium. And there were a lot of orgasms in 32 pages….

My head-mistress then called me into her office:
"You have the mental age of a three-year-old", she whined at me (because she had a mean and whiney voice). "You will end up cleaning lavatories on Waterloo station."*

I left school. Not expelled, but I had had enough of being bullied and shamed. But still the damage was done.

I have laughed long and hard about this one for well over 45 years. And I have not been found cleaning the lavatories on Waterloo station - toilets I have even gone past giving a 'V' sign too as I pass; now it's a cheery and self-kind wave of 'ok-ness'. Instead I have been offering my teaching, based deeply on Alexander work, for 35 years now. And I know that nowadays my essay might well be the annual-silly-but-loved-prize-winning essay in a school magazine, and definitely all over Facebook to great acclaim, and probably even published…. But clearly it still hurts. So I've shared it.

And I put it in my Self-Kindness blog to be kind to myself. To remind myself that, no matter that Miss Ponting was an elderly (younger than I am now?!?) spinster in the mid-1970s, embarrassed as hell about 'that word', and that I was well disliked in my school, because…. Well, because…. Actually I have no idea…. I guess a left-handed red-head is a pretty good bullying point, but I did assist the school in winning many a sports trophy, so there….  And because I wish I still had that essay - it was, of course, confiscated and burned and I had to write another, far less successful C- one - because I know, I really, really know, it was good. And worthy of being honoured for its content, not scorned for the hang-ups of its reader and marker.

I have long 'healed' this, even if layers sometimes come up to remind me of its echo. These, too, I can heal through the holding of the pain gently. But of one thing I am now sure; I no longer allow anyone to mock, judge, criticise my work. I am open to comment, feedback - what they liked, what they would like more of - but not the telling of how my, or another's, creativity is 'not good enough', or 'should be other than it is'. Please remember this, no one, but no one, has the right to 'prune' you without your permission... To tell you you aren't good enough as you are. This is their story, not yours.

This is why I work with people in the respectful holding of their own creativity, nurturing their self-belief in a safe and kind way. We are all capable of growing into big, strong plants, but even if some plants only thrive on very hard pruning, every plant is different; some plants die if cut back harshly and insensitively. I work with these 'plants' - these beautiful, maybe delicate or tender 'plants'. The people who need a slow pace, gentle nurture, and bespoke protection as they become the full and glorious bloom they are.

(* Waterloo station is one of London's largest train stations.)

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Vulnerability vs Transparency

I have been having another ponder today: what is the difference between Vulnerability and Transparency? The first word is on a lot of our lips just now following the awesome talks and writings of Brene Brown. The latter seems a humble, rather old-fashioned cousin to the more fashionable 'v' word. So, I wondered how does the dictionary define these two words? This is what I found:

Vulnerable - capable of or susceptible to being wounded, as by a weapon: a vulnerable part of the body. Open to attack, criticism, temptation. 

Transparent - having the property of transmitting rays of light through its substance so that bodies beyond or behind can be distinctly seen. Easily seen through, recognised, or detected. Open, frank, candid.  

Quite different, aren't they? One, vulnerable, seems to describe being wide-open-to-be-seen-without-any-protection, and the other, transparent, seems to describe being seen-but-protected. The latter, when it comes to transparency in a human being, seems to me to be about allowing ourself to be seen in a protected way, which, by definition, isn't vulnerability. And being vulnerable means allowing ourselves to be seen in a totally open, nothing-between-viewer-and-person way, which by definition isn't transparent; there's nothing to be 'seen through'. 

My ponderings rambled on into, 'can one decide which to be?' Can I choose to live, or write something, from my vulnerable self or my transparent self at will? Or am I and my writing whichever they are simply because I am either vulnerable or transparent? Meaning that each piece I write comes over in vulnerability or transparency depending on how I am with the subject matter at that time.

I came up with the likelihood that if I am writing about something I understand, have worked on, can describe in fine detail on a psychological level, but haven't truly healed deeply within me, I am likely being transparent. If I write about something I have worked right through, understood, but also healed and released from the cells of my body, I am likely being vulnerable. Vulnerability comes from the fact that I have nothing to hide about it any more, nothing to shield, to protect and the subject matter has simply become part of my story. I can talk or write about it without any old emotional triggers being fired within me, and without any need for the reader to 'get it', or believe me, or be moved by me. If I am being transparent about it, I can write it, tell it, have intellectually understood it, but I am likely to use it to tell others what to do in their (only ever vaguely similar) situation, but still have to quash the rumblings of emotion still firing off in my body. I can even be transparent about these emotions and tell people what they are - in speech or writing - but I am still only being transparent, not vulnerable. I sense that, for me, the bookshop tables of misty-imaged 'misery books' of the last ten years were left there by me as they felt way too indigestible; they were written from transparency, not vulnerability. 

When I read a piece about a difficult time in someone's life, different sensations arise within me; sometimes, when the author is being transparent, I feel it unpleasantly in my own body (yet without being offered space to heal it in me), sometimes I feel the weight of an 'I should suffer with you' about itand sometimes, when the author is being vulnerable, I gain a valuably simple sense of unconditional companionship with my own 'stuff'. I can see the difference between the author being transparent or vulnerable; the former has an expectation of me, the latter doesn't. Transparency is heavy, and even embarrassing. Vulnerability is, perhaps unexpectedly, light and helpful. 

Being truly vulnerable is the result of not having to put up any shields - see-through or not - and being able to touch and be touched. Being transparent is about letting another see me, but not touching them or having them touch me, because of the deceptively invisible barrier of protection. These two are often confused, from both sides, and getting stuck at the transparency stage a common situation.

My answer to my pondering then? That whilst becoming transparent is a great step forward on the road home to self, there's actually more to do on the journey onwards as I continue to move from transparency to vulnerability. 

I've not read Brene's book for a while - it's time for another read to see what she says about this!

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Success Often Comes in a Locked Box

You know theses posts and blogs, books and articles, on ‘How to Become Successful’? Are you aware of the myriad of reactions and feelings they trigger inside you as soon as you see even the title? Have a look and listen inside your body next time, because there are important hints as to why you’re even attracted to such titles, and why you have to keep reading them instead of writing them. 

I remember reading the words below many years ago and feeling them resonate powerfully within me, but I had no idea why, or what to do about it…until later when I transformed those parts of me which believed deeply that I couldn't, and didn't deserve to be, successful. 

Here are the words:
"My heart wasn't in it, you see, so I could only allow myself a limited amount of success. Every time it threatened to go beyond that, I'd turn down a great part or run away or get sick - I'd do something to wreck it. There was never a clear choice to really succeed." From 'One' by Richard Bach.

I had, from many viewpoint moments in my life, clearly made a bizarre choice to not succeed. But why? And how was this so, when my mind kept telling me I could be successful if I just kept seeing myself as thus and doing everything required to manifest it? My mind knew what to do, but something was stopping success from happening…

Well, this is how it was for me; I grew up being told two things, often simultaneously. “You are useless”, and “You must be very successful, for me”. I was confused. Like all human beings I had a goodly amount of the natural desire to achieve, to live, to discover and experience - my early school reports described me as being highly inquisitive and having loads of curiosity. But I was told way more often that I was ‘stupid’ and ‘useless’, and this I was gradually, not believing, but embodying. 

What was happening inside me, deep in the very cells of me, were endless experiences of 'can't', and even 'mustn't. A stifling of the positive and a feeding of the negative. It was as if my cells were inadvertently being programmed for failure. This resulted in my body expecting, and even courting, failure each and every time I became curious or inquisitive about improving at anything. Trying to go out there into the field called success became ever more horrible due to the guaranteed discomfort of failure and subsequent familiar shame. They hurt, and they screw up life's dreams.

So, I did what many of us do; I had years and years of counseling. And I read every book on the subject of blame, shame, depression, anger, angst, and success which had ever been written. (By the way, see that? How can 'success' ever succeed in a sentence with such uneasy bedfellows?!) And then I went to workshops, trainings, and later surfed the web-waves about success on the internet. But, despite moments of surging excitement, or brief ‘successes’, nothing really changed.

You see, you can’t change your mind with your own mind. It just doesn’t work that way. In the same way, you can tell yourself you are not afraid of spiders, but if your body has a negative memory around spiders, your fear is embodied. And you can't tell yourself to be successful when every cell in your body tells you you won't be. Why? Because it’s not your mind which is afraid of spiders, it’s your body.  It's not your mind which isn't strong enough to manifest success, it's your body's strong memories of all the times you were told you weren't good enough, or of when you failed, often spectacularly. We all fail at times, but failure is rarely held compassionately; instead with damaging ridicule. 

Your body holds the memory of each and every experience you have ever had, including those with spiders or with failure. Your mind simply translates the triggered memory of those feelings into words with which to inform both you (thought) and the world (speech). Your mind can’t ‘feel grief’, but your body does. Try this? Next time you have an uncomfortable moment around an event, hear how your mind describes it - sadness, fear, anger - and then immediately go to your body and see where in it you feel it. Then ask yourself this, could you have known how you were feeling without your body’s signals? This is your body's re-feeling of the sensation it had at the time the discomfort was sown - maybe with a mocking by your class in junior school when you answered a question wrongly - which is informing you now of your mood or emotion to a similar event in adulthood. 

Each time I wanted ‘success', stimulated by the very word, my body ‘told’ me I was useless through its re-expression of the old shame set up in childhood. My mind wasn’t able to tell my body things were different now, because it was my body which needed to experience it differently in order to have and express new sensory information. In Alexander work, teachers give students new experiences of movement in order for them to be able to change old and unhelpful movement patterns from within, because the same thing stands: we can’t change ourself with ourself; we are always going to do the familiar, the well-grooved, and our body just does what it’s always done until that way is transformed into a space where a new, more appropriate-for-now, way can begin.

But no one can give me the experience of ‘being successful’ - that is so personal, so subjective, so illusive, and the journey there an important part of my life. Even winning the lottery wouldn’t give me the bodily experience of my taking my own road to my own sense of success. So, how can this be done? How can I get to experience me as a success?

For me it happened thus: Twelve years ago I was introduced to a way of working in which, deeply and compassionately, I was able to witness my body - even the very cells of my body. Instead of the ‘just think differently’, I was allowed to acknowledge how the message ‘You’re useless’ had embedded itself within me. Instead of using my mind to tell myself that thought was stupid (!) for still thinking that and to think the opposite, as in affirmations, I was simply and safely companioned as I deeply acknowledged the pain of that early message. My companion (facilitator) often didn’t know what I was releasing, but release it I did. And I learned to ask my well-meaning mind to stay out of the process as I set my intention to shift whatever it was hidden in my body which was blocking the way to my being successful. 

Oftentimes I might know where it was likely to come from and I would set the intention for the ‘inner button’ to dissolve. But mostly I never knew - or know, for the work is part of my life now - as I just asked that whatever needed to go, to leave me. I have been amazed at times at the flash of memory of an event long forgotten, and to which my witnessing mind says, “Wow! No wonder..!!”. But, importantly, in the space of no judgement, no interpretation of the memory, I sense a higher part of me touching that terror/shame/anger deep within my body, whereupon it simply transforms - like popping bubble-wrap. After the process it is likely that an event will happen which would have previously ‘pushed my button’, but instead there doesn’t seem to be a button any more and I experience responding quite differently to the stimulus, or even not responding at all. 

As I go on transforming those buttons within my body which tell me I can never be successful, things are changing. My mind still loves to tell me I need the ‘success writings’, for I guess that makes  the mind feel ‘important and clever’, but my body feels gentle, kind, and encouraging, reminding me that, yes, I can be more successful, but only when I have assisted it to release all the ‘stuff’ which is getting in the way of my natural gift, the one we all have: our human potential for success, whatever that is for each individual. 

Successful people begin to be successful through the absence of all that which gets in the way of succeeding, and then they work hard at gaining mastery with their chosen subject. Unsuccessful people work incredibly hard all the time, yet the hard work is the stumbling and struggling ‘against the odds’ - the odds being all the old, cellular memories that can be roughly translated into ‘You can’t’ or ‘You wont’. Reading the success books just tells us to rail against those beliefs ever harder, but 'What we resist, persists', and success remains in the shadows. The Transformational Process, in which I qualified as a facilitator in 2009, smooths the path ahead towards success. And it paves my road to my success. Not the road suggested by another, down which so many of us struggle for years until we wake up to our own. For me, these JFDI ('just * do it') reasons are why so many highly successful people aren’t very happy; they are always waiting for the shoe to drop, to be found out to be the ‘less-than’ belief which their body still holds. Or because they can’t bear to stop and find they’re on the wrong horse heading for someone else’s success. This is a tough way to live.

Personally I go on working through my blocks, my unconscious agreements made when too young to know any other way - the agreements which have set up something like these: ‘I can’t, I wont, they can, not me. Not good enough. Not clever enough. Not qualified enough. Not nice enough. Not bold enough. Not clear enough. Lazy. Selfish. Just plain wrong through and through.’ Each time a layer of these clears, something happens which sees me move ever closer to that elusive thing called ‘success’.

And the funny thing? Success is becoming less 'out there' than an in ‘inside job’ - one which has less care and more joy. Less worry and more peace. It’s my success and not tied up with proving anything. It’s my sense of my self-worth in my beloved subject, not another’s. I can still wish to be the best I can be, but it’s the best Annie I can be, not me having to be better than everyone else.... And each time I sense care and worry, I take them to my self, to my quietly loving higher-self and let them express themselves itself until heard unconditionally. Then they leave my path and I can step forward with more ease. As this happens I sense I am re-writing the story of my life without my mind’s old rod-and-stick, punishment-type method, and instead with my heart’s self-kindness and self-belief version. I know which I prefer, and which method I desire to share with my clients and my students.

So, success is an inside job, a body job, not a mind job. Shift the blockages in the cells and things truly change. Oh! And when you do have moments of joyful success and achievement, please tell your mind to leave the room in order for your beautiful body to bathe in and embody the new sensation and all this success means to you, now. This delight in success isn't a mind job, it's an important body job! Let it feel it! 

Friday, 10 June 2016

Change - the smooth way.

I was reminded today of the days back when we changed gears in our cars without the blessing of a gear-box that was ‘synchromeshed’. The result of changing gear in these vehicles meant one had to be prepared for a great deal of grinding and graunching (*) sounds during gear changes as metal plates found their way into re-emeshing correctly for the next gear - from first to second in acceleration, or for ‘changing down’ in slowing for a junction. The skill was to wait for the moment in which the all the cog-wheels flew into equal revolutions - float shifting - before engaging the next gear. Then the noise and graunching was minimalised. It took a skillful driver to sense and hear the engine, feel the impulsion, 'double clutch' well enough, read the incline up or slope down, in order to manage this successfully. Now we have modern clutches and well synchronised gear-boxes and have to do very little in the way of being present to the changing of gears as we drive. On we go, stereo blaring, car practically driving itself, mind elsewhere….

This is so like life nowadays; when we come to an inevitable (we are alive) point of change, we expect to ‘just change’ - to depress the clutch and have everything change smoothly and without any graunching. And if we find change sticky or uncomfortable, we assume there is a problem, and that we have clearly ‘got it wrong’... Yet, we haven’t; we just feel this because we aren’t 'sychnronised'. We haven’t been mechanised and homogenised like our modern vehicles. Life offers us change - over, and over, and over, and as FM Alexander once said, “Change is the one thing about which we can be sure in our life. It’s how we manage it which counts.” This is the thing: how we manage it is to not rush it. To not ‘graunch’ in an effort to get through it as soon as we can. No, we have to let the gear-box wheels fly - the metal plates spin - until they find a moment when they all co-ordinate and settle together in a new gear with which to move us forward. The spinning doesn’t really take long in the grand scheme of things, but if we push it, try to engage them too soon, there will likely be little bits of metal all over the road, passers-by leaping into the bushes in alarm, and a compromised, slowed-up vehicle to contend with. Yet if we lose focus and go beyond the point of co-ordination, we lose momentum and still hear graunching. There is a moment on the flying cogs, and life; a magic moment when it just happens, but only if we are both patient-and-present-in-the-pause. It's the pausing which is the magic trick.

So, during a life-change, and during forward movement into a plan, let your gear-box cog-wheels fly until they naturally fall into their new relationship for your next move ahead. Which basically means, listen, sense, and honour the space between, the pause, the zero, the neutral point; for it is here that change can happen most effectively and un-alarmingly.

(* graunching - my engineering father's onomatopoeic word for, well, the sound of metal parts graunching together!)