On being slow and empathic in a fast world

Sometimes I look around this world and a great and ancient sadness moves through me.
Everything is so damn fast here.
I feel like an alien, often.
A slow, mindful, present alien.
I watch people rushing from experience to experience, barely stopping to contemplate the fucking miracle of their existence. Hardly ever taking time to let the wonder in.
Going for days and days without ever telling the truth or feeling their feelings.
Running from themselves. Running towards imaginary futures. So mesmerised by the ‘there’ that they forget the miracle of here. So identified with the ‘doing’ that the most precious thing is lost. Being. Life itself.
Comfortable. Popular. Fabulous and successful, perhaps. On the path towards a better and exciting tomorrow. Yet so afraid to slow down. Afraid to rest deeply. Afraid to stop and invite in whatever lurks in the deep. The repressed terrors. The anxieties.
Unmetabolised childhood yearnings. Unlived lives, unfulfilled potentials, unspoken truths.
Loving the light yet afraid to touch the darkness.
Abandoning the cosmic love that was pushed down in order to survive.
Forgetting the natural joy that was squashed so we could become ‘grown ups’.
Neglecting the playful aliveness that had to be numbed in order to ‘fit in’.
And now, content with surface pleasures. Success. Popularity. Looks. Achievements. The things that matter but don’t truly matter in the end.
Satisfied with a limited, conditional version of happiness. The kind you can post on Instagram. The kind that you can buy and sell. The kind that has an opposite.
The kind that looks good.
It’s sad to see our great potential forgotten.
Nothing ‘wrong’ with any of this unconscious activity, of course. I do not sit in judgement. I love our vulnerable humanity, and understand the mechanism of running, and we are all only doing our best, given our conditioning.
I used to run. But I had to break down. For the love I sought could never be found in the future. It was always here, buried in my own Heart, closer than breathing.
I only wish that everyone could truly find the courage to stop. Rest. Break, if they need to. Cry, if they need to. And finally feel the abandonment, the grief, the shame that was unconsciously running the show. Finally stop pretending. Finally sacrifice the addictive surfaces for the living truth – the scary, disorienting, thrilling truth.
There is no shame in the breaking and in breathing through the mess.
To be slow and empathic in a fast world, it is a challenge for sure. To be sensitive in a world that has gone mad with ‘things’. To be a lover in a world that has reduced love to a commodity and a passing feeling. To be awake in a world that tries to numb you.
Yet you cannot be numbed.
For you know your path now.
And your sensitivity
is a great gift
to this fast world.
– Jeff Foster

Freedom within our emotions…being OK with not being OK

Would you believe me if I told you there is a ridiculous amount of freedom to be revealed in the acceptance of our emotions?  And a scary amount of suffering in the resistance of them! What would you think if I shared with you it’s really OK to not be OK? And that it’s also OK to be OK…what if I were to tell you that both OK and not OK were perfectly OK? What if wherever we’re at, is OK..exactly where we are. OK..or not OK..what exactly does OK mean anyway? And where and when did we start to become so obsessed with one way being the right way?

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How often do you get asked are you OK? And even if you’re not feeling ‘good’ you feel the pressure to say yeah I’m OK! Well I’ve been having a bit of a ride lately with the labelling of emotions & experiences as positive or negative. It feels like collectively we’re stuck in the polarity of right & wrong, good & bad…and if you’re experiencing emotions that are not joy and happiness – you’re not OK and that’s probably not OK.

I don’t think it’s a big secret that as a race, the human race, we are obsessed with feeling good, the seeking of pleasure and avoidance of pain..but in the seeking for feeling good, collectively we seem to have embraced a belief that anything that doesn’t fit within our idea of what that little bucket of goodness looks or feels like needs to be suppressed or denied.

While the suppression might initially appear to be a success in the avoidance of pain – it is for sure just a temporary avoidance as whatever we suppress will reappear again and again and again until it is given space to be be seen, felt & heard. More than that we’re definitely not helping ourselves on the path to feeling good by blocking energy or denying the innate intelligence of our human constitution. All we’re successfully doing is creating more separation, making boxes to put ourself in, self imposed prison cells of how we must look and feel in order to be a successful, happy, feel good human being….and we become weighted down by these ideas, closing ourself off to the full potential of being an alive, fully feeling human BEING.

“Label me and you negate me” ~ Søren Kierkegaard

When I first began teaching yoga I was told by a student they were shocked to hear me swear, ‘but you’re so spiritual…how can you swear?’ they said, and it was the first time I realised maybe I had just stepped out of one box (my corporate career) into a brand new ‘spiritual box’ where I was still expected to behave a certain way in order to belong? Triggered massively I launched into a stream of swear words to express my individuality…maybe not the most eloquent, but in the moment it was my authentic response. What I was feeling was

‘Don’t label me and box me into your ideas of what spiritual is, I never asked to be ‘spiritual’, all I asked was to be free to FEEL, and live life from the Heart.’

Really this sweet student just showed me my inner idea of what spiritual ‘should’ look like – so I could make a conscious decision to step out of that box…and into my authentic expression & still today I find myself continuously bringing down the walls of that box. But lately it’s the permission to not be OK I’m journeying with. A few months ago I found myself again feeling really boxed in this time by the belief that the experiencing & expression of so called ‘negative’ emotions such as sadness, anger or confusion means I’m not doing my ‘spiritual job’ well enough, that I’m not OK and even worse than that ….it’s NOT OK to not be OK.

IMG_1274When you think about what the word OK means…it means to say something is acceptable…so when we’re feeling something – and we think it’s not acceptable to feel that something – we’re actually not OK…literally speaking…not OK..because we don’t accept the feeling that is arising and we want it to go away. But what would happen if we accepted the feeling as it arose…would we then be turning our not OK, into an OK?…and maybe just maybe would that feeling feel seen, heard, loved…and no longer need to fight for it’s right to exist…and maybe just maybe could we receive the wisdom of that feeling, rest and enjoy life…and heaven forbid feel good?

Who knows…the mind could entertain itself for lifetimes upon lifetimes with the semantics of the english language and infinite possibilities. What I’m more interested in is looking at this toxic belief that we must always be OK..whatever that might mean?! The consequence of this belief is that many people are struggling with what they’re feeling, or more to the point desperately trying to bury the feelings trying to be felt.

Rather than embracing where we’re at, we’re being told by ourselves or others, that we’re not OK, that we’re depressed and so we’re medicating. We’re medicating either to 1) stop feeling the feelings that are arising…numbing out or 2) to try and stimulate ourselves out of the numbness we previously created to avoid feeling our feelings because when we shut our feelings down we disconnected ourselves…and now we want to feel connected again but don’t know how.

We medicate – to numb or to un-numb – with antidepressants, or alcohol, drugs, sex, social media, relationships, shopping, gambling, food, even sports, yoga, meditation & other spiritual practices can be used as a medication…to disconnect further and further from what’s really moving inside of us. If the opposite of addiction is not sobriety but actually connection as one researcher suggested…how crazy is it that we’re actually doing things to further disconnect ourselves from others and from our Self?

“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety…it’s connection” ~ Johann Hari

So is it possible instead of medicating we just start to get real with ourselves and each other about what we’re really feeling? I’ve been using the word ‘we’ but I’m not hiding behind the collective on this one.  I’m choosing to share my personal experience because the only commitment I want to make is to authenticity…and that doesn’t always look like the perfect ‘spiritual’ package I once imagined it might.

Returning home to Perth earlier this year life didn’t play out quite the way I had planned. Life gave me everything I needed and a whole lot more, but not what I wanted and I struggled many times to feel joyful as I journeyed with a sadness and anger I’d never met before, never had the courage to stand face to face with before and I was overwhelmed by it’s intensity.

Having passed my whole life with this belief it’s NOT OK TO NOT BE OK, I buried my sadness and anger and held on tightly to the belief they burdened and hurt other people and therefore did not belong. I put on the strong independent woman mask instead and threw myself into serving others…and when that wasn’t possible I removed myself from being with people, deeming myself ‘not fit for human interaction’. Are you surprised to hear that neither were very successful in making me feel good..or avoiding my pain?!

Now let me be super frank, this wasn’t the first time I’d met sadness & anger. But over the years I’d become quite skilled at only touching the tip of the iceberg when it came to emotions. Have you ever tried to hold a ball or a balloon full of air under water?…eventually it explodes back out to the surface, unwilling to be suppressed any longer. As my ‘balls’ of emotion would eventually explode out to the surface, I’d have no choice but to acknowledge the feelings…but still desperate to make them go away again I’d acknowledge the feelings only enough for the ball to be small enough to shove back under the water. Until the ball was so full it wouldn’t go back down, and that’s where I found myself…no longer able to contain the grief and anger but unconsciously still trying to figure out what I needed to do to make it go away.

So life in it’s infinite wisdom & mysterious ways threw me all the experiences I needed to help me see I couldn’t suppress these emotions anymore. Each time I felt this overwhelming sadness and anger I found myself sitting before someone who reflected back to me their discomfort with my discomfort and the spoken or unspoken message…it’s NOT OK to not be OK. These loved ones were simply loving me the best they could and thankfully they loved me enough to help me play out my bullshit drama….until I could ignore it no more, and started to see this wasn’t about other people telling me it wasn’t OK to not be OK…it was about ME, TELLING MYSELF it’s not OK to not be OK..a message I carried deep inside my psyche.

Black PantherI was uncomfortable with my own feelings, afraid of them, terrified if I really felt them and allowed myself to not be OK, they would consume me, and ‘I’ would never come back. Maybe I’d stay in bed and never be able to function in the world again?! Or maybe I’d lash out and the black jaguar inside of me would actually leap out and rip someone to shreds…or worse maybe my emotions (which trigger my behaviour) would stop people from liking me, and I would no longer be welcome in my tribe, in my community.

The truth is the idea of who I thought ‘I’ should be was continuously dying, and this version of the mind made ‘I’ was never coming back. By suppressing the emotions I didn’t make them go away…I just ended up drowning in my own pity party unconsciously pushing away those who I wanted to be closest to. With the emotions unable to be ‘energy-in-motion’, having nowhere to go they just repeated themselves again and again and again and again, begging to be witnessed, begging to be loved.

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The pity party wasn’t going anywhere until I allowed myself to rest in the sadness and anger, to feel the weight of the feelings I had been buried under –  and this was so different from the pity puddle I’d been wading in for weeks. This meant really allowing myself to sit still with what was arising in me. Really truly sit still. And listen to the wisdom within those feelings…all of these emotions were inviting me to enter a conversation with myself – to hear needs that had not been met and allow love to touch my pain, rather than fear.

When your fear touches someone’s pain, it becomes pity, when your love touches someone’s pain, it becomes compassion.” ~ Stephen Levine

The absurd part is yes I had to get really quiet so I could allow the emotions to be felt, but they didn’t consume me, I didn’t need to wallow in my sorrow for weeks. The reality is, the more I practiced honouring the feelings as they arose, hearing and honouring their wisdom, the more naturally they moved through me. It turns out it wasn’t the actual feelings overwhelming me but my resistance to feeling them.

In Chinese medicine, there is a school of thought that emotions are a cause of disease. Not that having emotions causes disease, but more so when emotions are out of balance, and imbalances arise when we don’t allow the expression of energy (and emotions are energy) in the moment they arise. What begins as a pure feeling of life (energy) wanting to be expressed through you, unexpressed becomes a weighted toxic charge, an accumulation of feelings, energy in motion that has not been expressed freely. This energy becomes trapped within the body giving us physical symptoms of something that needs our loving attention.

The step into this loving attention, and the move away from resistance came for me in discerning the difference between honouring and creating a safe space for my feelings to be felt and expressed AND drowning in my own pity puddle. If I stopped needing to be ‘ good’ all the time, if I allowed whatever was arising in the moment to be present, then there was actually no puddle to drown in… the emotions really could become energy in motion – their wisdom & insights could be revealed, no longer suppressed, no longer being judged, no longer being expected to be anything other than what they were in that moment.

I also needed a little help from family and friends – I needed to ask for help and I needed to really let people into my life, so that they could do what they do best..love me. But to do that I needed to allow myself to be vulnerable, to be real, to be open and express what I had been perceiving as a weakness – my emotions. I resisted this step for a long time because I didn’t want anyone’s pity, which is what I felt I received when I expressed my full range of sadness and anger. What I wanted was their love and support, their compassion, I wanted to know that all the pieces of me were loveable and welcome and that they wouldn’t leave me just because I wasn’t overflowing with magic and joy.

The irony was I couldn’t allow myself to feel that love from my loved ones, until I made space for the emotions in my self – until I was able to give myself permission to not feel ‘good’ for a moment and let that be OK. To allow myself to not be OK…and in that allowing, in the acceptance of life exactly as it was in that moment I was OK…

Sometimes we don’t feel ‘good’, sometimes there are feelings we don’t know what to do with, sometimes they overwhelm us and we can’t participate in life the way we normally would, AND THIS IS OK! Like everything in this manifested world this is temporary and it too shall pass…it’s only our resistance to what is arising that causes suffering.

If we can be present with life it has a message for us. It’s calling us back to ourselves, to be all of ourselves, to embrace all the pieces of our Self…including these feelings of sadness, grief, anger. They’re all an invitation to enter a conversation in the present moment, to let go of our previous ideas of who we thought we should be and start to rest in the truth of who we are alive and present right Now.

Practices like mindfulness, meditation, yoga, exercise, nutrition – all of these things become super important tools to help drop the mind down into the heart, to not get lost in the illusion of the pity puddle and monkey mind that believes every thought and feeling is real, but they were never intended to be used as a means of suppressing our feelings, spiritual bypassing only perpetuates the cycle of disconnection.

3c0c40686786125fef6c0e63704c9477I’m sharing this because I know so many people who feel they are struggling with anxiety and depression – and I can tell you that those of us on the ‘spiritual path’ – including me have not been immune. It’s sometimes really tricky to distinguish between depression…and the many dark nights of the soul that we might encounter on the path.

But I like to embrace the idea of depression that Jeff Foster puts forth – as a feeling of life pressing down on me, that I am being de-pressed, by the ideas I had of who I should be or what I should be doing. As I shifted my perception to this I started to see depression as an invitation to come into a space of deep-rest, to rest deeply in whatever is moving in this moment, and a space of deep acceptance of all the pieces of me.

 The truth is, as important as tribe and community are, we will walk much of this path alone, so we need to take the time to really get to know ourselves – to know who we are beyond all of these ideas of good and bad. How can we expect to really connect authentically with our tribe if we can not even be authentic with ourselves?

There is no red pill, to magically pull us out of the illusion…there is only Love…and that love equates to deep rest and acceptance. So next time you’re feeling something see if you can allow yourself to really go into that feeling, feel it all the way down into the very core of your being…and then feel it some more. Feel what happens and listen…really listen to the wisdom of the Heart waiting to be shared with you. And if you still have a little voice (your’s or another’s) telling you it’s not OK to feel what you’re feeling…see if you can offer up some love to the part of yourself that tells you it’s not OK to feel that way…or if that still doesn’t feel do-able.. love that part of you that can’t love the part of you that tells you it’s not OK to feel that way…and remember we are all in this together in this divine dance of life.

 

Where has the human connection gone?

I looked into the eyes of a baby, only here in this physical form for 1 short year…and his eyes…well there really are no words to describe the depth, openness and love that stared back at me. I found myself mesmerised, lost in a deep ocean of blue. He had no fear, no contraction, no hesitation to just look at every inch of my face inquisitively. And I found myself mirroring him, staring back with admiration, love and curiosity. And I wondered how is it that we lose this?

This experience was more than a year ago but it’s one that has stayed with me and comes again and again as a reminder to look at life with curiosity, through the eyes of a child.  It often gets me thinking about How do we return to this, our natural state? How do we unlearn the barriers and protections that we’ve built up over the years? The behaviours that keep us from connecting deeply with each other. Because after all isn’t humanity hard wired for connection? Aren’t so many of the problems we have these days around mental health and addiction now being linked back to loneliness….or better known as lack of real connection.

The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection ~Johann Hari

With so many lost in their world of smartphones and social media…it’s become perfectly normal to post our life experiences for all to see in the virtual world…but then avoid making eye contact with people we pass in the street, or on the bus or train. So the question is…where did the Human Connection go and how do we get it back?

Two weeks ago the  Liberators International suggested one answer….you use the one thing everyone is engaged in..social media…to create a Facebook event and you invite humanity to participate in the Worlds Biggest Eye Contact Experiment. The concept was simple they said “Let’s share a minutes eye contact with strangers in public to rebuild our sense of shared humanity in cities all over the world!”

More than 100,000 people signed on to attend the event in 143 cities all over the world and the organisers say the video piece they’re putting together is “by far the most incredible and inspiring experience we’ve ever created. We are so deeply humbled by the coronation and intelligence shown by the people from all edges of the globe.”

IMG_0297I decided to go along to the event in Busselton, I knew it would be smaller than the city event but I was curious to see what it would be like in my home country..and in a rural area. It was small and intimate and inspiring to meet those involved in organising the event locally and to hear their stories of why they were there.

I saw such beauty, such sadness, such raw authenticity, I saw love and I saw uncertainty, I saw hesitation and I listened to story after story of how nervous people had been to come along to the event…wondering what it would be like. I listened to one guy ask, so whats the point of the experiment? The answer..human connection…and he incredulously asked…what? connection just with the eyes??!! as he sat down to try it for himself.

Truth is it was a challenging experience for me as I watched people walk past, look at the sign but not slow down so desperate to not make eye contact. Respecting this may not appeal to everyone, what touched me deeply were the people who not only avoided the eye contact, but then began to joke with their friends, laughing about the experiment as they walked away. I felt my barriers want to go back up, to protect myself. But then I wondered what am I protecting myself against? Is that not the whole point of this experiment…to allow ourselves to be seen..and to see…and to reflect a little on what is it that stops us from connecting with others?

I realised that somewhere inside i was feeling shame, even though really my heart was just deeply sad that not everyone could understand why the need for human connection was so important. Anyway I looked around and saw the others sitting in circle hearts open…unwavering and instantly I realised how important it was that we…I….take part in the things that feel important, if not me, who? and if not now, when?

So feeling full of inspiration I decided it was time to research humanity a little more and I drove 3 hours back to Perth just in time to participate in the experiment in the Perth CBD….and the contrast was incredible.

So many people, so many observers, so many people sitting looking into each others eyes…when I arrived there wasn’t even an empty cushion…I pinched myself…was this really happening in the city that I grew up in?IMG_0516

I had had so many judgements about how closed hearted people in Perth could be but eye after eye that I looked into all the misperceptions fell away. Again I listened to story after story of people facing their fears to come and feel the connection – I felt such overwhelming joy at how this real life experiment showed the alchemy of love melting fear.

At one point during the day one beautiful lady said to me how nervous she was about just sitting in silence, so we chatted a little, and she said to me, don’t look too hard in there, I’m a bit messed up. My heart melted and I shared with her my little secret…so am I, and then I told her what I believe strongly..that these parts of us we think are messy are just waiting for us to let them be seen and loved so that we can feel our completeness again.

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For me the entire experience bought up big questions like how am I choosing to show up in every moment. How willing am I to allow myself to be seen completely, how willing am I to not censor who I am, to be authentic?

We so badly long for human connection, and yet at the same time we’re so terribly afraid of what may happen if people look at us too closely, that they may indeed see it all and judge us. But what would happen if we stopped trying to keep parts of us secret, what if we let go of the fear of being shamed for not being perfect? What if judgements were also just another way to protect ourselves…what are we protecting ourselves against…connection? What if we put our energy into loving and trusting one another instead of hiding, judging and shaming?

One of my favourite shame and vulnerability researchers and story tellers, Brene Brown, talks about shame as a silent epidemic.

“I think shame is lethal,” she says. “I think shame is deadly. And I think we are swimming in it deep.” She explains that feelings of shame can quietly marinate over a lifetime. “Here’s the bottom line with shame,” she says. “The less you talk about it, the more you got it. Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.”

The antidote she says is empathy. By sharing shame with someone who can express empathy, the painful feeling cannot survive.

“Shame depends on me buying into the belief that I’m alone.”

To me the experiment showed the absolute power and medicine available through human connection, and how it all comes down to seeing with our hearts, not with our minds. From the mind judgements, stories and perceptions are formed, from the heart it’s impossible to not see the beauty and vulnerability of another human being standing before you.

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So what’s the point of an event like this? You spend a few hours looking into strangers eyes and then what? Well asides from the obvious benefit of feeling really relaxed, open and joyful…I think about how many people participated in just the 2 events I went to that day, and I think of the other 138+ events held all over the world. I think about the 100,000+ people that got behind the events…and I think about how many people they may talk to about their experience. I think about how many people may be inspired to simply try a little harder to make eye contact with strangers, or to hold eye contact with their loved ones just a little longer…now they’ve felt the sweetness of the heart…will they be tempted to try it again.

So I guess the question is not so much how do we return to the innocence of the child..but more like WHO, is prepared to return to that innocence, unashamed of our longing for human connection, to see and be seen…

if not you, who? and if not now, when? Be the change you want to see.

Don’t try to change anyone else, just recognise that your heart knows things your mind can’t understand…and let the HeArt SEEEEEEEEE and be seen.

Go on I dare you, make eye contact with a stranger…or next time you find yourself in conflict with a loved one… look into their eyes for a little longer than you normally would and see what the experience feels like for you. Can you love and honour the inner child in all of us just longing for human connection….

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‘Love’ by Alexandr Milov at Burning Man 2015

Deeply humbled by this human experience called life…I see you ❤