Friday, 31 December 2010

Getting out of my own way ... again!

My friend Debbie recently helped me learn a lesson I've grappled with for years.  When I want something to get better, to change, or when I need help, I pray.  And then, when life feels uncomfortable (and by that I mean, when life is not going my way) I think that my prayer hasn't be heard.  I wonder if I'm all alone... why others can manifest their desires, but I can't.

What she told me helped me understand the 'gritty moments' of life differently.  Einstein said that the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different outcome. If I want things to change, then I have be willing to let something different happen in my life in order to allow change to flow.

By allowing life to get a bit 'bumpy', I open myself up to something new.  I can regress and try to control events, to restore everything to the way I like it, but that's blocking change, evolution and growth.  It's closing the door on new opportunities and possibilities that might enrich me far more than the status quo.

It's challenging when life throws me a curve ball, and when I don't know what to do next.  But at least now, I can see those moments as doorways to an even fuller expression of who I am, into new experiences...

God is in the small things

It was meant to take five hours, door to door: it took 19 hours.  James and I were due to return home from Cork on December 19th - Snow-Swept-Saturday!  As a result of the snow, a trip that was already a wee bit challenging, took on a life of its own! 

We spent hours in airports and on the plane (5 of those hours just sitting on the tarmac in Cork Airport), and finding transport from Standstead was impossible. Perhaps it's because of hormones, new-mother-tiredness, or a combination of all the above, but I didn't feel as strong and resilient as I normally do that day. 

Yet traveling with an 8 week old baby wasn't as hard as it could have been: in all the chaos, waiting and crowds, there were so many tiny moments of grace ... a space to breast-feed in privacy in the middle of a crowded airport, strangers who volunteered to carry the pram down flights of stairs to and from the plane, a baby changing room appearing as if from nowhere, and James himself barely cried that day (which is unusual for him!)...

It was the sort of chaotic day I would rather not live through, but there will always be such days: days when everything falls apart, when it's seems so easy to feel alone and vulnerable, when the illusion that we are in control of our lives  is swept aside. 

Looking back on that day now, I see that I wasn't alone.  God was with me, in the small things.  Those small graces were an invitation to surrender to feeling powerless and put my trust beyond myself, to be willing to fall and trust that I would not be hurt. 

I didn't have to do it on my own.  I didn't have to have full control.  I could (and did) pray for help and then - and this was the tricky bit - trust that, when I took the first steps, help would arrive.  And it did - time and time again that day.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Invisible grace

It has been such a long time since I last posted: an indication of how time-intensive babies are!  What I have discovered about myself through pregnancy and giving birth is this: It is my challenges - the moments when I am required to go beyond my own limits, that are the doorways to grace, to an expanded, fuller version of who I am.

Giving birth was easily the most physically challenge event of my life.  It felt as if I kept going to my pain barrier and then had to go beyond it.  Time after time after time... I've never felt like my body so intensely before.  What amazed me was that I was able to go beyond my own limits, my own ideas of what I could or couldn't do.  My limits were figments of my imagination - not ultimate reality.

Since James has arrived, I guess I've been playing with my mental and emotional limits too!  The exhaustion, on top of a difficult birth, does test new mothers.  And I'm no exception.  But it is amazing how - yet again - I have been able to rise to the challenge. 

I really 'get' that having challenging experiences opens the doorway of grace. The grit isn't in vain, it allows me to create my own pearls!

No pictures this time as James is crying, so I need to go!  Wishing you a grace-full Christmas and New Year.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Life's little dress rehearsals

Life is not as random as we may imagine, I realise.  Nor are we as unprepared for its twists and turns as we think we are.

As I reflected on yesterday's blog, I realised that life is constantly preparing us for the next stage.  It is constantly providing us with new experiences and the opportunity to learn the skills that will enable us to deal with the next life stage... and the next... and the next...

As I said yesterday, realising that I have no control over when the baby decides to arrive is a lesson in acceptance and surrender... and we adults do like to have control over our lives.  But having children demands more acceptance and surrender than we normally experience as non-parents.

Equally, as a first time mother, the idea of caring for another human being sometimes overwhelms me, but I realise that, when I was single, I used to wonder about the limitations of being in a relationship.  Yet when I was in a relationship, I realised that what I had perceived as limitations previously actually didn't bother me; there was a deeper joy to be had in sharing life and love with someone.  Caring for a child has many of the same qualities I developed through relationships, it's just taking them a step further and providing me with an even deeper experience of caring.

At work we are often presented with challenges that seem just that bit bigger than we feel comfortable negotiating.  I remember flying to Toronto a few years ago to present my research findings to an international group of business executives - and I remember my anxiety before that presentation!  But what I forget is that most of these challenges simply build on smaller challenges that I have successfully navigated in the past: I forgot all my presentational experience prior to that!  This was just a slightly different twist on a well-known theme in my life.

As I reflect on my life, I see that I am never as deskilled or incapable as I imagine. Nor am I ever as abandoned by life as I imagine.  I already have building blocks in place to help me cope with each new challenge as and when it arises.

Life is kind, I believe, and it is always providing me with little dress rehearsals and then inviting me to apply what I have learnt in a slightly new or more dynamic way.  It would be more accurate to admit that I am just reluctant to grow sometimes: and it helps to remember that I already have the latent ability to surf the waves of life.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Notes to my unborn child: Excellence

Many people think of Excellence as a goal.  For others, it is a methodology.  I believe Excellence is an outcome.

Excellence is not something to pursue, in and of its own right.  It is the natural outcome when our actions are aligned with our passion and purpose, when what we do flows from the very essence of who we are.

What I have learnt about Excellence
There is no doubt that Excellence requires determination, hard work, passion, persistence and dedication.  In my experience, it's hard to sustain these characteristics for very long if we are operating on will power alone.  The effort becomes too great and either the task crushes us or find we have to leave it go.

The great insight for me has been the discovery that all those characteristics can actually flow from us lightly and gracefully, when we are engaged in tasks that we love, and when we are deeply committed to something that aligns with our sense of passion and purpose. 

It never ceases to amaze me that so much of life is about our attitude to what we are doing and who we are in that moment.  Excellence shows just how true that is...

My wish for you
My wish for you is so simple - that you be You, that you do what you love, what lights you up, what inspires you... then Excellence will flow through every aspect of your life simply because it is the inevitable outcome of living a life of joy and passion.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Due date ... plus one

The count down is over and there's not a lot to do but wait.  I'm struck by the fact that this requires impressive use of surrender and acceptance: both of which I assume are prerequisites for parenthood, so this is good practice!

As adults we're so used to establishing timetables and deadlines that we sometimes forget that not everything runs according to our plans.  And this couldn't be more true for children - another example of pregnancy preparing us for parenthood!

It's funny, but there are so many examples of 'life imitating parenthood' during pregnancy.  Another one is lack of sleep.  I know very few pregnant women, but of those I do know, none of them can sleep more than a few hours a night... we're already adapting to life with less sleep!

So, I'm making the most of the last few days (fingers crossed!) of feeling the baby moving inside.  And looking forward to regaining full use of my body - I'll be able to bend again!

Notes to my unborn child: Wisdom

I realise writing this blog that I know so little about the essence of wisdom that I am scarcely a good guide on this subject.  These few thoughts seem utterly inadequate to capture the depth and complexity of this subject, but hopefully they will point you in the right direction and then, one day, you can explain wisdom to me...

Wisdom is understanding the world through the eyes of the soul.  It is an understanding that is far more subtle than knowledge.  Knowledge is facts and figures.  Wisdom encompass knowledge, but it goes much further.  Wisdom sees through to the underlying truth of the universe.


What I have learnt about Wisdom
For me, Wisdom is the soul's knowing.  I think it is a divine gift but not everyone accesses it.  I  believe that we gain greater access to wisdom by standing back from knowledge and opinions, and becoming more reflective.  The less crowded our own minds are, the more space there is to connect with the Soul and to receive its wisdom.

Experiences can help us understand the world, though many just chase the experience and fail to allow its inner wisdom to unfold to them. 
Opinions are frequently open to change and challenge.  They are often loud and showy, and, at worst, they can be dangerous. 
Knowledge is more stable, but that too changes as we understand the world in new ways. 

For me, the hallmarks of wisdom are its grace, sensitivity, endurance, moderation and balance. 


What I wish for you
Wisdom is, I believe, one of the fruits of reflection and meditation.  Not that we even have to meditate actively; being open to hearing the soul's whispers is often enough.  It takes a while to learn to tune into this silent knowing, but it definitely worthwhile, as it will guide you far more gracefully through life than any decisions based on knowledge.

My wish for you is that you become aware of and listen to that 'little voice' inside, the hunches that may not make sense, but that roar in your belly.  These are just some of the ways you can connect to your soul's wisdom. 

And my greatest dream for you would be that you could live in that wisdom, that it is your inner guiding star through life, for it is the most eternal of truths.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Don't be afraid of fear

It's an odd thought, but it's true.  We are afraid of fear.  We are also afraid of pain.  Perhaps it's cultural or perhaps it's part of being human.  I'm not sure which. 

Since the Braxton Hicks (B-H) contractions started three weeks ago, I've noticed my own fear of pain rising.  It closes me down - the fear of the unknown and the fear of the pain, much less the experience of the pain itself!  My muscles lock.  My mind freezes.  I start into avoidance tactics. 

But the beauty of these blessed contractions, is that I've had the opportunity to face that part of myself that seems to unconsciously believe that fear (of the unknown) and pain, will somehow anihilate me.  That I won't make it through to the other side.  The tensing up seems to be an almost primal reaction to brace myself and to deflect the fear (denial!) and pain (paracetamol!), if possible.

What I have learnt is that I don't actually need to seize up in the face of fear or pain.  There is a way of softening to it, by noticing my unconscious reaction and then breathing out; by acknowledging that I'm scared and knowing I can get through to the other side, and by acknowledging the discomfort of the sensations, and knowing that they too will end.

In my mind, the metaphor is a surfer.  Massive waves are scary, as they can drown us.  And for most of us, I imagine we would panic upon seeing a wave towering above us.  It is not the wave that can annihilate us so much as our own panic.  Alternatively, we can be like the surfer, and channel the immense power of the wave.  We can ride it.  We can use its amazing power to experience the world anew. 

Giving birth for the first time is, in my experience, a challenge - the fear of the unknown, the pain, the horror stories... I could panic (and have done frequently!).  But I'm learning to surrender to its energy with each B-H series, I'm learning to let that energy flow through me rather than tensing when I encounter it.  And maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to ride it to the end and experience the high I get when I go beyond my limits and achieve what I thought was possible.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Control is the mind outside: Peace is our inner home

We love to have control.  Indeed we are obsessed with it.  We imagine it will bring us freedom.  We imagine it will bring us Peace.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Imagine a hurricane (this could be emotional as much as mental or physical).  The chaos that is caused by such personal 'hurricanes' is often due to our attachment as to how things 'should be'. 

In other words, the mind: it wants control over others, over events, over life.  It seeks to impose itself and its order.  It looks outside for control.  And this is the crucial element: control can never be found outside.  It is a distortion, it is a poor substitute for Peace, which is what our soul is really craving in times of chaos, stress, confusion and over-stimulation.

Peace, on the other hand is found inside.  It's not external.  It is personal.  No one else can create our peace.  We expand into peace.  And that peace gives us the strength to stay centred during hurricanes, to accept the decisions and actions of others, knowing that they too are on their own path (not the ones we think they should be on - and that's a big difference!).

So, how do we create Peace?  There are a couple of basic things we can do to facilitate and increase our sense of peace.

The First Step is letting go of the mental story - 'how it should be'.  This is an illusion, a story created by our mind, and it has no reality beyond the reality it has in our thoughts.

The Second Step is to accept what is... surrender to it.  We can fight What Is, but What Is always wins!  It's far wiser to allow What Is to move around us, rather like the wind stretching and bending reeds.  When we can flow with What Is, we create less resistance and less resistance creates less distortion.  Acceptance and surrender ultimately allow us to generate more ease and grace in life, and less chaos, strife and striving.  Acceptance and surrender also allow others to find their own inner balance more quickly and easily than if we tell them how they 'should be'.

The Third Step is harnessing the physical mechanism to root that experience of peace within - and it couldn't be simpler.  It's our breath!  
We breathe in peace.  
We breathe out acceptance. 
In. 
And Out. 
Peace. 
Acceptance. 
Our breath refocuses us on the present moment.  On the essence of life itself.  And away for the mental 'story' we would otherwise be tempted to impose on the world around us.
 
As with so much of life, it's often harder to remember the easy steps!  And yet, as I sometimes panic and worry about the huge life change approaching, I am grateful for the opportunity to remember to surrender.  To remember to Breathe.  I am grateful for the understanding that I have a choice in how I choose to respond to my fears and fantasies.  I can soften into acceptance.  I can surrender control and embrace peace.  One breath at a time!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Notes to my unborn child: Light

If you open the door from a room in darkness into a room bathed in light, the darkness does not rush in and absorb the light.  Rather, the light saturates the darkness, transforming it.

Prehistoric monuments, from the pyramids to Stonehenge, even the ancient science of astronomy, show just how much attention we humans have lavished on following and understanding light.  Our relationship to light is as primal and as instinctive as our relationship to air.

One of the interesting complexities of the concept of light is that has often been associated with the divine, across civiliations, cultures and time.  The age in which we live, and into which you are coming, is no different.  We are still fascinated by the concept and complexity of light.


What I have learnt about light
For most of my life, I have had a preference for focusing on the light - or that which is positive and redeeming - in any happening.  It took me many years to understand that light and darkness co-exist and that we need to acknowledge the darkness, what is muddy, murky and unpleasant in life, before we can let it go and embrace the light.  Simply bouncing in and looking for the light is not enough for most people - we need to acknowledge the shadow consciously, in order to release it and move on.

I've also discovered that people need varying amounts of time in the shadow.  For some, the simple acknowledgement that it is there is enough.  Others feel the need to submerge themselves in the shadows.  Yet we all find our way to the light, somehow.


There is a dance between light and shadow.  I used to be afraid of the shadows, of darkness, but I fear it less now.

What I wish for you
My wish for you is that you can acknowledge the shadows, but set your compass by the light.  Although unpleasant things may occur in life, I hope that you will be able to move swiftly and gracefully through them, by looking for the emerging potential, the possible good, the Light, in any situation. 

I hope that you will, from a young age, understand that much of life's darkness is simply created by our thoughts, and we are free to choose where we put our focus - Do we dwell on the darkness?  Or do we embrace the light and move towards the joy and love, the divine essence, of being human?

Monday, 4 October 2010

The heart's secret door

After nine months, we have arrived.  This is week 39, and we only have one week to go.  Indeed, the midwife thinks this will be an early baby, so it could happen any day.

This weekend we had what may be our last weekend as a couple, before we become a family.  Moments of transition often have a surreal quality, I find.  They are utterly 'normal', because they flow naturally from how my daily life, yet those mundane moments also seem more intense because - although the actions may be mundane and may be repeated - they will have an almost subtly different quality to them because the very fabric of my life has shifted and evolved. 

And so it was with this weekend.  We did our weekend chores, we ate, we slept (as much as large bumps allow!) and we looked out to the future, wondering how it would be... We can't imagine what it will be like to be responsible for a child.  A deep blessing, a challenge, a joy...

The most beautiful description I have heard of having a child comes from Fre, who will be the baby's Godfather. 

He described fatherhood like this, "You love your parents, you love your wife, but when you have a child, it is as though a secret door in your heart opens and a love you never imagined you could feel pours forth."

And so, we wait, knowing that each moment brings us closer to experiencing these new depths of love.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

On the lighter side

I'm now at 38 weeks - just 11 days to go!  And I find it quite amusing to see how life changes as my circumfrance changes!

Small things in life can become greater challenges.  Socks are now out, except at weekends, as I need help to get them on.  Well, technically, I can do it myself, but the level of discomfort involved has meant that I don't! 

Equally, I think twice and even three times before picking something up off the floor.  Nor is the route to the floor so graceful... bending is out of the question, so it resembles a mid-air three-point-turn, as I coordinate knees and hands down to the ground.  I was unimpressed at the weekend when, delighted to have retrieved the button, I lost my balance as I slowly started to stand up!  My centre of gravity has moved!

And speaking of moving, as the baby grows, I would have imagined there was much less space for him...  Not is his* opinion, he's moving around as if it were the South Pacific in there!  On the other hand, I can't breathe properly any more, so I sound as though I have altitude sickness, even when I'm in bed!  And my stomach and bowels are, to be polite, constricted!

But I have new talents too!  I can balance my stomach on the kitchen counter!  It's just a shame that I discovered that ability while standing close to the cooker!  I am now at the point where small, light objects can be transported on top of my stomach - who needs a third hand?!

As for Braxton-Hicks contractions... who knew there were so many different types?  There are ones that seize up the back, there are lower abdominal contractions, there are even upper abdominal contractions!  And, because I have no idea what early labour feels like, I imagine each and every new set of cramps to be the start of labour.  At least I'm not dragging Dirk home from work each time I experience a new twinge: he'd spend more time on the tube than at work if that were the case!

It even feels as though we are living in a hotel at the moment... I have developed a wee obsession with cleanliness and tidiness - not that I'm a very messy person anyway - but right now, it's all got to look perfect when the baby comes home, as the baby's eyesight extends 20 cm, there's a rich irony it his lack of ability to appreciate his gleaming home-coming!  But the flat has to stay perfect each and every day, as I never know when the great moment will arrive!  It's a good job I don't have to balance this cleaning with a job!!

As I write all this, I have a huge smile on my face.  This is an adventure and a privilege.  I am excited to share my body with this baby, and deeply honoured that he's chosen us to be his parents.  I am also in a state of awe...


What astounds me is how this whole process - from conception to fetal growth to birth - happens in spite of me!  There really is nothing I need to do - the process is unfolding according to its own wisdom.  And, in a certain moment, the baby will emit a hormone that says he's ready to be born, and my body will respond with hormones to make that happen.  How subtle a process, for a baby to 'decide' the moment has arrived and announce it with something as minute as a chemical change... There is something both primal and yet simultaneously sacred about the deep, unconscious 'knowing' of this entire process.  And the realisation of how I can over complicate life by over-thinking it!

This truly has been a miraculous journey, a dance that I am elated to have danced because, regardless of how complicated the steps were, or how I felt I messed them up, I have been enriched immeasurably by this experience.  And they say the best is yet to come...!

This sacred moment

Yesterday morning, the cramps across my abdomen woke me from a restless sleep at 3.30am.  After an hour, I decided that this might actually be 'It'.  So I got up and lined the bed with towels, just in case my water broke unexpectedly! 

The cramps neither intensified or disappeared.  Dirk went to work and, as the hours passed, I wondered how to truly honour this event, how to acknowledge the sacredness of a life emerging.

Should I stay in a semi-meditative state?  Listen to calming music?  Or would sacred music be better?

In the event, Nothing happened.   It was just more muscle practice as my body prepares itself for the great event. 


Which led me to the question: How do we honour a sacred moment? 

I would argue that every moment is a sacred moment, if only we weren't so busy rushing through it to get to the next moment.  I am acutely aware of my desire to rush through this 'waiting period', these last days of pregnancy, maybe even the birth itself, in order to meet the baby. 

And what then, will I rush through his/her infancy?  Toddlerhood?  School years?...

So how do I honour the millions of sacred moments I'm living, as I live them?  I think it's probably deceptively simple - which is why I struggle with it!  I suspect that it's about bringing my attention to the present moment.  It is about simply slowing down enough to notice what is happening right now, rather than missing it because I'm too busy planning for the future or remembering the past. 

Bringing our attention to the Now is nothing new.  Eckhart Tolle writes beautifully on the subject.  The challenge is to implement such a simple practice.  It's about slowing down.  It's about noticing, softly, that I'm excited, that I'm apprehensive, that I'm cleaning the bathroom again... This noticing has a gentle quality to it: it is accepting, it is compassionate, it is even humourous.

I appreciate how great an honour it is to be pregnant, knowing how difficult it can be to get pregnant.  I also know this may be my one and only experience of pregnancy.  For me, the best way to honour this (and every) moment, is to notice it; to become gently aware of it, rather than lose the moment as my mind sweeps ahead of where I AM now... 

And perhaps, in that noticing, in that gentle awareness, the sacred nature of each moment can begin to reveal itself to me more fully: the richness, vibrancy and wonder of life, however mundane it may seem, can touch my heart in a way that I cannot appreciate when I'm too busy rushing through life, searching out its 'high-points' and missing the wonder of Now.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Notes to my unborn child: Being Openness

Hello Dear One,

I had no sooner closed down the computer yesterday after finishing my note to you, than I realised I had made the classic mistake: I had focused on Doing Openness, and never mentioned Being Openness.

We live in a society that is almost obsessed with doing.  Unless we are active, on the move, pursuing goals and dreams, it seems to me that we are viewed as unproductive.  But activity for its own sake, simply to be seen to be actively 'doing' or 'busy', can be hollow and meaningless.


What I have learnt about Being Openness
Endless activity is possible - even if it's in the exploration of 'Openness' ... Closedness'!  For me, the most meaningful and rewarding actions I've undertaken have always flowed from my 'Beingness', first and foremost.  So rather than chase experiences, simply to 'show off' those experiences, like a collection of sports cars, I suggest starting with Being Openness.

For me, Being Openness encompasses mental, emotional and spiritual openness.  It is about our willingness to see beyond the limits of our own thoughts, beyond the barriers and walls that we create, and becoming open to understanding how others understand their lives and the world around them.

As I begin to see the world unfurl in new ways, simply through being Open to how others experience the world, it inspires within me the desire to experience the world in different ways.  Activities that are prompted by this curiosity, interest or even passion, have been much richer and more nourishing than any activities I've undertaken to avoid boredom, to avoid being alone or to avoid being perceived as lazy and unproductive.


What I wish for you
I would wish for you that your Doing Openness would stem from your Being Openness.  Rather than chasing experiences simply to accumulate experiences, I would encourage you to choose activities and experiences that resonate with you at a Being level first and foremost, experiences that pique your curiosity, that inspire you and that draw you towards them; such activities will always enrich and nourish your spirit, heart and mind deeply. 

Even if events do not turn out as you plan, your ability to reflect on them and to make meaning from them, by Being Open to What Is, ensures they will be deeply nourishing and will have brought you the experiences that were most aligned with your soul's journey at that moment.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Notes to my unborn child: Openness

Hello Little One!

Today we're exploring the idea of openness.  It's easy to say, 'be open to all life has to offer'.  But it's so much harder to do!  As we get older, in my 40 years of experience, I've noticed we can get a little too comfortable with what we know, with our routine, with the familiar...

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, we begin serving our routines: we can't go to this play because it will end after we normally go to bed, we can't go to that film because we don't know anything about Japanese cinema, we can't visit that country because we don't know the language/cuisine/culture...

And slowly, our worlds shrink.  Our curiosity is dulled.  We repeat the same conversations.  We lose the opportunity to expand our thinking and to challenge ourselves to go beyond our self-imposed limits.  We no longer see the world through the eyes of children, where anything is possible.  We see the world through the eyes of fear, control and predictability.

What I have learnt about Openness
Yet again, I must be honest and say that I speak from personal experience above... I have to admit to limiting the adventures and opportunities I've been willing to have for some very small reasons - fear, comfort...

But I have seen wonderful rolemodels.  Luke, my brother, is always willing to take on new challenges and, as a result, he's had experiences ranging from working in an orphanage in Belarus to climbing Machu Picchu.  Alex did a tour of the world with Maya, her first child, when she was just 6 weeks old.  Laura Huxley used to put vegetable leftovers into glass jars so she could marvel at the forms and colours they took on as they decomposed!

And in the moments when I been open to life, to experimenting with something new, I've always been enriched by the process.  I've learnt something.  I've expanded who I am and how I understand the world.  And I've felt a little bit of a fizzle inside, at the sheer joy of being open to life!  Like trying to waterski, seeing a great Japanese film from the 1950s, learning some Portugese and Dutch...


What I wish for you
By all means, have a routine that works for you.  But let it serve you, don't become a slave to your routines...

I wish that you retain a curiosity about life, an openness to hear new ideas, to experience new adventures and that your life does not shrink to fit around a 9-5 job... that you still experience excitement, challenges and new thoughts. 

There are infinite possibilities available to us.  Stay open to them.  Let life fizzle within you, around you...

Monday, 27 September 2010

Beyond fear


Well, having thought the baby was on the way, I was wrong!  It was a false alarm.  However, false alarms, just like 'real' alarms, can evoke fear...

Having a baby is traditionally seen as a painful process and, at the point where I thought that was the road I was about to journey down, I could feel the fear rising in me.  How would I cope with the pain?  How would I cope with the baby when s/he was here? 

Irrational, unspecific, generalised feelings of anxiety, insecurity and fear arose within me.  I even remember one moment when I briefly wondered if I could put off the birth! 

This wasn't how I had planned it! 

And more importantly, this wasn't who I wanted to be in this situation. 

What I learnt was this: I noticed I was afraid, and that noticing automatically meant that there was a distance between 'me' and the 'fear'.  Sure, it was a part of me, but it wasn't all of me.  There was also the part of me that was observing the fearfulness.  That opening, gave me a way to go beyond the fear, to understand that it wasn't all of me, I could choose to breathe deeply and trust myself in an unknown situation.

Right now, I'm focused on the potential challenges of birth, but I'm equally aware that new beginnings in general can evoke some fearfulness in any of us.  I know they do for me!  This experience was particularly strong for me: in that moment, I clearly understood that although fear can seem to have a firm hold, the moment we notice our fear, we have begun to move beyond it and into a place of deeper wisdom and knowing.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

One flew into the cuckoo's nest...

The smart people fly over the cuckoo's nest.  The not-so-bright fly in!  Guess where I was yesterday?! As I perched on a chair to clear out a remote kitchen cupboard, I did feel as though I was being a tad irrational, that I had tumbled into the nest...

This week I started 'nesting'... suddenly nothing was clean enough and everything had to be cleaned.  Again!

So in the past four days I've done about 8 loads of washing, bleached the bathroom, cleaned out the fridge and freezer... you get the picture.  Yesterday, perched on a chair, I decided to tackle the highest kitchen cupboards.  I say 'I decided to', but I'm not clear how much discretion I actually had in the decision - it was more like a deep internal compulsion than a rational decision.

As I balanced there, I gradually became aware of impressive waves of pain encircling my back.  It took a little longer for me to realise these might be early labour pains; as I'm only just 37 weeks, this is a bit earlier than even I had planned! 

It was my reaction to this realisation that intrigued me.  I suddenly panicked: not because birth was imminant, but because I may not get everything clean before the birth!

I was timing the contractions (every 12 minutes) yet I still felt compelled to finish the cupboard, change the bed linen and put on another load of washing before allowing myself to relax.

As the waves ebbed and flowed throughout the day, I became lightly obsessed with the cupboard that had 'got away'.  By 3.30pm there was still no real progression, so I did the last wash and finished that cupboard.  Now I was ready to devote myself to the birthing process.  But it wasn't ready for me!

It's mid-day on Thursday 23rd, as I write.  And I'm still at home.  No real movement yet, so I can only assume that the process is unfurling in tune with its own inner knowing. 

The process of birthing is a new journey for me.  It has intrigued and excited me for a while... as well as intimidating me.  I deeply believe that it is in moments of duress, or exceptional moments, that we have the opportunity to reach towards who we wish to be... we can go beyond our conditioned patterns and step into the person 'we wish we were'.  And that is my vision for this birth.

I noticed yesterday (once I got over the Mother Hen Nesting SuperEgo phase) that who I want to be through this process is a strong, supple and focused woman.  But rather than searching for that inside, rather than 'becoming' that person, which - to me - implies active mental effort, I wish to be that woman. 

By this I mean that I wish to get out of my own way... to allow the process to unfold gracefully around me... to slip below the voices of fear-of-pain, panic-with-the-unknown, and any other voices grappling for control and 'ownership' of this process.

I am choosing, so far, to let these voices go whenever they begin to screech in my mind.  As they speak up, I focus on being physical and emotional softness... on breathing... on letting all that is superfulous melt away.  How this process will work when the intensity changes, I don't know, but what a blessing to have this journey to play with, to explore...

Last night, my friend Georgeanne dreamt that it would be a very easy birth, and I dreamt that my grandmother, who died 18 years ago, came to me and told me, "Everything is going to be alright". 

These are subtle gifts that inspire me and give me hope... this process is unfolding in accordance with an inner wisdom and all I need do is surrender the desire for control, accept that a greater wisdom is conducting this symphony, and allow that wisdom to embrace me and work through me.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Notes to my unborn child: Vulnerability

Hello again, my little one! 

If there is one thing I have learnt about life, it is that we live in a world of paradoxes.  And none are more striking than the paradox that vulnerability is not only a sign of strength, but also creates strength.

Let me explain: we live in a society that is dominated by images of perfection and power.  However, the reality is that none of us are perfect, except in our imperfection.  Nor do any of us hold ultimate power: power moves from person to person, depending on circumstances. 


What I have learnt about Vulnerability
Because so many of us feel we need to be perfect, to be powerful, we hide away all those aspects of ourselves that are less than perfect, as if we are ashamed of them.  As if they make us a 'failure', or weaken us in some way.

When someone has the courage to be honest, to speak of their fears, insecurities or confusion, they are showing their vulnerability.  That honesty is incredibly powerful.  Most of us lack the courage to be so honest.  And it is for that reason that, in owning our own vulnerability, we can also own our own power. 

This is because we are being authentic, congruent and speaking with integrity.  No amount of show-man-ship can ever usurp the quiet, dignified powerfulness that eminates from being authentic, even if it is to own our vulnerability. 

I suspect this is for two reasons: first, because it takes courage to be authentic.  And second,  because everyone has areas of our lives where we feel vulnerable.  When we acknowledge our own vulnerability, we make it acceptable for others to own theirs, to be more authentic, and for transformation to occur.

What I wish for you
My heart-felt wish for you is that you understand the true nature of power.  It does not arise from force, fear or flattery; genuine power comes from deep within, when you understand and can acknowledge who you are, with integrity and authenticity, and when you allow others to be who they are, with acceptance and trust. 

Vulnerability is not something to be feared or exploited: it is a part of the human condition.  It points towards opportunities for growth and exploration, as much as for compassion and understanding.

Notes to my unborn child: Flexibility

"In matters of opinion, go with the flow.  In matters of principle, stand firm like a rock"   
Paramhansa Yogananda 

I can think of no greater advice than this, dear child, it has helped me enormously.  

Flexibility is like bubbles in champagne: they animate, they bring sparkle, they joyfully explode in different directions.  And so it is with life: it can be a sparkling, joyful, animated affair, as long as we are open to it, engaged with it and playing with life.  The key to that openess is Flexibility.  

As we get older there is a real danger that that we think we have 'learnt life's lessons', we know how the world works.  But what many of us are really doing is limiting our choices, closing down our boundaries... in sum, we are becoming more rigid.  To live without flexibility, without a willingness to experiment, a curiousity to discover the new, is to wring all the joy out of life.


What I have learnt about Flexibility
I have areas of my life where I am open and flexible, where I believe anything is possible - and so I am often surprised and amazed by life.  There are other areas where I am closed, and in those areas, there are less surprises and gifts!


If I have had one challenge, it is learning when to be flexible and when to stand in a firm, centred sense of Self.  Possibly because 'Agreeableness' is possibly one of my strongest character traits, I've had to learn how to balance pleasing others with pleasing myself.  


I used to be infinitely flexible in an attempt to make others happy, without always realising that I was resentful of going too far for them and not far enough for myself and my happiness.  The quote above really helped me understand flexibility in a new light, and how to use this value with more discernment.


Flexibility is a wonderful blessing, and like any other blessing, it has taken me time to understand how to use it effectively, as a skill or a tool, that enhances life for all, rather than feeling as though it owns me.  



My wish for you
My wish for you is very simple - that you remain supple and open to life's possibilities, with the wonder and curiosity of a child.  Life only closes down and becomes predictable when we close down and become predictable. 


If caterpillars refused to change, we would have no butterflies!


So allow yourself the luxury of personal challenges, of exploration, of going beyond your comfort zone, and of attempting what others think is impossible.  If you can remain open and flexible, you will be able to relish life and its dazzling gifts most fully.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Notes to my unborn child: Determination

Determination... now there's a powerful value.  Never underestimate the power of determination in your life: it will help you overcome all sorts of obstacles.  It is like rocket fuel.  Your passion ignites your engine, but it is your determination that will enable you to turn your dreams into reality.

Determination is less about hard work, and more about a complete commitment to your vision.  

The most radical aspect of determination is that it transforms obstacles into solutions-waiting-to-be-born.  When determination is aligned with passion, purpose, and joy, it acts like a lubricant, helping you to overcome obstacles with ease.  When you have a dream, but no determination, each obstacle will make you question whether you should follow that dream or not.  When you are determined to realise that dream, the obstacles are no longer as big or as daunting; they melt into challenges that help you uncover new ways of being and doing.  Determination opens doors that you cannot even imagine before you embark on a particular journey.
What I have learnt about Determination
When I was doing my final exams in school, my teachers thought I was a pretty average student (at best!).  One evening in September, a friend of Dad's came for supper.  He was a pilot.  Listening to him speak, I decided then and there that I wanted to be a pilot too.

I became determined to be a pilot.  That meant I had to work incredibly hard to gain the grades necessary.  Weekends, evenings, holidays... I studied constantly.  It was hard work, but my determination to achieve my goal meant that I could work that hard, that passionately, and not feel that it was a burden.  Determination dissolved any sense of burden.

As you may know, I didn't become a pilot!  I did get spectacular exam results, but I failed the aptitude test!  And here is the second learning I received: pursuing a goal (even if others say it is unrealistic) is always worthwhile, even if we don't achieve that goal.  The journey will bring us to where we are meant to be.  And each journey will open up new opportunities and enrich our character.


What I wish for you
My wish for you is that you play with determination.  That you discover, through the course of your life, visions, goals and dreams that you decide to pursue with determination.  

My wish for you is that experience the sense of fulfillment and exhileration that comes from committing to something you believe in whole-heartedly, whether you appear to succeed or to fail.

Remember, it is often the journey that matters more than the destination.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Notes to my unborn child: Balance

Ah, my Little One, now this value is a gem. 

For many, I think, Balance means being 'rounded': for example, being involved in sports, art, community work, friendships... and finding a way to juggle these different aspects of life so that we are 'balanced'.

I see it very differently.  There are some people who are born with rounded personalities: they are interested in many different aspects of life.  This is indeed a great gift.  And there are others, many more, I imagine, who are interested in just one or two different things.  Then there are others, who discover a passion for one aspect of life.

Passion and balance don't seem to go together very well on the surface but, at a deeper level, I see tremendous harmony between them. For me, Balance is a feeling of inner freedom.  Your life may revolve around your passion, your family and friends... you may have no real interest in other areas of life.  And I don't think that matters so much, if you feel that you are free inside.  If you feel that life simply flows through you, because you are loving what you are doing when you do it, then I believe you have found your Balance.

Too many people make themselves ill, tried and grumpy trying to fit in all the different activities they feel they should do in order to be Balanced.  This is a mind game, the ego trying to achieve control, prestige...  I suspect it's missing the very point.

Search instead for the feeling of inner freedom - there is your Balance, your Centred Point.


What I have learnt about Balance
I will be brutally honest.  I'm not great on Balance.  I'm one of those people who have searched for 'Balance' in all the wrong places.  I've thought it was about being 'rounded' and interested in many things.  I've thought it was finding a sense of spiritual peace through meditation.  It was only in writing this piece for you that I finally came to understand it differently.

It was only last night that I understood that Balance is a sense of inner freedom, a feeling of lightness and spaciousness with life.  Not a life crammed with 'should', 'must', or 'oughts'; but a life that honours the unique gifts I have to offer, a life that makes my passions, delights and gifts the foundation stone of my daily thoughts and actions.  It's a liberating insight... I wonder how it will work out in reality.

What I wish for you
You are a gift to the world.  Your coming is a unique moment that will never be repeated.  And your life purpose and legacy is as unique as you are.  My wish is that you discover your own Balance, that you learn to discern when you feel centred, when you feel free - where life is effortless, simply because you are living in your own flow. 

Then you will have achieved Balance.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Labour of Language

Language is paradoxical.  We need it to describe life.  Yet it can only ever be a mere description, a shadow of an event; it can never be the event itself.

Yet language has profound power to shape how we experience life events.  It creates expectations, whether good or bad, almost before we know it.  It sets the stage, creates the atmosphere and it can even pre-programme our physical, emotional and mental reactions to events.

With only 4-5 weeks left before the baby's birth day, I find myself increasingly concerned by the language of birth. 

The concept of Labour has the immediate effect of putting me off giving birth: the word Labour carries within it the unpleasant, ardous, grey and, quite possibly, thankless odour of great physical toil.

The concept of Contractions, literally closes me down at an unconscious level.  A contraction is about closing down, the word evokes smallness, constriction, closure and narrowness.  Surely this is exactly the opposite of child birth.

Birth is expansive, it is regenerative... It affirms humanity's existance and ensures our future.  It propogates our species.  Why does the language used to describe this event embody the very antithesis of this primary biological function?

What if labour was called birthing?  Rather than hard graft, birthing evokes the hope, joy and newness that accompany child-birth.

What if contractions were called surges?  Rather than the body closing down, it is in fact, opening up.  It is expanding, growing, and pushing forth new life.  It has its own rhythm. It is a dance that neither the mother nor the child need to coordinate, they simply need to be willing to be led, as the steps unfold in this most intimate dance of life.

The very language used to describe birth may accurately describe many women's experience of birth.  But this may also be because that very language set, created the expectation of those negative experiences.  Could we not reconceptualise the dance of birth by replacing the hard cold language with ideas and words that point towards the inherently expansive potential of the moment? 

Having never experienced childbirth, I appreciate I may seem naive.  I'm happy to be naive.  I'm happy to consider the possiblity that while this may be one of the most physically challenging events of my life, it is a great gift and, furthermore, that my body can cope with that challenge with some degree of grace and inner wisdom. 

They thought humans could not run a mile in under 4 minutes.  Until humans did.  In decades to come, will we also look back with wonderment at  the negative and painful portrayal of childbirth that, unsurprising, may have created negative and painful experiences of childbirth?

Notes to my unborn child: Willingess

To be honest, my dearest, I was surprised when this value popped up today.  It's definitely not one of the more common values we speak about, yet it does permeates our entire lives.

Willingness is rather like Acceptance but, for me, it has a much more dynamic energy to it.  Acceptance of what is, is a crucial life skill.  But Willingness asks us to whole-heartedly embrace that reality, to dance with it, to become a partner to what is, and create something even more splendid through the very act of dancing joyfully with reality.

What I have learnt about Willingness
I believe that I have spent too much of my time and energy wishing life were different.  It is only now, after four decades, that I am finally realising that I can disagree with reality all I like, I can fight it, I can even pray for reality to be different, but reality will always win!  Accepting what is, rather than rejecting it, is a crucial first step in living a life of joy and delight. 

The second step is Willingness.  For me, this is about embracing my reality; it is not about running from it, hiding from it or wishing it were different.  But diving into it and exploring the life circumstances in which I find myself.  Not pulling agasint them, but actively playing with them...

Willingness is a gateway to a different kind of experience where I can watersurf with the waves rather than exhaust myself swimming against them.


What I wish for you
For you, I wish that life is a dance.  That you embrace each moment you live fully.  The more whole-hearted your embrace, the greater the joy you will experience, as you live in the flow of life.

There are always experiences that we find challenging, but even then, if you can accept these moments and allow them to teach you, rather than wish they were over or pretend they aren't happening, you will have created a miracle.  You will have done the work of the Alchemist, turning coal into gold.