“Stay Home”

Day one of at least four weeks of “at home”/self-isolation, and I am aware of a variety of feelings. I feel anxious for my loved ones who are, because of age and/or health vulnerability, facing high risk should they be exposed to the COVID-19 virus. My father, in England, has been diagnosed with terminal colon cancer, and my coping strategy is to pragmatically recognise he won’t be around much longer, nor will I be going to his funeral. Whether it is COVID-19 or something else, there will be death in my family. Under that matter-of-fact exterior, my fabrication to avoid the true nature and significance of his diagnosis, and the risk to others in my family, is an anxious, vigilant system. My gut is tense, in a knot. My chest is tight, a physical indicator of some degree of panic. When I allow myself to soften into my body and acknowledge anxiety and panic, I am aware of a general sense of discombobulation, and a deep sadness. I had a video encounter with a friend and realised I was angry and judgmental of someone else. In noting and acknowledging that reactive behaviour, tension in me dissolved and I was able to reclaim my power and drop the unproductive behaviour.

View from COVID-19 isolation
Sunset of Day 1 of COVID-19 Isolation

I am also deeply grateful. I live in New Zealand where the government has enacted a very clear isolation policy. No mealy-mouthed politicking here. No pandering to lobbyists that may want relief that serves their self-interests. The simple message: unless you are an essential service provider, STAY HOME! The job of all is to save lives. With COVID-19 infection numbers rising, community spread becoming more apparent, our job is “STAY HOME to SAVE LIVES”. I am grateful to live in a country where all parties have seemingly united in a single, unified approach, and that life matters more than fiscal or economic factors. We certainly have rescue packages for people and business, but saving lives is a humane desire, and provides us with valuable work and purpose. New Zealand is focused on doing what it takes to save lives. For most of us, that is STAY HOME! What a fabulously simple, clear, purpose-filled message. As I drove home from food shopping yesterday, an electronic motorway sign flashed “Keep Calm, Be Kind”, and I felt grateful to be in a country where those simple words did not feel out of place as a road sign. Pretty cool really. There are people in charge of nations on this planet that seem to lack any sense of kindness, empathy or concern for others, not leaders in any true sense of the word, but in charge, nevertheless. I do live in a land with leadership. It is wonderful to see consistent, unifying, purposeful messaging everywhere. I feel grateful to be queuing at a supermarket, waiting 2 metres from those either side, with diversity of age, ethnicity and culture so apparent, with so much generosity and kindness, patience and consideration, visible. I am aware of other places where impatience, anxiety and panic create different outcomes. I am grateful that has not been my experience.

It does bring me to the point of this piece. As much as I may be a jumble of emotions, shaken and stirred by events around me, and by future negative impacts on those I love, I remain responsible for my actions. We each remain responsible for our actions. Survival reactions (FIGHT, FLIGHT, FREEZE and FABRICATE) are so easy to fall into because there is plenty to encourage such behaviour. The Thrive responses (ASSERT, ATTEND, ACT and AUTHENTICATE) are available to us by maintaining awareness of ourselves and making conscious choices of how we will be with ourselves and others. Thrive responses are a manifestation of our personal power. If ever there was a time to truly stay in our personal power and create positive outcomes for ourselves and others, now is surely such a time.

Today I noticed my emotions bubbling up and trying to get the better of me, and I chose to intervene on myself, and offer myself space to self-sooth. What strategies will you use to own and tame your inner world and be emotionally intelligent in how you function? What purpose gives you energy and supports you make choices based on thriving rather than surviving? Even if you are not blessed to be in a country like mine, not perfect, but working hard to be humane in this challenging time, what good are you going to create for yourself? For your family? For your community? I wish the best for all of you, knowing full well that it cannot be the best outcome for all. I wish it all the same.

Do I Matter?

Diving into darkness
Willing to dive deep

I know I have asked myself the question ‘Do I matter?’ from time to time. I know of other’s who also find themselves struggling with that question. At such times it seems common to look outside for evidence, and when we actively look it seems that often the world conspires to assert that we indeed don’t matter. Hmm! What to do?

The best person, and only person capable of truly affirming your value, is you. Other people may help, may provide support, may be there at times to lift you when down, but no one other than you is always with you. The challenge is finding the truth of your value within yourself when all your learned behaviours and protective patterns support your fear that you do not matter. And when you do negatively judge yourself that is when you seem to draw negativity towards you like a massive, unrelenting magnet. Even more important then, it is crucial that you are able to connect with yourself, with your needs, and dive below the seaweed of fear and muddiness of hurt to the place of unencumbered beauty and light that does exist deep within you. First you must step into the apparent darkness to find it.

What do you identify with as defining your value? Do you refer to external feedback and measures such as popularity, praise from others, financial or other success, possessions, rivalry with and one-upmanship of others? Do you have access to your own inner voice that speaks to you of your value irrespective of the feedback from the outside world? Can you weather the buffeting of an unwelcoming or critical world that rips you down rather than builds you up? When the world does turn on you, how do you find your worth then? How do you remain connected with or reconnect with your worth and that you matter in those dark moments?

One key thing at such times is to truly love and accept yourself as you are. If you have hit a dark patch you may well be working really hard to do the right thing. You may find that lots of energy and activity is undertaken in an effort to save yourself from the abyss you secretly fear will swallow you? You may be using distraction and procrastination to avoid engaging with your fear of your circumstances. You may know you must work hard and then get annoyed as you get distracted by petty diversions you know do not help. You may work really hard to help others at your own expense (because there are things you need to be doing for yourself) so that even if you perish you know you’re a worthy being. Whatever your pattern, however you manifest your inability to apply yourself as effectively and productively as you know you should, love yourself for who you are. Accept yourself as you are. Forgive yourself for your shortcomings. Show true compassion to yourself. Open your heart to your own inner self, and drop any expectation of any particular performance. Reconnect with yourself, and recognise should, must and other such directive words are from your critic. They lack love, and will not support you as a person who is currently hurting. Own up to your pain, to the emptiness within, and pour the light of your own love into your soul. If you do have a friend who can support you in that moment all the better, but there is not greater gift that you can offer yourself than to love yourself in that moment when you do not feel worthy of it. Then you get to start learning how much you matter to yourself, and actually begin to demonstrate that it is true, attend to yourself and your needs in a gentle and authentic manner.

Stirring the Pot

I was chatting with my wife Juanita after she returned from a psychodrama training session. She had enjoyed playing the role of a dog. The dog loved their owner, but felt peaceful as it stayed outside the dramas occurring around it. I remember when I learned for myself that I habitually took an idea and stirred it up in my own mind. This had the effect of making my mind very busy, gave the false impression I was doing something useful, and it destroyed any possibility of peace. I realised that even when I could be peaceful I would habitually stir things up to keep my mind busy. Sometimes it felt like I was being dragged by a herd of wild horses, and they were in charge of my life.

Wild and untamed horses
Wild and untamed horses

This is the mechanism used when you worry, the endless and repetitive process of pouring over “what if” scenarios in a mind numbingly unproductive manner. The mind is busy but no new information is introduced. It eases when the mind gets bored with the process, though in true worry the mind moves on to a different topic, even if only subtly so. It is colloquial to say “I feel worried”. However, worry is a state of mind, a mental process, not a feeling. Feelings that underpin worry include scared, anxious, petrified and any number of other expressions of fear. And beneath all of that is a question the mind is attempting to answer. Similar processes occur with grief as the mind seeks to locate meaning from amidst the hurt. An element of relief occurs when some new and satisfying way of framing the pain is identified.

I learned I could step out of those processes, worry and grief, and bring myself some space and peace. The mind will still want to find its way out of the state, but introducing space, and watching the process from the outside, can provide a powerful way for reigning in the untamed mental energy. It can help if the question the mind seeks to answer can be identified. Often the driving question has absolutely no merit. Or from the sideline, and in a loving way, you make the observation to your mind that it is caught in a another fruitless pattern, and invite it to stop. Meditation is a useful tool for developing the capacity to observe the mind without buying into its story.

Another side to this is being able to recognise when someone else is working from a place of worry, grief or other form of mental drama, and making your own conscious choice to not participate. That does not mean you cannot support and assist them. In such moments you are able to retain your peace and objectivity, and often introduce a clarity that flees from the scene if you engage and join in with the other person’s process. As a project manager I have had a number of occasions where team members have told me that my calmness enabled them to feel calm, otherwise they would have been panicking and unable to work with the significant issue that needed resolution.

Find your way out of the places of fruitless ruminating. Tame your mind and learn to create more spaciousness and peace for yourself. Master the ability to not join others in their unproductive urgency. Learn to truly be the master navigator of your life. Become the loving, non-judgemental dog that loves and accepts without contributing to or joining the unnecessary drama. Allow your mind to settle, and peace to distil. Tame the wild horses that run wild through your mental space. It is a fantastic leadership capacity because from such a place you’re better placed to gather facts and objectively assess the situation and what it needs, and hold the space against unnecessary and often manufactured urgency. Someone else may be playing a drama. Someone else may be anxious and worked up. You choose what you engage with as an autonomous and self-responsible being!

Bubbles of History

Bubbles
Bubbles rising towards the surface

I have noticed that I can be having a really good day and be emotionally hijacked by something from my past arising within me and clouding my experience. It may result in minor negativity or cause total turmoil. It could even be a positive impact. The key point is that my current state is suddenly changed from within, not at all related to my external world. Sometimes the bubbles of emotion come in clusters, really upsetting my equilibrium; other times they occur singly. Each bubble arises with my awareness growing as it nears the surface, and then it reaches the surface and pops. Its contents then become part of my current experience. Like real bubbles that carry gas and scent from the bottom of a lake, the bubbles from within are more intense in their moment of bursting, erupting emotion linked to some past experience into our current world.

At such times I find it best to recognise and acknowledge that I am working with emotion from the past, and process the associated feelings through journalling, talking with my partner, or some other means that enables me to accept and release the emotional eruption. Even positive emotion bursting on the scene needs releasing otherwise we are losing our connection with the present and are being dragged back into the past. The most important thing is realising and accepting it is a natural part of life. The past does reinsert itself from time to time without provocation. It does not signify that we are stuck with an old issue or have some fault with our emotional world. Our psyche naturally lets go of it rubbish, its own cleaning process of our attachments to the past, and when it does we get to deal with it in our current state.