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Encounters with the divine

A personal account

I will start by saying that I completely reject the God described in many parts of many scriptures of many religions. I reject any God of dictats and demands, threats and control and prisons of the mind. The great romantic poet Blake refers to ‘mind-forg’d manacles’ which aptly depicts the effect of fundamentalist, literal application of scripture on the psyches of those subjected to the dominance of those powerful men who wield it. I reject this God as a man-made construct, defined by ancient peoples all over the world who projected their own thoughts onto a creation entirely of their imagination, a creature to dread, as capricious and unpredictable as they themselves. This God could comfort a person with one hand and beat them up with the other. This God could bully, cajole, manipulate, coerce, love passionately and reject utterly. This is a caricature of a person. I am not there for that.

Outside of religion, however, I have experienced something so profound and awesome that I can only refer to it as God as I have no other words for it. The first time was when I was at a play park with my two year old daughter and my newborn baby. Abi was playing on the swings and the slides while Kirstin slept peacefully in her pram. I smelled freshly cut grass and the sun shone. I wasn’t in an especially good mood and nothing special had happened that morning but as Abi climbed off the climbing frame and ran towards me something amazing happened. I saw her blonde hair as a halo of light and I was rooted to the spot as tingling warmth filled me from the scalp to the toes and tears filled my eyes. I recognised the feelings in language such as ‘happiness’, ‘goodness’, ‘joy’, ‘wellbeing’, ‘wonder’ and ‘awe’ but the reality is that language can’t touch it. It was momentary and I continued with my day but felt glowy and blessed for hours afterwards.

The second time was when I was hosting a Swiss girl. The visit had been arranged by a Swiss friend of mine who had taught this girl and knew that she was looking for an opportunity to stay with an English family and improve her English. She was seventeen at the time. I hosted her on the basis that she would have free meals and accommodation and would help around the house and with the children after finishing college. A few weeks into the visit it became apparent that she was hiding away from friends and spending a lot of time alone in her room. I felt concerned that she was down and lonely and decided to host a surprise 18th birthday party. I contacted her college class and invited people over and two of her best friends planned to come and stay for a week from Switzerland. The day before the party, while she was at college, I made her favourite cake: black forest gateau. As I stood alone in the kitchen, mixing and stirring, I was filled with the tingling feeling, again from head to toe. This time, however, it was the most powerful experience I’ve ever had and I was completely unable to move. It was as though I was surrounded and filled with a mighty force that was totally impossible to resist. I stood, tears filling my eyes, and a thought came to me that my guest’s dad was incredibly proud of her. I didn’t hear a voice or anything like that. It was my own thought in that moment. As the tingling subsided and I came back to normal, I was consumed by what had happened. I considered that things like that don’t happen for no reason and decided to share it with the girl. Later that night I knocked on her door and said that I wanted to share something with her that might sound very peculiar and might make her feel uncomfortable and awkward but that I thought it was important and good. She agreed to hear it and I explained as best as I could what had happened and that I strongly believed that her dad was incredibly proud of her on this, her eighteenth birthday. She immediately started to cry and continued to cry for some time as I tried to comfort her, worried about what I’d done. When she calmed down, she explained that she had been very down and sad as her eighteenth birthday approached, because she so missed her dad, who had died in a car crash when she was seven. She had wondered how he would feel towards her now as she was approaching adulthood and she had imagined speaking with him and how it would go. I don’t believe that her father’s spirit came to me and I can’t explain what happened. At no point in my life before nor since have I had a psychic Sally tendency and I find it all quite inexplicable but nonetheless it was wonderful and healing in that moment.

My third spiritual experience occurred when I was driving home from work. At that point in my life my family was seriously struggling. My marriage had crashed and my second child was seriously unwell with bulimia that had taken her to very dark places indeed and my worst fears had been realised: one of my children suffering. I couldn’t fix her. I couldn’t change it. I’d fought for many months to get the appropriate treatment but mental health services were underfunded and nothing was available, not even privately. I was permanently tense, filled with anxiety and prone to my panic spilling over into everything. My job was the least stressful part of my life and the only place where I felt competent and appreciated. As I drove home I saw a large, ominous, navy-blue cloud spreading over my area of Leicester, the area I was driving towards, which represented how my life felt. Then the tingling started, spreading from my head to my feet, and I had the thought: ‘it’s only a cloud’. The tears came and I had to pull off the road until I was more composed. But the relief that I felt was immense as I understood that the sun would shine again. One day (big reveal: it did).

My last experience, and the one that has prompted me to write, was last night, as I drove home from the Level four counselling course that I am undertaking. I have been slowly stripping back masks and defences since commencing my training, and have unbelievably freed myself from decades of disordered eating. This has left me feeling strange. It’s like losing a frenemy. I didn’t like my food and body obsession but I did know it and knew where I was with it. I have, therefore, been feeling a little untethered and naked without the strictures of my multitudinous food and exercise rules. Last night, I had opened up to my fellow trainee about my unfortunate tendency to feel as though I’m not real without some big project or self-improvement programme – as though me, as I am, is nothing and nobody, not good enough, insubstantial and empty. Thinking back it’s easy to understand why I experience a lack of identity, filled as I was with fundamentalist rules, expectations, shame and fear. I easily go to shame, feeling ashamed of many aspects of myself on a daily basis. My social anxiety is sometimes unbearable. I hide it but it’s horrible. I compare myself to others and usually estimate myself to be less worthy and less important. Having shared these things in the group, I was driving home feeling vulnerable, when the moon peeped through the clouds, fuzzy-edged in mist, and it reminded me of posters depicting God. As I imagined that the light was God, I realised that I was leaning forwards, open-hearted and trusting towards my understanding of God, and the tingling began. This time, I recognised it and welcomed it. I said ‘thank you’. It was a blessing. Again, I cried and had to pull over. To consider that God was there and not to be afraid has previously felt unimaginable for me.

I don’t like the name ‘God’. It is too biblical and Christian and patriarchal for me. I don’t know what else to call this thing, however, so God it remains. I don’t believe that it’s a person or a humanoid. To me it feels like some type of energy or power that is in us and all around us. It seems that it can manifest itself in moments of vulnerability or love, and can manifest through imagery, thoughts and an open heart and mind. It is unpredictable and can’t be summoned or manipulated. It appears when it appears and although we can’t summon it, we can block it through our cynicism and closed mindedness. When it fills me it feels like a blessing. It exists outside of words. I could try to describe it but ‘good’, ‘pure’, ‘holy’ and ‘awesome’ are inadequate. Our language is as limiting as our bodies and minds. This power may or may not be harmless. I would not like to be held by that particular force if I was guilty of malice or cruelty. I wouldn’t be able to bear it.

Those who use their concept of God to tell others what to do are just bullies. I believe that people within organised religions can and do have equally valid experiences of God. The only people I respect are those who speak from their own experience of God, not their dogmas and their doctrines. My mum is one such person. My Christian brother is another.

I am aware that calling this power anything is just another language label. It might not be anything more than chemicals in our brains. If this is the case, our brains are truly marvellous. I continue to believe, however, that this power is bigger than any individual human. It can connect and heal and it exists in us all as what the Quakers call the God within. Perhaps we, collectively, are both God and Devil. For now, however, I will live in the blessing of the moments I’ve had and trust that there will be more.

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Locus of Evaluation: who makes your decisions?

There is a spectrum when it comes to decision making:  at one end is using an internal locus of evaluation and at the other is using an external one.  A person lucky enough to have an internal locus of evaluation, my oldest daughter, for example, makes decisions by consulting herself.  She always has!  I joke that she raised me and not the other way around, except that it isn’t a joke.  When Abi was 6, she decided that animal consumption was immoral and cruel, and in my maternal ‘wisdom’, informed by mainstream thought about meat, protein and growing children, I persuaded and cajoled her to continue.  Sorry, Abi!  But by the time she was 9, she pointblank refused, and I realised that she really was going to exist on potatoes, pasta, vegetables, baked beans and toast unless I intervened.  So I joined her in the meatless way of life but persuaded her to continue eating fish and dairy and eggs, for protein and Omega 3.

Abi continued to consult herself on these matters, doing research and ordering informative leaflets from a range of animal welfare organisations, and made it increasingly clear that she considered fish eating also immoral and bad for the planet, as well as dairy and eggs.  She presented me with information that corroborated her internal suspicions, and she educated me about the reality of the egg industry (which involves shredding up male chicks) and the dairy industry (which involves shipping unwanted males off for veal or just shooting them in the head at birth or a few weeks old).  By the time she was 12 we were vegan.  I couldn’t unknow the facts that she had presented me, and we have been vegan ever since – her more successfully than me as I have had the occasional unvegan day. 

My point is this: up to the age of 30 something, I had believed all the nutritional advice that I’d been taught, never questioned it, did the same as everybody else and didn’t question the status quo.  Having a prophet in the family – somebody who is prepared to stand on the hill and speak truth loudly and clearly – somebody who is prepared to question the status quo and ask:  ‘Is this right?  Does this sit right with who I am on the inside?’ isn’t always convenient but I am deeply grateful for her.  She has brought me to a more ethical life and one that is better for the planet.  Without her, I would undoubtedly not have made those choices all those years ago.  She has also brought most of the family to her way of thinking and made a significant difference to our carbon footprint as a result.  All because she has an internal locus of evaluation.

I have always had a largely external locus of evaluation.  This isn’t to say that I haven’t followed the light of inner knowledge, because I have.  I managed to get a degree, train as a teacher, leave a bad relationship and become a better partner as a result of that, learn as a parent and choose a career path that suits me and my needs.  But there’s still a hell of a lot of worry about what people think of me.  I ask my husband:  ‘Do YOU think this is OK?  Was that BAD?  Should I have said that?  Do you think I upset him/her?’  I sometimes spend bloody hours after a conversation analysing what I said or didn’t say, and worry that the person will think less of me or not want to see me again, regardless of how much or how little of a role they actually play in my life.  I also spent years of life hyper focused on my appearance, which was always, always about how others perceived me because I honestly do not care how I look to myself in the mirror.  I really don’t.    I was always looking at myself through the lens of imaginary other people.

When we have this external locus of evaluation, we become performers for the benefit of others.  We have performative sex instead of loving fun together with our partners.  When we light candles so our partners won’t see the wobbly bits, who are we in this except bodies to be looked at?  A person with an internal locus of evaluation would ask:  ‘How does this feel?  What do I want to do right now in this moment?’  Not, ‘What do I look like?’

And when it comes to food and eating, this has to be the biggest personal one for me.  If we’re counting calories, following a plan, using a food log, tracking fat, macros or carbs, doing the 5/2, intermittent fasting or any other form of rule based eating, what has happened to our inner knowledge?  Our awareness of who we even are?  We were born with an instinct to eat until we were satisfied and then stop and rest and then eat again until satisfied.  As children, we chose an apple sometimes and a piece of cake at other times.  I used to give my kids a plate that they called a picnic, with bits of sandwich, cubes of cheese, little chocolate buttons, a few crisps, some raisins, some slices of apple and a few iced gems.  Sometimes they didn’t even touch the chocolate buttons!  They were using their internal locuses of evaluation – before being whipped into obedience by external expectations about their bodies, their choices and their autonomy.

Our gendered behaviours and expectations are also external.  I didn’t care about being slim, toned and sexy when I was charging around the park like a feral chimpanzee aged 10.  I was fit, strong, happy and full of energy, free of all that expectation.  That all came later and I forgot my identity in a confusing whirlwind of trying to be whatever a girl was supposed to be back in the 80s.  I recall that having a ‘good body’ was a part of that but heaven forbid actually enjoying said body because we weren’t supposed to be a ‘slag’ and I don’t think much of that has changed, sadly, for our teenage girls today.

I just want to be free of all of it now.  I want to be able to look inside and ask myself: ‘What do I want to eat?  How much of it do I want?’  I want to go out without any makeup and not give a crap what anyone else thinks of my face.  It’s a 51 year old face: sometimes its tired and sometimes its pale, and nobody suggests that my husband hide his eye bags or spend time making himself more agreeable for others to look at and I’m damned if I’m going to suggest that to myself.  I have no issue with people wearing makeup, high heels, glamorous styles, nail varnish and fake eyelashes.  I have no issue with people having botox, face lifts, breast implants, tummy tucks or acrylic nails.  Your body, your choice.  Do it if it makes you happy and makes you feel good.  Do it for yourself.  Do it because it makes your heart smile.  Don’t do it for anybody else or for some societal expectations about how a person ‘should look’.

So, where is your locus of evaluation?  Most people are going to consult others and care somewhat about their opinions.  None of us live in a vacuum.  We do need to consider our loved ones and perhaps our colleagues.  Using deodorant and refraining from unlawful behaviour are pretty useful external expectations that help us all.  But for most of us there is a vast amount of material going on in our minds that we really could shed.  In the words of Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls:  ‘Lose your mind and come to your senses’. 

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Sergeant Shame’s Christmas Letter

12th December, 2021

Dear Sergeant Shame,

I am writing with regard to your role in my life about food, exercise, weight control and body image.  This will take a while to read, so sit down, make a coffee, shed your mind of prejudice and try to focus.  If you are not interested in learning through reading, it doesn’t matter.  Over the next few weeks, you will realise that your role has changed, because I will keep reminding you until you learn.

First, I would like to thank you for all of your incredibly hard work.  You have kept me safe in so many ways.  Because of the little guilt trips you put me on regularly, I am a good daughter, I remember to send cards and messages to people I care about, I am a good mum and a reliable worker.  I have positive relationships in my life and everybody I know would describe me as a person with a good heart, even if they don’t personally like me.  For this I am grateful to you.  You’ve done a good job of keeping me safe, secure and firmly rooted in social connection within this society.  I know how to behave.  I can hold a knife and fork.  I even know which soup spoon to use, because I’ve observed others and you have reminded me to follow the lead of those in the know.  I’m not sure about cheek kissing and general etiquette among the more refined in society, but you have tried to help me to fit in, so thank you.

You have accepted a lesser role in many areas of my life and I hope you feel more relaxed because of that.  For example, you stopped making me feel ashamed about not believing the Bible and not being a fundamentalist Christian pretty much straight away once I pushed back and informed you that this wasn’t your place.  You did put a fear of Hell into me at a young age and you haven’t quite stopped doing that but you’re almost there.  I will be getting back to you on that at some point, but for now, it’s not important enough to worry about.  It’s not your fault; you were only going on what you heard at church and at home.  I know you were trying to keep me safe. 

What is of crucial importance now is your role in my life about food, exercise, weight control and body image, which you started to take over when I was 13.  I went on holiday to Eastbourne and a lad there fancied me.  The excitement of being desired for the first time made my stomach go funny and I could barely eat all week, so I inadvertently lost weight and got visibly thinner.  On my return from that holiday, everybody and I mean everybody (!) praised me lavishly for my slimness.  ‘Wow!  You look amazing!’ people said.  ‘You are the slim one in the family!’ said my Auntie.  And there you were, Serge, taking it all in.  You witnessed how loved I felt, how accepted I was and how this slimness was a cherished status and a prize to be attained.

I didn’t know any better.  I was thirteen and my Mum gave me ‘The Greatest Guide to Calories’ to help me continue my weight loss journey.  She had struggled with weight cycling all of her life, too, and she was ruled by her own Sergeant Shame, a relentless witch who had her believing all sorts of tripe.  But neither she nor I knew any better.  Before I knew it, I was eating a ridiculously small number of calories every day and became very slim indeed.  I was driven by you.  ‘You must get a flat stomach’.  ‘Imagine how much people will love you if you are tiny’.  ‘Don’t even think about cake’.  ‘Eat even less and you will get even smaller’. 

I became a shadow of my former self.  I struggled to walk upstairs at school.  My legs were weak.  I thought about food all day.  I fantasized about big, sugary, fatty snacks.  And, at weekends, I began to binge them, which kicked you into overdrive.  ‘No!’ you screamed.  ‘You are pathetic!  You are so weak!’  As I slowly but surely began to gain the weight back, you shamed me relentlessly.  I didn’t know that the voice was yours, Serge.  I thought it was my own.  ‘I am disgusting’, I said to myself.  ‘I hate my legs.  I hate my thighs.  I hate my stomach.  I am a shameful thing’.  I thought of nothing else. 

I know you were trying to help me.  Up until that weight loss, I had felt a nothing girl.  Nothing special.  I knew my mum loved me.  I wasn’t entirely sure that my dad did – after all, he spent quite a bit of my childhood smacking me very hard – hard enough to leave bruises on my skin and in my mind.  I thought he probably did love me in some unusual way, but it didn’t feel like love.  I was clever at school but in the assemblies that was not worth a bean.  Women couldn’t speak, or preach, or do anything other than wear a head covering and learn in silence.  I wanted to be a teacher one day and I worked hard at school, but the lure of being slim and staying that way became more important, because it was the only thing that seemed to give me the status and attention that I needed.  I know why you took over in the way you did.  I get it. 

Since then, you’ve stayed in charge with food and body matters.  Through my life, as I escaped the religion and fought off the false guilt, as I got my first class honours degree and became a teacher, as I studied for a masters and took on different work responsibilities, as I made relationship choices that affirmed my developing self, as I learned and grew and thrived, you stayed on guard in this aspect of my life: restless, dominant and hypervigilant.

Because of you, I have swung between food control and food freedom but never escaped your drills and sayings.  I have heard them every waking minute of every day.  When I have obeyed you for years on end through tracking and exercising and limiting and fencing in, you have whispered in my ear: ‘you are OK now but don’t get complacent’.  ‘You are acceptable like this but careful with that cake’.  ‘You’ve eaten too much.  You’d best go for a long run tomorrow’.  ‘Oh, you can’t run?  You can go to the gym then or bloody well eat less’.  Once again, I heard that voice as my own. 

When I had years of freedom with food, which I did in my teens and again in my forties, I generally gained weight and your whispers became a shout, reminding me that I didn’t look as good, that my legs were too big and my stomach stuck out and I had cellulite and chubby arms and my boobs were embarrassing.  So it wasn’t really freedom because there you were, with your loudspeaker turned up, marching along the fence line, hopping over it and in my face, yelling, in my way, blocking me.   Serge, you have ruined my experience of food and my body.  You have taken away the pleasure that food and my body should have given me.  You made me want to hide, and shrink, and turn off the light, and cover my stomach, and apologise for my womanliness. 

When Covid struck, I returned to obedience.  It seemed inevitable.  I lost weight, trained for marathons, once again received lavish praise for my strong, toned, slim appearance, and achieved the shiny status of a smaller body.  How tragic is it that, as women, we are praised for taking up less space?  Amid fear, anxiety, panic, shouting news stories, the Coronavirus Daily Update, doom and gloom, the decimation of the NHS and the shock of racist uprising, I returned to the comfort and safety of your rules.  I gave in to the lure of tracking and counting and working out and shrinking.  But I had read the books, listened to the podcasts, learned the possibility of freedom and lost the complete faith that I once had in you.  The compliance was an inconvenience and a chore.  I wanted out. I reluctantly complied for the duration of the pandemic and then I started my counselling course.  I learned about the mind and applied the psychology that I learned.  I realised what was happening here.  Your cover was blown and I cannot unlearn what I learned. 

Serge, it’s over now.  Your time is up.  I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt.  Imagine that the rest of this letter is being shouted through your very own megaphone.  I am not angry at you.  But you’ve done your job and you need to hear this.

Sergeant Shame, there is no room for you in my decisions about food or the way that I see my body.  There is no morality in food.  It is just food.  There is no superiority when it comes to doughnuts and lettuce.  If I ate doughnuts all day I would be sick.  If I ate lettuce all day I would starve.  I need them both.  A varied and satisfying diet is what I need.  It’s what we all need.  A diet that is boring results in rebellion.  Rebellion leads to shame.  And you are no longer welcome.   

I have obeyed you for long long long enough.  I obeyed you at 13 and I obeyed you at 51.  When I disobeyed you I suffered the whiplash of your disapproval.  But I am no longer living my life according to your strictures.  Remember something.  I am your superior.  I am YOUR boss.  You are not mine. 

And as your boss, Serge, your higher ranking officer, I’m here to give you a few facts about food, body image and weight.  Ready?

  1.  Eating food that is tasty is better for digestion, enjoyment and satiety.  For example, putting butter (in my case vegan) on my vegetables, makes them easier to digest.
  2. Eating a wide range of food that I enjoy is healthy. 
  3. Shame about my body makes my brain hurt and it’s bad for my health.
  4. Societal fatphobia is a curse that should be kicked to the furthest depths of all darkness.
  5. Weight gain is not a moral failing.
  6. I have the right to be fat and stay fat.  And so does everybody else.
  7. I don’t owe society a slim body.  I’m not here to be admired.
  8. If I have to count every calorie and log every bit of exercise that I do in order to maintain a slim figure, then I am not meant to be this slim.
  9. Even if weight gain is bad for the health – even if that is true – even if (which is dubious) – so is a life of obsession, shame and guilt around food and body.
  10. I don’t owe anybody my health, anyway.  Health isn’t a moral obligation, so go deal with that.

Finally, Serge, I am here to tell you that I’m going to finish my counsellor training, and become an eating disorder therapist, inspired by the likes of Jennifer Rollin, Christy Harrison, Laura Thomas, Megan Jayne Crabbe, Lindo Bacon and Virgie Tovar.  I am going to educate myself about how societal fatphobia is rooted in racism, sexism and immense privilege.  I will learn about how eating disorders affect those affected by food scarcity, how race can play a part in body shame and how my own privileges impact my work with others. 

In order to do this work, I will take back my territory, the territory that I never occupied but is mine by the rights conferred upon me by my humanity, and I will take personal responsibility to tread each step of my ongoing relationship with food and my body.  There will be no rules.  Rules have no place in this territory.  There will be only love.  Each choice will be made with respect for myself and love for my inner child – who needs to be taken care of and has been taken care of in every way except for this one.  Each choice will be made according to the context that I am in.  Sometimes I will eat too little and sometimes I will eat too much.  Sometimes I will eat emotionally and sometimes I will eat out of boredom.  But you are not welcome in any of it, because I am going to be learning.  Like a little child at 51, I will be learning and will stagger and fall and pick myself up and remind you to back off and keep going, every day, without you and your stun gun and your whip.

I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your reign is over.  This happened on 7th December 2021, a day where I found myself metaphorically standing in bright sunlight in an open field with an exciting journey ahead and realised that this is my land to claim and it always has been.  I just didn’t know it.  You are demoted.  You may take a rest from all the whip brandishing, which must be exhausting anyway, and return to your vital function of presenting me with guilt about sending cards, cleaning the bathrooms and calling my mum. 

Thanks again, Sergeant Shame.  Without you, I wouldn’t be here.  But without you in my food choices, where you have no place, I am finally, fully, gratefully and gloriously here. 

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My self, your self, our selves.

The fragmented beauty of the inner world.

The part of the mind that Freud described as ‘the ego’ can be described as ‘I’ – the part of the personality that we think of as ‘ourselves’ and that needs to arbitrate between our drives, passions and desires and the internalised constraints of the society within which we live and work. We all know the struggle of wanting to do something, like punching some work colleague smack in the mouth, and suppressing it, only to stick a middle finger up at an impatient driver. The id and the superego are easy enough to define: one wants sugar all day and the other wants us to be disciplined and well-behaved. For those in committed partnerships, one imagines random strangers getting naked and the other reminds us to behave like a civilised adult.

Photo by Merlin Lightpainting on Pexels.com

However, it’s the ‘I’ that I’m concerned with. What is the ‘self’? Some say it’s a construct, always changing, thought up by the imagination – a construct that exists within the particular cultural and social context of each individual. The ‘self’ might be ‘kind’ or ‘generous’, ‘passionate’ or ‘brave’. The ‘self’ might simply be described as a character that we have assigned to ourselves and thus ‘self-esteem’ relates to how that perception is created. Therefore it can change with focused work in this area of linguistic description.

I don’t think the ‘self’ is exactly this simple a construct. I think it’s the part of our brain that experiences the world, and interprets each and every experience that confronts it, in a way that works for the individual. When, for example, I stand in front of a crowd and am asked to speak, my ‘self’ is the fragile hologram shaped by a combination of abject fear and the requirement to present myself as confident, articulate and knowledgeable. My ‘self’, therefore, is the receptor of a bombardment of emotional, sensory and intellectual stimulation, required in each given moment to interpret these and respond in a way that doesn’t shatter me in a hundred different ways. As people, we are exposed to dangers, both real and perceived, on a minute by minute basis, and our ‘selves’ have to negotiate these in a delicate balance of inner and outer worlds.

Our ‘selves’ therefore are amazing, intricate marvels of evolutionary development. But how do most of us face each moment and its infinity of stimuli? There are a gazillion answers to this but I suspect that lots of us use a variety of defensive techniques. Humour is one of them. Intellectualisation is another. How many of us show our ‘selves’? How many of us even know our ‘selves’?

I believe that we are drawn to those who feel intensely. It’s surely why we love animals. They do not hide behind humour or intellect but demand love and attention. Anyone who sees the bliss in a dog greeting its owner, the complete abandonment of joy and adoration, smiles in recognition of its purity. When we see a scared cat, revealing its fear in a cowering posture, seeking to make itself as small as possible, we feel a sense of love for the helpless creature. Children and babies captivate us with their emotional transparency. When they’re sad, their lips shoot out and when they’re happy they jump and hug themselves. I’m not sure what to say about people who don’t feel these reactions, other than that I pity them because anyone who doesn’t like animals or children has really just lost at life already!

At times of emotional need in my life I have attracted people who want to defend me. Open and obvious vulnerability brings attention as does passion, excitement, happiness and enthusiasm. It’s fine to be a closed book – if we want to live a lonely life. If we want to be loved, then we need to let at least one person in. Which leads me to connection.

What connects people? Is it inane conversation about the weather, how many kids they’ve got or what their job is? Although these chats can be sociable, enjoyable and engaging, they are precursors to true connection, which only occurs with the sharing of emotion. Not just the re-telling of emotion, but the experience of it. Tears in the eyes, whether of laughter or grief, bring an opportunity for that spark of magic. The re-hashing of emotion isn’t the same; it doesn’t work in words alone. It’s the experience. Being present in the face of genuine emotion is a privilege and a gift. If somebody lets us into their world, they show us who they are on the inside. They show us their ‘selves’. And only in that revelation, can we truly connect.

It is these connections that make us healthy. Knowing that at least one person knows us and has experienced the revealing of our emotions and has our backs makes us live longer. I don’t mind having friends on the fringe, but I want to know people deeply, too. At least a handful is enough for me. Some people need less.

Even outside of my closest friendships, I love to discover what people experience. I remember and treasure heartfelt observations from others. At Newark Toad Rescue, a high-end operation which involves buckets, nets, torches and high-vis jackets, I chat with a woman who obviously loves the warty little creatures as much as I do, for ‘their intrinsic value’ as she put it. This revelation of her inner world and perception, combined with the tenderness with which she places toads into her red bucket, makes me feel connected to her. A child told me recently that his mum makes him happy and I felt warm and fuzzy. Another child started to cry when it was time for us to leave, and his untamed emotion made us all adore him.

Who we all are on the inside is an amazing kaleidoscope of perceptions, memories, images, connections and experiential truth. We all have this treasure trove of worth within. It’s not connected with what we do in my opinion. People do terrible things because the ‘self’ has experienced and interpreted something badly, in a way that doesn’t reflect the society within which they operate. It doesn’t make them fundamentally less worthy. Like the toad, each individual has intrinsic worth.

Psychoanalytic theory believes that anxiety, depression and a host of other mental conditions occur because of an imbalance in the parts of the personality. Superego has a lot to answer for with its internalised shame. The healing of the ego, or ‘I’, is the only way to heal the whole person. It is possible through the formation of a ‘bond of trust’ with another person, who may be a therapist, and the development of health promoting behaviours in daily life. The type of therapy doesn’t matter. It’s the ‘bond of trust’ that creates the healing.

Therapy provides an opportunity for two ‘selves’ to connect in a way that probably doesn’t often occur in daily life, because of time constraints, embarrassment, self-absorption and distraction. As a therapist, I hope I can bring my deepest self, my ‘I’ into the therapy room and meet other ‘I’s, and connect with their experiences, perceptions and emotional lives. The privilege of doing this work is something that fills me with anticipation because it’s real in a way that most of us rarely encounter.

And outside of the therapy room, I want to focus on the fact that it’s this ‘bond of trust’ that promotes healing, no matter what the approach or the technique. I want to focus on that because, in the final analysis, what heals us every time is love. Not the self-seeking, pleasure-grabbing, exoticised type of love that is portrayed in our shallow media, but the sharing, compassionate, powerful acceptance of one another’s deepest selves.

Featured

First blog post

This is the post excerpt.

I started this blog in my late 40s having gone through an enormous amount of change in the past few years, including a transforming head of hair, hence the name of the blog.  The silver hair seems fitting as it’s bright and shiny and I have come to embrace the older me and the prospects of a different future to the one I had planned.  So many of us come to this age (46 for me) and the family leave, the long-term relationship or marriage may end or at the very least undergo some dramatic changes, the body begins to undergo a pretty dramatic upheaval and we start to look to the second half of life.  I’ve read a bunch of stuff on perimenopause and will share some of it here, along with every day comments on life and the things I’ve found and done that make the anxieties and sadnesses easier to deal with.  I love life and relish so much of it: smiles, hugs, my loving fiance and a long run on a sunny day, but it comes with loss and trauma, too, and at midlife it seems to hit so hard, with ageing parents on one end and emerging adults at the other.  We’re in the middle in every way, batting off all their troubles and trying to support everyone.  We’re often the main caregiver in the home, the one trying to hold it all together, sometimes with some pretty big mental health issues of our own.  So this is a blog about challenge and change, about beauty and hope, about the reality of mess and fragmentation and downright ridiculousness at times.  About how, at the end of it all, chocolate, wine, panic attacks and some almighty emotional family dramas, the only thing that matters is love, for ourselves and others, and it’ll probably be ok.

post

Meditation for body liberation

May I accept you the way you are.
I wish you ease of movement and wellbeing.
May you experience pleasure and satisfaction.

I cannot control you.
I cannot change the way you are.

May you be free from suffering.
May you be protected and safe.

May all people in all bodies
of all sizes, colours, orientations,
genders and abilities
be protected and safe.

May you, my lifelong companion,
the home of my soul,
be happy and at peace.

May you and all bodies be liberated.

Perspective

I ate a doughnott, secretly,

after the café owner told me

not to eat outside food in there.

I tried to eat it mindfully

and it was only partially pleasurable:

stodgy, sickly and somewhat disappointing.

I bought it because I’d gained weight

when I stood on the scales that morning.

I could explore that for hours

but in the context of the epic montage of my entire life

it would be a huge waste of time.

In Heron foods, with a friend, on the way back to the car park,

I spotted pringles.  I bought them because

I’d gained weight when I stood on the scales

that morning, and because I’d eaten a doughnott.

I could explore that for days

but in the context of my value for the equally peculiar people who accept me

wholeheartedly for reasons other than what I eat

it would be completely unnecessary.

I ate the pringles in the car, on the way home,

relishing each powdery explosion of taste and crunch,

awed by the artificial magic of the overpowering flavour.

I noticed each sensation of taste and texture

and after two thirds of the packet realised that the joy was gone

but I ate the rest anyway, because I did.

I could explore that for weeks

but in the context of my existence as a whole person, a soul,

I have limited it to ten minutes. I’m done.

Refurbishing

Stripping away decades of cracked paint

revealed power, intelligence, intuition and kindness.

Steaming off wallpaper that was once in vogue

laid bare natural compassion, understanding and articulateness.

The original is wise beyond measure,

connected deeply to others and their experiences and

in communion with the loving spirit of us all.

This shining light carries no shame. It compassionately observes.

It is soul and spirit, the goodness and light

that is all of our birthright.

Powerful, capable and nurturing,

my arms are wide to others and to myself.

I can care for my spinning mind

and so can we all.

Diet and Wellness Culture

And I say burn it all.

Burn your straight sized magazines,

burn your Instagram wellness accounts,

burn your kale smoothies and clean eating bullshit,

burn your cosmetic surgery befores and afters,

burn all your gym befores and afters,

burn your £50 bottles of magic potions,

burn your self-improvement books,

burn your circles of shame,

your trackers, your watches,

your thin, white, cultural, racial supremacy.

Only when you are gone, from the ashes,

people of all genders will be free.

Redemption

In these monochrome days I breathe my way to a still lakeside

where all living creatures retreat into sandy banks and underground spaces.

Out there, my spirit has sung with sounds of orca,

the curling fingers and wise navy eyes of my three newborns,

a halo of shining hair as my three year old ran towards me and

pinpricks of warm energy rooted me to the freshly cut grass.

I have communed with others so completely that I could not

tell you where I ended and they began. As a speck among

craggy mountaintops and volcanic wastelands, and even here,

in the silence, so far within that each atom is a universe,

I hear the rhythmic harmony of the stars.

Daughter

Flung together into the ocean,

some found safety,

some disappeared from sight

and some stayed alongside her

as she clung, disrobed and

white-knuckled, to debris.

The future shrank to terror, of

salt-eyed thrashing through

mountainous waves and needle-sharp rain.

Darkness tore her to unearthly spheres,

ravening lions, bulls of Bashan,

starless, infinite stretching of night.

Hands beneath, above, around, she

gasped at raw morning air and

saw the faint, tangerine-tinged horizon.

Real

Every second there’s a death of self,

a death of the people we were

a second ago

and a line of ghost selves stretch out

behind as we surge forward,

or ahead as we fall back.

When we stop and breathe

in the present,

all the shades, of our children,

parents, teachers and friends

are forever gone,

were never there,

and nor were we.

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