Silence – Part 2

‘If you feel that your dreams aren’t coming true, you might think you need to do more, or to think and strategise more. In fact, what you might need is less – less noise coming to you from both inside and outside – so that you have space for your heart’s truest intention to germinate and flourish.’

Thich Nhat Hanh

Us humans can be contradictory creatures at times. We might wish we had more ‘space to breathe’ in our lives, but then fill up every available moment with checking our smart phones, watching TV, playing online games, or endlessly rehashing old conversations in our minds and planning ahead in microscopic detail. It’s tempting to think that finding that ‘magic something’ to add into our lives will suddenly improve it. And it’s true that at times, an important ingredient might be missing – such as enough exercise, or time to read a book, or going to a workshop or a class which is meaningful to you.

Other times, however, we already have everything we need – if anything, our lives are overfull. Life is crowding in on us – there are demands coming from all directions, we’re busy rushing from one task to the next, our minds are crowded with internal and external noise, and there is little time to pause and reflect on life. When this way of life becomes chronic, we may well find ourselves asking – ‘is that all there is to life?’

We don’t always need to find new strategies for ‘solving’ life. Sometimes, simply creating some intentional silence and space might be enough. Some of the ways we fill up space are so automatic, we don’t even realise what we’re doing. Always having the radio on when we’re driving, for example, or using time in the check-out queue to quickly check social media, or reading a magazine or watching TV during meals. No matter how busy we are, most of us can probably find opportunities for decreasing noise, and creating a little more silence and space. A daily intentional practice, such as meditation, yoga, Tai Chi or prayer, can be very helpful. We can also experiment with other ways of decreasing stimulation – placing a curfew on our smartphone at certain times, not saying yes to every social engagement, only watching TV if the program really interests us, and then switching off…

We all have our own quirky ways in which we fill up space unnecessarily. They’re not always problematic, but can become so when we feel we have no ‘space to breathe’ in our lives anymore.

Weekly practice idea:

Think of two simple ways you can reduce excessive stimulation in your life, and experiment with cutting these out for the week. What do you notice?

Anja Tanhane

Holiday favourites – Healing with Gold

Kintsukuroi – the Japanese art of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken

It is a beautiful image – a broken ceramic bowl, put back together with glue of gold, so that the strands of gold weave through the bowl and it looks more beautiful than before it was broken.

In our lives, the gold we heal with is love, kindness, compassion. We sometimes come across people who seem to have a ‘beautiful soul’, who emanate kindness and strength. Usually, when we hear their story, we find out that they have been through some very difficult times in their lives. Sometimes suffering can make us bitter, cynical, disengaged from those around us. Other times, suffering can infuse our lives with qualities like love, patience, equanimity. It’s difficult to know why some people seem broken by suffering, and others are strengthened. It’s a complex interplay between our attitudes, personality, upbringing, the supports available us, the attitudes of our society to suffering, and a range of biological and neurological influences. One person might have a plethora of supports available and reject them all, while someone else might get only one brief opportunity which they grasp with both hands and use to transform their lives.

The image of the wounded healer is a person who is able to support others in their healing, because they’ve been broken and put back together themselves. When you work in the helping professions, you find that most of your colleagues have their own back story of suffering and healing. In certain shamanic cultures, the signs that someone might be called to be a shaman include – being hit by lightning, having a serious illness which nearly kills them, or having a nervous breakdown. They are broken apart and have to put themselves back together in a new, transformed way. The current shaman will support this person as they go on their healing journey, and eventually, if all goes well, that person will become the next healer of the community.

We can see the past suffering of someone as the gold which has strengthened them and made them more beautiful, rather than a shameful secret which needs to be hidden from view. It can be tempting to attempt to repair our broken lives with invisible glue, so no one will ever guess there are any cracks in us. To repair a broken bowl with gold is no doubt patient and taxing work. It’s not a matter of sticking a few pieces together and hoping for the best. Sometimes, the repair may not be successful. The bowl which has been repaired with gold does not wallow in its brokenness, but nor does it hide it. Life goes on for the bowl – it is transformed, and it has become more beautiful.

Weekly practice idea:

Put aside some quiet time and reflect on what is the gold in your life which you have used to repair the cracks in you? Think of this gold as precious and healing, rather than something which needs to be hidden. How does it feel to think about healing in this way?

Anja Tanhane

The soothing system – Part 1

The third system in Paul Gilbert’s model of the three emotional systems (the previous two were ‘fight/flight’ and ‘resource-seeking’) is what he calls the ‘soothing and affiliation system’. This system is crucial for rest, regeneration, and healing. Unlike the excitement and intensity of the other two systems, the soothing and affiliation system is quiet, receptive, and content. In the hectic busyness of our everyday lives, the soothing system is easily overlooked – and yet, so much of what we value in life springs from, and is nurtured through, this system.

It could be feelings of appreciation, of gratitude, of being grounded and present. There might be a sense of coming home to ourselves, of connecting with our deepest values. There’s little excitement in this system, but instead it allows us a deep sense of joy. Excitement has its place, but it can easily be derailed. For example, as a child you may have been very excited about getting a new bike, only to have one of your friends make a snide comment about its colour – and immediately your excitement gave way to hurt and disappointment. Contentment is different – a colleague may make a cutting remark about the compliment you received from your boss, but you are basically content within yourself, and can recognise the remark for the jealousy it probably is. We hear a lot about the search for happiness, but I find thinking about contentment more useful. We can feel sad, even a little hurt by unkind remarks, and still feel basically content.

The soothing and affiliation system is also important for kindness and compassion. We’re hardwired to be calmed down in the face of kindness. When we’re constantly in a rush, it’s difficult to find the time to sit with someone, really listen to them, respond empathetically to their distress. Deep social connections and support take time. That doesn’t mean we have to invariably spend hours listening to someone when we ask them how their day was. Yet eventually, if we’re always in a rush and distracted when we talk to our friends and family, those relationships are going to suffer.

In his book ‘The Brain’s Way of Healing – Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity’, Norman Doidge writes about the research by Stephen Porges, which found that activating the parasympathetic nervous system (which is our resting and regenerating system) also turns on our social engagement system, as well as the middle ear muscles. This allows us to communicate and connect with others. There are young children with sensory processing difficulties who are constantly overwhelmed by the sensations coming at them, and are therefore mostly in fight/flight mode. They may show little interest in interacting with others, until they are given the opportunity to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (for example through sound therapy, as Norman Doidge describes in his book). Once they’re able to relax and don’t feel overwhelmed, they may then become very engaged socially.

The soothing and affiliation system is crucial if we want to find a way of life which is fulfilling and balanced. Yet, because it’s not related to our immediate survival needs, it can often be neglected. Next week, we will look at some ideas for nurturing this system in our lives.

Weekly practice idea:

Put aside ten to twenty minutes, and reflect on areas in your life where you are currently cultivating the soothing and affiliation system. Does it feel the right balance, or do you need to spend more or less time in this system?

Anja Tanhane

Repairing with gold

Kintsukuroi – the Japanese art of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken

It is a beautiful image – a broken ceramic bowl, put back together with glue of gold, so that the strands of gold weave through the bowl and it looks more beautiful than before it was broken.

In our lives, the gold we heal with is love, kindness, compassion. We sometimes come across people who seem to have a ‘beautiful soul’, who emanate kindness and strength. Usually, when we hear their story, we find out that they have been through some very difficult times in their lives. Sometimes suffering can make us bitter, cynical, disengaged from those around us. Other times, suffering can infuse our lives with qualities like love, patience, equanimity. It’s difficult to know why some people seem broken by suffering, and others are strengthened. It’s a complex interplay between our attitudes, personality, upbringing, the supports available us, the attitudes of our society to suffering, and a range of biological and neurological influences. One person might have a plethora of supports available and reject them all, while someone else might get only one brief opportunity which they grasp with both hands and use to transform their lives.

The image of the wounded healer is a person who is able to support others in their healing, because they’ve been broken and put back together themselves. When you work in the helping professions, you find that most of your colleagues have their own back story of suffering and healing. In certain shamanic cultures, the signs that someone might be called to be a shaman include – being hit by lightning, having a serious illness which nearly kills them, or having a nervous breakdown. They are broken apart and have to put themselves back together in a new, transformed way. The current shaman will support this person as they go on their healing journey, and eventually, if all goes well, that person will become the next healer of the community.

We can see the past suffering of someone as the gold which has strengthened them and made them more beautiful, rather than a shameful secret which needs to be hidden from view. It can be tempting to attempt to repair our broken lives with invisible glue, so no one will ever guess there are any cracks in us. To repair a broken bowl with gold is no doubt patient and taxing work. It’s not a matter of sticking a few pieces together and hoping for the best. Sometimes, the repair may not be successful. The bowl which has been repaired with gold does not wallow in its brokenness, but nor does it hide it. Life goes on for the bowl – it is transformed, and it has become more beautiful.

Weekly practice idea:

Put aside some quiet time and reflect on what is the gold in your life which you have used to repair the cracks in you. Think of this gold as precious and healing, rather than something which needs to be hidden. How does it feel to think about healing in this way?

Anja Tanhane

Presence

Orchid in Anglesea

‘The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.’

Thich Nhat Hanh

What does it mean, to be present? In one sense we are, of course, always present. Where else could we possibly be? Yet we probably all know the feeling of being present in our bodies while our minds are elsewhere.

We also know what it’s like to be with someone who is not really present with us – who nods mechanically from time to time and mutters a disinterested ‘oh really’ while scanning over our heads to see if someone more important has arrived at the party yet. Other people have the gift of making everyone they talk to feel like the most important person in the room. We flourish in the presence of someone who is listening deeply, who is attentive and kind. Just to be in the presence of a person like that can be healing for us. Continue reading “Presence” »