How to deal with so much suffering

photo-1431932441182-250651654c23When I was 11, I watched a movie about some mean English high school boys who beat up a younger boy each week at gym. When one of the attacks killed a boy, I ran from the room, shattered that young people could be so violent and cruel to each other with intent. I also couldn’t understand, even at that young age, why anyone would choose to make a movie like that.

It was the first prick in my illusory childhood bubble of innocence that the world is ‘safe and just’ and people are ‘kind and loving’.

Last weekend the memory of that movie came back to me as I grappled with a fresh sense of shock and sadness over the attacks in Paris. We seem to be in a constant state of shock with so many different events to absorb  – from frequent mass shootings in the US to domestic violence closer to home.

A layer of the bubble of safety bursts open each time.

This time because I’m a mother and my children are in a world that seems far from safe or nurturing. And that breaks my heart wide open as I’m sure it does yours.

This week has been traumatic in the media and I know many of you are feeling the effects of living in such uncertain times. Many are switching off the news because it’s simply too hard to take in.

It’s challenging because we’re witnessing people being robbed of the most basic of human rights and dignity; witnessing cultural, religious and generational conflicts playing out in senseless ways.

We’re seeing the darkest side of human nature.

How do any of us respond to this? To the sheer scale of it?

It starts with accepting that this is our reality. Really seeing it for what it is. Not hoping or pretending it might go away. Yes we live in an increasingly complex world and this is the world our children and their children will inhabit.

It starts with not trying to rationalise it away, which just shifts you into black and white ‘us’ versus ‘them’ thinking where you feel justified in blaming one side over the other, rather than seeing the full picture.

One thing is for sure. Nothing will improve if we continue to deny and ignore our reality; if we believe the world is all love and light and great things will happen because we did some positive thinking today.

Yes there is light in the world, an abundance of it.

Astonishing acts of love, generosity and kindness occur every day in every corner of the world.

And there is also darkness. Just as there is light (love) and darkness (unconscious pain) in each and every one of us.

How you respond to what’s going on is a very personal decision that only you can make. There are degrees of what we are all able to contribute in any given day to making the world a more peaceful place.

For some it’s as simple as smiling at a stranger, or being fully present with your children so they feel seen and valued. For others, it’s about working tirelessly to help relieve the suffering of others. All of these actions come from a place of love.

There is no right or wrong choice, but it no longer feels appropriate for us to bury our heads in the sand and hope that someone else will come along and fix it.

Because they are us. We are them. We’re all connected. We’re all human. We are now able to see a fuller picture of what’s going on in the world through the web, for the first time in the history of humanity. Most of us feel a little less settled in our lives because of the extent of the issues we face.

Some people believe the world is going through a rebirth. Perhaps that’s true. There are many signs pointing to humanity being on the cusp of evolving into a higher level of consciousness over the next couple of hundred years. We could just as quickly annihilate ourselves because we’re too wedded to our comforts to risk change.

It’s important to understand that the fact that we are all alive at this time, means it is up to us, the people who are living in relative safety and comfort, to actually give a shit and put our hand out to people who aren’t.

It’s a scary thing to care so much. Because that means I have to take responsibility for what I care about. I’m prepared to do that. Life doesn’t seem so worthwhile if every person doesn’t have access to basic human rights. Because I know that a child in Syria could just as easily have been my child had I been born in another country.

We all have a role to play. It starts with waking up to what’s happening – informing yourself through a variety of quality sources and allowing your heart to break wide open. Feeling into what’s happening rather than distancing yourself from it for another few years, and hoping that it will just all go away.

It’s not going to.

There’s something about suffering that’s exquisitely beautiful; where what your heart is breaking over somehow shines a light on what you still have. It brings into sharp focus what matters. The people who matter. It awakens intense gratitude for all the multiple blessings you have. You recognise through your tears that suffering and gratitude are two sides of the same coin.

This is where you start. Holding the pain and the gratitude. Allowing yourself to feel the grief and love.

You must be willing to feel.

Culturally we’re not good with emotions or pain; we’ll do anything to bandaid, eat or medicate it away so we can get back to our bubble. And that’s a huge part of the problem because there is so much pain and suffering present, and entire populations of people who are unwilling to experience even the slightest discomfort.

So what happens to unexpressed pain? Personally, when we don’t feel our emotions, they get repressed into the unconscious, and generally are acted out in dysfunctional ways some time later. It’s not too much of a leap to imagine that much of the violence in the world is repressed unresolved pain of generations of injustice and trauma being acted out.

These times are asking us to drop deeper into what’s real, into the pain of the mess we are in, because it’s through the heart that you realise how much you do care about the future of this planet, if not for your sake but for your children’s.

The head will tell you to stay comfortable, keep striving for more, make sure your image is perfect, upgrade your house, make more money. The heart says “break open, please! The world is in crisis. Your comfort is illusory and can be taken from you any second. You know this. Allow yourself to feel the pain so that it can mobilise you into caring so much that you can’t not do something.”

Can you see the opportunity here? That each of us in our own way could contribute to the solution with more love, kindness and compassion, rather than add to the problem with more fear, suspicion and intolerance.

Our cultural innocence and assumption that bad things happen to others is slowly shattering. The shattering of any innocence is sad. But it is also a crucial part of our development. I believe we have the potential for a more loving and peaceful world, but it will only happen if each and every one of us is willing to work towards it.

Please feel free to share this post and leave your comments below.

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How meditation can benefit you

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Meditation is an amazing technique that anyone can do. If you struggle with stress and anxiety, feel disconnected from yourself, or find that life moves too fast, meditation can help you to slow down and reconnect to yourself. There are as many ways to meditate as there are variations in our weather, and so if you haven’t yet tried it, it’s just a matter of finding a method that works for you.

The very basics of meditation involve bringing your attention to your breath. Focusing on your breath is such a calming activity, that within just a few minutes you can shift from tense and stressed to calm and centred. Ahhhh.  So deceptively simple and game changing.

When you meditate you switch off from the noise and busyness of the outside world and go within, entering a space that has been with you your entire life, but is often not given much credit or attention. This is your inner life: the world of thoughts, emotions and sensations, of your conscious and subconscious mind; and it’s also the place when you can deepen and expand your consciousness and experience deep states of peace.

Bringing your attention inward will gradually reconnect you to the wisdom of your body, which is always giving you somatic clues of sensations, feelings, symptoms and urges that tell you if you are in harmony or disharmony with your environment, your relationships, your job or your identity. When you are living out of alignment with your true nature (your soul), your body lets you know. This skill alone is priceless, because your body always has your back!  It just takes a bit of practice to understand how your body speaks to you, and to differentiate this from the biggest block to listening to yourself: fear of change. So meditation is not only exceptional for reducing stress, it also reconnects you to your body’s intuition and knowing in a way that nothing else will.

A particularly enjoyable and easy way to meditate is within a group.  There is something special about group meditation: the community, the shared energy, the buzz of sitting in deep stillness together. With group meditation, all you have to do is be open to your experience, and you absorb useful techniques and skills that can you can bring to enrich your own practice at home.

If you have ever wondered about how meditation might help you, I will be giving a free talk and guided meditation experience about the benefits of meditation and how it connects you to your body’s wisdom at the Lotus Centre, on Wednesday, 6 May, 7.30 – 8.45 pm. I also run group meditation classes on Monday nights, 7.30 – 9 pm at the Lotus Centre.  If you would like to find out more about this class, or register for the talk on 6 May, please call Laurelle on 0416 172 709 or email laurelle@transformcounselling.com.au

7 compelling reasons to meditate!

7 compelling reasons to meditate!

Would you like to find an effective way to stay calm and centred in stressful situations instead of being hijacked by your emotions? Would you like to understand yourself better? Meditation is excellent for reducing stress levels and enhancing your mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Here are 7 compelling reasons for bringing meditation into your life.

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  1. Meditation helps you to relax and realign

Slowing down, breathing deeply and being still, even for just 5 minutes a day, deeply relaxes and realigns your entire body. The more frequently you practice meditation, the easier you will be able to access a relaxed state just by bringing your awareness to your breath and your body for a couple of minutes a few times throughout your day. This ability is very useful during stressful situations.

  1. Meditation reduces stress

Meditation is a very powerful antidote to stress, because you give your body a chance to take a break from the inner stress response (which for many of us is constantly on) and come back into balance. Given the strong correlation between stress and illness, it’s never been more important to find effective ways to counteract stress for your overall health and well-being.

  1. Meditation brings you into the present moment

Practising being “present” is an excellent skill to learn, as when you bring your awareness into your body and what you are feeling and sensing right now, you realise that most of the time you are anywhere but present: your mind is either imagining future scenarios or replaying past situations. If you are stuck in the future or the past you miss what’s happening right now! So the skill of presence is training yourself to bring your attention to what’s happening right now in your body through your senses, and then you can appreciate and do more with the life that you have.

  1. Meditation helps you to manage your emotions

If you’re feeling anxious, overwhelmed or there’s some funky energy in your body, meditation gives you the space and opportunity to process your emotions. Emotions are not meant to stay stuck in your body. When you feel your emotions fully, you can gain insight into what’s really going on for you and the emotions tend to recede.

  1. Meditation connects you to your heart and intuition

Your body has the most extraordinary technology – your emotions are signposts towards how you feel about your life and relationships, your heart knows what’s true for you where it really counts and your intuition is an incredible in-built radar system that mysteriously but masterfully pulls you in the direction of your highest good. These intangible and less understood intelligences are not yet valued in our rational society. But they are amazing and worth tapping into and, best of all, you don’t need to believe in any philosophy or woo woo to use them to your advantage. Meditation is the best way to connect to your heart knowing and intuition, because you have to be very quiet and open to hear what it has to say.

  1. Meditation increases self-awareness and self-knowledge

Spend time with yourself in meditation and you’ll get to know yourself better. With practice in slowing down and focusing your awareness, you’ll start to get occasional glimpses of your habitual responses in your relationships, dysfunctional patterns of behaviour that keep you stuck or in chaos and the limiting beliefs that have been driving you for a lifetime. This is the aim of inner work, as when your previously unconscious patterns become conscious, you can then work on changing them for the better.

  1. Meditation opens you to the sacred in life

Meditation can help you access a state of deep peace, spaciousness and bliss that is as humbling as it is mysterious. There is undoubtedly much more to our consciousness than most people know. When you connect to the deeper parts of yourself in meditation, you realise that you are uniquely independent and interconnected to every person on this planet. Meditation is the ultimate practice for connecting to the sacred, mystical and transcendent elements of life.

The great thing about meditation is there are many different ways to do it and you don’t have to believe in any religious or spiritual philosophy. If you are starting out it’s worth trying a few different methods to find what works best for you. I offer transformative group meditation classes at various times in the Northern Beaches, Sydney. To find out more, please contact laurelle@transformcounselling.com.au.

Why your most difficult relationship can be your greatest teacher

Are you in a difficult relationship with someone in your life or a challenging situation that presses every one of your buttons and triggers an unusually strong reaction in you? Does the very thought of this person or situation send you into a mental spin that lasts for days, weeks, even months?

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Have you ever wondered how you could improve things so there’s less charge and more harmony, at least from your side?

Whether it’s a past relationship or a provocative situation that still upsets you, or a relationship that you can’t end because they’re family or you live or work with them, then the most empowering approach is to change your inner orientation to that person or situation.

Why on earth would you want to do that, when they’re the person with the issue, you might ask?

Good question.

The simple answer is you have very little control over how others behave. If someone chooses to be rude, offensive, judgmental, unfair, irrational or narcissistic, that’s their issue. You can’t change them no matter how much you would like them to be different. Yet how you react to them and how you continue to relive their words and actions is your responsibility; that’s your issue.

Once you recognise that you have no power in trying to control how others behave, the question becomes, well where do I have power in this relationship or situation? What is in my control? What are they are triggering in me?  Can I accept this person for who they are or the situation for what it is? Asking yourself these types of questions is significantly more empowering than blaming and resenting others, and can in fact be game changing.

You may notice that you don’t like how you feel when you’re with this person. It can bring up uncomfortable feelings (ie powerlessness, anger, frustration, resentment) and you may behave with them in a way that doesn’t feel like “you”. That’s because you often leave yourself when you’re with challenging people.  It can feel like they take your power, but in actuality you give your power away.

When you react strongly to someone, chances are something about them hooks you back into your old unfinished business from the past that has nothing to do with this person. This is classic shadow dancing: you each trigger old hurts and wounds in the other.

It’s also a ripe opportunity for learning how to become less triggered in these situations.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

The interesting thing about personal growth is pretty much everything that goes on in your life is actually about you. It’s about how you relate to others and to yourself. Sounds narcissistic, but it’s far from it. Your relationships mirror back to you your relationship to your life. So if you find yourself triggered by someone, instead of ruminating over what they said or did, please pause for a moment and ask yourself:

What if they are teaching me about how to be more accepting, more loving, more connected to others?

What if they are showing me what my unmet needs are?

What if they are teaching me about empathy, patience, and tolerance?

What if they are teaching me how to stick up for myself, find my voice, not take things so personally, or how to have stronger boundaries in my relationships?

Ultimately, it’s about acceptance.  Acceptance of yourself and acceptance of others as they are. And with acceptance, comes the freedom to make different choices. Most of us receive feedback and instruction on our behaviour until we leave school, but after that there are less opportunities for real feedback on the areas in us that could do with a bit more attention.

These tricky situations and relationships are your best opportunities to make real leaps in your personal growth and maturity, because they show you your blind spots in a way that no one else will. They are a gift (albeit of the painful variety…). It might sound crazy to welcome your adversaries and be grateful for what they teach you, but if you are able to do this, then you are doing true soul work. What’s more, as you start to extract the lessons and apply the hard-won understandings to your life, you may well find yourself unfazed by similar situations in the future.

Are you about to make a big change? Get ready for your fears and doubts to show up!

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Recently, as I was in the midst of taking a new step in my life, I was surprised to notice that the first few days of my new reality felt unquestionably ordinary and normal. Whilst it was important for me personally, the change simply wasn’t as big a deal as I expected it to be.

Perhaps you’re about to make a big change, and

  • have your first interview after years of being a stay-at-home Mum…
  • move to another country or State and start afresh…
  • quit your job to start a new business …
  • go on a first date after years of being in a relationship…
  • take a leap of faith and follow your heart even though no one else quite gets it …

or something similar.

Executing change is actually quite easy, you just put one foot in front of the other, you show up and do it.  It’s the lead up to change where your crippling fears, insecurities and questions of worthiness all come up for air.  When you’re replaying worst possible scenarios in your head of what could happen to you when you take the leap.

You’re doing WHAT? You? Really? What makes you think you’ll be any good at that?  You’re just going to fail. Embarrass yourself. Say the wrong thing.  Hmmm. Recognise that voice?

I’m always surprised at how strong and physical fear feels in the body. It can deplete your energy and render you powerless. A few weeks ago, I woke up with anxiety flooding my chest and stomach, and it wasn’t until I took the time to feel the anxiety and get curious about it that I understood it was masking fear.

Unless you’re one of those unusual people who seeks dramatic change frequently for an adrenaline rush, most of us on some level are uncomfortable with taking new action. Whenever you stretch yourself outside of your comfort zone you are, in effect, summoning your fears, defences and insecurities to come and protect you from any potential danger or threat. To keep you in your comfort zone! Also, your inner critic, (remember that mean little voice that doubts your every move?), increases its volume and intensity and can give you a really hard time.

Fear is meant to protect you from real danger.  It’s so utterly convincing because of its physicality, but most of the time, doing something completely new isn’t at all dangerous. If you give into your fear and allow it to stop you from doing anything new that scares you, you may end up with some fairly heavy regrets later on that you didn’t give your dreams a go when you had the opportunity.

Destiny rarely knocks on the front door of your house.

Generally you need to chase after your dreams and make them happen. It’s in hindsight that you may recognise a kind of guiding force in your life that lead you to treasured experiences, friendships, and moments that you never would have had if you had not taken action.

So if you’re making a change, welcome your fears, insecurities and inner critic when they pay you a visit. Get curious about what they might be protecting you from, thank them for working so hard and then just go ahead anyway and take your inspired action.

Once you’ve take action, you’ll have a sense of quiet elation because you’ve learnt a big secret: that fear was always just an illusory prison challenging you to stay small and safe, and now you know that you’re capable of much more than you could have imagined when you were locked within its walls.

Announcing new weekly meditation group in Northern Beaches Sydney!

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Forest Meditators is a new weekly meditation group in Oxford Falls (in the Forest and Northern Beaches area of Sydney) open to anyone interested in meditation, self-development and connecting with like-minded people.

Meditation is an increasingly popular life skill that helps you to slow down, relax and become more present to yourself and your life.  It also helps to reduce stress and anxiety, strengthen concentration, intuition and enhance well-being.

Many people find it easier to meditate in a group than alone, and these meditations are guided to help you to relax and not have to worry about the “how”.  Meditation is a life skill that’s about connecting to yourself and becoming more present to your life.  It’s a wonderful practice of self-care.

Suitable for beginners or regular meditators of all ages and stages of life.  You don’t need any special skill to do it!

Please spread the word and share this with anyone who might be interested.

First group starts tomorrow, Wednesday, 5 November at 10 am – 11 am!  They will be held weekly until mid-December.

To RSVP and for more details, please register at http://www.meetup.com/Forest-Meditators/  or email laurelle@transformcounselling.com.au

Hope to see you there!

What to do when you’re facing change

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There is one absolute given in life:

You are continually changing and evolving.  Every. Single. Day.

Yet change isn’t always noticeable from the outside and is even less hard to spot when you’re living a busy 24/7 routine. The inner stirrings of change are subtle, so subtle in fact that months and years can pass before you realise you’re being nudged in a new direction.

It may be that you dislike your job, but you put up with it because it pays well and, at the very least, it’s stable. Or perhaps your children’s emerging independence has freed up your time, but after years of perceiving and meeting everyone else’s needs and desires, you draw a complete blank when it comes to your own. Maybe you no longer feel good about yourself when you’re with certain friends. Or those activities you used to love doing no longer interest you.

If you were heart-stoppingly honest with yourself, you might admit that you simply don’t feel the way you used to. There’s no longer a snug fit between who you are right now and the situation you’re in. Either you’ve changed, or the situation has changed. And that’s OK. Of course it can feel much safer to stay where you are and hope that things will work themselves out. But digging your head in the sand and ignoring your real feelings about situations that aren’t working is, in effect, asking for life to happen to you. It’s a powerless stance, akin to taking a back seat in your own life.

Being in your own power is about sitting in the driver’s seat of your life.

In situations that have stagnated well past their use-by date, it’s likely that a part of you has already jumped ship… or given up, both of which can feel like a kind of deadness inside. There can be a real sense of missing the boat too, fearing that it’s too late for you to change anything.

It’s never too late to change.

Change Painful

Nothing in the natural world stays stagnant. There’s a constant cycle of birth, growth, peak, decline, death and rebirth. And it’s the same with us. We go through cycles in our lives where new aspects of us are born, develop, peak, decline and die. Over and over again.

If you find yourself going through the motions day after day, somewhere deep down you’ll know if this situation isn’t serving or nourishing you. You may feel a great unease in your system whenever you think about it. It’s a sign the wheel of life is turning … something is ending. And there’s something in you aching for new life, for the vibrant you that went into hiding the moment you outgrew the old situation. You just didn’t notice. Until now.

There’s something incredibly empowering about reading your own signals of change and making fresh choices from that place.

If this is where you’re at, you may be feeling some discomfort reading these words. There’s no question that change can be painful and scary. Yet it’s far more painful to allow yourself to wilt on the inside than it is to face the truth of your situation. The possibility for the next part of your life lies ahead of you, in the “yet to happen” space. To open up to what could be, you’ll need to loosen your grip on keeping things the same.

The truth is things are not the same if you no longer feel nourished or connected to them. 

Ultimately your soul loves pleasure. If your life is considerably out of sync with your deeper values and desires, you’re likely to be feeling anything and everything but pleasure. It’s one of the most reliable signs you have at your disposal.

Once you acknowledge and accept the situation for what it is, you’ll be able to make positive changes or let go of what’s no longer serving you and steer your life towards the vibrant aliveness and expanded possibilities that are always available to you.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on change below or as always feel free to share x