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.

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.

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!

Why you should pay more attention to your emotions Part 2

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In Part 1 of this post: http://wp.me/p3ckDt-3C, we explored how your emotions hold important information about your current state of wellbeing. So how do you access that inner information when you have spent years avoiding your uncomfortable feelings? Here are some quick tips to start you off: 

Slow down

When you’re all worked up inside, see if you can take 5-10 minutes for yourself where you’re not doing anything. Find somewhere you can be alone so that you can feel into what’s going on for you.

Be in your body

To feel your emotions you have to be in your body. The quickest way to drop into your body is to pay attention to your body’s sensations. A useful starting place is noticing your breath – one minute of paying attention to your breath will bring you into your body pronto!

Don’t think, just feel

Most of us think we are feeling our emotions, but what we’re actually doing is analysing and rationalising them so we can solve the problem with our minds. If you’re trying to work out why you’re feeling the way you do, then you’re actually thinking about your emotions. Having said that, it can be useful to ask yourself why you’re feeling this way, then wait and feel the response in your body rather than with your mind. To extract the guidance from your emotions, you need to feel your feelings, which is a sensory experience, rather than a mental process.

Forget what others said or did; for now the focus is on what’s been triggered in you

Your feelings are about you, no matter how badly someone else has behaved. Even if another person has been the trigger for your distress, ultimately how you feel is your domain and it’s up to you to take responsibility for your feelings.

One way to do this is to get curious about what the other person has triggered in you. Is it fear of rejection, or of not being liked? Is it a lack of respect for you? Were you misunderstood? Or rudely interrupted? Did you feel invisible? Whatever’s coming up for you, once you realise what’s been triggered in you, then you can go a step deeper and sense into what, for example, being rejected or being misunderstood means to you. 

Bring empathy to your inner judge and critic

That persistent inner judge and critic can create havoc in our system, bringing up feelings of shame and unworthiness in situations where we feel vulnerable. Shame is when we feel inherently bad or unworthy of love and belonging. It’s a toxic emotion that’s strongly connected to addiction, depression, anxiety and even suicide. Brené Brown’s work has shown that empathy is the best antidote to shame. If shame is coming up in your emotions, see if you can have some empathy for that part of you that’s feeling unworthy or bad, as it will go a long way to dissipating those nasty shame gremlins. 

Have patience

Above all, be patient with yourself as it can take some time to adjust to this kind of inner attention if you’re not used to it. Yet the rewards are many, including building trust in yourself, inner resilience, strengthening emotional intelligence and learning to sort through what issues are yours and what belongs to others in your relationships. Not to mention the information your system gives you when you pay attention to it!

How do you work with your emotions? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. 

Why you should pay more attention to your emotions Part 1

ImageWhen life isn’t going so well, often our first response is to go into distraction overdrive to avoid feeling our feelings. If, like most people, you dislike the sensation of being angry, frustrated, uncertain, anxious, confused or overwhelmed, in an attempt to get rid of these feelings you might emotionally eat, have a few too many 5 pm wines, or spend all your spare time online or watching TV. Basically, any addictive behaviour that stops you from feeling your inner turmoil can be, let’s be honest, a relief. It’s an habitual way of dealing with uncomfortable emotions that may have served you well in childhood, but now just keep you stuck.

If you try to bury or avoid feeling your feelings, it’s important to know that whatever’s causing you emotional distress doesn’t actually go away. If only! The issue and the intensity of your feelings might dim for a while but rest assured at some point they come back. Always. So to avoid a bigger personal crisis down the track from years of stored emotions, what could you do now to restore some balance in your system and, more importantly, why would you bother going to the effort?

Firstly, it’s important to understand that when you’re in turmoil, and your emotions are intense and uncomfortable, there’s a reason for it. Your body’s trying to tell you something and it’s worth listening. For example, if you’re angry, perhaps you didn’t speak up for yourself with someone, or maybe you were undermined at work. Anger often represents a boundary issue. If you’re feeling sad, perhaps you’re having to let go of something that was important to you. Until you feel into that sadness, you may not even realise just how important it was to you.

Let’s imagine you’ve been in the same job for 5 years and you’ve been happy there. Then one day you wake up and feel differently about your job. You’re frustrated, bored, dissatisfied and restless. If you paid attention to these feelings, it would start to become clear that something needs to change: perhaps it’s time to move on as you’ve outgrown your job, or maybe you need to have a conversation with your boss about making the role more challenging.

If, on the other hand, you ignored these feelings, because your emotions are energy, and they haven’t been felt or expressed, they build up in your system over time and then come out in more disruptive and dysfunctional ways, often when you’re least expecting it. For example, someone says something minor and you lose your temper; or you project all your “stuff” onto someone else making them the problem in your life; or you constantly feel lethargic from all the years of ignoring your body and it’s wearing you out.

As you can see, when you feel your feelings and accept them as being a valid part of your experience, even if you don’t like how they make you feel, they will always give you information about your current reality. They can be a phenomenal source of personal guidance. Sometimes it’s hard to hear that guidance because the truth can be painful. It can take time to come to terms with what it is we need to change in our lives. However change doesn’t always mean ending something; but it does mean that you have genuine needs that deserve to be met.

When you choose to include your emotions in your life, you’ll get to know them for the remarkable guidance system that they are and you’ll start trusting yourself a whole lot more.

In Part 2 of this post, I’ll be giving you some quick tips on how to feel your emotions.