… On Healing

IMG_0597

Healing. What a scary word, don’t you think?

I wanted to spend some time reflecting on this word and its meaning to me, in relation to the life break I have been engaging in. I know that I keep going on and on about this break that I’m having, which is really more of an ongoing breakthrough, hence why I keep talking about it. I’m still very much in it. Once you say yes to a process, you never really know how long it will take to complete.

Chained to the Rhythm

What is this process about, as I currently see it? (I say, currently, because in a few months I might have a very different perspective on it.)

I found myself staring at a wall that I couldn’t figure out how to get past: an emotional, spiritual, intellectual wall. Nothing I could think about, or feel through, or meditate on, seemed to work. I could see that through the years, I focused on some things and not on others. These other things I neglected were: my spirituality, my emotional wellbeing, my creativity, my talents, my motivations. I’m not judging myself actually: I’m very clear that a person can only work with what they know. And that’s what I did. I finished a Master’s degree and what I knew was: find work, get money, pay the bills, pay debt, have (familiar) fun, complain a bit here and there, find a relationship, go on dates, exercise, eat healthily, continue to learn. It’s what I learned, what I was taught, what I witnessed others do.

But I could always feel a lack of something and I’ve been feeling this lack for many years. I keep doing what I need to do, according to the world around me, but there has always been a deep feeling that something else needed to be done. And I think the wall I mentioned above is related to this. All my decisions brought me to a place where I could no longer keep doing the same things, chained to a rhythm that was hollow, trapped to a wheel of (nothing) merry-go-round.

Old and New Ways of Being

I am writing this now, straight after watching a good friend’s video on his own current journey of moving from old through to new ways of being.

(Check the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0h1tc4pQf1c&feature=youtu.be and his page here: http://www.edwardpike.net/).

We’ve talked at length about these things for months, even years! Our understanding of it keeps both deepening and expanding, which sounds paradoxical, but I hope that you understand. Our journeys through to a new system have been different, but similar, just like yours, I’m sure. Life is a constant paradox: we’re all different, but all similar; we’re all individuals, but actually all one soul; to receive, you need to give; to keep, you have to let go; we strive for logic, but nothing is logical; everyone wants a magical solution to life, but everyone refuses to believe in magic; people think they have to see it to believe it, but they will only see it when they believe it; we want quick fixes for things that took years and decades to manifest… You get the point.

What do I mean by old and new ways of being?

Not to put labels on people’s experiences, but millions of people around the world have been waking up to some of these things for many years now: look at the boom in awareness and engagement with alternative and holistic medicine and therapies, and spiritual practices! Also, consider the near collapse of several institutions around the world in the past decade, and how irrationally power structures keep trying to hold on to their last breath: the rise in extreme ideologies is just a collective, global manifestation of this. Something old is dying, and something new is being born.

And this is the thing: no one knows what the new world order might look like, but I would say that the choice is very clear: fear or love. Those of us who are on both sides of the various healing practices around the world – as active participants and practitioners – can feel this transition acutely, for we cannot authentically guide others, when we have not gone through the process ourselves. Those of us who truly understand this process know that in order to get to “Love & Light”, one must go through quite a lot of darkness. It’s the most basic duality of life: Light & Shadow. Everything else derives from it. That’s why life is actually simple: every single choice goes back to this – Light or Shadow. What then turns life difficult is that we keep mistaking one for the other. We think we have many choices, but we really actually don’t: Light or Shadow. That’s it! Don’t believe me? Spend some time paying attention to your life choices, and even your daily choices, and try to look at them from this perspective. Peel back each situation to its core choice/conflict. The more you do it, the easier it gets to discern.

Re-Awakenings

Thus, for millions of people around the world in recent years, this clarity has become more obvious and present, and people have been actively looking for answers! I mean, was there any kind of large scale awareness about terms and notions such as past lives, inner child, heart space, astrological charts, flow, alignment, life’s purpose, consciousness, energy etc., even 6 or 7 years ago? The more people awaken, the more they realise that awakening really means some kind of proactive work on the self. This has triggered further awareness of the countless ways in which to do this with practices that have been around for thousands of years, but which had been relegated to the margins of societies and cultures.

For example, the spiritual practice that I follow, Kabbalah. Here’s a practice that has been around for the most part of 4000 years, but which historically had been placed under strict restrictions of study for married Jewish men over the age of 40, until a woman – Karen Berg – in the 1970s asked her husband: if I can and have learned this, why can’t the whole world? Simple choice? Yes! Easy? Not at all: they were persecuted for decades! Can you see the difference between simple and easy?

Another interesting example is my very unconscious choice to study Dramatherapy. Here is a practice, which “clinically” belongs in the family of psychotherapies, but which practically breaks with so many conventions of the very scholarly traditions of psychology, that it sometimes bears no resemblance. I was trained in rituals, myths, storytelling, being in the body, following instincts. That’s why I always say Dramatherapy is closer to Jung’s school of thought, than Freud’s, because Jung was incredibly spiritual. The adoption of shadow and collective unconscious as psychological terms come from him. Jung was also keenly aware of the relationship between self and the world around, saying that “whatever is rejected in the self, appears in the world as an event.” In Kabbalah, we call this sort of thing a “message” or a “sign” that there’s something we need to change. Jung called it “synchronicity” and the world of psychology has used it ever since. The concept is exactly the same! I always tell my clients in therapy: “whatever you deal with here in the room, will inevitably appear in your life outside the room.” There is no escaping the interconnectedness of life.

In my Dramatherapy training, because it was based on ritual, I was able to learn about and explore several ancient and current healing traditions from all over the world. Gabrielle Roth – founder of 5Rhythms – once said:

“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions:

When did you stop dancing?

When did you stop singing?

When did you stop being enchanted by stories?

When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?”

So, when did YOU stop doing these in your life?

Alternative Therapy and Healing

I, as well as millions of people around the world, have stopped doing all these things to an almost deadly extent. Look around any mainstream education system and the arts are always the most disposable disciplines. We have stopped valuing that which enables us to connect more with each other. The arts are what connects us to the heart space and the body. Not rational and scientific thinking. And even though I studied, trained, and lived Dramatherapy for the past 5 years of my life, I actually forgot this myself.

I found myself trying to be a “clinician”, often speaking in clinical jargon, wanting to belong to a community of practitioners who did not want me there, for my practice represented, and still does, a new way of being and relating. And I tried to belong very hard, because that’s what I knew how to do. “I must belong!”, “I must adapt!”. How much more adaptation can I make if Dramatherapy is already based on all the art forms, various ritual and spiritual practices of healing, and at least 5 formal schools of psychotherapeutic thought? I was choosing Shadow, thinking that I was choosing Light. It’s obvious that it had to come to a halt.

And so, one of the biggest parts of the process I’m currently going through is about embracing the alternative and holistic aspect of what I actually do and know, of what I have learned, of what I feel my purpose is. And within that, is about embracing the term healing.

I know exactly why people roll their eyes at the sound of that word, because I have done it countless times. Where is this rejection coming from, though? Well, in order to accept and receive the Light, we need to accept and receive the Shadow. What does healing really imply? That’s right! Healing implies that there is something to heal. That we are wounded, in pain, suffering. Who wants to admit that?

By admitting we need healing, or practice healing, we need to admit that there is a wound.

So, here’s to healing each other, by expanding and deepening our connections to Self, which will automatically expand and deepen our connections to each other, world, and universe.

 

Advertisements

… On Interconnectedness

IMG_0596

 

For the past two years, I worked solely as a Dramatherapist. It was a professional identity that I took seriously, felt deeply, and thought about constantly. It brought together many things that I was passionate about and interested in, such as performance, psychology, spirituality, healing, creativity, helping others. It slowly sipped into other identities, and sometimes it integrated itself, but other times, it overtook aspects of myself. I took it as a badge of honour and tried to fit in, in ways which were actually counterproductive to how I am and what I value. This took me by surprise, and it showed me a lesson: evolution is constant. It’s not about reaching a place in life and then resting. It’s about going through life’s motions and paths, and taking each moment as it comes. That’s all we will ever have, ultimately.

I am not rejecting this identity, I am simply expanding it. I still don’t have a name for the current identity that is forming, though. I feel what it is but I can’t define it yet. I know that it has liberated itself from the Dramatherapist label, to include other identities/talents/passions, such as performance, creative collaborations, countercultural communities, movements at the fringe and margins of the mainstream. I’m trying to follow my instincts on this one and letting it become clear whenever it becomes clear.

In the meantime, here is what I do and know. Whilst I eventually found myself in a place of stuckness with Dramatherapy, I did learn immensely in the past two years, post qualification and graduation. I worked in the fields of addiction, sexual health, and adult mental health, and loved every single moment of learning or insight I experienced in my consulting rooms. By now, I have conducted more than 150 individual sessions, and more than 400 group sessions. That is a lot of people! That is also a lot of stories, pain, joy, tears, laughter, fear, and love. It is, above all, a lot of connection! And this is the most important notion I am keeping with me, from the past two years: connection. To be more precise, interconnection. A big part of my therapeutic approach consists of instinctive interactions in the moment. I often found myself saying something, which I didn’t know where it had come from. I often joked with colleagues that I wish I had a recorder with me in sessions, for I would have been able to write a nice book by now, just by transcribing my sessions onto paper.

This always told me something: that I am blessed with a gift that goes beyond the theory and practice that I learned in my training as a Dramatherapist. A gift which often allowed me to get to aspects of my clients’ stories and lived experiences, in a much quicker, deeper, and more contained manner than other therapists who had also worked with them. A gift which allowed clients to connect with me, even without having to disclose anything of myself. A gift which immediately made people feel safe in my presence as soon as we started our first sessions together. A gift which was always accepted by the clients, but often misunderstood by colleagues, and other professionals. Interestingly, I recently read a quote by Carl Jung which said something along the lines of: learn all the theory that you possibly can, but then leave it outside the therapy room. Why? Because the most important thing is to meet the person as they are in that moment: not their personal or clinical history. I have always done this instinctively.

And what I noticed, time and time again, was the theme of interconnectedness: inner and outer. By inner interconnectedness, I mean the notion that every part of us is connected. As I said in my previous post, we are not mind AND body AND heart AND soul. We are MindBodyHeartSoul, every second of every day that we are alive on this Earth. That’s why so often in therapy we may be dealing with some kind of problem in a particular area, and another problem in a completely different area pops up. Mental health is not just mental, just as physical health is not just physical. They are deeply connected. And so is our psyche. I often described it as a spider web to clients. The spider may be at one end of the web, when a bug touches the other end, but that vibration will travel through the entire web. When we work on a particular area in therapy, that vibration will travel through the entire psyche, and we have no way of predicting what the reaction might be. This doesn’t happen solely in therapy, though. It can happen at any second, of any day. Something happens at work, for instance, which will trigger something else which may feel completely unrelated, but it isn’t. And in real life, people don’t often have the support they need in certain situations. That’s why safety is such an important concept in therapeutic settings: when things do pop up, there will be a safety net in place to catch whatever it may be. Outer interconnectedness is our relationship to each other. We are also part of one giant organism and soul, affecting each other without a real awareness of what we are doing, and of how much we are actually influencing everything around us.

It was with this in MindBodyHeartSoul, that I have provisionally come up with the 7 core principles of InterBeing. In no particular order, because they are all interconnected.

Emotional Integration:

In the processes of holistic healing, wellbeing, and transformation, I perceive Emotional Integration as the removal of labels of good and bad, right and wrong. It’s not about judging aspects of ourselves which manifest as blockages, negativity, or ego. Everything in our psyches has a function, therefore it is important to understand what that function is, and help that part of you integrate with the others, i.e., work harmoniously together. For more on this, I highly recommend watching the Pixar/Disney movie, Inside Out (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRUAzGQ3nSY). People often joke about it, but that is exactly how I work with clients, and their different emotions.

Self-Compassion:

This is my preferred term to work on the self. To me, it implies an intimate relationship with the self, one that does not require a comparison to external circumstances. Whilst our relationships with others are immensely influential in our lives, it is also necessary to discern where someone’s opinions/feelings/perceptions of us end, and where our own opinions/feelings/perceptions of ourselves begin.

Becoming aware of the boundaries between us and others is extremely valuable, as it helps with self-preservation, self-esteem, self-worth, and self-compassion. If there’s no sense of self, how can one start the process of healing and transformation? Once we discover the sense of self, it is then important to learn to be compassionate toward, and about it. We have all spent too long showing nothing but contempt towards our own sense of self, and it is time that we stop that.

Interdependent Relationships:

Relationships: one of the big ones! I would say one of the biggest reasons people go to therapy for is due to relationships. The process of relating to others is extremely significant. I believe that there is only so much healing, processing and developing that one can do on their own. Certain aspects of what it means to be human, may only be worked through, by relating to others. And this is where this core principle comes in: most clinical presentations in a therapy room had their origin in an interaction with someone else. And, one way or another, everyone expresses the same needs: to be seen, to be heard, to be validated, to be loved, to know that they matter. These can only occur and be healed in relationship with others.

But what does interdependent relationships mean? That there are healthy boundaries between each individual in the relationship. That both parties have a sense of self, that is not dependent on the other. It’s not about saving the other, or being completed by the other. It’s about remaining yourself whilst in relationship to the other. Two individual parties coming together, but not becoming one and disappearing into each other. Remember: we are already One, in our souls and with the universe around us. We were born to be our individual selves, not someone else.

Easier said than done, right? Healing is simple, but not easy.

Post Traumatic Growth

This term comes from Sheryl Sandberg’s book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy (https://optionb.org/book), which she wrote after her husband died, and I absolutely love the idea behind it. Most people are familiar with the term PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But as in with many clinical conditions and diagnoses, we always see people who are subdued and people who move through. In Sheryl’s case, she describes feeling a certain level of clarity, after months of grief, which made her realise that she was growing. She had gone through something traumatic, and that trauma will always be part of her life, but she was now experiencing growth, and not a stress disorder.

Reading this made me give her an imaginary standing ovation! I had never thought of it that way. All the trauma I have experienced personally, as well as the trauma of the hundreds of clients whom I have worked with…there was growth there, of course!

What I find so exciting about this is that it still acknowledges the trauma, which is imperative, but is no longer ruled by it. There is growth! The focus shifts from a disorder to emotional growth! And isn’t that what we, who have lived through trauma, want? To move from the disorder and into some kind of growth? I adopted it immediately as a core principle!

Therapeutic Performance & Art

Arts can be used with therapeutic intent, and can be therapeutic in themselves. Schools of thought in the arts therapies often fall under these two categories. But why should it be one or the other? They are not mutually exclusive. In my previous role as Dramatherapist, I often followed and fell under the first option: using the elements of drama in therapy. And I forgot about all those times that I had performed on a stage, or rehearsed something, and felt the therapeutic benefits of playing/being/re-enacting/embodying something or someone. This is a commitment to have more fluidity between these two schools of thought and practice, in my personal and professional lives, but also to invite everyone to merge them a bit more in their own processes. For performers, for instance, the invitation is to spend more time in the process, not the performance, and explore the feelings and experiences in a more reflective manner. For others who only use the arts as tool, to spend more time being creative, letting go, even performing or sharing the art with others, and letting the art itself do the talking.

Grounded Witnessing

In the practice of Dramatherapy, there is this concept of witnessing. It’s more obvious in a group setting, but it is present in individual sessions as well. It means that one is not simply watching someone play or be someone, or looking at someone’s art work. One is watching or looking, but one is equally paying attention to how those things feel in one’s lived experience. It’s not about liking it or not, it’s about being open to and aware of feelings that arise during that experience. There is an active participation element to it. The question to witnesses is never “What did you think?”, but “How did it feel?” or “What’s with you in this moment, and where is it?” It requires presence in each moment: to watch/look, to feel, and to reflect.

The groundedness aspect is twofold: by being present in each moment, one becomes grounded. By becoming grounded, one is able to better listen to one’s heart, soul, and intuition, and discern motivations and paths to follow.

Awakened Intimacy

I actually wrote my MA thesis on intimacy between HIV+ gay men, and this has been a big part of my Dramatherapy training, and professional work. It has also been a big part of my personal life, because I have carried around for many years, this internal narrative/story that “I struggle with intimacy”. I was always consciously and unconsciously drawn to things that I struggled with and most of clinical work reflected this need to find out more about myself, through working with others in similar experiences. It didn’t make my clinical work any easier, let me tell you that!

With most things, the more I looked into intimacy, the more I saw and discovered, the more I questioned what I thought I knew, and the more clarity I gained. For myself, and most people I have worked with, intimacy tends to be associated with sex, or with other behaviours in close relationships.

This might be controversial, but I experienced very deep connections with clients over the years, both with clients in 1:1 sessions, and between clients in group sessions. Connections which I would describe as intimate. The main characteristics of these connections were emotional depth, healthy boundaries, mutual healing and transformation, and unconditional compassion, which manifested physically through sustained eye contact, instinctively mirrored body language, and proximity.

Because a lot of my work revolved around building positive relationships, I often made them aware of these happenings and experiences, in an effort to make it obvious that they were, indeed, able to connect deeply with others, without the world falling apart. I call this process awakened intimacy: to experience intimacy instinctively, to become aware of it, to reflect on it, and then apply it further.

My aim, then, in this new phase of personal and professional identity formation, is to apply and encourage all of these in my work with people, whether as a therapist, a performer, a speaker, or a collaborator.

I hope you join me.

… On Emotional and Spiritual Transformation

interbeing-fb-cover-2.jpg

 

Many weeks ago, I saw this on the Facebook feed of one of my favourite spiritual thinkers/teachers, Jeff Brown:

“I make no distinction between emotional and spiritual transformation.”

This struck me because even though I had never thought about it in those terms, it made perfect sense.

Sometimes I struggle with defining spirituality to others, as well as myself, because I live it through felt experiences, rather than rational ones. In fact, if you try to rationalise spirituality, or emotions, you might as well do something else.

I am someone who always remembers having a sense of “something else”, beyond what my senses could experience, and I can look back at my life and say that a search for that “something else” was there from a very young age. I had dreams, thoughts, and feelings that I couldn’t understand or explain, and I even experienced premonitions of future events, which I know better than to try and explain to any audience in any kind of rational way. What this all boils down to, however, is the fact that my intuition has always been powerful and beyond logic, and my heart space has always been open and receptive to every kind of human experience, no matter how extreme. I always found myself in situations where people would tell me their darkest secrets with ease, even as a child!

But as I began to experience extreme bullying from school peers, and feeling more and more misunderstood and isolated as a young person, I began to curtail my own emotional development. It’s no surprise that my intuition and heart space became barren and my relationship to religion changed. I don’t remember ever feeling like a devout Catholic, but I clearly remember the change to feeling completely against the Church in my teenage years. But it was also in my teenage years that the first seed of spirituality was planted. I was watching yet another music documentary on VH1, this time about Madonna, and in it she referenced her new found spiritual practice, Kabbalah. She said something along these lines: “Before this wisdom, I always thought life was random, and now I can see the connection.” Don’t ask me how, but somehow, that sentence stuck with me, even though I really didn’t understand what it meant. I was 13 years old.

Fast forward to being 17 years old and living in the USA with an American family. They had a ton of books on different spiritual practices, and one day as I spoke to my American mom, Cathy, she mentioned she had tried studying Kabbalah but didn’t like it. And even though I didn’t connect the dots straight away, there was something in me that remembered that Madonna interview all those years before, and the word Kabbalah began to resonate in what I would now call my soul, but which I experienced at the time as a simple “I must find out more about this thing”. I eventually bought a book – The Power of Kabbalah – and underlined almost every sentence, because everything resonated so deeply within me, almost as if I was coming back to some kind of spiritual home. I spent the following 5 years reading more about it on newsletters and books, but mainly not taking it so seriously. In fact, in my early 20s, I was much more preoccupied with booze and sex.

In 2010, at the age of 23, I decided to move to London and promptly lost all my savings through not being able to find work for 3 months. And then I realised that this was the first time I was living in a city with a Kabbalah Centre in it, and thought: what do I have to lose? I had no job, my mom had paid my last rent, and my self-esteem was non-existent.

I’m not writing this to promote Kabbalah in any way. I am here to say that it has worked for me. And it worked for me in the sense that it helped me to expand my awareness, elevate my consciousness, engage with my ego/shadow, open up my heart space, reignite my intuition, and ultimately transform several aspects of my life. Through its teachings and practices, I was able to begin to heal several aspects of my past: emotional neglect, bullying, Catholic oppression, family dynamics, shame, amongst others. I also learned about my soul and its journey and began to realise that whilst being awakened to a spiritual reality is amazing, it is also a tremendous responsibility. To be fully aware that your thoughts, actions, and words, all have an effect on your life, others’ lives, and the world? Honestly, sometimes I feel like that guy in the first Matrix movie who chooses to be plugged back in.

Spiritual transformation, just like emotional transformation, is hard work. It’s not about being positive all the time, it’s not about positive vibes or whatever. In order to be authentic in that positivity, you need to address, engage with, explore, and heal the parts of you that live in the dark. Light is only revealed from darkness. If you light a candle in a completely lit room, what difference does it make? But if you light a candle in a dark room? Well, you get the idea. And, this is the most difficult part of being aware and awakened: the work NEVER stops. In fact, the more you do, the more you need to do. The more expansive and elevated your consciousness becomes, the more difficult the challenges and lessons become. Why? Because, in order to reveal and manifest more Light in the world, the more darkness you need to overcome. Wouldn’t you want to be plugged back in to the Matrix, too?

But this is the thing. As the challenges have become larger, so has my capacity to deal with them. When my life changed on 5th May 2016 – more on that in the future – I actually had real strength and compassion to deal with it, because I had been doing spiritual and emotional transformation. I no longer blamed the world for my lows or mishaps, but instead I understood that even the direst of situations have a function. That doesn’t always become clear straight away, but I follow the motto of AA fellowships everywhere: one day at a time.

All of this to say: emotional transformation is spiritual transformation. Spiritual transformation is emotional transformation. Emotional transformation very much deals with the physical reality of our human existence, and spiritual transformation deals with the metaphysical reality of our souls in their relationship with each other, and other forces in the universe. Thus, the more we understand and accept that we are both body and soul, and that they are interconnected and interdependent, the more we come to realise that they are, and we are, interbeing. We are interconnected beings whose function is to be.

We are here, to be, in each moment, all that we are. No separation. No body AND mind AND heart AND soul, but BodyMindHeartSoul. We are all connected, whether we can see that or not. And all parts of us are connected. We are One, being One.

In this new focus of being, I have combined all that I have learned and experienced in the fields of spirituality, therapy, and performance, to create a more authentic practice of transformation and healing: healing by transforming our separation into integrated connection.