…on Swimming (and other life lessons)

2023B751-4D5D-461B-A7A5-E01FD1D34DA7

Picture: (from left to right) Ryan at 18, at Langley High School; Ryan at 30, at Out to Swim

I’ve just come back from a weekend where I participated in a swimming competition for the first time in 13 years! The whole weekend had a very full circle moment type of feeling. The last time I’d been in a pool competing, I was swimming a butterfly event, where my goggles had fallen off, and I miscalculated the distance between myself and the wall, and took a stroke too many and smashed my head into it. I was out for the rest of the event, and for the rest of the season. Back then, I used to swim for my former high school in Northern Virginia, Langley High School, home of the Saxons. This time, I’m swimming for Out to Swim, a LGBT Masters Club in London, where I also do synchronised swimming. This weekend, my first event was the 50m butterfly. My return to competition was in the exact same event where I had left competition. Needless to say, I was very, very, very nervous! I wanted to do well for myself, for the team, whilst trying not to be consumed by the fear of having another accident in the water.

The moments just before diving into the water this weekend, reminded me of two very important life lessons: overcoming myself, and being in the moment. I mean, at one point, I actually thought: “Ryan, you’re being your own worst enemy with all this fear!” And it’s so true!! How many times do we falter because of our own fears and doubts? It’s not even about the people around us at all. It’s all on the inside! I’d forgotten how sports really do bring this point home so quickly and in such a physical way: the only person you need to beat in a race, is yourself. The presence or absence of doubt and fear can make or break an athlete, in whatever discipline. Not just in races and events, but also in training. How many times these days am I in a pool, and think “I don’t need to work that hard”. Yes, maybe not. But also, maybe I could. Who knows what’s on the other side of overcoming an obstacle, right? I remember many a session in my high school team, where I had to run off to the changing rooms mid-session to throw up, and then come back to the pool and continue swimming. There’s a very special, which sometimes may seem a bit brutal, discipline in sports, where you overcome both physical and psychological limits. It’s a deep pain followed by a great release into something new and previously unexplored: a new personal level.

Being in the moment is also crucial. One of the swimmers, who is also a coach on the team, said something along the lines of “Dive in, see how you feel, and go from there!”. Isn’t that great? What a fantastic way to think about a race, or any challenge really! Dive in, see how you feel, and proceed accordingly. This actually really helped me this weekend, which, needless to say, also pointed out how I tend to experience life: I’m always in the future. I used to be always in the past, and to some extent, I still am, but these days, I spend a lot of time in the future. I often miss out on life, not because I mean to, but because I’m not paying attention to what’s around me NOW. Like this weekend. In all of my races, I was already at the end – almost avoiding the whole thing, by wanting it to be over. I do that too often, if you ask me! Unsurprisingly, my best race this weekend, was the one race where I did exactly as my fellow swimmer and coach said: I dove in, I saw how I felt, and I proceeded accordingly. In all the other ones, I got a bit too distracted by other things. But in that race, I felt fully present throughout. From diving in, to the first few strokes, to my breathing, to my arms, my legs, to the last few meters. It is the simplest, yet most difficult thing there is: to be present in each moment.

However, the best part of the whole thing, was the feeling of community, of belonging to a tribe and group of people, bonding firstly through the love of the sport, but more deeply through each other’s humanity and conquering of personal limitations and doubts. Being with my team this weekend, really reminded me of my old team, and my old community of swimmers, and their parents. Even though I’d been swimming since I can remember, my time at Langley was the first time I swam competitively, and trained accordingly. Swimming every day of the week, being part of a community of swimmers and their parents, who all loved the sport and the thrill of the competition. I had joined the team to make new friends – because that tends to be the best way to find one’s tribe in the world – and felt very much at home. I remember some practices being gruelling, but the feeling afterwards was always amazing. And even though I wasn’t at all the fastest or anywhere near being any kind of “star”, being part of that team was very important to me. In fact, my favourite part about swim meets wasn’t even about swimming my own events, but about cheering for and supporting my teammates. And this is what I experienced again this weekend, and what gave me real joy: cheering on for my peers, bonding through our shared experiences, and just generally being together with friends in a spirit of friendship and unconditional support.

I’d also forgotten about this wonderful aspect of sports: the community it can create, and the power it has to bring people together. I feel very grateful to have been reminded of this.

Ryan Campinho Valadas

W: http://www.thehealingcontinuum.com/
E: info@thehealingcontinuum.com

Advertisements

…on Politics and Consciousness

IMG_2922

 

When I was 17 years old, I moved to Great Falls, Virginia, a beautiful and wealthy suburban area of Washington DC. The year was 2004 and George W. Bush was to be reelected that November. Being so close to Washington was really inspiring. Before the election, my school held student-led debates on different issues, and students of each political party got to participate. I’d never seen that before to that extent: so many politically active minds amongst my peers! Not only that: I was an exchange student, on an exchange programme, with dozens of exchange students from all over the world. The organisation is called AFS and you should check them out and the amazing work that they do – https://afs.org.

My mind opened up to such an extent during that year, that I knew in my heart and soul that my life would never be the same again! And how could it stay the same? When you meet people from every corner of the world, your view of the world inevitably expands and your values change. When you immerse yourself in a different culture, you not only understand people’s differences better, but also their similarities. I have defended this ever since: every young person should get the opportunity to not only travel, but to be able to live in a different culture for at least 1 year before they’re 25 years old!

My desire and commitment to change the world and make it a better place became solidified after that exchange programme experience.

Was it difficult to leave everything I knew behind at 17 years old, go live with an American family I’d never met, and go to a school filled with teenagers I didn’t know? You’re damn right it was! Would I change it? Not at all! I truly believe I wouldn’t be me today, without that experience. In fact, I was so inspired by my time living near Washington DC, that I decided to enroll in a joint university degree of Theatre Studies and Politics. I still wasn’t sure at the time whether I would change the world via theatre or politics, so I decided to do both and hopefully know by the end of the 4 years. Because I was planning to go and work with the United Nations, I focused on Human Rights, Refugees, Humanitarianism, International Development, Nationalism, and Politics of Latin America (a post-colonialism interest of mine). I knew within a few months of studying Human Rights and International Development policies and dynamics, that this would not be the place for me to make a change.

My biggest take away from the practice of diplomacy was that everything was always considered above a human life. Culture, economics, religion, politics. Everything seemed to be more important than someone’s life. I felt that diplomacy often rested upon the idea of political correctness, which I saw as a way of never confronting oppressors. I mean, so much money is poured into certain impoverished areas of the world and everyone involved knows that money is never going to get to the people who really need it, so why is it going there in the first place? I couldn’t get past questions like these! When I learned about the bureaucracy within the various UN systems, I decided to stop pursuing this possibility. Not because it’s not good enough in general, but it wasn’t good enough for me. It wasn’t urgent enough. In fact, the more I learned about the dynamics between developed and developing countries with regards to debt and interest rates, the more disgusted I felt. I mean, “developed countries” continue to keep “developing countries” in their place through exorbitant debt and interest rate payments, which are usually attached to aid, but they were the ones who pillaged these countries of natural and human resources for centuries, in the name of religion and progress. Who actually owes whom in this dynamic? Whilst I love theatre, when it comes to real life and people’s livelihoods, these are not matters to be played with, and I couldn’t play what I saw as a game of diplomacy for personal/national interests to the detriment of others. Even then, my tolerance for systems taking advantage of people was almost non-existent. I’m not a game player when it comes to human dynamics and relationships, and I knew then that I would hate working in political environments.

However, I was also introduced to something else during that period of my education, and this actually came from Theatre Studies: the idea that “the personal is political”. An argument originating in second-wave feminism from the 1960s, this is the notion that personal experience is inherently and inevitably connected to larger social and political structures. The study of feminism, queer theory, and postmodernism gave me the language to describe the feelings of oppression and marginalisation I had always felt as a gay and queer individual, and witnessed as a close friend of many other marginalised groups of people, particularly people of colour. I’m not sure that people who have never experienced political, social, and cultural oppression are able to fully grasp the concept that “the personal is political”. In fact, the whole idea of privilege is attached to this: if you consider your personal life private and separate from political structures, you are privileged by default. Marginalised groups always experience their personal livelihoods as political. Oppression and marginalisation are not simply felt on a personal level between individual oppressor and oppressed. They are systemic. Societies, countries, and institutions are built, and depend upon them. And this was when I began to truly comprehend the notion that you can only change the world one person at a time. Because the personal always comes first.

I don’t claim to know when or how, but I suspect that at some point in human evolution, this idea that the personal is political was there, but it progressively became separated. Much like everything else. I see much of history as a story of division and separation. Current cries for empathy and love in today’s world are not resonating enough, because we have millennia upon millennia of divisive stories and histories to overcome. This idea that politics is somehow “over there”, away from us, that only certain people should discuss or be in politics, is ludicrous. Politics belongs to all of us. Politics is how societies are structured. Politics, in reality, tend to be a reflection of its populace. Not necessarily of who they are, but of how they are. I always go back to the basic human needs I have discussed many times on this blog: to be seen, to be heard, to be validated, to be loved, to know that we matter. This is who everyone is. But how everyone is, depends on how we act according to these needs, whether we have them met or not. And thus, going back to my previous point of changing the world, we cannot change our politics, unless we change ourselves. The world gets changed one person at a time. We all go through the same global events and circumstances, but we all react differently to them, and it’s in our personal reactions to the world around us that we need to start this work of transformation.

Human evolution has brought us to a place of deep divisions. I’m not sure where I read or heard this, but Charles Darwin didn’t just write about natural selection, but also natural cooperation. Nature isn’t thinking about “survival of the fittest”; it evolves at its own pace, in an intricate cycle of life-death-rebirth. Even human-created systems are cooperative at their core: religion, politics, culture, societies. But it’s always easier to focus on the negative, rather than the positive, and so all of these systems have, over time, chosen to focus on separation, division, and lack, rather than cooperation, integration, and abundance. And I feel that this is where much of the world is at, at this point in time. There’s a growing number of us who can clearly see a new way, and are prepared to cooperate, integrate, and share in the world’s abundance, and others who are simply not there, and perhaps never will. And just like we can’t save anyone from themselves, we can’t make anyone change their views, until they do. We cannot control the process and timing of this, and that is why it’s painful. But the acuteness at which politics is influencing everyone’s lives at the moment, seems to be a sign that there is indeed a change taking place. It is important to remember that “the secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new” (Socrates).

Politics is not just for a few, it’s for everyone. It is ultimately a system of cooperation, rather than division, and so, as long as there are groups of people with less rights, or without representation, there is work to be done. As long as the system accepts division and fear-mongering, there is work to be done. We are all connected, and ultimately a system that only works for a few, will ultimately collapse. As much as we repeat history in terms of conflicts, the collapse of corrupt empires and structures is another very common feature of our collective histories. Whenever this happens, a new world order is born. It is in our hands to lay the foundations of a fairer, more cooperative, more integrated, more inclusive, and more compassionate system.

For inspiration, and some comforting consciousness, on what may be happening in the world right now, watch this video:

 

 

Feel free to share, if this resonates. Thank you!

 

Ryan Campinho Valadas

W: http://www.thehealingcontinuum.com/
E: info@thehealingcontinuum.com

…on Family

holding-hands

Christmas has now passed and being with family in my home country, has made me quite reflective about families in general, and mine in particular. I read yesterday morning – Christmas Day – that the sacred book of the Zohar, used by students of Kabbalah and orthodox factions of the Jewish faith alike, actually says something along the lines of “Who needs enemies when you have family and relatives?” That’s probably a comment and reflection on how dysfunctional biblical families are, but it resonated deeply with me.

I come from a large family. My mother is one of five siblings, each sibling had two children and so I grew up surrounded by aunts, uncles, and cousins. We all used to live fairly close by to each other, and growing up, the whole family used to get together for everyone’s birthday, Christmas, Easter, and most Sundays. We used to even go on holidays and beach trips together. It was messy, loud, but tons of fun. As everyone grew older, this began to change, as disagreements between grown-ups created irreparable rifts, and family gatherings began to diminish in size. I half-joke about this, but I’ve told my mother that the five siblings will definitely come back together again in their next lives, as there’s no way their souls will resolve their issues in this one. There isn’t a single one of them who currently speaks with the other four. It’s sad, really, but unfortunately, it’s also human.

I’ll admit it, I always had an idyllic and naïve perspective on family, always feeling my family’s many disagreements quite acutely, and always returning home quite excited to see them all. I’m the youngest of 10 cousins, so maybe that’s why. I also ended up being one of the first ones to leave home, at age 17, to go and live in the USA, as part of an academic exchange programme. That was my first, and so far only, Christmas away from my family. In hindsight, calling my family home on Christmas’ Eve and speaking to everyone was quite brutal. I remember hanging up the phone and crying uncontrollably for hours. I vowed to never spend Christmas away from home again. But in the 12 subsequent years of returning home for Christmas, I have noticed this feeling dwindling more and more, as I guess my own notion of family changes.

In the 13 years since leaving home, I have done and been through many experiences, including coming out and changing my first name. These are not small matters. In the beginning, this was a clear break with the past, a fresh start in every possible way. Over time, this “new me” has become “just me”, and the people who have witnessed that process, and been with me through ups and downs, have turned out to be family as I always envisioned it to be. You see, at least for me, the older I got, the more aware I became of others’ expectations of me. Almost as if there were conditions for love and support. Being away from biological family, enhanced my experience of human relationships and dynamics, of true acceptance and belonging. Different people of different cultures will pick up on different signs and behaviours, and being part of a true global family has meant that not many signs have gone unnoticed. I still remember being at some cafeteria in Glasgow, staring into space, when a friend of mine from Japan tells me: “You have so many thoughts running through your mind!” I mean, I’d been doing that for years, and no one had ever noticed that I wasn’t actually staring into empty space, but really travelling through many different thoughts, feelings, situations, etc. A bit of my mask came off right there and then.

And there have been many instances like this over the years. From my Scottish friend, raised in Singapore, showing me complete empathy and no judgement the first time I threw up after drinking too much; to my Spanish-Indian friend who has been my most constant and consistent friend for the past 11 years; from my friend from Hong Kong who shows me the joy of living every time we’re together; to my dearest, dearest flatmate and friend, born in Serbia and raised in Australia, with whom I’ve lived for the past 4 years and with whom I’ve never had a disagreement – we laugh and cry together, we talk about EVERYTHING, and we are absolutely playful and authentic with each other. Alongside these friends, there are many, many others, whom I trust and love with every fiber of my being, and know they feel the same. This was always my vision of what family should be: a group of people who unconditionally support and love each other, have healthy and clear emotional and spiritual boundaries, are able to challenge each other with compassion, and are able to be equally joyful and serious around each other.

For a few years, I thought this was too ambitious, or too idyllic, and that it didn’t exist. I mean, I certainly had no experiences of this in my own family. Why did I think this would be possible? As I changed aspects of my own personality, through spiritual practice and emotional/personal development, I began to meet more and more kindred spirits like the ones I described above. Around 10 years ago, they would come into my life very subtly and very few far and between. As my growth and consciousness expanded, as I reduced chaos in my life, and as I woke up to different realities around me, the more of these wonderful people kept appearing. And lo and behold, I have found my own family and it’s exactly as my vision always pointed me towards. Through this kindred spirit family, I have been healing the core wounds acquired through my biological family. Sometimes it’s hard work, sometimes it feels hopeless, but most times, it feels inspiring, freeing, and above all, loving.

I suspect this experience may be similar to many other people’s experiences around the globe, particularly queer folk, who often grow up in families which don’t accept, understand, or even care for, them. A chosen family is often more powerful, because they represent the healing in relationships, self, and spirit which we all seek. In Kabbalah, we learn that the soul actually chooses the family in which it will be born in a specific lifetime, in order to resolve whatever karma it has from previous lives and overcome this correction. And so, actually, biological families are often the most complex relationships we will ever have, because they represent most aspects of what our souls are here to correct or work through. Talk about baggage!! Biological families are here to show us the way, but their role is not necessarily about being on the actual journey.

This is for the family that comes with me on the actual journey. I love you dearly.

 

Ryan Campinho Valadas
HCPC registered Dramatherapist

W: http://www.thehealingcontinuum.com/
E: info@thehealingcontinuum.com

… 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.

 

… 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.