Category Archives: Blog

On getting ill, Vulnerability and Taking Stock

  There is nothing like getting ill for raising the feeling of Vulnerability when you’re self employed! Especially when it comes out of nowhere and you think your immune system is rock solid.

The interesting thing about this week of not working and not feeling up to much though, is that it has made me think about one of my favourite enemies – SHOULD.

It’s a word I ban in my teaching room, yet being solitary and incapable made me realise just how much space I still allow it in my own life, and particularly since my daughter left for University.

I think any big change in life circumstances calls us to take stock, and with good reason, but here is (some of) my list of ‘shoulds’ that have been sharing my bed and head since she left and I have reviewed the 7 years since we came to York:

I SHOULD HAVE …..

  • worked harder
  • studied more
  • made more money
  • been more successful
  • recycled more
  • cooked better food
  • taken more care of the planet
  • kept the house tidier
  • been a better role model to my daughter
  • dared to try and have another relationship
  • practised the piano more
  • helped her practise her music
  • encouraged her to play more sport
  • encouraged her to act
  • helped the needy
  • volunteered more
  • complained less about poor service in restaurants (🙄 really??)

OMG no wonder my immune system was under attack with all that lot going on.  And what a relief to have to let go of it all and just sleep, and almost feed myself and definitely not tidy the house! Talk about physician heal thyself! Because of course it became blindingly obvious to me that I much preferred being with this gentler, more tolerant me than the me with the big stick and long list, and for sure the big stick didn’t make me achieve very much more, just made me and I bet my poor daughter, fearful and miserable and bowed down and unwilling to try, to take risks, or as my wise Safari guide friend says, to Dance with Life.

 

One of my other wise friends asked how I was doing with vulnerability because he didn’t think I was going to make much progress until I was willing to embrace it a bit more.  Interestingly I couldn’t really answer the question, because I have been so busy hiding from it that it hadn’t really come up!

Of course I have had the excuse of having to make a living in a small place where everyone knows pretty much everything and I couldn’t afford to make mistakes because it cost cost my reputation and my job, etc etc. Doesn’t mean I have managed to avoid making mistakes anyway, interestingly- just haven’t deliberately put myself in their way.

So now I find myself looking back on 7 years where I started out enthusiastically with high hopes thinking I could crack this and make a wonderful new life for me and my daughter, and realising that 7 years have gone by, and I have done some stuff, and we’re still afloat, which is something, considering, but in the major life choices department, I have not danced with my life, more like hobbled on crutches, and then I have got angry with myself for hobbling, and knocked the crutches out of my hands….

Hmmmmm. …..Old habits die hard, and as I regain my strength, I can see that the voice of SHOULD is waiting for air time and the slightest opportunity.

 

So this next little while is going to be interesting as I see if I can find a different way of being with myself, talking to myself, and flexing the muscles of compassion  instead of self judgment….

 

 

SHOULD WE STOP TALKING ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH?

SHOULD WE STOP TALKING ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH?

There is a national realisation that mental ill-health is on the increase and needs our attention. This is true. But should we be talking about Mental Health per se? Here is why I am asking the question:

A new University student who is perhaps introverted and does not enjoy drunkenness may sit alone in her room feeling lonely and anxious. Another may go out ‘socialising’ each night and binge drink. Does it mean that the mental health of the first student is more in question than that of the second? What about the work colleague who has started to come in a bit late sometimes or isn’t paying so much attention to her appearance? Do we equate this to laziness or to mental health? Are we truly paying attention to ourselves and to those around us?

Up until recently if you went to the doctor with an ache or pain, and the diagnosis was ‘psychosomatic’, the underlying assumption was that it wasn’t real. Nowadays there is a much greater understanding of the interaction of mind, body and emotions. The physical pain is extremely real, although caused or aggravated by psychological factors. Psychosomatic is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as ‘caused or aggravated by a mental factor such as internal conflict or stress’ and ‘relating to the interaction of mind and body’.

I trained to teach the Alexander Technique (AT), which is based on the premise that the use of the whole self (body, mind and emotions) affects function. It is taught using gentle manual guidance with verbal instruction to help the person understand and work with unhelpful habits, be those physical, mental or emotional.

I have been working as an Associate at The University of York for six years now but prior to this I worked for several years in the NHS at the practice of a forward thinking GP, Dr Gavin Young. The doctors would often refer the patients with physical ailments who were not responding to conventional treatment. I discovered that many of the patients whom they had referred with intractable neck pain had lost a parent in the preceding year. This was a surprise to them, though not to me.

In the nearly 30 years that I have worked with AT, I have seen time and again, that people who suppress or repress mental and emotional pain, often manifest psychological issues in physical symptoms. The English are well known for their stiff upper lip and ‘keep calm and carry on approach’. It is easier to call in sick because you have excruciating neck pain and headaches than to tell your manager that you can’t come in to work because you are grieving the death of your mother.

I worked with another person at the GP surgery who was in great physical pain, but described herself as a hugely positive person. Over a period of months, we worked physically to relieve the pain, with little success, and at the same time, I probed gently into the incongruencies of positivity and pain. Eventually this person was able to tell me something she had never been able to share before, or even truly admit to herself, that she had been abused.

Once she was able to access and acknowledge this memory, true healing was able to begin, both in her body, and through counselling support offered by the GP practice. It is my contention that purely physical therapy alone would never have worked for this patient, because her pain was so deeply rooted in emotional trauma. However, I very much doubt that she would have been able to acknowledge the abuse without the body work and gentle questioning, for the simple reason that she could only acknowledge the physical pain, and was not presenting with a ‘mental health’ problem.

Professor Nickolaas Tinbergen was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1973. He devoted half of his acceptance speech to extolling the virtues of the Alexander Technique and its impact on his life. He said ‘this story of perceptiveness, intelligence and persistence shown by a man without medical training [Frederick Alexander’s], is one of the great epics of medical research and practice.’ He described how he and his family had decided to test some of the seemingly fantastical claims. They found, after only a few months, ‘striking improvements in such diverse things as oedema due to high blood pressure, breathing, depth of sleep, overall cheerfulness and mental alertness, resilience against outside pressures and also in such a refined skill as playing a stringed instrument.’

Interestingly, 45 years on, terms such as mental alertness and resilience are widely used in discussion and approaches to mental health.

Tinbergen confirmed from personal experience that ‘many types of underperformance and even ailments, both mental and physical, can be alleviated, sometimes to a surprising extent, by teaching the body musculature to function differently.’ Advances in neuroscience since this time have elucidated further how the brain and body interact positively in this process to explain the ‘surprising extent’ of these improvements. My practice has reflected Tinbergen’s experience. Follow-up questionnaires, immediately after a 10 week treatment plan and 1 year post-treatment, indicated that the majority of patients from my work in the GP surgery found AT to be of ‘considerable help’ or ‘totally sorted’ their problems. Anecdotally, most patients reported to me that if it had not sorted their original presenting problem, it had helped them manage their lives more effectively.

As a result of this work, I realised that what I was doing via AT could also be understood to include, what is now called, Life Coaching. I trained in Relational Dynamic Life Coaching, and have found this to be a powerful synthesis with AT. (Relational Dynamics- the art of interaction with self and others www.relationaldynamics.co.uk)

My understanding based on experience is that the mind and body either act to support or to destabilise the other. Changing thoughts and beliefs can have a powerful effect on the body, just as releasing physical tension and improving physical functioning can free up the mind and give self-empowerment. Being able to work with people via these two techniques has enabled me to enhance overall well-being, not just ‘mental health’ or ‘physical health’. We can approach well-being via either working with the body (physical therapies) or mind (psychological ‘talking’ therapies). My conviction is that a combination of the two can be most powerful.

But, to return to my title, should we even be talking about mental health? In making a distinction between mental health and other health issues, we risk falsely attributing some issues to the purely mental sphere, and the stigma which is commonly associated with mental ill-health. We are all people comprised of bodies and minds, which are deeply affected by our emotions. Are we not missing a trick by failing to approach health as a synthesis of body and mind states?

If we understand that health and ill-health is a matter of the whole person, we can better identify these people and offer appropriate help. But if we separate the ‘mental’ from the ‘physical’ we are likely only to treat the symptoms and not the cause, or at the very least a contributing factor. In this I think we are failing to provide healthcare that meets the needs of the population.

We need a healthcare service that acknowledges how the body and mind impact each other and makes better use of the whole of ourselves to prevent and treat ill-health.

In my opinion, this means dropping the ‘mental health’ label and ensuring our conversations, concerns and treatments are about Health.

Julie Parker BSc, MSTAT
ILM level 7 equivalent accredited Coach
Www.creativetransformation.org.uk
https://www.facebook.com/creativetransformationuk/

Disclaimer: These are my personal views and do not represent the views of any organisation

Advice to my Daughter after two weeks at University

” Think of it like the sea – there will always be another wave and another high tide – sometimes you just have to wait”
When I was growing up in Africa, we used to go on holiday to the seaside for 3-6 weeks. Apart from anything else, it used to take a week of 8 hour a day driving to get there and back, so it didn’t seem worth it to go for less!
My brother and I were avid body surfers, and we spent hours and hours in the ocean, much of it waiting for the next perfect wave to surf
The first ‘wave’ of excitement is over, exhaustion has set in, and the real hard work of study has begun. It’s easy to feel discouraged, homesick and missing one’s special friends. But the next wave will come if you are patient….

THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX AND CARPE DIEM!

I stopped at one of the services on the M4 on last, wet, grey Sunday morning en route to taking my daughter to Uni in Bristol.

The queue at Costa Coffee was 11 deep, but I noticed that there was another Costa coffee round the corner.  Taking the decision that the queue round the corner was likely to be shorter, I slipped out of my place in the queue and found myself behind just one man, who looked strangely familiar…

My Facebook friends will know that the Carpe Diem bit of this story was to sidle up and ask if I was talking to a Stanley Tucci lookalike or the real deal. It was the real deal (‘A’ List Hollywood movie star), and turns out he was also taking his daughter to University and we had a convivial chat. My daughter was dead impressed and will carry that as a particular memory of her trip to Uni.

Now I realise this is all terribly shallow, but I think there are two important lessons I took away from the encounter.

1. THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX

If I wasn’t keeping my mind and eyes open, I would not have spotted that there was an alternative to the queue I was standing in, nor taken the decision to move

2. CARPE DIEM

I could have been backwards in coming forwards, and missed an opportunity to create a fun and unique memory for my daughter.

Although the outcome of taking these decisions in this case was not earth shattering, like many simple principles, these are profound in their possibilities.

In my life, some of the biggest changes have come about because I was prepared to do one or both of the above. Sometimes the risks have been much greater than they were here, and yet often the rewards way outweigh the risks we are asked to take in living life more fully, whatever that may mean to each of us….

I would love to hear about your ‘Carpe Diem’ moments, seized or lost!

TRANSITIONS & NEW BEGINNINGS – NAVIGATING CHOPPY WATERS

It is the time of year for transitions and new beginnings – new class, new school, new University. A time for looking forward to the new and letting go of the old.

For some, it will be exciting, and for others terrifying, and for most of us, a mixture of the two.

For me it is a time of contemplating the opportunities and sadness that comes with an emptying nest, as my daughter makes her way to a new beginning at University.

This last summer I took her for the first time, back to my roots – to Zimbabwe, where one of our adventures was to raft the mighty Zambezi – the toughest one day white water in the world.

I’ve  done it before and know what can go wrong, which actually only makes it doubly terrifying! Coupled with that, my daughter’s father had sent me a news clip of a woman being taken by a crocodile not so long ago on the same venture. He was  convinced I was taking my daughter to her death…..

We  survived, but the pictures show how rough it was, how I came out  of the boat in the roughest rapid, but managed to cling on…unlike the Ozzie in the neighbouring raft, which flipped, and he got sucked into a whirlpool and nearly drowned..

The unknown is so often scary, and these days it is always possible to find horror stories of the dangers that lie ahead. I have been anxious, contemplating this next phase of my life, even though I know it could be a great adventure.

I have been grateful to a friend who has sent me good thoughts each morning and I thought that for the rest of this month I will do a short ‘thought for the day’. Maybe it will help some of you who are navigating new and possibly choppy waters. At least it will set me daily on a positive path

So here is my thought for today:

“It is not required that we know all of the details about every stretch of the river. Indeed, were we to know, it would not be an adventure, and I wonder if there would be much point in the journey.”
Jeffrey R. Anderson

 

 

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On Demons, Compassion, Choice and the Interconnectedness of Life

Yesterday I was blessed and privileged to have a long  Facetime conversation with Lindsay Kyte – she just waking in Halifax Canada, and I just returning from a day out in nature in Yorkshire, UK.

Lindsay was one of my MA students about 8 years ago at LIPA (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts). She is now an award winning play-write, TEDx speaker, and editor of The Lion’s Roar – the premier Buddhist magazine in N America.

When Lindsay first returned to Canada, she turned to me for some long distance life coaching and now I have been able to turn to her for for help with the re-writing of my website.

But yesterday we were reflecting deeply on our shared demons, and the need for compassion – in particular self compassion.

For the last couple of years, this month of August, when clients and daughter are away, has seen the rearing heads of my ‘not enough’ demons: ‘Not good enough, not hardworking enough, not published enough, not known enough, not rich enough, not spiritual enough, not kind enough…..’ My ‘not enough’ demons are legion.

This year, I am facing those demons down by deliberate choices based on compassion and recognition of the interconnectedness of life.

I love this image of the impact of single droplets into water – how individually they create expanding concentric circles, and how each of those interact with others to create differing patterns, impacts, stories and lives.

And it gave me great joy in talking to Lindsay, in hearing her talk of strategies that I had offered her all those years ago, and how they impacted on the choices she has made in her life, and how those choices impact on so many others with whom she comes into contact, both through her life and through her work. It helps me to reconnect to choices I often find hard to make. It helps me to give value to each individual interaction I have and gives me a sense of meaning and purpose.

We spoke too, of how often we each give energy to things that are not essential, and neglect the things we know will deeply nourish us. While we often give much thought and energy to finding compassion for others, the practice of self compassion is a more elusive one – especially for someone like me, brought up on the tenet of ‘think of others before yourself’.

Lindsay sent this link to Tara Brach’s 10 minute process she calls the RAIN of Compassion:

R -Recognise

A – Accept

I – Investigate

N – Nourish

Tara’s voice is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I have found her Mindfulness exercises valuable at times when I have felt unable to quiet my own anxieties.

Here is the link:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=

If you are interested in reading more about Lindsay and Lion’s Roar, here are the links to the magazine, and also Lindsay’s website

http://www.lindsaykyte.com/

https://www.lionsroar.com/

 

VALUABLE USE OF TIME?

I was doing my coaching training at the time when I knew deep down that I had tried everything I could to keep my marriage alive and that I needed to leave. I was also too terrified to deal with the mayhem I knew would result.

We had to practise coaching one another, and to that end, had to think up scenarios which we could use. Whatever ‘safe’ scenario I dreamt up, I invariably found myself being drawn into the one big question I didn’t really want to face.

My idea of writing a ‘thought for the day’ was to give myself both rhythm and inspiration briefly, so I could ‘get on’ with my day.

However, it seems to me, that whatever I think about, I keep coming back to this rather enormous question:

WHAT CONSTITUTES A VALUABLE USE OF OUR (MY ) TIME?

I am wrestling with this in a major way at the moment. If anyone has any thoughts they would like to share, I would be delighted to hear. Meanwhile, because this is only meant to be a thought, and the answer is going to take a lot of wrestling, I am going for the immediately simple one of cooking right now! More on this anon…..

THOUGHTS FOR THE DAY – SUMMER 2017

SUMMER THOUGHTS FOR THE DAY


It’s August, and ‘everyone’ is away on holiday and all classes have stopped. It’s the month for whiling away the hours in lazy sunshine…

Except that I can’t afford to do that, and besides, it seems that Yorkshire was not made aware that ‘lazy sunshine’ was supposed to be the order of the day.

So I am giving notice to anyone who happens to read my blog, that I have made a covenant with myself to put in some sort of thought for the day for the next month – whether that be one of mine, or just one that inspires me.

I would be delighted if this helps/interests/entertains anyone else, but I just want to make it clear that this is something I am doing for myself:

  • To face down my morning demons
  • To practise my 20 minute rule of keeping at things steadily, rather than hoping for the grand inspiration (am much in need of this practice)
  • To practise gratitude
  • To find the lessons in situations I might otherwise be tempted to call problematic
  • To allow myself to write without feeling that I have to be saying something original, important, erudite or anything else deeply meaningful, because I realise that I decided 20 years ago I wanted to write every morning, and I have allowed all these reasons (and more) to stop me, and that seems very sad

  • Because I know in my heart that if I keep paying attention to inspiration and creative thought, that eventually all those little somethings will help me to experience meaning and purpose and that’s something I have been struggling with and allowing me to give free reign to my inner critic.

REFLECTIONS ON MOTHERS’ DAY

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REFLECTIONS ON MOTHERS DAY

My parents, though British, have lived all my life in Africa. I am the divorced mother of an only daughter. Her father’s family have always got together at Christmas and celebrated lavishly. If I loved my daughter, it seemed obvious to let her spend Christmas Day with them, and I learned to hold the day lightly, and to celebrate whenever I was able to get together with what family I had here in the UK. But I also learned to dread the familiar question (as early as September) –‘What are you doing for Christmas?’

Today, having the gift of a daughter here, but a mother on the other side of the world, I have been aware both of the joy of having a child, and the sadness of those who do not have, or are not able to be, a mother; of those who have had a child but no longer are with them for whatever reason, for those who are not able to be with their mothers.

These days of supposed celebration, much touted by the media, are often for many, a reason to feel disenfranchised, on the periphery, lonely and not part of something which feels important.

Because I know that pain, I wanted to write something to let those people know that they are being thought of, and reached out to, even if only in writing.

My training in Alexander Technique taught me the importance of peripheral vision. On days like this, this translates for me into being aware of those of our friends and acquaintances who may be feeling isolated, and finding ways to connect with them.

As someone who faced the very real threat of losing a child in the process of divorce, I also wish to encourage everyone who knows of someone in that situation to do as much as they can for any parent (mother or father) to help them bear that excruciating loss, and further to help prevent it if at all possible.

I have been pondering what it means to be a mother:
• Motherhood is a lifelong commitment, whether one outlives one’s offspring or not
• It is a gift that demands one’s utmost – in creativity, resolve, patience, selflessness, energy, time, fierceness, and longevity of commitment.
• It is way of loving which transcends dislike, exhaustion, frustration and pain
• One can leave country, city, town, village, job, lover or husband, but for me the bond with my daughter is the one constant that it would be unthinkable or impossible to sever. Even as I write this, I am aware that for some, because of fear, illness, pain, or addiction, this may not be true, and the children of those mothers carry the excruciating pain of rejection – whether or not that rejection was deliberate or unconscious.

And those who have not been granted the gift of motherhood have to find other ways to express their creativity, resolve, patience, energy, time and commitment without the daily reminder that children offer. It is therefore a harder task, and I honour those who manage it.
So while I rejoice in this ‘Mothers’ Day, for what it is worth, I send love and good wishes to all those women for whom this day would otherwise be one of sadness, loss or isolation. And to those who have chosen otherwise, I wish them a very happy ‘in-Mothers’ Day!

Using Your Gifts/Qualities/Talents

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Seven years ago (!) some of my necklaces got seriously entangled.  My parents were staying with me at the time, and I handed them to my father, who loved to sit in a chair…but after an hour, he gave up, and so did I.

Five years ago I moved city and house, taking with me my bundle of necklaces. Since then, they have ‘adorned’ a bowl in my room, gathering dust and being otherwise useless.

Earlier this year, I read Marie Kondo’s Book, ‘The Magic of Tidying”, and am happy to say, have been putting some of her suggestions into practice. I disagree with her suggestion that one should sort by type, rather than location. If I had nothing else to do for about two weeks, that might have worked, but I have worked systematically through my house, room by room, following her most excellent suggestion of handling every piece of ‘stuff”. Anything that does not give joy and/or is useful, goes.

I am a hoarder by nature, and being self employed, am also obliged to hoard a certain amount of paperwork. But I have been through every piece of paper I have kept for the last 30 odd years, every piece of clothing, every drawer, cupboard, nook and cranny, and boy does it feel wonderful to clear!

My room was the last in the house, and I had been through everything and was on the last leg of the tidy up when a friend, who disappears for months on end, rang. I had been procrastinating about this last effort, and had only two hours available, and when he calls, he talks! So I confess I multi tasked by taking the nearest thing to hand – my necklaces, to work on while listening.

By the time we finished, I felt as though I was getting somewhere, and it felt imperative to finish the job. As I sat on the floor, patiently picking and weaving, getting to dead ends and having to start again elsewhere, my mind began writing this blog.

Our qualities and gifts are like beautiful, precious jewels that are given to us to adorn, to sparkle, to catch the light, to beautify us. Yet often we allow them to get enmeshed, to gather dust, to become unfit for purpose. Then not only we, but those with whom we come in contact are impoverished.

It feels very significant to me that I have managed to untangle these jewels of mine. It took me a long time, and I had to keep looking for different strands, and approach the problem from different perspectives (necklaces). But how lovely to once again have eight necklaces that I can use and enjoy! Interestingly one or two don’t really go with what I wear any more and I am giving them away so someone else can enjoy them.

Colour has always been really important to me, and I was interested that all these necklaces were either purple or orange. In the energy meditations I studied, these colours have to do with spirituality, (purple) and self esteem, creativity and sexuality (orange).

Now here I venture into the realms of things I experience but don’t fully understand. Moreover, I know that some of my friends who are steeped in Christianity will feel I am heading off on a path of the devil! Some of my intelligent, left brained friends and colleagues may feel I have gone ‘too mystical’. For a very long time I have drawn these things into my life and work in a practical way, but have not owned up to them publicly for fear of censure. I do feel though, that they form part of my jewels that I have to share.

One of the things on my bucket list is to find a way to understand and articulate what I know and experience about energy in such a way as to make it understandable to those who espouse Christianity and scientific enquiry (my background – fundamental, evangelical Christianity and a Maths Degree). So feel free to challenge or engage me further on this!

Interestingly, many people I know go to Yoga classes or have acupuncture. I wonder if they realise that they are essentially espousing some of the concepts I am going to address…. next time! Or this blog will be too long…

Till then…

 

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