Retreating

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I recently booked onto a last minute writing retreat in the gorgeous Shropshire countryside. I thought I would use this as an opportunity to get some reading and writing done away from the distractions of the city, work, and children. And have some space from some relationships.

The weather seemed to match my emotions, when I got here a few days ago. At first there was constant drizzly rain. The kind you can’t really see from inside but when you go out you get soaked.

When I first ventured out the tracks as the rain subsided on the second day, I felt nervous and anxious walking along deserted roads myself. There seemed to be constant rustling noises from the bushes and I almost screamed when 1, 2, then 3 squirrels (yes squirrels!) leapt out through the air in front of me landing expertly on some trees to the side of the road. After that I started to walk along clapping my hands in warning for another other unseen rustler ready to jump out.

As I walked on through the winding road through the countryside I started to take in my surroundings. My anxious mind was still fretting over things at home that were out of my control, but with each step I took I felt braver. I was no longer clapping or jumping at unusual sounds.

 

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The following day after doing some writing in the morning, I decided to walk in the opposite direction and head up into the forest on the hills behind the writing centre. I’d felt more confident and capable in myself after the walk the day before and although I was used to walking with others, it felt good to do this by myself.

There is something that stirs my soul walking through the forest as the sunlight catches on the leaves and trees. At one point the sun shone straight through to the forest floor highlighting a lone buttercup. It was perfection. I then walked round a path past some crazy tall redwood trees. Their height and presence caught me by surprise. And the bark was surprisingly soft, almost furry. I could feel tears in my eyes as I carried on past them, somehow feeling that I wasn’t alone.

At certain places there were crossroads and I sat and drank some water at one, contemplating which way to go. It resonated deeply with where I am in my life at the moment. I’d already walked up quite far and had tried to memorise the route back. But I still felt I had options here. Somehow knowing this was enough. I sat looking at all the trees surrounding me and I felt embraced, like they were sending back the love that I was sending them.

After a while I headed back down the path, following the route I’d already come up and I was ok with that.

Today I woke up after a sleepless night, chastising myself for not writing enough, for wasting time just reading or ‘googling ‘stuff’. Even though I have written ideas, finished a short story and submitted to a few places and obviously done some walking.

Why this need for self- punishment?

So I again took myself off for a walk. Today I felt instantly at home walking the rough tracks, stopping to watch butterflies and just being in awe of this beautiful planet. Then I started to be kinder to myself. Going through periods of change calls for it.

I may not have knocked out a novel or anything like it since being here but I’ve listened to myself, sought comfort and found personal strength in nature, and I know I’ll be ok no matter what.

As one door closes, another opens.

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Why do we stop dancing?

 

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It was 1999 and I was dancing to Black Legend’s ‘See the Trouble with Me’ on top of a table in a bar aided by a half dozen sticky red shots. I felt good, free, sexy even and not as self-conscious as I usually did until a baldy headed bar owner shouted up at me; ‘Jesus my grannie can dance better than you.’

In that moment I was back to being the old teenage me again; shy, scared to be seen and certainly not someone who danced on tables. I laughed it off at the time but his comment and the tone of it dug deep.

The scar however was already there; he had merely cut back into it.

When I was five I joined a dance school. I remember being allowed to take part in my first show and competition. The prizes mainly consisted of a white satin sash with the category printed across it in fancy black writing.

I longed to win something. So I tap-danced and poked my tongue out in concentration as I swooped my tiny majorette stick in a figure of eight shape and I strutted my stuff when it came to the final category; ‘Miss Strutteze’. I held my head high on the stage and clip clopped round in a circle in my white tap shoes and black leotard. In that moment I wanted the prize not only for myself but also for my parents who were in the audience. I wanted to show them I was capable of being good at something.

I could almost feel that sash being placed over my head.

It wasn’t to be. My neighbour; the pretty, sallow skinned, full of confidence girl next door won it. I remember watching as the sash was placed over her head, billowing in the breeze from the air conditioning as she glanced over at me with what felt like a smug grin.

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I later moved on to Irish dancing. The small stout teacher who used to whack the backs of my legs with a cane to get me to jump higher seemed impressed initially. That was until my sister joined a few weeks later and the teacher announced; ‘wow and I thought you were the good one.’

It didn’t stop me entering competitions; a mix of sibling rivalry and a focus for my early teenage energy. I gave it everything in those competitions but never won anything. I secretly felt devastated. Internally the seed was sown; I’m just not good enough. Now, I can see that it’s not about the winning but 13 year old me would not understand that.

The high school disco was where I think the real damage occurred although funnily enough it wasn’t to do with my actual dancing. A friend paired me up with the ‘cool’ guy in our year. I couldn’t believe that he wanted (or was willing) to dance with me. We were doing a sort of slow awkward dance like 14 year olds do. Another ‘cool’ guy danced past us and shouted whilst glaring at me; ‘what are you doing with her?’

I still can feel the shame, the tightening of my stomach muscles as I feared being rejected right there on the dance floor. The guy I was dancing with seemed to shrug it off however the comment played over and over in my mind- what was he doing dancing with me? I wasn’t worthy and everyone else seemed to know it.

It was only recently after a friend posted a video of herself dancing beautifully free and unselfconsciously on Instagram that I began to question why I don’t dance anymore. I guess not going out clubbing and using alcohol to lower my inhibitions plays a huge part. Sometimes for my son’s sake I’ve bounced around the living-room with him- kids don’t care how we dance. But I’ve never enjoyed the relaxing and releasing freedom of dancing just for me.

It seems I’m not alone in how I feel as many women (and men) I’ve spoken to have shared their stories of being humiliated creatively in their childhood. So why do we allow those meaningless comments to limit and define us? How many times have we stopped doing something, especially something creative that we have enjoyed because of someone else’s criticism? It made me feel sad and angry too.

I decided to take action.

Every day I’ve been putting music in my bedroom and I’ve been dancing. It was awkward as hell the first few times, I felt like I was 14 again, rigid and robotic. I judged, condoned and criticised myself. But then slowly, surely it’s become easier, I have loosened up and it’s felt fun.

Here are some steps you can try;

  • Find a track that gets you moving your body (like Rara Avis Footsteps, Deva Premal Gayatri Mantra or Krishna Dass Rama Bolo).
  • Close your eyes and allow yourself to feel the music- move with it.
  • Allow any self- critical or ‘this is silly’ thoughts to pass by. Say ‘thanks for sharing that,’ and carry on.
  • Let your arms and hands move freely. Loosen and swing your hips.
  • You may feel like laughing uncontrollably at the apparent absurdity of dancing alone- if so have a good giggle! It’s a great release!
  • If you feel a strong emotion rise, let it. If its sadness have a cry. Try doing a self- comforting hug dance!
  • Let out any anger you may feel at those comments which have held you back and dance it out to a faster beat. (Such as Born Slippy by Underworld)

Dancing can remain something that’s just for you, a way to get back in touch with your feelings, your body and your emotions.

This goes for any sort of creative endeavour you have not allowed yourself to do out of fear like drawing, acting, singing or writing. Start off doing these things in the safety of your own home and then slowly let others see you (if you want them to). It can be transformative and healing.

We can’t allow those past throwaway comments to define who we are or to crush our spirit. How many people have never tried again out of fear? How many people have gone to their graves without picking up a paintbrush again or let themselves dance freely or step back up onto a stage?

I’d recommend putting on some music, some paints or a journal and see where it takes you. It may lead you back to parts of yourself you long abandoned, to that little kid who is jumping for joy that you’ve came back.

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14 Steps to regain your equilibrium post-Christmas.

It dawned on me today that although I have had time off work over the festive season, not a lot of that time has been doing things that I want, just for me. Mostly I have been making sure there has been enough food for visitors, enough activities to keep my son occupied and enough time spent with my partner. Does that sound familiar and is it selfish to want more? I mean isn’t Christmas all about the family and giving?

One thing I know for sure is that I felt sluggish taking my son back to school on this dark drizzly morning. After dropping him off, I started to fill the day with food shopping, cleaning; washing clothes oh and maybe I would work more on preparing for that upcoming workshop. It all felt rather heavy like the weather.

pexels-photo-242276Instead something made me walk into the bathroom when I got home at 10am and run myself a bath. Instantly my mood shifted and I did all the little things that make me feel good such as;

  1. Poured good bath oil into the tub.
  2. Made a cup of peppermint tea to sip whilst in bath.
  3. Read a motivational book (a reread of The Power by Rhonda Byrne)
  4. Shaved my legs, taking my time instead of the usual shower ‘hack’.
  5. Massaged shampoo into my hair followed by a hair-mask like they do in a hair salon.
  6. Put towels and fluffy robe onto the radiator to warm up.
  7. Rubbed cooling foot lotion into my feet followed by some cosy socks.
  8. Smoothed on body lotion that I normally keep for special occasions
  9. Put on some good pants.
  10. Climbed into some velvety pyjamas.
  11. Made a fruit salad.
  12. Put on ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’.
  13. Lit some candles and incense.
  14. Breathed deeply

I did all of that before 12pm. Did I feel guilty that the carpet could do with a hoover, that there were some cereal bowls in the sink or that I really should get some writing done? No. Slowly my body started to relax into the sofa, not in a sleepy way but in a ibloodywellneedthis kind of way.

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Why do we feel the need to do, do, do all the time? Never resting and listening to that quiet voice inside that says what about me?

So on this, my last day before going back to work, I feel more rested during the past two hours than I have done in the last two weeks.

Try it; sometime in January take that time out just for you, doing what you want; decadently. I promise you, you do deserve it and you’ll feel great afterwards.

 

 

Two steps to get you out of a funk

There are times when the struggle has been going on too long; the struggle to free ourselves from whatever the situation or mind-set we are in becomes just too much.

In those moments we can lose faith, hope and believe that this is it, this is going to be our lives and it can feel like we are being punished for something. Why isn’t our life changing like we want it to be? Why can’t we have peace and freedom? We see pictures and watch videos online of all these people who are living lives where they apparently are the deciders and dictators of their own lives.

Why are we in jobs we hate, feeling trapped by family commitments or trying to escape from bad marriages? When do we get our turn, our break?

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We do our vision boards; say our affirmations, read up on positivity, do the exercises, meditate, take steps to build our own businesses….then nothing. It can feel like we are getting slapped down by an invisible hand to keep us in check, in-line and to not forget who we are. We aren’t like those wanderlust souls out there who can hop, skip and jump onto a plane to Bali. I wish.

Sometimes I think I was like the crab escaping the bucket; I got as far as working and travelling in Italy and Ibiza in my youth then the big hand pulled my rope backwards, hoisting me back in to small-mindedness land.

Maybe you feel that way too, that you are done with all this trying. So what do we do? Do we just give up, switch on the TV and relegate ourselves to the idea that this is it for us? Isn’t there something else we can do?

Who exactly is stopping us? Is it our family commitments? Is it the fact we need money coming in (of course) or could it be our own fear at play too?

I know there have been times when an opportunity has come along for me and I’ve got so close to it- it’s within reach and then I’ve sabotaged it. It’s taken me a long time to even see that, to become aware of it. I’m not saying that if an amazing job came along or a 6 month all expenses paid trip to Bali came up I wouldn’t jump on it. Course I would. (Or would I think; ‘oh I can’t do that, what about my sons school, what about his dad …what would other people think?) I can’t just up and leave.

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 So what is to be done when we feel out of alignment with where we want to be and where we are now? You can drive yourself crazy reading up on this very subject online. As I have almost done. Today I’ve had it with all the forcing, all the cajoling and all the fake crap. I want my life to be different and I’m done with the trying and wishing and hoping.

As I’m a writer the only way I can deal with this feeling is to write.

  • Write a letter about all the shit I’m not happy with. Burn it.
  • Then write a list of all the stuff I want, and do as little or as much as I can every single day.

I’m not going to use pressure. I’m going to allow myself to do what feels right every day and if that is nothing today then that is fine too.

Maybe this will get me back into that elusive place called alignment.

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Drop the past

 

The past has gone, disappeared; only images and projections of what we believe to be true remain. We can conjure these up as we wish and have free-reign over whether we believe they are true or not. The past may leave residual physical feelings inside of us (namely in our throat and stomach) when we recall things we think happened.

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The bodily sensations which arise can make us think that those things are still happening now. The past is faded photographs of people (including ourselves) disintegrating at the edges and we can use our imagination to fill in what we don’t remember. The past may hold pain and at times we return there and bring it with us into the present and project it into the future.

The past also holds people we may wish to recall. It may be people we miss and no-one else can live up to them. It may be people who hurt us and unknowingly we see them in the faces and actions of others. This isn’t to continue hurting ourselves (although it may feel that way) it’s more a form of self-protection. It’s because we were hurt and cannot let that happen again.

So we  take those fading and disintegrating projections and hold them up and look at the world through them, seeing what we saw previously.

What if we were to drop these? What would you see? Does it scare you?

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What if we turn our fear into excitement?

All we have is this moment. And this moment. One after the other.

The past is not real. All pain is in the past.

See our life in this instant as a moment to behold.

The beauty in writing and sharing

Sometimes, doing certain creative writing exercises can uncover past hurts, past truths, hidden ‘other-lives’. I found this to be true recently whilst developing writing exercises for a women’s workshop which I’ll be hosting in January. I believe that working over and over again through exercises allows me to do the work that I expect others to do.

That means showing up authentically and vulnerably on the page.

(Which can be scary)

Yes writing down these exercises in private in a journal can be emotional enough but putting them out there for others to read? That is laying yourself bare. Which is how I chose to do things now.

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So, for this writing exercise I created a timeline of major events in my life and then chose one to free-write on. Using creative writing techniques I then worked on crafting the free-write into a small piece of writing. I found it surprising what I wrote about. A past distant memory, brought back to the surface. You may think that leaving these memories well alone is the more sensible thing to do; then we don’t risk the emotion that arises with it.

But in doing this, that memory still resides within us, bubbling away with the others under the surface. Writing about it releases it. Yes I cried. Yes I felt pissed off. Then I felt calm. I’m not saying this will always be the response but sometimes our memories, our hurts just want to be heard.

Here is my perfectly imperfect free-write in the process of being crafted into a piece of prose.

‘The Waiting room’

He spread the food out over the duvet trying to make up for it. I remember the smell of acrid vinegar from the jar of crinkle sliced beetroot that he had twisted clunk open. The tin lid had popped, sounding like the noise my Grandpa’s cheek made when he flicked it with his finger. Pop goes the weasel.

I remember that I’d felt euphoric, happy even; it must have been the drugs. The nurse told me that I’d sat bolt upright when I’d woken up and I’d called out his name. I try not to think of all the things that must have happened.

But how can I forget the long curtains which were drawn and the sunlight shining through them, lighting up the swirling orange and brown pattern? They reminded me of the cover on the piano stool we had growing up. I remember it felt rough and had spiky bits like black needles coming out of it. Mum had said it was horse hair. An Asian woman caught my eye and looked at me like she knew; she knew. A large TV was on in the corner, with a semi-circle of women sitting in high backed chairs watching it. I could hear Bargain Hunt on. It was like an old folk’s home.

I felt he’d forced me. Told me his mum knew; she just knows these things, he’d said. I thought it would’ve made him stay. I had wanted it for all the wrong reasons. I realise that now but the sting of rejection had hurt. I thought his family would accept me and we’d visit them on Sunday afternoons for crisp roast potatoes and buttery chicken. I could almost taste it. Almost.

The doctor had told me that I had caught something. Did that mean what I thought it meant? I couldn’t face it. I remember stepping into a red call box; the door was heavy and inside the smell made my nostrils shrivel. I had to call a friend. A distant friend. Had to tell someone.

That jar of pickled beetroot and sweaty smoked cheese could not compensate. They would never fill the gap in my stomach.


 

This short piece may not make much sense yet, but it could be developed into something more, or it could even be included into a future story. That’s the beauty in just even starting to write.

We just have to let out what is inside of us through various writing triggers and prompts and then see where it takes us.

For now it has felt like a little piece of sadness has flown off.

I’ve learned that as we attempt to teach others we learn more about ourselves along the way. That is the beauty in writing and sharing.

 

 

 

7 creative steps to heal old hurts

Like shedding an old layer of skin that no longer fits, when we allow ourselves to grow and heal inside we release a dead part of us that we have been clinging on to. Some of us (myself included!) walk around with these old skins in an attempt to keep ourselves safe and small; to avoid the temporary pain of growth.

We don’t dare to let ourselves deal with certain things, situations or people as we would lose part of our identity which we have been subconsciously holding on to.At other times we are desperate to rip it off and like a scar that hasn’t quite healed and then we bleed.

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It is only through telling our stories that we grow and heal and can unpeel that old layer that has been holding us back. We are no longer trapped or forced to stay small in ways of being that no longer fit. We can unpeel that old suit and step out of its non-serving constraints. 

Here are 7 steps to help you heal –

1.Write it out. Free-write for 3 pages on the person, incident, memory that upsets you. (you can come back and do this exercise over and over again for whatever situation still triggers or hurts you). Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, creating paragraphs or if it is coherent. Be as free as you can. Swear, use capitals. Scribble, draw, score through words. Get it all down on paper.

2. Grab some cushions or pillows and set a timer for 3 minutes. Allow the feelings that arose from your free-write to stay at the surface really feel them, don’t swallow them down. Release the anger, sadness, fear, pain onto the cushions. Punch them, bash them, hug them; cry into them.    

3. Take 10 deep breaths in and out, breathing deep into your stomach. Try now to feel some compassion and forgiveness for the person, situation, or memory (it could even be yourself you have to forgive) See the person as a little innocent kid who didn’t know any better. Hug the pillow or cushion as if you are hugging a child and tell them you forgive them, that you love them, or even that you are willing to forgive them.

4. Write a letter to the person who hurt you. Write from the age where the hurt happened for instance;

   Dear Daddy, I am so upset tonight. You came and asked for my pocket money so you could go out drinking. Then left me at home alone. I feel so… (fill in how you feel) 

5. Take your free-write (from 1.) and rip it up and flush it away or burn it. Tell it you no longer need it and you are releasing it to the Universe. 

6. Using the following prompts, write a paragraph on each. 

  • Now that I am free I can…
  • I am so grateful now that I can…
  • I learned so much from what happened and now I can help others by…
  • I feel like a new person who can now…

 7. Now imagine yourself unzipping a suit of old dried up skin take each take each arm out, then step each leg out of it. Watch as it crumples to the floor. (You can give it a little kick if you want to!) Now gather it up in your arms and scrunch it hard, keep scrunching it until it is a tiny ball, then until it has gone, disappeared, evaporated into the Universe. 

 

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 Do you feel fresh, new, a little revitalised?

Like you have now become more of who you are, no longer hidden or constrained.

By combining writing with healing we can become braver in our lives, be more willing to trust and connect with others. I know this has been true for me. Following these steps has allowed me to step out of old stories I was telling myself. It has made me stand up for myself more and not let the past dictate the here and now.

It can do the same for you, let me know how you get on with these exercises. I’d love to hear from you!