I arrive in cold drizzle having rushed from my duties. The door is opened by a smiling stranger who welcomes me like a treasured friend. I step through the portal from grey to warm technicolour. The room is assuaged with soft, vibrant, red hued fabrics. A ring of cushions and blankets blurs the hard edges.
A gentle heartbeat of women’s chatter and laughter soothes my ears as a mother’s heart beat might reassure a baby in the womb. The kettle has boiled. I plump for a Womankind teabag. It seems appropriate.
I join the circle. I am home.
Only now do I look at the faces of the women who will share this evening with me. Some I have circled with before, some I recognise from other contexts, some are new to me. We range in age, in interest and in background but everyone shares the look of a person who has just released a huge sigh.
The notion of a space where women would come together to menstruate and birth was first introduced to me at university when I read ‘The Golden Bough’ by James Frazer. There he documented many cultures which banished women, particularly at first blood and often in horrific circumstances, to cages or small darkened rooms, suspended between heaven and earth, in an attempt to insulate the mysterious, powerful and spiritual force that charges them at this time. Later, reading ‘The Red Tent’, I was offered a more appealing version: a haven where women were freed from the taboos that surround their bodies, where they could celebrate and explore their cyclical nature. Anita Diamant’s vivid creation clearly invoked a need for such a space and Red Tents began to surface all over the world, like poppies on a battlefield.
The opening of the circle happens organically. There is no set agenda and ideas are shared and ultimately amalgamated. We settle on introducing ourselves and naming our female heritage as far back as we can remember; I’m ashamed that I can’t remember my Grandma Ackerman’s first name and make a mental note to check. We welcome each member in turn, along with her female energy- her shakti. I feel cherished in this space. This time we have all set aside to spend in the company and manner of women is sacred.
Here, women are free from duty, from expectations, from goals and deadlines, from imposed structure (one woman spends time reclining on the cushions, clearly soaking up the restorative power of the female collective). Whether your contribution is traumatic, trivial or triumphant, every voice is heard, every silence respected. Whether the earth is moving for you or crumbling beneath you, you are held.
There are few rules but one of the most challenging and powerful is that we do not try to fix each other's problems. We do not step into the sacred space of another woman’s words with our own. If we feel a resonance with her words, we say ’Ahhh mama’ This simple protocol frees each woman to say whatever she needs without judgement or the guilt of burdening the listener, who is free to hold space without the need to rescue. It is a powerful tool for healing as well as a catalyst for finding your voice.
There is singing. I have to confess: this was a challenge for me in my first couple of circles. I shaped the words silently, afraid of the strangled noises that might escape but now, having learned that each song contains only a few words and a narrow range of attainable notes, I throw myself in with the full gusto of a shower performance, finding in my voice, cushioned by my sisters, a soothing and solid companion. I float peacefully on a gentle tide of voices, allowing them, along with their sentiment to rock me.
Later, with peaceful hearts, we share food, more tea and company. This time has been a balm for our busy lives, an opportunity to recalibrate with our female energy.
I step back from technicolour into the darkness. I feel both grounded and lifted and I trail vibrancy in my wake.
For Norwich Red Tent, check out this link: http://www.sacredsisterhood.co.uk/
or to find your local red tent: https://redtentdirectory.com/
As I write, the chorus of White Stripes still roars in my ears like the sound of the ocean echoes in a shell.
Four days ago, I walked into a stadium of almost 10,000. Strobe lights sought me out in the darkened room and huge screens beckoned me in with their colourful Catherine wheels. I had watched ‘I Am Not Your Guru’ and I’m an experienced hypnotherapist and NLP Master Practitioner but nothing had quite prepared me for this.
Whatever your views on Tony Robbins, you would have to agree that he has created for himself an extraordinary life and many that come to his events credit him with their own extraordinary lives. I myself have gleaned many a gem from the pages of ‘Awaken the Giant Within’ and I had come to ‘play full out’ and see what the big man could unleash in me.
Naturally reserved, perhaps even ‘uptight’, I was immediately out of my comfort zone. Within seconds of his arrival, he was demanding a high energy; people pogoed vigorously whilst sandwiched firmly between the slim rows of plastic seating. I threw in some half-hearted knee bends like a badly faked orgasm and cringed inwardly. Whilst I truly wanted to create the high-energy state that would propel me forward, I wondered whether, perhaps, a more sedate, more English energy would suit me better.
Next came the hugging. In an attempt to reinvigorate the masses, we were sent on frequent quests for seven hugs; high fives; massages from random neighbours. We yelled ‘You Rock!’ and ‘I own you!’ into the strobe-lit faces of excitable strangers. It all felt very superficial, cheesy and cultish.
I sat back. I observed. I judged.
And then I began to question myself: why was I here? What had I come for? Why did this bother me so much?
We have all used the phrase ‘don’t get yourself in a state’. We know that if we focus on things that create negative emotions the results will be destructive. Yet we seem less aware of the possibility of creating good states, great states even and less rehearsed at doing that. I decided that I would let go of my judgement and let this charismatic man guide me into an outstanding state.
At first, I had to fake it. I must admit, I felt self-conscious and a bit ridiculous but, clearly these feelings were getting in my way. I had come with the full intention of completing the fire-walk. As a hypnobirthing practitioner, well-being teacher and mother, I knew how powerful this anecdote would be. I felt confident that Tony could get me through it and I knew that I would have to let go and offer myself up, fully, unfettered, unreserved and open to the experience and so I did.
Tony kept a room full of people buzzing with energy for the next nine and a half hours. The man is a machine. There were no breaks. He didn’t even leave the stage to pee. He used the full gamut of hypnotic and NLP tools and their effects were amplified by the remarkable dynamism of 10,000 positively charged people on the crest of a decision, like a colossal wave about to break. Cities could be powered on this kind of energy.
We were guided through mass visualisations, we danced, we chanted, we high fived and weren’t given a moment to reflect on the possibility that placing the bare and tender flesh of the soles of your feet onto smouldering coals might not be the most sensible action of a rational adult.
And then came the moment where we took off our shoes and socks and were decanted from the stadium, unfurling like a triumphant crowd. Intermittently, we roared the opening notes of White stripes and chanted ‘Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!’ I registered my own excitement and chose to ignore the inner voice that wanted to play out the many scenarios which concluded with me faceplanting in the coals or immobilised by sheer terror as my toes bubbled and spat like sausages on a summer BBQ. These thoughts, I decided, were not my allies on this particular quest. I punched my fist in the air and chanted again, ‘YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!’
Funnelling out of Excel onto the concrete plains, I felt the bite of the cold, hard surface beneath my feet and imagined, for just a moment, the contrasting sensation of burning coals…’YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!’ We inched forward in the dark. The crowd, like dense fog obscured my view until, suddenly, it thinned and I was watching my friend as she stepped into the coals. And, then, fixing my eyes firmly on the London skyline, an authoritative voice proclaimed me ‘ready’ and I strode forwards, noticing only the change in sensation from hard to soft. And then I was being told to wipe my feet and celebrate. My celebratory roar was fully, unfettered and unreserved. I was elated.
Did I perform a miracle? I doubt it. Apparently, coal is a poor conductor of heat and there are a number of theories which claim to explain how a person can walk, unharmed, through hot coals. But that isn’t the point. To quote Oprah: ‘All animals know to run from fire!’ Hypnosis and NLP can eradicate the fears, doubts and beliefs that prevent us from achieving what IS possible and to harness the strength and courage to make it happen.
So now, with a spring in my step and a fire-walker metaphor in my pocket, I step back into my own extraordinary life, where I have the privilege of guiding others to find THEIR possibilities.
Thanks to Alix at Vanity Van for having me on her team for the event:
‘The body is a multilingual being. It speaks through its colour and its temperature, the flush of recognition, the glow of love, the ash of pain, the heat of arousal, the coldness of nonconviction. It speaks through its constant tiny dance, sometimes swaying, sometimes a-jitter, sometimes trembling. It speaks through the leaping of the heart, the falling of the spirit, the pit at the center, and rising hope.’
Clarissa Pinkola Estes - ‘Women Who Run With Wolves’
I am 1200 metres above sea level and I have trekked for four hours in the Moroccan sun in the mountains outside Marrakesh when I awaken to the strength and power of the body that has carried me here.
As I approach the Berber village of Ouirgane, my breaths are deep and rounded; my pace unapologetically steady. ‘Mixy mixy’ (take your time) our guide urges, as he leads us along a snaking mountain path through veiled, yet animated, villages. I feel an effervescent energy orbiting my body. In short, I feel alive.
Entranced by the beauty and otherworldliness of my surroundings, my feet plant assuredly one in front of the other, the rest of my body stacking fluidly above. I am drawn inward to an overwhelming appreciation of my physical presence; not a peripheral appraisal of its form as one might judge a well-sculpted piece of art, but a deep resonance with the spring of life inside me.
Ahead of me a steadfast mule led by his master, carries my three young children in turn. Like me, they are mesmerised by the majesty and treachery of the mountainscape and the vignettes of village life.
Taking their turns to walk, I notice the impulsive, carefree way they move: never taking the well-trodden paths (much to the consternation of our guide) instead scaling walls and skimming the crests of rocky verges. Their movements a primal dance upon the landscape; an exploration and celebration both of it and of themselves. My children live inside their bodies while I live inside my head, a habit I am slowly unlearning.
I remember this congruous sense of self from my own childhood when my mind and body were one and provided me with all I needed to playfully explore. Somewhere between childhood and womanhood, I learned to judge and mistrust my body. Instead of marvelling at its changes, I was disgusted by my bodily emissions and critiqued its changing landscape: my boobs were too small, I was too tall, too skinny. I looked enviously at friends with burgeoning soft round curves and wondered why they were not delighted with their bodies. I stooped and my shoulders collapsed inwards, like a turtle retreating into its shell.
Over time, I found small fragments of my terrain that measured up to the illusory ideal and learned to frame them with skimpy garments or heavy make-up. I lived on, not in my body. An invisible line was drawn and crossed, only rarely, in moments of bliss where the delights of the flesh would drown out the whirring of my mind for a moment or two.
This estrangement from my body made me deaf to its needs, its wisdoms and its joys. I muted its voice further with the pill, coming home to it only many years later when I needed something: a baby. For many women the story of disconnection continues here, with the struggle to conceive, difficult pregnancies and traumatic births. I was lucky: for me it was a kind of homecoming. I learned to care for my body as I would care for a child because my body and my baby were one. Through hypnobirthing, I found strength and harmony in my mind and body and an overwhelming reverence for my flesh in all its glorious animated form. I exulted in the powers of my miraculous frame and began to appreciate the smaller miracles that it performs daily.
Like any precarious relationship, I dedicate time to healing the rift between my mind and body. Meditation and yoga are the cornerstones of this healing for me. Meditation has tamed and quietened my mind and yoga takes me back to an age where my body was my playground: where I can do handstands up against a wall and experience my body’s possibilities; where I can giggle with friends at its limitations and glory in its triumphs. In the sacred space of the studio, all judgement is suspended.
So, today, 1200 meters up a mountain in Morocco, as I marvel at this majestic congregation of craggy crests, I take a moment to pay homage to the body that has served me so well these forty-three years.
Four Steps To A Healthier, Happier You, Without Giving Anything Up!
It’s that time of year where we are all prone to overindulge in some of our less than healthy habits, only to spend January self-flagellating and purging ourselves. We seem to see excess as a reward and healthy habits as a punishment. When we talk about New Year’s resolutions, the focus is often on what we will be ‘giving up’ or ‘quitting’ which inevitably leaves us feeling penalised not positive.
When have you ever heard a smoker announce, on New Year’s eve, that they will be improving their lung and heart health, enhancing their sense of taste and smell, raising their life expectancy and saving nearly £5,000 in 2017. It’s certainly a far more appealing proposition than giving something up.
It’s important to recognise that all of our bad habits have a positive intention, no matter how misguided they may be and if you don’t address that then you leave a gaping hole for that habit to return.
So, this year why not focus on bringing positive habits into your life and allow those negative habits to just drift away naturally?
1. Take something up, don’t give something up
There are two types of motivation: ‘away from’ (something you don’t want) and ‘towards’ (something you do want.)
‘Away from’ motivation can provide a powerful kick start but it tends to peter out. An overweight person might look in the mirror and be so upset by what they see that they commit to losing weight, but as the pounds drop off, they look better and motivation wains. There is no focus on a clear goal.
If a big spider jumps out at you, which way will you jump? It doesn’t really matter, does it? You jump out of the way! You won’t be thinking about the direction you are moving in and, when the threat of the spider is no longer imminent, you stop moving. ‘Away from’ motivation is directionless. It’s also quite stressful because it only works when you focus on all the unpleasant stuff.
‘Towards’ motivation, in contrast, works by focussing on a clear and positive goal and, just like sat nav, no matter how many times you take a wrong turn (as you inevitably will), it will just recalibrate until you’re back on track. What’s more, as you get closer to your goal, you get more excited and more motivated to reach your compelling vision.
2. Take small steps
We are creatures of habit. For most of us, life is busy and we take solace in those little routines we have that allow us to operate on autopilot. Change is exciting because it forces us to really wake up and be present, but too much change in a busy life can make us feel overwhelmed and we will quickly revert to our old habits.
Introduce just one or two small, positive changes at a time; enjoy them and allow them to become part of your routine, before introducing more. You’ll be surprised how quickly these changes will snowball into the positive results you are looking for.
3. Be mindful
Our bodies communicate with us all the time - if only we would listen. Instead of denying yourself the chocolate that is tempting you, try eating it mindfully. Instead of shoving it in while you’re on the go (I’ve been there too), take the time to really savour the experience of eating the chocolate, notice the taste and texture and the way it makes you feel, ask yourself what the chocolate does for you, pay attention to your body as you eat it. You might find you don’t like it as much as you thought you did or you might notice that the first piece is the best (which is why it’s worth savouring) and, after two pieces, it’s not going down so well. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a third to check, but then you can put it away for another time when you can really enjoy it.
4. Be kind to yourself
The thing about quitting is that the minute you eat that packet of crisps / light that cigarette/ drink that glass of wine, you’ve failed and you will just have to wait another year for another doomed attempt.
Allow yourself not to be perfect. Embracing a healthier you should feel good. It should feel like a gift, like self-love. If you don’t make it to the gym, instead of beating yourself up, try asking yourself why. Talk to yourself like you would a friend. Be understanding. Sometimes we need a duvet day more than we need a six pack. Enjoy whatever you do instead, mindfully, recalibrate and get back on track when you’re ready.
In 2017 I am going to introduce more raw food to my diet. What are you going to take up in 2017?
I have a growing (excuse the pun) obsession with gardening. I’m sure it’s a symptom of middle age as the gardening magazine I read sports advertisements for ‘comfortable’ trousers with elasticated waists that come in a range of colours, including at least four shades of beige!
So today, while pondering my carrots and the rest of my root vegetable crop, which have not done very well this year, it occurred to me that the soil in which they’d grown was too rich.
Root vegetables (unlike most things we grow) do not do well in very rich soil because, if they have all the nutrients they need, they do not put their efforts into building up roots to forage deeper and wider in search of sustenance. Instead, they concentrate on producing fabulous foliage and flowers so that they can set seed and reproduce.
Humans are more complex than carrots; we need far more than nutrition to thrive. We require a balance of: health; career or job; friends and family; hobbies, interests and fun; relationships; personal space and spirituality. These are the ‘nutrients’ we need in order to send up beautiful flowers and foliage and to reproduce.
As human beings, not just humans who want to have babies, we need to send our ‘roots’ out to find a balance of
‘nutrients’ to feed our minds, bodies and souls. When we do this, we become ‘fertile’ in all aspects of our lives.
Hypnosis for fertility takes prospective parents on a journey of self-discovery, teaching a range of practical techniques to manage stress and address the balance of their lives to make small but effective changes.
Hypnosis is used to generate an altered state of consciousness in which the unconscious mind is more available to respond to these changes.
So, in short, if you are growing carrots, sow them in light soil, but to grow anything else, including babies, we need to sow them in a soil that is as rich and varied as we can get.
Recently, I have been reflecting on the concept of ‘holding space’. In my myriad of roles, I am becoming more aware that, to truly support people, we must empower them. We have to really listen to what they want; give them opportunities to solve their own problems and make their own choices otherwise we are robbing them of a learning opportunity.
I was reminded of a sensitive situation that I encountered as an NQT. A really lovely boy in my year 9 form approached me at the end of school on a Friday and handed me a letter, instructing me to read it after he was gone.
The letter was heart breaking. He was being bullied in his English lessons and was so upset by it that he was struggling to get out of bed in the mornings and had contemplated a number of drastic solutions. He was now, thankfully, reaching out for help. His humble request was to change groups. He stated, flatly, that he would not tell me the names of the bullies as he felt sure this could only make things worse.
The enormity of my responsibility to support this boy weighed heavily, particularly as there was little I could do before Monday. As it happened, this was to be a good thing; it gave me the space and time to find a creative solution.
To begin with, I went to see his English teacher. She was aware of the issue, though not the extent or the impact it was having on this student. She told me that there were a group of boys involved, one of whom was in my form.
I then went home for the weekend to figure out how I was going to tackle the issue without betraying the confidence of the student or making the situation worse. I was determined that the bullies would not ‘get away with it’. The issues and the possible scenarios and outcomes went round and round in my head, but I couldn’t find a solution. I felt terrible.
Finally, I stopped thinking and the solution came to me. I knew it was the right thing to do.
On Monday morning, at the end of registration, I called the student over and told him my plan.
I then summoned the boy in my form who had been playing a part in the bullying. I told him that a student in our form was being bullied and named him. Immediately the boy’s face reddened and he cast his eyes downward. I explained the difficulty I had in dealing with the situation as the student was steadfastly refusing to name the culprits. I requested that he keep an eye out for our form member and report back to me. As he left the room, confusion was still contorting his face.
Later that day the ‘bully’ returned. He had regained his composure and approached me confidently. He had spoken to the boy, he told me, and he knew who the bullies were, but he had been sworn to secrecy. He reassured me that the situation was in hand, that he had spoken to the bullies and they would not be bothering our friend again.
By the end of the year those two were best friends and, though I left the school at the end of that year, when I returned for their prom, they were still thick as thieves.
The ‘bully’ avoided punishment, but learned the true value of making amends and gained an enduring friendship. I was happy with that result.
I recently received some beautiful words from a client, who expressed, far better than I could, how NLP had helped her to come to terms with some issues on her fertility journey:
‘You have really hit on some issues and managed to make me re-look at them from a different perspective, the negative barriers I thought I had were acts of love, protection and survival.
The love for my daughter has got me through the darkest days, she was very much wanted and loved from the moment I was pregnant. I know I shouldn't put so much responsibility on her but I really don't know how I would ever have got through my 4 losses without her.
I wish I had heard your words of wisdom earlier so I wouldn't have punished my body - instead I would have nurtured and appreciated the miracle it performed - to conceive and deliver a perfect baby.
As for my ‘more’ list, forgive myself, nurture myself and use positive language to remind myself how strong I am. My list has been added to and these have become my priority.’
There is a saying in NLP, ‘Perception is projection’ which reminds us that what we perceive to be reality is always distorted by our own experience of the world: our language, our beliefs, our memories, attitudes etc.
You are probably aware that our senses, through which we perceive the world, are limited to begin with. Dogs, for example, can hear sounds that we are not capable of hearing and butterflies can perceive ultra-violet light.
Never-the-less, our five senses take in approximately 2 million bits of information per second. These pieces of information then pass through a number of perception filters where they are deleted, distorted and generalised until we are left with roughly 134 bits of information per second from which we construct our ‘truth’. I’m sure you’ll agree that this doesn’t provide us with a very accurate perception of reality.
Plato, in ‘Republic’, describes the effect of education, using the analogy of a group of people who have lived all their lives chained to the blank wall of a cave. These people watch the shadows cast by things which pass in front of a fire outside the cave’s entrance. They give names and meaning to these shadows. This is as close as they get to the ‘truth’ of their reality.
To Plato, the philosopher was like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows do not make up reality at all. He believed it was possible to perceive the truth of reality once your eyes adjusted to the light of the sun.
I don’t believe that NLP offers the ‘truth’, but it offers techniques which can allow you to see things from a different angle, to find solutions where none seemed possible, find paths where there had previously been dead ends. As my NLP trainer wisely told me: ‘If perception is projection, you might as well focus on the good shit!’