Friday, November 29, 2013

The effect of gratitude

Soulpancake posted a video on the Science of Happiness and Gratitude where they tested the participants' level of happiness with a psychological test.  Then asked them to write a letter to the most influential people in their world, expressing their gratitude for their presence in their lives.  They thought this was the end of the experiment.  Gratitude had been expressed and their hearts felt full.  There were emotions. Some tears.

And then they asked them to phone the person and read the letter that they wrote to them.  Deep breath. And lots of love and gratitude.  And happiness.  (see video on previous blog)

They then challenged the viewers to do the same.  Look what this woman did:

So moving and heart opening, hey?  Do I dare do the same?

Hell yes!  (she said, brave and afraid at the same time)

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Vulnerability of Joy

This week found me doing the Gratitude and Joy practices for Brene Brown's course.  The biggest surprise of all is actually experiencing the vulnerability of joy.  Daring to feel joy completely makes me feel vulnerable to ridicule, rejection and disappointment.  Children fully embrace joy because they are not afraid to be thought of as silly, or of living in the moment, fully enjoying themselves, unattached to the future moments of the playtime being over or the bubbles being finished in the bottle.  They don't save some for next time - they just keep blowing until their interest or joy wanes and then they move on, even if they feel disappointment for a moment.  They don't attach. They are not afraid to express both joy and disappointment which allows them to move through the emotion, fully live, feel alive, and move on down the river of life.

Brene calls our adult reaction: Joy-foreboding.  Dreading the moment after fully feeling the joy.  To protect ourselves from this disappointment and feelings of vulnerability, we choose to shut down feeling joy in order to avoid feeling the difficult emotions afterwards.  Its a form of numbing our emotions.  And it leads to a non-alive life.  I know.  I am very tentative.  I go carefully.  I like to navigate quietly, unnoticed, most of the time. Play it safe.  Joy sounds so daring....and it is.

But, because I am doing this course, I am trying new things, pushing myself to be braver than usual.  I posted this comment on the social stream:

"I told my middle son in the car driving to the movies on a "date" with him on Monday that I wanted to start practicing gratitude at the dinner table and he said, "Let's start now - you go first." I was a little shy and surprised how vulnerable I felt, even with him. (The journal and these exercises are so much safer!) And then he had his turn and I was blown away at how much love and appreciation he has for me! So the next night, I was braver and suggested it at the dinner table. My husband was skeptical and got up to clear the dishes. I could feel his resistance. We waited for him to sit down again and I shyly got the ball rolling, my middle son went next, a little more intimidated with the larger audience and then our youngest, at 8 years old, could not be stopped. Five didn't cut it for him and he rattled off the most vulnerable, courageous list with an astounding vocabulary of things he is grateful for : "all the love we give him, his comforts, this house, his life, hugs and snuggles, reading to him, caring for him, his brothers for playing with him, the money we work hard to earn, etc, etc, etc.!!" My husband shed tears, our hearts swelled and we felt so appreciated. My husband then felt really okay sharing his gratitude list, with a lot of emotion around the table. It was beautiful. Thank you for this inspiration."

I received 6 comment replies all from people moved by my sons' reactions.  Children are so inspiring with their loose, fully engaged approach to life, fully feeling their feelings and fully living their lives, alive! Daring greatly!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gratitude and JOY!

Cultivating Gratitude and Joy :  Letting go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark:
Week 5 of the ecourse with Brene Brown on Oprah Life Class and our intention is:

"I will practice gratitude to access joy.  I will stop and take notice of those small things that make my life better, the things that are easy to overlook until they are gone."

So today, I am grateful for all the love in my life, family, friends, and other beings.  I am grateful for how I am feeling : Connected, Expressed and Open-Hearted.  I am so blessed.

Oprah says that Gratitude is the way home whenever you are feeling lost.  She has a practice of gratitude : each night she writes 5 things in her gratitude journal that she is grateful for.  The effect of this practice is that during the day Oprah is on the look-out for things to write down that evening and has built a strong awareness for the tiny and large things in her life that bring her joy!  Other people I know just verbalize this around the dinner table, each taking turns to voice what they are grateful for that day. Others, whilst they tuck their child in bed at night, or as they say goodnight to their partner.  I am not as consistent as my friends and still have the same gratitude journal from 2 years ago. But whenever I use it, gratitude makes me aware of how blessed I am in my life and opens my heart and lifts my spirit, sometimes a little, but mostly, it soars!  Why don't you give it a bash?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Letting go of numbing and powerlessness

I am on my fourth week of The Gifts of Imperfection course with Brene Brown and Oprah.  This week is all about cultivating a resilient spirit and letting go of numbing and powerlessness.  No biggie. Not!
"You would think that doing all this research and writing these books would be enough to set me straight on the numbing. Clearly, that isn't the case. I recently realized that when I'm totally overwhelmed, afraid or feeling super vulnerable, I can slip into a very dark place. As I was working on my collage for this lesson, I recognized a dangerous pattern:
  1. I don't like how I feel so I numb.
  2. Numbing the pain numbs the joy.
  3. I feel like I have no joy in my life so I numb some more.
  4. Only when I let myself feel the struggle do I open myself up to feeling the joy. And feeling both of these gives me the courage and strength to make changes and feel whole.
  5. Feeling the struggle gives me the courage to change what's happening and practice gratitude for what's going well (even if I have to look hard for it).
  6. Feeling the joy gives me the strength and perspective to move forward, out of the dark." - Brene Brown
So the intention for the week is:
"I will stay mindful of numbing.  I will remember that when I 'take the edge off' pain or stress, I take away my own joy.  We can't selectively numb emotion, and I want more joy, meaning and purpose."

Thanks, Brene.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Pottering at Potterage! (ahem, that's Pottery)

This year I started pottery classes with some of my favourite people in the world.  "Artists love artists", Julia Cameron says.  And she is not wrong.  We have a lovely time!

My very inspirational pottery teacher, Karina van Heerden, happened to turn 90 this year.  She is a force of nature. And her expression is passionately rooted in clay.

Under her very knowledgeable tutelage, I have managed to make a few things I like.  
This required having the humility and courage to become a beginner again.
Out of my comfort zone and with very thin skin, I didn't always love it but I love the expansive feeling of being creative. 

Clay is an interesting medium and one I am not familiar with so my discomfort, tightness and lack of trust are evident in my labours.

Although, I liked this one.  I carved a pattern I photographed off some fabric in a shop!

And I liked the roughness of this vase.

I had been longing for a funky quiche dish.

And I LOVE the shot of colour on the inside!  Thank you Roz!

I feel abundant and grateful.

My abundance corner.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I am enough!

I love this idea of writing a poem with a little help:

And if you need some guidance:

And look what you can do with it:

So, give it a bash and remember:

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Soulpancake Happiness Experiment

I have a dear friend, Laura, who is the only other person I know who loves Oprah as much as me and when she recommended I watch Rainn Wilson being interviewed by Oprah on Super Soul Sunday I knew it would be something worth watching.  Well, I was blown away.  He is an amazing man!  Rainn started:


Our brain batter of artculturesciencephilosophyspirituality and humoris designed to open your mind, challenge your friends, and feel damn good. 

Okay, so now you know you are going to feel GOOD after watching this one on the Happiness and Gratitude link:

And this one on what love looks like  :


And Kindness:

I know, right? Feel better?  Good

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

David Whyte - Master of Poetry

Thanks to my dear friend, Pascale Schroen (link to her blog), I have been reintroduced to poetry by Mary Oliver ("Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?") and David Whyte.  

Pasci played a recording of David reading his poem The Portrait in our Woman's Circle and our hearts nearly fell out our open mouths:

Takes your breath away, right?

And the next one, Sue Cooper (link) read us during a retreat at the Buddhist Retreat Centre in Ixopo (link) focused on grieving:
I mean, how can this not trigger some recognition of truth??  I reckon Brene Brown would love the references to belonging and living your truth.  I know I do.

Monday, November 4, 2013

What he means - Just Jinjer

This song opens my heart wide open:

Proud to be South African!

What he means lyrics

if there is grace in this world
if there is light on this earth
let us use it
let us see it
starting right now
can we be down with ourselves
respectful and mindful of one, of one another
your significant other
your sister your brother

peace, love, more tolerance
faith hope, trust in the same name of god
peace, love, more tolerance
faith, hope trust in the same god in whose
name we die for, take an innocent life for
that's not what he means
and it doesn't matter what book you read
is there relief up ahead
cos judgement and hearing await
a weight on our minds to bear
a shame on our heads to wear
where is salvation in love
now that we have what we want
now that we have our wars

peace, love, more tolerance
faith, hope trust in the same god in whose
name we die for, take an innocent life for
that's not what he means
and it doesn't matter what book you read
with a little bit of ease and a little bit of calm
acceptance is the key to all we know
what about a stir of compassion and lenience
what about some understanding
what about some sympathy

peace, love, more tolerance
faith, hope trust in the same god in whose
name we die for, take an innocent life for
that's not what he means
and it doesn't matter what book you read
freedom, kindness, warm deliverance, comfort, mercy
redemption song
redemption song
redemption song
freedom, kindness, warm deliverance, comfort, mercy
redemption song
redemption song
redemption song

peace, love, more tolerance
faith, hope trust in the same god in whose
name we die for, take an innocent life for
that's not what he means
and it doesn't matter what book you read

I agree, don't you?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Painting again is terribly beautiful!

So this year, I started painting again with Roz Cryer.  I was very, very scared! And vulnerable : "Can I still paint?  What if no-one likes them?  What if someone sees I am a fraud?  What if they are all failures? Danger, danger, danger!! People may reject your work and reject you......" My personal, internal, self-doubt dialogue that I am working on quietening.  
But Roz is gentle and she is kind, wholehearted and knowledgeable, so she skillfully leads you through your own gremlins so that you get out the way of the painting coming to life on the canvas, solidifying from the ethers.  Thank you, Roz. (Visit Roz on her blog)

Roz Cryer in action

 She started us off with mixing paints and doing the colour wheel.  I was very resistant and a difficult student!  I wanted to get down and dirty with a painting, impatient, nervous like a bull in a china shop, wanting the process to begin.  Gremlins loud in my head. But Roz put on the brakes and said we were to copy a Monet of our choosing - with our fingers only, getting used to mixing colours, seeing colours and enjoying the texture of the paint on our fingers! 

 I was longing for my comfort zone with a palette knife and so I copied another painting from an 18th century  painter of a dark and stormy night ... This should have  been a clue.... 

Gleefully, I started a new painting of some photos my son Murray took with my phone at sunset in our garden.  Original pictures, original painting.  I was excited...

Then disappointed... in the results, out of my comfort zone with a paintbrush. 

Then liberated ...... Roz said if you don't like it, paint over it!  Which I did! Ha! Freedom!

"This time", Roz said, "breathe, slow down, paint thin layers of glazes, allowing the layers underneath to show through......"  A practice in patience.
Did I mention I don't do patience?  Especially when I am nervous.  I fall back on my old tried and tested methods of performing, perfecting and pleasing others to gain outside approval to quieten the gremlins in my head: "Your're not good enough!"  It worked when I was a school..... But, with all I have learnt, being kind and patient and accepting each layer of myself is far more effective and satisfying.  And authentic.

And transparent.

So this was good for me.  And I felt really good and vulnerable and powerful at the same time.

Then I went back to my comfort zone of faces... quick and fast, with no real satisfaction.  When Roz asked me what I liked about it, I said the white collar on the left and I liked the power of knowing how to mix the colours I wanted to make.  Education is valuable.

But it felt old, done...I had moved on...

So I challenged myself with one of my sister-in-law, Sandra's, photos of a place they visited in Mozambique.  (She takes amazing photographs!) I used a combination of old and newly learnt techniques.  I found it a challenging process but liked the result.

And another Mozambique photo that I have wanted to paint for ages but was too intimidated.  I wanted to paint the sea so that it felt real in an impressionistic way, of course!

It was slow...

...sometimes terrible...

....sometimes beautiful...

But it always leaves me feeling light and expressed and satisfied, authentically expressed, from my soul to the canvas.

Which leaves me open to criticism.  But is it better to be unexpressed, hidden or fully expressed and vulnerable....?

Painting has been a practice in courage and vulnerability, breathing, being scared and practicing courage and vulnerability again and again.  But it is a joy, which in my experience, is equal parts terror and beauty.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A genre of Joy? by Angela Deutschmann

I am reposting a blog by Angela (Link to Angela Deutschmann's blog) today just because I liked it so much and wanted to share! Enjoy! Angela does amazing work! Follow the link to find out more about her.

May 10, 2012
This morning I found a glorious book on the shelves called ‘Saved by Cake’ – the first Marian Keyes book that I have ever wanted to read (confessions of a literary snob). It is the story of her recent – severe – depression and how the simple act of baking did more for her healing than any of the drugs, institutions, needles or meditation workshops she tried. Not long ago I read ‘Poser’ by Claire Dederer, which shares with much honesty and humour, how she used yoga (resistance notwithstanding) to come to terms with motherhood and her bigger role in the world, and we all know the ‘Eat Pray Love’ theme of using travel to re-evaluate and re-imagine a life that was slowly coasting into dreadful. It seems to me that these stories – perhaps beginning to be a genre of their own – are all articulating the discovery, or re-discovery, of a simple joy that ends up having a powerful and life-changing impact.

The transformations in these writers’ lives (slow as they may have been in the making) were not initiated by dramatically new jobs, immigrations, winning the lotto or finally landing Mr/s Right. They were caused by a spark of attraction to cupcakes, learning Italian and the Tree pose. Your joy is meaningful, even vital, to your wellness even if it doesn’t at first appear to be related to a career, your healing or anything you’d label a ‘life purpose’. On JoyMap last Saturday there were bright eyes and tears of relief around the table as participants remembered how much they love kayaking, children’s books, dancing and beautiful stationery. Joy is about the texture of your life, not just your vocation, and it contributes enormously to your overall sense of wellness, resilience and strength. All three the writers above (like many of my clients) had become so wrapped up in their lives (motherhood, marriage, being a famous author etc) that their own private joys had been suppressed. I cannot say for sure that this is the direct cause or cure of depression, overwhelm, MS and many of the other common diseases of our generation, but I have no doubt it is a crucial component.  

Interestingly, this week I read a lovely blog by Martha Beck on Radical Fun, which articulates similar ideas and invites us into a commitment to fun. Enjoy this:

Sunday, October 27, 2013

3 Things to do to stop a shame spiral

1. Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love (instead of beating up on yourself "You're so stupid!")
2. Reach out to someone you trust who can meet your story with empathy (as opposed to someone who will add to your shame "Ah, that's nothing. I had something much worse.  You're just being silly.")
3. Tell your shame story (as opposed to keeping it silent, secretive and continue judging yourself "I had better keep a tight lid on this otherwise no-one will ever think well of me again.")  

Shame cannot survive being spoken and met with empathy.
- Brene Brown

Sounds simple enough, doesn't it?  Let me tell you: it takes whole truckloads of courage and compassion for yourself...and really good friends and family who love and support you, especially when the shame makes you see yourself differently.  When your trusted ones manage to hold a more balanced view of you and reflect this view back to you, then you can remember who really you are beyond the pain, the shame and the judgment.

So, deep breath.  Talk to yourself like you were your own child, then tell someone your shame story who will listen wisely and empathise with you. And, bam, it goes away (slowly sometimes) and a newer, braver, wisened, more compassionate version of you grows upon this experience.

- Edmund Lee

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Prayer opens your heart

If you are having a bad day or feeling down and need a lift, watch this.  It will transform you and open your heart.  Enjoy!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Rust and Bone - a beautiful movie

"Rust and Bone (FrenchDe rouille et d'os) is a 2012 French-Belgian romantic drama film directed by Jacques Audiard, starring Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts, based on Craig Davidson's short story collection of the same name. It tells the story of an unemployed 25-year-old man who falls in love with a killer whale trainer. The film competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and received positive early reviews and a ten-minute standing ovation at the end of its screening. It has also been nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award, two Golden Globes, two BAFTA Awards and nine César Awards, winning four." - Wikipedia

This love story is one of those painfully beautiful stories that remind us that we live in an "and" world, rather than an "either/or" one.  The hero is flawed and is both beautiful AND repulsive in his relationships, his humanity. He is both good and bad, loving and hateful, kind and unkind.  To me, he is representative of our imperfect nature, real and raw.  I am really affected by the big heart of this movie.  Watch it, you won't be sorry, if this your thing, of course.

Jumping for Joy! - an ode to Groups

I belong to the most incredible group of women (run by the beautiful, sensitive and wise Pascale Schroenn - click here to see her blog) who meet monthly to support, love, accept and hear each other.  I get a thrill whenever I think of their special place in my heart, my life, my growth and my own self-acceptance.

It is in groups, I believe, that we can let go of the idea that we are different, alien, weird and basically don't belong here on earth, in our communities, our families, our lives.

This is where we learn we are more similar than we are different.

This is where vulnerability and connection happen, with yourself first and then others.

It is where we start to feel safe enough to truthfully emerge from hiding and fully express ourselves with authenticity and an open heart.

I am so grateful to these magnificent beings in my life and to the one who guides us with such a gentle touch.