Working in mental health

Have you ever had your ankles licked at work?

That’s an experience I had at a new job this week.

At the job interview, there was a mild air of desperation as the managers upsold the more ‘senior‘ role that I was ‘much more suited‘ to than more general, part time role I was applying for. My reaction was shock and amazement as my ego sat up and stroked her hair.

Now I know why.

From the first morning of induction, we were locked in the conference room because my client was thumping the windows and swearing loudly about how much she hates me.  The next day I hear coming in at number #1 on her ‘future goals list’ is ‘Get Amy fired‘ as she eyeballs me whilst draped over reception articulating the words ‘power’ and her ‘challenge’.

This is from someone who had rapport with her previous case manager and faced with a conveyor belt of changing staff and caregivers, she is fighting hard in a pretty powerless situation.

It’s pretty intense working on the coal face of mental health. Ten clients with heavy stories and mental health diagnoses live onsite in adjoining one bedroom units. It is my job to oversee the day and troubleshoot any disagreements, disputes or episodes that may occur. Learnt at uni that emotions are contagions, now seeing it in practice, it can only be described as mercurial. Watching how the shifting sands change rapidly is a lesson for me to not get too attached to how I think things may go, and to live wholly in the every changing moment!

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At handover, we sit with diagrams of coloured zones and conversations about clients ideally being in the green ‘wise mind’ zone where things are flowing and avoiding escalation to the red ‘risky’ mind where adrenalin and cortisol take over. But this same learning tool is used to educate staff on their own wiring as we aren’t immune to the waves. Every time, I cope it from my client, a staff member has been there with a knowing smile offering support, the oxytocin hit may be enough to keep me coming back tomorrow.

I did expected a challenge, but I didn’t expect to be the target of such intense behaviour. Of course, it is possible to rationalise it in terms of amygdalas; inability to emotionally regulate and don’t take anything personally but honestly, I feel like I’ve been thrown into a war zone. By lunch time on the second day, I notice I have become more desensitised.

Self care has zoomed up the list. I drive to a nearby forest on the way home forcing myself into a jog-walk spontaneously stopping to hug a wise tree elder to clear the stress and mild panic experienced that day. I can feel the cortisol spikes hoping to release them. Some of my predecessors fell to the scary burnout.

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Social norms exist in another stratosphere and I’m jumpy as I’m escorted to my car in the hope that my client won’t find which one it is as property damage has happened before. I get inside and exhale. Putting all the skills to work: some laughter, some philosophy, some getting physically fit.

When we work with the horses, we demonstrate firm boundaries. Otherwise, the large animal may either mindlessly walk on top of you and/or be in a place of unease and fear at who is in fact the leader which makes them feel unsafe. It is these skills that work best with my client. With a horrific history of insecure attachment and distrust, she requires clear boundaries and crystal clear communication to build trust and feel safe. The ‘no hands on’ rule is constantly tested when she latched onto my ankle in reception refusing to let go. My horse mentor talks a lot about ‘fight, flight or freeze’ and how we have a predisposition to one of these. My client is a fighter- fierce, vocal and lightning sharp. I am a recovering fleer who now holds my ground and I’m learning to dial up when necessary. This job is going to call on me to embody these on a daily basis.

Sometimes we don’t get what we expected, but it may be just what we need. Here’s the philosophy part: walking it out to see how far I can go with it. At the moment, I’m not seeing a huge silver lining but I know there is one. I know I have choices available and that I create my own path. For now, being in the fire with a fighter is challenging, beyond my map to date. It is questioning the beliefs I hold about my self, the helping profession and wider system at play, what is enabling and empowering behaviour. Everything will be turned over and hopefully deeper truths accessed along the way.

Send me your love, I will gratefully receive it.

 

Healing Power of Horses

FullSizeRender (12)On a clear winter’s day, sun streaming down, I walk into the horse paddock, tired I lay down, covering my face with my hat. Spirit, a buckskin horse looks on wary at first, then comes to sniff and nudge me, ‘Are you alright?‘, assured that I am, he turns and parks his rear end to me 10 metres away.

I lay on the Earth and my tiredness falls away. I begin to rest.

Awhile later, I look around and Spirit has turned his body towards me. He is resting, his back leg chocked. I sit up and gently start to meditate. I feel Spirit walk and stand over me with his head above my head. Meanwhile, my dog comes and stretches out on my other side. I can feel layers rippling inside and around us.

Spirit’s nose began to tremble lightly as his whiskers move in all directions. A local vet/energy healer once told me this is releasing tension/energy. He is very relaxed which is unusual for him as he is often in chronic pain from a degenerative back injury. All the tension leaves my body- tight jaw and stiff shoulder evaporate as Spirit stands over me, cleaning it away.

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I feel this deep peace around us. We have no physical borders. Is Spirit healing me or am I healing him? There isn’t any separation of ‘I’ or ‘Him’. It feels like an exchange. Our minds clear and non thinking.

We stay like this for half an hour or so until a truck comes bumbling down the neighbour’s drive. Spirit looks up alert, yet totally relaxed. I slowly start to come back into my body. Pat the dog leaves as the sun has heated his black coat up.

I gingerly stand up, free of tension. Spirit is in his energy ‘bubble’ connected to my own. I don’t need to touch him, I can feel him. We share thoughts telepathically. Animal communication is about sending pictures, thoughts and intentions to animals and seeing what they send back. We are doing it all the time without realising it. Indigenous trackers use these skills in hunting and tracking, calling the animals to them. We all have this ability, once we quieten the noise of internal self talk.

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I walk back up the hill, Spirit wants to follow me but I turn and say no with a thought. He turns calmly and lightly canters down to his friends. He looks brighter and more energised. He is less defensive with the mares at feed time. A more calm leader rather than leading with dominant control.

I am in awe of the power of it all. What exactly? The energy within us all and all around us. So often I feeI the need to outsource these gifts, but they are within me, within all of us. It’s not the ‘thinking’ brain but the 90% subconscious part we often don’t use. Animals access it easily, waiting for us to sit still and get quiet, so they can teach us. It’s available to us any time.

Today I turn 40

IMG_8663Turn an age, turn a page

And I can say, I love who I’ve become

Behind are those angst full years of running this way and that

Desperate to escape some uneasy feeling

And now knowing, there is no knowing.

Let the good girl fall away. Who was she any way?

A mirage of expectation I no longer have to fulfil.

I have my own guide on who I am.

I welcome your different views because fixed beliefs are worth nothing.

My greying tips are an honour. I’ve earned them.

My wrinkly tummy worn as a mother’s prize. I have been lucky.

A leaf on a tree, I’m rooted to the Earth but blow in the wind

Relish in sunshine, enduring the wet

I come back to life again and again

Today I am 40

To touch my own love is to start loving the whole world.

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Last of the bday party coals, a burning ember foetus

 

The day I got fired via text

I’ve been working for half a year at a local bulk food store. Gleaming white tubs with streak-free lids (important to use the triple cloth wipe method), the store has a fresh, city vibe for a country town. Many tourists recognise the franchise and the locals resent the franchise because it is synonymous with big business. It’s been an interesting journey since it opened, sometimes a flutter with people and other times, yawningly quiet.

The afternoon before my usual shifts, I get a ‘thanks, but no thanks’ message. It’s never jolly being let go from a job you like, but the method feels pretty brutal in its ‘I regret to inform you…effective immediately’ formality. I imagine what a teen being blindsided on the dating scene must feel like with raging hormones.  I’d come to know my boss who is of a similar age and ethos quite well, and it came as a shock. I can accept he had his reasons if only I’d got to hear them. Small business is hard, and having an employee who’s the best fit is important. But no warning or conversation felt like a face slap.

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My instinct was to recover and go in and speak to the boss. He looked awkward.  He was unsure if I had got his text and was instead turning up for work, apron in hand. He was smiling and shuffling feet keeping up a look of normalcy in front of the customer lurking over the dried fruit. I spot the squeaky clean doors and resist the temptation to blowfish on them.

‘I can accept you have your reasons. But does ‘my lack of contribution over the last few months to the business‘ have something to do with not spending more of my wages in the store?’, I said.

He responds with an emphatic ‘No’ (by law, you can’t be fired on those grounds).

‘Well, it was open to interpretation receiving this in a text’, I say.

It is said that a mere 7% of content is communicated through this heavily used method. The remaining 93% is conveyed through body language (58%); and vocal tone, pitch and emphasis (35%) according to UCLA Professor Albert Mehrabian. Texting has become a rouse for the old phone call and misunderstanding potential is huge.

I say my peace and realise I’m not going to get anything more from the conversation or the relationship. I walk out and spot a friend’s car and sit in the sunshine by it. I call her to ask if she could sit with me for a minute. She’s coming out of the supermarket. I share and she soothes my nerves. Within minutes, I feel back in my body. I’m proud of myself for getting the closure that I needed.

The allure of texting is everywhere and is useful for dates, times, facts and quick liners. It’s not too hard to misconstrue a gif of puppy dog doing a lap dance…or is it? However, relationships are tricky enough without using them for the big guns. We can never know what another is thinking or how they will respond, that’s why in person or over the phone relays so much more, ie. 93%. People can feel heard and understood. It builds relationships even if the news we have to share may not be positive.

What’s in store for me now? It’s tap, tap back on the job hunt, I’m eager to create the next page. What are your thoughts on the whole text/call thing? Anyone had a similar experience via the ol’ text?

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What else is possible?

 

Under mud brick and timber beams, we have a toast for a long awaited event, the sale of this rustic and romantic house of a friend. Over the afternoon, women gather under an alcove and get down to the business of chat. But it’s not chit-chat.

A beautiful theatrical blonde moves over the space posing a question, ‘How hard is it to have 3 relationships in one?  I mean you have a business relationship with your partner here…. then you’re meant to have a romantic relationship over there…and then there are the kids’.

A few knowing nods as we take in this clear delineation. It sounds so practical and pragmatic, not in the least bit reckless or exciting.

A redhead with black spectacles quips ‘It’s all too hard: I keep it simple: there is business and there is the kids’.

Most of us laugh because it is true, but it’s also sad.

A beautifully serene lady looks perplexed, ‘But if you don’t have romance, the whole relationship crumbles. You don’t have anything left’.

The rest of us give an eye roll or a nervous chuckle. She is the happily remarried of us who now co-parents with her ex. She admits that she and her man get every second week together kid-free.

‘So let’s separate!’ I blurt. Giggles and laughs.

Is this the easy answer? We hear the grubby reality of having a frustrated son in tears not wanting to live between two houses. He just wants it to be easy.

‘But trying to keep a relationship alive after more than a decade (some are close to two decades) is bloody hard. I mean we change over that time and to stay connected in that change…’ My voice travels off.

‘Yeah..err..’, the others chorus.

‘We’re thinking about couples counselling’, I admit.

Another responds, ‘Yes we thought of that, but how to find the time?’

More laughter. I think to myself aren’t we all just getting by, doing the best we can and all that. How many cliches are there to describe coping?

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Back to the redhead with kind eyes who shares, ‘Even on those rare date dates, all I want to do is sleep, I’m so f$%kin tired of doing it all. Sometimes I’ll do some laundry…’

The lady happily married, looks over in wonder and concern.

I find myself running on, ‘ How do I wake up and be honest that my relationship is suffering, but at the same time a big part of me wants to stay numb. Isn’t pretending ok? I mean I don’t have to feel too much or even better actually do anything. If I just hold this position maybe it will all blow over’.

This lady gives me her ear, she’s a counsellor for a living. Sorry no day off,  I keep my download going.

‘I mean this question of to stay or go. It’s not black/white like a bloody piano.. I mean.. it is a yes, until it is a no. And if it it not a no, then it is yes. Confusing much…!?’

I’m a bit wild eyed as clicks go off in my brain. I realise if we wanna be seen, I mean really seen by our partner, we gotta actually get clear on what we want. Call it, as my friend says. Greet the elephant in the room, so we have a chat with it.

And obviously, it takes two willing parties. No one needs to bother with a fence post.

Later, I get my training wheels out with my partner. It always feels the same- a bit wobbly at the start as I kick off but slowly gains momentum.

‘I’ve realised that you can’t get me if I don’t actually share what’s going on for me. Sometimes when I’m aggressive, I’m actually afraid. It’s easier to be snappy than actually admit I’m going through stuff’.

Hmmm, he is looking at me taking it in, ‘Yeah’. Good sign.

‘And this whole fighting thing isn’t working. Just like the whole faking it until we make it relationship thing doesn’t work unless we’re after a life of denying our pleasure and ultimately joy.. .’

‘Fuck no’, he says.

We talk, and this funny thing happens by focusing on my own needs, he can focus on his and we are both heard. Anything less is dancing with codependency. That grim reaper of joy that I fall into far too often.

Afterwards I notice how I feel richer, lighter and happier. No resolutions or debates were required, just showing up where I’m at in my own story.

‘What else is possible?’ I ask, and feel tingly delicious.

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Photo by Jhonis Martins from Pexels

 

Time Travel ~ a poem

Plane travel
Sliding doors unravel
Which reality am I in?
2019 or 1987

I am a child
Going on an aeroplane
Daddy said he’d come but
He’s let me down again.

‘Go be a big girl’, he says
As he waves me goodbye.
I’m on a jumbo jet
Heading home alone.

Stopover from Disneyland
Dumbo in my arms
Stranger couple meets me
They hold my bags
Not my hand

They say they are friends
Though I don’t know their name
I hold myself tight
Possibly say things are alright

Though inside I am crying
Daddy is not around
And he is nowhere to be found
I am daddy’s little girl

~ By Amy Wilson

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Hello Self, Where are you?

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I met a wise woman last night. A horsey lady with ropey curls who listens as you speak and says it how it is when it’s her turn. I was explaining to her how I’d gone for an interview for a real job in a fancy building and didn’t get it. The whole experience had been anxiety provoking and I feel disheartened, lost.

After dissecting the interview many times, with each role play I notice how the panel has slightly different responses as my imagination tries to draw lines to meanings that I am totally unable to know without feedback.

I admit to this friend that my fear of failure or not doing enough…of really not being enough is under it all. I’ve played out another run around the sun being particularly busy with self improvement, studying a second degree, cramming for a soaring GPA as a reflection of my self worth.

She simply said, ‘What about your relationship with your self?’

I do a jolt and feel a wave of dull anger. ‘What do you mean? I’ve been candid enough with you to point out my flaws. I’m ‘enlightened’ enough to know what they are.  I am f$%kin self aware… I do yoga…I talk to animals…I even talk to a God of my understanding that I sometimes call Spirit/Source/Magic/Energy…whatever I feel comfortable with at the time.’ It’s basically laughable, I have some relationship with someone in there, don’t I?

She responds, ‘So you are stuck in all this doing, because to actually just sit in the shit with your uncomfortable feelings is harder’.

My jaw drops as I exhale. Truth can do that. There is space as her words echo in my head.

How do I do that? Just be in it. In what? I don’t know if I like the sound of any of it.

My mind jumps to rapid fire questions, ‘How did you learn? Do you write it out? Did you do a ….’. My voice trails off as I realise that doing courses is just another distraction from getting quiet enough to be in the warm pool of your own excretement.

She continues to speak of learning from her animals, and sitting with her herd. She works in equine therapy and teaches horsemanship skills.

I’ve tried to take it all in. But the reality, my mind is busy with its usual parody of thoughts. I share my primary fear ‘ Time is ticking by, my kids are nearly teenagers and I’m still lost out on the prairies whilst trying to make it to respectable 6 figure Successville.’

She slaps her hand down on the table with more force than she intended. I see a glimmer of fear and frustration cross her face, ‘Money? Now that’s an entirely different topic all together’. She shares her journey of deconstructing fears around having money or not, and how learning to give when she is holding on too tight has somehow with practice, taught her to relax. I think, far out yet another paradox.

I shift in my seat as I feel that familiar ball in my lower belly. The conversation rounds back to its original purpose. I’m left pondering, what does a relationship with ourselves mean? And is it different to a relationship with God or whatever we name the energy bigger than ourselves? Ouch, my head hurts. Maybe this is all too hard.

‘Ok, what about writing?, she says. A calm comes over me, ‘yeah I love that. Somehow I can feel through that’. With her gentle enthusiasm, she lights the way when I am in the dark. ‘Ok, do that. Just write and see what happens’.

As the conversation turns and I watch as this beautiful warm woman shares her own frustrations about warped love and family. With her large penetrating blues, at one point she admits she’s dyslexic and thus not intelligent. And I scream inside, ‘No, that’s just school conditioning! What you’ve shared with me in the past half an hour, I haven’t found in any university hall’. Again, all these measures we busy and beat ourselves with, no wonder this relationship with self feels so strange in comparison.

As the music jams on and a cleansing rain shower dumps down, I feel a rush of gratitude for this perfectly vulnerable, resilient woman with a lion heart. I want to thank her because this morning I’m tapping away, slowly finding the stones to step on.

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The Thing Is – a poem

The thing is

To decide

Where you begin

And I subside

 

The thing is

To help or stand beside

Refrain from advice

Simply hold my space

 

The Thing Is

To stay or to go

My liquid feet

They give no answers

 

The Thing Is

I feel the vice

Upon your crown

Heavy sharp

 

I want to reach over

And unbuckle it

But the reality is,

it’s not my own

 

The Thing Is

To stop the fuss

Over whose cargo to carry

Our own

 

The Thing Is

In the garden

You’ll find me

Dirty fingernails

Rooting in the leaves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Talk To Horses

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Over 8 weeks, students on a horse facilitated learning program have the opportunity to  make friends with the large four legged kind. They are given timeout from school to learn how to speak horse. It is through this relationship they learn the art of ‘step back and breathe’.

From their first day, students are taught how to approach their horse in a receptive way using proximity response. As a horse turns an eye, ear or a head towards them, they take a step back and a conscious breath out.  This breath out helps to relax both horse and human. It allows for a conversation to begin. They become aware of their own energy field. This is sometimes described as an energy ‘bubble’ . When we bump up against someone else’s bubble, we feel uncomfortable and take a step back instinctively to reduce uneasiness.  People vary in how much personal space they need, and what’s socially acceptable or the norm varies across cultures. 

Horses are a prey species that have evolved to be hyper aware using all their senses to survive. They scan our bodies for tension and continually monitor our breath, especially upon our approach. When we hold our breath, something we can do unconsciously when nervous or trying something new, the horse also feels tense. The cougar in the wild holds its breath before it attacks.  Through the ‘step back and breathe’ technique, we consciously relax and repeat this several times before reaching the horse.

 By approaching the horse mindfully, we ask permission to enter the horse’s space. This idea is different from what pony clubs across the land teach young riders. I was fed a mantra of  ‘you have to show the horse who’s boss’ when I was a youngster learning to ride. Yes, we have to display leadership to the horse and be clear in our actions which makes the horse feel safe. However, true leadership is a hell of a lot more than dominance and control. Winston Churchill, an inspiring leader for his time said

‘Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen’.

It is the latter part of this quote that is the other half of the story. In using proximity response, we are listening for the horse’s answer.

FullSizeRender_1Over the course of the program, students become aware of what’s going on inside their bodies. They learn to find out what’s ‘running’: be it fear, anger, frustration or any other emotion. Horses are super sensitive to picking up our emotions. By simply placing our hand on the body part where the unease is felt, we can dissipate the energy. We teach people how to do a body scan before approaching the horse and bring their energy within. Horses are sleuths when it comes to incongruency, a psychology term coined in 1950s. It happens when people are distracted, emotional and disconnected from their body. When someone is totally unaware of what’s going on inside them even if they are putting on a brave face or talking the talk. The emotion felt from them doesn’t match their behaviour. Horses don’t want to hang with us in this state as we’re unclear and potentially dangerous. However, horses willingly hold space for feelings, but they will only support once we honestly acknowledge our feelings, and become relaxed which happens naturally once we allow ourselves to feel. 

It is quite possible that if we all learnt to ‘step back and breathe’ during times of heightened emotions, the world would be a calmer place. When we react in the moment,  saying things in anger or throwing that punch, we are trapped in the reptilian part of our brain (our primal brain). By taking a few precious moments to step back and breathe, we can engage the prefrontal cortex, the thinking part of our brain, allowing for more conscious, peace evoking responses. Through this humble action, we could change the world, one step at a time. 

 

 

 

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Shadow work: How I felt my shadow

 

It is not unusual to find my brain joining imaginary dots at 2am. Being perpetually busy is easy to do giving our days structure and we have social media for the down times. Living with this heady cocktail, I am looking for a different way of living more in touch with natural rhythms without caffeine. Here comes the thang, when I drop into my body, I disengage from fantastical thoughts and basically sloooow the feck down.

Living where I live with open space and changing sky helps as watching this subtle beauty allows the mind to quiet. Old patterns die hard though, and it is easy to notice how Nature influences our own nature, but it takes more commitment than that. An owning of my wiring, and that overthinking tendencies is a habit much like over eating.

I was drawn to an online course this year that delves into shadow work and works with Mother Archetypes whereby we get in touch with our sacred feminine. This is not a walk in the park. No amount of study or intellectualising is gonna to get me through. Take away this crutch and I’m left wary – I’m told to go gently the course does you…!?

Am I doing it right? How can I think my way through this to reach some utopia?

It’s a regular Sunday, I get an incidental phone call from my cousin but somehow I am triggered into worthlessness. Like a cloud on an otherwise sunny day, bleak thoughts ramp up all vying for attention at once. Normally, I’d push them aside, possibly work harder at getting sh*t done, exercise or inadvertently lose it at the kids an hour or two later. But, this time I just stop. Bent over under the clothesline, I let myself free fall. I open up as my body shakes rather than cling to the safety of intellect. Taking myself away to the garage with pen in hand, I draw what I see. A face, a neck, rope, tears. It’s unbearable at first, but I hold on to this picture and keep drawing. More faces, more tears. Lost parts of me calling for comfort. Asking for love.

Maybe this is what spiritual seekers experience on drugs like toad venom or cactus juice? A reckoning when you stop and face your shadow. What you’ve feared to look at by giving it form becomes an entity, a known quantity and from there, it can be transformed. Stuck emotion around abandonment, rejection and isolation can bubble up to be released. We hadn’t known how to process them at the time before they latently start running the show.

There is a practice based on an 11th Century Buddhish Tibetan woman’s wisdom and more recently made popular by Lama Tsultrim Allione work, ‘How To Feed Your Demons’.  A peer of Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, Allione shows that by feeding our demons, we can nurture them and thus free ourselves from inner battles. Even that word ‘demon’ sounds scary, but they aren’t ghoulish devils, rather any blocks draining our energy, negative thoughts, fears, addiction or relationship woes. When we sit with them and give feelings form, we ask them what they need which is always some form of love or comfort, and from that place feed this liquid love to our demon. And surprisingly they lose their power, redundant by love. I reckon we’ve all had that happen before, there’s nothing quite like falling in love, though not always long lasting. But this process is because it is self-love. Underneath our dark knobbly bits, our vicious thoughts and deprecating fears are opportunities for pure self love.

After the face off with my shadow much like a beach after a storm, debris is floating, dislodged. My mind is surprisingly vacant, I put one foot in front of the other back inside to make dinner. Somehow I am more connected and own more parts of myself.

Who knows if or when we are ready? But at some point, there is a shift from reacting to embodying, and we wanna get real. It comes along as a process, a game of cat and mouse with apparently random occurrences that lead us to question who the hell we are, and what’s this thing called life about? Whose to say one path is any better than another.

I don’t believe in ephiphanies maybe because whenever I have one, I’ve (mistakenly) hoped it was this all defining ‘ah-ha’ moment, only to realise that I still wake up with the same neuroses a couple of weeks or months later. As that famous quote goes:

Before enlightenmentchop woodcarry water. After enlightenmentchop woodcarry water.”

Even the aim of enlightenment seems futile in the striving and trying. All I’ve discovered (which isn’t much when I’m buzzing around in my head) is in the gentle art of feeling my way, I nourish a relationship with myself. The more I sit in the depths of my heart, I get comfortable with not knowing what’s coming but ultimately more connected and confident that the ride and rewards are great.