Stumbling Part 5 ~ Climbing Out of the Dark : 8 steps that helped me up.
(This was the basis of my talk for the Heart, Mind, Body & Soul Healing and Holistic Fair in Bridgewater, NS, May 2016. In the actual talk there were ad libs and omissions, but this was my main content.)
My name is Mary Dixon. I work in a partnership with my husband Edward Howell called Co-Creative Healing Arts. Edward is a registered massage therapist and Reiki master/teacher, and I work as a life coach and soul coach.
The soul coach part is based on the work of author and healer Denise Linn and I was personally certified by her to do a type of motivational & spiritual coaching called Soul Coaching® as well as past life journey work. The focus of Soul Coaching® is primarily helping people get in touch with their spirit, their soul, their own inner knowing, and really starting to appreciate their true nature as a little piece of the Divine. It is about really getting to know yourself by connecting with the greater wisdom within you, so that you can discover your authentic self and live your life in alignment with that.
As a “life coach” my work tends to be a little more oriented toward helping you create something, moving toward what you want to achieve in your life, your goals, especially for women probably around my age, mid ’40’s to mid-’60’s, but often some younger.…so not people fresh out of high school looking to plan a life, but in that transitional time of perhaps becoming an empty-nester, or career-changer, or retiring, or being divorced, or having some kind of wake-up call, like illness. A lot of people have issues of identity tied up with being a certain way or in a certain role for a long time and may feel stagnant or confused about who they are or what they want. So we look at what they’d like to create or what they wish to change about where they are now.
The two bodies of work intertwine and overlap because getting people moving toward their desired goals usually involves helping them get clarity first on who they really are and what they really want, what they value, and find ways of aligning their outer world with their inner world.
When people get stuck I sometimes use the kind of journey work I use in soul coaching, or even shamanic journeying while I drum for them in a sacred ceremony, to help people tap into that other layer of awareness, their Higher Self or Inner knowing or Divine Consciousness…their soul, however you are comfortable looking at that. We interweave that kind of work in the coaching process to help keep you in touch with your own truth.
So, I am going to talk to you today about what can happen when you don’t keep in touch with that inner truth, when you don’t hear the voice of your soul, those inner nudges poking at you. Or when you hear them and then you shut them down, tune them out, numb them, or you simply ignore and forget to do the work they are asking you to do.
There is a game occasionally played by some people in a couple of the coaching communities I belong to online, a game we played in one of the in-person intensives I attended in California a couple of years ago. It is called “What I don’t want you to know about me.” It is essentially an exercise in vulnerability, the premise being, you cannot take your clients any deeper than you are prepared to go yourself. That doesn’t mean we as coaches have to be perfect and totally enlightened and successful in all things in order to coach people, but we do have to be courageous enough to do the tough work on ourselves too, and also to let ourselves be seen as honestly as we can. Vulnerability builds courage, connection, and compassion, as well as trust in a relationship, as any of you who have listened to any of Brene Brown’s Ted talks would know or if you’ve read her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection.”
The first thing I don’t want you to know about me is that I am feeling a little vulnerable because my preparation for this talk has been totally last-minute… so I may stumble and have to read my notes to keep on track. I hope you will forgive me, I realize that it’s not very professional.
The second and major thing I don’t want you to know about me is the reason for this being so last-minute is that, in spite of having been a soul coach since 2008, and certified in NLP since 2009 and in Strategic Intervention coaching in 2014, I have probably had the most difficult dark night of the soul this past winter, and I think I am only just emerging from it now, as in this week. I have been a bit of a mess up until a few days ago and I kept thinking, “How the heck can I possibly have anything useful to share with these people at a healing fair when I am feeling like a total basket case??”
I was not only feeling depressed, with waves of self-destructive thinking, I was at the beginning of this week starting to feel real anxiety, which is not very familiar to me. Even depression was not so familiar, although I think many years ago I “avoided” it for a while by numbing my feelings with alcohol… That was before I got into coaching, spirituality, and a lot of self-examination.
With all I know and have learned and practiced, about how thought creates emotion, how we only really have “problems” when we believe our thoughts, or we focus on the wrong or negative thoughts, and use degenerative language and get stuck and mired in negativity; about how we can use our physiology and our focus and our language to get us out of a funk…. what I don’t want you to know about me is that I got well and truly stuck this past winter. And I was becoming afraid I wouldn’t be able to get out of a serious downward spiral. I had a public face I could still put on, but my emotions were so close to the edge I was tearful on an almost daily basis. I really felt like I was going nuts.
I am in the midst of menopause, so for all I know, hormonal swings may well have something to do with it, but I was also facing some big financial challenges, a lot of unexpected major expenses, like cancer surgery for my dog and major car repairs, and not enough work coming in, and it all fed into my feelings of inadequacy and confusion about what I was doing with my life and career. Something HAD to change.
You may know last year when I was here I did a presentation about a project I got into where I’d started doodling, being challenged to do daily doodles by my own coach because he’d seen something uniquely “me” in a drawing I’d posted on Facebook. 120 daily doodles later, people were following my posts, engaging with me on the topics they brought up, and asking about when “the book” was coming out. So I took up that challenge too, spent a couple months refining and redrawing many doodles, and creating new ones, writing some text, hiring a graphic designer, invested some money, and printed 200 copies of Mary Doodle ~ Stumbling Toward Enlightenment, which is a collection of some of the doodles focused on Mary’s self-help and spiritual path…trying to figure it all out.
So as I contemplated, in some desperation this week, what I was going to offer you lovely people today, I decided only yesterday, (upon the suggestion of a friend) to invite Mary Doodle in to help illustrate my talk.
(Btw, these doodles were done on a large flip chart…after midnight… and I apologize for the colour casts as I had to photograph them to reproduce them here. You can click on each image to see them full size.)
Maybe I want Mary Doodle to help me soften this talk, or lighten it up, because I don’t need this to be a total tale of woe. I am climbing out and I’m going to tell you how.
I preface this with this: I am not a therapist or psychologist or psychotherapist or counsellor. I am a coach, and I am not specifically trained in therapies to deal with depression or anxiety although I do know something about it. This story I offer you is only my personal experience, and it’s still unfolding, so don’t think it’s the be-all and end-all. If you are in a serious downward spiral, do please consult a doctor (it may be hormonal or chemical), and some kind of therapist or spiritual counsellor to talk it out. There is help available. Go get it.
No doubt I was not as far down the hole as I could go because I still got up every morning, got showered and dressed, cooked dinner, did the shopping, etc., etc., AND got some work done, including facilitating my winter coaching course, but the emotional swings were to me, crazy, and often overwhelming. My creativity ground to a halt as I thought I had to feel better in order to create. That is one thing I got backwards.
I’m going to try to fit this talk into a format easy to remember so I am going to try label all these ideas into words starting with “C”. I may not have experienced these in the same order in my coming to awareness, but as I went through the process of developing this talk, some came to the forefront as really necessary, and would’ve been helpful to have attended to first.
1. The first one is COMPASSION or “Cultivate Compassion”.
Start with an awareness that almost everybody has something they are struggling with. Even if you do not see it, some of us are really good at hiding it from others. Some people hide it by retreating, not socializing, wearing masks, numbing feelings, or being very “busy”, but know that everyone has some struggle, maybe not all the time, but throughout our lives. It is part of the human journey. So, in having compassion for yourself, allow yourself to just be with the experience of your suffering for a bit. Accept that it is there and sit with it rather than rushing to numb it, fix it, or hide it. Ask the pain what it is trying to tell you.
Hold it as if it was your own child and tell it you are there for it, you love it and yourself, and that you will be there for yourself. It is only when you stop resisting and fighting with it that you can see it for what it is and love yourself as you would love another in the same struggle.
When you can love yourself and accept where you are and stop fighting, you move from fear, shame, and self-hatred, into love, and love is the only space into which creation flows and can happen. Our life is for us to create on some level. So you must surrender to a degree, and be kind and compassionate to yourself.
Trust that you are not alone and unique in your suffering. Don’t compare your suffering to others, just sit with it. That doesn’t mean chewing on it or analyzing it. It is a space of openness and acceptance where you say to yourself, “I see you, I love you, and I will be here loving you through this. When you are ready we will move forward.”
I find the work of Tara Brach very helpful, she has many online recordings and courses through Sounds True, as well as her books. She is a psychologist and lead teacher and founder of the Insight Meditation centre in Washington, DC. One book is called Radical Acceptance and she has an audio program I bought from Sounds True called Radical Self-Acceptance ~ A Buddhist guide to Freeing Yourself From Shame. Very good stuff.
I recognized my need for that this winter and ordered it when I saw a sale on Sounds True and listened to it and some other videos of hers online. And I started to have some compassion for myself. I also did the loving kindness meditation which I found in the wonderful book which I also revisited: A Path With Heart, by Jack Kornfield.
May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I be well.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
May I be happy.
I sat or walked and said this to myself over and over. It is recommended to do it for 20 minutes at a time. You can also use it substituting “you” for “I” when you need to work on your compassion for others.
2. CENTER yourself
And because I am trying to have all “C” words here I may be stretching this concept, but I will use “centering” to encompass a bunch of things. Essentially I am associating centering with the body, the physical self, how you are using it, holding it, treating it, and also where you are being physically. I am really referring to grounding.
When one is having anxiety or just a lot of worrying, it starts in the head…being all in the head, turning your thoughts around over and over and letting possible scenarios spin out of control.
That means you have come ungrounded. So how do you ground yourself? In the moment if you can sit, you can massage your feet, really hard, digging a thumb into your foot under the ball of your big toe. It brings the attention down out of the head and into the body quickly.
For me, I like to use the earth and nature to ground, so I did a lot of walking in the woods, more than my usual dog walks, and also connecting with the earth, on my knees or sitting and putting my hands on the ground. I stacked rocks in balancing piles, which required me to be very present and in the moment. I did a little gardening as soon as the weather allowed. I breathed the fresh air deeply into my lungs. Big, deep belly breaths are grounding as opposed to the shallow chest breathing we do when anxious, which can actually exacerbate our anxiety if we start to hyperventilate. They “bring you back to your center”.
Or there’s a meditation I often do with clients, imagining you’re an oak tree, sending your energy and anything you don’t need flowing down into the earth, like tree roots right out through your feet, anchoring you. Then you envision your negativity being cleansed by the roots and rocks and sand. And then you draw the cleansed life force energies up again like water and minerals from the earth up through the tree roots, to enliven and energize you. This is an easy one to do for yourself.
Using your body in regular exercise, especially yoga where you have to be very attentive to postures and alignment, or chi gong or tai chi where you flow through a meditative sequence in a particular order, all of these get you reconnected to your body, help you pay attention to your breathing, and bring you out of your head by requiring you to be very present. These are just a few examples of centering.
3. CONNECT ….with people you love and trust and whom you know love and accept you.
Scientific studies have shown that people who have positive social networks, and this is in person, not online, (there is a difference), have generally better health, less cognitive decline (like dementia) and less depression. Although it is noted that if you hang out with other depressed people, that can actually reinforce and spread the low feelings. So, pick your friends wisely.
And let them know they don’t need to “fix” you, as some will, just to accept you and be constant. Connection can help you discover that you are not alone in what you are going through, which can make it a little easier knowing others have survived similar experiences, and so will you.
Connection provides someone to hear you. Sometimes that’s all we need is feeling that we’re heard. It helps us to know we matter. And that people will be there for you even in tougher times.
And if you can find the energy for it, connecting socially lifts your spirits, maybe your friends will help you laugh. In the midst of my painful episode this winter I still made decisions to invite people to dinner because I know when I am cooking and preparing an evening for other people I am not thinking about myself, and when I am listening to the stories of other people, I am not thinking about myself. And if I am not thinking about myself I am not in my “problem”.
Which leads me to number 4, which is
When we contribute to something or someone outside of ourselves, by our own choice, when we come from a place of service or love, or “how can I help?”, we are coming from a place of love and not fear, and we are thinking of the other person or community, or the cause, and not ourselves and our problem.
In Human Needs Psychology created by Tony Robbins and Cloe Madanes, which was a big part of my Strategic Intervention coach training, we have 6 basic human needs:
i) Certainty – There needs to be something certain in our lives, something we can count on…that’s why we create habits and routines. This is about our safety and security;
ii) Variety, or uncertainty – because we need change, we get bored, we need stimulation;
iii) Love and/or Connection – relationships between people who care about each other, whether family, significant other, colleagues at work or friends, or a team etc… The social part I talked about before, it is a basic human need…
iv)Significance — the need to feel unique or special or that you matter;
Those are all considered needs of the “personality”.
Then there are two more needs…considered needs of the “spirit”:
v) Growth – Learning, changing , expanding our awareness. Tony Robbins says we either grow or we die.
vi) Contribution – Contributing to something greater than or outside of ourselves.
It is said that when we contribute, even if it is just making dinner or doing laundry for our family, adopting an animal, helping at the local fire hall, or teaching somebody something…or maybe writing a blog (like this) that others will read that may help someone, or holding the hand of a relative in the senior’s home or hospital, contributions such as these actually serve all the other human needs….we feel significant, like we matter, we connect with others, we have experiences that provide both certainty and variety, and we grow as we learn from such activities and from others.
So, contribute to someone or some cause other than your self, even if it seems small. It is about taking the focus off of your thoughts and directing them beyond yourself and how you can benefit others.
In my case, I knew I was coming to this healing fair and had offered to give a talk. When I took the focus off me and that I was giving a talk for my business and focused on how I might contribute, who I might serve, by offering some insight, the whole game changed. When it is not about me it becomes a no-brainer really…..I am out of my story of “Oh my god, what am I going to do, I’ll look like an idiot if I don’t have myself together!” and I look instead at, “Who might I help this week if I give this talk? Who out there needs to hear this from me right now?”
I know from writing my blog that even if there are few readers, whenever I share a story close to my heart about my own experience, I inevitably manage to touch someone who thanks me for that, that they needed to hear it. That one person matters a great deal to me. So maybe there will be one person that needed to hear (or read) this. So in creating this talk I focused on how I could contribute to that person.
Which in itself is creative…which leads me to number 5…
Create something ….anything…create breakfast…create a clean house…draw a doodle, or colour in one of those adult colouring books. Write a story or poem or essay on some topic. Knit a scarf. Take a photo of your dog or a flower and mess with it with some app. I stopped doodling this winter, except for a few times, because I got so up in my head about what I thought I “should” do, like marketing my business, I lost sight of what I wanted to do.…which was to create….writing and doodling, which actually gives me the energy to do some of the other stuff. I managed to eke out a few drawings and blogs here and there, and every time it took me out of my head…even while writing…it took me into a flow that was not consumed by my worries about money or my dog with cancer or my struggles with entrepreneurship. When I create I am in flow, and when I am in flow I am at peace.
When I create I am “expressing” myself. What does express mean? From the Latin ex meaning “out” and pressare, “to press”… I am pressing out or squeezing out … “out” being the operative word I think. I am pushing something out of myself when I express or create. So expression is getting out of oneself…like connecting and contributing, it is no longer all about me, even if my ideas ARE about me or from me…I am putting it out there in the world and suddenly I am no longer stuck.
In the last two days I created this talk and these drawings. I felt fabulous, albeit a little nervous as I was cutting it close! I wanted to create something helpful to you today.
6. CALL …upon your Spiritual Helpers
Whether you envision “Beings” outside of yourself like angels, or God, or your power animal or ancestors in spirit, or if that doesn’t resonate, you can call on your own inner wisdom, your “Inner Wise One” (if you want to personify it), or check in with your “gut feelings” or your intuition….there is a deeper guidance available, not just from your friends and therapists and coaches and spiritual counsellors. Sometimes you may need the assistance of those people to help you access that inner wisdom or your Higher Self, but sometimes what gets us stuck in a downward spiral is that we have forgotten to call upon that special wisdom, what you might call the deeper knowing of your soul.
There is a place behind our conscious thought, that has all the answers we need to our dilemmas and fears, if only we knew how to tap in and connect with that. Some folks can find it through prayer, asking God, Creator, great Spirit, The Universe, for guidance.
Some can do it through meditation, by being still and present. However I think that meditation for a depressed person can run the risk of allowing too much mental chatter to overwhelm us. It can be painful to just sit if the usual negative mind chatter keeps flowing through our heads. It might actually make things worse, unless one can be in a place of acceptance, and just observe the thoughts without attaching to them. But simply being still and asking for guidance, and “listening” can be helpful.
Sometimes keeping a journal is helpful. What I have been doing on my own this winter is a combination. I have gone to my office and created a sacred space, with a small altar of certain objects to support my intention…my intention to get clear and helpful guidance. I light a candle to invite in Spirit. And I ask my questions and write the answers in my journal. Sometimes it takes a few minutes of writing random thoughts like, “I know if I keep writing I will eventually hear you so I’ll just keep going…. are you there?…” and then eventually a flow starts.
Sometimes I ask questions and draw from a deck of oracle cards. Sometimes a journey with shamanic practitioners or a soul coach (my shameless plug) can help a great deal. We have the wisdom within us.…we need to hear it. And then we need to trust it and take action on it.
Just this week on my walks in the woods I had an encounter with a snake. Three times in less than 24 hours it appeared in the path, a large snake about two feet long. It looked like the same one each time, although not in the exact same location. When I stopped by him he stopped, and let me talk to him. I photographed him and even picked him up. So I went to remind myself about Snake medicine as a totem animal. It is partly about transmutation…transmuting poison into healing. So I immediately thought of my talk and realized I have to turn my pain into healing by creating a story that can help others.
Part of my problem this winter is I did not trust the wisdom I had already received, even when repetitively reassuring, that told me to create and to be patient, that all was well and would get better. So I stopped creating for a while, and fell back down the spiral staircase.
Leading me to # 7.
Make a choice, based on the wisdom. Stop second-guessing it! Nothing is permanent!! We think it has to be the “right” decision. Nothing is permanent. We can change our minds, it is ok. Get rid of “shoulds” and do what you want to do. But staying in what my hubby calls “the paralysis of analysis” is crippling. It’s like that line about worrying: “Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere. “
Well, not choosing to act, not making a decision on anything, is exhausting and crippling. I was caught in “should I do this or should I do that??” and didn’t listen to the guidance. If I had just started creating something, anything, my blogs, more doodles, sooner, I could have shortened my suffering. I had to make a choice.
Thank god I had this talk to give. I am deadline-driven. And once I made the choice this week “should I do the talk or cancel?”…and chose to follow my commitment to do it, (wouldn’t really have been a “commitment” if I hadn’t) especially at this late date, then everything went into motion.
I Chose to go ahead and write the talk, I started to Create this talk in order to Contribute to others. I got Centered by extra walks in the woods, where I Called on my spirit helpers following prompts in the cards and from the animal spirits of the forest and through prayer and asking for help. Connecting with friends in the winter probably helped me get through better than if I had not, even though they didn’t know what was going on with me, and connecting with my husband by finally telling him how I really felt, helped too. And now I am Connecting with you by sharing. And as I learned and utilized loving kindness practices, I developed Compassion for myself, and became able to accept my challenging thoughts and feelings with an open heart and less judgment. I stopped beating myself up.
Finally, and I realize this has been a lot to ponder, but all of these were important for me and worked together in this instance to get me through the door today to give this presentation:
8. COUNT … Count your blessings.
Everybody says this, a gratitude practice is essential. Because our minds can’t hold two opposing thoughts at the same time. Just like we cannot hold onto fear when we are actively loving, neither can we hold onto thoughts about what’s missing in our lives when we are grateful for what we do have. The more we focus on gratitude, no matter how small the gifts seem, the more we let go of our sense of lack, of not enough, of ourselves not being enough, and of our pain. Keeping a journal next to the bed is easy, jotting down some good things about the day, what you are grateful for, immediately before you fall asleep and again upon waking, is a great practice for setting up a powerful frame of mind.
Right now I am grateful for my brain, which as much as it can spin thoughts in an unhelpful direction, it can also create drawings and photos and writing and talks and dinner parties. I am grateful for my dog getting through his cancer surgery and for the lovely doctors and vet techs that have helped us with him. I am grateful for all the education I have had that lets me put this all into perspective. I am grateful for this wonderful event to share ideas and healing help with so many people. I am grateful to my husband for being a rock that can withstand my stormy waves. And I am grateful to you for listening to my story. I created this for you, I hope it is helpful. It has helped me. Thank you.