In the world of personal growth, there are ‘many roads to Rome’. My particular pathway to liberation of the self and greater authenticity is journalling. The practice supported me to successfully navigate the dismantling of an emotionally unhealthy relationship and create a wonderful life. It is where I go to process parenting issues or questions about the direction of my work. It is also where I go to record insights as they come, observations about how our inner world works, and moments of intense gratefulness for the gift of being alive.

Over the years I have learned a lot from journalling. I have learned which thoughts to follow, and which ones to allow to float on by – another one always enters. I have learned to trust the feelings of my body and what they are telling me. I have learned to sense whether I am speaking from memory irrelevant to the moment or speaking from deeper wisdom within. I have learned to respect and trust my intelligence. I have learned that tension reflects a person’s ability to hear or not. I have learned to listen for conversations open to engagement and to speak when moved. I have also learned to not speak when learned habits from the past dictate that I should. I have learned to create healthy boundaries and to stay out of other people’s psychological entanglements unless they ask for help. I have learned to trust life instead of fear it.

When I work with clients I take note of the psychological entanglements some people get caught up in when speaking. Conversation patterns generated in families of origin, reflective of class, or created in response to trauma, are revealed. Some people have unconsciously learned to avoid the knowledge and wisdom accumulated through experience. These people have a ‘teflon’ relationship to their inner truth and the way they answer questions reveals this. Whilst others consciously reflect and speak from the accumulated knowledge and wisdom within. When someone speaks ‘with substance’ I can hear and feel the truth of it. When someone responds with a ‘teflon’ response it is as if they begin to move in the direction of what they know but at the last minute slide away. Somewhere they have learned to be afraid of what they know.

‘What activities do you like to do that make you feel good?’ -|-> (Authentic) ‘Snorkelling, I love the feeling of mystery when I am underwater and I never know what fish will be around on the day.’ .|C> (Teflon) ‘I don’t know, I don’t enjoy anything.’ On attempting a different pathway in, a childhood memory comes to mind which then leads to a surprising recall of something they enjoy doing as an adult.

‘What do you want to do about the marriage?’ -|-> (Authentic) ‘I’m done. I can’t do this anymore. It’s time to move forward.’ .|C> (Teflon) ‘He says he wants to change and make the marriage work but then he says its my fault because I never agree to what he wants to do.’ In this response, a speaker’s attention has been diverted to the words of their partner instead of their own.

‘Wow, you must be feeling really sad.’ -|-> (Authentic) ‘Yes, she has been my constant companion for over 20 years. I will miss her a lot.’ .|C> (Teflon) ‘No, I will be fine.’ As tears are swiped away.

Each of these ‘teflon’ responses reflects the activity of thoughts learned in the past entangling and contaminating present moment authenticity, wisdom and experience. In any moment we are either experiencing the truest expression of ourselves or it is contaminated by something we have learned, in the past, to think.

Many women have been conditioned to think of themselves as not the decision makers, as not intelligent and therefore not the person in charge, and as caring for things that are unimportant to society. All of this is not true. Society, families, relationships, and selves, need the voices from the depths of our truth. Journalling is one way to familiarise ourselves with the timbre and feel of that voice and to know when it has become entangled with beliefs and thoughts created in the past and innocently carried forward contaminating the present moment experience.

If you are interested in learning and experiencing how journalling can support you to become aware of the deeper, secure self that exists within everyone so that you can be in the world with greater confidence and faith in yourself, I am running a series of introductory workshops, in person and on line, over the coming months. All workshops will be posted on my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/GeorginaMavor.

Curious or Caught Up

When something troubling occupies your mind, do you view those thoughts with curiosity or do you get caught up in them? Both responses are manifestations of the innate principles of psychological functioning operative within everyone. One however is the result of a lack of awareness of how thought operates whilst the other is an expression of awareness.

As we go through our days, thoughts flow through our minds. And we follow them, most of the time experiencing them neutrally, with ease and grace. But every now and then, a train of thought emerges which is accompanied by feelings of unease. Variation in feeling is the natural expression of the Mind/Body connection. What we think, we feel.

Being aware of our feelings and knowing what they are telling us is crucial to consciously supporting healthy psychological functioning. Feelings tell us whether we are in the everyday flow of life, or whether we are experiencing an insight (a deeper, fresh thought) or whether something destabilizing is on our mind. When we are aware of the fact that we are only ever experiencing the thoughts on our mind, having a uneasy thought on our mind and feeling anxious is no big deal. Thoughts are like everything else – something separate from us to notice, to make a decision about, and sometimes to act on. The uneasy feelings some thoughts create is our body’s ‘siren’ – to notice and avoid going down the proverbial rabbit hole.

A ‘siren’ tells us to stop and pay attention. It doesn’t tell us to get involved with the accident. If we heed the ‘siren’, pause and get curious as to what we have on our minds, we work in harmony with our psychological system – instead of getting in the way.

Everyone experiences moments when we have something on our mind. My most recent experience was a feeling of unease, which when I noticed and got curious (instead of caught up), I could identify. ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ Concern for someone on that day was one of the matters on my mind. Looking at it with curiosity, common sense told me that there was nothing I could do except be available to support emotionally should something occur.

The second matter however was in regards to work I had put myself up for. At the time, I thought it would be useful, but clearly something about it was niggling me. Later that day, clarity hit me – at this point of my life the work wasn’t for me. From that clarity, I emailed my decision to those who needed to know. No doubts, no second thoughts. That clarity felt absolutely true and right.

What did I do in between accessing curiosity about my feelings of unease and the arrival of clarity? I listened to what I needed to do to feel better, to feel at ease, to feel calm, and I followed through. I got back into the flow of life and the flow of thought. And from within that flow a moment of clarity, out of the blue, surfaced. I didn’t give the troubling thoughts on my mind a second thought. I engaged with activities that felt right, my troubling thoughts moved on and in the flow of thought coming toward me, the real substance arrived.

‘Comes and Goes’

Dwaarlindjirraap, Lane Poole Reserve, Dwellingup.

I regularly experience rushes of anxiety. Ones in which it feels as if life has no meaning or significance. In those moments, I feel afraid, alone and scared.

I think that as a psychologist I should have all the answers for moving anxiety on quickly when it comes knocking on our doors. But I don’t. Sure, there are some strategies that occasionally work for me, and possibly work for others as well, but I don’t have a ‘method’ that works every time, and over time.

For my experience of anxiety has changed over the decades. In my earlier years, it was more a ‘daily living’ default setting. Now, my ‘normal’ is much, much calmer, and intermittently, there are bouts in which life feels scary. Interestingly, over those same decades, I have crafted a rich career; formed committed relationships; raised a child; navigated adolescence, mid life and all the years in between; grieved the loss of loved ones and loved animals; and managed health concerns as they arose. I have lived in spite of anxiety and other psychological ‘phenomena’.

Regardless of anxiety’s presentation, I do know its experience is created from thought, but that knowledge rarely helps me in the moment. I experience anxiety, and think ‘it’s just thought’, then what? Sitting in a psychological limboland without the rudder of another thought is equally scary. What actually ‘helps’, is the ‘coming in’ of another train of thought. One moment, I am sitting by the river, fearful of being alone and alive, five minutes later I am filled with warmth at the sight of human interactions occurring at different campsites as I return to my tent. My soul is balmed. Another moment, I am afraid of the week ahead of me and the next I am so happy to be able to sit on my couch and watch another rerun of ‘Rake’. That’s how life goes, one moment this, the next that.

Whilst I can offer a list of thoughts and actions to deliberately ‘bring in’ another thought/feeling, I also know that if I just allow my emotional experiences to ‘be’ and keep living, another train of thought/feeling will arrive. The past passes. Just as hayfever passes, or not getting to sleep passes, or a cold passes. Rest, take care, and living takes over again. Physical and psychological experiences, uncomfortable and comfortable, pleasurable and distressing, boring and intense, are all a small ‘passing’ part of the ‘mix’ of living.

Rather than come up with a list of strategies for moving ‘anxiety’ on, maybe our psychological resources would be more usefully spent on the main act – living a life we like. Because its the thoughts of things we like that ‘come in’ and nudge out the driver thought behind the experience of anxiety. Maybe living lives we like is what we can know better and more about, because we already know what we need to know about anxiety. It comes, and goes, when a ‘nicer’ thought comes in.

Perspectives Are Equal Until Depth

Artwork by Ilaria Valtolina

Have you noticed how some of us can spend too much time talking about what others have said or think about us, and what we do, whilst we pay significantly less attention to our own perspective? Imagine an art class. In the centre is an object or person to be drawn or painted and on every student’s easel is a unique and different perspective, one of which is our own. Time is spent looking at and absorbing each, sensing for the nuances captured in each representation. How much we could learn from this process. When I hear people caught up in other people’s perspectives, I wonder what happened to their own? Why was it discarded so quickly?

Many decades ago, during my own journey in the Family Court, the standout piece of advice my lawyer offered was to stand up for what I believed in. Even if my perspective wasn’t deemed by judges in the end to be the ‘soundest’ one, my lawyer was of the view that to have stood up for what I stood for, was better than asking myself ‘what if’ when it was all over. I took that advice and gave my perspective at least equal standing to that of the other party. I hung on to what I knew was true for me – until I heard anything to the contrary that would change that perspective, which did occur every now and then.

Everyone has a separate perspective (reality) on everything in life, and we all have separate perspectives even when we are looking at the same thing. To ‘hero’ one perspective over another reflects a misunderstanding of the fact that everyone is creating their own perspective, their own reality in the moment and none have any greater accuracy or validity – until something deeper is heard. And that can only occur if initially both or all perspectives are given equal space of our minds.

The next time you find yourself emphasizing what another person says or thinks or does, stop, turn inwards and consider what you think. What’s your truth? Hang it on the wall of your mind alongside others. What in your perspective feels true? What evidence do you have? We are all brushing up against the ‘elephant’ of life. It is bigger than a lifetime will allow us to know completely. No one person can.

And if someone else doesn’t want to hear what’s in your perspective, then they suffer the same error, only in reverse. They ‘hero’ their perspective over others.

Every artist begins as a beginner. Every artist must begin. Every artist must put something on the canvas in order to begin the process of going deeper … seeing something different … more nuanced …more truthful. The same applies to the palette of our mind. Begin with what you know. Begin with your truth. ‘Hero’ it just as much as you ‘hero’ the perspective of others. And when you hear something more truthful, allow it to touch the canvas of your mind and imbue your truth with depth.

Behavioural Experiments of the Mind

We are all the directors of our experience of the story of our life. Our story has a beginning and an end. It has unique content. In between, we get to choose where we focus the camera of our awareness and the point of view of our thinking.

The craft of a great director of our human story is in understanding and deftly working with our thinking and feelings.

In all the myriad of details we can focus on in each moment, we unconsciously choose what we pay attention to — until we become aware of what we are doing. Alongside our attending we are interpreting, using the words and images from thought to make meaning, even if that meaning in the moment is to operate on automatic.

We experience where our thoughts meander.

Often we change direction, instantaneously experiencing the miracle of the mind body connection. We change our mind, our attention is caught by something, we have an insight, we hear the logic in another person’s words, we become immersed in a flow experience and … what we are experiencing in our bodies changes.

We experience where our thought moves.

Our thoughts, whether in the form of words or images are not ‘facts’. They are akin to clay, something we can shapeshift. We may not be able to direct what comes in to our minds (and maybe we can), but we are able to choose which forms to engage with and which ones to leave behind. We can direct the experience of our life story, regardless of its content.

As a therapist, I will at times set behavioural experiments for clients to discover for themselves what I point to in our sessions. I also utilise them when I too get caught up in an uncomfortable perceptual lens that takes me nowhere. Try them for yourself. See what you learn about your capacities as the director of your experience, about the creative nature of thought, about your own habits of mind and about the so-called truth of much of what we think, particularly about ourselves!

1. The first step is to notice. Notice the feelings in your body and check in with what is going on in your head. If this isn’t possible in the moment, hindsight is a remarkable human tool. Look back at the experience you have just been through. Look at the thinking driving it. If you acted on it, what was the result? If you didn’t act on it, what was the result? Much wisdom is gained in life through hindsight, when we see how behaviours that erupt from a troubled mind usually result in more trouble. Noticing is a powerful inbuilt mental health faculty.

2. When caught up in overwhelm, with a list of things that must be done running through your head, go in the opposite direction. Stop, ask yourself what you need to do to slow down your mind and your actions — and do it. What did you learn? How important was all that stuff you had on your list? Did the world open up and swallow you when you stopped all that pushing ahead?

3. When you are caught up in hurt and pain, wanting to lash out at others, stop and look after yourself instead. Be kind to yourself. Write in a journal, have a bath, dress in your favourite clothes, soften, be gentle to you. The other person may not be kind to you, but you can assuage your hurt by being gentle with yourself. And once you are feeling better, you can then decide what to do with unkind people in your life.

4. When your mind drops into a low mood, when everything about you appears gloomy and you have no energy — do something. Do something that fully engages you. Run, ride a bike, play chess, garden, walk in the sun. Those gloomy states of mind can be dangerous. They aren’t a life sentence, they are a thought created psychological state playing out in your body. Experiment with relating to it as a ‘state’ rather than a ‘trait’. Know that the true ‘trait’ is the power of awareness. If we can see that we are gloomy then what is the true self? The gloomy abyss or the point of awareness that sits above it all. Instead of buying into the gloom buy into the awareness. Act from there and see what happens. Did the gloom disappear? Did it shrink? What did you notice about your attention and thinking as you wavered between the activity you engaged in and the gloom in your mind. What we attend to expands.

Always notice, then when in a calmer state of mind, listen for what needs to be done, if anything. Not only does a director have a keen eye, she/he also taps a creative faculty when problems are encountered. How else would brilliant stories in films and books be created? We need the content of the story — and we need the interpretation. It is the latter that captures us, inspires us and reflects the hope that is inbuilt into life. Hope is part of its nature. Hope is part of our nature. It is part of the effervescent vitality of life. But it is hidden if we stay in ‘stuck’ states of mind. Developing our director skills in choosing which thoughts to privilege and which ones to walk away from is a key skill to determining whether our story is one of fulfilment or one of suffering. Which life story will you direct?

PS. The information provided in this post is for general information only. Appointments are available for anyone in Australia seeking more personalized support either face to face or via Telehealth. Please call 08 9330 3922.

Photo Courtesy of Denise Jans, Unsplash.com

Reality is Sooo Sane

“I told him I knew he was frustrated because he didn’t win, but throwing his toys around will only break them and that would make him more unhappy. Quietening him down, I told him to take a few deep breaths so that we could get back into the game.” Words of wisdom from a young mother who has suffered anxiety most of her life, bringing sanity to the behaviour of her young Autistic son.

“Stop. I’m not helping you with your job application anymore if you continue to vent your frustration at me. I’m only trying to help but you do this every time you have to read and writing something. I too have things to do and don’t deserve to have someone angry with me when I am just making myself available to help. Come and get me when you feel you can stay calm. It might take time, but we can get it done.” A mother helping her teenage daughter who struggles with literacy.

Frustrated with the exhaustion of breastfeeding my only baby at 44 years of age, I finally accepted the reality that I was finished, that I just didn’t have the energy or support resources to maintain what the textbooks told me was good for my child. I had begun to turn to a glass of wine each night to keep me upright. That didn’t feel right. It was time to accept the physical reality of my situation, support myself instead of overloading me, and move on. No more breastfeeding, no more needing to prop myself up. Solid food only and move into the next phase. She turned out fine and I felt human again.

Reality is sane. Physical, emotional and cognitive limitations are sane. Live within them and we navigate life with greater ease. It’s our thinking disconnected from common sense that takes us into insanity.

Children need help (when their frustration with reality takes hold) to see that their frustrated behaviour will hurt. Destroying their toys or throwing themselves about doesn’t make their satisfaction with themselves or others better. Taking a few breaths and moving forward helps. Leading our children through the experience of  responding with common sense to reality supports the integrity of their inbuilt psychological health system.

Yelling and abusing the people who love and support us affect their level of comfort in being around us. In choosing abusive and disrespectful behaviour because of frustration, we impair the social connections that enable us to survive and flourish. An adolescent has the ability to know that their behaviour may hurt the love they value, and they have the ability to choose whether to engage in it or not. We can help them pause and choose, if we use language that separates their frustrated behaviour from who they are. “I really want to help you, but that behaviour is getting in the way. I want to spend time with you, but not if that behaviour erupts. I will assume that you know how else to respond but if you want to talk it through, just let me know.”

Adults have even greater cognitive capacity to bring better quality thinking grounded in reality to a situation. Instead of being caught up in some picture of what ‘should’ be happening, acceptance of what’s working for us or not is a pretty reliable gauge by which to decide whether to continue or to shift. If something isn’t working, step back, and choose what would work.

Help young children experience ways of soothing their frustration that don’t hurt. Ignite awareness of free will in adolescents and young people by using language that separates behaviour from them as people and affirms the ability to choose. As adults, get out of our heads and listen to the sanity and common sense in the reality around us. We all possess the capacities of awareness and free will. We can all choose something different even when caught up in strong feelings. It’s common sense. Everyone has the capacity to notice, to know what isn’t right for us, and to exercise free will. Those capacities are inbuilt into us and already operating. Begin by noticing when we are caught up in something. If it doesn’t make sense, stop. A saner response awaits.

Warning Bells

There are many sad hearts in my local area this week.

Mid week, a Year 12 classmate of my daughter was stabbed. Hours later she died. Neighbours reported hearing an argument. In a heated moment, a strong impulse was followed and a life was cut short whilst others were altered forever. The sadness in our community is palpable.

In a classroom, a gentle hearted boy gets caught up in the moment and follows an impulse. He does something stupid and is suspended. The act was not worthy of suspension and neither was the boy. He can explain what happened, he can explain how conditions in that room are difficult for him to navigate, and he can articulate what he needs in his environment to learn. But the adults around him got caught up in their own impulses and no one listened. In that brief moment, another life trajectory was altered.

A mother reacts badly to her children being children. Overextended and exhausted she flies off the handle with rage at the smallest things. She moves her children through their day and when alone she sits crying in the car at the mother she has become. She is frightened at how powerful is the impulse to lash out, she is frightened at her inability to stop it, and she is frightened of what she may do. She knows where that impulse could lead.

These scenarios are but a small slice of the instances this week in which children, adolescents and adults in my small part of the world followed a brief, strong impulse, resulting in sad, despairing, and frightening outcomes. We need to understand that strong impulses ….. strong emotions, are not reliable truth. They are warning bells, not invitations. They are signposts that we are about to step into a train of thought that lacks wisdom. They don’t end well.

Photo courtesy of Amel Majanovic @just_amelo Unsplash.com

State of Mind First

I know that educating people about the 3 ingredients that create human experience is a powerful pathway to increased feelings of wellbeing, clearer decision making and creativity/wisdom in living. However, that understanding is a radical shift in how we have learned to think about ourselves and life.

Whilst everyone has experience of what I point them to (because it is true for everyone), the way that we use thought (focus and content), gets in the way. I know the presence of the latter by its feeling – flat, fearful, low, anxious, busy, overwhelming, arrogant, angry, hesitant, timid, and more. They are created from our learned use of thought.

As sessions progress and people feel safer, their learned thinking wanes and their minds open to the understanding I bring. Safety allows thinking to calm. As it calms, we come home to a more natural state. Warm feelings, wisdom and clarity unfold and navigating life becomes way less effortful.

People generally enter sessions seeking a calmer and happier state of mind. That can’t be achieved with the thinking creating the busy and unhappy state of mind. The mind needs to slow down if insights, realisations and common sense steps are to be recognised.

I like to write in a journal. In my journal I have learned how to calm my mind and how to reap the treasures that lie within.

One journal activity I have found particularly useful to calming the mind is a strategy taken from Positive Psychology. I initially read about it here. It emerges from the observation that people tend to focus on the negatives in their day and/or create negative interpretations of the expressions of life manifesting around them.

This brief journaling technique turns our attention in the opposite direction to our learned habit. The instructions are simple. ‘Spend a few minutes at the end of the day making a list of 6 – 10 moments throughout the day that you appreciated for some reason or another.’ And when you wake up, try and remember as many as you can. After a week or so, increase the number to 12 – 20.

The purpose of the activity is not to test your memory. It is to change the habit of how you use attention and thought. In the process you will also experience the truth that your body feels what you think and that our external circumstances do not create our feelings, even when they are tough. The practice changes the wiring in your brain breaking the strength of its learned automaticity. It also has the potential to create a change in your awareness of how your experience is created. And … in the move to feeling better, you create the conditions for you to experience more of your innate intelligence, wisdom and creativity. The warmer our feelings, the closer we are to living from ‘home’ – before our conditioning.

If you are consistently feeling low, I offer this idea as something to try. But if it doesn’t appeal, then ask yourself ‘what can I do to slow down and come home’. The natural wisdom inside you, inside everyone, will guide you in your own unique way.

Image courtesy of @lucaupper Unsplash.com

One Problem

Last week, as I sat reading client referrals and whilst reflecting on the problems in people’s lives (including my own), this thought came to me – “What if the only problem we all have is the mistaken belief that we aren’t spiritual beings? What if the installation of that belief is our one and only problem?” This struck me as true.

At that time, I had fallen into a slump. In a moment of pondering that slump, wondering how to use all the knowledge and skills I have at my disposal to get out of it, another thought came to me – “What if there is nothing wrong with you?” My slump disappeared.

How would living be different if we really understood we are spiritual (thinking) beings having a human experience within time, matter and space? What would be different?

Maybe we would understand our depressions, anxieties and tough times aren’t problems to be fixed. Maybe we would know they are experiences from Mind to wake us up to our deeper nature and what sits within it.

Maybe we would know that in our errant thinking we are trying to understand from misunderstanding; interpret from misinterpretation; and that the more we do this, the further away from solutions and peace we stray.

Maybe we would enter our tough times knowing we will come through them with deeper understanding of ourselves and of life. Maybe we would know there is nothing to be afraid of – just life to be lived and deeper thoughts to hear.

Maybe we would turn to the quiet inner voice of our psyche for guidance in navigating life, maybe we would know to be patient for its appearance, maybe we would know we are not the ‘thinker upper’ when thoughts from deep within emerge. Maybe we would see how these thoughts sort the chaff from the wheat, cut through the hubris, and feel suspended in time rather than reactive to it. Maybe we would come to know their slower pace and to trust their flow. Maybe we would ‘stress’ less and ‘accept’ more.

Maybe we would observe the behaviour of others differently … and judge less.

Maybe we would understand that all of life, everything that is going on now, is designed to rectify this misunderstanding.

Maybe we would experience our perfection.

Image from Mohamed Nohassi Unsplash.com

‘Snakes and Ladders’ Thinking

I have this children’s game sitting on my coffee table in the office. I use it to explain the role of thinking as we all play the game of life. Some of our thoughts are ‘snakes’ whilst others are ‘ladders’.

‘Ladder’ thoughts move us forward. We can know them by their feeling. They feel alive, right and positive.

‘Snake’ thoughts eventually take us backwards. They feel dead, revved up, chaotic, rushed, muddy.

‘Ladder’ thoughts emerge from a clear and calm mind.

‘Snake’ thoughts come out of a chaotic, revved up or depressed mind.

Solution ‘ladder’ thoughts are found in a clear mind – our default setting.

Solutions are never ever found in ‘snake’ thoughts.

A clear mind yields thoughts of love, compassion, wisdom, insight, creativity, innovation.

A tumultuous mind yields the opposite.

Both types of thoughts flow through our minds. With the gift of ‘free will’ we have the power to choose which ones to invest in and follow and which ones to drop and leave behind.

‘Ladder’ thoughts emerge from our true self. When caught up in ‘snake’ thoughts turn your mind to your true nature. Know that it is there and slowly you will return ‘home’.

When we have a cold, has our innate physical health left us? No. It is working to kill the bacteria. Our innate physical health system springs into action and sends the chemicals, white blood cells, etc. our body needs to overcome the illness. We experience the symptoms of our innate physical health working and if we ‘tune in’, we rest. In resting, we work with our innate physical health system. If we don’t, we work against it.

When we experience ‘snake’ thoughts has our innate psychological health left us? No. The feelings that accompany ‘snake’ thoughts call us to slow down so that our innate psychological health system can right us. Just as our innate physical health system is available to respond to threats, so too is our innate psychological health system. The ‘outputs’ of our psychological health system are thoughts – thoughts with a feeling of truth in the moment.

Noticing is the key. Notice our cold symptoms as soon as they begin and we can rest quicker, reducing the duration of our cold. Ignore them, push ourselves and we increase the possibility of hospitalisation. The same is true of our psychological symptoms. Notice them early, slow down, turn to innate health, listen for guidance accompanied by a feeling and follow.

We have both an innate physical health system and an innate psychological health system. We are just more conscious and therefore knowledgeable of one. Are you ready to become conscious of the other?