It is a rainy evening. I am sitting in The Black Horse, a beautifully restored and cosy old pub in Great Linford, being ‘talked at’ by the only man on the weekend workshop I am participating in. Somehow, I knew I should have followed my gut instinct and remained at the Christian priory where I am staying, and had a meal there instead. However, I decided to be sociable, and as a result I've ended up opposite a self-obsessed, resentful Irishman, listening to his unending story about how terrible his life has been, and how bad and undeserving he feels about everything. He is like a tape recorder on repeat, with no awareness of those around him, and I'm doing my best to focus on his redeeming qualities.
Back at the priory, a quaint modern building situated next to an old church and several outbuildings that are set within a landscape of flat, rough grassland and lakes, I go to bed at the end of the first day of our workshop feeling very ambivalent. As I know this is a common experience of mine when I engage in anything for the first time, I remind myself to simply be willing to participate and remain open to what the second day may bring.
The two day “Heal Your Life” workshop (based on the work of Louise Hay, whose original book, You Can Heal Your Life, is about the power and connection of our thoughts in creating our reality and physical well being) is being facilitated by a gentle-spirited and energetic lady called Jane. Hay's approach in looking at the psyche-emotion-mind relationship is one of the baseline tools of my coaching work, and as I'd recently been diagnosed with mild scoliosis in my lumbar spine, I decided it was the perfect time to ‘walk my talk.’
When I first came across Louise Hay, I thought the whole ethos of expressing my feelings and emotions, trusting my gut instinct, and saying affirmations in the mirror, was all rather touchy-feely, hippified, peace-loving-fairies-in-the-forest sort of healing. (Unfortunately, much of the support material and books are designed with images of pastel-coloured flowers and such, which does not easily dispel the flighty, air-headed, feminine connotations that seem unpalatable in the modern world of hard realities.)
Yet what I experienced in myself and the group of people at the weekend, is how incredibly powerful it is to tell the truth about our feelings and emotions, and how an environment of kindness and non-judgement (particularly for myself) enables a path to accessing our enormous creative power. These insights about how our emotions, thoughts, and feelings, embodied together, create our reality and experience of who we are in the world, provided an opportunity for me to look deeper… specifically at my identity of being a woman.
During one of the guided exercises, I had a ‘conversation’ with my lumbar spine and pelvic region, which unexpectedly showed me something about the relationship I had to my womb in a way I'd never done before. By choosing not to have children, I had somehow detached myself from my womb's natural, biological purpose, and although in my mind I had gone beyond the oppressive, centuries-old, cultural model of my youth (i.e. a woman's purpose is to get married and have children, etc.), I had not yet given this part of my body a new purpose at a physical, emotional level. Just to acknowledge this, the back pain and pelvic tension of the past months seemed to disintegrate.
Putting aside traditional gender stereotypes (i.e. men are aggressive, dominating, insensitive, analytical, etc., and women are nurturing, gentle, submissive, emotional, etc.), our modern capitalist world has shifted human capabilities very far away from previous eras of hunter-gatherers and farming communities. We have moved from an innate ability to smell danger, literally, with our senses, from tilling the land with our muscles and physical effort, to a primary focus on the mind and intellect. In fact, we are so out of touch with our ability to listen to our physicality and emotions, we have effectively ‘cut off’ our bodies from our heads.
Modern education, knowledge, intelligence, professional work, is all about mind over body. Doing sport, exercise and feeding the body is also geared towards understanding through a measure of inches, and kilos of weight, and muscle mass versus fat, and grams of food, and calories of energy. Even dating via the most popular cyber-app, Tinder, results in many young people having sex that is divorced from their feelings and emotions. In all aspects of our daily lives, how many of us pooh-pooh the idea that to be in touch with our feelings and emotions, to express them, for example by crying, as a prissy human weakness? In the corporate environment, usually ascribed to women's weaknesses, the qualities of being gentle, loving, kind, caring, and vulnerable (as opposed to being strategic, focused, organised, decisive, confident), both in relation to employees and business outcomes, are most definitely not on the priority list of strengths for management development!
The one niggle of this weekend for me was a sense of disingenuity in promoting the Heal Your Life philosophy as ‘easy,’ as though we can alter our ingrained beliefs, values, feelings, emotions and thoughts simply by saying positive daily affirmations. Yes, non-judgement and self-compassion is key to healing the past, and while it does not have to be difficult per se, or ‘hard’ work, to embrace and enact change for the present and future is still work. It is necessary to do the deeper work in order to face the devil in each of us and take responsibility for the darkness too. For there is no light without darkness, and we must be willing to embrace our extremes, as well as the multitude of subtleties that lie in between. Freedom is not an idealistic dream to be and have everything, which is in truth a narrative based upon cultural and societal expectations and pressures.
True freedom begins in having faith that who we are is enough!