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Letting go of who you used to be – a personal story and a book review

There are certain types of grief our society handles well. And certain needs for support  that we are good at recognising. That doesn't make these types of life events less painful. But a good part of our ability to be resilient is how supported we feel, so it's incredibly important.

And some life events are not recognised as times of immense pain or grief. Those with "hidden" illness or disability are met with judgement and impatience at times when they deserve and need the compassion and gentleness we are better at showing someone with cancer, or someone who has a visible paralysis. And those who experience a loss not acknowledged by their community sometimes deal with isolation in addition to their grief.

All of these societal factors affect how we cope with our burdens, and how we feel we are able to let go of the person we were before the spiritual forest fire struck.

A few years ago, I experienced three miscarriages in a row. The second one in particular was horrific to me. It dragged on for months, required two separate surgeries, and emotionally I was devastated. Some people visited. Some told me to medicate my grief. Others told me to get over it. And some seemed to disappear for a while (or forever). Someone told me that when we go through grief of any kind, we are always surprised by who is there for us, and who is not.

The one thing that is clear - I am not the person I was before these events. Before I was someone with a healthier body, an assumption that the people in my life would completely buffer any difficulty that ever came my way, and the cheerful belief that motherhood would happen easily. All of that has gone. I am a mother now, but the sacredness of my daughter within my heart reminds me that there is never again an assumption of how motherhood will be. For a few years I was bitter about the loss of all these expectations towards others and the "why me" force was strong within me! Now I've softened again, but this time with discernment. And a bit more resilience. And I get "it" in a way I didn't before.

So when I was cocooned away with my little mother on a holiday in the Sunshine Coast, and I stumbled on the book (affiliate) Letting Go of the Person You Used To Be by Lama Surya Das, I had to buy it. And then I hid it away and "forgot" to read it for a few years. You know.

But recent times have been healing and whole and happy, and I've been reading this book at last. Here are my thoughts and what I'm learning:

  • Lama Surya Das does not skirt around the edges of the pain - he talks directly of it. This would have been almost nihilistic for me when my grief was raw and I was traumatised. For others, it would be a relief to finally have direct acknowledgement of grief. I would not recommend this book for anyone on the edge or lost in their own darkness. But with a bit more distance from the rawness, and the readiness I have to face and release these past experiences, it is wise and healing
  • There are spiritual growth opportunities in loss  - we can grow, become more understanding and compassionate. There is also the risk of our hearts contracting into bitterness as they break, as I experienced, and thoughts on renewing our intention towards peace within
  • the book explores our natural tendency to shy away from these feelings through eating, drinking, drugs, shopping or any other distraction. Others dive into their sorrow but find it difficult to leave and risk wallowing or becoming stuck. The principles of Buddhism teach us to find a middle path of facing our grief, allowing our feelings, and remembering "This too shall pass".
  • the goal within grief is too fully inhabit our present experience, know the wisdom of releasing pain, and allow ourselves to be nourished by life
  • naming and examining our loss can help us process the events of our life
  • there are clues in how we live that we are holding on to a past version of ourselves - the key one being clutter
  • letting go is a universal spiritual practice - demonstrated in Lent, Ramadan, the renouncing of worldly ways by nuns and monks of many faiths
  • a simple breath awareness meditation is practice for letting go in our lives, as we notice the letting go of each out breath
  • letting go of ego-clinging does not man letting go of life and its precious opportunities - life is considered marvelous, despite and especially when we learn detachment
  • the Taoist spitiual guide, The Tao Te Ching teaches us "a master does his/her best, and then lets go"
  • when we pray for spiritual guidance and support, it usually comes in the form of other people, often not even recognised by us through their actions
  • Tibetan Buddhist practices of walking through our shadows, healing meditations and practicing mindfulness are shared. Mindfulness allows us to face our loss but also to experience the joys and pleasures still available to us.
  • mindfulness is something to infuse throughout our whole life. We can practice mindfulness of sounds, taste, smell, feelings, sights and thoughts. Choosing our own sound that occurs regularly in our environment (I am choosing the snoring of my dog on the couch as I work!) can be an anchor to remind us to practice a moment of mindfulness. 
  • all beings  have innate Buddha-nature. Our only task is to recognise this and awaken to our true self
  • all emotions can be channelled in constructive ways. Anger can be the fire that burns down our house, or it can be the rocket fuel that launches something amazing. Mindfulness helps us recognise our emotions and channel them for the good.
  • we are all truly surrounded and available to Love at all times, even through loss. We can access love of the Divine, loss of nature, of children and animals, of humanity, creativity and work. Even of our adversaries, who can be our greatest teachers.

I would suggest this book to someone who has gone through their own personal spiritual forest fire, and has reached the point where they would like to make sense of their experiences, name and process their losses, and practice mindfulness to begin a new part of their lives. You can buy the book through my affiliate links at Amazon or Book Depository. If you are still raw or traumatised from experiences, perhaps do what I did and hide the book away for a while. Be ever so gentle with yourself. And this book, and the rest of your life, will be waiting for you when you're ready.

If you would like support in processing past events of your life and establishing new ways of living in the world and constructive thoughts and practices to channel your lived experience, I'd warmly encourage you to consider my transformational mentoring packages.

Now I'd love to hear from you - what has been essential in healing from loss and letting go of the person you used to be? Let me know in the comments. And know that love is within you.

Simplify your schedule

For many years I followed the slightly disturbing maxim "If you've bitten off more than you can chew, chew faster. Unsurprisingly, I drank a lot of energy drinks and lived on junk food in those days. My energy was propped up on caffeine, sugar and adrenaline. Why, hello burnout, I didn't see you come in...

Burnout teaches us a lot if we pay attention. It teaches us to seek fulfilment rather than constantly needing stimulation. Because when we seek stimulation, the line between boredom and stress gets way too thin, and the slightest unforeseen thing can swing us past our breaking point.

If you find your schedule is stretched beyond your capacity, create some breathing room in these steps:

  • 1
    Write down all your regular tasks and commitments. Mark all the ones which drain you rather than energising you.
  • 2
    Decide which can be cut out altogether. Or cut back in frequency or volume. Perhaps you can rethink what gets ironed, or whether you want to stop being on some committees or attending a meeting that goes nowhere.
  • 3
    Look for where you can automate. Have clients schedule their appointments directly with your calendar rather than going back and forth. 
  • 4
    Learn to delegate. Yes, that person won't do it the way you do. But they will work it out and you can do something better with the time you free up. Kids can help out more at home. Services can be brokered out. Call in the troops!
  • 5
    Where a task or commitment needs to stay with you, or you choose to keep it, find ways to make it streamlined and efficient. Or find ways to make it more meaningful or pleasant. This may mean having shopping home delivered for efficiency, or shopping at a farmer's market to make it more pleasant. Perhaps do like tasks together for efficiency, or listen to an inspiring podcast.
  • 6
    When you're doing an activity, keep your mind focused and do nothing else. Thinking of the next ten things on your plate as you try to focus on the one in front of you is a sure way to exhaust yourself. Instead, write a note to yourself if you need to remember something later, but otherwise immerse yourself wholly in your task and consider the task in front of you to be your mindfulness practice. When we immerse ourselves we get the task done in a state of flow which maintains our energy rather than exhausting it.

I'd like to hear from you - which of these ways of practicing simplicity calls to you? How will you implement one into your day? And if this topic is one you'd like more resources to address, check out my free guide to Reclaim Your Me Time.

How to balance your chakras – even if you don’t believe in chakras!

I was 20 years old and devastated. I had just had a falling out with a friend - we had one of those intense friendships that sometimes, like in our case, burn out. I sought solace in a local meditative art class facilitated by Toni Carmine Salerno, who now runs Blue Angel Publishing. It was a pretty amazing class. One day in the class I painted out the story of our friendship and told my story. A kindly woman reached into her pocket and drew out a little piece of paper. On it was drawn the outline of a person sitting in meditation, with  spots running up their spine in the 7 colours of the rainbow. "You need to balance your chakras" she wisely advised me.

I thought she was crazy.

I took the paper politely, but I couldn't see how I could possibly have rainbow coloured spots running up my spine and never have noticed, nor how this strange little drawing could be of any use to my situation.

And yet, for some reason, I never threw out that paper.

You could say my embracing of chakras and their energy was a slow burn. And it's easy to understand how these strange drawings and stories of wheels of light and energy and long Sanskrit names can feel off-putting to the more practically minded amongst us.

Funnily enough though, later at uni I studied respected psychological theories such as Maslow's hierarchy of need. Guess what? It approaches the same content, but using the acceptable language of Western psychology.

Over the years I have got so much benefit from balancing my chakras and energy healing. I have picked up strategies that have seen me through times when my thoughts were too unwieldy to manage and my heart too broken to try. I see energy work as another piece of the puzzle. And further studies in counselling psychology opened up the world of metaphor and symbology and their potent use in therapy.

The pieces have come together - whether chakras and energy healing are taken as literal or metaphorical, they provide an ancient set of tools that speak to our unconscious and subconscious mind to create shifts our ego won't consciously allow us. I've experienced enough myself to believe directly in the power of our energy system, but if this idea seems as crazy to you as my helpful lady did to me all those years ago - don't worry, I get it. But use the tools anyway as a form of supporting that ancient part of your mind which works in pictures and metaphors, not words and strategies. The part where dreams and nightmares, phobias and inspiration exist. Here are 7 places to start, 1 for each chakra.

  • 1
    Think of the chakras as focal points for your energetic system. By keeping them clear and in balance, your whole being can be in balance. While there are many chakras, to begin at the most practical level, we will discuss the main 7. The first chakra is an energy point at the base of your spine and has the same energetic frequency as the colour red. It symbolises our most fundamental human needs of being safe, grounded and belonging to our tribe. When these parts of life are damaged, it's imperative  for our balance that we heal them. We can take action on a practical level - get ourselves to safety, take care of practicalities like having a budget, find our own tribe or heal our relationship with the one we were raised in. When these actions are overwhelming we begin the healing with metaphor and symbology that begins the process. We can wear red to help us feel strong, do grounding activities like cleaning, decluttering and gardening, practicing strong balancing yoga poses such as warrior or tree, and listen to or dance to music with drumming to get us back to the sense of having a solid base.
  • 2
    The second energetic focal point symbolising the next level of human need is below our belly button and has the energetic frequency of the colour orange. This is the psychological needs of connection with one other - friends, partners etc, with our creativity and healthy sexual expression. Once again we can address these parts of our life directly, or begin the healing process with using the colour orange, allowing ourselves time to create in whichever way we are drawn to, and focusing on movement that centres below the navel such as hula hoop and belly dance and dancing to sensual music that inspires hip movement.
  • 3
    Our third psychological need is to have a healthy sense of our personal power, and to remove ourselves or resolve any power struggles we have with others. It is neither healthy to be overpowered by or to overpower others; the aim is always our own sense of personal power and containment. The energy for this is above the navel and attributed the colour yellow. Wear yellow to feel strong within yourself and shine brightly in your own right. Symbolically we can visualise anything or anyone we feel drains our power and imagine we are cutting away any cords that bind us to that person or situation, always blessing all parties with love and light but creating healthy separation. Flamenco and martial arts are wonderful strengtheners of our personal power centre. So is standing up for a cause you believe in.
  • 4
    The chakra in the middle that keeps balance between all others is, of course, attributed to the heart area. It has the energy of green. This is the place where we have the courage to allow broken hearts to heal and let go of bitterness in order to be more open-hearted. We can't allow love in unless we allow it out also, so we must be brave and keep this channel open. This means we must trust ourselves enough to open our hearts where it is safe to do so, not in abusive or unhealthy situations. Where this part of our life needs tender care, we can wear green (or pink if you prefer) and spend time in the original green of nature. Caring for animals allows the heart to heal and open also. Songs that speak to the heart can help too.
  • 5
    Our 5th chakra is located to the throat area and attributed the colour blue. This is the energy of living and speaking our truth. We can begin in small ways to align our lives, actions and the words we speak or write to have more and more integrity with our core values and deepest truths. Where we need support, wearing blue and using our voice in singing along to songs that speak our truths for us give us inspiration and strength.
  • 6
    Our forehead area is the location of the 6th chakra, which has the energy of indigo and is the importance of following our inner knowing and wisdom. Reading stories and watching movies of those who inspire us, and studying areas that call us further help here. Meditation is the primary practice for quietening our minds of the ego's loud chatter and hearing the quieter and wiser voice within.
  • 7
    And lastly the top of our heads is aptly named the crown (7th) chakra, and has the energy of violet or white. It speaks to our need to connect with the collective, to higher power or greater good. Religious belief is not the only way to do this, feeling connected to all of humanity is also important here. Ways to open up this area in our life include asking the questions from A Course In Miracles during our meditation, and waiting for inner wisdom to guide us "Where would you have me go? What would you have me do? What would you have me say, and to who?". Our aim is to follow our highest path. Using the colours white, violet and gold can support this energy.

So whether you love the idea of diving into the chakras, or whether for you they are a useful metaphoric guide to the growth of the human spirit, try the practices above related to the chakra you instinctively feel is the weakest for you. If you don't know where to begin, always begin with the first and develop a grounded foundation for your life, from where all else can grow.

And I'd love to hear from you! Do you already work with your chakras? And if this is new, which practice will you experiment with? Let me know in the comments below and share with a friend who could benefit too.