It’s a ritual I began after my cancer diagnosis. Faced with the fear of dying I suddenly became overwhelmingly grateful for the life I had, albeit with a life threatening disease. I’m now approaching 2 years all clear, but the ritual of gratitude at the end of the day (and sometimes intermittently throughout the day) has stayed with me.
It was a struggle at first, thinking of something to be grateful for amidst the pain and uncertainty of life. I settled on the cosy socks I owned. Fluffy, warm, comforting. I’ve always loved a good pair of socks and as the gratitude for socks began to flow it opened my mind to just about every other aspect of my life which offered this comfort. A warm bath, a moment with a cup of tea, a hug with my husband or children. I began to focus on my home, my bed, our heating and hot running water. Having enough food to eat, the friends and family around us…
After a little while practicing it occurred to me that I’d never fully appreciated the body that I’m in. The immense work it does to process, move, touch, taste, feel, grow, renew… My mind was blown as I looked at my toes and realised for the first time that I loved them, truly deeply, loved them… and my legs! Wow… each part of me was alive and here just for me to experience the world from within…
This is when my yoga practice really began to change for the better. No longer a practice in strengthening, lengthening, toning and burning calories for aesthetic gain, or to conform to a cultural ideal, but a practice in connecting with myself. Bringing awe to the movement i took, connecting the breath with movement. Appreciating and experimenting with who and how I was and all the time feeling respectful and deeply deeply grateful for the gift of life and the discipline of yoga practice which was keeping me connected…
So here’s a little bedtime ritual for you – a short practice in connecting with the breath, cultivating gratitude and moving gently to prepare you for a deep and restful sleep.
I’m really pleased to be able to share my first online video with you. This is a short practice for head, neck & shoulders. It’d be great if you would subscribe on YouTube, share, like, comment, suggest videos that you’d like etc. Happy practicing!
Shame lurks deep undercover, like a snake in the grass that you don’t know is there but step too close to that which it’s guarding and it’ll rise up with with all it’s got. ‘No closer’ it says as you look towards the deep undergrowth, ‘what I’m guarding is secret, it can’t be shared’… It’s enough most of the time, for us to move away, to let it be and to avoid going back.
If you’ve ever felt that there’s something about you which is really dark, really disgusting, something which is different. If you’ve ever felt like you don’t fit, like everyone else is getting the plot and you’re failing at trying, there’s a chance that shame is the gatekeeper to that feeling, like a snake in the grass wrapping itself around what it’s guarding and holding on tightly.
For shame, the fear of exposure is deadly, so it’ll use everything it has to survive. Being a harbour for shame is playing it’s game, is conforming to it’s rules and steering clear of the threat it makes to harm us more deeply than the secret it conceals. The truth about shame is that exposure is the antidote, that through exposure of it’s secret we reveal the threat of the deadly snake as nothing more than an illusion, we begin to understand the misunderstanding. We bring clarity and light. But as with all things frightening it takes a burst of courage or blind faith to cross the threshold, to investigate more deeply and to reveal the truth.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali teach us very early on, that the fluctuations of mind are the root of our suffering. That through imagination, memory or misunderstanding, we create stories for our selves which serve to contain us, limit us or actually cause us to suffer. An example of my own shame and misunderstanding is around parenting:
The thought ‘I’m failing’ because I’m tired, grumpy, can’t keep up with the cooking / cleaning / school admin etc. x infinity (!) begins to cloud my vision, I then begin to see new demands as ‘draining’ as examples of ‘just something else I can’t keep on top of’… Shame has a field day here, because it feeds on the negativity, it says ‘yes that’s true, better not let anyone know, don’t invite anyone in if the house isn’t tidy enough / up to date enough, keep up appearances, pretend it’s all ok’… and so shame wraps the thought in feeling, buries it deep down and paints on a smile to cover it’s tracks. I’ve bought in to the thought hook, line and sinker. I’ve identified so strongly with it that I’ve allowed it to shape my reality and experience of life.
The Shame Equation:
There is an ideal to conform to
I create suffering when I recognise that I’m not meeting teh standard and / or I create suffering by contorting myself to meet the standard
Either way I’m ashamed of myself for failing. The inner dialogue becomes ‘I’m not enough, I’m not good enough, I’m failing’.
I try my hardest to make it look as though I’m meeting the standard effortlessly – This is a lie I’m peddling.
I repeat the story in order to perpetuate the lie and feed the shame snake.
To break the cycle I need to expose the lie:
If I’m brave and say ‘I’m struggling to keep up, to stay on top’? I can’t keep up with the cleaning / school admin etc. x infinity’. This truth breaks the illusion that there is an ideal I have to conform to or keep up with. I disarm shame immediately and begin to expose my imperfect life, my tatty edges, tired bones, dusty shelves and the moldy apple in the fruit bowl. Sharing my imperfections and broken pieces feels vulnerable but it creates deeper bonds with those closest to me. I empower myself to be helped and supported and more importantly to my health and well-being, I understand deeply, that I am not alone.
Symptoms of shame in my own experience have led to depression. The repetitive cycle of covering up and feeding the shame snake has brought me to a place so bloated and overfull, that I can’t see a way out. It’s where I feel sluggish, slow and drained. I start to feel resentful and ultimately depressed to the point of suicidal. Anxiety comes from relentlessly fighting against depression, from working, smiling, exercising whilst carrying the weight of shame and depression. Anxiety leads to full blown panic when I just can’t cope anymore.
The New Equation:
I recognise that there is an ideal I’m trying to conform to e.g. ‘a yoga teacher is always calm or has all the answers’, ‘a mother is always open and loving’.
I recognise the truth of the moment. I am a yoga teacher and I am freaking out right now. I am a mother and I need to take time out from my children
Respond with compassion to the moment. YES this is how it is right now, and YES this is ok too. I am only human – what do I need?
Meet my need for time out, for breathing space or whatever it might be.
Move on to the next moment.
So this is my exposure. This is my truth and it’s so much lighter exposed. There’s no more venom in it’s jaws. There’s nothing more than a shadow where a snake used to lay. There is the beautiful understanding that I am human, imperfect, working hard, resting enough, keeping up where I can, letting it go where I can’t. I’m wholeheartedly doing my best to meet my own needs, to be honest and to see clearly in honour of this incredible gift which is life. In honour of this human experience I am embracing all that feels joyful, wonky, intense and serene. In honour of being here now – with you as my witness I am embracing the worlds that flow from my fingers and the dirty lunch plate in front of me, the hoover that hasn’t been put away and my kids who are playing video games. This feels healthy, and whole and finally free of shame.
My name is Lauren and I am an addict. I am addicted to anything which enables me to avoid feeling my feelings.
In order not to feel, I distract myself purposefully, even wilfully by being exceptionally busy. By saying ‘I can do that’ to anything that means I don’t have to think or feel, it might be caring for others, cooking, shopping, offering my services, teaching another yoga class, cleaning the house, scrolling through facebook, eating too many biscuits, drinking too much alcohol, the list goes on. There are of course, lots of other drivers for these actions, but for me the ignition, before practicality or necessity and to the degree that I’m so busy I am physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted, is distraction. It’s a deep internal pleading for my mental, emotional and sometimes physical pain to be taken away.
‘Taking the edge off’ or even fully submerging myself in avoidance through whatever it is I’m addicted to in the moment (including Yoga classes by the way), is like putting blinkers on to tunnel the vision towards only the things I’m comfortable with seeing (i.e. the things I can control in my life). Like a clean house, a 5K run, newly coloured hair, nails, new clothes, home furnishings and saying ‘I’m fine’ in the kind of tone we all know means, I’m really not fine, but if you push me now I’ll go psycho bitch from hell on you.
The things I can control are the things I use to build the illusion that I am in control, and sometimes it works, but you know deep down that you’re suspicious aren’t you? My blinkers tunnel my vision away from the things I don’t want to see, like my jealously of other peoples success, happiness or in any way looking more together than me; my failure that everyone else is parenting better than I do, my shame at my failure and my anxiety that I might have mental health issues; my exhaustion at thinking all of these things, and just one more glass of wine or shopping trip or yoga class to stop me thinking, feeling or trying to figure it out, because I just can’t.
Eighteen months ago life dished me the mother of all disease. Cancer; most feared, most despised & most destructive. Life dished me the mother of pain, through surgery, and whilst 4 hours of general anaesthetic knocked me out, I woke up screaming ‘The Pain The Pain The Pain’. The real physical pain followed, but from where I’m standing now I recognise that cancer surgery put me in touch with the pain I’d hidden, wrapped in shame and locked down, it forced me to feel it. Cancer had my back against the wall and gave me the choice, face it and face it all or maybe die. Whilst my diagnosis was a bolt out of the blue, the disease itself was chronic; years in the making, a curdled stew of resentment, anger, stress, the inability to process trauma and the shame and loneliness of hiding it, washed down with prosecco, curry and chocolate. Whilst on the outside things appeared to be functioning, albeit in the suspicious way we talked about earlier, but the acceptable way. The not crying in public, not speaking about shame, lying about my sex life / parenting skills / how much money we have, kind of way. Functioning had absolutely zero to do with feeling. The two were completely unrelated. Inside I was a curdled stew of a shit show.
Here’s the thing I’m coming to realise though. In the years leading up to my diagnosis, the deep yearning & pleading for escape I was feeling was handing me the answers all along. When I cried longing for something different, life dished up fear, pain, loneliness, jealously and exhaustion. It gave me anger and rage and grief and loss and said ‘feel me’. Every time it did I swallowed it down with resentment and denial because I wanted an easier escape, because it was too hard, too painful and not fair. I pleaded for it to stop, burying myself in distraction to the point of addiction. Life dished harder and every time it did I ran in the opposite direction, too afraid of what I felt to understand what I was being offered. I was too far in denial, too distracted and addicted to distraction that I couldn’t possibly sit down and watch the world I’d controlled collapse around me. That collapse would expose me. It would break down the walls between how awful it felt and what it looked like and the world would know. It would teach me just how sad and lonely I really was and just how angry I felt and it was threatening. I believed it was all or nothing and if I let the facade slip I’d be failing.
One day only recently my sadness showed up again though. It washed over me like a tsunami and because Cancer had already broken me down to a person I didn’t know or understand anymore, I thought ‘what the fuck, go ahead and wash me up sadness, do your worst, surely theres nothing else to be broken’? Being washed up by sadness felt refreshing. Terrifying as I watched it roll in, disorientating in the middle of it, but afterwards it was refreshing and I felt like new. The realisation dawned on me that the feelings I’d been pushing away and burying for so long were the signposts towards my own transformation, they were the doorways and rights of passage to freedom from the exhausting façade I had created.
Newly invigorated I went looking for doorways. I found my jealously and understood that it showed me what was important to me, and that I could go about working towards it. My fear showed up like a faulty smoke alarm, ringing at the slightest waft of hidden feeling and I’ve started to ignore it, I hear it, but I recognise when it’s just ‘burnt toast’! My anger is a moral compass and it shows me the boundaries of my soul. And depression, the doorway to the deepest darkest depths of my soul. The fathoms of my being move at a glacial pace shaping the landscape within me, and I am learning respect for that movement. Grief and loss shows me how to cry, and loneliness is just another wall to breakdown, to reach across and to share and find connection through writing and through talking. My loneliness asks ‘can anyone see me?’ ‘am I in here alone?’ She just wants to be heard. To be felt and to know she is seen. My loneliness wants the kind of friends that can cut through the bullshit façade. The kind of love that stands up and says ‘what’s up?’ and ‘you’re not yourself’ and I know that first I have to be able to call myself out to show up and communicate on my own behalf, to do that I have to know that I am worthy of love.
Learning to be with myself:
At the same time as life was showing me my own pain, it also gave me Yoga. It led me to teacher training, and training with the most wise and compassionate teachers. The kind who have been present for their own pain and can compassionately guide others through theirs. Being with myself now involves a dedication to stillness, to listening and to sitting. Coming to my mat involves checking in with how I feel. My practice is about balance. Some days I’m frayed and gentle grounded movement is required, some days I’m emotionally exhausted and restorative nurturing poses with blankets and bolsters is required. There are times when I feel sluggish and a more dynamic practice is called for. But however I move, the breath leads the way. The simple honouring of the wisdom of the body, underneath the chaos of family life and work. The switch that leads me back to myself, letting go of the stories I’ve told myself, free from obligation and responsibility, the breath is there to simply nourish me, to cleanse me and to lead me to union: Mind, which anchors awareness on the breath, body as it softens and unravels in order to allow the breath as spirit, the honoroing of this divine union.
The relationship with my self starts and ends here. There is nothing left to fear. I don’t have to be afraid of who I am or what I feel, I can feel it all and it all feels a lot healthier!
I am so angry. I’m angry because I’ve denied my anger for as long as I can remember. I’ve denied my anger because I didn’t think it was pretty, or pleasing or useful. I bought in to the Bullshit that in order to be a grown up, successful person, especially one who’s a yoga teacher, I would be pleased and gentle and kind and understanding, and above all I would put anyone else before myself, including anyone I walked past in the street and anyone who ever spoke to me, and anyone on the TV, and that’s everyone. And then if my anger spoke up, I’d hush it away and try to pretend it wasn’t there. Like shoving playdoh in to a pot that’s just a bit too small, bits spilling over the edges and me all the while trying to shove the lid on, playing ‘nothing to see here, anger, no, not me I’m calm and gentle and pleased about everything, stop looking at me funny and it’ll all go away’…
Buying in to this BS compounded the problem. The problem was compounded of course, because anything that triggered my anger made me feel ashamed of myself, because I was feeling something I’d deemed inappropriate. It was especially inappropriate because I’m a woman, and an angry woman is not attractive, and sometimes makes the people around her feel uncomfortable, and we need to preserve the illusion, so please don’t show up here anger, for goodness sake not here… It turns out that pleading with myself was as futile as the playdoh situation and just compounds shame by feeling helpless.
My Inner World…
So here I am acknowledging my anger! I don’t care if it’s inappropriate, I don’t care if it’s too much, I don’t care what you think about it any more. But I do care deeply, I care how I feel. Fundamentally, deep down I care about myself and my anger is a signpost that something isn’t right. My anger says ‘hey you, that’s not fair’, ‘I’m pretty sure that’s not right’. It says ‘is anyone looking out for me here? can anyone hear me?’ and it says ‘yes I can’. It says ‘yes I will’. It says ‘set me free and let me change the world, ‘let me transform this girl’, ‘let me ignite a passion in you that will lead you deeper and deeper towards yourself in ever more fulfilling ways’. My anger says ‘thank you to the society who suggested that I’m too loud, big, tall, fat, poor, angry etc. but no thank you’ and ‘hello to an inner relationship of love and honour’. A relationship with myself that serves myself first, in the most deeply nourishing way, by listening to the small voices inside. Honouring my needs, not overlooking them, accepting my self instead of feeling ashamed. Compassionately listening and disagreeing and learning, in order to grow. This relationship is the love of my life, my greatest passion and my most treasured connection and it is the foundation from which all life around me grows. This is the relationship which enlightens my view of the world and it’s the bright shining star which allows me to navigate with ease. My anger has shown me how to stop outsourcing my better judgement to anyone outside of me who I decide knows best, which at one point was anyone, desperately, longingly anyone. My anger is pointing me towards myself with such heartfelt love that I can no longer deny it, I can only accept and love it for the treasure and insight it brings. I follow it and it leads me and together we navigate the seas of my internal world.
And this is where my inner Yoga teacher becomes her most authentic self. I begin to recognise my anger as life force, I recognise it as a power which can be stoked and cared for, or denied and dampened. I do not see my cancer as separate from this. I see the disease which visited me with such loving grace as a manifestation of this toxic inner state. What else could my poor cells do when the message they were receiving unrelentingly was ‘you are too much and you are not enough’, they just needed a clear directive. A boss lady who could accept the truth of her soul and lead her little cell people to liberation, and function and ease.
A love Note to Agni…
The inner fire in Yoga is also known as Agni, our Agni is responsible for all metabolic processes within the body, physical, mental & emotional. Taking in and assimilating, breaking down and processing, all of which are nourishing and support healthy growth. Denying the process is denying life itself, toxic thoughts, such as shame and denial are as quelling to the fire as toxic food or substance abuse. Ultimately the inner fire will begin to die down and the system will fail to function. Nurturing and supporting our inner fire by feeding it the good fuel, the self-love and acceptance, giving it a voice, the healthy nourishment and creative outlet, allowing the learning and the growth. It will repay us with a genuine hunger, for our next hearty meal, for our lives and for our own personal growth.
My inner god of fire, my protector. I see how I have neglected you now. I’ve seen how strongly you burned and how fearful it made me feel. I heaped you with shame instead of stoking you with love. The toxic soot, smouldering from the cold damp logs of denial I heaped upon you almost killed you, but now you burn brightly again. Agni, my saviour, my you burn strong, and warm. I accept your gifts of clarity, of transformation, power, guidance and of life. I will feed you with self acceptance, and authentic expression of yourself. I will fuel you with an outlet that the world can see, and when the world looks back, no matter what their faces say, I will never again allow shame or judgement to dampen you, or society to mis-shape you. You burn perfectly and that is everything to me.
A year ago I discovered I had cancer. It took six months for shock to pass (aside from the physical recovery from major surgery), and a following four months of crazily energetic distraction to finally acknowledge how much fear, grief, loss, trauma & pain my family and I have gone through. I am finally beginning to process those feelings and its taking everything I have (almost). I emerge from a sleepy crying, snotty ball to teach yoga, to walk my dogs and to be with my family when they need me, all of which I love, and all of which are more than enough for me to deal with.
Before cancer I was a Bullshit Addict. I knew how to paint on a smile, I knew how to save you from my pain, my grief, my suffering and my desperate loneliness. I was a hardcore pretender. Bullshitting like my life depended on it, drowning my sorrows in smiles, and parties, and booze and home furnishings. Before cancer I knew how to say ‘I’m fine’, when you asked me how I was. Before Cancer I was disconnected from myself and from you and the world around me. When I lied to you about how I was, I was hiding from myself and I was asking you to hide from yourself too so that neither of us had to face the truth of our losses and our suffering. I vibrated with a fractured nervous energy which came from my torn up soul, my seething, lost, lonely, raging, desperate soul. I drowned my sorrows in Bullshit until I successfully stopped feeling anything. Underneath the fake smile and pretence, behind the Instagram posts, inside the well-dressed shell of a woman I became, I was screaming ‘someone help me’, ‘someone take it all away’. But we all decided that it would be someone else’s job to do that because we were just not able to face the blinding, painful truth, until Cancer came along and made it all so desperately, painfully real.
Today my tears are cleansing, and the tired and snotty puddle of me is just as OK as it need to be right now. When I don’t paint on a smile to save you from my pain anymore, it’s not because I’m bitter or not coping, it’s because I’m telling you the truth, it’s because this is what coping looks like. It’s not because I’m ‘negative’ I’m simply doing my best to quit my addiction to bullshit and keep it real. I do not need to be saved, soothed, suppressed, placated, medicated, or fixed. I am already all of those things by being broken and being honest with myself and you about it. It looks like a war zone at the end of a long and bitter war. It’s ravaged, ugly and devastating to see, but there is truth here and there is love and if we roll up our sleeves we can at least be free of suffering, despite appearances.
As a recovering Bullshit Addict I need to remove myself from Bullshit. I am on the wagon. So don’t tell me you’re fine when you are not, support my recovery by sharing your truth with me, the joys, the sorrows, the pain, the grief and the love. Enable me to be my best most real self, by being yours too. Pretending only drives the hot and seething loneliness deeper. Pretending is what disconnects us from ourselves and each other. Lets reconnect with truth, because it’s a strong and honest foundation to build on.
“Pretending is like wearing an armour with the spikes facing inward” (said my friend Sam today).
Wearing our spikes on the outside does not look pretty, and it does not conform to the social status quo, it’s braver, and stronger than that. Sharing our stories is what connects us. Sharing our losses and our pain is what makes us human family. Sharing the love and the sorrow and the hurt and the struggle is what makes us collectively stronger and is what heals us and frees us all. Do not diminish your suffering because you perceive someone else to be suffering more than you, it only diminishes theirs too. Pain is pain for all of us. Sorrow is sorrow, joy is joy and the only difference between us is the experience we have which points us towards these feelings.
Standing in my own messy truth, I am stronger and braver than I have ever been. My Name is Lauren, I am a recovering Bullshit Addict.
Oh hi gluten free buckwheat loaf that takes just 45 mins in the oven. How are you, you gorgeous indulgent bread friend with benefits? Your herby lusciousness lures me to you… I drizzle you with olive oil and sink my teeth, sumptuously in to your soft nutty loafiness… Can you tell I haven’t had bread in a while? I’m a conservative grain consumer, saving myself for only the whole and gluten free goodies among the grain family… My gut says thank you – now I’m free of stodge and bloating and my taste buds say thank you – you meet my sweet nutty desires… So for the gluten free among you, or those looking for a quick bread fix, full of nutty buckwheat goodness this is for you… Let me know how you get on…
Chop 1 sprig of rosemary and leave the other whole
Mix the dry ingredients including the chopped rosemary in a bowl, then mix in the almond milk until a dough forms.
Roll the dough into a loaf shape on a floured (with buckwheat flour and / or oats) surface. Place the whole sprig of rosemary on top of the loaf and score along the long side of the dough with a sharp knife
Line a baking tray with baking parchment and place the loaf on the tray
Bake for 45 minutes
I love this toasted with mushrooms and asparagus… or scrambled egg… or anything else your sweet tastebuds so desire… Enjoy! x
Join Lauren for a 4-week course exploring the very basics of Yoga practice for self-care and well-being. Lauren is a British Wheel of Yoga Certified Teacher with over 500 hours of training in Yoga philosophy, Meditation, Advanced Teaching and has a strong history with Mind Body connection.
The Course will cover:
Basic breathing techniques
Common Yoga poses
Introductory relaxation & meditation techniques
The course is aimed at absolute beginners of any age. It runs for 4 weeks and will equip students with the basic knowledge required to confidently move on to either a gentle hatha yoga class or more dynamic hatha yoga class on an ongoing basis.
Dates: Thursday 7th, 14th, 21st & 28th June 2018
Location: The Zen Den, Hersham
The Zen Den
The Zen Den
The Zen Den is a purpose built yoga studio equipped for up to 5 students. With a heated bamboo floor the den is hand built and clad in Cedar wood, insulated with natural sheep’s wood and finished with non-toxic finishes.
Contact: Lauren@blackdogliving.com / 07763 135146 to book your space.