Tuesday 31 August 2010

Part 2: Postcard from the heart

As you may know, I have four younger brothers.  David, with whom we went on holiday last week, is the second line to the Aherne dynasty!

It is ironic, but David and I never really got on after we hit the respective ages of 4 and 2 years.  It was only when we reached our twenties and thirties that we began to have more interest in each other.  And it is only in the past few years that our bond has really developed and grown. 

I haven't been on holidays with my family in years, but going on holiday with David and his wife was effortless.  How often can we say that about family?  That being with them was effortless?

But what really touched me, as I got to know my younger brother all over again, was his deep sensitivity.  I had intellectually 'understood' that David was the most emotionally sensitive child in our family, but to actually experience his sensitivity was a real gift.

He impressed me over and over again.  His consideration about when I might need toilet breaks, his thoughtfulness to his wife (he used to make her hot chocolate for breakfast, just because he knew it pleased her), his warmth towards Dirk (he showed him my brothers' "secret handshake"), and his willingness to clean, wash, and dry up, even if he had done it for every single meal since we arrived, spoke of someone with an immense heart and deep good will.

I was so proud of him, watching him in action.  And, as I thought back over the years, I wondered what it was that had reignited our connection.  I think it could best be described as unconditional love.   Yet how often do we get caught up in how our family members should behave, should think, should act and, in the process, lose the gifts that they have to share?

David may not always have agreed with my decisions or beliefs, but he has always supported me as a person.  As I'm the only family member outside Ireland, he's made a point of calling me periodically, just to check in on me and see how I am.  Regardless of whatever happens, I know I could call on him (or any of my other brothers), confident in the knowledge that they would stand by me.  

That must surely be the greatest gift one human being can give another: unconditional love.  And to receive it from our family, where often it can feel most absent, must surely be the greatest blessing there is.

Part 1: Postcard from the edge

We're just back from a week in France: Dirk, myself, my brother David and my sister-in-law Orla.  And I haven't laughed so much in my entire life.  It was the gite that Basil Fawlty would aspire to run if he turned his hand to holiday lettings!

There are two things that stood out for me on the holiday.  The first is subject of this posting: the ghost.  Ok, so many don't believe in ghosts, but I've seen at least one, so I do.  However, I digress...

On the first night, the temperature in our bedroom ran to about 38C, with only a rickety, ineffective fan for relief.  I woke frequently during the night and, although I didn't like the 'feel' of the room, I decided to be grown up and stop imagining things...

The next morning we found Orla and David asleep on the sofa in the living room: a loud noise followed by an eerie feeling had kept them awake most of the night... 'Well,' I thought smugly, 'I can contain my fear better'.  How the mighty fall...!

On the second night I awoke to a loud noise... followed by sounds throughout the room.  The window I had shut before going to bed was open and the sounds were very real.  I sat bolt upright.  The blood pumped in my ears and my fear grew as my imagination came to life.  Suddenly, a long, white shape leapt out the window.  I screamed and pulled Dirk's arm so hard he was in pain for days! 

He decided it was the cat...  And back to sleep he fell!

It was too late for me though... although I don't watch programmes about hauntings, I sometimes see the trailers and now my imagination was working overtime.  It's a weird sensation, feeling completely terrified and knowing that I had to calm down because I had an obligation to the baby not to freak him/her out before him/her out before s/he's even born!  I didn't have much success...

Suffice to say, we all slept on the living room floor from the following night onwards!  I have never been to a slumber party and I sure missed out if they are this much fun!  Dirk used to invent a quiz show after lights out that had both Orla and I begging him to stop, as the pain from laughing was just too much.  Not to mention the indelicate fact that us pregnant ladies aren't blessed with tremendous bladder control in the face of a light giggle, much less side-splitting seizures!

And, to my shame, I insisted that the kitchen door remain closed as, somehow, I thought it would be harder for the ghost to get in!  Yes, I know it's gloriously ridiculous... you have no idea how often I pulled myself to one side and gave myself a severe talking to, but to little avail!

What I did come to understand through the experience is another aspect of what I call our 'personal fault lines', the personality quirks / limitations that are thrown into the light of day when we are under stress.  For all my belief in angels, the divinity of human beings, and the power of prayer, I also saw the strength of my own shadow side, my own projections of the shadow side of the afterlife and the power that I ascribe to it.  Nor did I find a way through that fear, it simply sat - bulky and undigested - in my mind.

But on the plus side, it did give rise to five nights of childish hilarity that would never have happened otherwise!

Thursday 12 August 2010

Would the Real Me please stand up?

This week in my counseling session, I felt like a fish out of water, flipping around, agitated and unable to centre myself.  So what did it mean? 

On the surface, we were dealing with my on-going 'thing' about being a financial burden while I'm not working; but it turned out that it was more than the uncomfortable subject that was making me agitated.  The real issue was that I was uncomfortable with who I became in that situation.

Like everyone else, I play different roles in life - wife, daughter, sister... Equally, I have different sub-personalities - The Carer, The Martyr, The Teacher... 

Annie was helping me to see how, in this particular situation, I flip from being a guilt-ridden child to a punishing parent.  In fact, I spend so much of my time flipping between the two of these inner voices, that it's a wonder I'm not dizzy!

This week's insight was discovering the Adult within.  This is, as I understand it, the grounded, wise and authentic Inner Self.  It's the truest part of me.  Not the parts I created to cope with other people's reactions and expectations. 

I had been so busy flipping from child to parent, that I'd lost Myself.  I was full of ideas about how I 'should' improve, but I had no idea of who I desired to be and become through this life experience.  Finding a different perspective allowed me to go beyond my fears and programming, and see the situation more creatively and less punishingly.

I still forget, on a daily basis, and fall into the child/parent conversation.  And then I have moments when I remember to take a step back, to recentre in Myself, in the most authentic part of myself that I can access. 

And how is all this related pregnancy?  In several ways, at the most basic level, the less conflicted I am, the more love and acceptance I have to share with the child.  As I become freer ofmy own limiting beliefs and inner voices, I have fewer hang-ups and limiting beliefs to pass on to our child.  It leaves them with more emotional space to be themselves.

Wednesday 11 August 2010

When help can hinder...

There are people in life who are 'Helpers'.  They see what needs to be done and then they do it.  They hate to see others overwhelmed, distressed or unable to manage.  So they jump in to help.

"Hi, I'm Jennifer and I'm a Helper."  I admit it. 

I've only recently discovered that helping isn't quite as positive as I thought it was.  How often have I helped because I (mistakenly) thought the other person couldn't cope as well as I could?  Or because I needed to feel needed?  Or how often have I helped, only to rob the other person of the learning they were creating?  Even if that learning was that they need to decide how to invest their time gracefully rather than over-committing? 

There will always be another problem to solve, another problem, and yet another problem...  I can't clear up all the problems.  I can't make the world a neater, fairer, more just place, no matter how much I help.  I used to think, unconsciously, that once the issue was solved, everything else would work out fine... In effect, that I could bring an end to problems!

Helping, like anything, is complex.  It brings forward the shadow side as much as the light, within each one of us.  In the shadow side, I help because I need to feel wanted, to become 'worthy' by making a difference.  It's driven from some deeper feeling of inadequacy on my part... a vague, gnawing feeling that I'll be a better person, or look better, or simply assuage my own fears that I'm not doing enough.

Equally, on the positive side, I help because I have the time, interest and desire to be involved in finding a solution, or making something happen.  I help because I desire to contribute to my community, or family.  I help because to do so brings me a genuine feeling of pleasure.

What is important, I am learning, is to discern before agreeing to help: Do I want to help from a place of joy or burden?  When I agree to this, which of my own needs am I satisfying?  Am I creating freedom, peace, joy, forgiveness within myself?  Or am I harbouring resentment, anger and judgment?  Do I want to be seen in a certain light... as a martyr?  As self-sacrificing?  As all-capable? 

Knowing why I'm helping makes it easier for me to discern genuine opportunities to collaborate and 'help', improving my sense of well-being and that of those involved.  Looking at the individual threads of my motivations helps me to reconnect with my integrity and, ultimately, more aligned with my authentic power.

Tuesday 3 August 2010

Accepting myself...Warts and all

I have 'warts'.  Not the physical kind, but the less subtle form: little knots in my personality where I still get stuck.  Arguments that press my buttons, reactions that really annoy me, emotional blind spots, and habits that don't serve me but in which I still indulge...

As I was meditating this morning, and here I use the word 'meditating' in the loosest possible meaning of the word.  I was trying to, but I was so wound up about about an argument that I wasn't really meditating: I was just ranting silently to myself.

Very softly, without any conscious thought on my part, an image floated through my mind.  I saw a clenched fist being held away from me.  Rather than words accompanying the image, I had a sense of 'knowing'.  The clenched fist represented one of my own 'warts', a short-coming or 'weakness' that I have banished from my psyche, hoping that, if I leave it to shrivel and die in the cold, without any attention from me, I will be free of it.  The 'knowing' was that we cannot push undesirable aspects of ourselves under the table; we cannot ignore them and hope they will disappear.  What we resist, persists.

The 'knowing' suggested inviting these parts back in: acknowledging them and accepting them.  Loving them.  Not rejecting them.  It was suddenly obvious that rejection would heal nothing.  Love, on the other hand, could soften and transform those hard knots... those elements of myself that I've rejected... those characteristics, weaknesses and laziness-es that I feel let me down. 

How?  Excellent question: I'm still wondering what the answer to that is myself.  But I'm willing to do this. 

I'm willing to acknowledge that there are some aspects of my personality that I don't like.  I dislike how lazy and apathetic I've become since I've been pregnant; my lack of business ambition; my enduring sense of being a burden; my lack of tolerance with the Roman Catholic Church; my anger at the lack of compassion and consideration in society; my lack of boundaries... you see, there are quite a few.  And the 'splinter' I see in others, is a reflection of the log in my own eye.

My reaction to the parts I dislike is to ignore them; to try not to think about them.  I try to leave them 'out there'.  But they do exist.  And they are a part of me.  As much as the good stuff.  I can't split myself between 'Good Jennifer' and 'Bad Jennifer'.

Accepting the shadow side is the first step to integrating these parts into the whole: to understanding them in a wider perspective and to uncovering the hidden potential that they offer.  While I used to fear the less appealing parts of myself, I now realise that there is nothing to fear but fear itself.  After all, if I open a door into a darkened room, the light shines into the dark: the dark does not engulf the light.

That's the first step.   Only when I complete that step will the next step in the process reveal itself.