relationships

The Truth About Being a Strong Woman

The question that often sits on my mind is “are we born strong or do we become strong?”

If we are born strong then that would imply that we come into this world as a blank canvas and life moulds us, in a sense we have no control of who we will become. However life has shown me that to a certain extent we bring some qualities with us, how this happens depends very much on your personal beliefs. I know for certain that some people are born with insight and wisdom, others seem to live forever and never develop the capacity to develop as humans.

I am tough, ambitious and know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, Okay - Madonna

I was both gifted and cursed with the label “strong” since I was a child. It was a persona I created to protect myself in a world that left me vulnerable and often alone. Others around me would say “you are too strong to cry” and completely forget I too was a child, this is the curse of the strong child! As I grew up I embraced the strong label because it kept people away, and I learned to stand alone. What others couldn’t see or didn’t want to see was the soft, emotional, caring person underneath, what those close didn’t want to see was the hurt that was being covered by the strong persona. What they couldn’t see was the little girl that just wanted to be loved and cared for.

Over the years this young girl became an independent, intelligent, self-sufficient lady who others could rely on, what else could she have become? The world isn't ready for “strong” women, it’s too much of a threat. We are aloof, uncaring, downright bitches who won’t be tamed.

I know what I bring to the table….so trust me when I say I am not afraid to eat alone

When I reached fifty my life took a surprising turn, things started to fall apart one bit at a time. Just as I thought I’d reach the stage where I could reap the benefits of all my hard work, the rug was pulled below me and nothing could hold me up. The illusion of a happy home, successful career and good life was shattered, the lie finally exposed.

First there was the text from my ex-husband to a new female interest that just happens to land on my phone, it was karma in action, the marriage was never going to last, two people who were clearly on different paths.

Then the news that I was going to be made redundant. I remember the day that I was called into the office at work to be given my notice, I hadn’t expected this even though I probably should have. I was the main earner in our home, my salary paid for most things and we were comfortable with that (or so I thought). I remember the words being said by my manger at the time but my mind drifted off to thoughts of panic, anger and even at times a sense of freedom. I had been feeling trapped for a long time, not just in my working life.

I left the office that day to take the train home in a daze, shocked and emotional but unable to cry in the center of busy London, that’s what crazy people do, isn’t it? But I was broken, sad and emotional, I guess that’s what it feels like to be made to feel worthless. All I wanted to do was to get home so I could cry!

As I entered my home, I could feel my posture change however instead of letting myself feel hurt and emotional, I realised I was putting on that strong woman persona again. Why? Because in my marriage that was my role and I was just being who I had become. I remember telling my husband and being very careful about my words to not upset him too much, not out of fear just so I didn't rock his boat too much. It was because I knew he was weak, he was never going to be the one to give me good advice or be there for me, he wasn’t capable of that. So I let go of how I was really feeling to make sure he was alright, the same old cycle repeating itself. This game we played we had mastered after thirty years, I was superwoman, and nothing could touch me and he needed to be saved every single day.

I decided that I wasn’t going to go back to work, they didn’t deserve that from me. So I went to the doctor to get a sick note. As I entered the doctor's surgery, I began to run through the story I was going to tell the doctor. He was a young doctor I’d never seen before. I sat down and began to tell him about my redundancy and how it had made me very anxious, the truth in fact. Then he looked at me and asked me if I was alright. Nobody had asked me that, I started to cry uncontrollably, and this startled me. Then the doctor asked me if I had any suicidal thoughts, “of course not” I replied. I was given time off work and left.

As I was driving home, something felt very different to me. I kept thinking “why could I cry in front of a complete stranger and not to the man I’ve shared my life with for over thirty years?” That question kept going on over and over in my head.

He who conquers others is strong; he who conquers himself is might - Lao Tzu

It suddenly hit me that I could no longer keep up with the fake persona that had got me through a difficult childhood. I had shut down as a person, attracted people into my life that were takers and had no idea who I really was.

Over the following weeks, this change became apparent to my husband, I just wasn’t willing to play that game anymore. I was fortunate to find out that he was already having a flirt or whatever you like to call it with another woman, this was my get out of jail card and I used it with no option to return. He wanted the woman that never made demands on him, the one that just got on with everything and never expected anything in return, so I stopped being that woman and this is where I began, and we ended.

To be strong means I am grounded and confident in who I am

I learned that being strong is not being uncaring, being strong is daring to be vulnerable and open. I learned that having the courage to be who you are without having to fit the expectations of others is worthwhile.

I’m done saying sorry for being who I am, I’m done being the strong one, I’m done being what others want me to be or expect me to be. I’m happy to be who I am, I’m happy to be with me if that’s what it takes to be me.

To any woman or man who feels like they don’t fit, I say be fucking proud of who you are. Don’t become someone others need, become who you need. Weak people will always try to break you because watching you makes them feel bad about themselves. Let them be, don’t try to fix them or change them, move on and walk your road. No man or woman is worth you losing yourself for, in the end, we will go our own way anyway.

And be thankful for the pain, it’s what has brought you to this place, the one that you are at now. This is where you get to change your life. I thank my redundancy, I thank my divorce because finally when I sit alone and it is quiet inside.

Being strong doesn’t mean you can’t reach out, how can we help? Contact us and let’s work together through whatever is keeping you stuck right now.

Three Attitudes to Breaking Old Habits

I'm not Perfect and that's OK

I've had a challenging few months, mostly caused by my own habitual behaviours. And believe me I know I am not perfect, I have much work to do on myself. The habits I am referring to are not the ones we commonly recognise, such as unhealthy eating or lack of exercise. I'm talking about the thinking mind habits, the unguarded thoughts, emotions and behaviours that lead us into painful situations. In Mindfulness, we learn that our thoughts are just habits, rarely fresh and new, primarily based on our past experiences. 

When we look at our behaviours we can clearly see the routines and habits that we have become accustomed to and even if we know they are harmful, they comfort us because they are familiar. This is precisely why we keep doing the same thing over and over, expecting change even though we know this doesn't work. To break a habit, we have to change the thought patterns that trigger these habits. In neuroscience, this is called "re-wiring" the brain. In Mindfulness this is exactly what we are trying to achieve, a new pathway for our new and better habits to follow.

Portia Nelson's poem "There's a hold in my sidewalk" covers this perfectly.

"I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost.....I am helpless. It isn't my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don't see it. I fall in again. I can't believe I am in the same place. But, it isn't my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hold in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in. It's a habit. My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately. 
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
I walk down another street." 

"I see it is there, I still fall in. It's a habit!"

How many times have you felt something is not right but still gone ahead, I certainly can speak from experience on this one. For some of us, this is particularly the case when it comes to our relationships. We habitually allow others into our lives even though we know they are not deserving or right for us. We give our time to others when we are more than aware of the pain this ongoing relationship causes us. We do this because often this is all we know, our habits from childhood continue until we change the way we think, until we take another road. 

For real change to happen we have to start to develop our awareness of our habitual thoughts and behaviours, so we can stop before we act or react. We have to learn to walk down a different road. 

"If I have no pain, I'll never long for freedom" - Pema Chodron 

We need to do it differently over and over until we replace old habits with new, healthier ones. At first this is difficult because we have to be aware, then make a commitment to change. It takes effort and a longing to be free from pain, from self inflicted pain. And we can do this by first changing our attitude. 

Three Attitudes to Breaking Free from Old Habits:

Pain has its virtues: Remember that when things are not going as we wish, we can value the lesson and grow from the pain.

Stop looking externally for happiness: Stop chasing that a new job, the new relationship, look at what you can give yourself. And remember NOW is the only reality.

A stable mind is a free mind: Be careful who and what you let into your life, develop inner strength so you are happy whatever is happening externally.

If you are struggling with harmful habits, pain and personal challenges, get in touch to find out how Mindfulness can help.

What Buddha Taught Us About Relationships

I was reading an interesting article today, with the heading "8 January branded divorce day, with a surge of married couples seeking to split". According to the article, the three main killers of any relationship are financial pressure, family tensions and cheating.

I think we can learn a lot from Buddha when it comes to our relationships and with 42% of marriages ending in divorce, perhaps it's time for us to look at them in a different way. 

I remember something that Lama Yeshe once shared with us at a Buddhist teaching I attended a couple of years ago. When asked about how to be happy, he said "I don't understand you people. When someone tells you they no longer want you, your whole world falls apart. Why?" And that in itself was surprising coming from an old man in yellow robes, but the next bit made us all laugh "if they no longer want you, open the door and show them the way out. Then go find a new one, a better one and if you can't, go on holiday!" 

It really is that simple, except in reality it's not that easy. After all, we are complex creatures with so many emotions, that ending any relationship can be one of the most difficult times in our lives.

Buddha taught us that suffering is nearly always self-inflicted. We cause our own suffering because we won't let things go. We try to make others like or love us when clearly they are not capable or even right for us. We cling to a story of how we want things to be even if they no longer work. 

These three Buddhist teachings have helped me understand whenever I struggle within my relationships, I often remind myself of their importance.

Non-Attachment

In my limited understanding, non-attachment means to be open and flowing in your relationships. To be in the moment, to not have so many expectations and to not have a pre-planned outcome. As soon as we start to build a story around where we want our relationship to go, we lose the point, we are no longer just being we are now striving to get somewhere. and this will often lead to disappointment.

And in order to have a non-attached relationship, you must not rest your entire happiness on it.  You have to keep your own identity and continue to create your life the way you want it to be. Of course, there are compromises to make when being with someone else but be careful to what extent you allow this to develop. People lose themselves in their relationships, then when they end they fall apart and I speak from experience.

Inner peace begins the moment you choose to not allow another person or event to control your emotions - Pema Chodron

Impermanence

We are like children building a sand castle. We embellish it with beautiful shells, bits of driftwood, and pieces of colored glass. The castle is ours, off limits to others. We’re willing to attack if others threaten to hurt it. Yet despite all our attachment, we know that the tide will inevitably come in and sweep the sand castle away. The trick is to enjoy it fully but without clinging, and when the time comes, let it dissolve back into the sea.
— Pema Chodron

A fundamental Buddhist teaching is the understanding that nothing stays the same, that things are always changing. Buddha taught us that our constant resistance to change is what causes us to suffer. And this applies to events as much as it does to people in our lives, we change, they change and so it is fruitless trying to stop that from happening.  

As a parent, we see the changing relationship between us and our children. They are totally dependent on us, then they start to become independent. As teenagers, they begin to push every boundary to exert their own personality. Then they grow into mature adults, we can become friends if we have that kind of bond and eventually they may even become our carers.

This is the constant evolution of our relationships, we change, they change and we have to be able to let that change happen.

 

Compassion

Compassion is the most life-shifting teaching that Buddha shared. When we come from a compassionate angle, we stop being so harsh on ourselves and those around us. When we see in others things we do not like we learn to let it got. We can work on ourselves but it's not our job to change others, they have their own path to follow. 

And self-compassion is where we begin to fully understand and accept ourselves as we are. We do this with a kind and soft approach, just like we do with a child. We see ourselves as we are, we accept it and then we can change if we need to. 

Searching for happiness through others will cause our relationships to break because we can only ever be happy when we are happy with ourselves. We become resentful when others can not fulfil our needs, even though we have done nothing to help ourselves attain our full potential. 

In the practice of Mindfulness we try to see what is going on inside, to see our habitual patterns and try to take some control over reactions to these thoughts. We come to accept that just like we are imperfect, so is everyone else. 

We begin to accept the perfection of our imperfections.

What is the true meaning of love?

If we really understood the true meaning of love, it would save us from a lot of needless suffering. Perhaps if we knew what real love is we would stop chasing after it? Love can’t be found, it’s always present, always inside us, there is no need to look for it, there is no lacking of love.

Of course, this may not be how we grew up thinking about love. We have these fantastical notions about love and this one special person that will give us the love we need. If we think about it then maybe we will finally see that love is a feeling, an emotion, it is not static.

Love should not cause us pain, it should not be hard work and it should not keep us trapped. Love is supposed to be quite the opposite, yet look around you and see how we all suffer from love. What causes our pain is not love itself, it’s forcing love and clinging to it like if we let go, we will lose something that belongs to us.

What true love isn’t

When I think of love I bring to mind my children and grandchildren because the love I have for them is unconditional. Over time I’ve learned that for me to be the mother my children need, I must give them the space to grow and be who they need to be. I cannot stop them evolving, experimenting, making mistakes and even doing what I think is wrong. It is not my life to live. Just because I gave them life does not mean it’s my life or that they belong to me.

That doesn’t mean as a parent we can't give advice, offer our experience and more importantly model the behaviour we would like our children to take on. But ultimately, they are free to live as they wish, we have no real control. So we must be there to offer love unconditionally, giving our children complete freedom to live their lives. Not to live for us, to please us or to fill the voids we should be filling ourselves. 

Romantic or Intimate Love?

This love thing becomes a bit sticky when it’s between two people who share a “romantic” love or an “intimate” love. Actually, the two are not the same in any way. One can have intimate love without the need for a romantic relationship. This is something that many of us become totally confused about. Intimacy in our society is constantly portrayed in a negative way, in a dirty way, leading to so much confusion. Dare we even mention the word “sex” without sniggers, blushing, turning away and total misunderstanding?

These lyrics from Alicia Keys song War really highlights just how messed up we are:

If war is holy and sex is obscene
We've got it twisted in this lucid dream
Baptized in boundaries, schooled in sin
Divided by difference, sexuality and skin

Such poignant words. We easily send our armies to kill but dare not speak the truth about “love”

"Immature people falling in love destroy each other’s freedom, create a bondage, make a prison" 

Osho was a highly influential spiritual teacher who had many followers and was published by over 200 publishers worldwide, in over 60 languages. His teachings have had a huge impact in the West. He believed that traditional belief systems, religious traditions, and socialisation have caused us to suppress our awareness, our ability to truly love and our creativity, courage and humour.

He spoke in detail about real love, his teachings challenging us to review our perception of love and relationships, not to say they are both exclusively related.  

Love can exist outside of a relationship and relationships exist with an absence of real love

In one teaching, Osho talks about “immature people falling in love, destroying each other’s freedom” He goes on to say that mature people in love help each other to be free, they help each other to destroy all sorts of bondages. And when mature people are in love, their love flows with freedom. He goes on to say that

when love flows with dependence there is ugliness.

A mature person does not fall in love, he or she rises in love. Only immature people fall; they stumble and fall down in love. They do not have a back bone, the spine; they don’t have the integrity to stand alone.

 A mature person has the integrity to stand alone.

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And when a mature person gives love, he or she gives without any strings attached to it. When two mature persons are in love, one of the great paradoxes of life happens, one of the most beautiful phenomena: they are together and yet tremendously alone. They are together so much that they are almost one. Two mature persons in love help each other to become more free. There is no politics involved, no diplomacy, no effort to dominate. Only freedom and love.

Mature Love in the West

Inspite of all our education, wealth and supposed progress, we have forgotten how to truly love, in favour of ownership and selfishness. We want our needs fulfilled, we need to fit into society and so must be just like the rest. We must have our “special” relationship otherwise we are misfits. We fear all the negativity that comes with being solo, the being seen as lonely or perhaps not even good enough to have a full-time partner. One that we can show to our friends, "look at me I'm good enough to catch a man (or woman)!" 

Do people that choose to live a solo life make others feel uncomfortable? What if people understood that some of us choose freedom, total freedom to do as we wish, when we wish without having to ask for permission? That it is not lonely to stand alone, or to give without any strings attached.

People go about their lives with a desire for freedom, yet their actions go completely against creating this freedom in their lives. They work hard at a job, chase after people to bring meaning into their life whilst becoming more and more trapped. And believe me I speak from experience, not from judgment. 

What would happen if we could stop clinging, learn to let go and open up to the unfolding of our lives? For me, this is mindful living, a total trust in life unfolding whilst living in the moment. 

Mindfulness and it's hidden gem

Mindfulness is not a quick fix

I'm sometimes a little disappointed with how Mindfulness is being seen as a quick fix for one affliction or another. Mindfulness is not a remedy like popping a pill and expecting life to be perfect. In fact most of us that practice Mindfulness will tell you that it's a tough journey, one that takes you into the depths of your emotions, one that makes you challenge everything that you have always taken as truth.

However if you are willing to see Mindfulness as a way of life, one that is life changing once you commit to a sustained practice, then you will be able to experience the hidden gem that is Mindfulness.

What is the hidden gem of Mindfulness?

In life we get attached to people, to expectations of others, the way we want things to be and the way we want people to be with us. We find it difficult to let go and move on from situations and people who are not treating us as we want, preferring to spend our energy and life trying to make them how we want them to be.

Surely it's easier to let go of people and situations that do not serve us, even if they once did? In my experience the process of detaching from habits, from people in our lives can be one of the most challenging times.

If you are invested in security and certainty then you are on the wrong planet - Pema Chodron

 

We refuse to see that it's better to be alone than to be with people who perhaps make us feel less or drain our energy. What's more keeping hold of these unhealthy relationships, stops us from flowing in life, in moving forward, in opening ourselves to other experiences. And this is the saddest part of holding onto things and people due to fear of letting go.

So how does Mindfulness help with this?

Mindfulness teaches us how to live in the moment. Through the practice of Mindfulness we learn to reflect on the past but not live in it. 

When we explore and get to know our selves deeply, we start to understand why it is we are afraid to be alone or to let go of what no longer serves us. 

Mindfulness teaches us to live in the flow of life, without the need to control every situation, every outcome and every person who enters our life. 

As we practice, we learn to sit with ease even when we are struggling with a difficulty. We do this through our formal meditation practice and through our conscious awareness of what is going on in our mind. 

This is not an easy way of life when you first embark on Mindful living, it can kick up so much dust from your past but once the dust settles, you will find an inner peace that can be difficult to ever fully be disturbed again.

This is the hidden gem of Mindfulness.