Koemba Blog

This is the true story of  a young mother’s journey through postpartum depression:

Today is World Mental Health Day. On this day last year I was going to work to see people who were struggling with mental illness. I had little personal insight into what it was actually like. Fast forward one year on. I have seen it from the other side. And it is harder and darker and more terrifying than I could ever have imagined. But there is hope and a future to hold on to. This is my story.

Postpartum depression

I am a psychiatrist. I am trained in ‘what-to-ask-people-who-might-be-depressed’. I have studied lists of symptoms and screening tools and questionnaires. I have even done exams. But in clinical practice I often come up against the fact that people’s actual feelings and real-life experiences aren’t as easy to articulate and as clear-cut as the textbooks would have you believe. I never truly appreciated the depths of the chasm of a depressive illness until I abseiled right into it, scarily quickly and unexpectedly.

It started last November, 2 weeks after my second baby was born. I began to despair. I cried, and cried and cried until my eyes were blurry. I felt sick and I didn’t want to eat. I couldn’t shake the feeling of guilt. I didn’t want my baby anymore. I didn’t want to be a mother anymore.

At the time I remember wondering: what is wrong with me? I am a coper! I haven’t had a difficult pregnancy. My labour was straightforward and my baby is healthy. I wasn’t like this last time. Why do I feel like this now?

It’s because I have two children. It’s because I’m tired. It’s because I have a second-degree tear and the healing is slow. It’s because “Breast is Best” but I’m bottle feeding. It’s because when I sit in the stinging salty bath to wash my sutures the milk that my baby can’t have drips into the water like tears. It’s because I stopped breastfeeding and no matter how much I force myself to carry/wear/be close to my baby, I’m never going to produce the same amount of oxytocin. It’s because I ended up back in hospital 8 days post-partum with severe abdominal pain and I sat in the assessment room surrounded by the “breast is best” posters, silently sobbing, my chest tight because of the milk and the dread and the despair. It’s because it wasn’t meant to be like this; I had decided that this baby will be different, easier, better; there will be no lactose intolerance or reflux or weeping or gnashing of teeth; there will be no trauma and failure to thrive and screaming; there will be no auditory hallucinations secondary to sleep deprivation. It’s because I am genetically predisposed to depression; I’ve seen my strong mum weakened by it, I know her tears and her tablets. It’s because my body is exhausted, my brain is exhausted and my neurotransmitters are depleted. It’s because I am ill. It’s because I have postnatal depression.

When hope fades

Depression; when you feel exhausted and yet unable to “sleep when baby sleeps” like everyone keeps telling you. And when you do snatch some sleep your dreams are vivid and disturbing. You feel hungry and then the thought of eating makes you feel sick. The colour starts to drain from the world around you. You feel anxious and exhausted after attempting to be sociable for 5 minutes in the day. Behind your smile and pleasantries lie a thousand achingly awful thoughts. When you venture out to the supermarket to get nappies it is like being in some sort of weird bad dream world, and you feel panicky and hot and surreal and you just want to run away from it all and crawl into a dark hole and never ever come out. When you see your baby you feel guilty, numb, regretful, inept, a failure. You lock your tears in the toilet so that your 4 year old won’t see them. When you wake up in the morning you cannot face the world and it takes all of your strength just to persuade your aching body to get out of bed. When you hear your baby cry, you want to run away or freeze and you feel useless, rubbish, incapable, hateful. You can’t stop crying and you do not even know why you are crying anyway. Your heart and stomach and brain and soul feel dull and sore and washed out and numb and aching and hopeless all at once. You are overwhelmed with shame and guilt and crippled by it all. You feel alone, in the dark, hopeless, worthless. And you wish there was no baby at all.

If you feel like this, please please hear this: there is hope.

Despite what your brain is telling you, it is NOT because you are a joke, or you are a rubbish mother, or incapable or useless. And your children DO NOT deserve a better mother. And, despite how you feel right now, it WOULD NOT have been better if your baby hadn’t been born at all, or if you were no longer around.

Hope for those suffering with postpartum depression

There is hope.

You ARE a good person; you CAN get through this. This too shall pass… but you will need help and support, and it is an illness which needs treating (just like diabetes needs insulin, and high blood pressure needs antihypertensives). Go to your GP, read about it online, tell someone how you feel. You can get better.

It took me 48 hours to pluck up the courage to take my first dose of antidepressants. My head was full of all sorts of lies: “you’re such a fraud”, “you’ve seen depressed people in hospital, you’re not that bad”, “you just need more sleep”, “you’re a rubbish mum, tablets won’t help with that”, “you know how these tablets work – they’ll change your brain chemistry and you’ll not be able to think straight”, “you don’t really need them, give it another few weeks”, “what a joke! You’re supposed to look after depressed people, not be depressed yourself!”. After I took the first dose actually nothing happened. I didn’t get better or worse. And as the weeks went by, nothing dramatic happened, except that my brain gradually stopped lying to me, and I started to feel tiny flickers of love for my children again. I can pinpoint the day when I noticed that I felt better. I could see in glorious technicolour instead of sepia, and I felt love and hope again. It’s taken me nearly a year to feel ‘normal’ again, but I have gained insights into how my patients actually feel that will stay with me forever.

Today is world mental health day. Postpartum depression can happen to any mother. Today we declare that there is absolutely no shame in talking about how we feel, in sharing our pain and fears and exhaustion and guilt. Because 1 in 4 of us knows how it feels.

And because no matter how low we get, there is ALWAYS hope. You are not alone in this.

#worldmentalhealthday    #herstoryishopeful

If you are looking for help in dealing with depression:

Samaritans: 116 123

http://www.cry-sis.org.uk

http://www.pandasfoundation.org.uk/helpline/

 

Thanks to Rebekah Stobart for her courage to share her story and for the beautiful photo, that speaks into the pain and the hope of many mothers in situations like this. 

Please share this post if you know anyone who would benefit. What questions does this raise for you?

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If you are a parent and feeling concerned, upset or anxious because your child is being  harrassed or teased, here’s how to support your bullied child:

“My heart is broken. My daughter is such a sweet child. But she tells me the other children are chasing her at school and calling her ‘piggy’.“

If your child has ever experienced this sort of pain, read on!

9 Essential Strategies – How to Support Your Bullied Child

#1 Keep calm so you can hold an objective frame of mind

Your child needs you to be connected; yet at the same time you need to contain your strong emotions. This matters because otherwise your upset can “contaminate” the listening space your child needs.

If you are reactive she may be affected by the reaction she’s sensing from you.

It’s possible that if you are over-anxious that she will hold back from telling you things you might need to hear, or otherwise a child may embellish the story when she finds she is repeatedly the centre of attention if she mentions such incidents. You want to support your child to work through the situation to develop happier outcomes; not stay stuck in it.

For more on how to keep calm in stressful situations, see my book, “Stop Yelling – 9 steps to calmer happier parenting)

#2 Take your child’s upset seriously

Some parents may respond with a comment like,

“You’re all right then!”

Your child wouldn’t be telling you about the incident if she was alright!

Bruises on the soul may not be visible but they can cause life-long scars.

#3 Recognise young children don’t always realise their behaviour is hurtful

Often a hurtful incident starts as a game – but crosses the boundary into “not okay” behaviour. If there seems to be bullying happening we need to be involved. Young children do not yet have the social skills to handle the situation alone. If the incident happened at school, hopefully, the teacher is your ally. Ask to meet with her, giving her as much detail as you know, in a clear objective way, stating what your child experienced. Then ask what steps will be taken to deal with this situation to ensure that other similar incidents will not happen. Bullying is not about only two children. Bullying is a community matter and school is our first formal environment where we need to learn social justice.

#4 Create a calm, safe space to chat about the incident

Create a space where your child can talk about the incident if she chooses.

Clarify as much detail as possible.

You need to hear what happened to figure out what response is needed.

If this might be more than a once-off minor incident, it’s important to keep a clear record of the facts of what happened. (Like any professional document, record only the facts; don’t write down your emotional reactions or any judgements. Only facts. This is important because if there is a pattern of bullying behaviour you need to be able to state what happened and when. That’s not easy to remember at a later date, especially when you are emotionally involved.

For more strategies on how to support your child to find a way forward in bullying situations, see my blog: “9 Inspiring Tips – How To Bully-Proof Your Child”

#5 Use “clean language” to discuss what happened

Word your questions and responses in a way that does not pollute your child’s thinking.

e.g. It’s not helpful to ask, “Was that girl mean to you?”

When you ask a question like that, you pollute your child’s mind with the thought that the other child was mean, which wasn’t necessarily your child’s experience.

Rather ask a “clean” question like, “What happened?”

#6 “Listen” to your child’s body language

It’s not only the words you want to listen to but your child’s body language, tone of voice and facial expression.

You’ll gain more insight into your child’s perspective and experience of what happened, and what’s needed now when you are tuned in to her

#7 Be empathetic as your child shares his story

It’s easy to want to check he’s telling it ”right”. The more he calms, the more he can clearly tell you what happened. the more he makes sense of what happened the more clearly your child can think  anc can start envisioning a more powerful way of responding.

Stop bullying - we are all different

#8 Help your child envision how to respond differently

Avoid using statements like,

“Don’t be a baby!’

Stand up for yourself!”

Comments like these will only add to your child feeling ”not okay” and do not give your child a picture of how to respond in a more positive and empowering way. You want to create the thinking space for your child to be able to figure out what they can do to create a happier solution.

#9 Use the power of  “What…?” questions

Once you sense your child is calm and ready to look for solutions, use “What…’ questions to help your child think about how they could handle a similar situation in the future.

“What could you do next time?”

“What helps you to stay strong inside yourself?”

The importance of dealing with the incident when your child is bullied

The wise parent uses these early incidents as opportunities to help their children learn to find healthy ways to deal with challenges in social interactions before an unhealthy pattern of passive or aggressive behaviour develops. When you respond to your child’s concerns you give a message, “You matter!” – a hugely important message if your child is feeling like they don’t matter to their peers.

Knowing how to respond helpfully when your child is bullied can help your child develop assertive behaviour that can shield them in a healthy way. This matters for your child’s happiness and self-esteem not only now in the immediate situation you’re facing – but it helps build resilience and self-esteem throughout life; important factors for your child’s mental health and well-being.

How to support your bullied child

Something More

This Christmas let’s enjoy the fun, festivity and food – and seek Something More.

Where do we find meaning in life? Here’s an unfolding personal discovery that has rocked my world.

The final blog of this CHRISTMAS series by Val Mullally

S is for Something More

When I was a teen I remember my science teacher telling us that every cell in your body is replaced every seven years.

I am still me – even though every single cell in my body that was there seven years ago is no longer here!

This was a seed of growing awareness:

I am not my body, my emotions, my thoughts

I am not my body

I was nearly forty when I started researching Emotional Intelligence, and realised that our emotions are fickle. Add another piece of information and an emotion can morph into a different feeling within seconds. Tiredness and hunger can taint our emotions.

My emotions are a compass to navigate relationships; they are a tool – but they are not who I am.

I am not my emotions

But the crunch came only a few years ago. I came to recognise that my thoughts are not always true. My thoughts are a constant river running through me, that I can alter if I choose.

I am not my thoughts

This third awareness felt like an earthquake. It felt like all solid ground, what I had held as truth, had been swallowed into the earth.

If I am not my body, if I am not my emotions, if I am not my thoughts, then who am I!

Without what I had thought was truth, I felt uncertain, helpless and vulnerable. Ego was stripped away! I was beginning the journey to Something More.

Who am I?

Why am I here?

Seeking the Something More

Seek and find the Something More

For me, the journey to Something More is embraced in what many people call spirituality – the awareness that there is something more to my being other than my body, my feelings and my thoughts. Spirituality is that interconnection between all of us, between nature, the universe and the Divine. A connectedness that is through time yet beyond time. This Something More does not depend on education and it is beyond religion. We glimpse it when we are present to the moment.

Our sense of disconnection is only an illusion. Nothing human can stop the flow of divine love. Richard Rohr

Two thousand years ago wise men from the East left the comfort of all that was comfortable and familiar; they set out into unknown terrain, to seek and find the Something More.

So it’s over to you – where are you on your quest to discover the Something More?

Love came down at Christmas.

Three camels - seek and find Something More

If you have enjoyed this article here are the links to the other blogs in this CHRISTMAS series:

CCompassionate Curiosity – how to offer charity without undermining dignity

HHope– THE 2018 story of Hope!

RRelationship – why independence is not the height of maturity

IInspiration– breathe life into your passion

S Slow Down –  develop the mindful habit of “wait a little’”

TThought Minding  – how to stress less and enjoy Christmas

MMindfulness– why mindfulness matters

A Actualise– how to clear your mental clutter

 

 

 

 

When we are stressed we are most likely to drop into a default mode of crowded thoughts and frantic rushing. We often let our thoughts and emotions dictate, without stopping to actually assess what’s helpful. The greatest present we can give this Christmas is being present to ourselves and present to others. So here’s how to clear your mental clutter and actualise your mental well-being. 

Actualise –  stop, assess and determine what’s needed. 

The penultimate blog in this CHRISTMAS series by Val Mullally.

Family Busy at Christmas

A is for Actualise

If you’re anything like me you may be asking, “But how do I actualise my mental well-being?”

So often my thoughts race away with me.

My mind chases everywhere but where I want to be – enjoying the moment.

How To Train Your Mind To Be In The Moment

Here’s the SPACE acronym  – the declutter solution from the experts. We can adapt this to clear the stress and clutter from our minds:

Sort

Purge      

Actualise   (assign a home) 

Containerise 

Equalise 

Let’s look at each of these:

SPACE - the acronym to clear the clutter in your head

How to Create Mental SPACE

Sort

Sort your thoughts. Not all thoughts are true. See “Stress Less this Chrismas – Thought Minding” for more on this.  Some thoughts aren’t kind, or helpful. They erode our well-being.

Purge

If you’ve sorted your thoughts, you can purge those that aren’t helping you be the person you want to be. Is what I’m thinking true? Is it kind? Is it helpful? If you can’t say “Yes” to  all three of those questions, purge the thought! Bin the thoughts that aren’t working for you. If you don’t entertain them they won’t hang around!

Actualise

Be aware of what you actually choose. Either you are in control your thoughts or your thoughts are in control of you. Choose thoughts that help you be the person you want to be.

Containerise

One way that our thoughts stress us is through seepage. We let work thoughts drip into our downtime. We let unhappy past memories pollute our present joy. We let future worries ooze into our time of relaxation. These thoughts clutter our minds and cause stress.

Some need purging.

Others need containerising.

Work thoughts need to be containerised for after the holiday. (If it’s important and you’re worried you’ll forget it, note it down, so that your brain knows you have created a reminder, and can let it go).

Haunting past memories and future worries can also be containerised. Maybe you recognise you need to do something about them. In your mind containerise them so you can return to them at a more desirable time.

Sad memories of the loss of a loved one may also seep into your Christmas. Hold your memories gently in the crucible of your mind. What is there to celebrate about this person’s life? What would they want to be telling you now? Rather than letting your grief ooze into the day and pollute the joy, hold your pain carefully in a container where it can over time be transformed into joy and wisdom.

Equalise

Using SPACE to Sort, Purge, Actualise and Containerise our thoughts can help regain a calm equilibrium – to create balance in our lives.

SPACE acronym to clear the mental clutter

Why Create Mental SPACE

Why would we take time to create mental SPACE when life is already so hectic?

It’s like clearing the kitchen clutter before you start the Christmas meal.

It’s easier to get done what needs to be done.

You can focus on what matters.

It avoids unnecessary upsets.

Things go more smoothly.

Things are more enjoyable.

Things usually turn out better.

When we create mental SPACE there is more room for joy.

It opens our minds to what’s needed now, in this moment. So use SPACE to actualise what’s needed and what matters.

So what might it take to actually have a more joyful Christmas?

Join me for the big “S” of Christmas in the next blog!

So it’s over to you:

What thoughts do you choose to Sort, Purge, Containerise and Actualise that will help you to Equalise this festive season? 

Why Mindfulness Matters

Chrismas and Stress seem to have become synonymous.

Life is frantic. Stress levels scream ever higher with alarming pressure.

Why the madness!

But there’s a swing back to a calmer way of being.

Medical Science and especially Neuroscience are recognising the power of the ancient art of why mindfulness matters to create calmer happier lives.

The sixth blog of this CHRISTMAS series by Val Mullally:

M is for Mindfulness

Imagine doing one thing differently that would open the door to being the person you would love to be.

The hinge that opens that door is mindfulness.

Mindfulness swings open the doorway to enjoying the moment, to greater understanding, to being tuned in to what is there before you. it opens our minds to what’s needed. Another word we could use to describe that mindfulness is awareness.

Choosing Mindfulness in Your Everyday Living

Paying attention in a particular way:

On purpose

In the present moment, and non-judgementally. Kabat-Zinn

Perhaps you’re thinking,

“But I don’t have time to stop and meditate.”

The good news is we can choose mindfulness in the everyday moments of our lives  – it’s about choosing to be conscious, even in the run-of-the-mill events at a busy time like Christmas.

Small hinges swing big doors.

Small hinges swing big doors

We can swing open the habit of mindfulness in the regular moments  –  whether we are peeling the potatoes, changing a nappy, opening a present, or whatever – just becoming more conscious of what we are doing in the moment.

Mindfulness as a Way of Being

 … our life is the path, and we no longer rely merely on the forms of practice.  Thich Nhat Hanh

When we are mindful we become more conscious of what we are doing, what we are feeling, who and what is around us and with us. We notice our intentions. We become more conscious of the thoughts that wind us up and how we can let them go and choose a more helpful response.

Instead of a “knee ‘jerk” reaction that is triggered by feelings of anger, fear or envy, we can respond with compassionate curiosity, that helps to create the quality of relationship we desire.

Why Mindfulness Matters for Parents

Whether the house feels like world war three broke out or a home where you’re all glad to live can depend on whether we, as parents,  choose to react or to respond. And our reactivity or calm response will depend on our mindfulness.

If you’d like the chance to develop key insights and practical skills to mindful parenting click here to discover “Stop Yelling – nine steps to calmer happier parenting” with Val Mullally guiding you through this live online course.

As parents become more aware and emotionally healthy, their children reap the rewards and move toward health as well. That means that integrating and cultivating your own brain is one of the most loving and generous gifts you can give your children.  Daniel J. Siegel 

The Mindfulness Path

Choose to respond rather than react.

Take a few breaths to calm yourself. Focus on choosing connection.

Ask yourself, “What’s really needed here?”

This is the way we can keep our selves well: with regular exercising of our attunement to ourselves through mindfulness practices.  Daniel J. Siegel

In the next blog discover how to clear the mental clutter that adds to our stress and causes us to react, rather than respond in a way that builds healthy relationship.

Small hinges swing big doors

So it’s over to you: 

What small doable step will you take today to become more mindful in your everyday living? 

Shopping lists. Last minute tasks to complete. Another card you forgot to send! Here is how to stop the mind spin, how to stress less and enjoy Christmas. Yes, sometimes sad and bad things do happen at Christmas, but how we think about the situation can add to our stress or diminish it. 

The sixth blog of this CHRISTMAS series by Val MullallyMan with Santa hat relaxing by clock

T is for Thought Minding 

Don’t you sometimes wish you could let go the Christmas stress and just relax and enjoy?

“But there’s so much to do!”

The thoughts we tell ourselves add to our stress.

We can ease the stress by noticing our thoughts, because negative, self-defeating thoughts erode our sense of well-being.

It’s often not so much the circumstances that stress us  – it’s our thoughts about the situation.

“I’ll never get this finished.” 

“The meal’s ruined.” 

“But aren’t our thoughts our thoughts?” you may be asking.

We often have ANTs – Automatic Negative Thoughts.

ANTs are thoughts that jump into our heads  – that we often react to without assessing them.  Negative thoughts can make us reactive, which can cause the other person to react. So our thoughts become self-fulfilling. The good news is we can change our thoughts, when we are aware.

How to Let Go Of Thoughts That Stress

Notice what you are actually saying.

Is it 100% true all the time?

Is this thought helpful or is it winding you up?

To let go of unhelpful thoughts, first we need to recognise them.

Can you spot any of these in your own thought patterns?

Automatic Negative Thoughts

Mind Reading ANTs*

“She’s deliberately trying to wind me up.” 

“He just wants everything his own way.”

We presume we can read the other person’s mind.

We think we know their intentions are “bad” or uncooperative.

Fortune Telling ANTs*

We predict the worst-case scenario outcomes.

“The day will be a disaster.” 

Acknowledge that thought is not true. Consciously rephrase the thought to something that builds hope.

“Even if everything doesn’t go smoothly we will still enjoy ourselves.” 

“Always” / “Never” Thinking ANTs*

“He’s always late.”  “I can never …”

These words add to our stress and disempower us.

Whenever we notice those words and test the truth of our thoughts, it can help us to gain a more realistic and helpful viewpoint.

“Always late?” If the thought is not true 100% of the time, then it’s not true.

What would be more accurate? “He’s often late” or “He’s sometimes late”.

Change your words for something that reduces your stress.

“Guilt”  ANTs*

These often sound like ‘I should have … ’  ‘I must…’ ‘I ought to …’   

“I must give them a three-course meal.” “I should order that gift online.”

These “guilt” ANTs need careful testing.

“I ought to be kinder to myself” – probably yes.

“I ought to be doing more” – probably no!

“Guilt” ants make us feel stressed.

Test to see if this guilt causes s a vague thought that just unsettles you without creating any helpful outcome, or if it’s nudging you to take helpful constructive action.

Righteous Judgement ANTs⁠1

We pass judgement on ourselves and on others, causing a sense of comparison and stress, often leading to unhappiness.

e.g. “good” / “bad” ; “right” / “wrong”

“She’s behaving badly”,  “I’m right.” 

Unless you’re talking about a legal or ethical issue, where there is a defintive right or wrong, recognise that the strong line of  “right” or “wrong” is generally stressful.

Find words that are more helpful.  Perhaps reword your thought as a question. What happens when you view the situation with compassionate curiosity?

I wonder what might be going on for her that she is behaving that way?”

“I wonder what leads him to think that way?” 

Inviting our thoughts and feelings into awareness allows us to learn from them rather than be driven by them.    Daniel J. Siegel

Change thoughts to change feelings and behaviour

If your children’s behaviour is challenging, minding your thoughts will help to calm your reactivity, which will impacts theirs. For helpful insights  and practical tips on how to respond rather than react to your children’s behaviour, see my book, “BEHAVE – What To Do When Your Child Won’t – the three pointers to mindful discipline”

 

What is the impact of my thoughts on myself and on others?

When I change my thoughts,

it changes my feelings,

which in turn impacts my body reaction

which in turn affects my behaviour,

Which in turn affects other people’s behaviour.

Our state of mind can turn even neutral comments into fighting words, distorting what we hear to fit what we fear.  Daniel J. Siegel

It’s not that we won’t still have difficult situations to face.  It’s how we respond to them, rather than negatively react to them,  that can lower our stress levels.

 Becoming more aware of the thoughts, feelings ands body sensations evoked by events gives us the possibility of freeing ourselves from habitual, automatic ways of reacting, so that we can, mindfully respond in more skilful ways. Mindfulness notes – Oasis Centre, Dublin

M is for Mindfulness in the next blog in this CHRISTMAS series.

When I change my thoughts it changes my feelings which in turn impacts my behaviourSo it’s over to you:

What ANTs do you spot in your inner talk?

Try rephrasing any ANT you spot with words that reduce your stress.

Notice the impact this has on your reactivity and on others.

*. These Automatic Negative Thought categories proposed by Henslin, Earl  “This Is Your Brain On Joy”, 2008, Thomas Nelson, USA

1.  Added category proposed by Val Mullally – Koemba Parenting

Escape the Christmas stress by developing the mindful habit of “wait a little”. When we take time to slow down it not only improves our well-being it can also make life more enjoyable for those who are with us. The fifth blog of this CHRISTMAS series by Val Mullally.

S is for Slow Down

When I think back to my childhood in the Africa “bush” so many images come to mind. The huge red sun dipping slowly over the horizon in the evening, swimming in the river with fish nibbling your legs, raucous birdlife of amazing colours, moths and spiders as large as saucers, dry dusty soil – and thorns.

African sun at dusk

Thorns of all shapes and sizes, each inflicting its own type of pain. People who haven’t lived in that climate cannot imagine the variety of thorn:

  • large, spear-like woody acacia thorns that cause your foot to ache for days after an unfortunate encounter
  • the annoying little paper thorns that pepper your bare feet
  • the wicked devil’s thorns, like singular wooden marbles with vicious spikes in every direction, making it impossible not to get spiked
  • And the “wag-n-bietjie” thorns – “wait a little” because when you are caught by a string of these sharp, curved thorns which hook into your flesh and clothing, you have no choice but to “wait a little” and disentangle yourself.

Wait-a-Little As a Daily Habit 

Often it is the unpleasant things like illness or injury that hook into our lives and force us to  “wag-n-bietjie”. What if we choose to slow down and notice where we are in life, rather than waiting till circumstances force us to stop.

When we slow down we become mindful –  we become more aware of new information, we notice how one thing impacts another and we become more sensitive to the intricacies of situations.

Between stimulus and response there is a space… In our response lies our growth and our happiness.” Stephen R. Covey

Within the bustle of Christmas, let’s create pleasant slow-down moments.

Time to stop for a cuddle.  To go for a walk.  To watch children playing. To do nothing. To reflect.

 

Slow down this Christmas and enjoy peace joy love

Make space for the things that breathe life into your being 

Wait a little –  in an inner place of quiet stillness.

Each of us needs periods in which our minds can focus inwardly. Daniel J. Siegel

One simple way is to notice your breath. Stop the rushing. Just notice your breathing – in and out. Take time to notice the beauty around you. Open the door of awareness to experiencing awe.

Awe puts on the brakes, and keeps us still and attentive. Hedy Schleifer

The word “awesome” has become an overused superlative that has lost much of its meaning. Awe is not about “cool” – awe is much deeper. It touches our souls. Awe shows up when we slow down.

Why slowing down matters

Slowing down matters for our own well-being and it matters for those who are with us. We become more aware, more attentive, and we take stock of our lives. When we slow down, we open the door to awe.

Only that day dawns to which we are awake. Henry David Thoreau. Walden 

Paul Piff says awe makes us nicer and happier: “Awe causes a kind of ‘Be Here Now!’ that seems to dissolve the self, and as a result makes us act more fairly, more generously, more ethically.”

escape Christmas stress - slow down

So over to you: 

  • What helps you to slow down? 
  • What do you see are the greatest benefits when you slow down?

 In the fourth blog of this CHRISTMAS series, Val Mullally looks at Inspiration – how to breathe life into your passion. 

What’s been your film of the year? For me, the film of the year has been the BBC documentary “Drowning in Plastic” presented by Wildlife biologist Liz Bonnin. We urgently need to do things differently.

 I is for Inspiration

What about the mental pollution that we’re drowning in? Like the plastic in our lives, we initially think all this information and technology is useful, or fun, and we don’t realise how it’s seeping into every corner of our existence in ways that are toxic and destructive.

Seabird -Drowning In Plastic

Like the seabirds that are swallowing rubbish, are we unaware what we are ingesting? We don’t recognise how it’s strangling us – mental pollution that leaves little space for the psychological nutrients we need to thrive. Like the seabird chicks with stomachs full of useless plastic instead of life-giving nutrients, are we gorged on negative news, useless trivia and manipulative advertising that screams we are not good enough.

It is as Kabat-Zinn says,

Not only does unawareness go with the territory, it is the territory.

What can a person do?

It’s time to stop the madness.

Become aware. Notice what inspires you –  what fills you with hope and joy.

The root of the word inspire comes from the Latin inspirare – “to breathe or to blow into”.

What dreams do you want to blow life into?

Interestingly, in the paragraph above I accidentally typed “dreams” instead of “screams”. And it got me thinking – what is screaming in my life and how do I replace that with my dreams?

It’s time to clear the psychological clutter.

How do I substitute the mental pollutants with the things that inspire me?

Make space for the things that breathe life into your being

I know as a parenting author I  have to deliberately and systematically create space and time to write. If I wait until I am inspired I would hardly ever write. It’s about getting my bum in the chair every day and beginning to write. Then Inspiration comes. Not only when I am writing, but, she whispers to me as I walk the dog. She nudges me as I iron a shirt or stir the soup. I’m attentive to hear her when I’ve given the first part of my day, while I’m at my freshest and best, to writing.

Whatever inspires you, whatever your passion, breathe life into it daily.

whatever your passion breathe into it daily

At a global level, we urgently need to do things differently. It’s not only about the supposed “big stuff”.

When we follow our passion we each find our unique way of contributing to the greater good.

My passion, my inspiration, is that we can raise a generation who will:

think more clearly,

connect more compassionately,

behave more response-ably

and live more joyfully.

Will you join me in breathing life into that dream?

This Christmas let’s slow down and become aware of what matters.

(More about this tomorrow).

So it’s over to you.

In what ways will you choose to cut the mental pollutants in your life? 

Who and what inspires you? 

What things breathe joy and hope into your daily life? 

How can you bring more of these into your life in the year ahead?

whatever your passion, breathe life into it.

The third blog of this CHRISTMAS series:

What bugs me about Santa is that the one question he asks children is, “Have you been good?”

Where’s the unconditional love in that! Have we even stopped to question that!

What are the presuppositions in our society that are shaping our perception of the world?

At an individual and a societal level, we create a narrative of life from what we experience. This narrative subconsciously influences our thinking, our interactions, and our way of being.

R is for Relationship

Neuroscience is opening amazing new doorways to understanding that Relationship is essential to our well-being. But for at least the last century we’ve been seduced into believing that relationship is the poor cousin to what really matters. We’ve been brought up to perceive a false narrative as truth.

The narrative we have been sold is snake oil. We have ingested it, believing it will do us good. But it is a lie that has eroded our societal well-being. It undermines the fabric of society.FAKE NEWS that independence is maturity

And what is this snake oil that has been promoted as the solution to our problems?

Here is the 20th century deception that is still plaguing us, stated by Nathaniel Branden in The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem:

the central goal of the maturational process is evolution toward autonomy

What is True Maturity?

We were fed the lie that independence is the pinnacle of maturity. We were made to believe that if we were truly mature we wouldn’t need anyone else. Autonomy – pursuing a course for myself , often regardless of the consequences or impact. Doesn’t that sum up what’s wrong with our world today. Autonomy as the mark of maturity has been a dangerous and destructive narrative. That narrative is one of the greatest 20th century deceptions. It’s a narrative that destroys lives and destroys society. If we are focused on independence we lose sight that we are born to be relational beings. We forget the humanity of the other. It is a narrative that feeds fear and war. It’s a deception that has caused us to disconnect from who we are – beings who are made to be in relationship.

It is FALSE NEWS that independence is the mark of maturity!

Scientific Discoveries About Human Well-Being

A new and healthier narrative is evolving – one our world desperately needs. And interestingly that narrative is evolving from science. Neuroscience has proven our brains are designed to be in relationship. The neuroscientist Cozolino perceives a parallel between the neural synapses of our brains and what he terms the “social synapse – the space between us’. He states that our brains’ development is directly impacted by social interaction as “people, like neurons, excite, interconnect, and link together to create relationships.” Amie Senland*

Neuroscientist and parenting expert Daniel J. Siegel states,

For ‘full’ emotional communication, one person needs to allow his state of mind to be influenced

by that of the other.

It’s time to create a new narrative – a narrative of interdependence and co-operation as the goal of maturity – drawing from both ancient wisdom and cutting-edge science for a healthier, happier society. Human well-being is dependent on healthy relationships. We are not designed for isolated independence, we are made to be in relationship – to be collaborative and interdependent. We need to model this to the next generation, while there is still time to create a tipping point back to harmony and balance.

If we use how we were taught yesterday to teach our children today, we are not preparing them well for tomorrow.  Daniel J Siegel

Relationship

At an individual and societal level we need to heal breaches in relationship. What makes us fully and joyfully human is being in collaborative, nurturing connection with others. And this is especially true in parenting. Our children rely on us to heal the ruptures in relationship. We as parents are responsible for the emotional temperature in the home.

If this thought challenges or inspires you, you may enjoy reading my blog post on MyKidstime, “How to Avoid Christmas Meltdown By Understanding Your Child’s Temperament”.

Maturity is about collaboration and cooperation. This Christmas I invite you to think about how to create relationships that recognise this as the true goal of maturity. In our homes, education, work and social environments, how do we let go a narrative of authoritarianism and independence to embrace a narrative of collaboration and cooperation?

FAKE NEWS: independence equals maturity

So it’s over to you. I invite you to notice where you may have encouraged or modelled independence rather than cooperation.

What’s the one doable step you choose today that nurtures interdependence and cooperation in your relationships?

 In what ways can you support others to value cooperation and collaboration?

* Quoting Cozolino: “The Neuroscience of Healthy Relationships: Attachment and the Healthy Social Brain”   https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03057240.2014.971483 15/12/2018

Hope in the Darkness

In the second blog of this CHRISTMAS series by Val Mullally

H is for Hope

What a strange year. Global chaos, and for some the turmoil is much closer to home. 

Perhaps every generation has years where the future looks incomprehensibly bleak. 

Yet there are glimmers of hope – of what is possible when people pool their resources and respond with compassion.

Stories of hope and courage, like the amazing international response to rescue a huddle of Thai boys, who would have been doomed to die, if people had not been inspired by hope. 

Light In The Darkness

Many years ago I visited the Sudwala Caves in South Africa, which also tunnel many miles into the bowels of the earth. There are caverns so huge that music concerts have been held underground.

When our tour group had walked some distance into the interior the guide warned us she would turn off the lights for a few minutes for us to experience the darkness.

We think we know what dark is. But unless you have been in that situation without even a twinkle from a star, you cannot comprehend a darkness that feels stifling in its totality.

So intensely black that nothing is visible. Not even your finger right before your face.

A cold fear begins to rise, even though you know this darkness is only temporary.

And then the guide lights a match.

The light of one little match flickers into the darkness.

I can see my hand. I can see my husband next to me. I can see the tour group members and the guide and the cave walls beyond. My anxiety melts away.

How amazing that in such extreme darkness the light from one little match can make such a difference.

Hope Lights The Darkness

Hope Lights The Dark

Yes, there is darkness.

And light dissipates darkness.

Every time you and I hate, fear, compete, attack, judge, separate—thus avoiding the necessary letting gowe are resisting the full flow of Love, the energy which is driving the universe forward.   Richard Rohr 4/11/16

The rescue of the Thai youngsters is a narrative of hope. Somehow those youngsters did not give up – they had hope. The task to rescue them seemed impossible – but those involved had hope.

Not a vague, wishy-washy hope – but a hope that takes action. A hope that makes the difference.

Collaborating. Cooperating. Drawing from collective wisdom. Ingenuity. Determination. Giving of oneself. Experiencing hardship and discomfort for the greater good. Taking action despite fear. Forgetting differences of religion and culture. Creating a different outcome.

Will we be light? Will we be hope?

Hope is what inspires us to keep going, to have courage, to find a solution, in our own families, in community, and at a global level.

Hope

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my blog that calls for a clear strategy to create a happier peace-full world.

If you are battling with post-partum depression, or want to give hope to someone who is,  here’s a true story from a guest blogger.

Mindfulness, hope, and compassion enable us to be resilient and function effectively even in the face of challenges   (Boyatzis and McKee, 2005, p. 63)

So over to you.

Are you allowing yourself to stay stuck in the turnip of your world or are you seeking narrative of hope?

Who inspires you? 

 What stories inspire you? 

How do you model hope in your own situation? 

In the next blog in this series, you’ll discover the 20th-century deception that erodes Relationship.

The first in our Christmas 2019 series.

How do I offer Charity without undermining a person’s dignity?

Here are two words that can make a huge difference: 

C  is for Compassionate Curiosity 

“All I want is a room somewhere…”

I hum along to the familiar tune on the radio.

And suddenly I notice the words in a way I never have before.

“Far away from the cold night air.”

 Eliza Doolittle is homeless!

My Fair Lady - Eliza Doolittle with Henry Higgins

I’ve never thought about it. I’ve known this song as long as I can remember but I’ve never seen the situation through Eliza’s eyes.

I watched the film “My Fair Lady” years ago.

And what I most remember are her amusing mismatched interactions with ‘Enry ‘Iggins.

I’ve never stopped and seen her as a person who has suffered.

A person who has had to face the dangers and the freezing conditions of sleeping rough. Nowhere to call home. Nowhere to be safe.

What is it like to have so little that your life’s wish is to have just one room where you can be out of the cold?

To wish you had just one chair!

What Can We Learn From Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle?

Yes, we want to make a difference.

We want to ease the other person’s suffering. But how do we offer charity without undermining a person’s dignity?

The secret to offering help without damaging a person’s self-respect can be found in two words: compassionate curiosity.

We need a curiosity that goes beyond a scientist’s passion for discovery. We need a curiosity that is infused with compassion – a genuine desire to understand and respond to the other person’s unique situation and experience.

It’s much more than dropping a few coins into the bowl, or writing a cheque.

We need to see the other person.  We need compassionate curiosity for the vulnerable people in our own communities, and also the people we see through the television screen, who may be on the other side of the globe.

We need to see the humanness of the other. We can fall into the trap of  Henry Higgins mindset that we must clean them up, and make them look and act like we do.

Let’s stop. Let’s stop and recognise their need for human dignity, as well as their need for food, shelter and safety.

Compassionate curiosity - the path to Charity

 

When we want to offer charity let’s recognise we’re in danger of seeing the other who is in need as our ‘project’ – like Henry Higgins did. He demeaned Eliza by not seeing her as a person in her own right.

Yet ultimately it was Henry himself who was probably most impacted.

It was Eliza that made him confront his own shortcomings, and the shortcomings of the system of which he was a part.

 

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.  (attributed to  Aboriginal activist Lilla Watson)

Isn’t it time that we see the other with compassionate curiosity –  to seek to envisage life through the other person’s eyes.

And, like Henry Higgins, we often are oblivious to the systems that keep people trapped in poverty.

Power systems that replicate fear and war.

Isn’t it time we address the real issue of systems of power that seek to hoard humanity’s privileges for a limited few.

Starting From Home

I believe that the solutions start in the home and in our school systems.

It starts with viewing ourselves with compassionate curiosity rather than with critical judgement.

If I want to be a kind, connected and compassionate person it begins with being kind, connected compassionate to myself.

I’ll only be able to give to others what I give to myself.

“Charity begins at home.”

The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world

Charity in our communities will grow from having a compassionate curiosity for those closes to us; we need a compassionate curiosity for those in our care.

What is life like when we see it through their eyes?

Eliza, like so millions of others, was a victim of her circumstances.

She didn’t choose poverty.

We overlook the huge disempowering impact of the systems of society.

CAN we make a difference?

If we want to change the systems of power it starts with changing those systems in the very first environments our children experience – our homes and our schools.

So often, with the best intentions, we have a Higgins’ mentality towards those in our care. We expect them to “behave” as we think they should, rather than seeking to understand and support them in ways that are meaningful to them.

We expect the other to behave as we think they should

 

I perceive the systems of power in the world will only be transformed when we model compassionate curiosity and mutual co-operation in the very earliest interactions in life, rather than impose our agenda.

It’s an old adage, but we often overlook the potential within it:

The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.

If you’d like to perceive what this looks like in the practical day-to-day living with a young child,  you will likely enjoy reading my book, “Baby and Toddler On Board – mindful parenting when a new baby joins the family”.

Isn’t our culture still  immersed in a Victorian “Henry Higgins” mentality that we have to “fix” the other  person, whether it’s our own child’s behaviour that we don’t like, the child in the classroom,  people who’ve taken different life choices to our own or people’s situations that threaten our own  level of comfort.

Higgins wasn’t able to make a difference, no matter how good his intentions were, as long as he saw the other person as a project.

He had to come face-to-face with Eliza’s humanness – and that transformed him.

My awareness challenge today is to notice when I slip into a  Henry Higgins’ mindset.

So over to you,  is there any way in which these thoughts on compassionate curiosity have challenged you?