How to let go of pain: pick up a pen and paper

I’ve long been an advocate for writing as a means of healing. Putting pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard, has been the best weapon in my arsenal for plumbing the depths of my emotions and moving past hurts – particularly when an issue involves another person.
The other day I came across some academic endorsement of the catharsis I have experienced via the written word (yay science!).

In her book Rising Strong, vulnerability expert Brene Brown references research from James Pennebaker at the University of Texas. James says: “Emotional upheavals touch every part of our lives. You don’t just lose a job, you don’t just get divorced. These things affect all aspects of who we are – our financial situation, our relationships with others, our views of ourselves, our issues of life and death. Writing helps us focus and organise the experience.”
Pennebaker’s study, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, found that participants who wrote about traumatic experiences for four consecutive days reported greater happiness three months later, visited the doctor less than usual during the following six weeks and seemed to have a healthier immune system compared with the control group who wrote about superficial topics.
Essentially, he says, translating painful and confusing experiences into words helps us get to grips with what happened, which helps us navigate our way through. We become active creators in our own life stories rather than passive bystanders.
I’ve never tried the four-day exercise that Pennebaker advocates, but I did use writing as therapy recently when a friend did something really shitty to me that left me reeling. My first instinct was to contact him and force him to explain his actions, but my wounded pride would not let me. I’m glad I hesitated, because communicating with him before I had got my thoughts in order would mean I would have likely launched some personal attacks that I would regret forevermore (and looked like a dick in the process).
What I did instead was write him a letter (using pen and paper, so I’m less likely to edit it as I go) being very specific about why I was upset. I wrote two pages, and when I read it back, I could see a very clear pattern. My tone had changed from being angry and accusatory to being self-reflective. Which is a helpful progression. I’d expressed my pain without having to confront him, and had managed to make sense of it to the point where I recognised how I had contributed to the situation by having unrealistic expectations of his behaviour. I was still unhappy about the event but I was no longer furious at him. Anger, after all, is a secondary emotion, masking a deeper fear – if we want to move past what happened, we need to find out the issue underlying the anger. I did not send the letter; I did not need to.
When you feel overwhelmed by emotions sometimes you just don’t want to do the things you know will help. You feel justified being angry, so you don’t *want* to move past it. But I know from experience that if I can funnel my emotions onto a piece of paper, I will process the experience in a much more helpful way. And when the lesson has been learned, the Universe won’t send me that situation again.
This entire blog is testament to the power of the written word to ease the pain of the human heart, and build a bridge to peace. Almost every post I have written has reshaped my emotional landscape and empowered me to be proactive in working through the challenges I face.

If there’s something you’re struggling with right now, I’d recommend you try writing about it. Don’t worry about being clever or lyrical or creative, just be honest about how you feel. It might not resolve your pain but I bet it will give you some clarity to move forward. 

Transformation is hard. But staying miserable is harder

Woman surrounded by purple butterfliesI’ve always been fascinated by the idea of transformation. When I was a kid my favourite TV show was Jem and the Holograms. I loved that mousy Jerrica Benton had the ability to transform into a glamorous and adored popstar just by touching her star-shaped earrings. You can see how the idea of escaping a mediocre life and becoming extraordinary held such appeal to a young girl who was painfully shy and socially awkward. Come to think of it, the Jem narrative is probably the little girl’s equivalent of Clark Kent transforming into Superman. But with fun music and no burden of civic responsibility. And a lot of pink, which is still my favourite colour.

At some point in my childhood, I realised that most people are programmed to follow the same template for who you become. Something like this: get a job in an office, climb up the ranks, marry, have two kids, get two cats that ignore you (I swear I’ll never understand why people bother with cats!), move to a retirement home, forget everything, then die. The idea that you could choose your own direction and change it at any point was foreign to me. I did not yet understand how much power we have to shape the course of our lives, and how restrictive the supposedly safe path we are taught to follow really is.
Last week I went to a Conscious Club event where the Bondi Hipsters (a well-known Sydney comedy duo) did a presentation about their transition from working in well-paid jobs to becoming full-time entertainers (at great financial cost). For one of the brothers, Christiaan, the transformation was fairly dramatic. After returning from a trip through South America, he was at a client lunch when he suddenly started coughing up “buckets of blood”. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis and put into quarantine in hospital for 12 months. Yep, that’s a whole year in hospital with no one to talk to and no freedom to leave – a pretty depressing scenario. While in confinement, motivated by sheer boredom, he started making rap songs poking fun at his situation, and posting them on YouTube. The Fully Sick Rapper clips went viral. 
Christiaan is open about the fact that there were some pretty dark periods while he was in quarantine, but he says at no point in his lowest moments did he wish he had spent more time in the office or at work meetings. At the most challenging time in his life he had woken up to the fact that his career and substantial pay packet – the two things we’re all taught to chase, covet and hold dear – meant nothing. What mattered was how he had spent his 27 years on the planet so far – and that picture just wasnt satisfying enough. When he was released from hospital he realised he could not go back to his corporate life – he had to keep living a life of creative expression. I’m paraphrasing here, but what he was saying to us was that he could no longer ignore the voice that had been begging him to live fully on his own path instead of dying partially on the conventional path.
If there is something your soul is longing to do, why aren’t you doing that? Maybe you yearn to write a book. Maybe you dream of fostering kids. Maybe you want to be an alpaca farmer (that would be so great – alpacas are really cute!).
Maybe the idea of transformation scares you. I get that. When you go in a direction that doesn’t fit the template, you have no certainty. But here’s the thing: there are no guarantees on the ‘safe’ path either. You could lose your job. Your spouse could die. Your kid could end up a drug addict. You could get tuberculosis. Your life could be thrown into turmoil at any moment. In such a volatile world, isn’t it better to choose a path that makes you happy?
If there is a voice in you telling you that something needs to change, maybe it’s time to listen to it. Transformation is not easy. It creates a rupture in the fabric of your life, and it can cause friction in your most intimate relationships. You might fail. You might end up poor. You might lose your reputation. But there’s one thing harder than transformation: not changing. Not changing leads to regret. And, just like a quarantine hospital ward, regret is a miserable place to live.

You don’t have to own a pair of pink star earrings to transform your life, you just have to listen to your heart. You already know what you need to do.

Deluded much? Maybe it's the third eye chakra

Woman with hands over eyes, letters of the alphabet coming out of her head

Ever seen a hopelessly untalented contestant audition for The X Factor and wondered, ‘how can they possibly think they can sing?!’ That’s delusion – and it’s something we all suffer with at various points in our lives. Sometimes delusion can be caused by a block in the third eye chakra, which is the energy centre all about perception and intuition.

The ‘third eye’ is a term commonly used to refer to psychic ability, which is something we all possess to various levels. In almost every angel card reading I do, a message will come through about trusting your intuition. That’s because we all have a direct line to the Universe, and through that we’re given all the information and answers we could possibly need. But our brain just loves to interfere with these messages and tell us that we’re being ridiculous or we’re imagining things. Ensuring your third eye chakra is balanced is one way you can make sure you receive those messages clearly.

Imagination is associated with the third eye chakra, so people in creative industries in particular will benefit strongly from keeping this chakra in balance.

Memory is also highlighted in this chakra, so people who have buried, or are tortured by, unpleasant memories may experience third eye chakra blocks.

While the heart chakra’s enemy was grief and the throat chakra’s adversary was lies, the third eye chakra’s challenge is illusion, or a false sense of belief. If the third eye chakra is in balance we’re able to perceive things as they really are. We’re able to use our intuition to make good choices. We remember our dreams and instinctively understand their significance. We’re able to use visualisation to manifest what we want. We’re also able to detect what isn’t being said by people – in other words, an ability to read people’s body language and elicit meaning from the tone of their voice. We recognise the beauty in our jobs, our relationships and our bodies instead of wishing they were something else.

The third eye chakra symbol

(Image: the third eye chakra symbol)

When the third eye chakra is deficient, you might display these traits:

* Poor memory

* Lack of imagination

* Denial of present circumstances

* Excessive scepticism

When the third eye chakra is excessive, you might experience:

* Delusions of grandeur

* Obsessions and fantasising

* Difficulty concentrating

* Illusions

* Nightmares

Not surprisingly, headaches and vision problems can be associated with third eye chakra imbalances. So, too, can mental health issues. However I want to point out that all these health concerns have myriad causes – I’m not suggesting energetic imbalances are a sole cause.

To bring the third eye chakra into balance, meditation and rest are essential. You could also try keeping a dream journal beside your bed, and writing down key themes from intense dreams when you wake up; this helps you notice patterns and messages from your intuition. For yoga types – resting child’s pose and fish pose are helpful.

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Read my posts about the other chakras here:

Base chakra

Sacral chakra

Solar plexus chakra

Heart chakra

Throat chakra

Emotions, taking us over. How emotions, creativity and sexual energy affect your wellbeing

Couple's hands against steamy car window

Following last week’s post about the base chakra, I’m delving into the sacral chakra. This is the energy centre that angel card creator Doreen Virtue calls the "sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll chakra". Oh boy, this is going to get interesting...

Located just below your navel, the sacral chakra is the energy centre in your body concerned with pleasure, creativity, sexual expression and emotions. All the good stuff, in other words!

An imbalance in this chakra shows up for a lot of people, because it governs how you connect with others – which is a pretty fundamental aspect of the human experience. People with poor energy flow in the sacral chakra might be difficult to get close to – or at the other end of the scale, they could be needy and clingy in their relationships. In extreme situations they might battle addictions (and not just to drugs or alcohol; this could include addictions to food, sex , shopping or drama!).*

Emotional balance is a major component of this chakra. Remember that emotions are energy in motion (hence: e-motion), so the way they flow is significant. If emotions fester and stagnate that can result in an imbalance in your sacral chakra. The way to avoid that stagnancy? Learning how to let go... no biggie, then!

Having emotional balance means you don’t hold back with your emotions – which would make you cool and detached – but you’re not overruled by your emotions either. So you can be angry and express that, but you don’t project it onto others. Here’s what an emotional overreaction looks like: if you give someone at work a task to complete, instead of simply telling you that they’re too busy right now but they’ll deal with it tomorrow, they fly off the handle and, in a raised voice, start ranting about how busy they are and no one understands and everyone’s out to get them and and and... (yeah, you know the type).

Sacral chakra symbol

(Image: the sacral chakra symbol)

While the base chakra’s biggest challenger is fear, the sacral chakra’s adversary is guilt. This shows up in people feeling saddled by obligations, because guilt is stopping them from setting healthy boundaries. Particularly highlighted is guilt around sexuality. For example, at a subconscious level there may be guilt about violating family or societal expectations, such as ‘living in sin’ (Catholic guilt, anyone?!). Even though you may be content with your choices, you may have an irrational guilt playing out in the background around operating outside family norms – particularly for women, who are still expected to be 'good girls'. Sounds weird, but sometimes our desire to conform and our desire to meet our own needs can cause internal conflict that we’re not even aware of.

Other guilt stuff that can result in a block with this chakra – people who’ve cheated on someone or deceived a partner in some way (perhaps by pretending you were still happy in a relationship but you really wanted to leave). 

Sadly, because this chakra concerns sexuality, it is commonly out of balance in people who have been the victims of inappropriate sexual behaviour.

People who have a deficient energy flow in the sacral chakra might have some of these characteristics:

* emotionally distant, and very hard to form close connections with (they put up barriers)

* lack of passion in their lives (no hobbies, no creative expression) 

* martyr mentality (this is all about feeling shackled by perceived obligations)

* dislike of being touched (related: low libido)

* tendency to destroy anything that offers them pleasure (i.e. relationships, household stability)

* irregular periods

People who have an excessive energy flow in the sacral chakra might demonstrate some of these qualities (I have worked with a lot of people who fit into this category):

* addictions (this includes people who are addicted to creating drama)

* hedonism

Woman looking angry

* tendency to blame others for their problems

unable to be alone (always jumping from one relationship to the next)

* dependent on others (needy)

* mood swings

* heavy periods

* tendency to respond with an excess of emotion 

By the way, you can be BOTH excessive and deficient at the same time (weird, I know).

Physically a sacral chakra imbalance can result in issues with the reproductive organs (no surprises there!), lower back, hips, and bladder and kidneys (these two operate in tandem, from a spiritual perspective). 

Some ideas to rebalance the sacral chakra:

· Movement and flow are a major focus of this chakra, so exercise is important – particularly in a form that brings you pleasure (surfing, dancing, cycling etc).

· Yoga is recommended (because it includes so many hip openers).

· This chakra’s element is water, so make sure you drink lots of water and spend time around water (ocean, lakes etc) if you’re struggling with emotions.  

· Creative expression will help a lot, so get going on any creative project that calls to you.

· Letting go is important, through whatever means you find helpful – counselling, NLP, affirmations around releasing old hurts etc.

Phew – so that’s the sacral chakra. Coming up in a future post: the solar plexus chakra, which is all about power and control. Yikes!

This is what I do. What do you do? (Not talking about your job, BTW)

Last Saturday I woke up early, basking in the delicious joy that comes from having absolutely no plans. The
Girl writing in diary on park bench
house was empty, silent. I did my meditation, my oil pulling, brushed my teeth and headed to the park with just my keys, a pen and a notebook. There was a gentle breeze flirting with my ponytail and the trill of cockatoos squabbling over territory. The light was muted, the day still withholding its secrets. I sat cross-legged in the dewy grass and watched the eager dogs and their less-eager owners. I listened to the water slapping the seawall and the bitter sigh of running shoes doing time. I felt wider than my skin, as if the emotional rigours and quenchless demands of the past week had been experienced by someone else. I opened my notebook and wrote. Not work pitches nor blog posts nor notes-to-self, but a fictional short story that has been gnawing at my imagination for weeks, urging me to sit still long enough to bring it to life. What I wrote was neither good nor clever, nor even finished. But, as with any meaningful endeavour, the product matters less than the process. Whenever I am writing something that doesn’t have a deadline, prescribed format or specified word count, I am where I am supposed to be. My soul rises up and the would-have-should-have-could-have in my brain falls away. This is what I do to feel like me. To feel right

For me, writing is coming back home. I know with absolute certainty that telling stories and playing with words are what I am here to do. I hope you have something that brings you back into alignment with your soul, too, and I hope you value yourself enough to make that a priority.

What are you doing with your time that could possibly matter more?