Healing the Inner Child in Thich Nhat Hanh’s words

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The Child Within

In each of us, there is a young, suffering child.  We have all had times of difficulty as children and many of us have experienced trauma.  To protect and defend ourselves against future suffering, we often try to forget those painful times.  Every time we’re in touch with the experience of suffering, we believe we can’t bear it, and we stuff our feelings and memories deep down in our unconscious mind.  It may be that we haven’t dared to face this child for many decades.

But just because we may have ignored the child doesn’t mean she or he isn’t there.  The wounded child is always there, trying to get our attention.  The child says, “I’m here.  I’m here.  You can’t avoid me.  You can’t run away from me.”  We want to end our suffering by sending the child to a deep place inside, and staying as far away as possible.  But running away doesn’t end our suffering; it only prolongs it.

The wounded child asks for care and love, but we do the opposite.  We run away because we’re afraid of suffering.  The block of pain and sorrow in us feels overwhelming.  Even if we have time, we don’t come home to ourselves.  We try to keep ourselves constantly entertained – watching television or movies, socialising, or using alcohol or drugs – because we don’t want to experience that suffering all over again.

The wounded child is there and we don’t even know she is there.  The wounded child in us is a reality, but we can’t see her.  That inability to see it is a kind of ignorance.  This child has been severely wounded.  She or he really needs us to return.  Instead we turn away.

Ignorance is in each cell of our body and our consciousness.  It’s like a drop of ink diffused in a glass of water.  That ignorance stops us from seeing reality; it pushes us to do foolish things that make us suffer even more, and that wound again the already wounded child in us.

The wounded child is also in each cell of our body.  There is no cell of our body that does not have that wounded child in it.  We don’t have to look far into the past for that child.  We only have to look deeply and we can be in touch with him.  The suffering of that wounded child is lying inside us right now in the present moment.

But just as the suffering is present in every cell of our body, so are the seeds of awakened understanding and happiness handed down to us from our ancestors.  We just have to use them.  We have a lamp inside us, the lamp of mindfulness, which we can light anytime.  The oil of that lamp is our breathing, our steps, our peaceful smile.  We have to light up that lamp of mindfulness so the light will shine out and the darkness will dissipate and cease.  Our practice is to light up the lamp.

When we become aware that we’ve forgotten the wounded child in ourselves, we feel great compassion for that child and we begin to generate the energy of mindfulness.  The practices of mindful walking, mindful sitting, and mindful breathing are our foundation.  With our mindful breath and mindful steps, we can produce the energy of mindfulness and return to the awakened wisdom lying in each cell of our body.  That energy will embrace us and heal us, and will heal the wounded child in us.

Listening

When we speak of listening with compassion, we usually think of listening to someone else.  But we must also listen to the wounded child inside of us.  Sometimes the wounded child in us needs all our attention.  That little child might emerge from the depths of your consciousness and ask for your attention.  If you are mindful, you will hear his or her voice calling for help.  At that moment, instead of paying attention to whatever is in front of you, go back and tenderly embrace the wounded child.  You can talk directly to the child with the language of love, saying “In the past, I left you alone.  I went away from you.  Now, I am very sorry.  I am going to embrace you.”  You can say, “Darling, I am here for you.  I will take good care of you.  I know that you suffer so much.  I have been so busy.  I have neglected you, and now I have learned a way to come back to you.”  If necessary, you have to cry together with that child.  Whenever you need to, you can sit and breathe with the child.  “Breathing in, I go back to my wounded child; breathing out, I take good care of my wounded child.”

You have to talk to your child several times a day.  Only then can healing take place.  Embracing your child tenderly, you reassure him that you will never let him down again or leave him unattended.  The little child has been left alone for so long.  That is why you need to begin this practice right away.  If you don’t do it now, when will you do it?

If you know how to go back to her and listen carefully every day for five or ten minutes, healing will take place.  When you climb a beautiful mountain, invite your child within to climb with you.  When you contemplate the sunset, invite her to enjoy it with you.  If you do that for a few weeks or a few months, the wounded child in you will experience healing.

With practice, we can see that our wounded child is not only us.  Our wounded child may represent several generations.  Our mother may have suffered throughout her life.  Our father may have suffered.  Perhaps our parents weren’t able to look after the wounded child in themselves.  So when we’re embracing the wounded child in us, we’re embracing all the wounded children of our past generations.  This practice is not a practice for ourselves alone, but for numberless generations of ancestors and descendants.

Our ancestors may not have known how to care for their wounded child within, so they transmitted their wounded child to us.  Our practice is to end this cycle.  If we can heal our wounded child, we will not only liberate ourselves, but we will also help liberate whoever has hurt or abused us.  The abuser may have been the victim of abuse.  There are people who have practised with their inner child for a long time who have had a lessoning of their suffering and have experienced transformation.  Their relationships with their family and friends have become much easier.

We suffer because we have not been touched by compassion and understanding.  If we generate the energy of mindfulness, understanding, and compassion for our wounded child, we will suffer much less.  When we generate mindfulness, compassion and understanding become possible, and we can allow people to love us.  Before, we may have been suspicious of everything and everyone.  Compassion helps us relate to others and restore communication.

The people around us, our family and friends, may also have a severely wounded child inside.  If we’ve managed to help ourselves, we can also help them.  When we’ve healed ourselves, our relationships with others become much easier.  There’s more peace and more love in us.

Go back and take care of yourself.  Your body needs you, your feelings need you, your perceptions need you.  The wounded child in you needs you.  Your suffering needs you to acknowledge it.  Go home and be there for all these things.  Practice mindful walking and mindful breathing.  Do everything in mindfulness so you can really be there, so you can love.

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Occupying the Living Room

Our blocks of pain, sorrow, anger, and despair always want to come up into our mind consciousness, into our living room, because they’ve grown big and need our attention.  They want to emerge, but we don’t want these uninvited guests to come up because they’re painful to look at.  So we try to block their way.  We want them to stay asleep down in the basement.  We don’t want to face them, so our habit is to fill the living room with other guests.  Whenever we have ten or fifteen minutes of free time, we do anything we can to keep our living room occupied.  We call a friend.  We pick up a book.  We turn on the television.  We go for a drive.  We hope that if the living room is occupied, these unpleasant mental formations will not come up.

But all mental formations need to circulate.  If we don’t let them come up, it creates bad circulation in our psyche, and symptoms of mental illness and depression begin to manifest in our mind and body.

Sometimes when we have a headache, we take aspirin, but our headache doesn’t go away.  Sometimes this kind of headache can be a symptom of mental illness.  Perhaps we have allergies.  We think it’s a physical problem, but allergies can also be a symptom of mental illness.  We are advised by doctors to take drugs, but sometimes these will continue to suppress our internal formations, making our sickness worse.

The Function of Mindfulness

The first function of mindfulness is to recognise and not to fight.  We can stop at any time and become aware of the child within us.  When we recognise the wounded child for the first time, all we need to do is be aware of him or her and say hello.  That’s all.  Perhaps this child is sad.  If we notice this we can just breathe in and say to ourselves, “Breathing in, I know that sorrow has manifested in me.  Hello, my sorrow.  Breathing out, I will take good care of you.”

Once we have recognised our inner child, the second function of mindfulness is to embrace him or her.  This is a very pleasant practice.  Instead of fighting our emotions, we are taking good care of ourselves.  Mindfulness brings with her an ally – concentration.  The first few minutes of recognising and embracing our inner child with tenderness will bring some relief.  The difficult emotions will still be there, but we won’t suffer as much anymore.

After recognising and embracing our inner child, the third function of mindfulness is to soothe and relieve our difficult emotions.  Just by holding this child gently, we are soothing our difficult emotions and we can begin to feel at ease.  When we embrace our strong emotions with mindfulness and concentration, we’ll be able to see the roots of these mental formations.  We’ll know where our suffering has come from.  When we see the roots of things, our suffering will lessen.  So mindfulness recognises, embraces, and relieves.

The energy of mindfulness contains the energy of concentration as well as the energy of insight.  Concentration helps us focus on just on thing.  With concentration, the energy of looking becomes more powerful and insight is possible.  Insight always has the power of liberating us.  If mindfulness is there, and we know how to keep mindfulness alive, concentration will be there, too.  And if we know how to keep concentration alive, insight will also come.  The energy of mindfulness enables us to look deeply and gain the insight we need so that transformation is possible.

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Words by Thich Nhat Hanh taken from ‘Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child.’
Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

Emotional Release and Physical Movement
by Thay Phap An (monastic in Plum Village)

Often, when we meditate and search for the roots of surface upsets and attachments, within a minute or two strong images from childhood may come up.  It’s very important that we are aware of the physical at these moments.  Our body may start to shake and we can erupt in waves of crying – sobbing that can last for a few minutes or even longer.  The emotional release can feel very healing – and after an episode, we may feel lighter and often have important insights.  Over time we can come to feel much more free.

This process for releasing suffering is very good.  The crying and the discharge is very healing.  It is to be expected.  The first time something comes up, the discharge may be a ten on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the strongest; the next time it will be eight; then six, four, two, one.  And then, with the energy discharged, we will be able to look deeply and to understand, and that is where true love is born.

It is important not to get caught in the process, in the process of discharge and relief, or in the suffering that is revealed.  It is good to watch for the pattern of how things come up.  The process has to be natural.  True healing comes with true understanding.

These kinds of intense energies can become embedded in the body and in certain organs: the kidneys, the liver, or heart – and after they are discharged, the body and organs are very vulnerable and out of balance, so it is important to take care of them and do things that move the energy around in some kind of regular physical exercise, like tai chi or qigong, to help your body to heal.

“Suffering is not enough. Life is both dreadful and wonderful…How can I smile when I am filled with so much sorrow? It is natural–you need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

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Healing the Inner Child – Rescuing Myself

“The wounded child is there and we don’t even know she is there.  The wounded child in us is a reality, but we can’t see her.  That inability to see it is a kind of ignorance.  This child has been severely wounded.  She or he really needs us to return.  Instead we turn away.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

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Yesterday’s post was really triggering for me.  Reflecting on it today, I realise it was the victim part of me, my wounded self, my inner child speaking.

In reality, I was a lot worse then I made out.  I forgot to mention my anger.  It was always bubbling under the surface, and whenever someone tried to challenge me, even if it was for my own good, it would come out.  I was very high maintenance, very clingy, but I’d also push people away.  My self harm wasn’t through cuts, it was through staying with someone who was violent with me.  There was a big part of me that wanted him to be violent, there was a part of me that wanted to stay in the victim role.

I stayed in that victim role because my wounded self was looking for people to rescue her.  My recovery journey, in the Isle of Lewis, was about rescuing myself.

I came to the Isle of Lewis in mid January 2013.  I went there to get rescued.  I subconsciously thought if I get rescued all my problems would disappear, that I would recover.  I did get rescued but not in the way I imagined, I was looking for Ron Coleman (author of Recovery? An Alien Concept) and his wife, Karen Taylor to do the rescuing (whilst staying at their recovery farm).

Ron and Karen knew, as soon as the met me, that I was looking for them to rescue me.  But they had the experience and understanding to recognise that this was keeping me in the victim role.  I was stuck.

The more I wanted to get rescued, the more I tried to get their attention.  This involved being overly critical of myself, pushing any positive praise back, trying to reinforce that I was hopeless and helpless.  I was looking for sympathy not empathy.  I was a lot worse than this.

Ron and Karen knew exactly what I was up to, they knew that I was manipulating them into feeling sorry for me, but they refused to do this, which only made me go further and further into my wounded child, displaying younger and younger behaviour.  It was interesting though, because as soon as I was alone with the other person at the farm, I’d almost immediately revert back into being adult me again, not quite the age I was, but a bit older than 14.

I’m glad they saw this behaviour because it gave them a deeper understanding of where I was going wrong, what was keeping me in the victim and sick role.

I was there for three months and mid-way they challenged me.  I hated them, as I have hated anyone who had dared to challenge me before.  It was painful to look in the mirror, painful to recognise what I was doing.  But they also said that ‘we believe in you, we want you to stay’.

Initially I couldn’t connect the two extremes, challenging me, yet asking me to stay.  Initially I refused to consider that they believed in me, only focusing on the fact that they challenged me.  My wounded self had consumed me entirely.  I telephoned my mum and told her that everyone hates me, that my life was over and that I’m coming back.  I wanted her to rescue me and I also wanted to punish her, trying to make her feel guilty.  I also wanted to punish Ron and Karen by being determined to stay in my victim self, to make them feel bad.

Thankfully for them, they had to go to Australia for two weeks which I was relieved about, I couldn’t wait for them to go.  Being on my own is something I’m used to anyway, and throughout my adult life, I have coped far better on my own than I have with someone around, because I’ve always wanted that person around me to rescue me.

So I was left to my own devices, to look after the farm myself and left to reflect during those two weeks.  At first my reflections were purely just my wounded child speaking.  Full of anger and full of despair, believing that everyone in the world is out to hurt me.

During the two weeks, I began to address the fact that Ron and Karen asked me to stay, that they believed in me.  At that point I decided to stop writing my story and rewrite it again, focusing not only on the bad events that had happened to me, but the way I had reacted.  I realised that there were patterns of behaviour in which I could start to link it to the fact that I hadn’t been rescued, heard or believed at the time I should have got rescued, when I was 14.

I finally worked Ron and Karen out.  Suddenly, after a really good night’s sleep, I woke up and it finally dawned on me.  Ron and Karen never saw me as a victim, they saw me as a survivor.  They believed in my recovery, which also meant they believed that I had the capacity to rescue myself.  They were going to encourage me to stay until I started to do that myself.

Once I realised this, I saw myself with new eyes, I began to believe in myself, believe that I could rise above my distress.  It was the most empowering moment in my life to date and I don’t think I can beat it and don’t want to.

From this point on, I began to understand more deeply about healing the inner child, and I began to put everything that I had learnt, in the retreats with Thich Nhat Hanh, in order to heal myself, rescue myself.

When Ron and Karen came from Australia, I was a different person.  I was able to talk about my emotions rather than respond to them.  I was able to externalise the abuse rather than let it consume me.  I was able to look at my wounded self with eyes of compassion, and gradually, with the help of mindfulness, with unconditional love.

My wounded 14 year old is here to stay, but she doesn’t consume me any more.  I try spend 15 minutes a day hearing her.  I make it a kind of celebration, I look forward to just sitting down, listening to my favourite chant (Namo Avolketeshvara) and listening to her.  I smile at her and love her.  I understand her pain.  I don’t judge her.  If she wants to scream I hear her.  But I don’t scream, I just sit quietly listening to that part of myself.

Last night, I realised yesterday’s post was very triggering for me.  I was okay up until night-time, because my wounded self associates night-time with getting abused.  It is when I feel most vulnerable.  To begin with my wounded self consumed me.  Before 2013 I would have stayed like this, I would have seen it as a crisis and would have continued to suffer for at least a week, if not longer.  But now I can recognise it almost straight away.  So I listened to my chant last night.

Whilst I listened to the soft, relaxing music, I realised that this child is only a part of me, not the whole of me.  To begin with it was very difficult to externalise this pain, so I decided to hold my hands out in front of me.  I then visualised a child sitting in my hands.  I immediately recognised that the majority of me is an adult, someone who isn’t getting abused, has resilience, compassion and understanding.  Once I recognised this, I was able to access peace, hope, courage and most of all love, unconditional love for this child.

Healing the inner child, for me, is about not running away from the child.  It is about being a loving parent.  Looking at that part of you as any loving parent would do if their children are in distress, nurturing them, listening to them, understanding them and giving your heart to them.

My child wants to be heard, and this is the real reason why I started this blog.  I’m doing it for her.  It is very healing for me.  It is helping me to remember all the advice that is so quickly forgotten when I come across a challenging day.  It is helping me to remember that I am a survivor, that I can find resilience in me to rise above.

My mother is now divorced and left with the guilt of not rescuing me.  We have a honest and loving relationship now, but it is never smooth, feelings of anger towards her sometimes arise, but we talk it through now.

I have told her, when I have regressed back, not to tell me it’s because of my diagnosis of bipolar, not to say the words ‘she can’t help it, she’s ill’, rather she now says, ‘you’ve regressed back.’  This helps me to recognise it and come out of it quickly.

I no longer resort going back to the doctors to get a referral to the mental health team, I no longer resort to taking medication.  I love the fact that I have a range of emotions, I love the fact that I can use these emotions to find out what is really bothering me and what needs to be processed.  I love the fact that I feel hopeful that the suffering I experience can be processed and healed.

Although my mother feels very guilty, today I told my mum that being abused has given my life meaning.  It has given me a passion to work in mental health.  I said to her that I realise now that things happen for a reason, but we don’t know, we aren’t supposed to know what that reason is until the right time arises.  We had a nice hug and it is heart warming that we are healing together.  I realise now that she was a victim of my step-father also.

Prior to my recovery journey on the Isle of Lewis, I worked in a psychiatric hospital for the NHS.  I always had a deep level of empathy for others going through similar, but now I realise there was something crucial missing and that was strength and hope.  Sometimes, only rarely, I would get annoyed at others child-like behaviour because I was disowning my own similar behaviour, running away from it.  Because I was disowning that part of myself, I was unable to fully understand it.  I believe compassion arises when our understanding grows.  .

I feel that this is one of the reasons why people get burnt out working in mental health.  Because they are running away from their own suffering.  If I hadn’t had such a difficult year in 2012, perhaps I would have never learnt how to have compassion for my wounded self, perhaps I would have continued to run away, no doubt I would have become burnt out, and perhaps ended up as a judgemental worker.

Now that I am experiencing unconditional love for my child, I am experiencing compassion on a much deeper level.  But this time, my compassion involves strength and hope for people.  Because I am harnessing unconditional love for myself, I am beginning to feel this deeply for others.  And that is the biggest gift I could have ever asked for.  Each day I’m getting stronger, each day I’m loving myself a little bit more, each day I’m becoming the person that I dreamt of but never thought it was possible.

My next post will also be about healing the inner child.  For this, I am going to copy a chapter, word for word, from my favourite book ‘Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child’ by Thich Nhat Hanh, as it’s something that I read when I feel vulnerable, it is one of my most important anchors in helping me to rise above.

I will leave you a link with a very inspiring woman talking about compassion and strength.

Healing the Inner Child – My Wounded Self

“If you are never open to change things will remain the same, thereby driving you insane.”

Clarine Williams

I have really struggled writing this post.  I have a bin full of paper where I have started to write, gave up, and started again.  This is my most honest, painful, raw and embarrassing post to date.

For some, it will resonate deeply.  However, I realise that if I was reading the first section of this post whilst I was very stuck, it would have made me feel worse.  Therefore, I have decided to break it into sections.  This first section is the difficult one, so if you prefer, you can skip to section two , about how I healed my inner child.  This first section will concentrate on my wounded self only.

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My wounded self is 14 years old.  At 14 I needed to be rescued, heard and believed by my mother which didn’t happen in the way I needed.

My entire family didn’t want to hear about it, shunned me and just put my distress down to my diagnosis of bipolar.  I was seen as the difficult one, the wayward one, the black sheep of the family.  My family was ashamed of me.  I have received a lot of criticisms from them during the years, I took it all on board and hated myself for being who I was.

Due to this, I quickly conditioned myself to also shun this part of me, to be ashamed, not listen to her distress, and even question whether I had been abused or not.  None of my family believed me, which led me to wonder whether or not I had just over-reacted.

This suited my step-father perfectly.  Rather than the finger pointing at him, the finger was pointed at me.  And the more I saw my family the more paranoid I was in their company.  I was desperate to be understood by them, believed, heard and rescued.

Each time there was a family get together, I’d tell myself to be on my best behaviour, stay calm and pleasant.  But because my step-father was always present at family do’s, I would always get triggered by the family talking to him, laughing with him whilst, at the same time, shunning me, avoiding talking to me.

When they did try to talk to me, I would be aloof, difficult to engage with, and looked at them with eyes of pure hatred.  Although I desperately needed their love, I was also pushing them away whenever they tried to show me it.  I was punishing them for not loving me in the way I needed.

I was scared of my step-father, whenever I did challenge him, he would be quick to anger but never get upset.  He would always be more powerful than me and always make me feel that I was the bad one, repetitively telling me that I was a ‘stupid little girl’.  Other family members would get upset, it was easier to punish them.  I didn’t want to, I was just projecting all my suffering onto them, it was the safer option.

They thought I hated them, and thought it was better to leave me alone, not to engage with me, felt that they were doing me a favour.  In reality I was desperate for the opposite, I needed to be loved unconditionally by them, to feel safe, to feel nurtured.  But I couldn’t communicate this, I didn’t know how to.

So family get together’s were extremely triggering for me.  Each time I got triggered, my 14 year old self would arise out of my sub-consciousness.  This would either lead me to become withdrawn or agitated.  I’d cope with this by either bursting into tears, destroying any positive happy moments within the family or I’d get ridiculously drunk leading me to be obnoxious, short-tempered and rude to them.  I was so bad that, even still today, a few family members have written me off completely, refusing to have anything to do with me.

My family just thought I was attention seeking.  In reality, I probably was but it was for a valid reason.  I wanted them to hear me, believe me and rescue me.  And the more I tried to be heard, the more they shunned me, which led me to becoming more withdrawn or more distressed, which resulted in even more younger behaviour.  Sometimes, when I disclosed to a family member, they would get angry with me, telling me I’m lying and walk away from me.

This only compounded the desperate need to be rescued by others and I was searching for anyone, people at work and acquaintances I had briefly known.  But it was difficult for me to share what happened to me, knowing what reaction I would likely to receive, shunning and disgust, so I got people’s attention by being distressed.  It never happened on a conscious level, I was deeply ashamed of myself whenever I had a public outburst, the guilt would last for weeks or months.  It was my wounded self, my child crying out, she was in pain, she needed to be picked up by someone, hugged, nurtured, to be understood and accepted.

Some people tried to support me, but it wasn’t enough.  I realise now that it was only my mother who I wanted to rescue me, it was my mother all along.  But she was emotionally unavailable, still married to my step-father.

People constantly told me that they felt as though they had to walk on eggshells with me, that I was emotionally draining, unstable, unpredictable and immature.  I couldn’t take this on, it was too painful to hear.  It always resulted in me bursting out into tears, loud uncontrollable sobs.  Each time people tried to give me advice, helped me to step outside my victim self, I saw it as bullying.  Because of my reaction, they would either avoid me or I’d avoid them, hating them for making me feel worse.

Everyone I met quickly learnt that it was no point trying to help me, trying to help me see where I was going wrong.  Rather than people understanding my distress, listening to my story and not judging me, people would walk away from me, give up on me and decide not to include me in their conversations.  I knew that a lot of people gossiped about me, at work and amongst acquaintances I knew.  They didn’t understand, so it was easier to gossip, people were fed up with me and needed to offload with each other.  I often experienced situations where I’d walk in a room and everyone would stop talking and just look at me with either a frown or wide eyes probably scared of the next outburst of tears.  I didn’t have any friends, I’d have them for a short while, and then they would get fed up of me eventually, they couldn’t cope with me, found me too emotionally draining.

I was never an angry person, and I always found it difficult to stand up for myself.  Whenever people were negative with me, I’d just cry loudly to make them stop.  I cried like a baby.  This happened on a weekly, if not daily occurrence throughout my twenties.

Other peers my age had done their degrees, settled down, a child on the way, good careers, whereas I was still mentally in my teenage years.  I saw the world through the eyes of a young teenager.  Everyone I met knew this, but I didn’t.  I refused to admit to it, it was far too painful to be honest with myself.

I hated that part of me, that wounded self.  I blamed her for getting abused, I blamed her for not stopping it sooner, blamed her for telling the family about it, blamed her for not being assertive enough with my family, blamed her for the family not loving her, blamed her for not having the strength to shut them out.  Everyone that I had met conditioned me to hate that part of me, conditioned me to not listen to her distress, not believe her, and disown her.

I was well and truly stuck in the victim role.  I saw my entire self as someone who had been abused.  The people that did stick around were people that took advantage of my vulnerabilities.  For seven years I was stuck in a very damaging relationship, he was emotionally abusive all the time and frequently violent.

There was a part of me that wanted him to be violent with me.  This was my second chance of getting rescued by my mother.  I didn’t realise this at the time.  I didn’t realise that I had sub-consciously got involved with another abuser in order to repeat history, but this time it would be a happy ending.  I thought the happy ending was about getting to change him into a loving person, but it was actually about my mum rescuing me.  This time my mother believed me, she asked questions, she saw the bruises, she eventually helped me to get out of that situation.

Being rescued by my mother only gave a temporary relief.  By that time I thought it was a good idea to forget I’d been abused by my step-father.  It only caused me grief to speak up about it, but those feelings of anger, pure rage at my step-father would always resurface.  The more I tried to suppress my emotions, the more they would come out when I really didn’t want them to.  I had no emotional resilience, I had no outlet, I had no-one to talk to.  Each time I had an emotional outburst, I hated myself even more.  I used to look in the mirror and just scream ‘I hate you’ to myself.

As I ended up being so delicate and vulnerable, I was an easy target for people to take their bad moods out on me.  I never stood up for myself, instead I’d resort to bursting into tears, loudly and uncontrollably.  People would often look horrified, just look at me with a blank wide-eyed stare as if I had come from a horror movie or say ‘I’m sick of this’ and walk off.  I realise now, people either pitied me, or people thought I was being manipulative.  To be honest I was being manipulative, but it was because I needed anyone, simply anyone to hear me, listen to my story, accept me and rescue me.

I avoided counselling because I was scared that I’d find too much ugliness within me.  I was scared to address this difficult behaviour, scared that it might tip me over the edge.  So I struggled by myself, continued to hate myself and continued to suffer deep guilt every time I had an outburst.  I’d feel guilty about it for weeks, and each time my mind went to a previous memory of an outburst, I’d cringe and feel physically sick.

From mid 2010 until the end of 2012, things were going from bad to worse.  Due to not being able to control my emotions, my distress, I got thrown off my social work degree, I quit a well-paid job and undertook very low paid jobs in which I always started off well, and then I’d have another uncontrollable meltdown and quit, just not turn up due to sheer embarrassment.  I got sectioned in 2012 for a month, and completely withdrew from everyone I knew apart from my mum.  I spent most of 2012 just lying on the carpet, not getting dressed, not going out of the house.  I told myself I was a loser and that my life was over.

2012 was coming to an end and I was set to experience yet another horrendous year.  I felt there was nothing left to do than kill myself.  I tried to, I spent an entire week purchasing any tablets I could get over the pharmacist counters.  By the end of the week I had over 300 tablets.  I started taking them but I was petrified.  I didn’t realise at the time that there was a glimmer of hope in me.

This hope drove me to google successful people who publicly share their recovery stories.  I stumbled across Ron Coleman and his website www.workingtorecovery.co.uk.   I quickly realised that he had a recovery farm in the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, but I didn’t hope for much.  I’d decided by that point that good things don’t happen to someone like me.

I made the call anyway and got through to Ron’s wife, Karen Taylor.  She asked me what do I want to work on, I said my victim self.  Shortly after, I received an email telling me to come up straight away.  I did just that in January 2013.

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My wounded self wanted everyone to hear her distress, like a child crying and needing to be picked up.  It’s okay for a child to do this, to be distressed, adults naturally feel compassion for them.  But if an adult is distressed, people think that you are mad, crazy, insane, and want nothing to do with you.  It bugs me that in Western society we cannot make the link between a child in distress and an adult in distress and realise compassion and understanding is the cure for both.

A Pebble In My Pocket

2010 was a very challenging year for me.  I swung from being very manic to having all-consuming feelings of despair and suicidal thoughts.  However, I look back on 2010 now and realise 2010 was the start of a powerful and meaningful transitional phase for me.  I continued to struggle until 2013, but 2010 was just the beginning.

In the summer of 2010, I had a very powerful dream.  At the time I was experiencing powerful feelings of despair and frequent suicidal thoughts.  I dreamt that I was a mother holding a distressed baby in my arms, soothing it, being nurturing and understanding of the baby’s distress, however, I recognised that I was also the baby.  The mother and baby, although appearing separate in my dream, where both one, both of them representing different parts of me.

The mother was stood on a roof top.  The roof top was a sand colour, similar to the ancient houses I have seen in photographs of Jerusalem.  The house was surrounded by sea and the waves were crashing over the roof top.  On the tip of the waves was fire. In my dream I knew that the roof top was keeping the mother solid and stable.  It was keeping her afloat, enabled the mother not to let the baby get swept away by the water.  The water represented two things.  On one hand, it represented the baby’s emotions, and the mother knew that the baby was caught up in these emotions, the baby feared the water, was frightened of being swept away with the waves, whereas the mother just recognised the water, not being afraid of it, not having any judgement towards it.  The  water also represented cleansing, each time a wave retreated back into the ocean, it was taking away some of the distress that the baby had. The fire on top of the waves represented my step-father.  The fire eventually spread into the house and some of the flames were appearing out of the chimney.  Each time a flame appeared in my dream, the baby would become more distressed.  In my dream I realised that the baby was consumed of this fire, that this was the real reason behind the baby’s distress, and the water represented the way the baby felt about the fire, angry, creating instability in the baby, creating a feeling of not being safe.

At the end of the dream, the mother looked up to the clear blue sky and saw a jigsaw piece missing from the scenery.  At this point I woke up realising that the dream had meaning and that the sky also meant something and I knew that the missing jigsaw piece, once found will make all the parts of the dream fit together somehow.

Two weeks later I was on my first Buddhist retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh.  I was only on this retreat as I wanted to get some basic knowledge of mindfulness, however, I ended up experiencing a deeply spiritual moment when I discovered what that missing jigsaw piece meant. Each day, during the five-day long retreat, we had a dharma talk where Thich Nhat Hanh spoke for two hours with the focus on cultivating peace and happiness through mindfulness.  I was amongst 950 other retreatants.  As there ware so many of us, two lecture halls needed to be used in order for us all to be able to hear Thich Nhat Hanh’s powerful words.  Many of us felt that Thich Nhat Hanh was speaking to us personally, however, we all knew that this wasn’t possible.  This made me realised that my suffering wasn’t that much different from other people, that I suffer from the same mental afflictions as everyone else.  However it was my turn, on the third day, when I felt the dharma talk was directly linked to my vivid dream exactly two weeks prior to the retreat.

The dharma talk was split into two sections, the first was about pebble meditation and the next was about healing the inner child.  Both of these sections helped me understand my dream on a deeper level.  I will write about the first section on this post, the second section later on, titled ‘Healing the Inner Child’. The first section of Thich Nhat Hanh’s dharma talks often includes children, and the second section is just for adults.  As the children sat around Thich Nhat Hanh, he spoke about a simple meditation practice called ‘Pebble Meditation’.  He advised the children to keep some pebbles in a bag and practice this meditation regularly as a reminder to help them flourish and develop in a peaceful and happy way.  He also advised that we can keep one of these pebbles in our pockets, when we go to an interview, or go into a stressful event.  Each time we put our hands in our pockets, the pebble can serve as a reminder to ourselves, whatever we want that reminder to be.

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The first pebble represents a flower.  The flower was a reminder to us to stay fresh like a flower, to concentrate on our inner beauty, to help us remind ourselves of others inner beauty.  Because life is often difficult, we sometimes forget our freshness, we get bogged down in agitations, annoyances, anger, worries, anxiety, etc, and we often lose our freshness.

I had computer problems last week, forgot my password on my email and managed to block myself until the end of November.  As I was so angry at myself about this I allowed my annoyance and agitation consume me.  On may way to work, I was walking through town getting annoyed with everyone that passed me on the street.  The people passing me weren’t doing anything wrong, they were in a rush just like I was, but they were getting to me.  No-one was aware of my anger, they probably thought I just looked moody, but they weren’t getting affected by it, it was me that increased my suffering because I had allowed this anger to consume me and it made me feel ugly.

Once I had a coffee and acknowledged and recognised why I was consumed with agitation, I felt calmer again.  I was able to step outside of being annoyed and agitated with the world and everyone in it, and went back to being pleasant with other people again.  If I had a pebble in my pocket whilst walking through town, perhaps I would have noticed my agitation earlier and perhaps had a more pleasant walk through town.  Unfortunately, a flower wasn’t present in my dream but everything else was.

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The second pebble represents a mountain.  A mountain is very solid and stable.  A person who is always changing, consumed with difficult emotions, isn’t solid and stable.  I wasn’t a solid person at all throughout 2010.  I was on a social work degree, and the stress of it all was creating overwhelming feelings of anxiety in me.  One moment I was extremely manic, the next I had overwhelming feelings of despair.  I didn’t finish the course due to my instability, and hence why I was driven to get teachings from a Zen Buddhist master, I was desperate.  My lecturers couldn’t rely on me to be stable, I couldn’t rely on myself.  I was stuck and I felt miserable about it.  I couldn’t plan for my future as I couldn’t trust myself to not sabotage anything I did due to my emotions being out of control.

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This year, after spending 18 months in the isolated Isle of Lewis (Outer Hebrides, Scotland), and getting help and volunteering for Ron Coleman (author of ‘Recovery: An Alien Concept?), I had time to address my instability.  Although I have the odd bad day, I’m recognising it earlier and not attaching my mental illness (bipolar) to it, rather I’m seeing it as impermanent which is helping me to find stability and solidity earlier.  I can now rely on myself, people aren’t walking on eggshells around me as much anymore, and I am enjoying life more, I am experiencing peace and happiness for much longer periods of time rather than just short sharp blasts of it.  I realise now, stability and solidity is crucial for my happiness and it makes me more pleasant to be around.

When I don’t feel calm, I have found it beneficial to talk about it, for instance, two family members came to visit last week who I have been avoiding for years, because in the past, whenever I’ve met them, I have experienced deep feelings of anger towards them which has resulted in me being very unstable around them as I haven’t dared to express what was going on for me.  This time, I decided to not avoid them but to talk to them, so I spoke to them on the phone beforehand and told them why I might get triggered.  I ended up having a really pleasant time with them, they told me that they understand me more than I thought, that they suspected I had been abused by my step-father and didn’t judge me for my previous awkward behaviour around them.

By being honest with them, without resorting to anger and agitation with them, it created stability in me, and the result of that was pride within myself, a sense of wellness and hope that I can tackle my triggers rather than avoid them in the future.  Usually I would have resorted to the worst part of myself, but this time, I was able to access the best of me, my freshness, my flowerness (as Thich Nhat Hanh puts it).  By being honest with them and without resorting to anger and agitation, I got the support and understanding I have always needed from them.

The third pebble represents water.  There are many different meanings for water, and many different dream interpretations of this.  However, Thich Nhat Hanh focused on still, calm water.  Water that reflects the sun, the moon, trees, clouds and the sky.  It serves as a reminder for us to be reflective, to become aware of our mental afflictions and restore a sense of peace, stillness and calmness within us.

In my dream, the water wasn’t calm or still, it was violent.  It was was unstable, unreliable, just like myself during the time I had that dream.  At the time, I thought the whole entirety of who I was as a person, was instability, after all, I had a diagnosis of bipolar.  This was who I was, and nothing was going to change, so I thought, so the medical model led me to believe.

With Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings, I realised that only the surface of the ocean is unstable.  When we submerge ourselves underwater, all is peaceful and calm.  Schools of fish swimming peacefully, not caring what is going on above.  I realise now that we too are like this, that our emotions don’t have to consume us.

Although anger is so powerful that it can consume our whole being, I learnt that we can access seeds of compassion, understanding, peacefulness, mindfulness, serenity, at the same time.  The seeds of these mental formations may be very small when we are angry, but it doesn’t mean they have disappeared from us, we can still access them, water them like a gardener, and help them to manifest, grow bigger in our conscious awareness in order to soothe the anger, so that it doesn’t consume us.

In my dream, although the mother and baby were separate beings, they were one, they represented both parts of me.  The mother remained very calm, understanding and nurturing to the baby, whilst the baby was angry, distressed and fearful.  The ocean is like this too, it appears on the surface to be violent, angry and threatening, but underneath it is calm and tranquil.  We often attach ourselves to the waves and ignore the true nature of the ocean.

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The fourth pebble represents fire.  In Buddhism, fire represents our anger, our distress, our irritation, our wrong perceptions and any difficult emotion that causes us to become unbalanced.  In my dream, the fire on the tips of the waves represented my step-father, but I also recognised the fire also represented the driving force behind the baby’s distress, which was a deep feeling of rage towards my step-father.  As I feel powerless to challenge my step-father in the way that I’d like to, this rage has manifested in me inwardly.  It has led to overwhelming feelings of self-hatred, depression and suicidal thoughts.  I realise now that it wasn’t actually my step-father that was making the baby cry, it was the way I felt about the abuse, it was the powerful and difficult emotions that I couldn’t control.  My step-father hasn’t been burned by my powerful emotions, he has walked away from it, but it is me that is getting burned by them.  Instead of throwing a ball of fire, a ball of anger, in his direction, I continue to hold the ball of fire and continue to get burned by it.

The pebble reminds us to be aware that there is always a seed of anger in us, no matter how peaceful and tranquil we feel.  If we suppress and deny it, then it is more likely to arise in our sub-conscious and hijack us, destroying our wellness, our happiness.  So the pebble is a reminder that anger is there, to help us recognise it as soon as it arises in us, so that it doesn’t consume us, we can find the route cause of it earlier, we can decide to access other parts of us earlier, such as calmness, so that it becomes more manageable and easier to bare.

Anger is a fact of life, all of us, including animals experience it.  We cannot get rid of it, we have to learn how to make peace with it.  For me, my anger stems from being abused, not being rescued and not being believed.  When my anger consumes me, I act as if I’ve regressed back into an angry teenager.  It is this part of me that got abused, so it makes sense to me that, in my dream, the baby was holding all of the fear and the anger.

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The fifth pebble represents space.  Space represents freedom.  Thich Nhat Hanh believes that in order for us to be happy, we need a lot of space inside of us.  If we are full of anger, fear, jealously, irritations, wrong perceptions, then we are not free.

While I’m writing this I’m struggling to explain myself, perhaps it’s because I suffer daily from these afflictions, that I’m not completely free, in fact I’m far from it.  The only way I can describe it is from observing my pet rabbit, Fudge.

Yesterday, my brother and his family came to visit and bought with them their two dogs.  My rabbit isn’t used to dogs and spent the entire day in fear.  Although he was safely hidden from the dogs in the kitchen, each time I checked up on him he ran away to hide in a corner, frozen with fear, he didn’t eat and he didn’t seem to be able to rest.  He wasn’t free.  He had created a metaphorical prison for himself full of fear.

Today, there are no dogs, it took a while for him to come out of the kitchen, but once he did, once he realised there were no dogs, he relaxed and spent most of the day snoozing peacefully, and some of the day binkying around, jumping for joy, knocking his toys over, climbing on furniture, free to run around, free to experience joy, happiness and peace.  He is as fresh as a flower today.  He is accessing his true nature, his best self.

Freedom in this sense, is not necessarily a political freedom, but being free from mental afflictions that create a prison around us.

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In my dream, I knew that the sky meant something, I knew that the missing jigsaw piece represented some hidden knowledge that I was yet to find out, having no idea that I would discover it during the retreat exactly two weeks later.  When I listened to the dharma talk, this was the last pebble, it was also the last part of my dream.  It’s then when I realised, for the first time, that I could eventually be free, free from the suffering my step-father passed on to me and free from the rage I felt about the abuse.

Deep Listening – Part Two

When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence.  How can you love if you are not there?

Offering someone your presence, in Thich Nhat Hanh’s view, is to deeply listen to someone, to be aware of their presence, to understand another’s needs, not just your own.  There have been plenty of times when I have been in the presence of someone where my mind has drifted into thinking about a TV program, work concerns, boyfriend problems, whatever, and when they have spoken to me, I have pretended to listen, and perhaps on the surface I have, but I haven’t listened to them in my heart.  Offering someone your presence is about offering people your time, to listen to them, to step into their world, and to bring that person into your heart.  It isn’t necessarily about jumping in quickly and giving them lots of solutions to their problems and trying to change wrong perceptions, rather the focus is on just listening and acknowledging their thoughts and feelings.  Rather than listening to make that person feel better, the idea is to listen to understand that person.

For instance, for years I felt responsible for the abuse I suffered, many people would say I’m not to blame, and I feel very grateful for that, however, I continued to feel guilty about it.  I understood on an intellectual level that I wasn’t guilty, but on an emotional level I felt an enormous amount of guilt.  After meeting Ron Coleman (author of Recovery: An Alien Concept?), he recognised, as soon as he met me, that my whole persona was that of a guilty person.  But rather than softly say I wasn’t to blame, he asked me why I felt guilty which I reflected on and soon realised that I couldn’t give him a valid reason why.  It was at that point I began to realise that I wasn’t to blame on an emotional level and began to realise that I had been groomed in a way to believe I was.  Ron wasn’t quick to reassure me, rather he explored why I felt guilty, empowered me to discover myself that I wasn’t guilty which was very powerful for me.  This, in itself, created a sense of well-being within me and helped me to step outside of seeing myself as a victim.

Thich Nhat Hanh believes that deep listening, compassionate listening, can heal us and nourish us.  So compassionate listening must be based on understanding rather than offering solutions.  To love someone is to understand them.  To forgive someone is to understand them.  And loving yourself, forgiving yourself are two of the biggest challenges we all face, regardless if we have been abused or not.

I’ll mention Thich Nhat Hanh a lot on this blog, because he breaks down everything into steps which, for me, helps me to remember.  And yet again, he has broken down into small steps, of how we can deeply listen to someone.  The same rules apply when we want to listen to ourselves.

First of all, in order to help us have the capacity to be there for someone else, to deeply listen to someone, then we must first recognise our own suffering.  As this helps to understand ourselves on a deeper level, we are more likely to understand someone else on a deeper level.  This is the reason why Peer Support Work is gaining in popularity in mental health.  If we begin to know how to be there for ourselves, then we can become better at being there for someone else.

The second step is to be present when you are listening to someone’s distress.  Being present in the here and now means not thinking about your stuff, not thinking about what you have just done or said, and not worrying about what you are going to do afterwards, rather, just being present in the moment, so that your full attention is on that person.  The same was true for myself today when I was meditating.  I was focusing on what I was going to type next in this blog rather than being present.  Once I realised this, I chose to just focus on my in and out breath and shortly after, I found the space within me to listen to my wounded self.

There is an old zen phrase ’empty your cup’.  This means, whilst listening to someone, whether it’s someone in distress or someone who is sharing knowledge with you, you must keep your mind empty in order to give you space to hear the other person.

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For me this is really difficult.  To help me focus, just focusing on my in and out breath, not paying attention to where my mind is drifting, helps me to keep my mind free of offering solutions and having my own perceptions.

The second part to deep listening is to create stability within yourself.  For instance, someone I worked with had self-harmed.  Instead of panicking and reacting out of fear, I told myself to stay and calm and listen to him.  This helped him to calm down and open up to me.  The self harm wasn’t a gaping wound, but by not panicking, I found out that he was in a extreme level of distress and he had thoughts of cutting his throat.  If I reacted initially out of fear, he might not have disclosed this to me, and I wouldn’t have discovered a deeper understanding of his risks.  Instead of fear and judgement, I remained calm and listened without judgement which led him to open up to me.

When I first heard voices, I went to my mother’s to help me feel safe, but out of fear my mum looked at me with sheer panic.  This created more fear in me, so I decided to walk the streets whilst responding to voices and spoke to strangers instead.  It was actually a homeless person that calmed me down, because he wasn’t frightened, perhaps he had heard voices before, and because of his calmness, I ended up going back to my mum’s feeling less afraid.  When someone is calm, then it creates calmness in the other person.

The same is true when I was meditating today.  When I chose to listen to my wounded myself, I kept myself calm by sitting down and focusing on my breathing.  This helped me to access both my wounded self and my parent loving self at the same time so that I did not become overwhelmed.

Your presence should be pleasant, it should be calm, and you should be there for him or her. That is a lot already. When children like to come and sit close to you, it’s not because you have a lot of cookies to give, but because sitting close to you is nice, it’s refreshing. So sit next to the person who is suffering and try your best to be your best—pleasant, attentive, fresh.

Emptying your cup and remaining calm helps us with the third step and that is being mindful of our perceptions and feelings.  There has been many times I have sought out counselling for myself, and I have managed no longer than two sessions.  One counsellor advised me to shut the door on my whole family as, at that point, they weren’t supporting me in the way I wanted.  If I took this advice on, I’d never have got to the point of having deep and honest discussions with them like I do now, perhaps I would have never seen it from their perspective.  Understanding them and their reactions has helped me in my recovery journey.  For me forgiveness, not only for myself, but for other people involved, was and still is very healing for me.  This isn’t for everyone, but for some people it is important.  We might hold our own views on family members when we are working with someone, and perhaps that person at that moment feels very angry with them, however, sometimes anger is down to misunderstandings, and sometimes it is more helpful for someone to explore their anger rather than advise them on what they should feel about their family members.  For me, encouraging me to feel more angry about my family members, also compounded my feelings of despair which has often driven suicidal thoughts within myself.

When I have been distressed, I have let my critical self bully me into feeling worse about my distress, saying things like, ‘your pathetic’ and even telling my wounded self ‘I hate you.’  This didn’t help me to calm myself down, rather it made the distress get out of control and has led to despair.  When we want to listen deeply to ourselves with compassion, then if these judgements arise in us, then it is better to view them as an observer, asking myself why I am thinking this, who does this critical self remind me of?  Usually my critical self is my step father talking.  Once I realise this, the critical self dies down and I can go back to accessing the loving parent again.

Thich Nhat Hanh also has a mantra for helping us to be there for someone we love, however, I often use this mantra to help me access my wounded self.

When you love someone, you have to be truly present for him or for her. A ten-year-old boy I know was asked by his father what he wanted for his birthday, and he didn’t know how to answer. His father is quite wealthy and could afford to buy almost anything he might want. But the young man only said, “Daddy, I want you!” His father is too busy – he has no time for his wife or his children. To demonstrate true love, we have to make ourselves available. If that father learns to breathe in and out consciously and be present for his son, he can say, “My son, I am really here for you.”

The first part of the manta is saying to your wounded self or your beloved “I am here for you”.  When you love someone, you want to be there for them, to give them your full attention.  When I was struggling, to be told by people who cared “I’m here for you” made me feel safe and gave me hope.  It gave me the motivation to keep afloat.

The second part of the mantra is saying “I know you are there, and I am very happy”.  By saying this, you are recognising the importance of the other person.  When I have felt suicidal, I believed that everyone else would be better off without me.  When someone made me feel special and important, it helped me to gain a more realistic perspective and made me recognise that family members would have been distraught if I killed myself.

The third part of the manta is saying “I know that you suffer”.  This helps the person feel that their suffering has been acknowledged by you, that you are aware of their pain and want to help to relieve that pain.  When I was younger, people didn’t recognise I was distressed, this only led to more distress which resulted in a hospital admission and a diagnosis of bipolar.

The fourth part is the hardest and that is admitting that you also suffer.  This is used when the person you love, the person you are trying to support, has let their suffering spill over onto you and you feel some resentment towards them, that you feel that this person is the reason why you suffer now and perhaps this has led to arguments between you.  The mantra is simply “I suffer, I’m trying my best, please help me”.

When I have been at my most distressed, I have let my suffering spill over onto others, especially those who I have loved the most.  This has only created more arguments and more distress for not only me, but for the people who were trying to help me.  The last mantra would help me recognise that the people around me aren’t against me, that they are trying to help, but I also have to recognise that I am making them stressed.  This would help me to step outside of my own pain, and be able to communicate with them in a calmer, more loving way, in order for me to get the support that I desperately craved.

Whenever there is a fight between parents and children, both sides lose. Children who have been sexually abused by adults often feel helpless. They feel that violence will eventually destroy them. It is very important to learn the art of transforming the energy of violence in you into something more positive, like understanding or compassion. If you have suffered because of violence, you may tend to use that violence against yourself. That is why it is so important to practice looking deeply to take good care of the violence that is within you. Looking deeply, you will be able to see what could have caused the other person to act so violently towards you. You see the person who sexually abused you as someone who is sick and needs to be helped. Children who have been victims of that kind of sickness also need to be helped. If you are aware of their suffering, you will be able to generate the energy of compassion and bring about healing. In the past, you may have been animated by the energies of hatred, violence, and blaming, but through the practice of looking deeply, those energies can be gradually transformed into understanding and compassion. Compassion helps us understand others, even those who have caused our suffering. With compassion and loving kindness in us, we suffer much less.

Quotes by Thich Nhat Hanh (of course, who else?)

Deep Listening – Part One

When I suffered from distress as a young child such as, nightmarish dreams, physical illness, scrapes and cuts from falling over, missing mum when she was away, adults (family members and school teachers) knew immediately what was wrong with me and was attentive to my needs, I didn’t need to explain much to let them know how to support me.  But when my step father came along, bullied me, groomed me then sexually abused me, I experienced distress on a much deeper level, yet no-one knew how to respond to it and appeared as if they were unaware of my distress which made me feel that no-one cared which increased my distress levels.  On a conscious level, I believe that they were actually unaware as opposed to not caring, and just mistook my rebellious behaviour, my angry outbursts, as part of being a teenager, thought it was something I would grow out of.  On a subconscious level, I believe they knew, but it was too traumatic for them to acknowledge what might be happening and in order to protect themselves from the ugly truth, the focus was on my unruly behaviour instead of my distress.  But this meant no-one had the capacity to hear me, to listen to my pain, to listen to my story.

It has taken twenty years for my family members to finally hear me.  It isn’t there fault, this is very common for victims of abuse, especially sexual. It is an unspoken abuse, it is a type of abuse where the victim is often groomed to take full responsibility for it, and we are often groomed into keeping silent.  My perpetrator threatened a children’s care home, saying that all of my family members will take his side, that I won’t get believed, that I will lose everything.  And I believed him.  But my subconscious self expressed my pain in my behaviours such as teenage tantrums, early age drinking, smoking cigarettes, smoking pot, running away from home, starving myself, outbursts of anger, sleepless nights, the list goes on.  At school I hung out with the naughty crowd, truanted, refused to do any homework, smoking in the playground, etc.  I went from the quiet shy girl to the outspoken and mischievous girl.  Although my conscious self was too scared to speak of the abuse, my subconsciousness was speaking for me by acting out.  What I needed and wanted was for others to look beyond my behaviour and recognise something was wrong, but instead people could only see a teenager acting out.  Adults were quick to point out what was wrong with me instead of asking questions and listening to me.

In my twenties, although I calmed down and went into the world of work, whenever I spoke of the abuse, people would turn away or try to quickly change the subject.  I also saw this as a sign of people not caring, but now I realise that it must have been too traumatic for people to hear about.  It creates too many strong emotions such as anger, fear and disgust.  It’s better not to think about it, it only happens to other people.  Thinking like this helps people to avoid it and not confront it, helps people to protect themselves from the ugly reality that sexual abuse is a lot more common than we’d like to think.  It feels better to have some distance from it, it feels safer, more comfortable for us.  But how does that leave the victim?  For me it meant having to cope with overwhelming feelings of distress on my own.  I also hated that part of me that got abused, blamed her for it, wanted nothing to do with her.  I looked at her in the same way as I did my abuser, with the same level of hatred and anger towards her.  But I had no outlet, no-one to talk to, I tried counselling but instead of listening to the full story, as soon as I told them that I had been abused, they quickly asked ‘why didn’t you stop it?’ which led me to not go to the next session due to experiencing extreme feelings of self-blame and self-hatred.  I realise now of course I did stop it, otherwise it would have continued, but I was so caught up in blaming myself that I couldn’t see that at the time, nor could everyone else including the people that were trained and paid to support me.  If the counsellor had just kept silent and let me talk about the full story, I don’t believe they would have asked me that question.

So I stopped trying to tell people about it, through fear of getting harshly judged.  I learnt this lesson quite quickly in my early twenties.  However, this led me to suppress my suffering, disown it, and pretend to others that I was fine, that I wasn’t a victim.  But I’d always go over the top.  I’d either be very withdrawn around people, stutter and shake when I spoke or I’d be really loud, centre of the attention, act really silly and be the clown.  The more anxious I was around others, the more louder I became, trying to cover up what was really going on underneath.  On my own I was depressed, withdrawn, struggling with extreme feelings of self hatred and despair.  So it’s no surprise that I ended up with a diagnosis of bipolar.  I didn’t want to access the part of me that suffered, it was too overwhelming for me.  Whenever that part of me arose, I looked at her with self-hatred, anger and despair.  I was embarrassed of her and was unable to reflect on myself, unable to change, unable to control her constantly arising and taking over my behaviour which was leading people to walk away from me.  I was unstable, no-one could trust me to stay calm, I couldn’t trust myself, she was always just bubbling away under the surface needing attention, needing to be rescued.  People felt that they had to walk on eggshells around me, I felt I was on eggshells around myself constantly.  Being alone, being in silence was too difficult to bare, so I’d always keep myself busy and became a chain smoker.  I constantly needed noise around me, the TV was always on or the radio, watching and listening to nothing of importance, just so that I didn’t have to hear that part of me that wanted to be heard.

In my late twenties, I crashed.  Although I no longer spoke about the abuse to others, because I felt that they would either walk away or be disgusted with me, my subconsciousness forced me to open up about it and get the support I needed.  It came in the form of voices.  One of the voices represented my abuser.  But the other voices led me to have delusional beliefs which was enough for others to become concerned about me which led to a hospital admission.  I guess my voices were wanting me to get support.  The support I received from the NHS wasn’t what I needed.  Although I was given a high amount of medication, the voices became louder and the beliefs more wilder.  Fortunately I changed hospital where my consultant just wanted to listen to me.  After the first session the voices became quieter, I became calmer, my doctor reduced the meds and two weeks later I got discharged.  The voices disappeared completely without the use of medication.  I continued to see my psychiatrist for a while after and each time she spent the whole hour just listening to me with compassion.  I realise now, that the majority of my suffering wasn’t because I got abused, rather it was because no-one wanted to hear me, didn’t want to believe that could happen.

But even still, I still struggled to listen to myself.  I was conditioned by family members, work colleagues, friends, acquaintances, the NHS (apart from my consultant) and the rest of society, not to listen to myself, not to open that can of worms.

Later, I worked in the NHS as a support worker.  I felt I had to prove that I was resilient, so I refused to recognise any of my own suffering, almost dissociated from it, but yet I could listen to other’s pain.  However, I wasn’t a brilliant listener, I realise this now, and the reason was because I didn’t learn how to listen to myself.  I continued to work in mental health but within the voluntary sector in organisations, such as Mind, where listening was key.  I began to become a deeper listener, but even now it is still work in progress, but I’m gradually becoming a better listener.  There is a lot of room for growth.

I was meditating this afternoon, and even then I still struggle with listening to myself.  To begin with, my thoughts were about this blog, wondering what I should write about next.  Then my thoughts noticed a peculiar shaped cloud and spent the next 10 minutes trying to spot more funny looking clouds which led to me getting frustrated with just normal, everyday, looking clouds.  When I finally realised that I was yet again avoiding my wounded self, avoiding listening to her, I decided to close my eyes and just focus on my in and out breath.  And that’s when I finally was able to hear her.  I had the space inside of me to listen to her, and finally to help her feel safe.  Afterwards, instead of feeling bereft because I dared to open that can of worms, I felt calmer, a feeling of peace within myself, because I spent some time in the day to be a loving parent to myself.

Part two will be more about deep listening, listening to others when they are distressed.  I believe if we have the capacity to deeply listen to others, then we have the capacity to listen to ourselves.

Wake Up

Enlightenment means to be awake.  I do not claim to be enlightened, in fact I am no where near, but I claim to have met at least one enlightened person in my life, Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk at Plum Village in France.

Buddhism stems from the word ‘budhi’ which means to wake up.  So what does this mean?, understanding the concept of no-self, quantum mechanics, the laws of the universe, having more knowledge that the most talented, the most educated people cannot come close to?  Well in Buddha’s case I suppose this is true, but where does this lead the rest of us?  What is the point of teaching us to wake up, when for myself, I cannot even grasp the concept of a simple mathematical equation.

However, according to Thich Nhat Hanh, waking up also means to wake up to the suffering of the world and to find ways to bring relief to ourselves and others around us.

To ensure our well-being, then we need to learn the art of happiness.  Many of us are trying to do this each day of our lives, in Britain we are encouraged to think like this:

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but does this mean suppressing our suffering, telling ourselves and others we are fine?, when in fact we are actually like this:

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and I guess that’s why we rely heavily on medication to find some sort of relief.  Although medication works wonders for some people, for me they didn’t work, they just pushed everything further into my subconsciousness, but it never stayed there for long, the lid would always blow off at some point leading to enormous amounts of overwhelming despair and distress, which led to suicidal thoughts, job losses and a couple of hospital admissions to boot.

So in Buddhism, what do they mean by ‘learning the art of happiness’?  Does it mean suppressing our suffering, suppressing deep feelings of anger, despair and hatred that we often feel about ourselves and telling the world ‘I’m fine’ when it’s clear to others we are just on the verge of breaking down in tears?

In Buddhism, learning the art of happiness also consists of learning the art of suffering.  Thich Nhat Hanh believes that if we learn the art of suffering, if we know how to suffer, then we will suffer less.  However, many of mental health workers, in the Western culture, are encouraged to think this philosophy will lead to this:

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Perhaps in some cases this is true, after all, it is pointless and too traumatic for me to discuss the actual events of the abuse, as it is for many others, and perhaps this is why many mental health workers are too fearful of it.  But the art of suffering, in a Buddhist sense, does not mean replaying constantly all the traumatic events, rather it recognises that there is suffering inside of us.

A good loving parent would not run away from his/her baby if the baby was in distress.  Rather the mother would first recognise that her child is in distress.  This is the first step to the art of suffering.  We recognise that there is suffering inside of us.  For me, that means recognising that there is still a wounded part to me, she arose when the sexual abuse first started.

Secondly the loving parent would try to discover why the child is in distress.  This is also the second part of the art of suffering, we must try to understand the route cause of our distress.

Thirdly, this understanding leads to compassion.  It is our compassion for ourselves that leads us to the art of happiness.  It can be a source of joy and peacefulness within us.

In Buddhism, there is a being called Avaloketeshvara, who either existed as a person or exists in all of us, I’m not sure as I’m a beginner to Buddhism and Buddhist teachers aren’t too fussed about scriptures.  However, Avaloketeshvara is a being who suffered a lot in his life time, full of suffering like the rest of us.  However, he learnt how to listen to the suffering inside of him.  This led him to increase his understanding which led to increasing his compassion which, in turn, helped him to stop suffering.  Once his compassion was increased, he witnessed suffering in others around him, and was able to understand and have compassion for them which helped them to have compassion for themselves.  (Rather than reading the DSM, offering medication and telling people to shut up and get on with it.)

In Mahayana Buddhism, Avaloketeshvara was known as ‘The Great Bodhisattva of Compassionate Listening’ (Bodhisattva means an enlightened being motivated to help others suffer less through understanding his/her own suffering).  Perhaps this Avolketeshvara was Jesus?  Perhaps all of us have Avolketeshvara in us and perhaps that is why peer work is so important in Western mental health now.  Perhaps these peer workers are seen by beings in heaven as great Bodhisattva’s?

So to be awake, can also mean to be awake to our own suffering to deepen our understanding, to deepen our compassion.  And it is compassion that heals us, that nourishes us.  When people have been compassionate and understanding with me, when I’ve been distressed, I found it extremely healing as it helped me to access the part of myself that is accepting, loving and forgiving.

I’ll finish off with a link to a chant.  This is a peaceful chant just using the word Avolketeshvara.  It is fifteen minutes long.  The first time you listen to it, it is good to go back to ourselves, listen to our suffering, allow the tears, but don’t over think.  Just focus on your in and out breath, helping you to remain calm.  This helps us to be with our suffering, rather than to suppress it.  It will give us time to open our hearts and penetrate ourselves with compassion.  If the suffering becomes too overwhelming, focus just on the in and out breath and listen to the chant.

The second time, focus on the suffering within the people around you.  Perhaps a friend let us down today, perhaps we feel angry with them which has led us to suffer.  This chant will help you see the suffering in that person and have compassion for them which helps to soften our anger.

The third time, think about the suffering in the world, and the fourth time, the suffering of our planet.  This practice will help us give us space to find ways of how we can make better choices for our own well-being, the well-being of others and the well-being of our planet.  When we make better choices, when our desire is centred around compassion, rather than the desire to run away from the suffering in ourselves and in the world, then we can live more healthier lives, instead of resorting to alcohol, addictions, suppressed anger, fear, self-harm, suicide, etc.