We had a long standing friend of the group with us today, Geoffrey Baines; dream whisperer, blogger and doodler! Geoffrey started the session with a very relaxing breathing exercise which was much appreciated and put people into a very chilled state for a new concept to us; mindful doodling. The picture also has a very gentle thought journey and it was a bit of a discovery for some people in the group that by using one part of the brain to focus on colour and shapes and creativity, it allows the mind to stay focused on a particular thought process. Some people also found that where they might normally not feel very confident about anything creative, because this was part of another process, they found they weren’t worried so much about the art and felt a bit freer. People experienced that they became fully absorbed in the activity and found it very relaxing, some people chose not to follow the thought process and enjoyed the relaxation of colouring. At the end of this mindful colouring, Geoffrey asked us how long we thought we’d been colouring and in general the group though it was 40 or 45 minutes. In fact it was 15 minutes, showing us that this type of process slows us down, actually allowing us to properly progress a thought process rather than being heightened and stressed and ruminating, states in which our thoughts don’t help us to achieve resolution. At the beginning of the session Geoffrey spoke about how through these mindful thought processes we might discover what we want, and our potential and discover the best version of ourselves and our giftings and to come to ourselves with kindness and a non-judgemental attitude. As Geoffrey says in his own blog, Thin Silence
“…Every day, though, we have the opportunity to develop and contribute who we are and what we do.
This is how we are able to find and live in meaning.
It isn’t this way for everyone yet, by any means.
What better thing then can we live for but to spread the word, encouraging and enabling as many as possible to bring more to the party than others expect?”
If you are interested in some mindful doodling and acquiring a book, there is more information here:
Occasionally in the group it’s requested to have a more relaxed session doing a creative activity, especially after some sessions which although very beneficial can be quite emotional and challenging as we work on some difficult things. Today was just such a day. We are hopefully approaching the end of our very long winter this year in Scotland…even the daffodils the group planted in November have not yet flowered, though there are buds so we are hopeful for some cheerful yellow flowers trumpeting the arrival of spring for next week! Accompanying this long winter it feels like people have been struggling a bit longer with colds and flu and various wintry infections, so again we celebrate some warmer weather on the way to increase our immune systems!
We had a bit of a free art session today with a bit of a focus on messages of kindness to self and others. We had a mixture of making kindness elves, angels, fairies, bunnies and cards to carry these messages:
Not everyone feels comfortable or able with creative activities, but we talked about the many different ways to be creative, some people can sit and paint, draw or craft an item, but creativity is anything which absorbs you and occupies your mind as you engage with it, be that getting involved with colours, fabrics, sounds, smells, ingredients and cooking, shapes, dance shapes, words, taking photographs, numbers or perhaps it is in the way of organising admin systems or furniture and being creative with how you use spaces or an abstract way of appreciating a landscape, or how you organise a party! What’s important is that we find a way to express ourselves, and it may only need be for us, expressed emotions are healthier than suppressed emotions. Some people in the group discussed how they wouldn’t do a creative activity alone but in a group setting because of the relaxed atmosphere allowing a gentle way of talking about things it could be therapeutic.
Everyone in the group created something for themselves or for another, with reminders of how to be kind. This could be positive encouragement and hope, reminders of what is possible, reminders to look at difficulties from different angles, messages to let people know they are being thought of, and plans to show kindness through baking cake. (Yum!) And reminders that we are all growing, we’ve all changed something and there is an aspect of our life that we have learned to do better than we used to.
Today at the group we returned to a popular group topic ‘music’. We have mentioned many times in the past how music can provide an outlet for our emotions. We wanted to do something a wee bit different this time by focussing on four different emotions and the music pieces people felt appropriate to that emotion. Below is an example;
From the songs that make us happy, to the songs that make us sad people realised that indeed some songs could easily overlap into the other categories depending on how they felt. Most people had quite eclectic tastes which was fascinating to see. This proved to be an emotional experience for all concerned! Below are some songs that were chosen;
Today we asked group members to write a letter to their younger-self. We were very aware of the emotions that this could bring up for people. The benefit in doing this is that it can help us to develop more self-compassion. This can be really useful for people who attach self-criticism to themselves for things happened in the past. We did not want this to excercise to be a ‘If only I knew then what I know now’ type. It was to focus on a challenging time from your life. When we feel anxious we more often than not go into ‘child’ mode and feel fear which can then manifest itself into irrational thoughts. We all have the inner ‘child’ but we must learn to love it and comfort it just like we would any other child.
In our younger years we deal with life through the viewpoint of our learned experiences. Due to not having a lot of life experience we can grow up blaming ourselves for the way we handled situations but forget that we were only working with what we knew at the time. Sadly people who have been the victims of abuse can often incorrectly attach the blame to themselves and somehow believe they deserved it. It’s worth remembering that nobody can possibly know what it’s like to walk in your shoes and deal with the challenges encountered.
By the end of the exercise we all felt quite emotional but immensely touched by the bravery shown by all involved. Being in ‘adult’ mode had allowed people to show more compassion for their inner child and gave the opportunity to look from the outside-in to see things a bit more objectively.
Today’s group looked at how people deal with receiving thoughts they do not want to have. This is more commonly known as O.C.D. We cannot stop with thoughts come in to our minds but can choose how to deal with them. The obsessive part comes in when people perform compulsions or rituals to try to neutralise the thoughts. Sadly, this only serves to make somebody feel worse. Below are examples of the constant compulsions people may perform;
- Checking taps are turned off
- Keeping hands in pockets
- Checking car mirror while driving to check you’ve not ran anyone over
- Constantly asking for reassurance
- Checking kitchen stove to check it’s turned off
- Avoiding certain places
- The use of numbers in an unhelpful way
- Cleaning door handles
- Trying to battle thoughts
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the many rituals with the intention of keeping the person or others safe. This coping mechanism only briefly soothes the individual and keeps the obsessive checking and perceived threat alive.
Group members then went on to their experiences with O.C.D. Their experiences were, checking the door was locked, the need for numerical sequencing, having the volume at the same level on TV, checking plugs were switched off and same fitness routine. We talked about some really dark thoughts that people incur like the mother who was scared to change her baby’s nappy incase she sexually abused her or the man who had thoughts of stabbing his wife in the kitchen. To neutralise these tormenting thoughts the mother got her husband to always change the baby’s nappy and the man who struggled with the thought of knives put all the knives from the kitchen in the bin. By doing these things to keep others safe what they are actually doing is keeping the OCD prevalent. The worry for people with dark thoughts is that they will act upon them which is totally untrue. In actual fact most people who struggle with intrusive thoughts are extremely kind, caring people who ironically may care too much about others. We then looked at a survey that was completed by students in the USA about the type of intrusive thoughts they received. What was interesting with the findings was how it showed that most people have intrusive thoughts and it is perfectly natural. The problem is that some people give these thoughts far too much credence which can lead to O.C.D
What people have to do to combat this horrible debilitating condition is to train themselves to deal with the fears and face the things that they are avoiding. When you first face your fears it is natural to feel more anxious, but gradually over time with continued exposure your brain will realise that there is no threat which will over time reduce anxiety.
So! We just put it out there today; Equality in society…what does that mean for people? What were their experiences of being treated equally or unequally?
Interestingly the group went straight to gender inequality, especially sexual assult on women, a topic that is currently headlining most days as society is rocked by the prevalence of this much hidden issue for so many decades which is now surfacing more and more. It was felt that although policy and awareness had changed, it was attitude that really mattered, and unfortunately there was still a lot of ‘dyed in the wool’ ways of seeing women and men that both genders still subscribed to with many gender stereotypes still being upheld.
In this group we often talk about the language which we use, and that by changing the language we can change the culture. So as long as men and women, or boys and girls are brought up in opposition to each other this doesn’t help equal relationships. For example ‘the battle of the sexes’ is language that pitts people against each other. Phrases like ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘that’s just how men are’ makes acceptable what is unacceptable and what does that mean anyway? Why do we describe men who display sensitivity, nurturing, creativity as being in touch with their feminine side? Why can that not be seen as being manly. What is wrong with ‘running like a girl’? Someone suggested that sometimes maybe male violence is not helped by the message that emotions must be supressed because ‘big boys don’t cry’. And as we also often talk about in this group, our culture makes it hard for men to talk about their difficult feelings resulting in suicide in young men under the age of 45 being the biggest cause of death. Some of our cultural language and attitudes are not helping men to be emotionally healthy and free
We also touched on how having had an episode of being mentally unwell, or having a diagnosis created inequality as people continue to see you as a patient forever after, even in long periods of wellness. Unfortunately, people have experienced a shame and a silence around being off work with mental illness, it’s just not seen as being the same as being off with a physical illness.
We considered the inequalities of income, particularly in the stigmatisation of people on benefits being seen a scrounging and not contributing to society; which raises the question of whether its only financial contribution which is seen as valid? If so how do we value the contributions of those who are retired or ill?
If equality is the state of being equal in status and opportunity we considered education and those who do not have equal access to the same learning opportunities, often influenced by income or area or gender. Malala Yousafzai highlights the importance of education for all:
“I speak not for myself but for those without voice… those who have fought for their rights… their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.” Malala Yousafzai
People in the group were feeling optimistic about equality increasing in future generations, recognising that younger people are more open and accepting and also the media is more open about some of the above issues. A good example of this is shown in the LGBT community where the younger generation have played a big part in helping change negative attitudes and inequality which have been felt by those in the community.
A different way of understanding it maybe to think about equity; responding equally to need, which is different from giving everyone the same. Equity gives each according to their need as the picture below demonstrates:
In this weeks group we were looking at being assertive, and exploring what that means for people and how they manage it. Group members all had a similar understanding that being assertive was standing up for yourself and getting your needs met in a way that is purposeful and clear; to ask respectfully in a way which gains respect and is not blaming of the other. People saw that it was right to express what is important to them, believing that the attitude of assertion should be confident not arrogant, responding out of who we are, holding our values and congruence and not reacting to the way another person might be, or how we imagine they might be. People also considered that in asking for what we want we should not be aggressive and sometimes we just have to pick the right time.
We asked people how confident they felt about being assertive, some people had grown in understanding of that it was important to say what you needed and others felt that as time had gone on they felt less confident to assert. Others were in quite an active realisation that it’s more constructive to confront situations instead of running away.
One group member commented that being able to assert yourself is directly connected to how much you value yourself, if you are kind and compassionate to yourself and feel worthy of getting what you need this may help build confidence to ask for it. We also discussed the different processes involved in being assertive. We were mindful that while learning to be assertive it’s important that we do not simply go from one extreme to the other. If you can imagine having three states of being on a pendulum; passive, assertive and aggressive we want to be somewhere in the middle and not simply go from passive to aggressive missing out on assertiveness. Like any type of learning the hope is that through practice and courage you will be able to achieve the correct balance in learning to be assertive.
Below is ‘Everyone’s Bill of Rights’ used during the session;
To be treated with respect as a capable and equal human being
To have and express your own feelings, values and opinions without having to justify or make apologies
To be listened to, and taken seriously
To set your own priorities and state your own needs and to be yourself; not necessarily what other people expect or want you to be
To say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ for yourself without feeling guilty or selfish
To have the right to make mistakes and to change your mind sometimes
To ask for what you want while accepting that asking does not always mean getting
To say ‘I don’t understand’
To choose not to assert yourself