Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Finding Balance During Emotional Times - Day 12

Wednesday 12th December 2018

Twelve Days of Christmas, also known as Twelvetide, are the twelve days commencing
with 25th December and ending on the 5th January ("Twelfth Night"). In the song
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" (first published in 1780 in a children's book Mirth
Without Mischief
) my true love gives a total of 364 gifts over the period.

I am really getting into the festive swing - I am starting this morning with a Christmas Breakfast party in Soho, will be seeing my son's godfather at lunchtime and am ending the day with a carol concert in the Long Room at Lords. I will go to bed tired, but with a grin on my face.

To make me even happier, I a delighted to welcome back to the Advent Blogs series my former colleague and good friend Katharine Bourke. She is a co-founder and Director of South West Growth Service (@SWGrowthService), a consultancy that supports small businesses, enabling them to develop, adapt and grow. Katharine is a certified mBIT coach (for those who don't know, mBIT stands for multiple brain integration techniques). Outside work, she is keen on walking and exploring the beautiful countryside where she lives. When Katharine and I worked together we were based in London, but she was born and raised in a farm on Dartmoor and she has returned to her roots (but not farming, although she is helping things grow). Since moving West she has founded a successful IT business and spent four years helping to deliver the government's Growth Accelerator and Business Growth Service in Devon and Cornwall, before co-establishing the South West Growth Service.

Katharine has many varied interests and knowledge that she shares. I recommend that you follow her on twitter (her handle is @KatharineBDevon). I her post this year she shares how she has found a sense of balance and harmony through breathing and meditation, which has helped her through times of emotional heartache.

As in some previous years, Katharine has selected her own illustrations.


Heartaches, Hopes and High Fives:

How balanced breathing helps me through

Whilst attending my husband’s employer’s Christmas party last week, I caught up with another of the many partners who were there and we got chatting about how our 2018 had been since we first met at last year’s ‘do’. She asked me a good question, along the lines of ‘sum up your 2018 in one word’. I found myself pausing to reflect on the year, noticing a range of words that popped into mind, and the one that arrived first and kept coming back was ‘emotional’.

Reflecting on my choice of word the following day, I decided to look up the word emotional, to find that it derives from the mid-1500s when it was derived from the French word √©mouvoir which means ‘to stir up or to excite’ which in turn was based on the Latin emovere meaning to ‘move away, remove, dislodge’. Looking more into this, I found references to Paul Ekman’s classification of six emotions being those of anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise, and then of Robert Plutchnik’s eight primary emotions of joy versus sadness, anger versus fear, trust versus disgust and surprise versus anticipation.

As a woman in her early fifties, who appears to be going through the ‘change’, I suppose it is not entirely unexpected that I recalled the feeling of being emotional. I have noticed this last year that I have developed an uncanny knack of being overwhelmed by tears, often seemingly without reason, although rarely when in public or at work. This could probably be diagnosed as a mental health issue, but I’m not sure how that would help. My emotions are my emotions, and I feel like the right way for me to approach things is to stay curious, to allow them to emerge and in turn to move on their way, in their own time which so far, they have done.

One of my previous #AdventBlogofferings shared my experience of being overwhelmed by a flood of tears when I joined a Zen Leadership course at Sharpham House in Devon and found myself sitting in complete silence, eyes open, with tears streaming down my face, trying so hard to keep silent and stationary while the tears kept flowing…

When I said the word emotional, I didn’t mean that I spent the year weeping, although tears have been very prevalent, and sometimes overwhelming, especially when they seemed to come from nowhere. As a student of the multiple brain integration techniques or mbraining which enables people to achieve greater coherence through engaging more with balanced breathing and considering the wisdom each of our multiple brains can offer, I was able to reach for their collective support time and again during this year.

I’ve become more aware that tears for me can be the physical manifestation of many different emotions. Sadness of course, but tears emerge from me when I’m feeling frustrated, under pressure, angry, touched and on occasion when I’m feeling real joy – such as when I see or think about someone I care very deeply about.

Most of all though this last year, as I reflect on that word ‘emotional’, I am realising that I have begun a journey to understand emotions better by understanding a little more about their purpose. And by allowing them to teach me what I need to learn. Mid-way through January I decided to recommit to my meditation. I returned to my favoured Insight Timer (which I use a little like some use Runkeeper or Strava or other exercise apps to keep track of their workouts) and aimed to sit once every day. More importantly perhaps I also committed to notice the impact it was having. There is no doubt that when I sit each morning and sit well, I make more of my day. Put simply, more stuff gets done!

That said, I’ve also realised how important a key component of my meditation time is, namely the quality of my breathing.

I stumbled across the power of the breath over 21 years ago now when I was pregnant with our first child. Living in Oxford at the time I was lucky enough to be recommended to a pregnancy yoga class where it was all about using one’s breath to better manage the experience of giving birth. Having worked in the Far East, where women got on with giving birth without much by way of medical support, I was keen to explore as natural a birth as was possible. All the more so as I’d realised that my amazing grandmother (mentioned in another previous blog) had sought out a natural birth in Blackheath in the early 1930s!

Understanding more about the physiology of birth, I was able to combine this with the confidence gained from hearing from other women who had used their breathing to manage their experience of giving birth left me well equipped for that long night when I rang my husband to let him know I thought I was in labour. He was working late, finishing off month end accounts so I took a deep breath (yes really!) and said he’d better get them finished before he came home… and with the help of two paracetamol, I managed to breath my way through labour to deliver our boy a little over twelve hours later.

Since then, I think I’d rarely considered how often I use the power of my own breath until earlier this year when I was on an NLP (neuro linguistic processing) course and we were asked to think about superpowers. Without hesitation, the thought that came to mind was that my superpower came from knowing that as long as I was breathing, I could cope!

And in that moment, I returned to being introduced to Viktor E Frankl and his wonderful little book, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, to the part where he talks about human freedom as being that one always has the ability ‘to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances’.

I guess this year, more than any other that I can recall, I have made more space in my day for moments of balanced breathing. I will make time to pause in my car or as I get off a train, in a client’s reception area or even to make an unnecessary trip to the bathroom simply to allow myself a few minutes of deeper breathing. As an executive coach I find this helps to make sure that any challenges that one client may be facing do not contaminate the next coaching space I hold for someone.

After a four-year gap, this year also saw me back on the Zen Leader mat as I attended IZL2, my second course with the Institute for Zen Leadership, this time in Somerset. It felt good to be back sitting for about two hours a day (45 minutes to start the day, a few stretches, then another 30 minutes before breakfast, with a further 45 minutes or more to finish each learning day), even though it was possibly even tougher physically than I’d remembered!

Powerful things happened to me during the four days of the course, the most memorable probably being in a field as a group chanting as we stood together after practising some tai chi exercises, and being aware that a fly had landed on my arm. Through all the various om chanting exercises, this fly stayed with me, it didn’t fly off, it seemed to be enjoying the tranquillity in my body and possibly the resonance in the chanting.

Curiously, once the group chanting was complete, we all were invited to make our own ways back to the meeting space and I found that my legs had a rhythm all of their own. I felt a bit like a cyberman, taking very regular steps as I headed through the long grass back to the path and then along the path. I was in my own world, I kept the pace that my body seemed to want, feeling strangely out of body as well as completely in my body, noticing a feeling of real peace combined with an awareness of the little things that I am finding hard to put into words. It was several hundred metres before I realised that I was the only one left on that path, heading back on my own, as everyone else was already back in the room!

My thoughts on breathing and meditation are simple. They are offered here only as a sharing of what works for me and what has helped me to work my way through a wide range of emotions this year without falling apart. There are many good quality meditation guides out there, so please know that this is offered from someone with no formal training in meditation simply an ambition to encourage others to breathe better.

Find a space where you are comfortable, not too hot, not too cold. Make sure you are sitting on your sitting bones (whether cross-legged on the floor or sitting on a chair) and relax your arms into your lap. If you are cross legged on the floor, make sure you have three points of contact with the floor using firm cushions to make yourself comfortable yet active. Your sitting bones should be able to support you to feel as if you grow up out of the ground as your breathing deepens – at least that’s what happens for me.  If you’re sitting in a chair, make sure your feet are flat on the floor and they support you as much as your sitting bones do.

Then breathe, allow your breath to flow in and out naturally, and allow that breath to ease any areas of tension. I often find my neck is stiff, as are my shoulders. Breathe into any areas that feel tight, encouraging tightness to release and let go. I find that counting my breath helps me into that beautiful quiet space within, allowing thoughts and emotions to come into consciousness before I release them as I stay present, focused on my breath. I often count to ten, one on the in breath, two on the out and so on. And when a thought comes to mind, I’ll acknowledge it, let it go and resume counting from one again.

I invite you to join me in the Insight Timer community, where you will find many far more experienced guides than me, along with all manner of music and sounds of nature to sit with including om chanting as options to accompany your breathing. I hope you will also find your own way into the truly remarkable and powerful space that I believe is within us all. For me, when I’m there, my emotions seem to find their own way so that when I emerge, I feel reinvigorated simply by being present with my breath.

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