“Failure is in the eye of the beholder”

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This blog post was actually written last summer, though it seems apt to share with you all now.

We have a passion flower in our back garden.  Over the summer it’s been flourishing with beautiful blooms.  Without even noticing it’s quickly claimed ownership of a corner of the house wall, threatens to engulf the neighbouring fence and desperately needs another trellis to support its ongoing ascent up the house.  But it wasn’t always like this.  A few winters ago heavy snow fall claimed it as a victim.  It struggled along in its pot but by the end of the following summer it was clear that it had died.  Or so we thought.  Little did we know that a root had embedded itself in the ground and, although the area was now clear, the root held on.  So without us even realising the plant made a comeback and with no help from us has turned into a specimen more abundant and healthier than it was before.

It reminds me that sometimes, something needs to ‘die’ or retreat back to its roots to regain strength to start again.  Using our passion flower as a metaphor it reminds us that sometimes the apparent death, loss or failure of something is actually a necessary step to enable what we seek to flourish.  A few weeks ago we decided that we could no longer maintain our allotment, however much we wanted to.  Too much was happening in our lives and we simply couldn’t do everything…something had to go, however resistant we were.  I undertook a shamanic journey to my Helping Spirits to ask what we would learn if we relinquished our lease.  I was told that, “Failure is in the eye of the beholder.”  Whilst one person admires a Cubist Picasso painting for hours, another walks on by completely unimpressed.  And so what may be a failure from one person’s perspective is a necessary release for another to enable them to move onto new and better things.

So we now have our garden and a few vegetable grow-bags at home – what we felt was overwhelming on the allotment inspired us to look at what we can do at home and already we look forward to Brussels sprouts (they may have a reputation but to me they’re delicious), beetroot, carrots and the like.  This, in my view, reflects a fundamental aspect of shamanic practice: the ability to perceive the bigger picture in all things (or perhaps more appropriately, being comfortable with not knowing) and realising that sometimes part of the process entails letting go of something either to make way for something new or to enable it time to retreat before flourishing better, healthier and more sustaining than it was before.

Oftentimes we spend so much of our time and energy distracting ourselves from pain or keeping it all together and being resistant to not processing our emotions and inner turmoil.  Shamanic healing gets to the fundamental root of an issue and so challenges us to release and be open to change, whatever that change may be.  Such a process can be a challenge for those around us particularly as reactions to life and our worldview starts to alter in subtle yet profound ways.  People may question you, try to stop you in their own way or fear that you are heading for failure with your new found enthusiasm for life.  But, “Failure is in the eye of the beholder,” and whilst you go through your own inner healing and transformation process you are like the passion flower root, resting, healing, nurturing yourself so that you can re-enter the world healthier, more whole, more you, ready to flower and share your inherent beauty with all around you.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

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I recently read an online discussion concerning someone who had trained in a particular shamanic healing technique and was now upsetting people with their opinion that such healing was the cure to all ills – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.  Such discussion struck a chord in me as, having read just a few chapters of a book on Tapping (aka Emotional Freedom Technique) I was now of the view that it was the, ‘best thing since sliced bread!’  If I was in pain, I tapped; when I stood in the kitchen ranting about a frustrating issue, I tapped; and if my husband expressed any form of difficulty I enquired eagerly if he wanted to ‘tap on it.’ But I realised that I needed to calm down when I caught myself nearly pouncing on the neighbours armed with a Tapping Tree diagram (an EFT tool) when they were telling us how they were procrastinating about tiling their bathroom!   On reflection it is so easy to be enthused about new information and experiences particularly if you’ve encountered benefits.

A fellow nutritional medicine student often spoke of a really useful metaphor that explained the ideal approach to managing health and wellbeing.   You don’t just have one workman come to your house to do all the jobs that are needed – you have a plumber, electrician, window cleaner, gardener etc.  And in the same way you don’t just concentrate on using one healing modality to keep the house you live in, your body, in order too.  To paraphrase the phrase, ‘one size does not fit all,’ and what may be appropriate for one person (and the timing for that) may not be appropriate for another.  Certainly, in my work, “It is more important to know what patient has the disease than to know what disease the patient has” (Wm Osler).  This is the reason why people I talk to casually (such as during the ‘having your haircut chat’) are invariably disappointed when I can’t tell them immediately what food to eat or avoid.  One person’s needs may be completely different to another, even if their health concerns seem, on the face of it, to be similar.   So talking to someone about what might be hampering weight loss efforts with the hairdryer on at full blast around me is not feasible, however much I may be enthused by the topic.

It was interesting to listen to Christina Pratt’s views (via her podcasts on whyshamanismnow.com) on a topic not often discussed: those times when a healing, in this instance a shamanic healing, doesn’t work.  Using the example of a food addiction, she remarked that for some it could be that its roots may be within an unconscious emotional or energetic pattern that needs to be remedied and integrated before any conscious attempt to change the addiction habit can come about.    For others, the solution may lie on a more physical level and involve simply altering the diet and having a commitment to continuing with such changes.  Once again what is right for one person may not be right for another.

As I write this I hear the bangs, clangs and whirring of tools as next door tile their bathroom.  Evidently, they didn’t need my amateur Tapping intervention, however well-meaning it was, to get on with what needed to be done in their house!  So whether the house in question relates to where you live or your body, regardless of what others tell you, the questions have to be: what do you need at this time; what feels right to you; and what’s the best way to do it?

Having a healthy relationship to health and wellbeing

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A few weeks ago I was at the NEC attending a conference run by my insurance brokers.  They’d taken over one section of a hall during a larger event so that therapists could listen to lectures on topics ranging from recent changes in the NHS through to data protection.  This contrasted starkly with the rest of the event, a health and beauty exhibition, where you were met with a vast array of stalls selling make-up products, hair extensions, spray tans and laser teeth whitening taster sessions that resembled a scene from a science fiction movie and much more!

Desperately needing a ‘caffeine fix’ on the journey home I stopped off at the motorway services.  Whilst waiting I looked across and spied a group of the exhibition delegates queuing up at the fast-food burger outlet.  I found myself pondering that they’d spent all day investigating what to put on their skin, nails and hair for a healthy glowing outward appearance but, from a nutritional perspective, were they also considering what they are putting into their bodies: what they are putting on their skin, nails and hair from the inside.

Recently a friend asked for some impromptu advice about a digestion issue they were experiencing.  Now I know this person very well and already had insight into their lifestyle, so I simply remarked that drinking a little more water each day and exercise, even just pottering around their house and garden may help.  Whereupon my friend replied, “Isn’t there a pill I could take instead?”

These encounters reminded me of ‘Potatoes Not Prozac’ by Kathleen DesMaisons (Pocket Books 2008).  In this book she remarks that, for some, ‘Taking something becomes the solution rather than creating a lifestyle with a healthy relationship to food.’  (p.140).   When I work with nutritional therapy clients the focus is primarily on getting the diet and lifestyle right with supplements adding support rather than them being the only support.  I’ve met people who have stress in their lives and take umpteen supplements in a bid to support body and mind.  Even when I gently challenge them to consider what else they could do, beyond nutrition and supplements, to better self-manage their hectic life circumstances and their body-mind’s reaction to dealing with it all, they continue on with this same routine.

Making changes and committing to them over time is difficult, there is no denying that.  We do our best dealing with what life throws at us and sometimes the thought of having to look a little closer into ourselves to see where we feel changes need to be made, whether it’s the food we eat or a deeper mind-body-spirit issue, is the last thing we may want to do at that time.  Sometimes, the answer is a pill, other times the first step may be a commitment to exercise more or to be more mindful of the choices we make when doing the weekly shop.  At other times it’s taking time out for ourselves whether it’s to sit quietly, take time to just breathe or to treat ourselves to something that makes us feel good such as that manicure & facial.   So I’d extend DesMaisons’ view of the need to create a healthy relationship to food to also include lifestyle, your attitude to life, and last, but by no means least, to yourself.

Lessons from the Daffodils

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As I looked out into the back garden this morning I saw the daffodils I’d planted about eight years ago.  They are all blind and look far from healthy.  The bulbs were given to us as a present from people, I must admit, I don’t get on with.  I had a bad back at the time yet made myself go outside and plant the bulbs, grumbling angrily under my breath.  Once I’d completed the task I announced that they wouldn’t grow, considering the energy I’d planted them with, and sure enough they haven’t.  We’ve had the odd flower appear now and then, but looking at them now they are far from flourishing.

Nutrition could be said to be all about what we consume and making changes for the betterment of our wellbeing.  But we ‘consume’ in many other ways, not only what we eat and drink, but also through how we think and what we say to others and to ourselves.  When I work with clients, particularly for the first time,  the conversation is invariably focused on looking at imbalances throughout all the body’s functions: it’s simply the nature of the therapy plus there are limitations due to the time available.  But, it can be all too easy to moan about our bodies – perhaps it’s time to redress the balance and show it a little kindness too and consider how our self-talk, just like my attitude to the bulbs, can impact on health.

A friend of mine visited a Shamanic Practitioner several years ago, for a long-term debilitating health problem and they were asked to undertake some preparation work beforehand.  Such an approach comes from Sandra Ingerman’s ideas put forward in her various books (http://www.sandraingerman.com), and reflects, albeit from a shamanic perspective, manifesting the reality you want for you and your community.  First my friend was asked to write a piece about what was wrong, what they wanted to release and so on.  Then, with that complete, they were to spend the time remaining concentrating solely on how they perceived wellness and health to be: in body, mind and spirit.  They had to describe how wellness felt to them encompassing all five senses, and continue to embody and feel this as though wellness was theirs now, through writing, poetry, art, ‘vision-boarding’ and any other method that appealed.  They subsequently walked (or rather skipped) out of the healing session and their condition has never returned!  But I often wonder if the session would have been as powerful if such preparation work hadn’t been done.  Unlike me and my daffodils, my friend had planted the seeds of wellness with positive, clear intent and that, combined with the healing they underwent, brought forth a wonderful, flourishing  garden of health and wellbeing for them.

The ‘five senses’ exercise is certainly something to explore and experiment with.  In William Bloom’s The Endorphin Effect one of the triggers is termed the ‘Inner Smile’ where you smile down into your body, showing a kind and appreciative attitude toward it.  This is a quick and easy exercise to practise and even if you’re feeling really rotten I’d encourage anyone to try it , just simply begin by ‘smiling down’ to your little toes!  Alternatively, the Coherence Technique by the Institute of Heartmath (www.heartmath.org) is another great starting point for creating heart focus, generating the energy of appreciation and directing this down into your body.

Nature has many lessons for us and seeing how my negative energy impacted on the daffodils’ growth has certainly not been lost on me.  Time for the ‘Inner Smile’ and to do some more gardening!

Seven words that could make all the difference

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I read an article recently on a prominent news website.  The crux of its message was that a study had found that a specific substance prevalent in red meat was linked with cardiovascular disease.  Alongside this was a quote featured in large bold writing, stating the need to avoid supplements containing this substance alongside other related nutrients.  Having recently gone to a seminar that highlighted, giving scientific evidence, the potential benefits of these, I was somewhat confused by the media suddenly classing them as potentially ‘bad.’

After spending a couple of hours reading the study, I found a slightly different story in that the focus of the research was on the possible role of gut flora on cardiovascular disease.  The substance in question was used essentially as a ‘marker’ so that the researchers could see how this was changed by the gut flora and how this altered substance was then used within the body: it was this process as a whole that was linked with cardiovascular health.  So, by my interpretation, the message (or direction for further research) was really around the health impact on the balance and type of gut flora rather than the named substance only.  This made sense to me and my confusion subsided, quickly being replaced by puzzlement over how a news item could give such a different perspective and health message.

So where do we get our healthy eating information from and how reliable is it?  I often get on my soapbox about the supermarkets’ traffic light systems.  Fresh mackerel’s fat content is invariably in the red zone on the packaging’s pie chart.  But this fish contains the healthy fats – the essential fatty acids (the Omega 3s and 6s) – that every cell in our body needs.  Since December 2012 the EU Nutrition and Health Claims Regulations(1924/2006) have come into force meaning that any health or nutrition claim featured in a commercial context (food packaging, adverts, advertising masked as editorials etc) can only be included if that claim has been assessed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and added to their approved list.  So gone are the days when a greengrocer could exclaim, ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away,’ as such a remark may lead to him selling you an apple  – unless, of course, there is suitable evidence for these exact words to be featured on EFSA’s list of approved health statements!  There is much debate over this issue not only on what is being approved but also the limited evidence EFSA will accept and I would encourage anyone to do their own research into this.  The Alliance for Natural Health’s website is a great starting point (www.anh-europe.org).

So unless you want to take a Nutritional Therapist shopping with you each week, how do you make head or tail of the advertising and the coloured labels, let alone the frequent news reports saying one week that something is bad for you, another week saying the same thing is good for you?  A great little book that I’m always recommending is ‘Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual’ by Michael Pollan (Penquin, 2009).  Unlike many nutrition-related authors, Pollan is a journalist and is not trained in nutrition.  He posted an online request for people to submit their food rules – what their mothers and grandmothers would say, for instance.  He then boiled these down to sixty-four rules before reducing these further to just seven words: eat food [ie real unprocessed food]; not too much; mostly plants.  So whenever you’re feeling bamboozled with healthy-eating information and advertising, just remember these seven words and you won’t go far wrong.

Nutrition in Spiritual Crisis

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When I’ve been a channel for spiritual healing, a person’s feedback is usually positive: they felt relaxed and chilled; colours and sensations were experienced; a feeling of peace and connection washed over them; or, sometimes, they simply fell asleep!  However, on occasions I’ve been surprised to find that the person hasn’t responded so positively and was distressed by intense, vivid experiences and sensations whether that be during the healing, following a retreat or during their meditation or spiritual practice.  I could relate to this as, when my husband returned from a powerful healing retreat last year, I experienced the overwhelming energetic waves of change that reverberated around him!

However, as a healer I felt powerless in how best to advise them, often suggesting walking on the ground bare-footed and resorting to that traditional English cure-all of having something to eat and a cup of tea!  So, following these encounters I wanted to explore in a little more depth the concept of spiritual crisis, (a natural, temporary process in one’s developing awareness as opposed to issues that clearly require medical attention) and the support one can offer.  My research is particularly timely as I’m now getting ready to attend the self-same retreat as my husband had last year and want to prepare so that I take care of myself (on all levels) both during and afterwards.  As Jack Kornfield notes, “…whenever we take a concentrated and intensive inner journey in a retreat we have to build into the system a re-entry process, and a way to integrate the experiences either as we go along or at the end.” (p.148,Spiritual Emergency, Eds. S & C Grof, 1989).

With my nutrition hat on, I was pleasantly surprised to find that food plays a role in this, not only in relation to the obvious nutrient and calorie content but also on a more subtle energetic level.  This certainly makes sense to me: I had a really busy week recently, and my diet changed, albeit temporarily, to predominantly ready-made meals that I could get out the freezer, pop in the oven and eat thirty minutes later.  By the end of that week I wasn’t hungry, I didn’t feel ill but I could feel that my energies and vitality had changed on a subtle level, and not for the better.  I may have provided my body with the physical nutrients it required, according to textbooks, but, for me, there was evidently something else lacking.  I was craving food, real food, food that was healthy, nutritious, fresh, seasonal and full of vitality.

So one of my prime aims post-retreat will be to ground, to be back in my body and connect with my lower chakras – so my advice to walk bare-footed on the earth was actually pretty near the mark!  Some of the guidance from the Spiritual Crisis Network talks about eating ‘heavier’ foods such as grains, root vegetables, pulses, dairy and meat, whilst avoiding stimulants such as sugar (alas no chocolate) and caffeine (no coffee for me either!).  Another way of grounding is by ‘doing ordinary’ such as cleaning the house or digging.  So during my post-retreat week I’ll be doing just that – eating dairy (cheese being a particular weakness of mine so it won’t be a chore) and taking the chance to clean the house (it needs doing) and getting out working with the earth, preparing our allotment for another year.  My husband’s promised not to do all the digging while I’m away!

More information on spiritual crisis can be found at the Glastonbury Pilgrim Reception Centre (www.glastonbury-pilgrim.co.uk) and the Spiritual Crisis Network (www.spiritualcrisisnetwork.org.uk).

Healthy Eating …Mindlessly!

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I have been asked to deliver a workshop on healthy eating to people experiencing stress and burnout.  No doubt I’ll be able to relay a lot of information in the time allotted, dazzling them with PowerPoint in the process.  But, being tired and exhausted, will they really have the energy and motivation to remember all of what I have to say plus have the will to change their eating regime?  Will they really want to remember to soak those sprouting seeds, try that seaweed recipe etc, when all they may really feel like doing is sit in front of the TV huddled in a duvet, eating biscuits and drinking tea?  So I had to consider, is it possible to eat more healthily without putting effort into it, perhaps without even noticing?

Prof Brian Wansink at Cornell University, believes we can.  His studies on mindless eating (http://www.mindlesseating.org) offers an insight into the psychology behind what we eat and how such things as packaging, presentation and the environment influence what we eat, how much we eat and our perception of taste, enjoyment and value for money.   He then suggests ways of using these same cues to promote healthy eating.

Surely, I could assume that I was immune to such ‘manipulation’.  But upon reading his book, “Mindless Eating: why we eat more than we think” I had to concede that I too make unconscious decisions about food choices and unwittingly use visual cues to influence what and how much I eat.  For example, I recently chose a wine on the basis of having decided roughly how much I wanted to spend and the look of the label!  In fact, from the added sticker I could see that the wine had won an award I’d never heard of but was, nonetheless, impressed.  It tasted very nice but then again, that was my expectation.  If I’d won a bottle of supermarket own-branded wine, my expectation and hence my enjoyment may have been different: unless of course it displayed an expensive price label!

Simple ‘mindless’ tricks can change our eating behaviour even if we don’t alter what we eat.  Take the bowl of pasta, sauce and side-salad I had for dinner Friday evening.  Using my newly bought smaller plates (approximately 9” in diameter) I served the pasta and sauce in the kitchen, leaving the leftovers there: if I or my husband wanted seconds we would have to leave the table and go and get it.  Deliberately creating such a pause would help us consider whether we really were that hungry.  But by bringing the salad bowl to the table meant that if either of us automatically, mindlessly reached out for extras whilst we were lost in conversation it was the salad not extra pasta that was eaten. We’d still had our carbohydrate-fix, hadn’t deprived ourselves of a favourite food but had managed to mindlessly boost our ‘5 a day’ intake in the process.

So by flipping such environment cues on their heads it is possible for us to eat more healthily without having to think about it: try positioning the fruit bowl within easy reach but storing the tin of biscuits at the back of a cupboard.   And for someone exhausted, huddled under that duvet, wanting to do something to improve their health but has little energy to do it, this may be an easy, achievable first step on the ladder back to wellness.

So I’ve decided that 2015, for me, is the year of healthy eating, mindlessly … although I doubt I’ll change my tried and tested method of buying wine!