Lately, the role of men in society has been a topic that I am being asked about more and more. Just today I had an interesting discussion with a male friend of mine at our local coffee shop about the new society we live in and men’s place in it.
This is a little of how the conversation went:
“Lisa, I have a great topic for your blog. “Men and where we fit’”.
Where do we fit into this new society? We can’t and don’t want to just be the arch-typical macho man. We want to be more in touch with our feelings but society hasn’t changed enough that we feel heard or received when we share that we are struggling or not coping. We get brushed off and told to toughen up.
“Men don’t cry. Be a real man. What kind of freak are you for acting that way? Man up. Don’t be a girl. Stop being such a ##**x. Don’t get mad, get even.
It is a concerning trend that some men feel dispossessed and alone in society. The rate of suicide in men is the highest it has ever been and remains the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44. Occurring at a rate of 3 times more for men than women.
The degree to which young men feel pressured to adopt traditional ideals of manhood has been revealed in a new study commissioned by Jesuit Social Services. It was the first nationwide study of what Australians think about manhood, questioning 1,000 young men aged 18 to 30.
It found two-thirds of young men said they had been told a “real man” behaved in a certain way since they were a boy.
“This survey shows us traditional ideals of manhood in Australia are alive and well,” co-author Dr. Michael Flood said (The Men’s Project).
“Young men still see that they’re told by society that men must be tough, men must be stoic, men must respond to challenges with violence.”
My husband and I have six children ages 24 – 33 years old. Five of our kids are adult men so this topic is very close to our heart. They are great young adults and I am very proud of each them.
Before I continue let me say that there are many amazing men out there.
Guys that are neither the mindless, sex-obsessed buffoons nor the stoic automatons our culture so often makes them out to be. Men that strive to be good fathers, husbands, citizens and friends, to lead by example at home and in the workplace, and to understand their role in a changing world.
However, the question must be asked. If some men feel out of sync with society, why? Why is there so much loneliness and aggression among young men? Why do some men seem to be immature and not connected to their emotions? Why do some young men at 30 still act like they are 17-year-olds?
As I began to dig into this topic a few thoughts began to bubble up. These are my thoughts.
1: As a society, we have lost the valuable social tool of initiation and ritual for our young guys which in the past help them navigate their place in the community as they pass from teenager to adult.
2: Our society of winning and succeeding at all costs looks down on suffering, vulnerability and emotional work. If emotional work is not done there is no change. Men stay emotionally immature.
3: Institutions, media, mass communication and political correctness have dampened our ability to ask questions. The 5 min sound bite has damaged our ability to converse, to question, to learn.
The Role of Initiation
We are an uninitiated society. Except for those who love deeply, pray deeply, or suffer deeply, society has lost the historical role of initiation and we have forgotten the rites of passage.
In the ancient world the birth of a child, a youth’s coming of age, and the funeral of a respected elder are all events in which an individual undergoes a change of status.
Initiation, or the coming of age of a boy or girl, is a transition frequently marked by ceremony and celebration. The education of youths in preparation for the responsibilities of adulthood is often a long and arduous process sometimes taking 6 – 12 months. Initiation rites usually begin at the onset of puberty.
Boys, and to lesser extent girls, are separated from their families and taken to a secluded area on the outskirts of the community where they undergo a sustained period of instruction.
At the conclusion of this mentally and physically rigorous period, they are reintroduced to society as fully initiated adults and given the responsibilities and privileges that accompany their new status (By Dr. Christa Clarke, for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).
Most anthropologists, citing Arnold van Gennep’s major work, “The Rites of Passage,” will say that rites of passage exist in order to consolidate social ties, establish roles, and give members of a group a sense of purpose and placement.
Rites of passage are an important part of a person’s life because they mark the transition from one stage of life to the next. It was recognised that the future of the community depended upon having healthy men as opposed to overgrown boys.
If a young man between the ages of 13 – 18 is not presented with something that is big and challenging, he doesn’t think his life has any meaning. On top of this, the fathers/leaders of our society have nothing more to add. Today we have a lot of old men who really have nothing to say. Worse than that, many young men have no role models that are worth following. Just look at the rise of aggression, domestic violence, alcoholism and apathy of some men in our society.
The young native American teen sent off into the darkness with nothing but a bow and arrow and expected to return with a wolf pelt or two or three.
Apache trial of womanhood. Apache girls take part in ancient tests of strength, endurance and character that will make them women and prepare them for the trials of womanhood. It happens over a week of ceremonies where she moves through the stages of life, child, adolescent, and woman. She has to live by strict rules and learn to set aside emotions.
In Australia the young aboriginal man goes walkabout – an initiation that induces a deeply spiritual awakening and self-awareness that happens with solitude, aloneness, exercising survival and instincts, personal growth and other aspects that are fundamental to Walkabout (source).
The Masaai warrior tasked with stalking and killing a lion in single combat.
The donning of a glove lined with stinging bullet ants to commemorate becoming a man in the Amazon.
Ritualistic tattooing, branding, or mutilation upon reaching a certain age or completing a certain task (source).
If you live your life without suffering anything or without any kind of effort, life will not be worth anything to you (Amazon Tribal Elder).
Every human being needs to feel like they belong to the group. Everyone needs a stake in a tribe, and rites of passage help provide that by establishing and formalizing this (source).
Look at how initiation works.
- Initiation is a universal recognised need
- It is always done in nature
- It is always done by older men to younger men.
- It is done by a same-gender leader who is respected.
We lost initiation in western society because we became successful and powerful in our own eyes and thought that we didn’t need it anymore.
When the traditional pathways to adulthood broke down through the abandonment of these traditional practices and customs by the suppression of the church and or government authorities, adolescents did not learn how to become social adults (Biersack, 1998). Instead, they became ‘insurgents’(Honwana, 2006; Rosen, 2005) or village bikhets (Leavitt, 1998).
The Emotional Work
‘Men are hard-wired to block suffering. “The male psyche is, by nature, defended; men have a difficult time allowing events, circumstances, or people to touch or hurt them. Such blocking may have allowed us to survive…the endless wars of history. But it has also restricted the male capacity to change” (Richard Rohr).
Whilst the path of suffering is the quickest path to transformation, most men don’t change until they have to. Until economic disasters, moral or relationship failure, loss of job or health are forced upon them, the tendency is to project the incoming negative judgment somewhere else.
“Struggling with our dark side is humiliating, men have been trained to compete and to win. When winning is the only goal, we can’t admit to anything that looks like failure, or even allow basic vulnerability. We have to project weakness and failure onto others, making them the losers. Such dualistic thinking and resistance to change only guarantee more war and conflict” (source).
Asking the Questions
The word ‘quest originally’ came from the word question. We have lost the community ritual of quest ‘to search’, along with the ability to ask good questions.
If you haven’t been on a journey yourself you have nothing to say. Most young men today have nothing to say because they have not embraced quest: journey, transformation, brokenness, pain. Western society teaches us to hide our pain, to suck it up, to be a winner. Not to share it, embrace it or express it.
True initiation is when you experience who you are apart from everything you identify with. Your class in society, your gifts, your nice house, your job, your nationality. Initiation is when you experience who you are beyond all of those titles and categories and you question, what is it all for? What is it all about?
Signs of high intelligence include curiosity, openness, and adaptability. Neuro-biologists are now saying that the sign of a high IQ is not people who have answers, but people who ask good questions.
What is the real truth?
A young man does not know how to contribute to society, for him it is all about money, sex, and power. He does not know how to be a team player, does not know about how to be inclusive, sensitive, compassionate and sacrificial. An uninitiated young man is a loose cannon. All ancient cultures understood this. They understood that a hormonal young man was dangerous to the community.
In our society today you see many adults who have never grown up. Adults who remain selfish and self-centered most of their lives. They still have the emotional IQ of a teenager. We lost the bridge of initiation from children to adults and in doing so we have a lot of ill-formed adults.
The real truth is that there are stages in one’s life. The young adult man thinks he is immortal, he is obsessed with the biggest and the fastest. This macho attitude, however, is reserved for puberty, for challenges, for the quest.
The real lesson for a man as he gets older is to bring his head down into his heart and to become tender, compassionate and kind. As maturity comes, a man learns to live in peace and contentment. He is not fighting for power, he is not fighting for supremacy.
Psychologist Robert Moore took the concept of Jung’s archetypes and used it to create a framework that explained the development of mature and integral masculinity in men. Moore argued that the problems we see with men today–violence, shiftlessness, aloofness–are a result of modern men not adequately exploring or being in touch with the primal, masculine archetypes that reside within them.
Like Jung, Moore believed that men and women possess both feminine and masculine archetypal patterns–this is the anima (feminine) and animus (masculine), (The Art of Manliness).
You can read more about these four male archetypes in the book by Moore and Gillette called ‘King, Warrior, Magician, Lover’. In this book, they explore the concept that mature, authentic, and revitalised masculinity is made up of four parts.
Warrior, lover, wise man and king/father. If you are only initiated into one of these areas, you are not a whole man. It takes your whole life to become a whole man. A journey, a life long quest. The father king holds together everything and you don’t make it to father king until over the age of 50.
So the question now becomes – how do we help young men today?
Here in the ‘civilized’ West, we expect our boys to change into men without any assistance and minimum disturbance for the rest of us.
Quite rightly our young people feel something is missing when they reach teenage-hood and beyond, but they don’t know how to fill the void. Unconsciously, blindly and without guidance, many teenagers are now creating ‘anti-social peer initiations’. Testosterone and alcohol-fuelled escapades which can cause pain and suffering for themselves and others.
Nick Clements From the Good Men Project explains his thoughts on the New Rites of Masculinity. The Good Men Project was founded in 2009 in the United States by Tom Matlack and James Houghton. This website examines the question, ‘What does it mean to be a good man in today’s society’?
The boy needs to find out what it is to be a man, what characteristics are needed, how he should behave. He needs to learn about humanity. As part of that process, challenge and bravery need to be built into any new rites, taught in ways that show the two different paths open for men:
- ‘Warrior’: the path of competition, aggression and violence (the old way).
- ‘Brave’: the path of bravery, courage, vulnerability, and the willingness to collaborate (the new way).
The boy needs to experience both, and be able to decide which path he wants to take because he chooses to, not because he is being forced into being ‘good’. There is good and bad in both.
There needs to be a mentoring and support programmes built around such rites of passage. The boy needs to be helped in his transition from boy to man by older men who are wise and supportive.
Examples of Modern Initiation
- A good example of this is the scheme in the UK which teaches young mechanics how to service and maintain large trucks. Once they are familiar and adept, the truck is filled with rations and provisions, and the young boys are part of a team that drives the trucks from Europe to Africa. Breakdowns, failures and hard times are encountered along the thousands of miles. Eventually, the trucks are delivered to needy communities, and it is the boy’s job to teach and train the villagers to maintain the trucks. That’s a good rite of passage. Those boys come back as men.
- Another project enables young people to use advanced film and other technologies on the proviso that they first shared it with older people. For every hour they teach an older person how to use computers they gain an hour on the equipment for themselves. A bi-product is the creation of meaningful relationships between teenagers and pensioners which has radically transformed the local community.
- The Pathways Foundation is a National harm prevention charity that
assists young people to make the fundamental emotional shift from
being a child to becoming a young adult. PATHWAYS TO MANHOOD is a contemporary, community based Rite of Passage for boys to Manhood. A 5 day bush camp for boys aged 13-15 years and their fathers or a male mentor.
Since 1996, a group of men and women working with young people recognised they were underachieving, lacking in direction, self harming and initiating themselves into young adulthood through risk taking behaviour to ‘prove’ they were grown up. Understanding the need for young people to take part in conscious safe rites of passage and mark the shift from boy/girl psychology to healthy man/woman psychology was an essential ingredient Pathways developed their award winning contemporary rites of passage programmes.
‘It would seem that initiation and ritual are not just about celebration, but a deeply spiritual time of life, a time of reflection, a time of gaining confidence in one’s own person and abilities, having a sense of their own spirituality, and realizing and experiencing their connection to the land and nature. It is a part of them as a person, a people — it connects them to the land, a higher purpose, and somehow to a higher plane of existence in some ways, and individually it is part of their identity as a man’ (source).
Where Are the Heroes?
The last decade has seen a rapid de-escalation of the publics trust of religious leaders, politicians, educators and community leaders. The Royal Commission has exposed unprecedented sexual abuse of minors by the church and other institutions. Politicians are argumentative, combative and come across as privileged and disconnected from every day life. Most pastors/religious leaders are out of touch with the post modern world and the institution of the Church in general is no longer trusted, nor is it held in the place of honour it once was in the community.
Issues of safety, gender, equality, privilege, power and the abuse of these trusts has led to a time in society where ‘the persons in leadership’, who once held high the moral compass, are now held in disregard, suspicion and with much cynicism. As my Nana used to say: “Oh how the mighty have fallen”.
The community at large is frustrated by inequality, mismanagement and fraudulent behaviour.
Where are our heroes? The ones we can trust to lead us. The ones who put the nation and community above their own agendas.
I have compiled a small list of Aussie leaders and their signature quotes which express what they stood and fought for. As John Howard famously said, “The things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us.” We must remember this.
CHIFLEY, BEN 1885-1951
He strove to better the lot of ordinary people with a combination of public and private enterprise. He said: “We have a great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working for the betterment of mankind … If it were not for that, the labour movement would not be worth fighting for.”
BROWN, BOB 1944-
Born in Oberon, Robert Brown became a doctor and then a conservationist, leading the fight against the damming of the Franklin River in Tasmania and spreading environmental consciousness as far as Germany and the Greens Party. Australian of the Year in 1982, he shared in 1990 the US Goldman Foundation’s environment prize, the world’s richest. “Wild places connect us to the universe,” he says. “There are no answers written on stone. But in the stones, the trees, the skies, is fulfilment for humanity.”
DUNLOP, WEARY 1907-1993
His tireless work made him a hero in World War II, along with other doctors, on the Burma-Thailand “death railway”, where he defied Japanese officers to save PoWs. He promoted friendship between Australia and Asian nations and was Australian of the Year in 1977. He said of the prisoners, 50 years after the war: “To this day I feel uplifted and borne up by their unquenchable spirit and patient endurance of suffering.”
Born on Mer, in the Torres Strait, Eddie Koiki Mabo made up for his lack of education with tenacity and a formidable intellect. Upholding his claim for native title to the Murray Islands, the High Court overturned the doctrine of terra nullius, the legal fiction that Australia was unoccupied before European settlement. Mabo, pronounced Ma’bo with emphasis on the second syllable, died a few months before the judgment. He had said: “My family has occupied the land for hundreds of years before Captain Cook was born.”
STREET, JESSIE 1889-1970
Born in India, Jessie Mary Grey Street graduated from Sydney University in 1910, joined the League of Nations Union and feminist organisations. She joined the Australian delegation to the conference that established the United Nations and successfully lobbied for a charter for women’s rights. She campaigned for the 1967 referendum on Aboriginal rights. She quoted Emerson: “God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose … You can never have both.”
WRIGHT, JUDITH 1915-2000
Was one of Australia’s foremost poets. She wrote biography, short stories and children’s books and campaigned for conservation and the Aborigines. She said: “The mateship ingredient in Australian tradition was always and necessarily one-sided; it left out of account the whole relationship with women.”
It is 2019 and across all areas of society women are still under-represented. The Chinese say “they hold up half the sky”, but relatively few made their presence felt in the distribution of power and influence until the last three decades of the 20th century. But change is slowly coming. So slow that if we continue at this present rate it will take 200 years for women to earn the same amount of wages as men doing the same job.
Where are the heroes? They are out there I am sure of it. They look a lot like you and me. The ones who will stand up and make a difference. Who are willing to wade upstream against the current and who are able to confront the status quo and make a change. People do not like change. They may acknowledge that it is needed but they rarely like it when it comes.
What makes a hero?
“A hero is someone who can be looked up to for their actions. Bravery is usually the biggest trait of a hero. This person has usually overcome huge obstacles to survive or to rescue others. Heroes come in all sizes. Sick children, grown firefighters, doctors, missionaries, philanthropists are all examples of heroes.”
What makes a true leader? Lets look at just three core values.
as demonstrated by a sense of humbleness, dignity and an awareness of one’s own limitations; open to perspectives different from one’s own.
as demonstrated by moral courage, ethical strength, and trustworthiness; keeping promises and fulfilling expectations. It still takes honesty and integrity to breed trust and credibility – the cornerstone of strong relationships.
as demonstrated by self-respect and respecting others regardless of differences; treating others with dignity, empathy and compassion; and the ability to earn the respect of others.
If we had leaders demonstrating just these three values the world would be a better place. Accompanying these of course is love, wisdom, courage, tenacity and endurance.
If you are a follower of Christ you have the greatest responsibility as a change agent. Jesus said ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand’. This means that it is here now. Not in 10 years or 1000 years but now. The presence of God is within us. The ability to love, bring peace, truth and justice is within us and is at hand. It is not a distant reality. The time that Jesus spoke of when the blind would see and the oppressed would be set free is now.
And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.
This cartoon could say: Get Love, Wear Love, Fly…………
Brian Mc Laren says it this way:
‘The time has come today to cancel debts, to forgive, to treat enemies as neighbours, to share your bread with the hungry and your clothes with the naked, to invite the outcasts over for dinner and to confront the oppressor. Not with sharp knives but with unarmed kindness’.
Imagine if followers of Christ actually did what they were supposed to do and followed the way that Jesus loved, freed, healed and included people. The world would definitely be a better place. It’s time for the Christian to come out from behind the walls of the church and actually practice the gospel of Jesus to a scared and anxious world. Stop talking and teaching it and start doing it people. Be the hero your neighbour and workmate is looking for. Connect with your neighbours with unarmed kindness and NO AGENDA but love and friendship.
Are you ready, hey, are you ready for this?
Are you hanging on the edge of your seat?
Out of the doorway the bullets rip
To the sound of the beat
Another one bites the dust
Another one bites the dust
And another one gone, and another one gone
Another one bites the dust
Hey, I’m gonna get you, too
Another one bites the dust
Soon after becoming dictator of Rome, Julius Caesar consulted with his leading astronomers about the need to reform the calendar which had become out of sync with the sun. In 45 BC the new calendar came into effect and January the 1st is celebrated for the first time with the giving and receiving of gifts. A practice which early Christians would move to the 25th of December to mark the birth of Christ.
January is named after the god of gateways and beginnings, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings – ‘Janus’.
Janus is normally depicted with two faces. One facing forward to greet the future and one looking backward to the past
Janus frequently symbolised change and transitions such as the progress of past to future, from one condition to another, from one vision to another. He represented time, because he could see into the past with one face and into the future with the other (source)
Consequently a brief history of why we celebrate the passing of the old year and consider the aspirations of a new one. We laughingly post our New Years resolutions promising ourselves to lose weight, get fitter, save money, quit smoking etc….. yet only 8% of us will actually achieve those goals (Forbes) .
In fact a staggering 80% of goals will fail by February (source)
It is an interesting time of year where you feel caught between two worlds. You lose track of the days and everything is a little bit of a blur. The glass or two of champagne the night before possibly adds to this. If nothing else, it is important that we stop for a minute and contemplate the year that has passed. The triumphs, the failures, the losses and the gifts that have come into our lives. In this space of mindfulness we consider the things we wish to change as we enter this brand New Year.
Could we be kinder?
Could we show more love and tolerance?
Do we need to work harder at navigating boundaries?
Do we need to build more bridges?
Should we be stronger with toxic friendships and family members?
Should we be less fearful?
How do we become less anxious and more at peace?
These are the questions that are circulating my thoughts this January the 1st 2019.
As 2018 flows into the history books I come to terms with the death of a father and dear family friend. I look back in amazement and watch my heart expand with ferocious love toward a precious brand new grand-daughter. I look with admiration at my children who stun me with their kindness, generosity of spirit, incredible capacity and their ancient wisdom.
It is important to look back, to reflect but we cannot stay in that space. Many people spend their life looking back at what they deem are their best days. They spend far to many hours trying to re-create those moments. It is a futile effort. Looking back helps us to understand life but true living can only happen forwards. True life only happens in the creation of new moments.
Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. Soren Kierkegaard
I am grateful for my family and friends. All of whom understand the importance of learning from life’s lessons. Who help me navigate and unravel the mess of the past. But more importantly, they help me realise the great value of being present. Of looking forward to future adventures, new memories and who encourage me to live life forward.
To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all. Oscar Wilde
Happy New Year everyone. I hope that you find kindness, peace and tolerance this year like never before.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. Steve Jobs
“Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox;
that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.”
-G.K. Chesterton –
If we had to paint a picture of the Christ that many of us celebrate at Christmas, what would our portrait look like? If the sound bytes that accost us on social media tell us anything, we may get the idea that Christ is a bit like a Texan Ranger, ready to destroy the ‘enemy’ because obviously, God is on his side. The luxury hummer he drives would proudly display the number plate ‘blessed-to-be-a-blessing,’ and all his tweets would have #blessed at the end of it. He would healthy, wealthy and covered in gold dust, as according to the gospel of some, this is the way we are meant to live.
Welcome to the idea of Christ, painted by a dominant, privileged consumer culture.
The history and backdrop that informs modern Christianity are complex. Over the centuries every generation has wrestled with what it means to follow in the steps of this Jewish rabbi, and every generation had authoritative voices claim they have found the way to absolute ‘truth’. Maybe we lost so much of Christ in the Constantine era? Or in the many ‘holy’ wars fought with great gusto amongst the factional faithful? Or by preferencing the voice of Augustine? Or the Reformers? Or the fiery depictions of Dante’s interpretation of hell?
Today, the misplacing of the Messiah is often evidenced by everything that popular Christianity is against, and fear seems to be the flag flown high from the castles of so many of Christ’s representatives. So perhaps our true depiction of Christ should be this diminutive little person, hiding behind a giant wall in case ‘others’ invade and pollute the tightly held ideas of morality and godliness? Maybe this shrunken little figure sounds more like the shrieking seagulls of ‘Finding Nemo’ – ‘Mine, Mine, Mine, MINE!’
Perhaps if we stop all the noise, engage in some critical deconstruction of current Christian discourse, and spend time reflecting, we come to a sobering recognition – we have ‘sanitised’ Christ into our liking and our image.
This safe, disfigured Icon seems to join us in hating all the people we despise, justifying all our violence, agreeing with all our exclusions, shaming all those we shame … we have made Christ and Christmas into us – like a Christmas bauble that has our face on it. No wonder we lose our shit when people don’t want to say “Merry Christmas,” ultimately their resistance to our precious ideas confronts in us a form of deity-narcissism, carefully disguised in persecution and conspiracy theories.
The figure of Christ that walks through the pages of the Gospels seems very unperturbed about whether people are putting the right messages on cards and coffee cups! That doesn’t seem to rile this Incarnate One. Instead, he seems to get a lot more exasperated at, well, at the sectarian shenanigans that really have not evolved over the centuries. Things like religious institutions that have become money-peddling spaces of greed (John 2:13-17), pious power puffs who have become so inflated with a zealotry messiah-complex that they shut the doors of the kingdom to anyone who is not like them (Matthew 23:13), and the continual microscopic dogma examination whilst neglecting the weightier things of God – like love, mercy and justice (Matthew 23:23).
I don’t think this Christ person was about making any of our enshrined political-religious traditions great again. He seems far more focused on describing a different way to his followers … where the last shall be first, where devotion is not bound up in what we think about hell or heaven, or whether we ‘sense’ God and have goosebumps – but whether we are feeding the hungry, providing for the destitute, welcoming the stranger, identifying with those on the margins, making the world a safer place for minority groups … When I read the gospels it seems this Christ of Christmas has a message for us all and it’s relatively simple: Don’t be an asshole! This cardinal contemplative notion seems to underscore the words we have of Christ that are in print today.
So, dear readers, as Christmas approaches may it be filled with joy and a good dose of uncomfortable reality. As I write this, I feel uncomfortable for I recognise that I am part and parcel of this dominant consumer culture, rejecting it and then falling right back into its traps! I question my pictures of Christ. What have we done to this child in a manger that could find no human shelter, but was welcomed into a shack by God’s fur children? This child that would grow and challenge the powers of his day that oppressed the poor, the homeless, the refugee? The child that would turn his back on kings and kneel in the dirt with the woman who had become the target of patriarchal, misogynistic scape-goating? The child who would be murdered, not because some wrathful ‘god’ needed a sacrifice, but to demonstrate precisely how radical love really is. We seem to have lost so much of this Christ child in the mayhem of our political-religious pontification. I pray this Christmas we consider resurrecting him … because the message he holds makes this season truly ‘jolly’.
What God requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humility – Micah –
Not all wounds are visible – Surviving Being Triggered
The last few months have for me have been quite difficult in regard to my mental health. One side effect of trauma is silence. You get verbal vertigo. You lose your voice. I have spent the last 19 years walking out of and through trauma. Learning to find my voice. However, there are still many times when I trigger. Sometimes worse than others. The death of my father set off a cyclone of events and emotions. In the aftermath I found that once again I had lost my voice.
It wasn’t so much the death of my father. At 89 he had led a long life. Grief in itself is inescapable, normal and has a place in our lives. It was the lead up to his death, the arrangements for the funeral and the conversations that took place afterward that knocked my backward.
Judith Lewis says it this way: “Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom.
But the personality formed in the environment of coercive control is not well adapted to adult life. The survivor is left with fundamental problems in basic trust, autonomy, and initiative. She approaches the task of early adulthood――establishing independence and intimacy――burdened by major impairments in self-care, in cognition and in memory, in identity, and in the capacity to form stable relationships.
She is still a prisoner of her childhood; attempting to create a new life, she reencounters the trauma.” ― Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror
“Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom…a prisoner of her childhood; attempting to create a new life, she reencounters the trauma.”
In the last two decades I have learned to build boundaries and cages to protect myself. I never learned how to build proper boundaries as a child so I have had to do the learning and unlearning as an adult.
Children can be taught at a very young age to build shark cages and this will help them identify as well as keep off predators in life. Some develop strong, impenetrable cages that allow them to live healthy, happy lives. Others are not so fortunate. These unfortunate ones may never build up enough bars to keep them safe from “sharks” or along the way, may lose bars when danger has presented itself (Hettwar).
Think of each bar of the shark cage as a boundary or a basic human right. It we are taught that its not acceptable for people to shout at us or call us names, that is one bar in the shark cage..if we are taught that its not acceptable for people to hit us, then thats another bar in the shark cage (Ursula Benstead). (see article on The Shark Cage).
I have learned that it is okay not to put myself in the way of harm. In the past duty rated higher than safety. This means that now I know that I DO NOT have to spend time with toxic family members, friends or institutions. I do not have to put myself in harms way. It is difficult to separate yourself from ‘duty’, ‘obligation’, ‘loyalty’, to family members and friends who are not healthy and who trigger you.
If there is one event that is difficult to escape, it is a family funeral. This means you are thrown ‘into’ harms way. You can apply the skills that you have learned in therapy. You can stand up for yourself when you have to. You can use the voice that you have recently found. Sometimes though it is all too much and too many memories and harrowing emotions are triggered and the tsunami engulfs you.
“Persons in dysfunctional families characteristically do not feel because they learned from a young age that not feeling is necessary for psychic survival. Family members generally learn it is too painful to feel the hurt or to experience the fear that comes from feelings of rage, abandonment, moments of terror, and memories of horror.”
For me harrowing emotions lead to silence. Shhh stay small, stay quiet, hide, don’t draw any notice to yourself. Hide your true self. Your true self is not applauded anyway so stay small, stay quiet. Hide on the roof of the house or in the dark musty dirt underneath the house. You have no voice, do what you are told, go where you are told. If you hide no-one can find you, the chaos cannot find you.
What does it mean to trigger?
A trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma. Triggers are very personal; different things trigger different people. The survivor may begin to avoid situations and stimuli that she/he thinks triggered the flashback (source). A trigger is a reminder of a past trauma. This reminder can cause a person to feel overwhelming sadness, anxiety, or panic. It may also cause someone to have flashbacks. A flashback is a vivid, often negative memory that may appear without warning. It can cause someone to lose track of their surroundings and “relive” a traumatic event. Triggers are external events or circumstances that may produce very uncomfortable emotional or psychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety, panic, discouragement, despair, or negative self-talk (source).
Published on Jul 30, 2017
There are certain psychological triggers that when activated, are so powerful, that not only does it force someone to ignore other sensory information, it actually also forces them to behave in ways that you would consider totally irrational. Listen to this to get a better understanding of your triggers. #psychology #psychologicaltriggers
You can see in this clip how the abused can easily end up in co dependant relationships with the abuser which in turn often disables and destroys other relationships. Breaking this cycle is incredibly hard. When I came out of a fundamental religious cult in 2000, I started attending a large pentecostal church. This space ‘seemed safe’ but eventually ended up being another instrument of torture. I did not recognise the danger. Like the pole cat with the inserted cheeping sound bite. The danger sounded familiar and safe so I allowed it into my life. Fed it and nurtured it to the detriment of my own family.
Triggers follow me into deep sleep. I have recurring lucid dreaming where all sorts of nightmares are played over and over during the night. This means that I wake tired and triggered before the day has even begun. This cycle take a long time to break and is very exhausting. Normal activities become overwhelming. The demands of every day life feel like climbing Mount Everest. Demands of friends and family drain you and there is little relief. I would explain it this way. You have no margins. There is no extra safe space to absorb the inevitable ups and downs of daily life. Just answering a phone call can take all the energy you have left.
HOW ARE TRIGGERS FORMED?
‘When a person is in a threatening situation, they may engage in a fight or flight response. The body goes on high alert, prioritizing all its resources to react to the situation. Functions that aren’t necessary for survival, such as digestion, are put on hold.
One of the functions neglected during a fight or flight situation is short-term memory formation. In some cases, a person’s brain may misfile the traumatic event in its memory storage. Rather than being stored as a past event, the situation is labeled as a still-present threat. When a person is reminded of the trauma, their body acts as if the event is happening, returning to fight or flight mode’ (source).
Very few people understand the aftermath of trauma or what it is to live constantly with PTSD. You look normal, you sound normal so why can’t you be normal? You are funny, you are entertaining so why can’t you just get over it. “Let’s just talk about positive things they say”. I find these types of demands from friends the most draining. It is in the nature of people to shy away from ugliness and disturbances. They may have heard a little about your weird life or you weird family but do you have to keep going on about it? They have zero comprehension of the effort it takes day after day after day, nor the hailstrom of fire something like a family funeral throw’s at you.
Thank you readers for allowing me to navigate these feelings. For listening to my voice. I have found it impossible to write over the last few months. Maybe I am starting to recover. Coinciding with this season I am doing a small amount of narrative therapy. So many other layers of my childhood are being revealed, restored and understood.
Healing is a long and laborious effort but it has great rewards. I have taken refuge in creativity and beauty and have been blessed to work in an environment where my job partners with my healing. Thank you to my friends and family who do understand and who walk alongside me every step of the way. Especially my children who sometimes seem to know me better than I know myself. I am grateful for their love and support and I learn so much from them every single day.
What is Wellbeing? This article is an edited extract from The Art Of Wellbeing by Meredith Gaston,
A joyous and fulfilling life is built on a foundation of health, self-care and living in line with nature, writes Meredith Gaston, in her new book, The Art of Wellbeing.
What is wellbeing?
I would describe wellbeing as the holistic experience of feeling energised, comfortable, connected and inspired. Our personal wellbeing is cultivated by all the unconditionally kind, wise and compassionate choices we make to nurture our health and happiness. These choices encompass our thoughts and our actions, our self-talk and our speech, the foods we eat, the ways we care for our bodies, and the support we provide for ourselves and each other.
What we choose to do with our time sculpts our wellness and matters greatly. When we invite the simple and relaxing practices of gratitude and mindfulness into our daily lives, we begin to sense the willingness of our minds and bodies to collaborate fully with us in the most positive, transformative ways.
By living intentionally, actively choosing love, peace and joy for ourselves and each other in every moment, we come to know a deep sense of wellbeing that creates a simple, unfailing foundation for truly joyous living.
Our thoughts create our worlds by inspiring our attitudes and our moods, our daily choices, self-talk and actions. It is truly empowering to realise that our thoughts are inherently flexible. Even if we have learnt patterns in the past that no longer serve us, it is completely within our power to let them go.
When we live as part of nature, our wellbeing blossoms. Cultivating wellbeing in daily life is a truly joyous and fulfilling commitment. When we nourish our inner gardens each day, we are able to embody and experience the limitless comfort, joy and inspiration we seek.
10 tips for cultivating wellbeing
#1 Choose Joy
Each one of us can actively choose to think thoughts that uplift us, speak words that spread joy, and explore ideas that help us grow. We can choose joy when we do work we love, and do it lovingly. We can choose exercise we enjoy doing, relax in ways that revitalise us, and choose people in our lives whose love and support empower us. When we build our daily lives around choosing joy, we may truly experience radiant wellbeing. We simply make consistently positive, life-affirming choices that light us up from the inside out.
When we choose joy, we see that life is not about sacrifice and deprivation, it is about celebration. When we forgo gruelling exercise regimes, unnecessarily hectic agendas and punishing diets, we may love our way to wellness. Wellbeing is not maintained by punishment or suffering, it is supported by unconditional self-love, passion and positive thinking.
Choosing joy also serves us exceptionally well during any challenging experience. We all have the power to learn and change for the better, growing our compassion, wisdom and gratitude through our personal life experiences. Not only does joy strengthen us to handle stress and adversity as our best selves, it always illuminates the swiftest path back to perspective and composure.
#2 Love the Earth
Our wellbeing is also shaped by the health of our natural environment: the air we breathe, the soil in which our foods are grown, the quality of our water, the health of our oceans, rivers and forests, and the countless magnificent species with whom we share this earth.
In order to connect to the earth, we need to spend more time in nature. Go outside. Put your feet in the sand, the soil, the grass. We live amongst the most varied and magnificent flora and fauna, spectacular mountain ranges, coral reefs, vivid fields of flowers, constellations of stars, creatures great and small. It is a privilege to be here experiencing life on our planet.
Connecting with our Earth is essential. We are part of nature, and her seasons, moods, beauty, uniqueness and splendour mirror our very own. The Sufi poet Rumi reminds us that the entire universe is inside us – how profound this is.
Also, it’s important for us to respect Earth. Recycle, upcycle, compost, walk or ride a bike, take short showers, enjoy candlelight, share tools and helping hands with neighbours, friends and family, grow your own herbs, fruits and vegetables, and mend and make do where possible.
#3 Eat real food
Each day, we also have the chance to tune into the immense power of our food choices. Food is sacred, energetic and vibrational. The food we eat has a story, a source and an impact. It also plays a determining role in shaping our health, our energy levels and our moods. Eating mindfully is beneficial and healing for ourselves and our planet. When we eat mindfully we optimise our vitality, contribute to the prevention and reversal of disease, live in harmony with our Earth, and celebrate life.
The magnificent rainbow of fresh fruits and vegetables we have to choose from exemplify the beauty and generosity of Mother Nature’s pantry. Aim for a plant-strong diet that is full of colour and rich in natural vitamins and minerals. Choose organic, seasonal and, ideally, local or homegrown produce wherever possible, and you’ll never have to squint again reading fine print.
Develop a positively loving relationship with food as nourishment. Food is your primary form of medicine, an essential way of healing. It is also an extremely fun, joyous and colourful part of a natural, healthy lifestyle.
Benefits of eating real food include increased energy, sustained vitality, a healthy glow, improved concentration, healthy weight maintenance, stress reduction, decreased inflammation, real satiety, stable blood sugar levels, and balanced hormones and mood.
We need a lot less than we realise to be happy. Oftentimes when we accumulate more, we are simply on the search for the feeling of newness, worthiness or happiness that our purchases bring. By taking the time to know ourselves and love ourselves more deeply, we fill the voids we seek to fill in a much less fleeting way and on a far deeper level. Happiness is an inside job.
Living with less allows us to appreciate and value those things we mindfully choose to possess, and focus on the parts of our lives that matter most – our relationships, our experiences, and our natural environment. Opting for minimalism in every respect, we free up precious time, space and energy to use in creative and fulfilling ways each day.
#5 Prioritise self-care
Self-care is about attending lovingly to our own various needs on a daily basis. In caring for ourselves, we are much better equipped to care for and support others. Self-care includes all the daily ground covered in these 10 tips, including eating regular, nutritious meals each day, drinking plenty of clean water, and creating a routine for the best sleep possible. Exercising, practising relaxation, and taking time to rest and be gentle with ourselves is also essential to daily self-care. When we look after our thoughts, making sure they are supportive, peaceful and uplifting assets for us, we practise the ultimate form of, self-care.
If you are looking for kindness, be kind to yourself as well as others. If you are looking for understanding from others, be compassionate and open minded towards yourself first. If you are looking for peace, be peaceful and bring peace to others. We invite the relationships, environments and circumstances into our worlds that grow and fulfill us soulfully, and we transform our entire lives for the better.
Rest and relaxation are essential to our wellbeing. Ensure you experience the best sleep possible by creating a calm and nurturing space in which to rest. Reserve your sleeping space as a tranquil, restful sanctuary. Keep a sleeping routine, aiming to tuck in and rise at the same times each day. We all have unique needs, but eight hours of sleep per night is a healthy, recommended quota for energised living.
Some people find it particularly hard to switch off at the end of the day. Keep electronic devices out of your bedroom and ensure you have as quiet and dark an atmosphere in which to sleep as possible. If you are unable to fall asleep, you might like to follow your breathing or enjoy listening to some quiet and relaxing music. You may also find comfort in a light-hearted audiobook or meditation tape. When restless, write in your journal. Jot down your worries and hurries, and support yourself without fear or impatience to gently and fully switch off.
Quality sleep recharges our batteries for life, healing, protecting and supporting our minds and bodies. If daytime naps or siestas are required, take these lovingly as part of your self-care routine and reap the refreshing benefits. We live in a fast-paced world that too often favours productivity at the expense of rest. Yet when we are rested, we experience greater productivity, mental clarity and performance on every level.
The study of epigenetics demonstrates how the causes of disease are not solely genetic, and that disease can manifest due to the dietary and lifestyle choices we make. When it comes to the insidious effects of stress on our health, there is an antidote: relaxation. Relaxation is not only a practice but a choice we can all make in any moment. This may sound very simplistic, but it is true. Our lives are composed of a series of choices we make that shape our worlds and experiences. By choosing relaxation, we bring ease and flow to our lives.
Relaxation may be something we need to learn or relearn. Thankfully, there are so many pleasurable and fulfilling ways to walk this path. Practising visualisation and meditations creates a wonderful, simple practice for relaxation in daily life.
Other great ways to embrace relaxation include practising yoga or tai chi, going on gentle walks in nature, lighting candles, enjoying a bath or a massage, listening to relaxing music or enjoying light films, music or books. Creating a relaxing atmosphere around you at home and at work in which you are as comfortable as possible is also key. Our outer worlds should reflect the inner world we seek to create.
#8 Move your body
Love your body into health and fitness by stretching and moving each day. Find a balance of physical activity that suits you while challenging you and keeping you fit, vital and strong.
Exercise provides energy, is essential for our mental health, develops our coordination and fitness, shapes and tones our bodies, detoxifies our systems, improves the quality of our sleep, can be fun and sociable, is a natural antidepressant, and feels really great. Our bodies were designed to move in different ways each day, and it is essential that we honour our bodies’ needs for physical activity. Mixing up your exercise routine circumvents boredom and ensures that your whole body is strengthened and acknowledged.
Many health issues people experience can be traced back to chronic dehydration and remedied simply by drinking ample water. More than half of your body is made of water, and you need to keep replenishing yourself to remain vital. Wake to a tall glass of warm water with a squeeze of lemon, or a dash of apple cider vinegar. Your liver and digestive system love this, and you’ll be hydrating yourself necessarily following your overnight fast. Hydrate steadily throughout the day with good, clean water. Add slices of citrus fruit or cucumber for a little excitement. Intersperse with herbal teas and coldpressed fresh juices if desired. Water your inner garden and blossom!
While some of us are more extroverted and outgoing than others, we are naturally social beings with a need for connection and relationships. Relationships are the web of our lives, and healthy relationships are necessary for our overall wellbeing. These include bonds between friends, family, colleagues, and lovers, teachers, children, grandchildren and beyond.
Relationships teach us so much by providing spaces in which we can love and be loved, give and receive support, learn and grow. Making a concerted effort to connect with others in our community and world with kindness, compassion and joy contributes to our feelings of belonging and greatly enhances our wellbeing. Our world would be a dramatically different place if we all chose to exercise loving kindness in our relationships and connections with others. Change starts with us. Let us be here for one another to build up, not put down.
Let us take joy in each others’ successes and comfort one another through our hardships. Let us focus on our togetherness rather than our differences. Let us find peace in our connections with one another so that we may all experience love and wellbeing and this life.
This article is an edited extract from The Art Of Wellbeing by Meredith Gaston, published by Hardie Grant Books, RRP $29.99 and is available in stores nationally.
Empaths have a unique ability to tune into the way others are feeling and understand people on a level most of us can only dream of.
Many empaths are aware that they are different from other people, and sometimes their powers of perception make them feel uncomfortable around others.
The truth is, being able to read someone isn’t a curse, it’s a special ability that should be held in the highest regard.
After all, people are hard to understand, so if you have a leg up on the rest of the population, go ahead and work your magic.
If you are an empath, you’re probably hiding these 4 super powers, and you might not even know you have them.
1) You Have a Big Advantage Over Others
When you have empathic abilities, your brain is hardwired to make you the way you are. People aren’t comfortable with confronting emotion and so many empaths will ignore the feelings they get when they encounter people.
But for those of you who embrace your special powers, you will always have the advantage in conversation, relationships, work and more because you are tuned into what you are feeling and what those around you are feeling as well.
Many people walk around on a daily basis and don’t know what they are feeling, thinking, wishing for, wanting, and empaths know exactly what they desire, need, and feel.
This makes them more focused and aware of what will make them happy and and what will make them miserable.
2) You Experience Ups and Downs
Because empathic people are very tuned into their feelings, this means that they experience emotion on a much higher level than most people do.
When other people are having a bad day, they usually feel down or sad for a while, but when empaths are having a bad day, it consumes their world.
But when they are having a good day, they let the light shine out of them like it was meant to, and that is something many people wish they could do more often and in an easier way.
3) You Can Read People’s Bullshit
One advantage of having an empathic personality is that you can tell when people are lying. Whether they are embellishing about their lunch or their income, you can sense the nuances that most people have when they are cooking up a story, and you don’t tolerate it.
This is a great ability to have because whether we like to admit it or not, a lot of people are full of it, and it can help when you can read a person to determine how trustworthy they may be.
4) Your Creativity Shines
Empathic people are much more creative than the average person. You probably rely on your emotions to help you express yourself, but you might also express yourself through art or song.
What’s more, your creativity goes beyond a paintbrush and canvas: you are good at problem solving, seeing the positive in negative situations and can tolerate being uncomfortable for a while to earn the payoff in the end.