Sunday, 13 December 2015

Opening up our horizons through travelling

Most of us have heard a phrase that ''travelling opens up our horizons.'' I have heard it often enough and believed it to be true. Somehow it always made sense to me. Of course, you travel to different places and cultures, meet people with customs different from those of your own culture and inevitably that has to open you up, it has to increase your level of tolerance for difference. Well, sometimes it is true, and sometimes not. Also, for some people it is true and for some not. What I've realised in the last few days is that until now I've always understood the above phrase to mean a process of external opening, but what became very clear to me while travelling in India is that external opening is only one and maybe even smaller part of the 'horizons opening process.' Another component of this 'horizon opening process' is opening up of our inner horizons. When we travel in cultures that are substantially very different from our own culture we inevitably are faced with a need to travel through uncharted and often hidden territories of our own comfort zones. It is at this point when travelling starts to challenge our comfort zones that we have a chance to go on the inner journey to places in ourselves where we are stuck, where anxiety and fear reside. These are the moments when we have a chance to acknowledge our anxiety and discomfort, to choose “to feel the fear and do it anyway” and if we do, chances are that after initial discomfort we shall open up to experience our own humanity, which inevitably will make us much less stuck up, more able to laugh at ourselves and ultimately more humble.

Let me use a recent example to illustrate what I am trying to convey, above, about opening our horizons through meeting our comfort zones while travelling. Two weeks ago Jerry, my partner, and I were due to travel from Cochin in the coastal area of central Kerala, to Kumily, in the beautiful, hilly, nature protected area of the Western Ghats. We knew that the only way to get there was by road and our guide book informed us that there were regular buses going to Kumily or Thekkady. So off we went to the main bus station to enquire about possibilities. In our minds we were set on a private air-conditioned minibus, which normally cost 3 times more than the state buses, but still we were quite happy to pay for the comfort and what we expected to be a safer option.

Well, we were in for a surprise, there were no private buses going from Cochin to Kumily; only state-ran buses. There were taxis to be hired, but they cost 10 times more than the state buses. Since we decided we were travelling through India on a budget, we were not prepared to pay such a price. So there we were: our only option being a state bus for which you could not buy a reservation; just show up on the day and hope for the best. There were a few different buses parked at the bus station. Some of them were looking relatively new and modern. Hence, with a high dose of positivism, I asked the information officer to point out to me the type of bus that goes to Kumily, hoping he would point to a nice newish looking Volvo-cum-A/C orange bus. Instead, he pointed to what once was a white and blue bus, looking very old and battered, with no windows or, rather, open windows with no glass in them.

Our bus to Thekkady/Kumily

An unorthodox way of securing the door

I looked at Jerry and saw a mixture of what I would describe as a sinking feeling, together with disbelief on his face. Before I could even say anything, he stated with determination in his voice that he was not going to travel on this bus, especially not for 5 hours, which was meant to be the duration of this trip. Trying to stay positive and humorous I pointed out that at least air-conditioning would not be a problem: there would be a full draft blowing through those windows. Jerry saw no humour in my remarks. His comfort zones were challenged and his body language, as well as his feelings, were screaming in resistance Jerry expressed that the poor condition of the buses, not knowing whether we would have a seat or be left standing squeezed by every commuter in the area, as well as the speedy driving of the Indian bus drivers were not contributing to his needs for safety, comfort and ease (He later pointed out to me that it was also a case of “seen it, done it, got the T-shirt and feel no need to do it again”.) I was trying to hear him emphatically while my own imagination was running mad. Realising that it was a village to village commuter kind of bus I was getting very concerned about the duration of the trip. I was not reassured that the bus would be making many break-stops and therefore not leaving enough opportunity for toilet stops. This was a real concern for me because in this climate I need to hydrate a lot, which means regular loo stops. We both felt rather gloomy and decided to look for other options on the internet that might better meet our needs for safety, comfort and ease.

The only other option was to go on the train further south to Kottayam, which would have taken one hour. From there, we would be able to take an A/C bus to Kumily, but there was only one A/C bus leaving at 5 PM, with a journey time of some 4 hours to get there, which meant that the most of our trip would be done in the dark. OK; this was an alternative, but still with all the changes and travelling by different means of transport it was not going to contribute much to our need for ease. At the same time, driving in the night was definitely not giving me confidence and not contributing to my need for safety. So here we were, looking at two options, neither one fully meeting our needs. Of course, there was a third option: succumb to our fears and choose to avoid them by not going to Kumily at all. That strategy would have maybe met our needs for safety, comfort and ease but it would certainly not have contributed to our needs for adventure, playfulness, exploration and very importantly for self-respect. So we sat with all our feelings of discomfort and fear being quite prominent on the one side, and excitement and curiosity on the other, as well as the whole spectrum of our needs. Ultimately we decided to feel the fear and do it anyway.

If our imagined scenarios were not very hopeful, in reality, we experienced something close to the worst case scenario. The first hour went well, only us and a few other passengers on the bus. We were sitting comfortably in a seat that is normally meant for 3 people (3 smaller size Indians mind you, rather than full size Westerners). Then we were reaching suburban Ernakulam and the bus started filling up to the point that all seats were taken and the only free seat, or rather quarter of a seat by our standards, was the one next to Jerry and I. An Indian gentleman took that seat, squeezing Jerry between him and me. By this time, the bus was stuck in a traffic jam in the midday heat and instead of a draft refreshing us, we had the full heat, dust and smells of rush-hour traffic coming in. This situation continued for another two hours during which no toilet stops were made. Then suddenly, almost everybody disappeared off the bus, except for a few of us, die-hards. We transferred into a seat for two people to prevent any future clogging. I was getting uncomfortable, almost starting to be desperate when suddenly the bus stopped in an isolated hamlet with one restaurant, a shop and yes!
The toilet.
I was saved.
After a 10 minute break, we carried on, almost literally, flying. Recovered and fuelled after his lunch the driver started driving with vigour and serious determination to break the record in narrow mountain road curve-cutting driving. The conductor who was walking through the middle of the bus, trying to reach new passengers entering, was thrown from left to right while we were holding on for dear life to the seat in front of us. This was one of those situations that we were worried about yet now that we were in the midst of it we saw the comedy of it all. We could not stop laughing.

I saw a sign saying that Kumily was some 60 km away. By this time we were on the road for 5 hours already, and this meant that we had at least another hour, maybe even two hours to go given the curviness of the mountain road. Suddenly, we reached a small town and almost every school-age child from all the neighbouring villages was getting on the bus. It seemed as if the fuller the bus got the faster the driver was trying to drive. All the seats were full and the standing passengers were squeezing through the middle of the bus, the conductor was trying to move through this density of people while the driver was increasing the speed. In the midst of all this I turned away from the window to tell Jerry about a beautiful plant I just saw, only to witness the conductor falling literally into Jerry's lap. This was the proverbial cherry on the top. I became hysterical with laughter. And as if all this was not enough, a tropical monsoon rain started pouring down - remember no windows on this bus. Luckily there were some black shutters that could be pulled down. Suddenly all the shutters were down, inside, the full bus went pretty dark. Everybody breathing, humidity at its highest, mixed up with various smells of the passengers and the old bus's diesel fumes. All our comfort zones were pushed to the limit and yet we were laughing. There was not much we could do when in the middle of it all. Well, yes we could curse ourselves for ever stepping onto this bus, or we could argue with reality, or we just could take it as it was, laugh it off, and enjoy the ride. We chose this last option.

Six and a half hours later we arrived to Kumily/Thekkady alive, hungry, exhausted and psychologically numb, yet still smiling. Maybe we were smiling because we were still alive and in one piece.

To be fair to the Kerala State Road Transport Company, even though the buses are old, we realised they are still well maintained in terms of safety, and despite the fact that the drivers drive fast even when taking curves, they beep in advance, which is meant to inform other drivers that they are coming. Strange as it may sound, this system works in managing to keep Indian roads quite safe.

In retrospect, we are both glad we did the journey, happy that we dared to challenge some of our comfort zones and even laughed, when facing those challenges. Most importantly, we came out of it being much more acquainted with our own strengths and limits.
Do we have a need to do it again? No. Would we do it again? Maybe yes. It is not important. What is important is that we stay open to travelling and exploring - be it an inner, or outer journey.

This blog has also been posted on A journey to India travel blog written jointly by Jerry Zondervan and myself. I choose to post it again here on this blog because in my opinion it actually examines some universal issues such as anxiety, fear and dealing with it, challenging our comfort zones as well as needs and related strategies.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Lessons in Love: Always take a chance to say “I love you!”

photo courtesy of

I woke up quite early this morning. Strictly speaking I do not know whether I woke up or whether I was really woken up by a dream. It was one of those very real dreams, the one you want to go back to and complete it. In it I was with my best male friend, whom I really was in love with. I was just telling him what an important part of my life he had been, and how much I had cared, and I'd just been about to say ''I love you'' to him when a group of other friends arrived and I woke up. A sweet lingering feeling of nostalgia, of a moment of shared tenderness building towards culmination and then the end. I woke up before those three beautiful - yet sometimes so difficult to say - words ''I love you'' ever had a chance to come out, forever staying inside of me.

The friend I was dreaming of is not alive any more he's been dead for over 23 years. He died when he was just 23 years old, and I last saw him on his 23rd birthday. I woke him up on that Sunday morning 23rd June 1991. He was a bit grumpy to be woken up, yet happy that I remembered his birthday. We spent a couple of hours chatting, I do not remember what about, but I certainly remember that I did not express the depth of feelings I had for him, thinking ''well, it is not a right moment'', I guess thinking maybe I could do it some other time, and of course not expressing it because I was scared of how he would receive those words, I feared being rejected. At that time I was young, inexperienced and I believed that if I had ever expressed my love to him and if he did not feel the same, although nowadays I am convinced he was as much in love with me as  I was with him, it would have been the end of our friendship. The end of our friendship came anyway, not from our choosing, but nevertheless it came. Less than five months after I last had seen him he was dead, killed in the war, that left our town and country ravaged, at the same time stopping his and changing my life forever. He was dead and I did not have any more chances to utter those words directly to him, no more chances to share the beauty of my love with him while looking into his eyes.

From where I stand in my life now I know that my love for him was not wasted, true love never is. It took me time to transform my grief, it took some deep mourning, but I learned to open my heart wider. I learned that love has to be lived through expression and that irrespective whether it is received with open arms or not by others the very act of sharing it is the act of loving and this has nothing to do with others and their reactions, but everything to do with ourselves. I learned that every time we take a chance to say I love you we also give ourselves a chance to enrich ourselves, to live and experience joy of simply loving.

However, in our modern culture, as well as classic literature, there has been too much focus on suffering from non-returned love, on love being worth giving only if it is received and returned, materialised, so to speak, in a form of ever lasting exclusive romantic relationship between two people. This focus narrows love almost to a barter. I give you that much love and for that you need to return so much back to me and only when this and other conditions are fulfilled, only then we are going to call it love and maybe dare to venture in it. This narrow focus misses the entire point, the most intrinsic quality of true love - it is unconditional. This means that the very beauty of love is in giving and sharing it openly without condition.

Beautiful as it may sound it is not always easy to practice. In our western societies, in which we have so many conditioned believes put in our heads about what love should or should not be, we spend so much time concentrating on what ifs, protecting ourselves from hurt to the point that we miss experiencing easy and uncomplicated flow of love. By protecting from potential hurt we miss a simple joy of loving and we miss a chance of enriching our own and someone else's life by letting them know that we love them. However, when we do allow ourselves to experience this flow of love then we are also free to express it with simple words of ''I love you" without needing to hear those words reflected back to us, we just let love flow.

Since I've heard of Željko's death all those years ago, choosing and expressing love has been my personal vow to my self and my way of honouring love for my friend, of course every now end then he needs to pop up in my dreams to remind me to 'stay on course'. I choose to interpret the above dream as a reminder to keep expressing my love, to keep sharing it and taking every chance I have to say ''I love you!'' to those around me who have been enriching me by their presence in my life. I choose to see this dream as a lesson in love, a reminder from my friend Željko, to take every chance I have to express love because I never know whether that chance would be the last one to say to that person, looking directly into their eyes: ''my life has been enriched for having known you'' and simply adding ''I love you!''

I hope that you can find in your life a reminder for yourself, which could help you to choose love the next time you are at that point of choice between succumbing to your fear of rejection on one side and love and its expression on the other.

If you've liked this article or if you know someone who is interested in reading about personal development and self-improvement, please forward this email to them. Let's share and grow from each other's experience.

Apart from my own coaching practice I also give relationship workshops and retreats together with my partner Jerry Zondervan for more info please click here.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Lessons in Love: Love in a Cup

Lessons in love are hiding in almost every moment and situation of our life. The question is whether we are ready to take an opportunity to live that moment fully and whether we are going to stay open to receiving a lesson in love that this moment and situation have the potential to teach us.

I've had one of these situations earlier this week. I woke up feeling a bit heavy, sluggish and not quite alert. One of those mornings when coffee becomes a basic and essential need rather than just a strategy to meeting some of my needs, such as, for example: awareness, being present and energy. As I went to the kitchen to make coffee, my partner, Jerry, offered to make that coffee for me. I accepted it gladly and went out to the terrace to enjoy the tranquility of the early morning sun and the many summer smells. I  allowed birds to awaken me with their singing.

When Jerry brought me the coffee I started sipping with pleasure and decided to read some inspirational text to contribute to my need for inner peace and self-connection. Most of the short stories I was reading were about living kindness through action, living from your heart, making ordinary moments extraordinary through sharing our humanness and love – inspiring indeed!

A half hour after my first coffee, Jerry asked whether I would enjoy another one. Still not fully awakened I was grateful for the offer and accepted it with both hands. There came the second coffee served in my favourite cup. I looked at it and even before saying thank you judgmental thoughts such as ''oh the cup is too full'' and ''he has probably heated too much milk and poured it all in'', started racing through my mind.
Now those who know me well, probably even those who met me a few times only, have realised that coffee, especially in the morning is a sacred ritual for me. I am very particular (you can even read it as stuck-up and close minded *;) winking) about what kind of coffee I like, as well as how I like to take it. It has to be strong, but not bitter. I am not a fan of dark roast, I prefer beans from Latin and Central America rather than those from Africa or Asia. It should be served with hot milk, not just slightly warm, and there should be neither too much nor too little milk added...

Well, now, you probably just by reading the above are thinking that if you ever meet me, you'd never attempt to serve me a cup of coffee. However, Jerry has taken on that challenge many times and he has learned to make it just the way I want it. You see, my well-being, even when it takes a quirky form about coffee, has been important enough for him, so that when he gives me a gift of coffee, (or any other gift for that matter) he makes it in a way that I can truly experience it as a gift, the way I like it and enjoy in it fully.

So here we were with the second cup of coffee in front of me, my judgements flying through my head, and before I even stopped for a moment to look at those judgements, I heard myself blurting out ''you know, you do not have to put all the milk that you have heated in the coffee!'' Calmly, without any aggression or even offence in his voice Jerry replied ''before you judge, perhaps, you can hear what I did and what my intention was.'' He continued by saying he made a batch of coffee to which he added hot milk, only to realise that the coffee looked a bit too white, so he proceeded to make another batch of coffee, which he added to the original in order to make it just the colour I like and to taste exactly the way I like it. His intention was to ensure he made me a cup of coffee that would give me joy.

Hearing this I stopped for a moment, I was able to recognise and laugh at the irony of the situation. There I was getting inspiration from reading about love and human kindness, yet failing to recognise and receive it when it was right in front of me. This was a moment of awareness and I just allowed my heart to open in the now in this new moment and I allowed the truth of my humanness to penetrate me. Yes, I wish to live my life from my heart allowing flow of love and kindness to and from it. And yes, at the same time, sometimes, I still react from my conditioned and judgemental mind before I allow my heart to open and before I give myself the time to act in line with my heart and its desire to live from love and kindness.

So yes, I have missed the initial gift of love expressed through that cup of coffee, but I did not need to miss the lesson. By catching myself in the negativity of my reaction, I was at the point  of choosing: On one side I could continue staying closed and reactive and on the other side I could choose to open myself to be touched by love and the intention of care and nurturing that my partner had put into making that cup of coffee. By choosing to open my heart I have also opened myself to learning from the situation and receiving a lesson in love.

Sometimes, actually most of the time, love is hidden in small things, in small gestures or in a few words, and sometimes like in my case, described above, it was hidden in a cup of coffee filled to the brim with love.

If you've liked this article or if you know someone who is interested in reading about personal development and self-improvement, please forward this email to them. Let's share and grow from each other's experience.

Together with my above mentioned partner Jerry I give relationship workshops and retreats for more info please click here.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Being Me, Loving You: Creating and Living a Healthy Relationship

I am very excited to share the news about my latest project. Together with my partner in life, Jerry Zondervan I am offering and facilitating a long weekend workshop under the title Being Me Loving You: Creating and Living a Healthy Relationship.
After meeting in an intensive 9-day international intensive training in Nonviolent Communication in 2009 Jerry and I decided to share our lives and put in practice all that we have learned in the NVC trainings and books. In creating and living our relationship we have both been inspired by a quote from the book ''Being Genuine: Stop Being Nice, Start Being Real" by Thomas D'Ansmborg: 
''Very few people living as couples are in a person to person relationship, a relationship of responsibility, autonomy and freedom where each party feels the strength and confidence to say: We , you and I, both have the strength and autonomy, and at the same time we love being together because it is even more joyful to share, to exchange, and be together. We do not strive to fill up the gaps but to exchange plenitude!"

In the last six years Jerry and I have had plenty of opportunities to test our commitment to a person to person relationship, in which we each take responsibility for our own feelings and fulfilment of our own needs. At the same time, we have encouraged each other to live in freedom, sharing our lives with each other from our own authenticity. For many, this sounds great and aspirational, yet, by the same token, unrealistic and impossible to achieve. However, we know it is possible and we are now offering to support those who wish to create and build on such a person to person relationship with our individual and joint know-how and experience.
During this workshop, with our focus on needs based communication (otherwise known as Compassionate or Nonviolent Communication) we help couples to move away from the level of strategies and thoughts, which is where the conflicts and judgements of each other are often embedded. We supportively and safely guide partners to a different level of relating, person to person from the heart, rather than at the level of judgements and beliefs conditioned by their family and cultural background. Equally, we help partners with their verbal communication, so that they can honestly express their most precious needs and yearnings while, at the same time, they can emphatically hear the needs of their partner.

Our next workshop will take place in The Netherlands, in De ZevendeHemel, Body, Mind and Spirit Centre in The Hague from Thursday evening 24th September until Sunday afternoon 27th September 2015. You can find more information about the workshop by clicking here
If you or anyone you know are interested in our workshop I would be delighted to hear from you.

I would appreciate help with promoting this workshop as widely as posible, so please if you have read this forward it on to your networks and friends. 


Sunday, 29 March 2015

Thoughts are like snowballs

Today's post is more like a morning thought captured and with a bit of imagination turned into a playful inspiration, rather than a fully developed blog. Of course, this last thought in the previous sentence ''a fully developed blog'' can lend itself to a whole new discussion on what my idea of blog is, what other people's opinions on that are, what blog should or should not be, etc. I am, however, choosing to stay focused and to store the thought on the blog, maybe for another discussion for another time.

So, thoughts are like snowballs. If you do not pay attention to a snowball when it is still small and on top of the hill it might soon start rolling down the hill becoming bigger, faster and more forceful. Once the snowball gets the momentum going it is likely to create an avalanche and in the process it will destroy many beautiful things that find themselves in its way. However, if you catch that small snowball when it is still on the top of the hill, if you take it into your hands, you get playful and creative with it you can roll it into any shape you like. You can make a beautiful snowman out of it, or if you take more time, get even more involved with it and apply more skills to it, starting from that small snowball you can develop it into a wonderful and safe igloo house that can shelter you from a snow storm.

It is similar with thoughts, if you leave them unchecked they will get a momentum and start running through your mind one after the other with increasing speed. Before you know it you'll be spinning around with worry and feeling out of control. If, however, you capture that first thought and you inquire into it with awareness and you stay open to whatever comes you can awaken your playful creativity and joy.

So, next time you notice a thought, stop for a moment and look at it with awareness. Capture that thought, make a friend and a playful companion of it, before it gets the momentum of its own and starts running wild, avalanching through your mind, creating chaos and devastation in the process.

Thank you for reading and please forward it to those who you think would enjoy reading it.
Please leave a comment, if this post has touched you in any way.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Self-acceptance and self-love

These two concepts go hand in hand with each other. You cannot truly and fully love yourself if you do not accept yourself fully, and you cannot accept yourself fully if you do not love yourself. It is a little bit like with the chicken and the egg, no one can really answer what comes first and it does not even matter which one comes first. What actually matters is that you cannot have one without the other and what is even more important is that in order to be a healthy, thriving, fulfilled, loving and loveable individual you have to both accept and love yourself as you are. 

In our modern societies, however, where the emphasis is often put on perfection and where self-love is often misunderstood for selfishness it is not easy to accept and love ourselves just as we are. It is even more counter culture to nurture ourselves with love and acceptance rather than to reproach ourselves with shame and guilt, especially when we and our actions are less than perfect. It is not easy, but it is essential. Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of the Nonviolent Communication approach used to say often ''anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.'' At first we might be puzzled by his statement. However, if we just stop for a moment and ask ourselves what message Marshall might wish to convey to us with such a statement we might discover that perhaps he is saying: give yourself a permission to do what you believe in, what you are passionate about, allow yourself to give what you have to give in this moment however much or little it may be, and give to others the gift of yourself, just as you are. Do not wait with doing things until you can do them perfectly, or even more importantly do not wait until you are ''perfect'' (if such thing even exist), because if you wait for that perfection you might end up never doing what actually is worth doing. Even more sadly you may miss sharing with others that what is so unique and precious about you, your humanity – yourself as you really are.

In order to share myself as I really am I need to be at that point where I love myself as I am, so I need to see and accept that I, as I am, have worth and intrinsic value of just being a human with all my qualities, even those that are often seen as ''shortcomings'' rather than ''qualities.'' This also includes acceptance of and loving myself in the moments when I feel angry, grumpy, disappointed, annoyed or frustrated. It seems easy to accept and love yourself when you feel positive, when you feel as if you are effortlessly flying, everything seems to flow smoothly and you feel like you are on top of the world. What about the moments or even days when you feel stuck, when you cannot quite concentrate on anything, the more you try to do something the more it feels like pushing stones up the steep hill. In those moments it takes mindful presence to stay in touch with yourself just as you are, to accept that you are just a bit out of sync with yourself and even more so with the rest of the world. It is in those moments that we need to love ourselves the most. These are certainly kind of moments when we need to allow that love to be practised through gentle and kind acceptance of ourselves just as we are. Through staying present with our own feelings of anger, unease, sadness, and groundlessness of not knowing, but just bearing a witness to what is, without attaching to it as good or bad, without trying to fix it or make it better.

Since getting the inspiration to write this post two days ago I had a personal experience with and realisation related to the very subjects I am writing about so I wish to share that personal part as well.

Two days ago I woke up with this kind of feeling of unease, bordering on tears and not quite knowing why. I went for a walk in the beautiful sierra behind the set of houses where I live. Once I started walking among the pine trees with the sunshine on my face I just relaxed into those feeling of unease and sadness I realised that they were connected to my need for meaning and purpose as well as my need for inspiration and creativity.
I realised that I had been wanting inspiration for several days, however instead of tuning in with myself, I had been playing a ''good soldier.'' For a couple of days prior to that morning I had been diligently sitting in front of the computer trying (read ''ordering'' myself) to write a blog. I decided that writing a blog would be meaningful, as well as a useful activity to do. You see, my mind took over and decided that apart from being meaningful and useful, it will give me something to do, and anyway it was the high time I posted another blog, and on and on my mind went...

Yes, I probably was already trying to fulfil my needs for meaning, purpose, even creativity (after all writing is a creative activity). However the problem was that I was not even connected to those needs from my heart I just went head on (the pun is unintentional but I like it *:D big grin) with a strategy – blog writing - that I decided would give me a chance to creatively express myself and would give me a chance to use my free time meaningfully! From this perspective now, I can see I was showing no respect for where I was at emotionally or mentally. I was not paying attention to what my feelings and needs were. That really means I was acting very unloving towards myself, not accepting where I was and how I was feeling which was rather uninspired and unproductive. I was following a recipe for complete misalignment with myself. 

It comes, therefore, as no surprise that I started writing a blog on one subject without much flow, so another idea popped up so I tried that one. I managed to write approximately half a page on each subject in space of two days switching between writing and checking my e-mail accounts, distracting myself with Facebook, making coffee, looking for something sweet to eat... Clearly this diligent sitting and making myself write was contributing neither to my need for inspiration nor creativity and it was moving me even further from bringing any meaning to my life whatsoever.
Two days went by and I had two blogs started but not finished and not even knowing where I was going with them. Despite several other little jobs done in those two days, I woke up two days ago feeling empty and sad. I did not try to cheer myself up or to push those feelings away I paid attention to them and just accepted them as they were. As I already mentioned above I recognised that these uncomfortable feelings were just messages trying to call my attention. I had enough awareness and enough self-love to say ''wait a second I need some time and solitude here to just be with myself and to allow space for any feelings, and especially needs that are being unacknowledged to come up.''
My acknowledging my feelings and needs and accepting them just as they were and my loving act of just taking time for me have already open up the flow. In addition, I got inspired as well. While I was walking through the forest I got an idea to write about acceptance and then the word love sneaked in as if to say ''hey how can you talk about acceptance especially self-acceptance without mentioning me!” So that afternoon I started this very blog about self-love and self-acceptance. This time I enjoyed putting words down and experiencing the flow. Even though I started writing this post from true inspiration and I had some passion about it I noticed that I was staying on the subject in general terms, I did not seem to be touching it up close and personal. However, in the evening when I was sharing with my partner some of the feelings and needs that I experienced earlier in the day, a little light went on and it became clear to me; the inspiration to write about these two subjects: self-acceptance and self-love, came to me because that is exactly what I was needing to give to myself, exactly what I missed in previous days.
Once I started accepting me as I was I allowed the flow of love (which is always inside of us) to emerge, which in turn was enabling the beauty of needs for meaning, purpose and inspiration to be fully alive, acknowledged and consequently fulfilled in the process.

I could not help but smile at yet another realisation of how perfect the life always is and how all that we ever need is right there inside of us waiting to be discovered and ''allowed'' to flow.

Thank you for reading and please forward it to those who you think can benefit from it.
Please leave a comment, if this article has touched you in any way.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Feel the pain, heal and find love for the lost one

I wanted to write this particular blog for two reasons. One is as a memory of my loving mum who died almost 6 years ago. And the second is to share my process of grieving, what I've learned from it and how it's helped my inner growth with hope that my story may also help others who are going through a similar process.

Like most of you out there I have had a fair share of loss in my life, such as, for example, my home town being destroyed in a civil war, my best male friend being executed in the very same war and more. I tried to cope with it, go through it in the best way I knew how. In the past, more often then not, I tried to avoid the pain. I tried to rationalise it and I would get busy with life which, of course, is never too short of opportunities to keep you busy.

From all those previous experiences I have learned that we can never avoid pain, it always catches up with you in the end, and sometimes, in the meantime it affect your health as well. I've also learned that the only way to heal is through pain. Still, until my mum's death I had somehow always tried to postpone the process of grieving and of course experiencing pain, sadness and mourning that go with it, hoping that it would go away or heal with time. It never does. I've learned that the only way to heal pain to actively engage with it. This grieving process that I am about to share with you was the first time that I really allowed myself to fully feel whatever I felt in the moment I experienced it. I even consciously made sure I created the space in me and time for the process, for my grieving to unravel in the way it needed to.

On the 11th of February this year it will be exactly 6 years since that early morning when I received a call from my dad telling me that my mum died. Her death was sudden, unexpected and a shock, mum was only 66 years old. Only the day before my mum and I had spoken on the phone, laughed, joked and finished the conversation with ‘I love you’ and I sent her blow kisses through the receiver in the same way I had always done with her before ending a call. One may label blow kisses as childish, yet for me it represented the level of playfulness, warmth, intimacy, and love I was able to share with her. Would I have changed anything, if I had known that this was to be our last conversation? No, not a thing.

Still, just like that from one day to the next my loving Mama was not here any more. In those first weeks the thought of 'never again' was the hardest to bear for me. I understood it, but I still could not fully comprehended that I would never again be able to hug her, see her, or call her on the phone. There would be no more long Sunday morning telephone chats I so loved. I knew that this would be a process, of acceptance, of getting used to what is, of grieving. I also knew or rather felt that my mum was still with me. Somehow my mum’s presence and love was coming back to me albeit indirectly through the care and love of close friends and colleagues who were all there for me in the first month of my grieving process.

I also remember that in the first weeks I was questioning the fact that I had experienced only a few moments of real deep sadness since mum died. It was as if I was expecting something else, and indeed I was. On one side I thought that I was expected by others to feel differently, more sad, more depressed, and on the other side I was expecting that I should have been experiencing greater pain or greater sadness. In other words I was worried that I was not really grieving, as if it was not quite right or enough to feel enormous love in my heart, and to feel peaceful and OK. Even though I knew that grieving was a process (after all I was a trained counsellor), still I had an idea of what grieving should have looked like. Well, I am happy to say that through my own process I have learned that there is no prescribed rule. Grieving is different for every individual, because we are all different, and because each person we grieve for is different from all others we grieved for before, and because with each of these individuals we created a very unique relationship. Hence, every time we grieve for someone we grieve in a unique way. 
One thing that was different for me this time in my grieving process for my Mama was the awareness of my thoughts, feelings and needs in the present moment. I was consciously practising regularly ‘tuning-in’ with myself to check what went on inside me and what feelings were lurking under the surface needing to come out.

At the same time a big part of the grieving process was the understanding that the acceptance of my mum's death, was also a process which was unfolding in stages at its own pace. First came the shock of hearing that mum died, and the funeral, then the idea that she was not alive any more, yet I was still holding on her spirit and I was even feeling her presence, especially when I was still in my home town after the funeral. Then in the second month after her death it really truly dawned on me that Mama was no longer with us. To start with I understood the mental concept, but I did not truly accept it until several weeks after she died, and even then I was not able to completely accept it. It is like the awareness of it was happening in stages. The part of acceptance that I experienced in the first few weeks was a very reasoned, cognitive understanding of my Mum's death. This is a necessary part of the process yet it really is only the first step towards the full acceptance. And then the time came when the realization of loss was starting to hit my whole being and the whole being was just finding it hard to believe and accept. This realization was hurting not only emotionally, but physically as well.

I did not need to worry any longer about not experiencing the deep sadness. The time came when I was ready to cry and it was painful, leaving me without breath. I cried while cycling to work, I cried under the shower and I experienced feeling helpless, like a small child and alone. Even though there were many good friends ready to support me in my process, only I, alone, could meet and experience the depth of my pain. When this pain started coming out it felt excruciating. However, I was not trying to avoid it I just let it come up, I let it all out. Only a few times I screamed from pain, but mostly I just felt deep, deep sadness and a deep need to let tears roll.

The one of my biggest growth point from this grieving process has been the realization that because I did not fear the pain and I trusted my ability to deal with the amount of pain I did let my self ‘wallow’ in it and I was able to slowly go deeper. The deeper I went the greater the need became to go even deeper in and through the pain until I touched the point where I felt a shift, the pain started feeling warm. I dared to meet my pain and go through it without any guarantee of how long this journey would be and what I would find at the other end. Well, without even knowing whether there was the other end. Indeed, there was the other end, and what I found there was a deep all encompassing love. I felt peaceful.

This happened sometime at the end of the summer, approximately six months after my mum died.
It was an amazing experience and it had an enormous impact on my growth. Through my own experience I learned that the only way to deal with whatever feelings we have is to live them to the full. Irrespective of how hard and painful at times it may be, just live them moment by moment, just let them be, without resistance without putting any time limit, or a judgment/label (good or bad, positive or negative) or an expectation on it. Felling your pain and mourning your loss is not only necessary, if you wish to live a full healthy life, but it is definitely worth it. At the end you will come to peace with the death of the loved one and you will also rediscover the love that connect you with that person which will, therefore, stay with you forever.

Trust in your nature and let yourself feel whatever is alive in you in this moment...

Thank you for reading and please forward it to those who you think can benefit from it.
Please leave a comment, if this article has touched you in any way.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Daring to be vulnerable

Last week I posted a blog under the title Protection vs. Connection. In this blog I also wrote that 'our readiness to experience, show and share our own vulnerability' is a pre-requisite for creating and experiencing a true, deep and genuine connection with others.

Yes, the theory, is fine but am I practising what I've been preaching? Am I really daring to show my vulnerability where it matters? Am I sharing something important to me with people that are important to me and by doing so exposing a part of myself? Am I daring to stretch my comfort zone beyond what feels emotionally safe?

Before answering above questions let me first give you a bit of context. Writing has not always been easy for me. You could ask me to speak on any subject, at any time, and I could talk the hind legs off a donkey. However, if you were to ask me to write down what I had just spoken about with relative ease, I could end up sitting behind a PC for a long time before anything comprehensible would come up on the screen. Why that was, you might ask. Well, in the past, writing posed such a challenge for me because I used to believe that I was not good at it. I actually believed that there was such a thing as perfection. Of course, when measuring myself against imaginary perfect yard stick I ended up feeling that whatever I wrote was never good enough and therefore not worth sharing.

Luckily some years ago when I learned not only to accept but more importantly to love myself as I was/am. I realised that our perfection lies actually in our imperfections. Our imperfections make us so uniquely who we are. They also teach us to be truly humble and from that point we are much more able to get in touch with our own humanity and that of other people. We learn to give ourselves and others a break!

So yes, I gave myself one of those breaks a few moths ago when I decided to start writing and more importantly posting a blog. I knew that potentially, via my blog, I could reach many people who would benefit from what I was writing about. At the same time I was also aware that through my blog I would be opening the door for critical comments from some readers, which in turn could trigger feelings of insecurity and hurt in me. That was a risk I was willing to take. I made a step in daring to be vulnerable by starting to write a blog on subjects that are dear to my heart and I know something about from my personal and professional experience, subjects relating to inner growth, personal development, compassionate or nonviolent communication, life coaching and similar.

Yes, with writing and publishing a blog I've been practsing what I've preached. I've dared to share publicly what is important to me and therefore to expose myself vulnerably. However there is a but here. Until the last week people reading my blog were mostly unknown to me, strangers around the world. And as majority of us know a disapproving comment from a stranger can never stimulate as much hurt as a comment from a friend or a close colleague. Even though I was daring greatly by writing and sharing my blog with the public there was still some room for more daring and for stretching my comfort zone. The next challenge was to share my blog with people who matter to me, the known public of friends and colleagues.

Hence, last week after publishing my blog Protection vs. Connection, I decided to make another step in daring to be vulnerable and to share the blog via facebook with a group of friends and colleagues from various walks of my life. In my message to them I acknowledged that sharing my writing with them was a daring act for me. I am very happy to say that my daring to share my vulnerability about writing with my friends has opened doors for a deeper connection with several of them.

Apart from experiencing this deeper connection I have also benefited from receiving valuable feedback. One friend pointed towards my tendency to write ''sentences of three line average!'' I am grateful for his comment because I have been aware of this tendency of mine. I've already tried to work on cutting my long sentences into shorter more manageable chunks and his comment is encouraging me to stay even more focused. Next to the feedback, this and several other friends have sent words of support both for my writing, as well as the blog. These messages not only have warmed my heart but have also given me encouragement to keep on writing and to keep daring to be vulnerable and show it. Last but not least, the whole process of writing and sharing it with others, and in so doing challenging my own emotional security boundaries, is contributing to my own inner growth and personal development.

I hope that this post will give you some encouragement and inspiration to dare to be vulnerable and make a move to expose yourself in whichever area of your life your vulnerability might be. I do understand that potentially there is a risk of getting hurt when you open up. However, from my experience the benefits of sharing and deeper connection with others, contribution you are able to give to others and inner growth that come from it are far greater then the risks.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Protection vs. Connection

We human beings are social creatures who are high wired for connection with other human beings. Connection with what is alive, in other words what is real, true and genuine in others with that what is real, true and genuine in us is one of our deepest basic needs and it is universal which means we all have it. What differs for all of us is not the need, but how we choose to meet that need. So what differs is a strategy that we apply to meet our need for connection (or any other need for that matter) and there are many strategies to meet that shared need for connection we all have. The strategies we choose will also differ from person to person, and will be influenced by the person we want to connect with, type of relationship we have with that person, as well as different points in life we find ourselves at in that particular moment.

Additionally, we are often not even in touch with our need for connection and, more often than not, we choose our strategies to meet this (and other needs) unconsciously. This means that our chances for a true genuine connection with others are greatly increased or reduced by the level of our own connection with our own feelings and needs. Think of it, if you are not in touch with what is going on within you in this moment, who is then connecting with others? And how can you connect with others genuinely and truthfully if you are not connected with what is real, genuine and true inside of you in this moment?

Nevertheless, you still have that need for connection with other human beings and in absence of true connection with yourself, that is to say your feelings and needs, you may try to relate to others through your opinions and beliefs, which are mostly, set, unexamined and static, hence, by definition they are not a true, genuine and real representation of your aliveness in this very moment. And if the other person is also not connected to their feelings and needs chances of two of you experiencing fulfilling connection are almost certain to be next to none. The more in touch we are with ourselves the more likely we are to connect with what is truly alive in others, with their feelings and needs, without projecting, criticising them for having those feelings, blaming ourselves, or taking responsibility for their feelings and for fulfilment of their needs. I am the only person that can fulfil my needs, you can only help me in my process but you are neither responsible, nor can you fulfil them for me.
It follows then that the self-connection with our own feelings and more importantly needs is a prerequisite for the quality of connection with any other human being.

The second prerequisite for creating true, genuine connection is our readiness to experience, show and share our own vulnerability. Feeling of vulnerability leads us to another basic universal human need - emotional safety. Emotional safety is at the core of our very being and the more we are in touch with our feelings and needs the more we are embedded in our need for emotional safety. The more we know how to fulfil this need for ourselves the more we are ready to open up to others emotionally, that is to say show them our vulnerability.

When we are in touch with our need for emotional safety we open up, we try to connect by showing our vulnerability openly hoping that others can also receive our feelings and needs openly, as a gift rather than a burden. However, even if they cannot or do not want to receive us openly we have the trust that in such situations we can be emotionally safe. We contribute to our need for emotional safety by giving ourselves loving kindness in those moments when others cannot receive our vulnerable expression of our feelings and needs. By acknowledging our vulnerability and loving ourselves through it we create emotional safety for ourselves.

However, from early childhood onwards most of us have learned not to show openly our feelings let alone needs. For many vulnerability is being equated with being weak. Rather than teaching our children that being vulnerable takes courage and it is a daring thing to show your vulnerability, we teach them, mostly by our own example, to suppress their feelings, keep their feelings to themselves and to show ''brave face'', in other words not to show what they feel. How many adult men are unable to express their sadness because as children they were given a belief that ''big boys do not cry?'' And, how many women suppress their own needs on behalf of others because they were told when thy were young that ''good, polite girls always listen to and help other people first?'' Hence, from early childhood on majority of us learned to equate emotional safety with protecting ourselves from emotional hurt, which we try to ensure by not openly revealing our feelings and needs (neither those that are commonly referred to as negative e.g. anger, sadness, disappointment nor the positive ones e.g. happiness, joy, excitement). Most of us believe that we can protect our emotional safety by either not opening ourselves emotionally to others or by not openly receiving their emotions. However, what we actually achieve with protection is shutting ourselves off and by that we make ourselves even more susceptible to feeling hurt and isolated. Instead of increasing our level of emotional safety protection actually decreases our ability to meet that very need. While we are too busy trying to protect ourselves from vulnerability we are unable to realise that our emotional safety rests in our ability to be vulnerable.

Protection does not only decreases our chances of developing true emotional safety it also decreases our chances of true, genuine connection. How? Well, protection and connection work in diametrically opposite directions that is to say the more we protect emotionally the less able we are to experience true, genuine and deep connections. First and foremost when we try to protect ourselves we tend to suppress, numb and avoid any uncomfortable feelings (accidentally, when we try to numb the experience of pain in our life we also end up numbing the experience joy) and by doing so we are closing the door to self-connection. As we saw above if we are not connected with ourselves our chances of connecting with anyone else are hugely decreased and on top of that when we are protecting ourselves we are also highly unlikely to to be receptive to other people's feelings or to openly reveal what goes on within us. Therefore, protection is not only ineffective as a strategy for emotional safety it also disconnect us from ourselves as well as other people.

So the next time you are engaging with someone dear to you try to observe your behaviour. If that person says or does something that is not in line with your values notice what you feel. Is it irritation, frustration, hurt? And try to watch what you are doing. Are you trying to ignore or push those feelings aside? Are you trying to protect yourself by defending your position and opinion or by attacking? I believe that if you manage to pause for long enough to notice your behaviour, feelings and needs you might ask yourself: what am I doing here? Protecting myself. OK. And what do I actually want from this situation? If your answer is connection with my wife, child, etc. Then at least, I hope, you could remind yourself that you do not have to automatically react from your habitual protection mode, but that you have a choice to open yourself up vulnerably and in doing so open the door to connection with the other person.
Of course, like everything else this is the process of fine tuning between the level of vulnerability that still keeps you emotionally safe and the level of connection that is starting to go deeper than the surface. You rock the boat to the point that it can still safely sail, rather than to the point where you end up desperately trying to stabilise it and keep afloat which prevents it from sailing any further.