by Rose Miyonga
Having a female body is exhausting, and today I feel really tired of being a brown woman.
Of being constantly policed, censored, judged, bullied and excluded – and that’s just what I do to myself.
I’m not talking about what other people out there in the world and on the internet say and think and do to my body, I’m talking about what I do.
Even though I am aware of the way society controls the images that are sent to me, leaving me with the feeling that I will never be good enough or beautiful enough, I have internalised the messages so deeply that I can’t help but believe that my body is somehow wrong as it is.
Even though I grew up with a mother who is very open about bodies and nudity- teaching me to look in the mirror and say out loud what I love about myself, I find it really hard to look at my naked body with anything like joy or kindness.
Even though I practice and preach yoga and meditation and self-love and body positivity, I find it almost impossible to inhabit my body unconditionally, without editing it or wishing parts of it away.
Even though I’ve always considered myself to be a kind person, I bully my body with my words and actions, punishing it for being only what it is.
Even though I’ve been lucky and never been diagnosed with an eating disorder, I can’t help but see my body as a bulging collection of flaws and imperfections, and food as a way to punish or reward myself based on how near or far I feel from an imagined ideal to which I will never live up.
Even though I am aware that I am privileged and genetically lucky, that I am slender and able-bodied, I struggled not take these things for granted, and treat my body with cruelty and ingratitude.
Even though I want to be valued as writer, a creative and an intellectual, I sometimes place more value on my physical attributes than on the brain my body houses.
Even though I am a vegan for ethical and environmental reasons, I wonder if I would be so enthusiastic about observing a vegan diet if it had lead me to gain instead of lose weight.
Even though I know that everybody is uniquely beautiful and different, I can’t help but compare myself (usually unfavourably) to every woman I encounter.
Even though I know am healthy and strong and young and beautiful, my inner monologue treats my body as if it were and inconvenience at best.
Even though years of therapy has given me a range of tools and skills to deal with my emotions, when I felt sad this afternoon, I sliced up a whole loaf of bread, slathered it in jam, and ate and ate until I couldn’t feel anything but full.
Even as I write this, I’m thinking that I had a lot to eat at breakfast and maybe I should just have some fruit for lunch and then go for a run instead of working on the essay I have due next week. If go running, it won’t be because of the tangible mental and physical benefits it may bring me, it will be to punish myself for eating my fill this morning after a ninety-minute yoga practice. My academic work, therefore, is directly suffering as a consequence of this toxic message that my body is not good enough as it is, and I know that I am not alone.
Or is it just me?
I could go on and on in this way, and I wonder if every woman feels this way, and what they do to resist it. I wonder if men feel this way, too; the ones I have spoken to about it don’t seem to understand what I’m on about.
And then, I feel like a hypocrite and a fraud because I truly believe in the practice of self-love and compassion and presence and acceptance and non-judgement, but I spend so much time judging myself and finding myself wanting. And then I start to judge and hate myself for being a hypocrite, and then to judge myself for judging myself, and so on, adding brick upon brick to the wall that stands between me and self-love.
Only occasionally, maybe when I’m practising yoga or meditation or when I am dancing or writing or eating or having sex or sleeping, am I able to drop judgement and just enjoy being me in this body and this moment.
The rest of the time, most of the time, there’s a war going on in my mind.
I have been in conflict with my body, and I am done. I’m waving the white flag and hugging it out, and I promise to try to not suck in when I look in the mirror.
I’m not sure how I am going to unpack all of this toxicity that has been built up in and around my body, but to start with, I am not feeding any cruel, untrue, judgemental thoughts about my body. When one comes, I notice it, and allow it to stay as long as it wants, but I try not fuel the fire. It’s really hard, but sometimes I can go several hours in a row without any thoughts coming because it turns out if I don’t pay them any attention, they don’t really come so much. The toxic thoughts are reducing from a constant flood into a trickle.
I have also found myself wanting to wear less revealing clothing, as though I don’t need the reassurance of external admiration of my body. At the same time, I have found myself wanting to dress up more and wear more makeup and adorn myself with jewellery, and dance and practice more yoga and meditation and celebrate being alive in my body, and I hope this continues.
It feels like my body and I are healing together, and if I keep at it and try to unlearn the lessons I was tricked into learning, maybe we can save out relationship.
By Donna Lancaster
As the world is reeling from the shock of Donald Trump winning the U.S. presidential elections, now more than ever we are being handed an opportunity to do things differently. The whole experience allows us, individually and collectively, to expand or contract our hearts accordingly. And this I believe will determine the true outcome of these challenging times. More love or more hate, more taking or more giving, more blame or more responsibility, to wake up or to stay asleep.
As I see it , we have two options before us:
To close down our hearts, reject any of the ‘softer’ emotions and immerse ourselves fully in the role of victim. Blame this ‘nasty man’ and his followers for all that is wrong in our world. Just like in intimate relationships, when couples are often desperate for all the wrongs and hurts to be about ‘the other’. If only they were kinder, more considerate, listened to me, loved me and so on. But, it is never really ‘the other person’. It is ultimately about us. What mirror are they holding up to us that we refuse to look into? What aspects of ourselves are they highlighting to us that we want to deny, reject and project?
Yet it’s much easier to take the superior position of blame. To deflect rather than to fully feel the uncomfortable and painful range of feelings that are part of the grieving process accompanying such distressing times. How are we not all out in the streets collectively wailing?! Not just shouting with rage at demonstrations and rallies (although this of course has its place) but also wailing with grief….with the sadness, fear, hopelessness and despair of it all. How are we not all running through the streets together, faces contorted, in floods of tears and snot, arms raised in distress, screaming to the heavens ‘WHHHHHYYYYY?!’. The main reason I believe, is that we simply don’t know how. Generally, we are not taught to honestly and brutally grieve so that we can truly heal. Instead, we consciously or unconsciously shut down our hearts, buy stuff, snort stuff, eat and drink stuff, to stay asleep and to BLAME.
And surely if we hate, judge, violently ridicule and verbally attack and belittle Trump then we really are no different from him and his ‘collective’? Doesn’t it then make us all the same? A bunch of hurt, angry, closed-hearted people wanting revenge for imagined and real injustices? Whether sitting at a dinner party or attending a Trump rally, aren’t we just all singing the same bitter song?! Regardless of how you dress it up, doesn’t it all just boil down to a bunch of victims collectively wanting to blame, vilify and hurt ‘the other’?
To keep our hearts open and allow ourselves to feel the whole range of our difficult and distressing feelings. To create time and space in the bustle of life to fully process the impact of the U.S. Elections and what this means for our world. Not just on an intellectual level but on a deeper emotional, physical and spiritual level.
To make less definite statements and ask more questions.
And, perhaps most importantly, to reflect upon our part in it all, asking ‘What do I need to change? What can I do? How can I help?’ – actually considering the bigger meaning of it and take full and loving responsibility for your part in the collective madness and collective healing.
This is not about denial. Those that deny their shadow by basking only in the ‘light’, help more forcefully create the ‘shadow monster’. For just as there is dark, there is light. We need both. We are both.
As a wise man once told me, ‘if Hitler is in hell you want to hope that his mother is there holding him.’ I believe the only way to conquer this culture of hate and bitterness is to recognise it for what it is: unprocessed pain. I wonder as I look at the dead eyes of Trump what unowned vulnerabilities sit just below the surface. I wonder how different a character he might be if he had been loved and held more. Or told he was good enough. Or received with validation and understanding. For as Richard Rohr states so eloquently ‘If we do not transform our pain we will ALWAYS transmit it’.
Option two is really the only choice for me. To allow all my feelings to flow (not just the rage). To look for and see the good in myself and others (yes even in him). To rise up in this Consciousness Revolution, take responsibility and do my bit. To show kindness wherever I can, especially to myself. To give more, to live more, to be more.
For sometimes, angels come with dark wings and maybe Trump is just such a one. And his non-evident mission is to reveal to us all that we do not want- our collective darkness and all that we are in danger of becoming.
Post by Thandie
Welcome Donna Lancaster – one of the most inspiring people I know. I met Donna when she was my teacher on The Hoffman Process. That 8 days was the most powerful form of therapy I’ve undergone. I packed my most destructive baggage and hauled it away. The process revealed my ingrained, destructive ‘patterns’ and once recognised it was impossible to hold onto them. It was an education in self knowledge and self awareness.
It was appropriately tough, painful, bewildering, frustrating…and equally, once the emotional demons had been discarded, it was the the most profound feeling of joy, hope and freedom. I’d had psychotherapy for a number of years – but the Hoffman Process took me on a journey of self discovery like no other. Until The Bridge that is.
Here Donna describes how The Bridge evolved, and what you can hope to get out of it.
It might just be the best time, effort and money you will ever spend. I can’t wait to traverse The Bridge, and to be in the safe space created by Donna and her team.
The Bridge feels like my life’s work. It is a combination of every teaching and training I’ve received, every book I’ve read, every heart break I’ve grieved, every joy I’ve shared and every struggle I have overcome. It is an honour and privilege to do this work.
I am mixed race with a black South African father and white British mother. Born in South London. I grew up mainly in the south of England. We moved a lot. Like many of my peers growing up in the 60/70s there were very few visible black or mixed race role models to inspire me. I lived in both a very black community and then a very white one and experienced racism in both. This fuelled my sense as a child and young woman of feeling that I did not belong anywhere.
My inspiration growing up came from animals and nature. When things got tough at home or school I would find solace and comfort in being in nature with my dog. Neither cared about the colour of my skin. Still today animals and nature are my ‘soul food’.
Today, women inspire me and so many of them. All the greats including Rosa Parkes,
I am also inspired by men who have broken the shackles of stereotypes including David Richo, Eckhart Tolle and Prince Ea.
I used to aspire to be a ‘warrior woman’ with a focus on strength, tenacity and being ‘indestructible’! Now as a mature and hopefully wiser woman, I am more interested in cultivating the qualities of tenderness, authenticity, kindness, compassion and love. I view vulnerability as the strength it truly is. ‘Perfectly imperfect’ is the mantra I teach and live by.
Before launching my healing retreat, The Bridge, I originally trained and worked as a child protection social worker for
many years. I then went on to develop and deliver various
accredited training programmes for women and delivered these in schools, women’s refuges and prisons both in the UK and South Africa. For some of these women it was their first experience of ‘achieving’ and it was beautiful and humbling to witness.
I have also trained in Imago relationship therapy and Family Constellations and have a private coaching practice in NW London. I was a Hoffman Teacher for 9 years and Head of Teaching for The Hoffman Process for three years which is where I met Thandie!
I was motivated to set up The Bridge because of my own experience of ‘depression’ which I eventually discovered was in fact unprocessed grief.
In almost 25 years of working with individuals, families and groups I am shocked at how many people are diagnosed and medicated as ‘depressed’, who are actually suffering from blocked emotions.
In the western world we are not generally taught how to process pain or to understand grief and loss as part of the human condition. My mission is to change this so that people can remember and return to their true nature, their spirit and live from this place in joy and peace.
Healing to me is not only about recovering from pain, be it physical, psychological, emotional or spiritual, but also to be able to extract the wisdom and gifts from within the pain.
The bridge is different to other therapies because it combines highly effective therapeutic techniques alongside ancient African ritual practices during five days and nights which makes it very special. We also work with the ‘invisible influences’ of ancestral lineage and offer nature, food and music as natural ‘medicine’.
The ‘grief work’ aspect allows people to acknowledge and express about their life’s losses from endings of relationships, bereavement, miscarriages, missed motherhood and also the more subtle losses of hope, identity, innocence and purpose. As well as grieving for our individual losses, we also grieve together for the collective grief of the world.
The group aspect is key to reconnecting people to ‘a tribe’ and allowing the power of the group to work its own magic. We are tribal beings, we belong together and healing in community is a part of that. There are usually around 18 people on the retreat and three facilitators.
During the healing retreat, which is located in Somerset at 42acres.com, we use a wonderful combination of silence, meditation, visualisation, body work, journalling, time alone in nature, group sharing and ritual. Rest and relaxation is also pivotal for the experience. So many people are utterly exhausted due to the busyness and ‘switched on-ness’ of the modern technological world. The rituals work best with an element of surprise but include fire, chanting, dancing and touch.
In fully grieving past losses, we are able to truly let go of any painful or negative attachment to our pasts and it requires no ongoing maintenance to support this transformation. Living authentically with a truly open heart is a daily practice when the world can collude to keep us in ‘the shallows’. We therefore provide ongoing group events and social get togethers to support people to ‘remember’.
We also work with people to look beyond the self and recognise the ‘bigger picture’ and encourage being in service to the world.
We would love to get as many people to ‘cross The Bridge’ as possible and do not want finances to be a barrier to this. We have therefore established a Bursary fund whereby those who can, are able to financially support others to do this important work, if they wish to do so.
Check out The Bridge video shot by John Hicks – it literally saves lives.