Touched by a gorilla

Photo by Porco Rosso on Unsplash

I can’t remember when my fascination with Gorillas started but the movie “Gorillas in the Mist” definitely contributed to that.  I only recently read the book (with the same name) by Dian Fossey on which the move was based. In the book she shares 13 years of research of the mountain gorillas in the Virunga mountains in Africa.

A few times in the book I was really touched by what she did and how the gorillas engaged with each other as well as with her. The one was when she and a gorilla (that she called “Peanut”) shared eye connection for the first time.  In that moment she felt that she has “crossed an intangible barrier between human and ape” and “finally been accepted by a gorilla”.  She writes

“The expression in his eyes was unfathomable. Spellbound, I returned his gaze – a gaze that seemed to combine elements of inquiry and of acceptance. Peanut ended this unforgettable moment by sighing deeply, and slowly resumed feeding.”

The combination of inquiry and of acceptance is so powerful. Through my coaching work I came to realise that those two elements (inquiry and acceptance) are vital in the process of becoming. How can you gaze upon yourself with inquiry and acceptance and also do that in your interactions with others?

There was another beautiful incident with Peanut that Dian described in the book. When they touched hands for the first time. After the incident they named the place “Fasi Ya Mkoni” meaning “the Place of the Hands”. The words moved me. It reminded me that, just like the gorillas, we too have a yearning for connection and to be touched. What or who do you need to touch today to deepen your connection with life?

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Connecting to your inner wildness

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We all have an inner wild woman or man living inside of us. That part of us that wants to be free, spend time in nature and connect with animals. Yet, in the busyness of life we tend to neglect that aspect of ourselves. Instead of running or meandering freely in the mountains we run around from one meeting to another chasing deadlines. Leaving us exhausted and disconnected at the end of the day.

Ian McCuallum write in his book Ecological Intelligence
“ To be wild is to be alert to the needs of the flesh and the warning calls of distress. It is to be spontaneous – to live one’s Earthiness and one’s notions of God independent of outside approval. It is to dance, to work and to play with passion…”

I get a sense that we assume that if we allow ourselves to be wild it will lead to irresponsible behaviour. To prevent that, we put our inner wildness on a leash and hand it over to our inner critic to hold. In trying to protect ourselves from the possibility of getting hurt by being spontaneous and passionate we are sabotaging our creativity. By always trying to be in control, do the responsible or the “right” thing we limit ourselves, lose our sense of self and authenticity.

When we unleash the wildness inside we open ourselves to the natural flow of life. In doing that we start to breathe more deeply and our capacity to live with an open-heart increase. We are more able to feel and take in all aspects of life (the joy, ecstasy, intimacy, sadness, disappointments, etc.) without trying to control it. We become more aware of the impact of our behaviour on others and the environment. Which open up new possibilities to engage in a more sustainable authentic way. From being more connected with ourselves and others we can make valuable contributions on a personal and professional level.

You may ask so how do I start to connect with my inner wild woman or man? There are endless possibilities of doing this. You can start with making time to just be with yourself and notice what wants to emerge. Take off your shoes and walk barefoot on the grass. Spend time in nature -go for a hike in the mountain or walk along the beach and allow your inner self to connect with nature. Do something spontaneous, dance, play with your children, read poetry. Do whatever will make you feel free.

I would like to end with a poem by Ian McCuallum that beautifully capture that inner wildness.

The rising
One day
your soul will call to you
with a holy rage.
“Rise up!” it will say …
Stand up inside your own skin.
Unmask your unlived life …
feast on your animal heart.
Unfasten your fist …
let loose the medicine
in your own hand.
Show me the lines …
I will show you the spoor
of the ancestors.
Show me the creases …
I will show you
the way to water.
Show me the folds …
I will show you the furrows
for your healing.
“Look!” it will say …
the line of life has four paths –
one with a mirror
one with a mask,
one with a fist,
one with a heart.
One day,
your soul will call to you
with a holy rage.

Trusting your truth

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Where does your truth live in your body?

This may sound like a weird question but it is not. In our everyday language we regularly refer to our “gut feeling” when we sense that we need to do something.  There is an increasing number of research that shows how various parts of the body (such as the gut, heart, skin and vagus nerve) acts as brains of their own, process information and make decisions before we are even cognitively aware of it. Highlighting the importance of being able to connect and sense into the wisdom of the body. The psychiatrist, Bessel van der Kolk, say that you have to be in your body to speak your truth.

Over the years of working with people in a personal development capacity I came to realise that this is a difficult question for people to answer.  People tend to be good at identifying when someone else is speaking “the truth” (or not). However, when it comes to knowing what is true for them personally and being able to stand in their truth, they are not as skilled. The catch is that if you want to bring your “whole self” to life, you need to be able to embody all of you.

What is true for you may not be true for someone else. Therefore, asking advice may help in discerning what is more aligned to your truth but it is not enough. Building the capacity to know where your truth lives in your body means sensing into your body. Really tuning into the felt sense of when you do (or don’t do) things. Observing where in your body do you feel moved (or movement) when you read a poem or listen to a piece of music that speaks to you.

Your truth lives in your body. Your thoughts can confuse you by spinning various stories but when you can connect to your truth and trust it.  That gives you the courage to move forward in life in the face of uncertainty. In acting (applying for the job, buying the flight ticket, making the decision, speaking up in the meeting, etc.) on that inner wisdom you open yourself to new experiences that can then in return provide “evidence” of why trusting your truth was “the right thing” for you to do.  This creates a feedback loop that builds your capacity to direct your life from an embodied stance.

 

Make it easy

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“Don’t let it be a struggle. Make it easy. Let go of the story.”

These were the words that a wise man told me in India when I shared my struggles with him. In these three simple short sentences he captured the essence of what I needed to hear.  He was speaking straight from the heart. The simplicity of his words were powerful and touched me deeply.

In life we tend to overcomplicate things. We make it unnecessarily hard for ourselves when we attach to the stories we tell ourselves. It could be stories of who we are or aren’t. How we should have reacted or wishing we could have done more. When we allow the inner battle to continue in our minds we empower the struggle.

However, when we keep our ego out of the way and don’t make it all about ourselves, we make it easy. When we listen to our inner truth and stay connected to it, we make it easy. We disempower the struggle when we let go of the story.

In letting go of the story we forgive ourselves, see our weaknesses and accept who we are now. This opens us to new learnings and love. When we love everything that we encounter directly without expecting any results, we make it easy. When we love directly we love the bond that connects us all.

Make it easy – judge less and love more!

Beginning again

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I don’t know about you but all the hype around a new year can make one feel overwhelmed or inadequate at times. This blog is not about how to make this your best year ever. Nor is it about setting new year resolutions that will last. It is about the act of beginning again.

The simple yet extremely difficult task of taking the first step into the unknown. I specifically use the phrase beginning again rather than starting over. In saying you are starting over there is an underlying assumption that what you did previously was incorrect. That you have to wipe the slate clean and start with a blank page. I don’t believe one can really do that. I believe that our past is part of who we are and will always live somewhere in our bodies. Every experience has the potential to enrich us. How we engage with all the different aspects of it (be it success, adventure, abundance, joy or even fear, loss, sadness) will determine how much we grow and learn from it.

Beginning again is about opening your eyes and allowing yourself to see and feel again as if for the first time.  To enter your day with an openness that will enable life to touch you. In order to do that one needs to be present to the moment as it is. Not how you wish it to be. Therefore, it is a decision one makes numerous times a day and not only at the beginning of a year.

Beginning again means picking up the pen to write as if for the first time, though you’ve done it a thousand times before. It means putting on your running shoes to practise for the marathon even if your muscles are still tired from the previous run. It is about pursuing a goal while the voice of the inner critic is saying you are not good enough. Beginning again takes courage and requires trust. It is about opening the door, stepping over the threshold and showing up to who you are in this moment. Just this moment, this breath, this conversation nothing more and nothing less.

We all have the capacity to begin again. As Mark Nepo writes “The world begins anew each day. This is the miracle that makes not a sound, but which changes everything, if we can be quiet enough to feel it happen. When we participate in this, we begin anew each day.”

Beginning again is part of the natural unfolding of life. May you have many courageous new beginnings as you step into this year filled with uncertainty.

Letting go of the plan

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Let it all go. Let it fall. Let it out like a sigh.

First the gratification of being in control by making a plan. The excitement of how things will work out perfectly if everything goes according to plan. Then the rigid trying to keep to the plan and the rules implied by the plan.

As the plan does not play out as ‘planned’ the tension starts to build. The anxiety begins. The hand that wants to control turns into a fist of anger for things not working out as planned. The frustration irritates the body. The mind starts to search frantically for answers to the wrong questions. Why is my plan not working out? Why is this happening to me? If only things will work out according to the plan, then everything will be okay.

Then the idea, let’s be flexible and make another plan. Plan B. Again, the craving to feel in control. So the cycle continues until none of the plans work out and you realise the only option is to let go of the plan/s. Deep within you, you know it is what life is asking of you. Yet, you struggle to open the fingers that are tightly closed around the plan.

When you finally do open your hands, you feel the release. Vulnerability and sadness flows out of your hands like tear drops. You realise the more important question to ask is ‘What will enable me to let go of the plan?’ The answer – knowing you are not in control. You can’t control time.  You can’t control nature or the rhythm of life. You can (and must) do your part but then you need to trust in the unfolding of life.

Like a farmer carefully planning for the season. Preparing the ground so that when the rain comes the crop will grow. But after he has done everything that is within his control, the farmer trusts and believes that nature will run its course…

Be patient, trust the process of life. Let go of the plan. Let go of the ‘I’ and the idealised images. Like a teardrop, surrender and go with the flow. Life may surprise you.

Breaking the silence

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It has been seven months since my last blog. Writing this blog reminds me of the moment when we broke the silence on the 10th day of a Vipassana silent retreat that I attended recently. At the retreat noble silence is maintained for ten days which means that you don’t speak to anyone (vocally or through body language). Any distractions that can possibly divert your attention are taken away (such as phone, books, writing material, exercise). You use the time to learn a meditation technique that enables you to quiet the mind, be in the moment and connect with yourself.

The first three days of silence is difficult because you feel the need to express yourself but may not. You want to check with others if what is happening to you is ‘normal’, whether they are also struggling. If you are making progress and being a good student. Instead of getting the external confirmation and recognition that you seek you are faced with your own habits of avoidance and fears of failure.

You realize that you tend to live your life from the outside in, instead of inside out. Before making a decision you first look outside of yourself to gather information, test the opinion of others and seek their approval. Rather than starting at the sensational level, your inner body of knowledge, and feel how the decision sits with you. Does it create sensations of craving or aversion within you? Can you look at it from a place of equanimity and respond objectively rather than reacting from your default pattern?

After the fourth day you start to settle in your body. Your eyes are not looking frantically around, they start to calm down and rest in the eye sockets. This enables you to begin to feel the sensations in your body from a physical level and not look at the sensations from the outside in. You start to come home to yourself. You come home to the moment as it is and not as you want it to be. In doing that you begin to accept and love yourself.

For me the journey back home was 5 cm inward, 10 degrees to the left and between 4 to 12 hours long. I realized I tend to live 5cm outside of my physical body. When we had to feel the sensations in our bodies I tried to look at it from a 5cm distance. The retreat enabled me to feel comfortable within my body so that I could feel the sensation as it arose and passed by. When you sit for 12 hours and meditate you become aware of your body posture. My head was tilted to the right side at an angle of 10 degrees. I was not looking straight ahead and facing reality as it was. At the beginning of the retreat my mind was always thinking ahead. I became aware that I was thinking about what I was going to do 4 to 12 hours ahead of time. I was not present at all. When you are not present you can’t be with life as it is in the moment. You miss out on the fullness of life and yourself.

When you start to speak after 10-days of silence you realise that you are engaging with others from a different place. A more loving and centred space. You are more aware whether you are connected to your truth or not. I stopped blogging for a while because I realised that my blogs became more about sharing other people’s opinions and insights than my own. The initial purpose of my blogs was to share my truth and how I experience the world with the hope that it will inspire others to do the same and just be themselves. As with the retreat I needed some time in silence to reconnect so that when I do speak up it comes from a place of love and authenticity.

We can’t always go on silent retreats to reconnect with ourselves. What we can do is to create pockets of silence during the day or week. Even if it is just to focus on your breath for a minute. Doing that brings you back to the universal truth that everything in life arises and passes away. We can’t control life more than we can control our breath. The act of trying to control life contributes to our suffering. When we let go of the need to control and accept the moment as it is and not how we want it to be, we set ourselves and others free.

I know it is easier said than done and probably a lifetime practice,  but we can start with this breath…