Can your heart change colour?

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The Christmas period is  coming to an end, and for me, personally, it has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster. But, during this time, I have felt so much love from my family and friends. For that I am truly grateful.

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In the last couple of years, for quite some time I had this feeling that some bad events had irrevocably changed me for the worse. I remembered the time when I used to be compassionate and willing to give much of my own time to help and listen to others. At school and university I had always been involved in voluntary work and it made me feel happy to help other people. But in the years after university, I sensed that I had gradually started to lose this compassion and, because of this, I felt that I had even lost a deep part of myself. Some difficult circumstances and my reaction to them seemed to cause a bitterness inside me, a deep unhappiness with myself and people I felt I should have been able to trust, perhaps also a latent anger.

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I realised this had happened, not from consciously articulating it, but just because I had this very strange but strong feeling, even a visualisation, that my heart, which had once felt big, had shrunk and turned black, or turned to a small black stone.

I know that might sound crazy, but that’s the image I had.

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I decided that I needed to try and change my heart back to its original size and colour. I tried to give more kindness by doing simple things, like making time to talk to others even when I thought I didn’t have time, by trying to speak in a nicer tone even when I felt stressed (although I didn’t always succeed at that!), by helping a grieving neighbour, by even letting myself not feel guilty about the fact I can’t help others as much as I used to because now I have a full-time job and I also have to make time to look after myself.

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Later in the year, I think it was just before I moved house in August 2015, I had another visualisation about my heart (perhaps it was a dream or maybe just a mental image). The image was that my torso had a zip in it, which I unzipped, reached inside the darkness for my heart which I then took out in my hands, cupping it like a baby bird. Then I put it back inside. I felt that it was gold and glowing a whiteish light.

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I don’t know why I had these mental images which seemed to really speak to me about what was going on with my feelings. After the second one, I sensed that I had started to heal the bitterness and that I was in control of how my heart looked or felt.

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I don’t know how common this kind of thing is… but if you have ever also had a strong visualisation or a mental image that has really meant something to you, don’t be afraid to share it by commenting below or messaging me. I know that to others the mental images I had might sound weird or crazy, but perhaps they were actually very intuitive and trying to tell me something I needed to know. I am just curious if others have experienced this as well, so let me know if you can.

I hope that in 2016 I can keep being kind and compassionate, because it’s a part of myself that I don’t want to feel I have lost.

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Connecting the Dots

“…you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

– Steve Jobs, Commencement Address, June 2005

This is one of my favourite quotations and I have a few favourites from Steve Jobs, whose life philosophy I find hugely inspirational. I chose to copy this one today because I feel as if I have had an epiphany. I feel as if I have looked back and have now connected some of the dots of my life, that the zig-zag lines of a dot-to-dot truly do reflect the ups and downs of the years gone by, and that only now are they beginning to make sense as a whole, as a bigger picture.

For a long time I have known that I have an anxious personality and that I am prone to stress. Some situations forced me to realise this, and before I realised, I had suffered with these things not actually knowing that they were the labels for the way I was feeling. I can look back on my life and can identify anxiety attacks from the age of 12, and I can identify that during A levels I lost weight due to stress, but at the time I didn’t really know what I was experiencing. Then in my second year at university I was forced to understand the meaning of stress to a debilitating level when it made me nauseous, dizzy, emotional, and lose weight. It didn’t take me long to “recover”, but three years later, when I took my first job abroad, I experienced this kind of stress again, and this time it was accompanied with visual distortions. Enough was enough. I couldn’t stick my head in the sand any longer. It was time to learn how to manage stress, how to become more confident, how to conquer my fears, etc.etc. This is when I dedicated myself to my own personal development, and when I vowed I never wanted to go through that kind of stress-related illness again.

So, aware of the triggers, and susceptibility to stress, I didn’t let it stop me doing what I wanted to do in terms of working abroad and training to be a teacher. I thought I would be able to “manage” the stress when it happened by using strategies I had learnt through self-help. And I could. I got a lot better at looking after myself and have avoided the kind of illness I had before. But it came at a cost.

I was so afraid of what might happen if I got too stressed that during my teacher training I, ironically, did not deal well with the stress. It made me defensive, it made me doubt that I could cope, it made me question if teaching was for me if I didn’t have as much stamina as the other teachers in the staff room. I was afraid of feeling anxious. I was “fearing the fear”, “being stressed about being stressed” – the ultimate vicious cycle. I feel that my fear contributed to the alienation I experienced at my last workplace; I admit that I wasn’t at my most charismatic with colleagues because I was full of self-doubt and a preoccupation with NOT GETTING TOO STRESSED for fear of what would happen to me if I did.

Until now, I had been able to join up some of the dots in my picture. I had labelled the feelings I felt, I had identified my issues, I had begun to learn how to manage them, I had also learnt that trying to manage them too much could cause further problems… so what next?

As the summer holidays draw to a close and I am about to embark on a new teaching position in a very different situation to my last work place, I have joined up some more dots. And I would not have been able to get to this point without some of my lovely friends listening to me talk about this and helping me to understand further. So I would like to extend a big thank you to all the people who have always been there when I needed to talk about “my issues”.

I have come to understand that, before, I treated anxiety and stress as if they could be cured and as if they would eventually go away, that one day I would have finally learnt to manage them successfully and, as if by magic, I would not experience them any more, and if I did, the effect would be negligible. However I now realise that this is sadly not possible. I need to let myself feel these things, but most importantly, I need to believe that if I feel stressed or anxious, I will be able to handle those feelings, I will be able to cope with those feelings as best as I possibly can.

It is not about avoiding, preventing, curing, hiding, repressing – it is about feeling, and knowing that I can deal with it. After all, I felt these things before, and I got through it. So I can do it again if it happens again.

I feel that now I can go forward with more compassion to myself and others, with more clarity, more commitment, and less resistance to the feelings I didn’t want to feel.

The past has been connected, but the future stretches ahead as a vast expanse of as-yet-unconnected dots, and I am going to step out and allow myself to wholeheartedly experience whatever comes next, trusting in my own ability to handle whatever happens as best as I possibly can.

Thank you for reading,

Love, Jo

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Failing at Life – some inspirational quotes

Failure Definition

Feeling like a failure. Some people say this is what they fear most. I’ve been in situations which some people might deem “failure”, for example, having to leave a job because it was too stressful, and in the last few months I have also been faced with the threat that I could officially “fail” my first year of teaching. 

Feeling as if I was failing at work was demoralising, humiliating, frustrating, and depressing. When you put your all into something and you don’t get the return on your investment, you can feel like life has failed you, and/or that you have failed at life. Failure can be especially hard to take if you have never really struggled before, or if you have been consistently high-achieving. Being faced with the possibility that you are not perfect, that you are fallible, that actually you can’t achieve everything with relative ease, can be a difficult discovery to make.

But failure is what you make it. It can make or break you. You can wallow in humiliation and devastation, or you can learn from it, reassess the situation and try again.

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In the last few weeks, I have managed (so far) to turn a dire and failing situation around. With resolve and commitment, and trying some new approaches, I have actually received some positive feedback where a few weeks ago I was receiving nothing but criticism. This is a small success, but I’m not going to do it down. Out of failure, I created success.

Life goes through patterns, rolling ups and downs, and when you hit a down, it can feel that you have hit rock bottom. But if you get in that situation, have faith that you will be due an “up” any time soon 😉 Keep going.

Now for some quotations for you (and me!) to remember in those times of need!

“Every failure brings with it the seed of an equivalent success” Napoleon Hill

“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely” Henry Ford

“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm” Sir Winston Churchill

“There is no failure except in no longer trying” Elbert Hubbard

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas Alva Edison

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail” Confucius

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default” J. K. Rowling.