Today has been COMPOST DAY.
Finally, I got to a job that has been waiting for a while. Today the various planets aligned:- the weather was dry; my energy level and inclination were primed and yesterday’s computer-heavy day required an outside day today; AND the bees that had taken up residence have finally moved on!
So, I moved compost from my (‘dalek’) bins into the blue broken paddling pool that I bought years ago for my dog. He hated it, he was all about real water – lakes, streams, sea, ponds… not small plastic apple-shaped ridiculousness. Well, I love a good recycle. It makes for the best compost turning container.
And as is my way, amid the physical effort of turning the layers with my gardening fork, watching and chatting to the worms, picking out the sticks that would take the next decade to decompose, there was a lot of awe and wonder.
Awe + Wonder
I am in awe that the ‘rubbish’, the left overs, the peelings and clippings and cuttings of life can, given the right environment and balance, evolve into black gold…
That the very bits that could so easily be thrown out to fill up landfill, can so easily be kept and save me oodles of ££ not needing to buy compost each year.
And my other ponderings were around the metaphor of it all.
I pondered about the importance of composting the things of life we would otherwise wish to just throw away. The experiences we wish we could discard, disown, distance our very selves from.
All those things stay with us, and whether we like it or not, they affect us. Especially if we think we have put them behind us, got over them, and are OK now… the chances are, if we haven’t allowed them to settle, to be turned over gently, respectfully, to allow the mess and the impact of it to spill out into a safe container of someone else’s presence… then we are most likely not as ‘over it’ as we thought.
The tough stuff of life impacts our nervous system. It’s no surprise – the thing that we were created with to help us keep ourselves safe, and respond accordingly when we are not, never turned off. It has been witness to it all. All of it. And the surprise comes often to those who don’t realise that our incredible nervous system can get stuck. If we never completed the full process with an event, we never did our composting, then our nervous system is still holding on to it somewhere in our muscles, our breathing, our behaviour, and yes, deep in our subconscious. However old we are, our survival response can so easily become our normal… if we try to by-pass the composting part.
The Most Important Work of All
If you are a parent or work 1:1 with a child in any capacity, then this is really important.
- If you are a school staff member this is really important.
- If you are SLT, or a Head this is super important.
- If you are a therapist working with children this is requisite.
- If you are a Children’s Guardian this is really important.
- If you are a social worker around children, this is fundamentally important.
It can be really nice to hide ourselves away in the business of children’s lives when all along we are still running away from the reality and impact of our own. Avoidance. Denial.
So my invitation is to get composting. Get a quality container… a sound, trauma recovery equipped therapist. Get with a trained and qualified professional who truly understands how your brain has changed. Work together with someone who is trained and knowledgeable on how your body has been impacted all these years and what it will take to allow your nervous system to get ‘unstuck’. Get, or maybe…prioritize… Make time to make it happen.
Because when we have taken the time, made the effort (and my body right now, knows the composting work that went on today absolutely was effort!) and turned the decomposing, smelly, I’d-rather-not-have-to-go-near-that-again’ off-cuts of our life into beautiful black gold, they don’t smell any more. They are not icky to touch. We can hold them. Own them. Integrate them. The pain doesn’t crumple us like before. Instead of running away from, distancing ourselves from the memories of it, we now find our selves resourced in a whole new way.
A store of good compost is the gardener’s richest treasure. If we want to do anything, grow anything in our life, doing it with our own, well-processed compost, sets us up well for future events. Our healed experiences become part of our wisdom. Our processing in the presence of another equips us for safer relationships to come. Our courage and commitment to our recovery strengthens us. Our body actually becomes stronger when the things that caused stored stress are re-processed, re-formatted and flow is restored again to our system. We become a more stable, grounded, resourced, understanding and insightful part of the future. And if we are around children… they are way more likely to sense us as safe to them. If we choose to be around hurting children, then the amount of our own composting we have done/continue to do, means our very body and our essence is a beacon of authentic hope to theirs. A promise. We can become a light in the darkness…
Fresh Insights on Corona Virus : What we can learn about ourselves and othersTelling someone who is scared not to be is about as supportive and effective as telling someone who is ranting to calm down.
It doesn’t work. It doesn’t help.
The thing about a big event like this pandemic is that it affects us. It restricts us. This invisible ‘thing’ is now the reason we cannot do what we want to do. We cannot live the way we want to. We cannot travel. We cannot work. We cannot go visit our family who may be sick. Even if we are not feeling the physical effects of the virus, many of us are feeling our lives be curtailed by this thing we didn’t see coming.
Some of us are ok with it.
Being calm is easy. Empathy abounds. We have no problem seeing ourselves as a significant member of our national / global community. We are flexible, resourceful, creative. Being logical is no big deal.
But for some of us it can leave us feeling overwhelmed. Feeling small. Feeling powerless.
And if there is any event back in the earlier pages of our life story where something happened that had us feeling these same feelings; small, overwhelmed, dis-empowered, then our current reality may well be accompanied by the music of that time. Our body instinctively moving the same dance: muscles extra tight. Our heart rate elevated. Our breathing quicker and our view of the world the same : not a happy or safe place to be. We have to give in. We want to hide.
We want to whisper “please don’t tell me to stop feeling scared. You have no idea of the nightmares that have been triggered in me. My body remembers… This is how things are. We are being overwhelmed by this ‘thing’. We can’t get away… it’s out to get us and it will. That’s just how it is.”
And for some of us it can leave us feeling on edge. Anxious. Wondering what is coming next. Waiting for the inevitable… next.
Because if there are moments, even far back in our story, where we lived this way before, where we were used to being on the look-out, waiting, anticipating the next bad thing to happen… we learnt that there is …. always… a next… And those harmonies will accompany our current experience. And our body will start that dance again… tight muscles, sweaty palms, racing thoughts, butterflies in the tummy and hyper-focusing on every detail of what is going on around us…
We want to beg “don’t tell me to not worry. Don’t tell me It’s nothing. I am scared, and my body remembers. I am at the mercy of this invisible force out to hurt us all. I need to watch its every move. Need to keep moving. To duck and dive, to run. I can smell it coming… my nightmares have begun again.”
And for some of us it can leave us feeling annoyed. Feeling angry. Feeling disrespected.
The echoes of not being noticed, not being honoured, from times gone by now pumping their revengeful war-dance through our entire system. We want to shout ”I will not be pushed around! I will not be dwarfed and belittled by this force. I will defend myself. Defend my rights. I will survive. I will do what it takes and keep moving. I am full of energy and I will shop and travel and keep living MY life on MY terms. I will make sure I am the bigger one this time! I cannot, will not, allow myself to do otherwise.”
You see for most of us right now – trying to be logical and explain facts will not help. We live from our nervous system state and if our body has us in a defense state (mobilise or shut down) then it is impossible to truly hear and comprehend facts. It is impossible to discern truth from hype. It is impossible for your brain to calm your body when your body memories have been a-woken and are screaming messages of un-safety at your brain.
So What CAN We Do now?
Let us not tell each other to calm down – but let’s lead ourselves. Let us be the change we want to see.
It is for each of us to really pay honest attention to our own response to this situation and extend ourselves some compassion and permission to listen to the music we are hearing. To listen out for the internal strains of fear, overwhelm, or defiance… To notice the dance we are doing in our body and quietly ask ourselves when we learnt those steps?
To consider what this experience reminds me of?
To pay attention to ourselves in a new and gentle way.
Because the truth is – it is unlikely we have actually lived this exact situation before.
The truth is that it just feels like we are unsafe now the way we were unsafe in the past…
Now we can notice ourselves and our body.
Now we can move – our arms and legs, we can get up, we can move from room to room, into the garden, or outside.
Now we can acknowledge the pent-up energy in our body and express it safely, or honour it and soothe it.
Now we can choose what we will focus on. We can listen to the story our body is singing and see where we may still need to befriend ourselves, to heal and to grow in order to bring that old music to a close.
Now we can reach out and connect with others who are safe for us. We can use technology and still benefit from their calming smile, their twinkly eyes, their soothing, honouring, respectful presence, and their ability to help us giggle our way to safety, and find logic and perspective again.
And when we are brought into a state of safety within, then and ONLY then, we can intentionally choose our own response to the way our life is being altered and find the good in it, the things we can be grateful for, the space, the time, the peace, the spontaneous fun.
More than CPD
In June last year (2017) I was in London for a few days. I was there to be part of a specialist training for further enhancing my skills and credentials of working with trauma and the body – with children. I was excited about the training – in fact I heard from the organiser I was the first one booked on it. However, as I look back, those days mean even more to me now.
I arrived the afternoon before and met some of the other participants (from all over the world) for a meal. When walking back from that meal, we passed this march… You may/may not remember that that was a few days after the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower – just down the road from where we were staying.
I will never forget the energy of that moment… we stopped still and honoured those that marched past – the survivors… their anger, their grief, their fight, their trauma and I felt I became part of that moment, honouring them all, and those who were impacted by the trauma of the fire.
Over the years I have learnt so much about trauma. About how it can change people, the elements needed to heal from it, that it can change the course of your life, but doesn’t have to be a life sentence. About how brains and bodies change. About the hope there is.
At the end of the training days, when we sat in a big circle in a closing activity, I remember talking about Grenfell and committing myself to do my part to contribute to changing society views around trauma, and those who have experienced it.
What you wont know, is that just before that course, a few hours before that meal, and a few hours before witnessing that march I had pulled out my iPad in my hotel room in London and started writing… my book.
Catalyst for Good
Grenfell had had an impact on me – as my car crash had years before – that same ‘you never really know when your time is up’.
I didn’t want my time to be up without passing on some of the things I have learnt over 25 years working with and around children and families. Things I have learnt and researched and seen in action about what it really takes to bring the best out in children – trauma or not. Things that are not common knowledge…yet. That would be a waste. Grenfell was my catalyst to stop procrastinating and start using my voice. It was time to start getting what was in me out.
GROUNDED is a book that has come from over 25 years of working with and around children. Insight from years as a teacher, an accredited play therapist, a clinical supervisor, a therapeutic adviser to schools and families – and a trauma specialist still helping people of all ages heal from the impact of their experiences.
It is a book that is relatable to teachers, parents, TAs, grandparents, aunts and uncles, football coaches and Scout leaders. It is packed with current neuroscience and everyday stories that make it all so easy to read and understand. It is a book that advocates for children – and has a message they often can’t speak for themselves. It is a book for all adults who want to be the best they can be for the kids they know. It is a book with a message and a mission. It is a book of hope.
GROUNDED is a book that is endorsed by teachers, Heads, parents, grandparents, play therapists, psychotherapists, international trauma specialists and world leading neuro-scientists.
It is done. GROUNDED is out.
There is a lot more I could say about the book, but I wanted to let you know some of the story of where it came from.
Now I want to share it with you all, with gratitude, as you have felt like part of the team that has helped bring it to birth.
I got an incredible opportunity to speak to a packed room of health-interested adults last week. They were healers, helpers, educators and ‘advocates for health’ in professional roles as well as everyday life-role-models. I was sharing a bit of my story – my experience of Integrative or Functional Medicine, and encouraging others to listen to the story their body was telling.
It was one of those days I will never forget… and particularly because next on the stage after me was one of my modern-day heros; Dr Rangan Chatterjee. You may have seen him on the TV, he is the Doctor in BBC’s Doctor in the House series. He is also a familiar face on newsy chat shows on both TV and Radio. He has a brilliant book out – The 4 Pillar Plan and he is trying to shake things up from the inside of the NHS – why?
Because he cares about his clients.
He actually wants to help people get better, live better and live in greater health… not just ‘managing symptoms with another pill’.
He is risking sticking his head above the parapet, committing his time to the demands of TV series (I was shocked how much time these series take!), because he is committed to getting the message of true health out with the platform he has been given. I resonate. Not the TV thing, obviously – just feeling the challenge of choosing to be different and challenge the status quo – because I care.
ONE thing he said REALLY struck me – because it is relevant to the people I spend my time with.
Dr Chatterjee told a story of how one of his medical colleagues asked him (with incredulity) how he gets people (his regular patients in his GP practice – not the TV ones) to actually listen and do the things he suggests. Giving people recommendations for how they can bring their blood sugar levels down, increase their energy, decrease the vast array of symptoms from elevated cortisol levels etc. are easy to suggest, and for the patient easy to do and easy NOT to do. How is it that Dr Chatterjee’s patients are creating book-fulls of stories of incredible drug-free life improvements from doing the simple things he suggests?
Dr Chatterjee’s response was this: ‘In my opinion, as health professionals, the biggest tool we need to have is an ability to communicate. The question is really can you communicate and really connect with the person in front of you?’
I loved that answer. It is so totally true. It is true in the classroom, it is true in the playground and it is true in a family home. If we care about people and have ways to help them grow and develop and flourish, then we have to prioritise making sure we CONNECT with them, before we try and share any of the good stuff.
How do you know if you really connect with your clients, your patients, your pupils, your children?
And here’s the kicker. In a school, home or office getting people to just do what you say does not mean you have connected. Ask anyone who feels like they work for or live with a mini-dictator!!’ One of the survival responses closely related to the well-known ‘freeze’ is submit – appeasement. It is in operation so much in schools – and some homes. Dr Chatterjee does not have a power relationship with his patients. They are totally at liberty to walk out of his surgery and ignore everything he says, and maybe some do. But the majority don’t.
If you really connect then you will have people actually wanting to do the thing you suggest for them, because they know it comes from you genuinely respecting them, wanting the best for them, because they like you and because they trust you.
It is an important reminder for us all. Whatever our sphere of influence, are we connecting with those in our care? Are we growing relationships of trust and mutual respect? Do we honour those we work with, whatever their age?
The level to which we develop our communication skills and find ways to effectively, authentically connect with those we work with, will be the level of our professional influence. If we have any ambition to make a difference to others, or maybe even want to change the world, one star-fish at a time, we need to start with genuine, authentic connection.
This article was recently written for a newsletter going to all medical Doctors (GPs) in South Africa. More and more people in the UK, Europe and across the world, understand the future of HEALTH care is in Integrative medical approaches. His words are interesting for anyone interested in health, healing, potential and thriving in life.
This article is reproduced with permission.
NEWSLETTER TO GPs in South Africa
from Dr David Nye, Head of Integrative General Practice SASIM (South African Society for Integrative Medicine)
“Earlier this month, I was fortunate enough to attend a life-changing presentation by Dr Melanie Salmon at the monthly SASIM meeting in South Africa. As many of you may know, Melanie introduced TRE [Trauma Releasing Exercise] to South Africa over the past 10 years. Previously she practiced as a GP and Counsellor (Gestalt Psychotherapist) in the UK for 40 years.
On this occasion she presented her unique treatment called Quantum Energy Coaching [QEC]. This concept is so exciting I felt compelled to share it with all of you, who did not have the opportunity to hear it first-hand. QEC is based in neuroscience and is a distillation of: Gestalt Coaching, Focused Intention, Brain Gym, Cardiac Coherence, Neuroplasticity, Neurogenesis and Kinesiology. Basically, it is a quick and efficient means of imprinting positive affirmations on the subconscious mind.
Melanie was greatly impressed by the ground-breaking work of Dr. Bruce Lipton, published in his book “The Biology of Belief”. He showed scientifically, that the foundation of most ailments lies in negative, limiting thinking. As we now know, we are not controlled by our genes, but by epigenetic influences of toxicity, lifestyle, nutrition, stress, etc. The most powerful of these epigenetic influences are our thoughts.
Lipton was the first to show that if we want to make permanent changes in our lives, we need to find methods able to change thinking at the subconscious level of the mind. He demonstrated that humans operate 5% of the time in the conscious mind and 95% of the time in the subconscious. It is our negative subconscious thought patterns that hold us back from achieving our best, and it is those same thought patterns that underpin so much suffering in chronic diseases. How often do we find ourselves exhorting our patients to ‘think positively’, or to engage in years of therapy, only to be disappointed by the outcomes?
QEC provides a quick, permanent way of replacing the ‘negatives’ with ‘positives’, thus allowing the individual to move forward, freed of the baggage holding him/her back. Successful outcomes can often be achieved in one session of 90 minutes, but up to 6 sessions may be required in some individuals.
QEC combines well with TRE and other forms of counselling, and anyone can learn to do it. The scope of QEC is infinite and it can help everyone from those who are healthy, but wish to succeed in business, to those with allergies, phobias, addictions, mental and physical illnesses, to those coping with cancer. In this broken, traumatised and stressed country of ours, it is something that can change the present and future of every single one of us!”
Dr David Nye, Head of Integrative General Practice, South African Society for Integrative Medicine.
QEC comes to Birmingham, UK ~ May 2018
A unique 4-day training to become a QEC certified practitioner is being held for the first time in Europe in May 2018. Open to anyone who is a professional healer or mind or body. Many places already booked.
Further details, videos of participants, flyer and booking information is available here.
“Look at me…”
…are 3 words you wont hear me say.
I have heard them so many times in classrooms, corridors, playgrounds, school gates, offices, restaurants… etc, etc. Sometimes said gently, sometimes forcefully; always a command. I know I used to say them to my class when I was a teacher. It was a long time ago and I didn’t know back then what I know today. In this day and age, when we are all aware of the desperate need for mental health awareness in schools, offices and homes… the dynamics of eye contact is something that needs to be understood, especially for 1:1 situations.
It Still Happens…
Recently I was hearing about someone (a grown-up) who was in a meeting with a Mental Health Professional who said these 3 words to her. She was looking away at the time…at her shoes… and had been for most of the meeting.
Hearing this really saddened me. This lady, the client (or ‘patient’ depending on the situation and service) was left feeling like she had done something wrong in not having given the eye contact and been found out. Now she also felt like a failure that she couldn’t do it, even though she was being asked to do something she found next to impossible at the time. This was a meeting with a professional who clearly didn’t understand the impact of what was going on, what she was doing, or how best to connect with someone not giving eye contact.
In a trauma-aware school or any other setting, where the aim is to keep people big or small emotionally safe and understood, these are words that will be redundant. If adults really learn how to keep others emotionally safe, these words just wont feature. It doesn’t matter whether the condition is anxiety, depression, autism, or just plain fear or shame.
If a child is not looking at an adult in the face it is because they do not feel emotionally safe to do so.
If an adult is not looking at an adult in the face it is because they do not feel emotionally safe to do so.
Really looking at someone in the eye is an incredibly vulnerable thing to do. Have you noticed what happens in your body when you try to do this? With some people it will be easier – with others more uncomfortable and with others, at times, impossible…
and what directs our ability to look someone in the eye is within us.
Our state of confidence, openness, assertiveness. Our sense of safety in that moment.
What actually directs this is our nervous system.
If we are in a state where our ventral vagus is operating, then we are able to make full use of our social engagement system and connect with people around us. We feel safe and we can easily read people around us.
If we are feeling anxious, angry, fearful or overwhelmed, misunderstood or unsafe in anyway, then our nervous system changes, and our dominant drive becomes one to find safety. Our body changes as we are feeling vulnerable and looking at people in the eye in this state is not safe.
IF you have ever been around dogs or horses you will know they will give you the deepest, longest, ‘I really see you’ gaze when they feel safe. They will also give you regular eye contact at a less penetrating level if they want to and feel safe to. If they meet a person or animal they don’t feel safe with they look away. If they know they have done something wrong they look away.
This is biological, survival wiring. It happens to us all when we feel unsafe.
When we ask, direct or demand that someone look at us in the eye – or even look at our face, when they would rather not, then we show them we do not understand them, we do not notice them, or we do not care about them. We communicate we don’t understand them and therefore they are not safe with us. If we do notice and continue to demand their gaze, then we are potentially manipulating a power dynamic – and not in their favour. If there is a power dynamic anyway (e.g. adult telling a child, or professional telling a client) then the dynamics of survival kick in further and the child or client will feel compelled to do what the ‘bigger power’ demands of them…for their survival… and yet their physiology can’t help as it needs to stay safe…it needs to keep looking away.
When I have worked with teachers and parents around this, they have been able to feel in their body the incredible resistance to looking someone in the face/ eye when you don’t feel comfortable with them. “I would rather have looked ANYWHERE other than actually at you at that moment” is common, and appropriate feedback of their short experience of being put in that uncomfortable, pressured situation. [NB: and they say it whilst voluntarily giving me full eye contact and a smile again ;-)]
How to respond when someone isn’t giving you eye contact:-
- notice their lack of eye contact and acknowledge to yourself they are not feeling so safe with you (or this conversation) or themselves right now
- ask yourself if you are doing something that is overwhelming (speaking too fast or too loud, standing too close, moving arms too close, shaming/blaming language)
- change yourself to become less of a threat – this really requires YOU to have a sufficient level of self-awareness and a significant level of desire to bring the best out of the other person
- if the changes you make don’t seem to help them feel safer, ask them gently, if there is anything that would make them feel more comfortable right now.
- do all the above without drawing attention to the fact they are not looking at you.
Schools, families, meeting rooms, offices, well-being clinics, will be safer if those ‘in charge’ can notice the level of eye contact they are being offered by those they are with, as indicators of the level of emotional safety at that time.
‘People are not listening if they are not giving me eye contact’. This is utter untruth. Seriously. This is just conditioned belief and is wrong. It is totally possible to hear what people are saying whilst not looking them in the eye. Read a story to children while they draw and ask them questions about it afterwards if you need proof – and can handle the lack of attention focused on you 😉
If we think we need eye contact before we have someone’s ears then we are sorely mistaken.
“Look this way…”, “look to the board…”, “look over there…” “can you see…” are all great alternatives that help direct vision, without manipulation of power dynamics that make things worse.
In a nut shell
When someone gives you eye contact acknowledge it as the gift they are offering you.
If they can’t give you eye contact then they are not feeling safe with you, or with themselves.
Telling / asking / demanding they give you eye contact is the worst thing you can do to someone feeling unsafe.
Understanding this helps children and adults.
Not drawing attention to it helps children and adults.
Diverting effort into helping them feel less threatened helps children and adults feel safer…
… which naturally in time will enable them to change their internal neuro-physiology and look you in the eye… if they want to.