An Open Letter to All Therapists

I originally wrote this article for the Good Men Project, but I wanted to post it on my blog because I think it highlights a few important issues that my generation face when it comes to therapy – that some of the most ‘experienced’ aren’t always the most connected, and in fast moving times like these that is a real hindrance to clients.

Dear Therapist,

The World is different these days. I am in an abundance of information and I have instant access to it at the drop of the hat. I am constantly bombarded with messages, day and night that drown out my inner voice. I’m in a state of emotional hypersensitivity and I am terrified about it. At best I am coping. Safeguarding, by locking out all depth of emotion so as not to show my true self, because I am different, I am the problem. Or so I believe.

But I am different. Inside me is my authentic voice which is stifled underneath the messages of marketing material, rules from outdated religions, and educational systems that consistently tell me that what I feel is wrong. For decades, they have told me that I am not good enough. That I’m a failure. That I should fit in the boxes and be perfect. It’s what they told my parents generation and some of them believed it. Some took the pills and numbed out. Some locked away their inner voice and the ‘crazy’ emotions that went with it. Some of them believed that they were the problem.

But I am different. Whilst there is the voice inside me that tells me I’m not good enough,. There is another voice inside me that is fighting to be heard. Fighting against the messages of the American dream and the scared egos of those who are killing themselves in the belief of it. The ones who shut down my voice, in fear of having their own exposed. The older generation that tell me I should take some anti-depressants, not wallow and not be so openly vulnerable. The younger generation that freeze in fear when I talk so openly, hoping that I don’t see the scars on their arms that expose the evidence that they’re fighting the same battle. My peer group when they become awkward, deciding whether or not they will confess that they too have these feelings and thoughts of injustice. That there is the faint light of an internal revolution ready to fire up and fight out against this gorilla warfare.

When I confess these ideas, thoughts and analyses to you, they may sound different. They may come from a source of information that wasn’t around during your studies of Psychology. They may be the silent voices that went unspoken in your peer group.  They may be the same words that you once heard but denied and now sit in the pit of your stomach, defeated.

Our World is different from when you studied Psychology. It’s different from 10 years ago. It’s different from 10 minutes ago and I am moving at the fast pace that it is changing. I am fighting the pull to numb out. I am fighting the temptation to lock away, but today I am tired of fighting and I am coming to you for sanction. I am coming to be heard and it is your job to listen. To hear my own voice through your fears and accept that you too, are different. That in this difference we stand together, but at difference paces because of the cultural times that have birthed us. Please accept that my journey may be moving faster than yours because of the access and speed of the propelling information that I am fighting against. That I may have sourced tools from toolboxes that weren’t readily available to you. I am different because the world is different and the tools that have worked so efficiently for other generations might not work for me, because trust me, I’ve already tried them. What I need is for you to help me find new tools and to join me on this path of discovery because I am exhausted from fighting alone.

I am in your chair today asking not to be judged by the differences that my path presents you. Or to be criticised when I fall down the hills that I am trying to climb. I am just asking that you accompany me on my journey and acknowledge that it exists. That it exists in a world of people that constantly tell me that it doesn’t, just because it rises so steep into the clouds that to simply acknowledge it, scares them. I need you accompany me on it, because I know that at the end of it, there is a reward and that the reward will be worth the journey, no matter how hard it gets. That is why I am in your chair today.

Regards,

The new generation of thinkers.

Check out my 3 Step Guide to Finding the Right Therapist and my article on When to Call it a Day With Your Therapist if you’re interested in finding the right person to help you growth through a life situation.

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Find Out Why So Many People Rave About Thai Massages

I’ve had a lot of Thai massages in Thailand and the ones at Wat Po  are, by far, the best. The Wat Po Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School was opened in 1955 and were the first to be approved by the Thai Ministry of Education and in my opinion, it really sets the standard for Thai Massages. The Training School follows the strict high standards and the consistency of the massage but as they masseuses are students the prices are half those of within Wat Po, it’s also in the very accessible area of Sukhumvit Soi 39. To aid me with this review, however, I’ve called in a Thai Masseuse friend of mine to give me some of the theory behind the massage – Thank you Siska Vergauwe.

I usually go for a two-hour Thai massage, however, it can be quite intense and involves stretching and back cracking, so if you’ve never had one before I would recommend trying a one-hour session to start off with.

My review is set into three parts – description of the session, how I felt directly before and after the treatment, my overall review.

Wat Po Training School

The Session – Thai Massage

To begin the Thai Massage the Therapist asked me to remove my shoes and she washed my feet, downstairs in the foot washing basin. I was then asked to slip on some comfy fabric slippers and we proceeded upstairs in the lift to the massage cubicle rooms (rooms that are divided into private spaces with a mattress on the floor), where I was asked to change into the clothes laid out on the mattress – a cotton t-shirt and loose fitting trousers (like pyjamas). When I was changed the Therapist came back into the room and asked me to lie down on my back while she covered my body with a lightweight towel.

The start of the massage began with the Therapist crossing one foot on top of the other and pressing down and then by doing the opposite on the other foot, she then bent both my feet in a forward curl, then pushed back against the bottom of them, flexing them back. She then proceeded to press firmly up and down both legs with her palms. When she got to the top of my legs she pressed down on the inside of my hips firmly for a few second, stopping the blood flow into my legs. When she released them I could feel the warm rush of blood into my thighs and then right down to my feet.

She pulled back the towel from my left leg, leaving the rest of my body covered and began pressing up my leg from my ankle firmly with her palm. Then she came back to my foot and massaged it with her fingers, pressing quite deeply on the instep. She worked her way up and down my leg a series of times whilst pressing with her palm on the more meaty muscles and then pressing in more intensely with her fingers and thumb on the thinner muscles alongside my shin. She also used her knees on my upper leg muscles and used her body weight to press more firmly into the stronger muscles in my legs. Then came the stretches – Thai Massages include movement and stretches, almost like the Masseuse is doing yoga on you, and it feels very therapeutic. To do this the Therapist opened my left leg into a 90-degree angle on the mattress. She pressed down on it first, then folded it against me, across me against her while she massaged all around my leg including my glutes (my butt muscles). After completing the massage on my left leg, she lay it down and covered it back with the towel before performing the same sequence on the right leg.

Once both legs were massaged she moved on to my right arm, starting off by stretching my arm out and pressing into my armpits, similar as she had done with my hips to stop the blood flow for a few seconds. Then she proceeded to massage up and down my arm, again using her palms in a pressing motion and her fingers and thumb in a squeezing and sharper pressing motion. This finished when she stretched my hand backwards to touch just behind my shoulder, whilst she pounded my triceps with her fist. She then did this on my left arm before she asked me to turn over.

Once turned over she started to massage my shoulders, again using a pressing motion with her palms and also by using a squeezing motion. As my shoulders are usually really tense I asked her to do the back and shoulder massage very hard and wow, she did and she was pretty damn strong. She concentrated on the muscle that runs beneath the scapula to the rib cage and this area gets particular knotty for me so she worked hard to press on and flick the muscle where the knots were. Sometimes this was a little painful, but I know that it’s beneficial in the end so I persisted. She also worked on the area behind my armpits where the tendons connect to the shoulder blade, which is another area of tension for me. She worked up and down my spine and the muscles that support it then came back to my shoulders before using her body weight to massage me. By that, I mean she stood on me. I know that for some people, this is something that can be quite scary but I’ve learnt to embrace it in Thai massage because I’ve found that if I can relax into it then I can get the best out of this movement. The Masseuse tends to stand on my buttocks and massage them slightly by rocking from side to side then she will leave one foot standing on, say, the left buttock, while she moves her right leg in a pressing motion up and down the right side of my body. Seen as the massage takes place in a cubicle the Therapist tends to use the sides of the walls to counter balance her weight, however in this case I’m quite sure that she had her whole weight on me. I was confident that she knew what she was doing because she had thoroughly massaged my back and had a good idea of how strong it was and how tense it was – I guess it needed her whole weight… working on yachts gives me a pretty strong back. She then swapped legs and did the same action on the left side of my back.

After this, she knelt down and massaged the backs of my legs with her knees in a pressing motion. She went back to massage my back and shoulders with her hands in the same sequence as previously then she asked me to sit up, cross-legged. This is another bit which isn’t for the squeamish – back cracking – but again, if you can relax into it then you can get the best out of it. At first, she placed my right hand behind my head so it was folded backwards and stretched my right triceps, then she did the same thing on my left arm. After this she asked me to place my hands behind my head and lock my fingers, then she threaded her arms through the gaps in my folded arms and proceeded to swing me from one side to another whilst she cracked my back. Usually, this doesn’t have too much of an effect on me because it takes a lot to loosen my back muscles, however, this time, my back cracked from the bottom of my spine up to the middle where the main twist took place. This happened on both sides and it felt pretty fantastic, I guess that she must have really loosened my muscles by applying so much pressure to my back when she stood on it. She unfolded her arms out of mine and then motioned for me to move my arms backwards and lock onto hers as she pulled my backwards in a bend across her knees, she did this bit by bit as she moved up my back and again each bit cracked, especially the top of my spine.

She finished by giving my shoulders a very intense massage using her elbows and forearms as she pressed down on my sat upright body from a standing position. Then she used her hands again to squeeze and press on my muscles. After this, she gave the temples on my head a massage and the muscles on my neck, especially the ones at the back where the tendons connect to the back of my skull. She squeezed the back of my head as she pulled her hands away, as though she was drawing some kind of energy away from my head, she did this a couple of times. Then to complete the massage she pounded my back and shoulders with her hands that were in a loose clap, placed her hands together in a ‘Namaste’ position and quietly whispered ‘finished’.

Pre-session sense check (7th March 2016, 3pm –  1 hour before treatment)

Physically – Sense checking my body today I can mostly feel the throbbing of my calf muscles, probably because I’ve been walking around Bangkok in flip-flops for most of the day. My left shoulder isn’t too sore today but I do have a subtle neck ache. I feel quite alert for a change, but the heat of the city is starting to tire me as the day goes on.

Emotionally – I feel quite neutral today, I think it’s because I’ve spent the morning working on a business idea so I’ve been quite focused and thus not dwelling on any present emotions, I am possibly numb and avoiding. There is a sense of background negativity in me which is usual these days (as in anyone experiencing grief) but it seems manageable today.

Post-session sense check (7th March 2016, 7pm –  1 hour after treatment)

Physically – My body feels refreshed and it was really gratifying feeling my back crack so many times – this is very rare for me. The massage felt more like a physiotherapy session when the cracking took place and as a result, I feel like I’m walking taller and in a better posture. My shoulders feel slightly sore because they were worked on quite intensively (which I asked for) and I know that not all the knots are gone (even though I’ve had a massage every day this week) but they are definitely looser and the cracking of my back demonstrated this.

Emotionally – Strangely I don’t feel that in touch with my emotions right now, or at least there isn’t anything noticeably positive or negative. I actually still feel neutral and generally unaffected emotionally by the massage but maybe this might change later.

Overall Review

Thai Massage remains one of my favourite massages. It’s a very interactive massage where the client is asked to move into certain positions, it involves stretches, cracking and a variety of techniques all working along the Meridian energy lines. This one was especially intense as I asked her to go very hard and because of this she was able to really push my muscles to loosen up, hence the cracking of my back. Most of the time my back doesn’t crack because the muscles are so tight around it and it takes a lot of manipulation or yoga to release this but this experienced masseuse was able to. The thing that I love most about the Wat Po Training School is that the Therapists are very skilled at what they do and they are all very intuitive. Although the language barrier can provide to be an issue sometimes, once you get to know the rhythm it’s easy to work with the Therapist and get into the positions. The reception area also has a help sheet with some Thai phrases on such as ‘A little harder please’ which is helpful.

I really appreciate the diversity of the Thai Massage as it doesn’t just rely on the Therapist to work on the muscles but the client also has to move around too. I also like that the client is moved into different positions in order to allow the therapist to use gravity to their advantage, simply because it means that the pressure of the massage doesn’t necessarily depend on just the strength of the therapist.

If you like this Therapy Review, sign up to Blog to receive more! Don’t forget to check out my Sketches and my Therapies too.

Are We Living in a State of International Apathy?

In a World where we are constantly told how we feel, how we should feel and that if we buy ‘x’ product then we’ll feel better, I fear that we’re starting to lose touch with how we really feel in replacement of how we think we feel. On the surface I guess it doesn’t appear to be too much of a problem, everyone seems quite happy, life is progressive and generally, all is ok, isn’t it? Or are we unconsciously in a state of apathy?

For example, when was the last time that you truly felt like you were alive? For me, it’s those moments dinghy sailing when I’ve caught the wind and my crew and I are heeling over balancing ourselves on the edge of the wind, carefully adjusting our movements to get the maximum speed we can without making the boat capsize. Even if we do capsize, it’s exhilarating to know that we found a boundary and pushed it. Without pushing it, we wouldn’t have known where it had ended. So even if we’re in the water, wet, and with a boat to right, we’d at least learnt something. The opposite of this approach is living in the fear of capsizing. This results in reactive thinking and quickly jumping about the boat without communicating to the other crew member what’s happening, resulting in no one being in control of the boat, inevitably causing it to capsize anyway. There is also a lesson to be learnt by the second capsize but it’s never as fun, in fact, it usually ends up in two stressed out crew members blaming each other. The thing is with sailing is that the wind changes and no one can control that, and sometimes that can be scary but we all have a choice as to whether we let the fear control us or not. To me, this situation is reflective of a lot of life scenarios, there’s the option to feel the fear and do it anyway, go through the experience whilst reacting to the fear or to not go through the experience at all because of the fear itself.

I wonder how many of us sit on the shore with certain activities, disengaging because of unconscious fear? Disengaging with relationships, jobs, even just speaking our own mind in fear of being judged, criticised and shamed? I know that I used to be one of those people and I would completely back out of any situation that would cause me to be vulnerable and I would do that by firing out judgments, criticisms and blame towards others because that is the ego’s way of defending us. Ironic isn’t it, that the very thing we fear the most is usually the thing we are unconsciously doing in order to protect ourselves.

I see this more often since I’ve practiced mindfulness and after having gone through so many difficult emotions in the last 18 months, so now I always try to put myself in other’s shoes and empathise with others situations rather than judge them. I do still slip up from time to time and it can take me a couple of days to get out of my ego and reflect upon a situation but I make a conscious effort to reflect and question my thoughts and behaviour and I ask why I did a certain thing. This reflection is the starting point of change because it always presents an opportunity for growth, but it’s this step that I see unconsciously avoided by most people. I guess it’s because if we ask ourselves why then we might find a difficult answer and then we have the dilemma of dealing with it or ignoring it and knowing that we’ve ignored it. When I ask myself why I’ve jumped to a conclusion or why I’ve judged someone without knowing the whole story or why I find myself backing away from something/someone, it always comes back to fear, usually the fear of being vulnerable. This isn’t surprising, considering that we live in a society where shame is so prevalent, the shame that creates the very fear that makes those judgments, and if we are unconsciously aware of this then we can start unconsciously shutting off, and this is when things start to get a little dangerous.

If we constantly bear away from things that fear us and we never face them, then we never grow. What we do instead is safeguard. We safeguard from anything that could scare us, and ultimately by doing this we starve ourselves from life. We starve ourselves from the same intensity of positive emotions as we do negative ones because you cannot have the good without the bad simply because without one the other doesn’t exist. Instead what happens is that we numb out, eventually leaving us in a state of apathy; the lack of feeling anything much at all. This is when the connection between humans starts to breakdown, in relationships, in friendships and day to day occurrences. It’s where the compassion dissipates because we fear those feelings of pain so much that we can’t be there for others when they’re experiencing it, because the very acknowledgement of that vulnerability in others, means acknowledging it in ourselves. This would bring us back to the dilemma of deal with it or ignore it. So instead a road that many of us walk down is where we numb out and disengage. I know this because this was the reaction from some people when my Dad died and it resonated with me because when a friend of mine lost her sister when I was 19, I remembered that I had done exactly the same thing and I’m not proud of it, but I can have compassion for myself and my friends in knowing that we are products of the culture we live in and unfortunately at the moment that appears to be in a state of unconscious apathy.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though, and you certainly don’t need to go through the trauma of being in a life-threatening situation or losing someone close to you to snap out of it. You do however need to start paying attention to your actions because they hold the clue to your thoughts, and how you feel, and it’s only when you feel that fear that you can become aware of it.

So next time you find yourself distancing from a situation, judging someone’s actions or getting angry at the way a situation is unfolding, stop and ask yourself what is it that you’re scared of? Then why not go ahead and do it anyway? You might find that you learn something by facing that fear, or that voicing it might bring you that little bit closer to the person you voice it to. These emotions are part of our being and by denying them we deny part of ourselves, so whether good or bad I implore you to fully feel those emotions and challenge why they’re there.

If you like this blog post, check out my Therapy Reviews, my Sketches, and my Therapies.

‘Female Power’ Workshop – The Name Says It All

Having spent a week on the Community Experience Program at Osho Leela and having previously met Sanjula, I knew that the Female Power Workshop was one that I wanted to try out. Before I even met Sanjula, I’d heard her reputation as a very intuitive bodywork therapist and I had been advised to see her for a bodywork session to help me look into some of the post-traumatic stress that I’d been dealing with. To say the least, I was very inspired by the strength of this woman and when I returned home, I booked straight onto this workshop.

As usual, my review is set into three parts – description of the workshop, how I felt directly before and after, and my overall review.

The workshop

I arrived on Friday evening, before dinner – as requested in the booking email which allowed me some time to settle into the accommodation and get to know some of the other women in the workshop. After dinner, we went straight into the workshop, which gave me the impression that we were being prepped for some hard work throughout the weekend. There were 7 participants in total and two therapists running the workshop – Sanjula, and her assistant Amrita – I liked that there were two women running the workshop, kind of like a leader and a backstop to support the all-female tribe. We started off with sitting in a circle and sharing: why we’re here, how we feel and generally where we’re at in life, which was a great starting point because it built a sense of connection within the group straight away that was built on honesty and authenticity from the word go. Sanjula started off with the sharing and opened up the space with her own very vulnerable sharing, really overcoming the shame that could have potentially lurked in many areas. By setting the bar at this level, it left a totally open platform for each of us to be truly authentic with the group about exactly how we felt at the same depth. An honesty that we sometimes don’t even share with ourselves, so to openly vent it in front of the group, for me, was actually a little scary, so when it got to my turn I shared that, that this felt scary.

Scared and numb, to be exact. They are the two most prominent feelings that frequent me these days and that’s how I felt at the sharing, combined with an air of resistance which I was battling with. There wasn’t much of a response from anyone during the sharing, everything was just listened to and accepted which, in essence, created a sealed area of emotional safety. With this, Sanjula explained that everything shared within the room will be treated with confidentiality and that she would like us to respect that between ourselves. That request is respected in this review and thus, it is a factual account of only my experience which I obviously give consent for (The dark inner workings of my soul are openly shared on this blog, so, of course, I’m keeping up that openness, even if it does feel a little cringeworthy at times). Following this, a general explanation of how the workshop would unfold was given and then we did an active meditation (possibly a dance one… I can’t quite remember exactly but I remember lots of good music and opportunities to dance). Then we heading off to bed.

Reflecting on Saturday and Sunday with the individual tasks is difficult because there are so many things that happen that it’s almost impossible to remember them in order so instead, I’ll give a general description. Firstly we didn’t start the sessions until after breakfast which meant that we didn’t need to get out of bed until 8ish, allowing plenty of time to sleep off any exhaustion from the activities. This was hugely beneficial for me because I know that processing these traumas can still be exhausting for me sometimes, and if I overdo it then it can result in a physical illness which my body takes the time out to recover and process.

Saturday started with openly sharing and sense checking with our emotions, and although we had done this the previous night it was interesting to see that many reflections and considerations had been made in such a short time, the work has already begun I thought to myself. The main part of Saturday was spent exploring hard emotions through expression, particularly anger, which is one that I feel I’m not always allowed to express is our ‘stiff upper-lip’ Western society, in fear of someone pointing out that I’m crazy because of this. The fact is that yes, sometimes I am angry, and it’s valid because of all the pain I’ve been through so as long as I’m not taking it out on anyone else, why shouldn’t I be allowed to express this emotion?

What this workshop further clarified for me is that, us humans are emotional beings, women especially, and by not expressing these emotions we risk destroying ourselves from the inside. The workshop focused on letting out these emotions in a healthy, constructive and controlled manner by using the body’s movements. One exercise that I found quite powerful was one that caused us to regress back into our early childhood and think about moments which caused us pain, to do this we got dressed up (Osho Leela has an awesome theatre cupboard) into clothes that we would’ve when we were aged around 12 – to really set the mood. Then we had individual sharings in pairs to talk about these experiences (between the ages of 6-12 are influential times in the development of our personality and sometimes we can find that it’s where we learnt to suppress pain). We swapped around so that we talked about four different experiences and equally listened to four different experiences. We were asked to listen mindfully and to try and not react, comfort or advice – this in itself is a useful skill when practising compassion and is especially valuable when someone is upset about a situation that cannot be fixed. I remember this from when my Dad passed away, getting agitated with people who wanted to tell me that everything would be ok or not to worry when all I wanted was for someone to be present and listen.

Personally, I found it difficult to think of painful memories pre 12 years old, mainly because I didn’t really experience anything that was particularly hard on me at that age. The most painful memories that I did manage to tap into ranged from the age of 14 – 17 where I first experienced heartbreak, bullying and a few other painful things that I’m not going to divulge into in this review. After the sharing, these memories and feelings were pretty raw so it was easy to go into the next stage – expressing the emotion, anger. For this, we did part of the Osho dynamic meditation where we listened to quite aggressive loud music, and we encouraged to use our body to bring the anger up and out by hitting a mattress, thumping a pillow, using our voice to scream and shout, and generally just allow anything that needed to come up to come up. Spit buckets were provided if any of us needed to spit or vomit, which I can imagine sounds a bit farfetched to read, but when something is deeply painful the body’s natural reaction is to physically try and get rid of the pain, as it would do if there was a physical poison. I know this from my personal account from all my traumas, the pain of some of them ran so deep that I physically almost vomited on a number of occasions, but because I’m so used to suppressing this reaction I didn’t allow myself to. By just acknowledging the judgement that I initially had to this physiological response, it demonstrates the shame that is so prevalent in our society to expressing our emotions. The shame that stops me expressing, understanding and validating many of my own emotions in their full depth.

After this expression, we did another active meditation of shaking and dancing and my body felt a lot more fluid in movement than it had done the night before. As though I’d broken through some judgement and shame barriers which had physically locked me in some sort of invisible body cage. I guess after screaming obscenities, and spitting to a bucket whilst on all fours meant that I wasn’t so bothered about other people’s judgements anymore, I mean that in itself breaks through a few shame barriers with quite a force that the space created after is vast, vast and fresh.

Later that day we explored boundaries and this exercise was particularly intense. To do this we all had to stand in a ‘power stance’ – with our feet are wide apart, knees bent, back straight with hips slightly forward, with our fists clenched and raised. It’s the same stance used for the anger stage of the AUM meditation and it’s a very powerful position to own as it really allows you to fill a space and hold your ground. It’s actually the same stance used in a lot of self-defence teachings such as Krav Maga too. For this exercise, one member of the group would shout “NO I WON’T” (or various versions of) and the rest of us lined up to scream “YES YOU WILL” at that person, one by one. The ones who were waiting in the queue were encouraged to shout at the individual shouting “NO I WON’T” to push them to scream louder and fiercer. After every person in the ‘Yes crowd’ had had a go at the ‘No person’ we’d swap around and a different person would be in the ‘No’ role. This meant that when you were in the ‘No’ position that, although there was only one person screaming in your face at any one time, they had a whole army behind them that you were competing with. To be in the No position was extremely intense as there was a lot of energy coming your way.

I ended up being in the ‘No’ position last, by at which point my voice was already starting to fail for having egged on the ‘Yes crowd’ for so long and the exercise was taking its toll on my momentum as well as my throat, but I figured that this would only encourage me to find that inner strength which I knew I had because it came out and protected me on the night I got attacked. At first it was difficult and I felt fatigue which I knew was my subconscious being resistant, probably because of fear of going back to such a scary place, but I pushed deep into this feeling because I knew, intellectually, that by going into this place in a safe environment would help eradicate the fear of going there altogether. At some point, I remember a voice coming from the bottom of my stomach, like a deep roar that burns from the pit of your belly, all the way up the throat. The last time I had really heard this was the night of the attack when my own voice woke up me up out of a blackout with the words ‘HELP ME’. I carried on screaming until the last of the screaming Yes women had had their go, then I went and hugged one of the girls, simply because I just needed to flop into the arms of someone else. I was exhausted.

After this, we stood in a circle and shouted “No one has the right to hurt me” a few times and at that moment I burst into tears and I realised that I was shaking quite intensely. For a minute I was right back in the moments straight after the attack; sitting on a stranger’s sofa trying to catch my breath whilst trying to explain in broken Spanish that a man had tried to rape me. Then the shame of having to tell people in the crew house and their wide-eyed faces of discomfort, then the same people avoiding me etc, all those horrible vulnerable and disgusting feelings that I’d locked away and forgotten about had burst out of me and streams of tears flooded down my face. All the feelings seemed entangled up together and it was as though they were rushing out of me all at once, really fast, spilling out in the tears. At the same moment, I felt a sudden release of tightness in my back, like a metal rod had broken off it was so weird, but refreshing all at the same time. As with any Osho Leela experience, there was a lot of hugging, sharing and comforting afterwards and I think that having the opportunity to relive the aftermath feelings of the attack and then receive the comforting that I deeply craved was hugely therapeutic because in reality, the morning after the attack hardly anyone comforted me and I had to deal with everything on my own which only added to the pain. Whereas now it felt like although the wound had been opened again, it had been tended to properly so it could heal now.

In the evening there was more dancing, sharing and a visit to one of the trees on the property which is said to be a very calming and nurturing place. Believe what you will about spirituality but who doesn’t find sitting at the base of towering oak tree nurturing? Just stopping there and appreciating the perspective of where I am at in my life, the oak tree’s life and the lives of the beetles that were ferreting around my feet helped me appreciate my place in the World. A moment of gratitude that we often forget in our busy lives. The last session was a massage exchange that we did in pairs, just to practice vocalising what we like, what we don’t and how we would like to feel. I think this is a skill that women have been shamed not to exercise but it’s another valuable tool to take into the outside World.

The Sunday felt a lot calmer and needless to say, I slept very well the night before. We started off with a Samasati Meditation, a humanaversity meditation which is about letting go of grief (grief of a person, a relationship or whatever feels right to the person). The meditation itself moves through a few different stages that actually explores dying and some part of it felt very heavy, mainly because it took me to that moment when I had to kiss my Dad goodbye. It left different women with different perspectives because it put us all in a reflection of ‘are you really living your life totally?’ Personally, I feel like I started living this question the minute I quit my corporate job back in 2010 and I haven’t looked back since but it’s important to be reminded of because for me it pressed me deeper towards what I want to accomplish in this life… stay tuned for that one.

There was more sense checking and sharing, which I feel I personally took to a deeper level than I had done before and I noticeably built on a deeper sense of empathy and compassion. I’ve noticed this since getting attacked that I feel things where I wouldn’t have before, nausea when someone tells a gruesome story, or upset when someone else gets upset about something around me, but after Saturdays session, this went to a deeper level and at first I felt extremely overwhelmed by it. As I write this I’m becoming more comfortable feeling the compassion and empathy without letting the feelings engulf me, especially when the event isn’t mine to be upset about. On Sunday however, the magnitude of this was strong, and I felt like I needed to let out all that emotion, to make up for times when I’ve bottled it up in the past. The release of it felt like a heavy sludge being sucked out of my blood, leaving a light fresh flow behind.

We spent some time on Sunday in the Tipi with one of the community members who holds it as her place of sanction – don’t we all need one of those in our lives? It’s a beautifully set out circular space with a fire in the middle and cushions, pillows, and blankets to lie on. We sang a few songs to a lightly strummed guitar and drum whilst an aromatic incense filled the air. It took me back to my days of camping with the scouts, apart from instead of smelly immature boys, I was surrounded by strong beautiful women who I had witnessed grow in so many ways in such a short space of time.

The workshop ended with coffee and cake (it was one of the lady’s birthday) and a ‘positive hot seat’ exercise – this is where one person volunteers and everyone in the group has an opportunity to tell them what they love or appreciate most about them. I’ve done this before when I ended a volunteer project in Ecuador and the power of it has stayed with me since. It’s not often that we explicitly say what we love about someone to their face, but it’s so important to do so and to also recognise and say thank you when we receive such positive comments. I thoroughly enjoyed telling each woman what I liked most about them and it was fascinating to see how each person offered and took different things away from this session. It prompted me to reach out to the special women in my life who have walked me down the most difficult path of my life so far, held me together as I broke down and offered me a sense of normality when my head just kept on spinning throughout the traumas. These types of connections are unfortunately rare but they don’t need to be, it just takes a little bit of courage to open up and share.

Overall

In a word – powerful. I knew that I would get something out of the session because Sanjula is the kind of woman who thrives in seeing people become the best version of themselves. It’s a kind of tough love that pushes you beyond your boundaries that we might have only ever experienced with explorative and supportive parents, which I was lucky to have. There was a lot of talk about sisterhood and how the general thread in society encourages us to turn against each other through jealousy when in reality we should be sticking together and building compassion in the World. The workshop also took me back to some conversations that I had in Bali with my two amazing ‘Bali sisters’ and female friends as we’ve delved deeper into our friendships and it’s an important lesson to keep visiting as women. We are all here to support each other, through the times when we think we’re ‘failing’, or when we feel like we’re ‘not enough’ or when we’re scared of being branded as ‘crazy’ because we’re rightly pissed off (we’re emotional beings remember)!

What was really noticeable was how each woman physically changed throughout the session. I noticed this when one of the women told me how my face looked completely different after I had broken down in tears, it was as though there was a real tension that went from my face (as high as my left cheekbone to be exact), down my back that had literally melted and others could actually see it – wow. When I thought of this comment and looked around the group I knew exactly what she was talking about, some of the women’s eyes had opened wider and brightened up. Smiles were fuller and spanned wider and the general tone of body language was more open in a confident yet whole-hearted way. Witnessing that and being part of it was really powerful.

I really feel like I broke through some barriers during the female power workshop, or uncovered some layers, whichever way you want to see it, at the end of the weekend I felt happier and more open. Obviously, some of the exercises were difficult, vulnerable and sometimes felt emotionally uncomfortable but having the support of sisterhood bond allowed me to feel nourished and supported throughout all of it. I know that there are many other layers to uncover and that is the journey that we call life, but the intensity of this weekend really pushed me to delve deep, hard and fast which I appreciated. I will also take away some very valuable tools back into the real world, including knowing where my boundaries are, and how to vocalise them. How to and having the right to express my needs and also what empathy and compassion feel like to a greater depth – a tool that keeps growing.

The thing is with any workshop is that you will only get out what you put in because it is no one else’s responsibility other than your own to delve deep into your psyche but if you’re willing to do the work then doing it in a place like Osho Leela is immensely therapeutic. Even with an amazing group of therapist friends who can hold my space, doing such a large amount of work in one weekend really opened my eyes to how beneficial personal growth workshops can be. A theme that I see in Osho Leela throughout is the acknowledgement that personal development is ongoing. There is never a ‘fix’ or a ‘solution’. It’s just a constantly evolving and working through of the psyche, practising new tools and realising new lessons. The point of it all is just to enjoy the journey as you travel through it.

Sense check – before, 24 June 5pm

Physical – The standard niggling pain in my back from my neck, down to my left arm. It still comes and goes but since having acupuncture, the intensity is much less – as I feel better emotionally it dissipates more and more. I feel a little tired from the drive down, especially in my calves but that’s nothing that a sit-down and a cup of tea won’t fix, so generally I’m all good.

Emotional – Anxious again! I remember this feeling from last time that I made the drive down to Osho Leela and my mind was coming out with all sorts of excuses as to why I should turn back, even stronger than the last time I drove down – probably because I know that I will be doing some things that quite frankly will make me squirm in discomfort. Apart from the anxiety I’m happy, I feel more solid in myself these days and I know deep down that I want to grow more in the area of female power so I keep on driving.

Sense check – after, 27th June 6pm

Physical – Throughout the workshop I physically felt a release in the pain that comes from the back of my neck, down the left side of my back. It was as though a tight strand broke off and my back muscles started to relax, the exact moment when it happened was sensational. There is still the tightness on the front which comes from the neck muscles near my jaw and they still feel a little tight but there is literally just half the pain that was there before which is amazing. Generally, my muscles are tired, from the dancing, the tensing and from releasing emotion. I’m looking forward to a bath tonight.

Emotional – This time I was ready to leave, maybe because I have a sense that I’ll be back so instead of a farewell it was more of a ‘catch you later’ to Osho Leela and all the great people there. I left feeling a little more whole and certain of myself. I’m not sure if this is a feeling that will last for long but I definitely feel like a firm foundation has been laid which is reassuring because I have, at times felt very uncertain and up in the air about myself in the last year. It’s left me feeling grounded, not so much that I feel like both feet are solidly on the ground but at least the balls of my feet are firmly planted, which for me is huge. For that, I am immensely grateful.

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