If You Wouldn’t Say It To Her Face, Don’t Type It

I get it, Sex sells. At least that’s what we’re told right? And if you want to go anywhere in life, you’d better make sure you’re damn sexy otherwise you won’t be getting far! At least, that’s the message we’re given as women, and from a very young age too.

I remember this attitude back when I used to work in the Construction industry. When the pretty girls would get sent to the important sales meetings if we weren’t hitting our customers KPI’s (Key performance indicators) so we could at least distract our male customers from the fact that our company was performing poorly. It always worked, but it got tiring after a while, having to work in a community of men who never saw me as an equal. Regardless of the projects that I completed or the targets that I met, my value within the company was mostly determined by how I looked. I was 23 at the time, young, bright eyed and apparently pleasing on the eye. So the sales men would invite me to meetings to soften customer deals and the women of power in my company disliked me and would make sure I knew it. It was quite an eye opener to go into my first graduate job in an industry that based all my competencies on my aesthetics and I was reminded of that kind of treatment recently when I saw a motivational post by an inspirational women on my Linked in news feed.

The post read like this:

“Do you know the power of appreciation? 85% of people are unhappy with their career. We all have goals and we are always trying to keep up with the Jones’. Goals are great to have but don’t let life pass you by without enjoying the journey you are on. Count your blessings not your problems. Don’t regret not appreciating what you had when you had it including the people in your life. We get so focused on where we are headed we forget where we’re at and what we have now. The purpose of life is to find your purpose and to value those who supported you on the way up. Life is not a race, pump the brakes and slow down.”

It’s such a great message and in my opinion perfectly placed as a post about the workplace, on a social media platform for the workplace. It could have been written by the likes of Tony Robbins, or Richard Branson but this one was written by Shannon Bunn. A marine veteran turned legal assistant, who is a young, intelligent and attractive. She posted this statement with a picture of herself in the front seat of a car (see pic) and the popularity of the post, and the comments that followed interested me. I’m glad to reveal that most of them were about the insightful and motivational statement she made, but some highlighted the attitude that the modern workplace still refuses to outgrow. One that values people by their appearance, not their work.

There were sleazy comments that made reference to how she looked:

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Comments from people saying that they would have ‘loved one night with her’:

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There were negative comments, mostly from women such as ‘Trite BS’

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One that pointed out that it was not the appropriate platform for ‘beauty selfies’ and one comment that actually calls out the post as ‘passive-aggressive sexualisation’. I found these statements interesting because almost every motivational post I see from Richard Branson has a picture of him attached but I never see any comments like this on his posts…

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It goes without saying that we live in a visual world and because of this aesthetics seem important, but are we missing the point when it comes to the workplace?

The fact is that the very popularity of the post and the comments below it show that we are still not appreciating people for who they are and what they do in the workplace. Instead some of us still objectify and then judge each other based on looks, especially when it comes to women. Isn’t it about time we started to see each other as human beings, and respect each other as such? I mean regardless of how Shannon looks and the endless judgements that could be made about her appearance it’s her words and what she stands for that should be remembered.

I could write about the state of our society, and how unaware we are of our emotions that are ruling our thoughts and behaviour, especially when it comes to making judgements about others etc etc… but I figured that these three pre-comment posting questions would be more helpful:

  1. Would you say that to their face?

It’s so easy in the realm of the ‘behind the screen’ society to forget that there is a human being on the other side of the screen, receiving the words so easily typed onto the keyboard. A real person, just like you. A person with feelings, fears, aspirations and insecurities. Have a think about the words you’re typing to another human being and ask yourself – if he or she was here, in front of you right now, would you say that to their face? Would you say it in the tone you mean it and face the consequences of your comments? I think most of the leery men and snipey women probably wouldn’t say some of the things that they typed if they were in a face to face conversation with Shannon.

  1. How would you feel if someone said that to your sister/brother/daughter/son/mother/father?

We often forget that these ‘beautiful’ women and ‘hot’ guys are people’s family members. They are real people, not objects for our desire or attack just because we can’t control our egos. Before you write, stop and imagine how you would feel if someone said what you are about to write to your sister, brother, daughter, son, mother or father. Does it arise a feeling of anger inside you? Are you outraged that someone would act in such a disrespectful way to one of your family members? If so, don’t write it. Remember that the person who you are firing your words at is a human begin too, just like your family, and just like you.

  1. Why do you feel the need to comment at all?

When it comes to commenting on a post, how many of us stop and question why we are commenting and what we hope to achieve out of it? We can start with asking ourselves if our comment is positive, negative or neutral. If it’s negative, think twice about spreading that negativity across a visual platform that thousands of people are going to see because, frankly, the world could do with less negativity in it.

Then, ask yourself this: ‘What is it about this post that rustles up negativity inside me?’

It’s times like this that we should remember that we are responsible for our own emotions and that we have a choice of how we react upon them. If something from the outside brings up a judgement of negativity within you, then there’s something inside you that you need to investigate.

Hopefully if we start asking ourselves these questions more often then we can start becoming more conscious, compassionate and respectful in the workplace, whether it’s in the online community or the office. Now doesn’t that sound like a more pleasant world to work in?

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Photo Credit: Shannon Bunn on Linked In.

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When Not To Judge Someone’s Character

One of the things I find really interesting these days is how easy we are to judge each other without any internal pre-vetting. It’s as though we lost some kind of conscious filter that used to be delicately balanced in our throats. A filter that would create a necessary lodge if we were about to say something particularly judgemental. A lodge that when we’d feel it, would require us to flick on the ‘reflection and question’ switch in our brains and vet the words before they flowed out. I’m not entirely sure if this did exist but if it did, I wonder if it got removed in the free reeling speech that this new technological era spun us into?

While we scramble for new social rules and how to treat each other respectfully in these new and challenging times I thought I’d start with the instructions below. Feel free to add, share and question – I’m only human too remember. We make mistakes, oversights and we need feedback to improve, me included!

Things you cannot judge someone’s character by:

Gender

Age

Skin colour

Sexual orientation

Sexual preference

Nationality

Religion

Profession

Family heritage

Their appearance

You can only really judge someone’s character by their actions. And even when you do that, remember that you might not know what they’ve been through, what their story is, or what they’re trying to cope with right now. If you did, you might not judge them at all.

That is all.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Photo Credit: Jose Moreno

When Saying No Has Consequences

The topic of consent has been popping up in my life quite recently. It’s been sparked off by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which is all over the media and even though I don’t follow mainstream media the story somehow infiltrated my life. This, in turn, ignited the #metoo social media campaign which has then sparked off a lot more conversation, around sexual abuse, consent and a certain kind of negative sexual behaviour which is so often dismissed that it’s unfortunately it’s become a normality in our culture.

Firstly – it’s about time we started talking about this because it’s been underground for far too long. In fact, it’s so underground that a lot of people can’t actually believe it’s a thing at all. It’s not their fault that they don’t believe it at first, in reality most of us go through life viewing our personal perception as the general experience of all. To someone who would never dream of sexually abusing someone else, they may therefore assume that none of his friends would either, thus deeming that the reality of this happening is relatively small. Unfortunately this perception isn’t reflective of the experience of a lot of people, and anyone who has experienced sexual abuse will know about the shame and guilt that comes with telling the story. They’ll also have probably experienced firsthand the judgement that comes when they tell people, the questions that automatically assume that the victim is at fault: “What were you wearing?” and “Were you drunk?” were two common questions that I was often asked when I first told people that a man had voilently attacked me to try and rape me. So is it a surprise that we don’t feel comfortable to offer our stories at the dinner table, let alone reporting it? Because of this, these stories aren’t shared as common knowledge, they’re kept inside and suffered in silence because most people don’t feel safe enough to even voice them with their closest friends and family. If you’re reading this and still think that it’s not an issue, then start listening to the conversations of those around you and in a non judgmental manner* start asking people for their stories, what comes back might just widen your perception.

As this story has unravelled, and in the conversations I’ve had especially, I’ve found myself explaining the concept of consent frequently and it’s seems to be something quite misunderstood. There’s some really great public campaigns creating awareness about how important consent is, one great one in the UK which explained it in a metaphor of offering someone a cup of tea and that you wouldn’t force someone to drink a cup of tea against their will if they’d already said ‘no’ – you can imagine the humour in this with a nation that is so polite with the treasured ritual of the famous ‘cuppa’. What it seems to miss out though, is the issue of consent when one person is in a position of power, which they could use against the person with less power if they don’t get what they want. Quite often in situations where sexual abuse takes places there is a power dynamic which is being abused, be it physically or like in the Harvey Weinstein case – the power of one person’s career prospects. To me, consent isn’t just about saying no. It’s about having the opportunity to say ‘no’ without consequences.

Consequences such as the other person reacting negatively like becoming dismissive, moody, even ending the relationship and all that has been built to create it so far.

Consequences like losing out on something external of the situation that a person has worked so hard to achieve, like a career, an opportunity or their reputation.

Consequences like personal safety, that if the person with less power doesn’t just give in and give the person with power what they want that things might just turn that little bit nasty.

I’m not saying that we need to have sit down discussions at length prior to having any sexual encounter because I know how these things arise and nobody what’s to spoil the mood. But what I am saying is that the vulnerable person in the sexual dynamic (the one that has the least power) has to feel safe enough to say no if they choose to and that it’s up to the person with the power to create that safe environment. The only way we can do that is by having this conversation about sex, safety and what consent actually means to us as individuals. And I don’t mean “What do you think about this Weinstein scandal” conversation starter in the office. I mean talking in depth, to those people close to us about the vulnerable details of our own experiences and what makes each of us feel comfortable and safe. Talking to those who we know would have had different sexual experiences from ourselves. If you’re a man, talk to a woman. If you’re straight, talk to someone who has had homosexual or bisexual relationships. If you’re monogamous, why not talk to someone who’s polyamorous? It’s only by widening our perception that we can learn more about the world and other’s experiences, and it’s only through sitting through the discomfort of others painful stories that we’ll start building up compassion within ourselves.

We need to start reflecting about our experiences too. Think about those times that you’ve had sex and it didn’t quite feel right – why was that? Did you not actually want it to happen? Or maybe you pushed yourself on someone and they gave in because of that? If you’re unsure can you open that conversation with that person and get some home truths aired? Don’t beat yourself up for something you weren’t aware of at the time though, because it’s not product to wallow in guilt. Just use this awareness to apologise and rectify the situation if you need to and change your behaviour going forward.

Without this kind of open awareness, reflection and compassion we’re not going to be able to create the respectful and safe world that we all deserve. So keep talking, keep challenging your own opinion and most of all listen, compassionately.

*A non-judgmental manner means to react neutrally to the answer that is given, regardless of how you feel. It means to allow space to listen, receive and for that moment sit in the awkward discomfort with the other person and feel what they are actually feeling. I write discomfort because that’s what it is at best, at worst it can be shameful, upsetting or deeply crushing. It is your obligation as the receiver to listen, without comment as someone expresses what is probably extremely difficult for them. And if you still don’t understand what that means then you obviously need to do some more reading.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Photo by Hailey Kean on Unsplash

 

Compassion for the Christmas Monster

Every house has a monster at Christmas. You know, the one who gets stressed out and is basically a nightmare to be around. Full of tension and trying-so-hard-to-be-happy that they couldn’t spot authentic happiness if it slapped them in the face? Well, this year that’s me.

Who am I kidding? It’s me most years!

Last year I somehow managed to escape the fate of the Christmas monster, probably because we glided through the holiday in a drunken stupor in my Dad’s absence. The first Christmas is always the hardest apparently and especially as my Dad was a Muslim and didn’t drink it seemed only right to go through a painful Christmas period the only way us Brit’s knew how – with an abundance of alcohol. It’s funny how the emotions play on the brain, as though they zap energy from painful times so that the memories don’t stay fixed, a kind of protective mechanism from enduring suffering maybe. It only became apparent today when we were asked what we did for last years celebrations – my Mum and I looked at each other cluelessly. We didn’t know. I later discussed this with my brother – he didn’t know either. None of us knew what we ate, if there had been a tree or if we had even exchanged presents. Come to think of it, the only thing I do remember is doing the Christmas shop… Wine, Whisky, Amaretto – could this be the reason why we don’t remember?

The fact of the matter is that I don’t remember being a monster last year, which is refreshing because when I am in the guilt ridden state of not-being-able-to-step-out-of- being-a-monster it seems like I have spent my life that way and that I will always be that way, but thankfully, that’s not reality. This very example of what we can all remember from last year demonstrates how these are all just tricks on the mind – that we can think that we will be in our current state for ever and that our life will be shaped this way, but in reality this isn’t true. I remember managing to pull myself out of a dark depression with this thought when my Dad had died, but I also remember how difficult it was to believe it, against the odds of how I felt at the time.

The thing is that sometimes we are monsters. With emotions running high and the pressure to enjoy family holidays it can be so challenging to not turn into a monster and today I just didn’t have the strength in me to keep it calm.

I’m lucky to come from a forgiving and compassionate family though. With a brother who takes me out for a gin and tells me to not worry because tomorrow is another day, and a mother who comes to tell me she loves me, hugs me and tells me that I’m forgiven for the way I’ve behaved lately –even though I have not earned either of these actions. These things made me melt. Knowing that I didn’t deserve to be treated so nice after being so horrible and knowing that I was still loved for all my worst traits. It’s this compassion that melts the hearts of monsters and brings them back into the love of life.

If you have a monster this year, show them some compassion.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

3 Values to Live Your Life by. From my Father, a Good Man

Nothing can quite prepare you for the phone call you’ve always dreaded. The panicked voice from a parent, relaying direct information down the phone.

“There are three paramedics resuscitating your Dad”

It was all my Mum had to say.

I got up from the cafe I was sitting in and heading down the escalators with the phone to my ear.

“Ok. I’m leaving now. I’ll be home in 3 hours”

“Ok” She replied and hung up.

I called my brother, he was on his way home too. It would take him 1 and ½ hours to get to our family home and in the space in between my Mum would sit and wait. Luckily a neighbour and friend went round to comfort her. The ambulance outside giving something away.

It took me 3 and a ½ hours to get home. Straight up the motorway from the bottom of England to the middle. I have no recollection of the actual drive apart from the vague feeling of the rush I had within me to get there and get there fast.

As I pulled up, there was a silver van outside my house. There were two men sitting in the front seats wearing black suits. Men from the morgue. I knew. I’d known all along. I’d known he’d had died before I got in my car and drove, but I hadn’t allowed myself to entertain those thoughts in case they sent me off the road spinning.

The rest of the evening was a blur. Each one took our turn to say goodbye to him before the men from the morgue took him away. Some family friends came round, someone made us food, and then all of a sudden it was dark and it was just the three of us. My Mum, my brother and me. Standing outside the house in silence.

I remember the night clearly. The moon was a waxing crescent and the sky was clear, the stars shining through sharply.  We all paused there, outside the back door, my Mum lighting up a cigarette. We stood in silence at first, no one really knowing what to say about the loss of someone so great. Not just for us, but the world. To lose a man of such good values, a local hero. Before long we were talking about what my brother and I had learnt from him, values which had been installed in us to live through a legacy. Values demonstrated without words and through actions. Values that will stay with us forever.

  1. Have integrity. No matter what the circumstances, my Dad would always come through on his word. Even in the most difficult situations, and trust me if you’re a community Doctor there are many difficult situations. Integrity was something that was installed in him and he expected of those around him, his children included. It was practised daily in our family life, something that my brother and I thought was the norm of society. It’s only now, as adults that we realise that it’s somewhat of a rarity in the world these days.
  1. Be compassionate to others. I never truly understood what compassion was until my Dad passed away but looking back I know that he completely embodied it. There was the time that a grief stricken family tried to sue him for an error that wasn’t his, only for him to say that “People act in unusual ways because of grief”. There’s also the time when a patient with psychiatric problems waited in his surgery car park to attack him, by slapping him across the face with a belt. All he would say is that it wasn’t the patient’s fault, and that they just needed some help to get on back on the right track. At the time I felt puzzled with him and angry at the people trying to do him harm but I can hear his voice clearly respond to me “You never know what someone else has been through, and maybe if you did, you might see things differently”.
  1. Have courage to stand up for what you believe in. The most admirable thing about my father was that he always stood up for what he believed in, no matter who he was up against. Amongst many strong and positive beliefs, he believed in providing the best health care possible for his patients, a value that would often come up against boards of directors when discussing health care budgets. My Dad would never compromise his values and he wouldn’t sell out on his patients, even if it meant losing his job over it. It took a tremendous amount of courage for Muslim Egyptian man to exercise these values in predominantly White, Catholic, ‘old boys school’ type environments but my Dad didn’t see the differences on the surface that many of us do. He just focused on what was important at the time – ‘what’s the best for the patients?’ Then he stood by it and fought for it.

The death of a parent, a spouse or any family member is always a difficult part of life, but what got us through the darkest parts was the reflection that we had such a decent man in our lives. Of course I would have loved to have my Dad around for another 30 years, and I miss him every day. But in the 30 years that he shared with me he gave me some of the best gifts I could have ever wish for – good values, and for that I’m grateful.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Are Empowered Women Empowering Men? Or Are we Suppressing Them? 

I originally wrote this piece for the Good Men Project but I think it has a lot of relevance to trauma emotions like fear, vulnerability and compassion, so I’m sharing it here too. It also broaches the subject of masculinity and femininity in the changing times of these roles. Enjoy…

I grew up as a Tom boy. I was the only girl in the Boy Scouts, spent my days climbing trees and wore jeans and baseball caps. I grew up feeling empowered to do anything that my heart desired and I did just that, especially when it meant beating the guys at their own game. In fact, I took pride in beating the guys. Whether it was swimming in the Scouts, showing my boyfriend how to build a campfire after watching him fail miserably or outsmarting boys on tests. Anything they could do, I could do better and I was sure to let them know.

As I grew older I did start to dabble in some more feminine activities but when I found myself working in the construction industry for my first graduate job, I fell back into my old patterns of showing the guys that I was better than them at everything. In that industry, I felt it was the only way to become successful and sometimes the only way to survive. The thing is that I actually loved being in this environment and I took pride in the fact that these guys got shown up when they got outsmarted by a girl. It was as though I was fighting some kind of war for all the women who had been suppressed throughout history and I was taking no prisoners.

When this approach starting to seep into other areas of my life, especially in my relationships it turned out to be more toxic than successful. I started to notice this when my boyfriend of three years started to experience depression. I didn’t really understand it and after becoming so estranged from any kind of vulnerability within myself I simply didn’t know how to handle this situation. For the next year and a half, I stayed with him out of loyalty but couldn’t help getting frustrated with his situation and watching all his family and friends pander to him when my response was much less sympathetic. As much as I feel ashamed to write this, at the time I saw his depression as a weakness.

I didn’t know at the time but the reality was that I was scared. Scared of admitting those vulnerabilities within myself and scared that I might be the problem. When I couldn’t take it any longer I took an opportunity to do an internship abroad for a few months to give both of us some space. Those months away allowed him to empower himself and work on his depression, without me there to take his empowerment away he managed to pull himself out of that negative space. Needless to say, this lead to us breaking up as I was part of the problem.

At the time I didn’t learn from this experience and spent the next couple of years travelling, running away from any deep connection and any other opportunity to be vulnerable. That was until I fell in love again.

This time, however, I fell in love with a guy who wouldn’t open up because he was so vulnerable after experiencing a variety of traumas in his childhood and adult life. He was like a closed nut with a magical light shining from the inside and I desperately wanted to see more.

My response? To try and prize the nut open.

Back then this was my response to most things. Fight with determination and win, after all, I was empowered. I was strong and vulnerability (weakness as I saw it) wasn’t something that existed in my world. Despite all my efforts, this strategy backfired.

We broke up and the following year I learnt what real vulnerability was, through experiencing my own series of traumas that invited intensely vulnerable emotions into my consciousness from depths that I never knew existed inside me. I learnt that my ’empowerment’ had silenced the men in my life and highlighted them as weak against my own strength of will. I had shamed them for having vulnerable emotions, and my “being soft is weakness” attitude didn’t allow them to show vulnerability in my presence, so instead they suppressed it. For the guys that stuck around, family, friends and romantic partners, these suppressions slowly crept towards depression as these men were frequently rejected by the empowered women in their lives who paraded the same message as me.

What I’ve come to realise since is that as an empowered woman I can suppress men if I don’t show my vulnerabilities as well as my strengths. As women, it’s socially acceptable for us to be emotional as much as it is now for us to fight our corner and as empowered women, it is important that we do this to break down the shame that surrounds vulnerabilities. If we don’t acknowledge those vulnerable emotions then we don’t create the safe emotional space for men to do so either. That’s when our empowerment silences men, rather than empowers them.

In order to help empower the men in my life, I’ve taken it upon myself to make the first move and show them my vulnerability. It’s not easy and there is a lot of work to do, especially after the way I’ve acted for such a long time. Sometimes it leaves me feeling quite exposed and awkward but mostly it leads to an emotionally safe space where we can both talk about how we feel and release the silent loads that have weighed us down.

Since I’ve started this approach I’ve seen the men in my life grow and build closer connections in their own relationships and friendships. I’ve seen them become more confident, dynamic and authentic in their way of addressing life. I’ve watched them become more empowered with me, rather than opposed to me. The only thing that needed to change, was my attitude.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

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.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

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.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

New Sketch! Pulling out of Negativity

When I asked a friend recetly why she didn’t tell me how bad a negative state she was in, she replied that she didn’t want to pull me down into her pit in case we both couldn’t get out. I get this, it’s the whole ‘Tree’ sketch all over, however as I explained to my friend, it is my responsibility to enforce my boundaries and that if  I’m unable to deal with her situation then I can at least signpost some of our other friends her way who are in a healthy mindset and have the strength to pull her out of the negativity. Even if it takes more than one person (I know sometimes it has with me when I’ve been in my darkest times) isn’t this what friends are for – to pull each other up when we’re down?

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x