Yesterday I recorded a video and spoke about how some people perceive breathwork and emotional healing as scary. I totally get it, because for most of my life I was one of those people too.
The thought of recalling the past and opening long welded shut closets petrified me. It felt infinitely more comfortable to stick with the present, thank you very much, and not go poking around in places where I didn’t know what I might find. My strategy worked for years until my life took a turn for the worst and I didn’t get a choice any longer. The skeletons suddenly broke loose and decided to have a party in my bedroom at the ungodly hour of 2am. After weeks of waking in the middle of the night with a paralysing sense of overwhelm, dread and grief I couldn’t ignore my pain any longer.
It wanted my attention and now it had it.
Because I’d developed a thick shell (read: coping mechanisms) and was not accustomed to feeling my emotions it was a very rough patch. The dam had broken and there was now a thick and torrid current of energy that had been unleashed…. and I didn’t know how to swim. These waters were unfamiliar and it took everything I had to stay afloat and learn to ride the waves and follow the current.
The emotional flow
You see emotions are like water. They flow and mould. They change rapidly - one minute there’s a still and placid lake, the next minute an effervescent geyser. This my friends, is pure energy in motion. The energy that is actually meant to fuel your body and soul, rather than boil you alive. The dam breaking was my initiation into the water world and one that I’d been avoiding and as it turns out, desperately needed.
It’s only when our emotional energy is diverted that we have difficulties. Unlike the dam, the river of our emotions has a natural course. As the river bends and twists to find its way across the terrain, it naturally follows the path of least resistance and greatest flow. It moves unabated, until something gets in the way. Then it goes around.
Mans meddling with nature is apparent to see, and the same goes with our emotional dealings. Our emotional energy is blocked for the most part, and is creating a build up of energy. It’s like a stagnant pond, where things are rotting and dying and the stench is pretty nasty. The emotional energy that wanted to flow naturally, is now creating a problem. Repressing and suppressing this energy takes a considerable amount of force and drains our vital energy. It also creates rigidity and disconnection - just like the dam.
In the same way the river flows to the sea, our emotions seek to lead us to where we need to go. This is the navigation system of our soul. Sadly most of us don’t know how to switch the system on, let alone follow the instructions! This is a big problem. Whilst we are led from our minds, we cannot follow our true path. Our feelings and emotions have a different quality and communicate with us in a different way. It’s a whole new language to learn and it can be very confusing. However, this is the language you must learn if you want to uncover true freedom and create a meaningful life.
Where's your programming leading you?
One of the difficulties we face is that many programmes and maps in the navigation system are wrong. There is faulty programming, so we therefore cannot fully trust the directions or the map. These coding errors are our unresolved emotional wounds and trauma, our misconceptions, our warped perceptions and our attachments.
The system is certainly not free from bugs and this is why emotional healing and breathwork are so important. Because they help you release old stories of the past so that the navigation system of your soul, your emotions, become more reflective of reality, rather than fantasy. When you clear out the errors the route to freedom becomes more and more clear. That’s what the real role of our emotions are, to guide us towards or away from things in our life, in order to deliver us to our greatest potential.
Fixing bugs and rebooting the system allow us to learn to trust in our inner sense to keep us safe and lead us home. That’s why your emotions are the path to freedom.
Breathe the change you wish to see in the world.
Deep at the core of every human heart is the desire to connect. We are highly animalistic in the physical sense and seek solace and comfort in communion with others, be it in romantic or platonic relationships. There is something about touch that soothes the soul. And given the situation we currently find ourselves in, the lack of this lifeblood connection is felt more than ever. Yet we often get mixed up between our longing for connection and our emotional wounds.
The vast majority of us are the walking wounded, and the search for connection is like trying to put a band aid on a bullet wound. It’s just not going to do the job. The wound is too deep, and no amount of sticking plasters are going to fix the gaping void. What is needed is surgery, to remove the bullet, the cause of the wound, and seal up the skin so it can heal.
Recognising your wounds
However if you don’t know you’re wounded, you’re likely to be spraying blood onto everyone and everything you touch, wondering why you’re in pain and why your relationships look like a crime scene from a murder mystery movie. Other people can see the problem a mile off, but you stay stuck because you’re too numb to your own sh*t to recognise the bigger picture.
We can’t change what we can’t see or feel. Living in our own little bubble we create our own stories and illusions in an attempt to maintain control and gain a sense of comfort. It may work for a while, but life has a way of making growth happen, whether you like it or not.
At some level we’re all in pain, just for the most part we’re completely unaware of it. Pain is something that typically we get told to ‘poke up’ with, get on with it, man up and keep trooping on. Our cultures have taken trauma and edified it, turning it to stone and entombing our very life force in the process. You see, the vast majority of us are codependent. We are dysfunctional in relationships.
We are not sovereign, but woven into enmeshed and contorted emotional and energetic connections that corrupt who we really are. Codependent. Not interdependent. And this is a BIG problem which most people are living through but not aware of. I had no idea what that meant until 8 years ago when someone close to me introduced the concept, and the book Facing Codependence by Pia Mellody. And just like that, a whole new can of worms opened up.
Until that point, as far as I was concerned, I was ‘all right’. I considered myself to have my head screwed on, and that I was fairly adept at navigating the world. I had good relationships, plenty of friends, a fantastic job and my life overall was pretty wholesome. When I read the book it was like reading my biography. People pleasing. Poor boundaries. Emotionally sensitive. Manipulation and control. Fear of abandonment. Intense feelings of shame and guilt. The list when on and on.
God damn, ‘this is me’ I thought. Whilst my stomach sank with the realisation, it was also a breakthrough moment. It finally gave me the strength to see a therapist and begin unravelling my convoluted emotional dealings that had unknowingly permeated my existence.
Codependency is sneaky. It’s like one of those untraceable STI’s you get that flies beneath the radar and you don’t know you got a problem until, well, a few other people do too. It makes you think that everything in your life was and is ‘normal’ until, well, all of a sudden it isn’t. Because essentially codependency describes dysfunction in relationship, and guess what, your life is riddled with relationships. Dysfunctional ones at that.
Uuff I appreciate that may sound like a judgment, but I’m pointing the finger firmly at myself too. Until I knew about the phenomenon of codependency I thought all my relationships were healthy and normal. Well now I know they weren’t. Part of me already knew that, but this new knowledge gave me deeper insights and how I needed to heal and change, to make my life actually work for me.
What I realised during my journey is that my life and energy were being directly impacted by those around me, especially my close family relationships.
Playing the codependency game
Everybody is codependent to a greater or lesser extent. It depends on the luck of the draw of the family you were born into, and the amount of healthy emotional coping mechanisms that were present (or not). Unfortunately the majority of our modern cultures do not support or encourage healthy, free and open expression of our wants, needs and feelings. As a result we learn to manipulate and control our reality in order to get our desires met, without asking directly. We become incredibly sensitised to the needs of others around us so that we can meet them, and in turn get rewarded or recognised, and ultimately receive love.
Codependency is born as a result of conditional love. Love that is only given when certain conditions or circumstances are met. Instead of being something that is freely shared, love becomes a currency that may be withheld or provided, depending on the demands and needs of the giver. When children receive this type of conditional love from adults, they learn to comply with, meet and/or anticipate all of the adults needs. When they are successful, bingo, they receive love, praise and acceptance. If they fail to comply, then guess what? Shaming, ignoring, guilt tripping, criticism, anger, and emotional manipulation.
I think you’ll agree that’s a highly toxic cocktail most of us wouldn’t wish to knowingly drink. Yet most family systems have been brewing this foul tasting concoction for centuries. Conditional love is sadly the norm, and hence why we are all codependent. I have compassion for us all because the way I see it, our situation reflects the direct result of generations of emotional repression and collective trauma. When something becomes so normalised it becomes inherent and woven in to the fabric of society. It also forms part of our DNA, and now the science of epigenetic proves it. Hence the reason I thought I was fine, when in actual fact, I wasn’t. I couldn’t for the life of me see the wood from the trees.
Is it longing or connection?
Codependency is where we confuse the longing to be in connection, with our emotional wounds.
Our wounds are the delicate places that were created because we never got our needs met when we were children. When love was given conditionally and we moulded ourselves to survive. In order to fill the voids that remain deep inside our child self, we seek something out in the world to plug the gap and soothe our pain and sense of lack. In this moment our inner child is crying out for healing.
Rather than searching in the world for something that can’t be provided, as adults we can give ourselves a precious gift instead. This is the gift of unconditional love. It is the surgery for the bullet wound.
Bringing full attention to our child self and nurturing it as we wished we had been loved. Wiping away the tears and allowing emotions to flow, gently holding ourselves and allowing our cuts to slowly heal so that we can come into genuine connection once more. Firstly by connecting with our own innocent selves, and then from a place of genuine longing and expression, sharing our unique essence with the world.
Healing codependency is a journey to claiming your sovereignty and power.
It can feel overwhelming because you’re disrupting an ancestral pattern and drawing a line in the sand for the next generation. I want you to know that this IS a big deal, and one you should celebrate and thank yourself for taking. Whilst we’re replaying the past, we can’t move forward. We all know that a brighter future requires something different. Making the decision to heal your wounds is a great act of courage and the rewards will be unfathomable. Let’s make the next cultural revolution one that’s driven by love.
Ready to enrol? Sign up now by loving yourself unconditionally. It is not for the faint hearted, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Breathe the change you wish to see in the world.
A few nights ago it hit me. I hadn’t stopped and dealt with life. As I sat for my evening breathwork session I found myself suddenly rewinding and arriving back 14 months earlier. February 2019. At the time I was working in a psychedelic retreat centre in the Netherlands, holding space and teaching breathwork. It was intense, and one of the most challenging and beautiful experiences of my life to date. I was working most weekends facilitating the healing and transformation of others from around the world. I was in the right place certainly, and I was on mission. Yet life was about to throw me a curve ball.
One Friday evening after our first day of retreat I arrived back to my apartment tired but satisfied. Out of the blue I received a phone call from my Dad. He was crying and incredibly distressed. My grandmother had been taken to hospital and was in a critical condition. I immediately burst into tears on the phone. She was experiencing heart failure and having difficulty breathing. To hear that someone (even at the age of 80) so fit and healthy was in dire straights sent a shockwave through my entire being.
He was at her bedside in hospital and so I asked him to put the phone near her so I could speak with her. I heard her voice croaking and could viscerally feel her pain and terror. We spoke for a couple of minutes and I told her she would be okay. I told her I loved her… and then my Dad came back on the line. A few moments later he said, “it’s not looking good. I don’t think she’s going to make it.”
I didn’t want to believe it. I couldn’t believe it. It all seemed so absurd.
As we finished the call the reality started to sink in. This couldn’t be happening. So sudden, so surreal. One of the people I looked up to the most and had inspired my adventurous spirit was about to pass over. All without getting to say goodbye. It was unbearable.
I felt powerless, weak and childlike. What could I possibly do? Nothing. I was in Holland and she was in the UK and it was 11pm at night. There was no way of getting there in time. Tears flooded from my eyes and my body contracted with shock. I froze like a statue. My world stopped spinning and became very still. As the situation sunk in I did the only thing I could possibly think of.
I breathed on her behalf.
Finding our breath
I had no other avenue and this made sense at the time. When someone you love is dying, it’s remarkable what lengths you’ll go to help them survive. My breathwork practice at the time was sporadic and inconsistent. I was finding it difficult to find the will to focus on my own wellbeing and things had taken a slide. In that moment a switch flicked, and I was determined to breathe like my life depended on it, because hers did. As I started to breathe the tears and emotions came strongly.
I had to feel into my own deep resistance around breathing and being in my body. But for the first time in a long time, it wasn’t about me anymore. It was about my Nan and getting her through this.
It was one of the most difficult and painful experiences of my life.
I breathed and breathed, screamed, cried, had tantrums, punched the air, contracted and shook. I convulsed and sobbed and became infuriated with the futility of what I was doing. It lasted for what seemed like an eternity, washed around in a sea of emotion during the most intense storm you can ever imagine. It went on and on, for hours, until one point when I could literally feel my grandmother holding both of my hands. It was so real I can still feel it now. She was holding on and I was giving her the strength to do so. Deep down I knew that what I was doing WAS making a difference, even from hundreds of miles away. I could feel it. At some point I became calm and spent, and drifted off to a restless sleep. I had done all I could, and I could only hope that it had worked.
The next morning I woke with dread in my heart. I didn’t know what had happened overnight and I feared the worst. I called my Dad as soon as I was able. I couldn’t bear to know but I had to find out what had happened. He answered…. my stomach sank.
“She seems to have rallied today.” I was gobsmacked. He went on, “I was worried she wouldn’t make it through the night, but she’s pulled through. You know she’s a fighter.”
A wave of relief overtook my body. My effort it seemed, had paid off. Yet by no means was she out of the woods, there were other complications and she was still in critical condition. Given that she was having breathing difficulties, and my job being a breathwork coach, I knew I needed to return as soon as I could. That day I was due to facilitate our retreat participants for breathwork and ceremony. As I arrived and greeted my team I burst into tears and explained what was going on. They immediately found a replacement and I agreed that I’d fly back to the UK after giving the breathwork class which was imminent.
Even at that point I ‘carried on’ with my work and pushed my emotions aside. It turns out that has been a theme in my life and a help and a hindrance at the same time, as I’ll come to explain. After holding it together and delivering a powerful session, I flew back to the UK and went straight to the hospital. When I entered the room I found my Nan hunched over and withered, wearing an oxygen mask and gasping for breath. It broke my heart. Such a powerful woman reduced to a fragile shadow of her eccentric bold healthy self. It was difficult to take in. She raised her head and spoke, telling me that she was glad I came and that she couldn’t breathe.
It took every fibre of my being to hold back the tears and stay grounded and centred. I wasn’t doing it for me, I was doing it for her. I knew if I was upset and panicked, it would negatively affect her.
As I sat with her I put my hand on her abdomen and told her it was ok. That she was able to breathe. It might be a bit difficult but you’re breathing OK, just focus on my hand and it will happen automatically. I said some affirmations and comforting words. After that we sat together, just breathing in silence. A little while later she shared that she felt a lot calmer.
After an hour or so the visiting hours ended and I left, giving her a kiss and telling her I loved her before I did. I told her I’ll see you tomorrow, but I wasn’t totally convinced I would.
The diagnosis was still not good, heart failure was the main component and it wasn’t clear what the outcome would be. I slept uneasy that night, but with hope that she had rallied and would hopefully remain on a positive trajectory.
The following day we went to the hospital again. She was sleepy and not feeling so good again. We sat and breathed together and I held her hand. After a while I swapped so other family members could come and visit. I headed to the cafe for an hour or so and then went to check again. My dad told me that she was sleeping finally (she hadn’t slept for 5 days) and so i went in to say goodbye for the day and kissed her on the head. She looked calm and peaceful. That was the very last time I saw her.
A couple of hours later my Dad called….and I already knew. The doctors said that she had entered into a coma and passed away shortly after we left. I was beyond devastated and overcome with numbness and overwhelm simultaneously.
Fifteen minutes later I was due to run a training call with ten people and it didn’t even cross my mind to cancel. After pulling myself together I ran the two hour call, explaining tearfully at the beginning what had happened, and then carried on as much ‘business as usual’ as I could. After I finished one of my best friends sat on the phone in silence with me while I cried and cried. It was all I could do as words were meaningless.
Riding the rollercoaster
My emotions were up and down for days. It was intensely painful, but I also knew that she was in a good place. I would hear her comforting words as if she was still here in the physical and it would reassure me to know she was okay, and reunited with her beloved mother. In some ways it was a blessing that she passed so fast, because if you knew her, you’d know she would have hated to lose her faculties or health. She was a tour de force to the last.
After a difficult few days it seemed the universe wasn’t done with me yet.
The following day my other grandmother had a seizure. I was staying with her and I was woken up by my aunt. After the ambulance arrived we headed to the hospital. I spent hours there, calming my Nan down. She wasn’t lucid and her mind and thoughts were all over the place.
She wanted to get off the bed but was hooked up to machines. I kept repeating what was happening and reassuring her. It went on for most of the day. Little did I realise that my time spent at the retreat centre had prepared me for this situation - to support my own family member in an altered state of consciousness whilst everyone else around me was in meltdown. It seems that life has strange ways of preparing you for the next challenge…
After what seemed like an eternity (and was probably more like 7 hours) she began returning to a normal state. It wasn’t the first or last time this type of event would happen, but after such an intense preceding few days I was exhausted.
Carrying on as normal
A few days later things were back to ‘normal’ and I returned to Holland. I did what I’d learned to do with pain and grief, which is to keep busy and get on with life. The following weekend I had another retreat. A week or two after that I was due to be facilitating a retreat in Costa Rica and the dates coincided with my Nans funeral.
I expect that if I’d needed to, I could have cancelled my trip. But a part of me didn’t want to. I wanted to run away and not have to come to terms with my grandmothers death. If I didn’t face it then it wasn’t real. And after all my work was also important and I couldn’t cancel. Decision made. My family understood the situation. Off I went to Costa Rica. The day of my Nan’s funeral came in the middle of the retreat and I did a little ritual on the beach (her all time favourite place) with sage. Every time I smell it burning I think of her. I said my goodbyes and closed the ritual. I sent some messages to my family back home and returned to ‘normal’.
But in all honesty it wasn’t normal. With everything that had happened my system had been overwhelmed and got totally blocked up. I packed up my pain and grief, compartmentalised it and forgot about it. I moved on. Every now and again I’d remember she was gone. During meditation and breathwork I’d sometimes feel someone holding my hand. I knew intuitively it was her. Like a reassurance I was on the right path.
Fast forward to a year or so later…
A few nights ago in my breathing session it all came flooding into my awareness - I was transported back and shown everything that I’d done. I realised how I’d packed everything away and hadn’t allowed myself to deal with life. A tidal wave of grief flooded over me and consumed me. I cried and cried until my face hurt. She was there holding my hands, I could feel it. As the tears rolled down my cheeks I knew it was time to feel and release the pain. Something I’d been avoiding for over a year. I finally allowed myself to experience the depth of my sadness and breathed into it. As I did I could feel the wall that I’d built around my heart, and with each breath it was like a brick was being removed.
My heart had been buried alive and suspended in time, and had blocked part of me from living. I came to see how closed, guarded and disconnected that tender part of me had become and how I kept the world at a distance so I wouldn’t get hurt. Because part of me rationalised that if you never love, then you can never lose. Don’t get attached or let something fully in, because you’ll end up getting burnt. It’s safer to keep your distance and not go too deep. Bury and avoid your pain and it will go away. Keep busy and just get on with it, don’t look back and you’ll be fine. Life had indeed given me some of those experiences and I developed a very good memory and subconscious response to protect myself.
Understanding the pain
Yet in the midst of my deep discomfort I found myself rightfully asking: Is that really how I want to live my life? Withholding my full self and floating above the complex human experience? Detached, numb and with a fortress built around my heart? To my mind this made perfect sense, yet my soul knew it’s wasn’t the answer.
In the book The Places That Scare You - Pema Chodron thoughtful asks:
“Do I prefer to grow up and relate to life directly, or do I choose to live and die in fear?”
It’s incredible how such a simple question cuts deeply to the heart of the matter, but here’s what I came to understand:
Whether you like it or not, pain IS part of the human experience. Grief is the very proof that you did indeed love, and at a very deep level.
It makes sense that humans rationalise our emotions in order to avoid hurt. Yet if you never allow yourself to love, are you really experiencing the full spectrum of existence? Or are it just skimming the surface of life, in fear and anticipation of loss before it even happens? Keeping closed and guarded against some unknown eventuality that’s unlikely to materialise.
Is that really LIVING or just existing? Living? Existing? What will it be?
I decided I’m here to live, and to the best of my abilities at that. It might be the only life I get so I’m going to make the most of it. Why would I choose otherwise? I’ll be dammed if my fear mind is going to get the better of me.
Furthermore, Pena explains the second aspect of bodhicitta (awakening mind) as “our ability to keep our hearts and minds open to suffering without shutting down.”
This is what I believe our experience is here to teach us and it is the path of a true warrior. To keep opening ourselves and loving MORE, even through painful experiences. Much of our early life and ancestral trauma keeps us stuck here, yet the only way out is through.
I realised that I don’t teach breathwork because I’m an expert at it, far from it. It’s because I need to be reminded regularly that my feelings matter and they need to flow freely for me to stay healthy and sane. Whenever my mind leads me off the path, my breath continues to show me the way home.
Living in the colour of life
The infinite breadth of human emotion is what living is about. If contrast didn’t exist then I believe the world would be a very bland place.
Feeling my grief and sadness has begun to open my heart once more. With each breath the colour of life is returning and I feel softer and less guarded. Taking the time to allow my emotions to exist, be witnessed and freed, has in turn created more beauty in my life.
After a long slumber my heart is coming back to life. Perhaps it’s time for yours too?
Breathe the change you wish to see in the world.