New Zine! Staying with feelings

A topic I’ve written about on here quite a lot is the idea of ‘staying with’ feelings. After the Pixar movie Inside Out I wrote all about how important it is to get in touch with all our emotions. I’ve also written about the value of noticing how we feel with kindness and curiosity, and about how to stay with other people’s feelings.

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In this new zine I discuss both why we get so shut off from our feelings in a wider culture which values some emotions far more highly than others, and how we can go about shifting our patterns of avoiding and fighting some feelings, and craving and grasping for others. It covers both therapeutic and spiritual practices for staying with our emotions.

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You can download or read the zine here.

 

Inside Out: Getting in Touch with Our Emotions

This weekend I saw the new Disney Pixar movie Inside Out. I’m a big fan of Pixar already, particularly because their previous films have explored huge existential themes like death and the meaning of life, and because they often celebrate friendship and chosen families rather than the romantic relationships and biological families that so much mainstream media focuses on. That’s a big deal in a set of films that are also massively accessible and entertaining for children and adults alike.

When I saw that the main characters in Inside Out were a person’s emotions I knew that I absolutely had to go see it. I wasn’t disappointed. In fact several times I was moved to tears by how familiar the experiences were, and by this hugely important, complex, and rarely-expressed message being communicated so simply and profoundly in a ‘kid’s film’.

If you’d rather not be spoilered for the movie then please do go see it before reading the rest of this post. Also do be aware that it may well tap into lots of different emotions as you’re watching it – if you’re anything like me – not just the joyful ones. As we’ll go on to see that may not be a bad thing!

The rest of this post is divided into three sections:

  • Experiencing all of our emotions
  • Shutting down our emotions
  • How to sit with our emotions: A practical guide

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New Zine! Social suffering and social mindfulness

I’ve made my first attempt at a zine!

For the last few months I’ve been thinking a whole lot about the social side of mental distress. It feels really important to me to recognise how our suffering is embedded within our relationship dynamics; our workplaces, communities and other institutional systems; and our wider society.

I often notice what a relief it is for me – and my friends and clients – when we realise this social element to our suffering: particularly how the self-criticism that we do so constantly is something that everybody else does as well, because we’re all in this self-critical culture. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with us. It’s understandable.

This week I’m speaking at a few conferences which touch on themes of inequalities, individualising and intersectionality, and on mental health and mindfulness. So I thought – instead of the usual stand-up presentation – I’d make a zine that captures my experiences of these things, and makes some suggestions about how we might creatively engage with them.

It was also a good opportunity – for me – to get back into making comics: something I’d love to do more of, especially now I’m working on a comic introduction to queer theory with a professional artist. Here’s one of the comics I made for the zine. You can download the whole zine at the end of this post if you’d like to read it more clearly.

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For my zine, the comics really helped me to understand how intertwined all these social levels are – as are the inequalities that we suffer from, and benefit from, and the ways in which we are individualised and individualise others.

You can download the zine as a pdf by clicking on the link below. I’d suggest printing it out as a booklet to get the full zine experience – or just reading it online. There’s also a whole book on mindful therapy by me here (including more comics!) if you’re interested in reading further on the topic.

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New Year Resolutions

New Year is a time when we often consider resolving to do things differently in the year to come. However, for many reasons, making New Year resolutions often ends up leaving us feel worse, rather than better, about ourselves. And the things we decided to change frequently fail to stick.

In the interview below I suggest that it might be better to consider alternative ways of making changes. I also put forward a few ideas for kinder resolutions if New Year does feel like a good time to start doing something different.

According to research by allabouthealth.co.uk, three-quarters of the 3,000 British adults they surveyed will break their New Year resolution by the second week of January. What is it about this time of year that makes us more susceptible to breaking those promises to ourselves?

It is not so much that the time of year makes us susceptible to breaking promises but rather that it is the time of year when we are encouraged into making promises. The ways in which we make New Year resolutions often set us up to fail, so we end up feeling bad about ourselves.

Why do we make New Year resolutions in the first place?

We make resolutions on New Year because there is a strong culture of doing so. When we’re surrounded by magazine articles, TV programmes and advertisements about resolutions, all promising the possibility of a ‘new, happier, more successful you’, it’s easy to feel like we have to join in.

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St. Swithun’s Day or How to cope if we get 40 more days of rain!

It rained and it rained and it rained. Piglet told himself that never in all his life, and he was goodness knows how old – three, was it, or four? – never had he seen so much rain. Days and days and days. (A. A. Milne, 1926)

This opening to an A. A. Milne short story will be familiar to anybody who has been living in the UK recently. And forget days and days: it has been going on for months. April, the traditional month of showers, saw twice its average rainfall this year. We had the wettest June since records began. And a month’s worth of rain fell in 24 hours in some parts of the country at the beginning of July. Many have pointed out the irony that the unending rain began to fall almost directly after the government declared an official state of drought.

The rain can put a damper on even the sunniest disposition, and there is concern that it may be set to continue as we head towards the UK’s equivalent of Groundhog Day on July 15th. According to ancient proverb, if it rains on St. Swithun’s day we will be set for 40 more days of rain, which will take us almost into September. There is hope though for those who are sick of the rain: If it doesn’t pour on July 15th we’re supposed to get 40 days rain free.

St Swithun’s day if thou dost rain

For forty days it will remain

St Swithun’s day if thou be fair

For forty days ’twill rain nae mare

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Tuning out, turning in – Turning out, tuning in

Yesterday I found myself reflecting on two different issues that I think about a lot: depression and conflict.

I’m about to start writing a chapter for my mindfulness book on depression so I’ve been mulling over what the experience of being depressed Is like, and what things help and hinder when we’re in that place. At the same time I’m becoming fascinated and concerned by the processes of conflict between people which seem to inevitably happen in all the academic and activist groups I’m part of. I’m wondering what might be done to maintain some kind of useful dialogue, rather than people convincing themselves that the other side is wrong and bad whilst they are right and good, and thus ceasing all engagement. Even as I see the problems in this approach I recognise the same tendency in myself.

As these two lines of thoughts unfurled themselves yesterday I found that they began to weave together into a similar set of ideas, so I decided to write a little about the patterns that I see in how we experience depression and conflict, and in how the experience can shift. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised that these ideas have come together: I deliberately started my book on relationships with a chapter on the self because of the connections that there are between how we relate to ourselves and how we relate to others.

Depression: Tuning out, turning in
When I reflect on being depressed the experience is one of being simultaneously tuned out, but turned in. What I mean by tuned out is that when we’re depressed many of us become terribly concerned with other people and the outside world. We monitor ourselves closely through the imagined gaze of others and judge what we think they are seeing very harshly. We become anxious about what others will see in us, and frightened that we will get it wrong somehow and be exposed in all our uselessness. Decisions become very difficult because we are so tuned out – trying to be okay for everyone else – that it is almost impossible to tune in to what we want and need ourselves. We might find ourselves busily rushing around trying to please everyone and not letting on how much we are struggling, or we might withdraw from contact as much as possible for fear of what others might see if we let them in close.

At the same time as being tuned out, we are also turned in. Whilst we are hugely concerned with what other people think of us or how we are being seen out in the world, we don’t really see or hear the people around us because we are so turned in and focused on our own struggles. We often spend a great deal of time in internal conversations with ourselves about whether something is wrong with us, what it is, and how we might fix it. We view other people in terms of their danger to us (‘they might see me as I really am!’), or the possibility that they might be able to help (‘maybe they have the answer’), but it is hard for us to make the shift that is necessary to understand how they are feeling and what is going on for them. Often we assume that we are the only person who is this bad and full of problems, and we are so fixated on not showing other people that this is the case, or apologising to them for our perceived wrong-doing, that there is no space available to turn towards their experience and let go of all of our own stuff for a moment.

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Smartphones

I’ve blogged about smartphones and the ways the can impact our relationships with ourselves and others over on Social Mindfulness.

Christmas presence

Also appears over on Society Matters.

In Charles Dickens‘s classic festive story, A Christmas Carol (and in the Muppet version of same which is compulsory viewing in our house at this time of year), Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. He is taken back through his childhood to understand the process of how he came to be the unpleasant miser that he is today; he gets to see what Christmas is like at the moment for the people in his life who he has never got to know or care about; and he reluctantly views what the future has in store if he fails to mend his ways: Dying alone with nobody to mourn him.

After these journeys, Scrooge is returned to the present day: Christmas day. He is so appreciative of being given another chance that he delights in everything that previously would have elicited a ‘bah, humbug’. I would argue that one thing we can take from the story – whether or not we celebrate Christmas ourselves – is the value of being present. In understanding ourselves, in really seeing other people for what they are, and in remembering the impermanence of life, we can return to the present more fully than before in a way that is better for ourselves and for others around us.

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Mental Health – Beyond the 1 in 4

A short while ago I was asked to take part in an Open University day about mental health for tutors. It was a good chance to give a workshop about self care and why that might be useful for both students and staff. But I was also given a lecture slot in the day. I decided to share some of my thoughts on mental health more broadly. I was nervous because this was the first time I had spoken on this topic specifically and I know that my ideas on it can be challenging to hear. However, the talk seemed to go well and led to some great discussions, so I’ve decided to share it here too.

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Self-Care

This week is depression awareness week (11-17 April). The most important thing I have to say in relation to depression is about self-care.

Towards the end of this week I’m going to an event about which asks, among other things, how people can nurture practices of ‘self-care’. Towards the end of last year I ran a weekly workshop on self-care practices, and I’m running a day for therapists on the same topic this Autumn. The first chapter of the book I’ve recently written about relationships focuses on self-care. Here I want to look at why I think self-care is so important, what it is, and how we can build it into our lives (both when we are depressed and when we aren’t).

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