Self-sabotage and the work-rest-play balance

Mars a dayWhen I was a kid the TV ad for Mars went: A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play.

Although I haven’t touched a Mars Bar in about 15 years, the catchphrase is unforgettable. It’s every ad-man’s wet dream to come up with a slogan as memorable as that. The reason it works is simple: work, rest and play are the three most important areas in our lives; pretty much everything we do falls into one of these broad categories.

I’ve been thinking a lot about work, rest and play in the last month. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about balance and self-sabotage. I’ve noticed that I am at my happiest when the balance between work, rest and play is just right for me. In my case this means quite a lot of work and a fair bit of play; when I throw in a small but healthy dose of rest, I feel terrific. Take one of those out of whack and I start feeling bad pretty quickly.

Yesterday I was chatting to my good friend and fellow blogger J about this, and we agreed that the balance of work, rest and play is a complex thing. Firstly, it’s something that’s particular to each person: my ideal balance is (by his own confession) waaaaaay too much work for my buddy R_____, who generally likes to work not more than 20 hours a week. But he plays hard at fetish clubs most weekends, which is waaaaay too much for me. We are both happy, but our balance is quite different.

Another thing that makes balance complex is that it changes over time. We know this automatically when we think about the difference between a 3-year-old, a 33-year-old and a 73-year-old. But it’s not always so easy to recognise, or accept, the changes when they happen to us, as another friend B_____ taught me recently. Being ‘party girl’ has been a big part of her identity for many years, and it came as a shock to her to discover recently that she’s changing. From the outside what I see is that her ideal balance is shifting; but because she has identified with her balance at a certain level (“This is who I am” rather than “This is what I like right now”), it is proving difficult for her to accept it changing.

A third aspect, which J is well versed in, is our ability to go out of balance from time to time when needed – for example, when we have a particularly intense patch at work, or on holiday when all we want to do is rest and play. It is quite possible for us to accept – and even be happy in – an out-of-balance period, as long as we know when it’s going to end. But we also know those people who get out of balance and stay there – the stereotypical “20-hour-a-day-lawyer” being a classic example. Most people’s ideal balance involves a pre-dominance of one, but few can sustain that area being so dominant that it leaves no room for the others.

Now let’s see what happens when we weave self-sabotage into the mix. ‘Too much rest’ is a good place to start, as it’s generally the form of self-sabotage we recognise the most easily. As with all forms of self-sabotage it exists on a scale: at one end, an indolent ‘I can’t be bothered to do much’ kind of laziness that’s very common in teenagers; at the the other end, a depression so bad you can’t get out of bed.

Most of us recognise this immediately as self-sabotage and don’t question it – but Mr Lennon is a notable exception:

Everybody seems to think I’m lazy
I don’t mind, I think they’re crazy
Running everywhere at such a speed
Til they find, there’s no need (there’s no need)

The man certainly has a point – his lyrics highlight how much we prize work and how little we prize rest. Nonetheless rest can easily become apathy, and this is the point at which it becomes self-sabotaging.

‘Too much work’ is a less immediately obvious form of self-sabotage. I am a recovering workaholic, and one of the ways in which I self-sabotage is by overworking. This is a subtle one, because we live in a culture that prizes hard workers and has vaguely romantic notions of workaholics as noble and self-sacrificing. Let me put this one straight right now: bullshit. Our culture prizes hard workers because of our unconscious desire to stay under control. Working ourselves ragged is one way of doing this. (So, as it is happens, is playing us ragged – more on that in a moment.)

The founders of 37 Signals make short shrift of this nonsense in their excellent book Rework:

Our culture celebrates the idea of the workaholic. We hear about people burning the midnight oil. They pull all-nighters and sleep at the office. It’s considered a badge of honor to kill yourself over a project. No amount of work is too much work.

Not only is this workaholism unnecessary, it’s stupid. Working more doesn’t mean you care more or get more done. It just means you work more. It leads to an ass-in-seat mentality—people stay late out of obligation, even if they aren’t really being productive.

Working too hard is a particularly pernicious form of self-sabotage for freelancers. Freed from the shackles of working for The Man, the story goes that we love our work so much we never want to stop doing it. A slightly less healthy version of this is that we are so keen to please our clients, we never say no to anything. Either way, we are really just self-sabotaging. To put it crudely: we are not saying ‘I love my work’, we are saying ‘I hate myself.’

‘Too much play’, like ‘too much work’, is subtle. How much is too much? I remember being utterly horrified a few years ago to see the state of 19- and 20-year-olds on holiday in Ibiza Uncovered. They looked terrible, stumbling about like pratts, shouting, fucking anything that moved and missing out the gorgeous Spanish sunshine by sleeping all day. This was a great example of what I’m talking about – the poor fuckers were playing so hard they looked miserable and tired the whole time. Like the other two, play can easily go out of balance and become a burden of its own.

And just like workaholism, over-playing is one of the ways in which we keep ourselves ‘in our place’. The media is chock-full of stories of drunken shenanigans – Ibiza Uncovered is the sharp end, but there’s plenty more where that came from. And behind the mock-outrage there’s an implied invitation for us to continue doing it, even to think it’s a bit cool. (Tania Glyde‘s excellent book Cleaning Up talks about the underlying reasons for this with tremendous clarity.)

The ‘system’ – by which I mean the complex, interconnected web of structures created by our collective unconscious desires and fears – has a vested interest in keeping us unhappy. Fear and misery are its raisons d’etre: the capitalist machine we have created is a material expression of our fear of being in balance. As soon as we stop moving, it threatens to collapse. How can that possibly be right?

For those of us who seek another way, it’s important to consider the question of balance deeply. When we start to look at how much (or how little) balance we have in our lives, our self-sabotage quickly comes to light. And what is self-sabotage, if not an expression of low self-esteem?

It doesn’t take much to figure out that we are happiest when we achieve the work-life-play balance that’s right for us. So it follows that failing to honour our need for balance is a form of self-abuse. That might sound strong but I really believe it. Underneath the story there is invariably a desire to make ourselves unhappy.

So ask yourself these questions:

What is the ideal balance for me?
What does it feel like when I achieve it?
How can I tell when it’s out of whack?
What do I do to redress it?

These aren’t difficult questions but they may well trigger you – as they did me – because they bring your self-sabotage to light. Work with them for a while and you’ll learn a lot about yourself. In particular, you’ll start discovering when you’ve been at your happiest, and why.

Would you like to explore these questions more with Faerie? A Personal Growth coaching session is an ideal place to do that.

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On Presence

Holding SpaceI have been thinking about presence for a while now. While at the Osho Leela Tantra Festival last June I had a breakthrough in my understanding of what this word means. In the three days I was there I attended workshops with four or five different facilitators, including Jan Day, Shashi Solluna and Sarita. I noticed that how I felt and what I was able to express in each workshop was different – and it was something about the energy of the person at the front of the room that made this possible.

I have heard, and used, the phrase ‘holding space’ for a few years now. I first encountered it used by Cléo Dubois back in 2007. She said that we’d be holding space for Fakir and TJ while they did their suspension: I nodded knowingly because the phrase seemed to speak for itself, but in truth I didn’t really know what it meant.

Gradually, over time, I have experienced spaces held in a variety of different ways, and also learnt to hold space myself. But until recently the phrase still seemed abstract and unspecific, because I hadn’t fully grasped what it meant. But at the Tantra Festival in June I got a lot clearer on it. The ‘space’ is a container in which magical work can be done: strong emotions can be expressed, energy can flow and our sacred intentions can be committed to All That Is. And it is through the presence of the person at the front of the room that the ‘holding’ happens.

Presence. At its most literal it simply means the person standing there. But of course it also means something much deeper than this: after all, not just anyone can stand up and create a safe container for this work.

For me there are two aspects to the deeper meaning of presence that are significant here. One is the way it is commonly used in everyday conversation: when we say ‘J_____ has presence’, we mean that we feel J____ strongly whenever she is there. There is a power or strength to her simply being in the room that is noticeable to others. We often speak about actors in this way because the difference between a strong presence and a weak one is particularly marked in theatre.

In sacred practice we talk a lot about ‘being present’. Through my experiences at the Tantra Festival I realised that this is the other important aspect of ‘presence’. When someone is fully present while they hold a space, they profoundly tune into those around them: hearing and seeing and feeling those in the space much more fully than they would if their mind were partly engaged with something else. There’s no multi-tasking in magical space: the more a facilitator is ‘with’ the people in the room, the more held those people feel.

So, what makes a person able to hold a certain kind of space? By combining these two meanings of presence, I began to understand: the person at the front of the room has to both have presence and be present. Through this powerful combination, their presence becomes the safe container that allows the participants to do the work.

And because each person’s presence is unique, the containers they create are totally different. Jan Day struck me as a woman in her power who communicates her yeses and noes with precision and clarity. I also got the impression that this is something she struggled with in the past, that she had overcome difficulties in this area. As a result, in her workshop I was able to tune into my own struggles with finding my yes and my no. Her presence was a container that made it safe for me to go deeply into my own ‘stuff’ in this area.

In Sarita’s presence I felt a connection to ‘sky energy’ that I’d never experienced before. Just as Jan’s earthy, groundedness and clarity enabled me to get more grounded and in touch with myself, Sarita’s beautiful, spiritual Being allowed me to connect with something ‘up there’ that I might not have had access to otherwise.

I thought about my own work with clients and groups.  From what I’ve observed and what people have told me, I understand that my presence makes it safe for people to go ‘into the dark’ – to delve into scary and painful places that they’d otherwise steer clear of. This makes a lot of sense because I have done a lot of work on myself in these areas: exploring my own Shadow and playing around in the murky depths to allow my light to shine more fully.

I began to understand that it is not what we do as facilitators that really matters, but who we are. This is both comforting and scary. It’s comforting because it means we can relax a bit with the lesson plans, and not worry so much about going off-piste during a workshop. It’s scary because it means that there’s no way to pretend. We can ‘fake it til we make it’, but only if we’re ready to be there. Being at the front of a room and holding a spiritual space is not something to be taken lightly, or rushed into.

Since the Tantra Festival I’ve been tracking the way this works. I was particularly struck by the fearless presence of Robert Silber at a workshop in mid-August, in which more stuff came up for me than in any other workshop in over 10 years. Robert has a deep believe in the power of radical honesty and the ability of a group to become a community when nothing is hidden or held back. As a result, over the course of two days 16 people shared an intensely beautiful, wondrous and powerful space together. We opened up to reveal our power and our vulnerability, touching each other’s bodies and souls with love and total presence.

I have heard it said that we only go as deep as it’s safe to go in any situation. Our psyche knows how well the space is held, and responds accordingly. This is why so many people spend so much time contracted, disconnected, shut down. After all, who would open up to an aggressive, bullying or patronising boss, however hard they tried to convince us? Clearly not – and although this is an extreme example, it helps to illustrate the central point.

By contrast, when we feel that we’re in the presence of someone who can hold us, it’s amazing how much can come up, and how quickly. In three hours with Jan I found out that I usually don’t know where my yes is; in three hours with Sarita I opened my crown chakra and connected with All That Is; in a weekend with Robert I discovered anger, sadness and hurt that had been suppressed for 15 years. Of course my presence is part of this too: in all situations we are holding ourselves, and we only allow up what we are ready to process. But I wonder if I would’ve allowed myself to be so vulnerable and open in a group if the powerful presence at the front of the room hadn’t been such a safe container for me.

As I evolve my Sacred Kink practice this understanding feels very important. I am less afraid than I used to be: the ugly parts of me don’t disgust me and I don’t shut them off or lock them up. So when something ugly arises for a client, or when I need to embody something ugly for them to work with, I can do so with presence, respect and love.

Because I have done (and continue to do) ‘the work’, because I keep delving into the dark corners to unearth anything that is holding me back from fulfilling my potential, I am able to hold space for my clients to do the same. It could be a man letting go of his fear of surrender or a woman overcoming the abuses of her past: as long as I can stay present and be unafraid, the magic will happen again and again.

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What is Ecstatic BDSM?

Ecstatic BDSM with London FaerieEcstatic BDSM is a unique infusion of BDSM, shamanic healing, personal development and Tantra. It has been developed by Claire Black and I to help you feel more alive.

BDSM stands for a related set of consensual erotic activities: Bondage & Discipline, Dominance & Submission, Sadism & Masochism. In an Ecstatic BDSM session some or all of these aspects may come into play. Read about BDSM on Wikipedia >>

In Ecstatic BDSM our focus is on bliss: not just experiencing it in the session, but also helping you to experience more of it in your life. This often involves removing anything that is stopping you from being joyful in all areas of your life. Often these barriers are caused by childhood trauma, sexual assault and self-limiting beliefs. In this way Ecstatic BDSM is both an advanced form of sexuality and a route to healing and personal transformation.

In Ecstatic BDSM we place a great emphasis on certain key qualities:

  • Consent: for you to move into a deep space of surrender, consent is essential. You need to know that you’re safe and that your boundaries will be honoured in order to let go fully.
  • Awareness: things evolve during a session, and it’s our job as practitioners to be aware when these changes happen and to flow with them
  • Presence: when we are truly in the here & now, we receive much more information about what’s happening than when our attention is scattered. In presence our intuition is heightened, allowing us to read the situation with more compassion and awareness.
  • Love: above all, what makes this work ecstatic is our focus on love. When you feel loved you can open your heart and let others in.

We also draw on our knowledge of shamanism and Tantra to create an intoxicating space for profound bliss and conscious surrender.

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Intuition

Alex Grey image

The Oxford Dictionary defines intuition as “the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning” and “a thing that one knows or considers likely from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning.”

Contrasting intuition with conscious reasoning is a useful starting-point. It distinguishes these two types of intelligence, allowing us to look the ways in which they are usually characterized:

Intuition Reasoning
Scientific Right-brain Left-brain
Gendered Feminine Masculine
Taoist Yin Yang
Physical quality Movement, flow Framework, structure
Sexual quality Receptive Active
Relationship quality Connecting Distinguishing, Separating
Body part Gut, Third Eye Mind

From the list of qualities associated with intuition, it is clear that this is not an intelligence much prized in Western society. We have a tendency to favour patriarchal, masculine intelligence, which makes sense when you consider that capitalism encourages us to be rugged individualists. By contrast Eastern cultures, from India to Japan, are more collective-minded and prize intuition much more strongly.

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Intuition is hard to write about and characterize, because different people experience it differently. For me it’s mostly aural: I “hear” a quiet-but-clear internal voice, giving me advice and information right in the moment. It provides what I need just when I need it. To give a recent example, I experienced this several times during my Tarot Reading with DK Leather – as he spoke about a certain card, I was “told” the name of the person or thing it related to.

When I first started hearing this voice it was quite shy, only speaking when absolutely necessary, quiet the rest of the time. For the past 5 years I’ve been honouring it whenever it graces me, and following the advice it gives. As I’ve done this more and more, the voice has spoken more frequently and more clearly.

I also receive intuition kinaesthetically. I experience this in a range of sensations, particularly when I’m doing a Healing BDSM Ritual. Often I feel a rush through my body as the other person rushes, allowing me to travel with them as they fly. Or I feel something in my body as I strike a certain part of theirs, telling me that I have hit something important, a place where I need to go deeper.

Sometimes I feel a contraction in my chest when I hear something, indicating that I don’t like it on a deep level (even if my mind was quite happy with it). I noticed this a lot when I returned to the corporate sector briefly after developing my intuition, I would feel something akin to being punched in the stomach when I was being pushed into a corner or forced to do something I didn’t want to do. Since this happens a lot in the corporate sector, I became particularly attuned to this form of intuition.

Continue reading >>

Intuition (part two)

The opposite can also happen. An expansive, joyful feeling when I first meet someone often indicates that we have something to “give” each other. Often it takes time to work out what this gift is, but the initial feeling is rarely wrong.

Another way I receive information is through electrical interference. (Stay with me on this one!) Sometimes when I say something negative or angry, the music (which travels wirelessly across my home network) drops out or breaks up. When this happens I take a deep breath and think about what I’ve said. Often this causes the music to start playing again. It freaked me out the first few times, but I feel increasingly comfortable with it as another channel of intuitive communication.

I know many people who receive information visually, but this has never happened to me. This is not surprising as I am an auditory and kinaesthetic learner and not particularly visual at all.

Intuition is experienced differently by different people and, just like rational intelligence, to differing degrees. This is something intuition’s detractors really struggle with. At its root their argument seems to say “If it’s real, why can’t I feel it?” Yet the same people have no problem accepting that one person is brilliant at mathematics, while another can barely scrape a C at GCSE.

Just like mathematical ability or skill with languages, there are people who are “betterâ” at intuition and people who are “worse” at it – and just like other forms of intelligence, it’s something that can be fostered and developed. I’m a great case in point: I had little intuition until I began to open up to it. As a result of becoming more conscious of it and welcoming it when it comes, I have developed a lot more.

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There’s another question, and it’s a really big one for me. Rational thought is an active form of intelligence – it is something you “do” and the processes are quite clear. By contrast intuition is a receptive form of intelligence – it is something you “tune into” and the processes don’t seem as obvious. So the question for me is – what are we tuning into?

My belief is that, beneath the surface level, in which we are individual and separate from each other, there is a deeper level of reality in which we are all connected. This is a belief has evolved through many magical experiences I have had over the past 5 years. Through these experiences I’ve been able to experience the inter-connectedness of all things for myself – something I’d only previously read about in mystical texts from around the world.

If everything is connected at a deeper level, it makes sense that we can receive information about anything from anywhere, at any time. For me, still a relative newcomer to intuition, it feels like I am tuning into my own wisdom and deeply into the people around me. So when I get a clear message about what to do next in a healing session, it comes from my connection with the other person.

From the work I’ve done with others, however, I’ve glimpsed much deeper levels of intuition – connecting with what Paolo Coelho calls “The Soul of the World”. This is particularly striking when working with Avanti (who I fondly dub my psychic life-coach) – she seems to access information at a very deep level, often saying things that are amazingly accurate about my life and what I need to do next. The same is true of DK when he is reading Tarot or doing a ritual with me – he seems to connect with something far beyond himself, at a place where intuition becomes something even deeper and even more mysterious.

To further illustrate this: during the recent Tarot reading, DK’s eye was suddenly drawn to an eagle in the card The World. The eagle is a creature I have a deep resonance with: shamanically it’s one of my power animals and it’s also the loftiest, most noble aspect of Scorpio (my star-sign). DK’s intuition was not based on a study of Tarot or any prior knowledge – it was information he was given in the moment, from an unknown source.

Certain people seem to be able to go very deeply into this connected place, and access information that is inexplicable to the rational mind. At a certain point this ability becomes eerie and we call it something else, usually “psychic”. Based on what I’ve understood so far, psychic is simply a deeper access to the same type of receptive intelligence. To put it another way, psychics are just very tuned into their intuition.

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It is normal for each of us to be stronger in one type of intelligence and weaker in another. If you look at a typical sys-admin or computer programmer, you’ll most likely find their rational intelligence to be stronger and their intuition to be weaker. By contrast you’ll probably find that a Shiatsu practitioner or Tantrika will have a highly developed intuition but won’t be as strong in structure and organization.

My belief is that each of us should develop in the areas where we are less strong. Speaking personally, I found that strengthening the part of my mind that was less developed has had a profound effect on me and I believe it can be beneficial to everyone.

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