I recently had the privilege of meeting a number of people whom I had worked with as part of my recent research with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
We had come together to film a promotional video and it was a fascinating and deeply moving experience for me, as I got to hear not only from the people I had worked with directly, but also their families. It was truly amazing to hear their stories as they related how much their lives had all been transformed as a result of the changes that had occurred as part of the study. I can’t wait to share this video with the world very soon!
In the meantime, here’s a sneaky peak of what is to come, a photo of one of the participants back to doing what she loves:
Prior to becoming ill she had been an experienced horserider and had participated in competitions. The illness had severely impacted her life, and, as a university student, she had already had to resit the first year of her studies, and been unable to participate in the normal activities of student life, without a great deal of planning and controlling. It was clear, when I first spoke to her, that she was mourning the loss of not only her life but her passion. Knowing this made it so incredibly moving to see her face beaming with happiness as she rode the horse for the video that we were creating. The only thing that topped this was the look on her fathers face watching from the sidelines brimming with pride and wonderment.
Her father thanked me many times over the weekend and was clearly so grateful for having his daughter back to being healthy again. He approached me as we were filming, clearly emotional and asked me if I felt proud of the work that my colleague Karen and I had done with his daughter.
I paused to reflect for a moment, and realised that I did feel immensely privileged to be part of this young woman’s journey, in much the same way I do with any of the clients that I work with. I never take that sense of privilege for granted and it is quite the most extraordinary feeling knowing that you have been able to be of service and witness such a profound shift with a client.
But pride? Well for me pride is something that suggests personal responsibility. It suggests that ‘I’ was somehow responsible for this transformation. I noticed as he said this, that not only did I not feel this way, but that it also didn’t even look like it made sense.
That might sound strange, but as I reflect on my whole journey of constructing the research study, it has felt more like something that has happened through me rather than because of me. This is particularly true when I consider that the whole idea of working in the arena of health and, in particular, Chronic Fatigue, was something that I had actually consciously tried to avoid. I feared that my experience was really not that relevant and that probably I had been misdiagnosed all those years ago.
Then one day life put me in front of my first CFS client, a young girl that I have written about before. When I heard about her story, it was like I was compelled by life to act. I just really felt for her situation and the apparent desperation of it all. But in my mind, there was just doubt about why I shouldn’t help because I really thought that the work was somehow impossible and I desperately wanted to be able to know that I was going to be successful.
In the past I would have become paralysed by that noise in my head and the apparent need to succeed. It would have seemed like data about life, and something that I needed to account for, and even control. It would have seemed like I couldn’t even begin to start working with this young girl until I had a really good sense that I would actually succeed.
But as I have spent time on my own journey and studying what is really behind performance, I have begun to see these fears and insecurities for what they are: a mess of noisy intermingled thinking that rarely, if ever, contains any important or useful information about me, my life, my wellbeing, my capability, or indeed very much of anything.
You see, it really used to look to me like I had to get somewhere in my life before I could let myself be okay. I just had to succeed! So I would do everything I could to try and mould my life into what I thought it needed to look like for this to happen. But it never happened. Some things I just couldn’t control no matter how hard I tried, and some things, even when I managed to apparently succeed, just didn’t give me that sense of well-being I was looking for.
Then as I learned more about how the human experience worked, I began to see that I did not live in an experience, or feelings, created from my life circumstances. Actually, I lived in an experience created moment to moment in my mind. A great example of how this works can be seen in my reactions to my daughter’s tantrums. Sometimes those tantrums seem funny. But when I have a client call to do at 8pm at night and she is too busy throwing a tantrum to go to sleep, my feeling about her behaviour is totally different. If her behaviour was the cause of my feelings, then every time she threw a tantrum, my experience of it would be the same, but I can observe that this is not the case. The reason for this is that thought is constantly changing it’s commentary on our lives, and with that so too does our experience of the things in our life. It works like this for everything in our life – our relationships, our work and our situations in general.
Realising this helped me see that I would never actually reach a point in my life where I would ‘achieve’ well-being even if I managed to create some ‘success’. The reason for this is that you will never appease the movements of your thinking. It’s like a changing goal post. No sooner have you managed to achieve the current made up idea of success (if indeed you do manage), then the mind goes and makes up another. The mind can make up an endless stream of fears, objections and problems. That’s just what it does! To look for our well-being in the detail of what the mind is making up, is like trying to find a quiet space in an endless rock concert. It just makes no sense, and is totally futile.
As I began to see that, I became less enamoured with the content of what I was thinking and I began to glimpse a different space. A sense of quiet and wholeness that exists before we get lost in all that noise, and a greater sense of Self that is formless by nature, but whose creative effects can be observed. Right now it is the thing behind the beating of your heart, digesting your meals and fighting infections. These are things beyond your conscious perception of control. That Self is also behind those moments when you suddenly have a ‘knowing’ about what to do next, and an inspired idea that literally seems to come from nowhere.
As I have felt less of a desperate need to succeed, realising that this inner space of well-being is always there (even if sometimes I don’t feel it), I have ironically found myself more freed up to just do what is in front of me. I find myself saying yes to things, even if I have no idea in that moment how to do things. I later see that as I follow the breadcrumbs of that knowing, the next step is revealed, and the one after that. I have also found myself far more creative and productive by being more able to rest in this quieter space, and have achieved more success than perhaps I ever have. Yet I feel less and less responsible for what gets created. It just feels like it has come through me from this deeper space. It feels like a privilege to watch it unfold, but it does not feel like it has been the product of lots of pushing and shaping by me, which is how it always used to feel.
Ironically, it is this same understanding that has been at the heart of the recovery of the people that I have worked with. The relentless pursuit of success and resistance to our lives as they are, can place our body chemistry into a state of fight or flight. Over time, this chronic resistance begins to break down the body and the immune system, which then leads to symptoms. These are then targeted by the individual who seeks success in the eradication of their symptoms as another thing to be beaten, particularly when the symptoms are given a scary medical label. This then triggers more of the same response that has made someone ill. A vicious cycle then results which leads them into a chronically depleted state. I witness this not only in Chronic Fatigue clients but those with other health conditions such as anxiety, fibromyalgia, depression and Lyme.
The route out of this cycle of feeling stuck and desperate is actually the same route out of any other form of feeling trapped. It is to wake up to the fact that the quiet that we look for is inside of us, and that when we find that, we don’t need to struggle against ourselves and our lives anymore to create results. We actually find what we’ve been looking for all along. This does not, though, make us less willing to play the game of life. We don’t become passive and lazy in my experience. Strangely it seems to do the opposite. We become more playful. We open up to a bigger potential. We start exploring what’s in front of us despite the protest of the noise in our head. We thrive.
Little did i know that what I had seen about well-being and how the mind works would open me up to seeing how results can be created with so much less struggle. The more I explore and the more I work with clients, the more I see that looking towards this truth is actually at the heart of everything we seek. I never cease to be amazed by what get unleashed by people when they glimpse more of this space and get a better understanding of how their minds really work.
Are you interested to more about the hidden ingredients behind success, performance and wellbeing? Find out more about the 2.5 day group Intensive Bringing the Best of Ourselves using the links below: