I’m Steph, one half of ‘Seeds of Awareness’
Welcome. I am so happy you have found us. Our mission here at SOA is to create a loving and supportive space, founded on vulnerability and authenticity, where we can come together to reclaim the wholeness that is our birthright. To reclaim our wholeness, in my view, requires a focus on healing what author and embodiment expert Philip Shepherd refers to as humanity’s ‘primary wound’ – the split between our head and body. A cultural wound that causes us to become trapped in the head and disconnected from the body, losing connection with our inner wisdom and guidance that speaks to us through feeling and intuition..
The result of being trapped in the head and disconnected from the body? Addiction, disease, unhealthy and self-destructive behavioural and mental patterns, poor lifestyle choices, never ending mind chatter, fear…and just a general feeling of loneliness and lifelessness.
What causes this split between head and body?
As children – in our vulnerable, heart-centred and pure state- we are very sensitive and suggestible to outside influences. Hearts wide open, expecting unconditional love and acceptance from the world around us, we are easily hurt when this is not received. This hurt, if not properly processed and healed, then gets stored in the body as emotional pain, which can remain with us for a long time on an unconscious level.
In order to protect ourselves from more wounding, we quickly learn to disconnect from our body and close our hearts off from the world and build up emotional armour. In fact, as we grow into adults, our default state of being can easily shift from open to closed, from heart-centred to fear-based, and from embodied to dis-embodied.
For most of us in our western culture, we learn early on that to avoid pain we must numb ourselves to the feeling centres of the body, which means that we can we grow up never fully grounded in the wholeness of our being. We learn to approach the world mostly through the head alone, disconnected from the guidance of the heart and gut intuition. And, as we elaborated on in our last article, most of the leading forces in our culture, such as the education system, pharmaceutics, mainstream media, social media, Hollywood, politics etc., distract us even further from the feeling centres of the body, and thus work to support our head-centric and disconnected state of being. Further, we are bombarded with things that prey on our vulnerabilities and on our associated drive to escape from any uncomfortable internal pain…smartphones, processed and chemically altered foods, television, drugs (both prescription and recreational), alcohol, porn…just to name a few. These external distractions keep us from looking within and connecting back into the body.
My experiences with Anorexia, Bulimia and Depression
As a child, I wore my heart on my sleeve and was exceptionally sensitive and craving for love. This sensitivity and openness meant that I was easily hurt, and as a result I began to close my heart off to the world. I was hurt by people (not always intentionally of course), but also crippled by an environment that, in essence, does not support whole and heart-centred living. I just wanted to make people happy and for people to be proud of me, and living in a high-pressure external environment (surrounded by extreme wealth, stress, success, social privileges), I became consumed with thoughts about not being good enough, about how I should be, about how to be better, about how to be worthy of love, about how to succeed in a highly competitive world, about how to be seen. I just wanted to be enough.
These toxic thoughts, mixed with my inner pain, ensured that my body was not a nice place to inhabit, and because I did not know how to deal with this, I began to disconnect. My head and body became fractured, and I allowed my inner tyrant to take reign over my being. I became engulfed by self-destructive and fear-based thoughts, and these disconnected me from my heart and from love, as well as from the support and love of others around me.
My head willed my body into submission, it endeavoured to conquer it, I used force to bend it according to my desires and goals. I pushed it. I abused it. I neglected it. I had lost my heart-centred connection with it, and I lost myself.
Due to the lethal split I developed between my head and body, I developed a severe case of Anorexia Nervosa. And as you can see from the photos below I was desperately underweight, weighing in at one point at under 40kg (being nearly 6ft tall). Anorexia is one of the most obvious manifestations of the self-hatred and disgust that generates when we are disconnected from our true essence. Developing the illness reflects a complete denial of life, of our body and heart, because (from internal pain) we have become disassociated and a slave to our mind.
For me, my deep wounds from childhood that generated the fear-based belief that “I am not enough as I am” were reinforced by our culture’s obsession with the perfect image. Thus, I quickly believed that to be enough, I had to pertain to these cultural ideals. Maybe if I looked like those girls in the magazines, I would be ok. I could be accepted and loved. I still remember the first time I purchased fashion magazines, purely with the intention of ripping out pictures of skinny models to hang throughout my bedroom. I was 14 years old. I rejected my own body, so long as it did not meet the standards and expectations laid out by my culture.
I also used food as an axis for control, because I felt so out of control in the crazy and stressful world around me. I didn’t know how to surrender, how to trust, how to have faith.
Despite the different reasons and triggers for my illness, the core problem remained. I had given in to my inner tyrant, who was allowed to take control of my being and control me with judgmental, toxic, and fear-based thoughts. Without access to my body, I could not cultivate or receive love.
I spent nearly a decade going in and out of mental institutions like a revolving door (which I will write very candidly about in later blogs).
From the age of 16, I lived in both psychiatric and medical hospitals with the sickest of the sick (sick on so many levels and spanning across a broad spectrum of different illnesses). Before I had even grown boobs and had my first crush, I befriended human suffering and internal pain – not just my own, but the suffering of so many others. I developed a very intimate experience with the nature of it. I can smell and detect another’s internal pain a mile away, even if people are not aware of it in themselves. Over nearly 8 years, Anorexia and Bulimia gripped me and I created chaos and destruction all around me. Trapped in my head, disconnected from spirit and too afraid to surrender to love, I could not come out of it. I became blind to what I was doing and how much harm I was inflicting on myself and everyone around me. I was lost and no one could do anything to stop my spiral downwards.
It took EXTENSIVE work to free myself from my own mental prison, and a great deal of support.
It was only when I focused my recovery on healing this primary wound – surrendering back to the body – that I actually started to make progress. Before then, every other approach was simply treating and managing secondary symptoms.
Before I became aware of the core reason for my disease, I looked outwardly in futile attempts to heal. I was pummelled with drugs, I went to therapy and listened to concepts (which is still approaching recovery from the head alone), I read books, I explored pretty much every healing modality on the planet! But because I was still disconnected from my body and approaching healing from the head (the same framework that created my problem in the first place), nothing stuck.
Further, I relied too strongly on professionals to help me. Whilst seeking therapy and guidance is important throughout the various stages of our healing, if we rely too heavily on them we forgo our own power and self-healing abilities. In fact, many professionals within the realm of health and healing are limited in their ability to support us because they attempt to do so using their heads alone, and without drawing upon the wisdom of their own experience of being wounded and suffering. Many have not done their own healing work, and they struggle to relate to us on an embodied level. Yes, it is imperative to draw upon the intellect and science in many cases, but the head can only go so far.
That is why we have to empower ourselves as we tend to our primary wound, and not place all our power outside of ourselves. We are our own gurus after all.
The focus of my healing was then placed on anything that supported me in releasing myself from the prison of my head and facilitated my reconnection with my body. Coming back into the body involved consistent practice of embodiment exercises, such as yoga, breathing, meditation, qi gong, walking in nature, sitting in stillness. But it wasn’t as simple as just doing the exercises. Hah, I wish! Recovery is DEFINITELY not as simple as chucking on a pair of yoga pants and chanting “ommm” to get back into embodied and heart-centred living.
In engaging in embodiment exercises, we must also be prepared to experience what Bernhard Guenther refers to as ‘conscious suffering’. In a nutshell, conscious suffering is where we consciously choose to sit with and feel everything that arises within the body, no matter how painful or uncomfortable – rather than adopting the method most people normally choose – which is to numb and distract ourselves. The purpose of this is to finally give the body the space it needs to process and heal stuck emotions and traumas that lie within, and to fully trust and to surrender to the body in the process.
At first, when I sought the principles and exercises that facilitate embodiment, I still harboured many unhelpful thoughts that triggered deep internal pain and emotion. In stillness and in my body, I would receive painful, debilitating and critical thoughts such as “you haven’t exercised today, you need to go and burn at least 3000 calories to be ok”, or “you are not skinny enough and thus not worthy of approval”.
But, rather than be a slave to these thoughts and run away with them, I would consciously observe them come up, and sit with the emotions that arose in my body. I stopped running and retreating back into my head. This involved a great deal of conscious suffering, because at times I would be crippled with anxiety, grief, anger, sadness, confusion and depression.
Oh man – the pain of sitting with these thoughts and emotions was FULL ON. Some days I would weep, grief flowing through me. Sometimes I got up and run and thought “fuck this, this is too hard”. But when we consistently practice coming back into the body, being present and surrendering to what is, we can process these blockages. We slowly heal, as opposed to numbing, suppressing and ignoring our emotions – which causes them to fester.
Learning to come back into my body and be present with what was going on for me was exceptionally confronting at first and definitely did not happen overnight.
I had disconnected from my body and from love for so long and had many wounds and unconscious traumas stored within.
The process has not been comfortable, and some days were gruelling. In fact, many days still are. I still get locked in my head and do things out of line with my heart. I still have to consciously suffer through berating internal dialogue and the associated emotions that arise from these conditioned mental patterns.
Yet, slowly, over consistent embodied efforts, I have begun to peel back the layers of wounds and armours that have prevented my light from shining through, blocking the healing force of love, and of which kept me slave to my illness.
Letting the light and love flow once more
When we fully surrender to and trust in the body, we are released of our mental prisons and the associated addictions, and the body’s intelligence (including our intuition and the universal life force of love that is the reason our heart beats) is given the space to take over. When we live from a place of embodied wholeness, we cease living mechanically and from fear, and actually learn to listen to the calling of our soul. When our soul is in the driving seat, we can no longer inflict harm onto ourselves and others. We can then reprogram all of our destructive cycles of behaviour, which are largely reflective of the distorted and stressful world in which we find ourselves.
Suffering and piecing ourselves back together can be a destructive and messy process. It takes strength, a willingness to own our stuff and have difficult conversations, and hard work. We must also rely on other people to act as mirrors to our blind spots, or our unconscious and destructive habits/wounds/behaviours we cannot see in ourselves. The amount of times Matt has called me out on my bullshit I couldn’t count on 1000 pairs of hands. Without him, I would not have been able to fully see the mental patterns that were keeping me estranged from my body, stuck in patterns of toxic behaviour and disconnected from my wholeness.
Yet, even though it is destructive, suffering is fucking beautiful. Suffering strips us bare and allows us to remember who we are. That’s the key… We have everything we need within to heal, we just need to connect back with our body and trust that it will show us the way. Healing is a remembering of our power, we do not need to actively change who we are. By remembering who we are, by removing the masks we wear and instead aligning with our spirit and allowing our authentic and vulnerable selves to be revealed to the world, change will happen naturally.
I believe that suffering has a higher purpose, that being to realign us with our spirit – with our true selves. Suffering provides the tension and friction that forces us to look within and be honest with ourselves. It pushes us to have the courage to shed anything blocking our access to wholeness, allowing us to live fully and be grateful for each precious moment. Therefore suffering, whilst this is nearby impossible to accept whilst experiencing it, is truly a gift.
Let’s heal together
In the compelling book Evolutionary Love Relationships, Jeff Brown asks the compelling question:
“Why can’t we take action simultaneously to work through our personal issues, while simultaneously taking action to work through our collective challenges?”
I love this question, because it opens our eyes up to how we have the power to contribute and affect monumental change in the world, no matter where we are in our own healing and personal/spiritual development.
Yes, I am far from healed and still have a long way to go, but why can’t I support others as I continue to work through my own challenges and experiences? I’m no good to the world if I just sit back and wait for some elusive date in the future to affect change, a date by which I think I may have all this stuff figured out. Because I’ll be waiting forever. Self-work, healing and reclaiming our wholeness is a journey, a journey that I hope we can all go on together.