If I’ve been a little quiet over here in Spinning the light for a while its because my attention has been elsewhere, as touched upon more over on my other blog Living Whole.
Because, as of a couple of weeks into the new year, I have been enrolled on a brain retraining program for chronic conditions called The Gupta Program, which uses a range of techniques to reprogram parts of the brain that can get stuck in unhelpful cycles of response. This, I hasten to add, is not to say that chronic illness is a figment of the imagination but that very real, physical symptoms can can be tackled using the premise of neuroplasticity, which is an approach I have had faith in for a considerably long time and now I have my retraining vehicle. For more about how the program works, there are videos and studies freely available on its website where you can also sign up for a 28 day free trial.
Old dog new tricks
Whilst getting my feet under the desk of that process, I have felt I needed to keep myself much more to my own lane so have largely focussed on the program, doing some writing to do with how that is all going (shared on my other blog) and my art. Mainly, the process of “retraining” has taken over my life because it has spilled right out from the structures of the program to influence nearly every aspect of my life, in the most organic of ways. As I am about to share; but not so much from the health perspective here as from the way that I have learned that we all have the potential to harness neuroplasticity in our daily lives, whatever our situation and regardless of how old we are, because its a highly influential state of mind yet, possibly, the most powerful tool we have in our possession…way more influential than what’s in our bank accounts or anything else we may currently believe is affecting our quality of life.
So, in this space, where my main focus is not so much matters of physical health, one of the main take-aways I want to share, as a not-so indirect outcome of the program, is that it feels like I have chosen an entirely new place to dwell (and no removals vehicle necessary). I sit here on the same sofa writing material for my blog in much the same way as ever I did whilst sipping tea and yet something quite fundamental has altered since I last wrote in this space.
I choose the word “dwell” here, as in, we choose where to dwell whenever we focus our thoughts on certain preoccupations (what we dwell “on”), and I have changed mine, quite a lot, so far in 2021. When we do this, our minds and bodies become a different place in which to dwell as in “to live”; like an energetic make-over project or even fully moving house…so that, to varying degrees, its like we now live “in” a different place sitting “on” different furniture. We are, literally speaking, no longer dwelling on what we used to dwell on so the inner-outer views have changed. This can have far-reaching effects…and then some!
So, this retraining experience has served to emphasise how important “what we dwell on” is for all of us; regardless of whether our issues manifest as physical symptoms. We all hold this latent power to manifest a very different reality via our fixations, priorities and attitudes; and also the way we respond when self-defeating behaviours occur. Do we notice and change those behaviours or do we allow them to perpetuate? The most common assumption is that we “can’t do anything about” our circumstances so we don’t even try.
Somewhat like other posts I have written of late, cultivating joie de vivre and refocusing how we spend our time, the very structure of our day, can have unimaginably huge impacts on the life that then starts to shape-shift around us. The sheer scale of shift that is possible from this is paradoxical given most people seem to assume they have to go out and aquire/win/force something to make such shift and grossly underestimate these simple superpowers we all possess….and yet they are missing out on the main “trick” for reinventing your core experience of life, that inner place where we spend 24/7 looking out of the windows at life.
Room for manoeuvre
We may tell ourselves our circumstances are stuck and that we have no room for manoeuvre, but I would say to you that NOTHING feels more stuck then when your body is failing you in almost every imaginable way, so you can’t do what you want or eat or relax like other people, when even breathing in and out can be a pain or when you have really good days or weeks…only for those to crash and burn, suddenly forcing you back into invalid mode for no apparent reason, which can be so bitterly demoralising after many years or relentless ups and downs. If these things can be shifted by a change of perspective then anything can.
To a higher degree than ever before, people are feeling desperately constrained by life, as though trapped inside a small space that is just so cluttered, no room left to do what they think they really want to do, their hopes curtailed, or they feel hemmed in by circumstance, other people, too many demands, its all a mess and they now (metaphorically or in real terms) so bitterly regret that they never did add that attic conversion or move to the country…lockdown has imparted that feeling in some very literal as well as psychological terms.
However, we all have some room for manoeuvre and it starts with these “small” focusses of the mind, inch by steady inch, reprogramming our focus over and over again until it becomes the new habit. Then, in remarkably short time, what began as a new, consciously designed, daily practice starts to manifest as new routines and structures to the rest of your daily life and other things start to shape-shift, until you wonder why you didn’t do them sooner!
Resculpting time and space
This past couple of weeks, I’ve completely reinvented the same-ness of my days by altering the time (and routine) for how I go to bed then the time I wake up. So, now, I wake myself around 6, meaning I have time to do my Gupta guided mediation in bed before getting up to start my daily power routine, which is something I have done for a long time, though I would usually make it to the yoga mat at around 8! Now, even though it starts much earlier, it has evolved to incorporate my Gupta retaining exercises plus 20-30 mins silent mediation as well as my usual energy medicine process, yoga and dance, so that I am downstairs ready to write (if I want to write…) even before breakfast and then the morning seems so much longer, my days (say, if I also want to paint after my walk) so much more feasible. Its like I have gained another quarter of a day for this relatively minor adjustment and, I find to my amusement, I really like these mornings… a lot. I feel like I have literally s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d time and gained far more space, all through this simple change of routine and attitude.
Yes, I LOVE this new routine because I find that, after all, I am naturally a morning person…even though I conned myself for years that I wasn’t because I had come to associate early-rising with the dread of going in to the office. How many years was I brainwashed into dreading, thus surrendering, my best time of day by the learned behaviour and its associated feelings in the body; convincing myself a lie-in was the greatest decadence when, really (if I’m honest) I always loathed to lie in, even as a child or teenager; it would make me feel all “yuk” in my body for the rest of the day to be that sedentary once the daylight came. Even though I have seldom got up later than 8.30 or 9 at the weekends as an adult, I can now see how that whole habit has been against the very grain of me for all those years I associated early-rising with knots in my stomach to do with “work”. More recently, it’s been more to do with trying not to get in my husband’s way when he gets up and uses the place we call the “yoga room” (automatically putting myself as second-fiddle to his needs) and also assuming that, as someone with chronic fatigue and pain, I needed more bed rest but why assume anything? I seem to be doing just fine on these early starts and, if I want to take some time out later, who’s going to stop me?
The reality is that that, in itself, that old belief about my preferred behaviours was no more than just more more mind-programming and, really, I get the best out of my day in the mornings, especially at this time of year as the days get lighter. In fact, over-staying my welcome in bed can trigger a lot more pain whilst setting me off on the wrong foot.
In the old routine, and by the time I had done my not-so-short power routine, any truly inspired ideas I had for writing down would have largely drained away by the time I got downstairs…putting me in an irritable mood if I woke really inspired…and my morning, and the rest of the day, would seem to disappear in a blink. Now, I’m out out of the yoga room even before my husband properly opens his bleary eyes to take it over and have the house to myself to get down to some un-interupted writing if I want to.
Added to the gratitude diary I now diligently write (as well as my usual journal) and the addition of a weekly planner where I can jot down down ideas of what I would like to achieve, I am suddenly much more productive…in ways that support me and my interests, whilst everything else seems to fit around the edges. In fact, I’ve made some of life’s “chores” more routine so I can just get on with them in the gaps that are left between all the stuff I really want to be doing. One thing I can see, in retrospect, is that when time seemed to be running away with me, I was more inclined to think “oh well, not enough time to paint so I might as well do something mundane like the laundry and clearing the kitchen before dinner” (and, suddenly, it felt like I had spent the whole day doing housework) whereas now the painting or whatever gets full priority and I load the dishwasher whilst making a cup of tea in my break. Life simply isn’t mundane like it used to be anymore and I can’t wait to get started on my various projects most of the time. I no longer feel so overwhelmed or resentful of those other tasks because they aren’t “stopping me” from what I really want to be doing day after day. I hardly think about symptoms or pain enough during such a day to do as much Gupta practice as I feel I should since it is all about applying the tehcniques as the thought patterns arise, but then this in itself tells me the program is working!
The effect of all these shifts is that I feel exactly as though I have gained more rooms inside the domain of “me” in which I dwell; as though its sprouted an extension and more windows, different places I can sit at varying times of day and a whole new floor with a skylight.
On the back of it, I took some online art tutorials, which I’d never done before (thank you to Anna Mason Art) and, after three practice runs with watercolours, one shown here, have now started painting my own subjects (see peonies below) with an entirely different medium to the last 16 years of being entirely self-taught in oils, acrylic and digital. This was a medium I thought I would never bother to master because it requires such attention to detail but I now find I am really enjoying it, as a result of which I have some completely refreshed projects up my sleeve.
On top of being in the midst of revamping my online presence by building a new “shop” for my art (there’s a new permanant link to my art store in the side column, with the much more memorable url helenwhite.store if you ever want to explore) and creating designs for an ever-expanding range of products on there, I am up to my ears in projects. The word in common across the board is that everything is looking quite “different”, I’m off in “different” directions, trying “different” methods, using my time “differently” and these are just the external clues hinting at inner shifts. It feels like an entirely new trajectory that I am on, in more ways than one, and this is just the beginning.
Full of promise
What this effectively does is reclaim an aspect of my nature and of life that was, in essence, “stolen from me” by all the years I allowed myself to get sucked into a mindset of stress and anxiety around early mornings and daily structures designed to meet the interests of others but not generally fit to suit me. Also a world where most of us tend to allow our thoughts to be hijacked by outside concerns and other peoples expectations and demands of us. I was so miss-fitted for the conventional worlds of school and work that they left years of scars inside of me to do with my resistance to rising early, being set targets, having to have such fixed routines that were often quite illogical and being put into environments where I was suppose to “show up” and function well, presenting my best self, even though I struggle in noisy crowded places and working in groups or on demand. Those worlds were so mis-fitted for my autism, my sensitivity and my deep introversion (I now realise) that, even though I have not had to live in them for a long time, I was still recoiling from the ingrained effects. It was apparently enough that my husband was still attached to such a world to keep me somehow tethered there too and has, therefore, been profoundly liberating for us both that he now works from home. I had been missing rich opportunities to cease reacting (to what is certainly no longer there in my case since I have no work demands, working entirely for myself) and start creating something new that celebrates how I prefer to live my life, spend my days, focus my mind.
By claiming them back as aspects of self that I actually enjoy, I have unleashed all that childish enthusiasm for life that used to be in there at the beginning. Can you remember the feeling when you got a new diary for Christmas or they handed you out a pristine new planner at school; how thrilling it would be to set to work on that, to make that first mark on the blank page, to set about making something out of all that fresh unsullied potential of a leaf turned over, just like the excitement when you got your new pens and books at the very start of the school year? Remember when that all started to turn sour with the grim reality of what an enforced life was really like when you got there (not so pristine), all the pressures of “the system” in all its varying forms and, of course, the morning commute? Now, claim the feeling back…it’s yours and reclaiming it, feeling into it, is how you make where you live feel better, wherever you happen to be, even if you only think you have an hour to yourself to spare per day at the moment…use it, differently!
Its this exuberant and creative approach to life that fires up in me, most, in the early mornings, at a time of day when anything feels possible but, if I leave it too late to act on, it goes flat like a soufflé left too long with the oven door open; timing is everything. Now, I rise early enough to capture it and harness the feeling for the ride of my day because, if I can get on that wild bareback feeling even as it sets off on its first canter around the meadow at dawn, I can stay on for most of the rest of it.
And it can only expand from here. In a few weeks, as it gets warmer, I plan to be out in my garden by the first rays of sunshine or out on an early walk to take photos in places I can get to easily from here and with more art-inspiration in mind because, also these past handful of weeks, I have taken up a whole different paint medium and am off in a different direction. Now, I have projects in watercolour in mind…not my usual niche…only not to be done in a conventional way, being me, so I can’t wait to see how this comes together but it will take gathering inspiration, so there’s more excuse to get out on walks and to gardens. Yet its the simple fact of the early morning rise that means I have time to do this and then still paint, work on my new designs and my online presence (and maybe still write for a couple of hours…), when did I become such a fountain of longing to fit so much in? Perhaps I was always this way and most, if not all, of the “pain” has been to do with trying to hold it all into acceptable, or “realistic” boundaries of expectation. Maybe I just broke out of those bands and set myself free!
There will be clues
What I really love about doing this early routine is that its still dark when I go into the yoga room…or at least for the next few weeks…though the very idea of that was one of the most off-putting things a few weeks ago; contemplating yoga in the cold and dark almost made me give up before I started but, now, its the only thing that feels right to me (I’ve even done it at the weekends). Without fail, though I land in the room at variable times between 6 and 6.30 (I don’t use an alarm…just set my body to wake up and it does) the robin that sings from our tree bursts into his trill, just after I switch on the salt lamp, like a fanfare for my arrival, how can I not feel encouraged by that? These subtle, yet highly synchronistic, clues can be a sign you are on the right path…for YOU…and yet, paradoxically, it can take pulling right back from all those other distractions and the white nose of your old life to start to pick up on such synchronistic messages from the universe reassuring you that you are in fact (contrary to the cultural narrative) most sincerely loved, valued and fully supported by life. Nature has a space for you! In other words, life has your back…you just have to shift your perspectives to notice that, if you are not seeing it already.
I find it really powerful that the first daylight breaks through as I go through my mat-work or dance or, sometimes, I close my eyes to meditate in the dark yet, by the time I reopen my eyes, daylight has flooded the room. In a few weeks, this won’t feel early at all and I might even be tempted to make it an even earlier start to keep abreast with the dawn, as I did a couple of years ago when I had a midsummer phase of walking my dog at sunrise while the owl was still on her rounds by the river; a time I look back as eerily magical, almost like a heavenly dream, did I imagine it? Yet I know it can be mine again soon, if I want it.
We have so many more choices than we tend to think; almost as though we like to consider ourselves stuck, tied up in rigid bands of constriction, “just like everyone else”, but simply allowing ourselves to realise we have many more…perhaps tiny-seeming…options available to us can be the start of manifesting something much bigger. Because those first baby steps of enthusiasm or belief in our ability to change something about our situation can be the first niche of light coming into the dark cave of circumstance and they resculpt our highly neuroplastic minds, which then start to go off on a light-seeking mission, gathering more daylight from anywhere they can find a little bit of give in life’s seeming rigidity or a higher frequency of possibility than the one you have probably been putting up with for some time. A bit like giving a sniffer dog its new instructions by holding out a miniscule sample of whatever we are looking for, it is enough to set the process in motion, as in, if we reprogram our minds to know shift is possible, it will bring more and more of the same potential back to us, over and over until we are experiencing something quite new.
Shifting your value system
I heard what I am describing described in a really great way just yesterday in my weekly Gupta webinar: Why not “shift your value system to focus on the small things in life”….you know, to really appreciate the bird singing in the tree on your walk, that more spring-like burst of sunlight that angles through the window for just a couple of minutes…then allow yourself to fully be with it, to be what you might think of as “lazy” or what you once might have called being “bored” for a while in order to stay full present with these small details of life, because that can really help us with our nervous system and that’s where the entire neuroplasticity things starts to happen; we become creators out of that so-called absence of action.
It always astonishes me that people have to be coached to pay attention to the birds because its something I do all the time these days; our walks are never very brisk as a result and I spend much of my day engaging with, or commenting on, the various types of bird in my garden. But then, I know, not so many years ago, I was one of the ones who walked on by, missing it all in the flurry of achievement- (or survival-) based activity that kept me charging along at a very different pace to the one I have now adopted. If I still sound busy, I should point out that the fact I have so many projects runnings does not mean I do any of it at a rapid pace; quite the contrary, its slow and steady wins the race, which is perhaps why watercolours suit my current mood; they have, necessarily, slowed me right down to where the entire process is like a meditaton in patience, attention to detail and being fully present (often, listening to those birds in my garden as I do it) and I love it!
The chocolate box effect
One of the wonderful side effects to slowing down and changing routines, to really put time on your side again as something you can sculpt to suit the habits you would really like to cultivate rather than the things you feel so time-pressured to do against your will, is that life regains that chocolate variety box factor; you know, where you get up and there’s almost too much possibility, too much that you really want to try; so where do you even start, what do you pick? Yet it’s one of those lovely choices when it’s mostly all equally “nice” stuff and those other things, the ones you call chores, seem to slot into the gaps rather than taking over so much, the way you innately knew as a child how to fit your homework in between playing outdoors and curling up with a good book. I vividly recall having that “what shall I pick next?” fizz in my stomach in the early portion of my life, with all my passionate interests and hobbies, but it’s an attitude to life that has a way of being sidelined as a result of culturally contagious pressures…yet can be “got back” with a relatively simple change of attitude, priority and routine.
Looking back at the very few weeks since the year turned, I can clearly see that I have moved monumental mountains in that relatively short time-span. Mountains made up of my most fundamental attitudes, the way I feel about myself and my health, my base optimism for right now and the future, and that gushing torrent of enthusiasm and creativity that is now charging as though from a springtime glacier that has suddenly thawed its load and turned into tinkling cascades of excitement for my art, my writing, for reinventing my flower border and going after shots with my camera that will turn into the new kind of art I envision creating just as soon as those first blooms open since I plan for this to be, very much, a garden year with many visits up my sleeves. These are the things that make me tick: so what makes you tick? Dust them down, change how you do them, reclaim some more time, pick a fresh routine, cultivate a shift in attitude and be surprised at how reinvented life can feel in relatively short time. Perhaps drop all rumination about whatever tends to worry you unless you can actively change the situation by converting that concern into direct action; otherwise, just let it be, notice when and how often it happens and be the highly conscious one that puts the breaks on the thought pattern to reclaim the precious time and space in which you truly long to dwell.