By Helen Preston, counsellor, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) expert and reiki practitioner.
In 2007, I read an article in the Sunday Times that changed my life. It resonated with me very strongly, although at the time I had no idea why. I cut out the page and stuck it in my ‘little book of inspiration’.
It was written by a woman who called herself an “intuitive”. She was sharing a little of what she did, how she did it and how she helped others to make sense of their lives. These words were particularly emotive for me:
“The inner world is created first, our thoughts create our environment. So it’s about what you decide you are about to become. When we truly know ourselves from the inside out, we no longer look to the outside world for validity. Inner beauty comes when we ‘know’ ourselves and it manifests as confidence and self-assurance.”
At that time, I was lacking in confidence and self-assurance. We’d moved house for the fourth time in five years, my children were very young and I was a wife, a daughter, a sister, a mother and a friend. But I didn’t really know who ‘I’ was.
I had a feeling there was something I was missing but didn’t know where to start the search for ‘it’. I just knew I needed to keep those words. What I didn’t do was write down the woman’s name. I cut out her picture – she’s looking gently into the camera’s lens and there is peace in her eyes. As corny as it may sound, she has the serenity of an angel.
The thing I’ve grown to realise is that you don’t know what you don’t know. That said, I’ve grown to believe, through my own experience, that what you need to know will show up – sometimes in the words you read in a book or hear in the lyrics of a song, sometimes through a chance encounter with a stranger or a poster on the side of a bus. The messages are everywhere – we just aren’t looking. Our lives are too busy, too frantic and too stressful to notice.
From the moment we are born, we are being conditioned. We are taught to seek approval. We are discouraged from being who we naturally are for the convenience of others. Fear is ever present. As the BeeGees once sang, ‘staying alive’ is what it’s all about. And of course this is true, but there’s a big difference between surviving and thriving.
In the article, the intuitive said: “Some people don’t understand what I do – including my own father. But I never really edit who I am. Not everyone can like you: I learned that in the playground.”
Back in 2007, I was surviving too and it didn’t feel great. My stomach was tight, my breath shallow and my fear and anxiety levels high. I was still editing myself for others. I was the people-pleaser I’d learned to be from early on. In truth, I didn’t know who I was. But I knew there must be more to life than this.
The Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung once said: “Who looks outside dreams, who looks inside awakens.” I say: “If you don’t go within, you go without” – and I say that because it scares me how much would have been left undiscovered if I hadn’t sought out a relationship with my spiritual self.
Instead I rocked up at a spiritual development group at The Arthur Findley College in Essex’s Stansted Mountfitchet in 2010 after a ‘chance’ conversation with a stranger at a party who made the suggestion. I learned to meditate. I learned to let go of fear. I learned to open up to my feelings and feel safe doing so. I developed a trust in myself I had never imagined I could feel. I developed inner confidence, resilience and contentment. I found my tribe after a lifetime of feeling like the odd one out. It turns out that I wasn’t so odd after all.
But Jung also talks of the shadow side – the part of us that we don’t want others to see and that we find difficult to accept is within us. We can hardly bear to experience those feelings of guilt, shame, inadequacy, of not being good enough or of not being lovable.
So rather than sit and feel the discomfort of those old wounds and try to find healing, we distract ourselves with activity. We try to escape from something that is intrinsically part of us. A client once told me that after having ‘run away’ to Hong Kong to escape her pain, she realised that she had simply taken herself with her. As a result, she realised it was necessary to face her inner suffering and heal it in order to be free.
So what does spirituality mean to me? It means living in the here and now, being aware of what is around you, but also feeling what is within and working with your own inner peace. It is living your life from a position of unconditional love rather than fear, having faith and trust that everything is happening exactly as it should be, and learning from life’s lessons.
At the time, I didn’t have the first idea why that article spoke to me. But although I had no real understanding of what the intuitive was saying, I did feel it was important in some way.
Like a clue in a ‘Scooby Do’ cartoon, one piece of the puzzle appears to make no sense in isolation, but if you pick it up and take it with you, you’ll be one step closer to solving the mystery. Actually since then, I’ve collected a whole book full of clues: sayings, articles, inspiring words that others have shared which resonated with me. And each clue has taken me one step closer to me.
Helen Preston is a counsellor, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) expert and reiki practitioner. Her approach to therapy acknowledges the crucial inter-relationship of mind, body and spirit. Helen is a member of the National Counselling Society and has an Advanced Diploma in psychotherapy and counselling, a Diploma in Hypnotherapy and an EFT Master Practitioner certificate.