Both – And

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” Rumi

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I remember my first therapy session like it was yesterday. On 9 April 2009, I entered a therapy centre shaking like a leaf. I felt cold as fear coursed through my veins. Could I even articulate the stuff that weighed me down? I didn’t let myself acknowledge it, never mind discuss it with a stranger. What if I was too damaged and beyond repair?

A few weeks before that visit I met a man. There was a possibility of something in the air, but I could feel all my unhealthy patterns raring their ugly heads. I was getting needy and insecure, and while I knew intellectually that there was nothing worse than that behaviour, I couldn’t help myself. I just needed a quick fix, so that I could finally have a healthy relationship.

My therapist was a young woman. Within the first 15 minutes of our session, I told her about my history of sexual trauma, abusive relationships, dysfunctional family…. I wasn’t ready to explore all those issues, I just wanted her to know what she was letting herself into.

‘Will you take me on despite all of this?’ I asked as we were finishing.

‘Yes, of course.’

‘I’m going to see you until the end.’ I added.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well, until I heal completely.’

She didn’t say anything. I was hoping she’d say ‘Yes, sure’, and contradict my housemate who kept telling me that she was in therapy for eight years and still couldn’t have a relationship. Eight years! I didn’t have that much time. Maybe she just healed slowly. Maybe she wasn’t consistent enough. Maybe she was too broken. I’ll be different.

I dived into every single approach that came within my line of vision:

  • psychotherapy,
  • family constellations,
  • movement of being,
  • birthworks,
  • five rhythms dance,
  • Reiki,
  • acupuncture,
  • Journey by Brandon Bays,
  • Compassion Key,
  • Non-personal awareness,
  • Emotional Freedom Technique (tapping)
  • the list goes on and on.

I travelled around the UK and even abroad to attend workshops, retreats and have 1:1 support. I’m not talking about one off occasional treatments. I dedicated myself to each practice for years on end.

Well, eight long years, to be precise.

Here’s what I didn’t understand back then. I thought I was going to a therapist so that she ‘fixed’ me.

There are no fixes. This a journey with no destination. And you can’t rush it either.

To me nowadays, the healing path is about growth and transformation. No matter how well you do, when you release limiting beliefs, you can do much better.

At the same time, paradoxically, there is nothing to fix. We are already whole.

Yes, this is not to deny that there are hurt aspects of ourselves too. Both – And, as one of my teachers says, meaning that both statements are true: we are both whole and we have wounded parts too.

Our wounded aspects can sometimes run the show. Just like with that relationship I mentioned at the start: I was so ‘identified’ with needy and insecure parts of myself, I couldn’t fully appreciate who I truly was.

Today, I don’t feel broken anymore. I can connect with the wholeness of myself, which remained pure despite life circumstances. At the same time, life happens. In no way do I want to pretend that I’ve got all my sh*t together. I get triggered and upset from time to time. Like everyone else, I face challenges, because having tools to support others does not make me immune to problems. But I walk my talk. I use all the methods I know day in and day out. If I get stuck, I tap, I do self-directed compassion, and non-personal awareness. I regularly see a range of therapists and healers, and pay a lot of money to get the support I need.

I’ve already arrived. And my journey continues. Both – And.

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” Rumi

 

 

Where To Find Great Stories

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I check my phone again and shift from one leg to the other. My comfortable one-hour transfer at Frankfurt airport is squeezed into an uncomfortable half-an-hour. Squashed between other passengers, I’m gripping the handle of my suitcase, ready to charge to the exit. Eventually the queue is moving and I burst out into fresh air. It’s sunny and warm, but I haven’t got time to enjoy it. Running down the steps, I get on the first of two busses waiting for passengers. My heart is pounding. Come on, come on, come on! With a sinking heart, I watch the second bus depart first. Damn! 20 minutes to the take off. Surely, they’ll wait for me. It was their fault that my plane was delayed.

Eventually, I’m at the terminal. I run to the first official-looking man and ask for help.

‘My plane was late, I need to catch my connection.’

There are no shortcuts, he explains. You’ve got to go through security.

Grace and dignity gone out of window, I run. Breasts jiggling, my free arm flailing, frazzled and out of breath, I get to my gate, and thrust my passport and boarding pass at the woman sitting at the check-in desk.

‘It’s too late, the gate is closed.’

Without warning, tears spill out of my eyes. She looks surprised.

‘We’ve put you on the next plane. It’ll be departing at 22:30.’

I take my new boarding pass and drag my feet to the nearest seat. Tears are flowing freely now, and I’m making no effort to contain them anymore. So much for travelling via Frankfurt. I wanted to make it to the hotel in a daylight, to find my way around better. Now I’ll be arriving around 3am, if I’m lucky. Will I find any trains to Bayreuth in the middle of the night? I cry more. I’m so tired holding it all together.

Eventually, my tears dry out. I message my husband and prepare for a six hour wait at the airport.

‘Travel by train,’ my husband encourages.

‘But I don’t know how to find my way around.’ I mumble my excuses, snuggle up on a seat and open a book on my phone I’ve started on the plane. It’s called ‘Long Story Short: The Only Storytelling Guide You’ll Ever Need’ by Margot Leitman.

Here’s what I read:

“I am not a self-help guru by any means, so apologies if this gets a little self-help-y. But in order to be a great storyteller, you must start saying yes to scary things again. Go to a party where you don’t really know anyone. Go to your high school reunion. When a situation gets a little strange, as long as you aren’t putting yourself in physical danger, try diving into the crazy instead of running from it. When you bump into someone from your past, perhaps someone who broke your heart, don’t hide. Say yes to scary things! Say hi and see what happens. Don’t get stuck in the rut of a monotonous life that nothing interesting ever happens in. In order to create more stories, you have to be open to new experiences.”

You know that feeling when the universe delivers what you need to hear? It was like a light-bulb moment, which spurred me (encouraged by my husband) to find the information desk and change my ticket for train. In the process, I discovered that German punctuality is a myth! My train was late too (and so were my return flights)….
The first big opportunity to practice her advice presented itself on my first day in Germany. The colleague who was hosting me invited to dinner at his house. Now normally I’m really shy. My immediate impulse was to say ‘No, thank you. I arrived to the hotel way after 1am, had a busy teaching day, etc. etc. etc..’ Instead, I said a graceful,

‘Yes, please.’

We agreed that he’d pick me up at 6pm. I returned to my hotel after a busy teaching day, took a bath and passed out. When I woke up, it was 5:30pm. My phone was ringing and it was my German colleague.

‘I’m ready when you are,’ I tried to sound as chirpy as I could.

‘There’s a slight complication. The car is not available, so I don’t know when I can pick you up. But… I could come by a motorbike.’

Now, I remember fondly exhilarating rides with my husband in London in the early days of our courtship, but the idea of hugging a beer-belly of a senior German colleague did not excite me straightaway. Still, I stuck with this new attitude to life and said,

‘Why not?’

Here’s why I should have said no. Apart from anything else, the helmet was too small. After wrestling with it for a couple of minutes, I managed to squeeze in my head. My circulation stopped, of that I’m sure. I could hardly breathe, so I took it off straightaway.

Maybe next time…. It wasn’t meant to be….

I took a deep breath in and pushed through it again. Except this time he started fiddling with the straps. It had to be properly strapped on.

Finally, we were ready to go.

‘Is it far?’ I asked belatedly.

‘No, it’s close.’

No, it wasn’t. As my palms were sweating profusely onto his light yellow shirt and my oxygen levels were dropping dramatically, I tried to reassure myself that it was all worth it because one day, it’ll make a good story.

I hope it did.

It also made me think of this:

Life is a story. No matter what your circumstances, tell that story well.

You don’t even have to be a writer or a blogger. Do you see friends? Go to social events? Talk to your family? We tell stories all the time. Why not make it more engaging?

But even more importantly:

Get mindful of the stories you tell yourself.

Do you constantly focus on what goes wrong in life? We all do that from time to time. But if you can get conscious of what you are telling yourself and others about you, your loved ones, your job, your life – you may have an opportunity to change the narrative of your life. Awareness is power.

Here’s a great video to help you tip the balance towards the positivity by fabulous Marie Forleo.

So, where do you find stories, dear reader, and what stories do you tell yourself?

How to Get What You Really Want

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I’m standing in a shop staring at the most exquisite piece of clothing I’ve ever seen. It’s the colour of milk chocolate and has silky texture.

I’m 18 and there is nothing I had wanted more in my entire life than this pair of trousers with legs so wide that they could be mistaken for a skirt. The trousers are long, probably ankle-length, so modest enough for me to wear to work. Normally, I’m not allowed to wear trousers. My family is too conservative for these frivolities. But this…. Perhaps this could be an exception.

Except, I don’t have the money.

They cost 90 USD. Even if I worked for months at the prosecutor’s office where I’m a typist, I won’t be able to make that kind of money. Besides, I give all my earnings to my grandma and then have to ask for my bus fare back. It’s not like I could ask her for that amount. She’d think I’m crazy to spend that much on clothing. She’d rather buy me an ironing board or something else I might need as a part of my dowry.

I walk home in tears saying a mental goodbye to the trousers. In that moment, I let go. It wasn’t meant to be….

That night I go to bed early. I fall asleep instantly, only to be awakened by an unexpected noise a couple of hours later. The iron gates outside of my windows are banging. What’s going on? I run downstairs and to my utter surprise my younger uncle is closing the gates. It’s well after midnight and for a moment I think I’m still dreaming. My uncle lives in Moscow and hasn’t visited for the past three years. After hugging each other and doing a double take on his presence, he surprises me again by pressing something into my palm. It’s only when I’m in the house I open my palm.

I’m holding a 100 USD bill.

Never before (or after) did my uncle give me money. Tears stream down my face and I don’t know whether to thank my uncle or the universe.

Needless to say, the next morning I got my precious trousers.

I remember this experience so vividly for a simple reason:

When we ask universe for what we want and surrender, it delivers.

My problem was (and has been for a long time) that I try to work out solutions with my mind. Mind is great, I love my mind. But mind can offer only a limited range of solutions.

When we release attachment to the outcome and ask for help, the universe can deliver in unexpected ways.

I know, it’s easier said than done sometimes, but it’s possible. Personally, I’m in the process of re-learning the art of letting go. I’ve been trying to control pretty much every aspect of my life and having ideas about what should happen to my book, business, work, life. Frankly, none of those areas has been working very well lately. So I’m releasing my attachment to having it my way, and surrendering to the Universe and to my highest self to lead the way. My mind got me this far, but to move forward in life, I need to let go.

Have you had experience of wanting something so badly you couldn’t stop thinking about it? What did you do? Did you get it? Were you able to manifest it in an unexpected way which turned out to be way better than any ideas conjured up by your mind?

Please share, I’d love to hear from you.

Enjoy Yourself, It’s Later Than You Think

I’m sitting by a large open window, wiping sweat off my face. The heat is unbearable. I know it’s hot in the UK too, but German heat is drier and stronger somehow. I don’t remember when I was in +35C heat last. My teaching week here is coming to an end, and this is the first time I have a chance to have had a proper conversation with my husband.

‘I’ve got something to tell you,’ he says.

My guts clench in response. It’s not what he said, it’s the worry in his voice.
Something’s wrong with the kids. Which one? Something has gone terribly wrong…. Thoughts are flying in my head, but I’m unable to say a word. My throat feels dry and tight now.

‘I’ve been to see a doctor yesterday. She said I might have angina.’

‘You have what?!’ For a moment, I even thought I heard a word rhyming with angina. If it wasn’t for his tone, I’d think he was joking.

‘It’s a heart condition. I’ve been feeling rough this week,’ he says. ‘I finally went to see a doctor yesterday.’

Tears spring to my eyes. Perhaps it was the heat wave. He’s not very good with heat. Heart condition? I know he always said that men in his family have heart attacks around his age, but he’s so well normally. Healthier than I am in some ways, despite our age gap.
Shaken, I stare out of the window for a few minutes, before the door opens and my German colleagues suggest we have lunch together. I share my news, and they seem kind and understanding.

‘Do you want to return home straightaway?’

‘There’s not much I can do right now. He’s got a hospital referral on 3 July.’

I returned home that weekend for a day, and my husband seemed a bit grey but fairly functional. I had another two trips ahead of me so there wasn’t much time to relax.
It was only a week later, I was finally home from teaching in Brussels and Luxembourg.

The day I returned home, we went to a music festival at a nearby park and my husband was levitating for an hour dancing to the good beats of live music. The next day was even better: we did an amazing voice workshop with a teacher from NY. Inspired and relaxed, I felt like life was getting back to normal.

The next day, we headed for his hospital appointment. It’s been nearly two weeks since he felt rough, so in all honesty, I wasn’t worried at all. What could possibly go wrong? I even booked myself into a yoga class at 1pm thinking his 9:30am appointment would finish in an hour or two.

So when a lovely nurse said that my husband had a heart attack two weeks ago, we were in a state of shock. She strongly advised for an emergency procedure, something my husband hesitated to undergo. When they wheeled him to his hospital bed, he protested vehemently:

‘I’m well! I was dancing on Saturday and I jumped off my son’s bunk bed this morning. I can walk myself.’

IMG_5737They operated on him on the same day, fitted two stents into his right coronary artery, which was apparently 95-99% blocked. He’s been recovering well, but this experience has been a major wake up call.

We are mortal, we know that. And yet the tendency is to live as if we have an eternity ahead of us. We postpone things which matter to us. We delay writing that book, meeting that friend, taking a better care of ourselves… The list goes on.

My husband often refers to Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, one of the people who greatly inspired him at the beginning of his healing journey. She ran workshops on ‘Life, Death and Transition’, which included using the prospect of death to inspire us to live more fully. ‘A Year To Live’ by Stephen Levine points in the same direction.

“If not for death, would we appreciate life? If not for hate, would we know the ultimate goal is love? At these moments you can either hold on to negativity and look for blame, or you can choose to heal and keep on loving.” Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (The Wheel of Life, 1997)

I want to complete this post with an inspiring TED talk by Linda Sivertsen. She speaks of her experience of being a time debter. If you’ve been postponing life until further notice, this is worth watching.

What do you always want to do in life but never have time for? What is it you want to be remembered for? It’s worth acting on it now.

Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think [Song covered by many musicians, including Prince Buster, Jools Holland and The Specials.]

Pressing a Pause Button

 

IMG_2726.JPGSo, I disappeared.

 

It’s so uncharacteristic of me that one of my readers reached out to check whether I was OK.

 

About a month ago, I got snowed under marking exams. The task was so large and overwhelming that I didn’t even have time to schedule a post someone sent me for ‘Good Enough’ series. I didn’t even have time to turn on my computer. Working days, evenings and weekends was tough to say the least.

 

Everything else had to stop.

 

I’m pleased to say, the marking is behind me, and so is a conference I attended in Ukraine (I hope to write about it sometimes soon). What’s ahead is trips to five countries within the next two months. Yep, I’m teaching in Germany, followed by more teaching in Belgium and Luxembourg. I’m away the last two weeks of June, home for ten days in July before heading to the USA for five days. To round things off, I’m taking kids to Azerbaijan to spend some quality time with my family. I’m in desperate need of some pampering!

 

Meanwhile, I’m working hard to get ready for my trips.

 

Oh, and I’m running three different events on writers’ block this weekend. If you are local (Birmingham, England) and interested in attending, please, email me on gularav@gmail.com.

 

Thank you for stopping by. I miss you all. Not sure when I’ll write my next post, but hopefully, it’ll be before too long.

 

With much love

 

Gulara

 

Call for Contributions – ‘Good Enough’ (new series)

Good enough Brene Brown.pngI wrote a blog post recently on not feeling good enough for a large proportion of my life. It received a lot of attention from readers, with several people re-blogging it. This resonance with the topic made me wonder whether it’s worth running a series on my blog where people can contribute their stories of feeling not good enough at some point in their lives and how they managed to overcome this limiting belief.

So, if you’d like to contribute, please

1.      Email me at gularav@gmail.com to express your interest.

2.      Submit an engaging story explaining how the feeling ‘not good enough’ showed up in your life, what did you learn from this experience, and how did you manage to overcome it (if it’s an ongoing struggle, it’s not a problem. Sometimes naming things and being honest about them can have a transformative effect in their own right).

3.      Stories should be 500-800 words. If it’s a longer piece, it’s not a problem, get in touch anyway.

4.      If you have a suitable image, please send it through.  

5.      You can include a short bio (up to 50 words), links to your website (if any) and social media presence.

6.      I will promote your post on Twitter and Facebook.

My hope is to inspire readers and infuse them with hope. From my own experience, I know how isolating this feeling can makes us. We hide our shame, and with it we hide away from life and people. Stepping forward and naming the feeling is the best remedy to dissipating it.

You are not alone.

I hope my blog becomes a safe place where we can share our stories and grow through this limiting belief together.

 

When My Grandma Took Her Last Breath

 

 

I first knew there was something wrong with my grandma on Valentine’s Day. You see, it’s my son’s birthday on that day, and she didn’t call to say Happy Birthday. Never ever did we miss a call from her before. In fact, for the first two years of my son’s life, she called every month. No matter what went on in her life, we heard from her on the 14th of each month.

 

As the day progressed and I glanced at my phone, I started wondering whether she was OK. It was a busy teaching day, so I didn’t have time or space to call her myself. My anxiety grew with every passing hour, until my sister left me a voice message. She was in tears, heading to grandma’s.

 

My sister’s message confirmed my worst fears, but I still had another hour of teaching before I could call and speak to grandma myself. It was 9pm in Azerbaijan (5pm in England), when my grandma managed to gather her strength and call me. The moment I saw her name flashing on my screen, I excused myself mid-lecture and went to speak to her. She put on a brave face and spoke as if nothing was happening.

 

Needless to say, for the next two-to-three days I harassed all of my family who happened to have whatsapp. How is she? I held my breath until they woke up and answered my messages. Phew, she’s alive. Can she hang in on there until I finish teaching on 20 March? It looked unlikely.

Luckily, on 16 February, I ran into a colleague and told her what was going on.

 

‘Just go. Go now while you can see her alive. Not much point in going once she’s gone.’

 

I’m so glad we had that conversation, because the next morning started with my mum’s teary voice in my phone:

 

‘She says she’s got only three days left.’

 

I went to work and by 4pm I had permission from my boss to cancel all my teaching and go to Azerbaijan. The trip was as easy as it can possibly get. An Azerbaijani friend of mine was travelling to visit her family on Saturday 18th. I had a ride to Heathrow airport and company during the flight. Once I landed, my old neighbours came to pick me up and took all the way to my hometown.

 

Grandma was alive.

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This is the first photo I took upon my arrival to my childhood home on 19 February 2017

 

In fact, she told us poems and sang a song for me:

 

‘I’m ready to kiss the sand on which you have been walking.’

 

We talked. An endless stream of relatives and neighbours came to visit; people I haven’t seen for decades showed up to talk to grandma. She was fine. I soaked in her words the best I could.

 

If I could choose all over again, I’d choose this life,’ she said.

 

The life as an orphan, with a violent husband, hardship, famine, war, disappointments, hard work, a beloved son killed at 23….

 

The life in which she brought up two other sons, a daughter, and me (she brought me up as her own). The life with nine grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and even one great-great-grandson. The life of a matriarch, a strong-willed and much-respected woman.

The life where all her children, grandchildren and their children, endless numbers of relatives and neighbours flocked around her in the final hours of her life.

 

She passed away the next day.

 

There were no signs of her imminent departure, except she told us she’s got two hours left. It was hard to believe her words. In fact, an hour before she died, we had a doctor who said if she eats and drinks properly, she’d live for a long time. Reassured, my mum and sister were planning to have a bath. My grandma got up to empty her bladder. Once upright, we decided to make her comfortable. We cleaned her up, changed her clothes and bedding. A few minutes later, she got into her bed, and suddenly something shifted. Her breathing wasn’t right, and by the way she acted, I knew it was the beginning of the end. I kissed her forehead to say goodbye, and was there until she took her final breath half an hour later. She left quickly and peacefully surrounded by her loved ones.

 

Something in that experience has really changed me.

 

I used to think of death as something scary. Perhaps I was too young at 14 to appreciate its beauty when my grandpa died. My grandma’s death felt different. I could feel the spirits, and something magical in the air. She was ready to go, and her loved ones were waiting for her on the other side. 

 

Perhaps, the grieving rituals observed in Azerbaijan helped me to empty out my grief and loss, but somehow, I feel at peace. I know her soul is with me.

 

And, I’m still sad.

 

She won’t call me today, even though it’s my daughter’s birthday. Nor will she call me on Sunday to tell me ‘happy birthday.’

 

Rest in peace, grandma. I will always love you.

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