Counselling

I’ve been seeing Naomi, my counsellor, for about two months now. We’ve talked about so much, helped me realise so much… It’s pretty overwhelming to try and imagine it all. I wanted to write a blog post about the revelations I’ve had, about how much good has been done for me, but the wealth of information is so overwhelming… I’m afraid this is going to be an exceedingly poorly laid out blog with disconnected ideas jumping from one to another. Pray bear with me.

In the first session I had with her, Naomi gave me lines to write. The science of these is very deep, and the philosophy extremely profound. In essence, human beings desire love and acceptance and security, all those elements in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. When we are young, we desperately crave these things, but we don’t know how to express that craving except through our emotions and wordless thoughts. As we grow older, some of us feel very secure and comfortable in life, but for others they struggle with these birth emotions for decades, even centuries. These emotions can surface to the consciousness as thoughts such as “I always need to be doing something productive and meaningful”, or “I can’t get close to people because they’ll hurt me”. The longer you live, the more you invest in these thoughts and emotions. Traditionally the way I’ve dealt with them has been to ignore them and to comfort myself. When feeling stressed from work, I’d go home and play video games in my snuggie. When feeling anxious about not knowing what to do next, I’d watch a movie or read a book to get into someone else’s world for a while.

Naomi has introduced me to a new way of dealing with these powerful emotions. I should clarify that birth emotions aren’t bad at all- they helped us survive our early years. But there comes a point where they are no longer helpful to our lives, yet we know no other way than to hold onto them desperately. If you’ve studied psychology, you might recognise this as the ego- that childish, self-obsessed part of our consciousness that is wholly consumed with having its most basic needs met. But rather than feeding the ego with pleasure (which will comfort it in the short-term, but not ultimately change anything), I’m learning how to genuinely let go of the need to need. Where I might previously have felt a sense of panic underneath a calm facade, now I throw that facade away, gently embrace my panic, and let go of my need to cling to it.

How do I do this? With lines. Every day, for fifteen minutes or more, I write the following line over and over: “I see my future as positive and bright. I am happy, I feel good.” And that’s it. It’s absurdly simple, but by using an affirmation like this, it can neutralise the negative thoughts and emotions that have plagued us since birth. Obviously the more we’ve invested in these patterns of emotion, thought and behaviour, the more it will take to neutralise them and learn new ones. But it absolutely can be done. At first I thought it was only going to be mildly effective, but I was willing to trust Naomi and give it my best shot. It didn’t make any noticeable difference the first few days, or even weeks. But more recently, I’ve finally stopped resisting the thoughts and just accepted them as natural. Where once I would have gone “But I don’t see my future as positive and bright. Why do I keep lying to myself?”, I now think “My future is filled with possibility, and I have no idea what’s going to happen or how I’ll react to it. Wonders could be around every corner, and no matter what happens in life, I can really enjoy being alive!” Where previously I might have thought “I don’t really feel particularly happy or good, but I may as well keep saying I am,” I now think “This actually feels fantastic. Given the choice between being miserable and self-pitying, or happy and joyous, why wouldn’t you pick the latter?”

Furthermore, I don’t just write the lines anymore. I say them to myself, out loud or in my head, in the cheeriest, most hopeful voice I can manage. It’s ridiculous at first, but no matter how dejected or stressed I was feeling to begin with, I can’t help but feel better for all the faked enthusiasm. The subconscious can’t tell the difference between genuine happiness or pretended happiness, so it just sends out endorphins and oxytocin and serotonin anyway. In short, fake it until you make it, and no matter how you were feeling earlier, you can cheer yourself up. This is a remarkable revelation for me- I can be happy at any time I choose. And that’s pretty terrifying. To think that all the time I’ve been unhappy has been my choice, has been something I had complete control over… It’s so satisfying to be self-pitying, but in the end, comforting as it may be, it doesn’t help anyone. (For more on affirmations and how they work, find a copy of “The Way of the Carrot” by Roger Ballard, or ask me for mine.)

Another part of my counselling is attending group therapy workshops. It’s hard to explain what’s involved, but they take a “three-pronged approach”. Firstly, there are the lines. For two hours a week, we write the lines, and they change the very neural pathways of our being. Secondly, the facilitators do hands-on work and alternative therapies. I’ve started taking a naturopathic mineral supplement to help balance a potential defficiency in my nutrition due to being vegan. We drink tea, get gently massaged/prompted/reiki’d in trigger points throughout our body, drink green juices and other things. It’s radical, but it’s surprisingly effective. The third prong is talking. We ask questions, we talk about how successful or unsuccessful we’ve been throughout the week, and sometimes we explore some really deep stuff. Talking also brings people together so that they have the opportunity to learn from one another. In one session, a young man who had never accepted a compliment in his life, brushing them aside with “If” “but’s” and “Nah’s” was judged ready to receive compliments from everyone in the room. He accepted every single one of them, and broke down crying. In other sessions, people’s body language have been pointed out; slouching, looking miserable and subconsciously trying to let people know how much pain we’re in can bring the energy in the room right down. By changing our body language, we change how people relate to us on a subconscious and energetic level- it’s really quite remarkable.

For me, I learned something last night that shook me to my core and prompted me to write this blog post. Roger said to me, “Stop being so self-absorbed, and you will attract love into your life.” It was like being slapped in the face. “Self-absorbed? How dare you!” I thought. And then I realised it was so true, so non-judgmental, so profoundly accurate that I felt crushed beneath the weight of it. You know, for someone so smart, I’m pretty stupid. All my life I’ve been self-obsessed. Maybe in a polite, courteous, respectful way, but it’s nevertheless true. I care more about what I get out of a conversation that about the person I am speaking to. I’ll only talk to someone if I feel I’ll benefit from it somehow, or that the kindness of asking about someone is worth it to me. Very rarely do I genuinely care about others, from my heart to theirs. And so, I make it my mission now to open my heart, without reservation, to the people I am with. If I am with myself, I will care deeply about myself. If I am with my friend, I will care deeply about my friend. If I am with ten strangers, I will care deeply about ten strangers. This I strive for, because caring is the most important thing in the world, and I can’t keep doing it for myself alone.

So yeah. These are the sorts of things that I’ve learned through counselling. I still have so far to go, but I’m keenly hopeful that by continuing (with time, trust, patience and persistence) to attend, I’ll learn to let go of the stuff I don’t need and to move towards the things I do. According to Rog, that’s all life is about. It’s the simplest, and hardest thing in the world. But I’m getting there, one day, one moment at a time.

EDIT: I forgot to mention, part of what I’m striving (not very successfully) towards is a state of constant mindfulness. One of the significant challenges I have is that I get caught up in my head- I intellectualise problems, I detach from emotion and I rely heavily on logic. While it has its uses, this is not a wholesome or entirely healthy way of living. I’m trying to learn to embrace emotion, even the uncomfortable ones. To sit through distress rather than to ignore it. To be fully present in every moment. To help with this, every time I realise my mind is wandering and not focusing on the present moment, I say my lines in my head and it reminds me to fully immerse myself in the world again. From what I’ve seen, those people in the world who experience a state of near-constant mindfulness get far more out of living than I do.

A small note on violence and teaching

A while ago, I wrote a blog about the necessity of violence in the world. I queried whether it would be the best thing to do to try and defeat all the Alpha Males in the world to protect other people and educate them on good action. I see now that it is a fruitless and overwhelming endeavour. To put it simply, there are too many idiots in the world, and if I make it my mission to educate them all, I’ll burn out by the time I reach the end of the street. I cannot take responsibility for the education of strangers (unless of course they directly appeal to me to help them become better people). And often, the aggression I would need to show to dominate them (even if I believed it to be for the greater good) would be totally unnecessary, and just serve to incite more violence. Further, I am absolutely certain that I would not be able to win many of the fights in this metaphor- I am not an invincible, infallible champion of justice. I am a human being, and the best thing I can do for everyone around me (and consequently, everyone around them) is to be the best person I can be. As Shihan Dan wisely says, you just can’t swat every mosquito at a barbecue; you’d be better off putting on insect repellent or going inside.

 

EDIT: It also occurs to me that I haven’t addressed the major flaw in all of these musings; the assumption that my way is best. That I not only have the right, but the responsibility to challenge Alpha’s for dominance. What a disrespectful, egotistic, even arrogant assumption that is. No friends, wherever possible, conflict is best avoided unless it requires me to sacrifice my own quality of life for the long-term.

Joining the Youth Brains Trust

A little while ago, Lynsey sent me an email she thought I might be interested in. An organisation called the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre was putting together a Youth Brains Trust and were accepting applications. I had no idea what a cooperative research centre was, nor had I ever heard of a brains trust, but I had a look at their website and found myself quietly excited at the idea that I could be part of it.

 

A cooperative research centre is a group of people who come together from all walks of life, working in collaboration with relevant organisations to research particular issues. The Young and Well CRC is interested in the mental health and wellbeing of young people, specifically exploring the role of technology in shaping youth mental health. A brains trust is a group of people (experts, if you will) who advise decision-makers (or researchers, in this case) around their issue of expertise.

 

In a rather bold stroke of inspiration, the Young and Well CRC wanted to bring twenty youths aged 12-25 into the process of shaping the research they were involved in. I find this extraordinary because when I think of social policy makers and researchers, I think of 50-year-old men in tweed suits and polka dot bowties. To have teenagers and young adults as a crucial part of the research process is amazing.

 

To my great surprise, I was chosen as one of the members of the Youth Brains Trust and flown to Melbourne for a weekend to meet with the other members and staff. And what an incredible weekend it was. Not only did we finally put some faces to names, we got to understand what the Young and Well CRC is all about, and to collaborate ideas on how we as a brains trust could change the world, one mobile phone at a time.

 

The Friday of the weekend was pretty cruisey. Despite leaving home at 8:15am, due to the time difference, we (the other Perthian and I) didn’t get to the Young and Well CRC until about four in the afternoon. We played some cool games to get to know each other, before watching Back to the Future with accompanying vegan gourmet pizza and popcorn. (Yes! Healthy vegan snacks for the win!).

 

On Saturday, we were up and ready by 8am (read: 6am for Perthians) to start the day. We shared ideas around what we wanted to achieve as part of the organisation, and produced quite an exhaustive list! What was equally enjoyable was generating ideas for how we could start making a practical move towards achieving these goals.

 

Afterwards, we got to know the major projects of the Young and Well CRC, which are incredibly innovative and useful ways of helping young people interact with technology. The projects fall under the three general headings of “Safe and Supportive”, “Connected and Creative” and “User-Driven and Empowered”, and between the three of them, there is some incredible work being done around improving youth mental health. My favourite of the projects is a very groovy Online Wellbeing Centre, including a virtual clinic where you can get help and information around mental health, and speak to an individual counsellor (among other things).

 

We also spent some time in self-reflection, exploring our own reasons for coming together and why we’re passionate about youth wellbeing. That, coupled with exploring our unique strengths, allowed us to get a better picture of how important we as young people are in shaping research that will impact other young people. We also heard from a member of last year’s brains trust, and it was both thrilling and inspiring to see how passionate young people can be about our wellbeing.

 

We had a really pleasurable evening getting dinner and ice cream, and then meeting in a hotel room for some late night Uno. Although I withdrew for an early-ish night, there was some mysterious bonding going on as everyone emerged the next day with new gangster names such as “Snoop Pup” and “Duck Healer”.

 

Sunday started at 8am (read: 5am Perth-time, due to bloody Daylight Savings) for the final day of the workshop. We got to know some of the Communications Team and how they work to disseminate knowledge of the Young and Well CRC to health professionals, youth-serving organisations and the internet in general. I hadn’t realised that having a great idea isn’t enough – people need to find out about it! (Much like writing this blog post is informing you! See Doug? I learn stuff.) Shortly after, Associate Professor Jane (Da Burn) Burns, CEO of the Young and Well CRC ( yes, even she got a gangster name) gave us an amazing talk on presentation skills and public speaking. Da Burn is an amazing person, and I’m glad that she is helping direct such an important organisation.

 

After an evaluation session at the local park (well, they had to drag us off the playground before we did any actual evaluating), we joined a large barbecue to meet the other people of interest that worked with the Young and Well CRC. We had a great time, and demonstrated our thanks by bursting into a very poor iteration of Gangnam Style.

 

What impressed me most about the Youth Brains Trust was the diversity of young people who are part of it. There was a healthy mix of people from so many different paths of life. I’m not at liberty to tell anyone’s story without their permission, but there was a huge range of people, and each of their unique needs, experiences and perspectives were valued, respected and cared for. I can’t help but think that a group of young, passionate people like us can verily change the world.

 

So that was my weekend with the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre! Keep an eye open for them in the future, whether they be exploring their cutting edge projects, reading up on fascinating research or volunteering over the year to come! They’re pretty good at keeping in touch via email, so if you like you can subscribe to the Young and Well Network. Peace out everybody.

Xin

Keep It Tame, by the Young and Well CRC

I assume that most of my friends, particularly those that read this blog, are kind, respectful and generally good people on the internet. But the same is not true of everyone. The Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre has just launched an online project to spread the message of respect across the internet. Perhaps you know someone who needs to read/hear/see this message, too? As a special favour to me, please share this video on facebook or twitter or your blogs, or anywhere that the internet at large can see it. This is a message that I consider more and more important as more and more young people gain access to the anonymous land of InterNet. Cyberbullying is an issue close to my heart, and I hope that this is one way to reduce its occurrence across the world.

 

http://keepittame.youngandwellcrc.org.au/

 

Stuff!

It’s been a little while since I’ve written a genuine post, so I think now’s a good time to make one up as I go along.

I hit myself in the face with an arnis stick in training last night. We were practicing stick disarms, and as I pulled the stick from my partner’s grasp, I managed to hit myself in the head. My teeth are a little sore, and my lips a little broken, but hopefully there’s no long-term nerve damage. I also strained my injured wrists, probably from holding on longer than advisable during the disarm drills. Logically I knew it was foolish to risk exacerbating an injury, but I really wanted to teach a junior member how to lock a person’s wrist to make it easier to disarm them. My knuckles are very sore, too, from all the knuckle-based exercises I did because I was unable to flex my wrists into a plank position.

I seem to get quite a lot of injuries from training. Why would any rational human being do that to themselves? you might ask. It’s not particularly practical, it’s quite expensive and I seem to accumulate ridiculous injuries unnecessarily. So why do I do it? My friend recently asked me such a question on camp (which was awesome, by the way. I really missed sleeping in a tent, though Bethwyn didn’t find it too comfortable). I took a while to think about it, and finally responded “Because I love it.” The martial arts are inherently part of me- as Jackie Chan says in “The Karate Kid”, all things are kung fu. Dozens, if not hundreds of times a day, I train. For example, as I was waiting for Beth to try on some clothes today, I used the mirrors in Sportsgirl to practicexingyi stepping/turning. I did taiji when I woke up this morning, as well as feng quan (mountain top boxing) and the tiger crane form. But less formally, when I open a door I pivot my front foot out of the way by turning on the heel, or I shift my weight back to avoid and swing. When I turn off a light switch, I practice my age ko uke. When I open a door, I use my washide to catch it before it swings too widely. As I walk around, I practice twisting, turning, closing and depressing my hands in various ways, just because I enjoy the feeling and beauty of the movement. I might brush my teeth in mabu, or playfully deflect Bethwyn’s pokes with single whip. Practically every physical expression of who I am is through gong fu and my martial arts. And that is why, even on my birthday, there are very few things I would rather be doing than training with the Academy of Traditional Fighting Arts in Bayswater on a Monday night.

My morning ritual has become very undisciplined. As part of my counselling, I am encouraged to write lines every day. I think I’d like to write at greater length on the power of affirmations, but the gist of it is thus. When we are children, we learn certain thoughts in order to help us survive. These thoughts have kept us alive, but may no longer be helpful to us in adulthood. For me, these are thoughts such as “I always have to be doing something productive”, “I cannot waste resources/opportunity”, “I must make sure nobody dislikes me”, “I must help others because they are more important than myself” and other such things. I stress, these thoughts are not wrong, but nor are they helpful to me now. Every day, I spend fifteen minutes writing/reading aloud the following statement: “My future is positive and bright. I am happy, I feel good.” It helps to neutralise the negativity and stress that I have running in my subconscious, and I usually feel much better after even a few minutes of writing. It’s only been a month now, but over time (and as I take on new affirmations), I trust that I will be (more) ready to let go of some of the things that frustrate my ability to be happy.

Skyrim is going awesome, yo. I’ve got about 206 hours of gameplay saved, several hours of which has probably come from loading screens and idle time. I am amazed that I have been so interested for so long, but it is tremendously satisfying to say that I’ve completed every quest in the game that I’ve come across (and that my character would take on). Furthermore, about half of my skills are maxed out at Level 100, and I am probably the strongest mage in the history of Skyrim (including conjuration, not through summoning creatures, but from binding energy into the form of weapons, and enchanting, not through trapping souls, but from releasing them through the disintegration of enchanted objects and soul gems). At last, at last, I am going to continue the main quest line. In my monks robes, with Dawnbreaker across my back and my plain armour in my pack, I shall fulfill my destiny as the Dragonborn.

Well, this is rather less interesting than I thought it will be. Oh well! Toodles.