This is my 200th blog (woo hoo). The first, published over 8 years ago on 7th March 2013 was entitled ‘Childless or Childfree – what’s the difference & does it matter?’ & you won’t find it on here. I’m not claiming to be a great, or even good writer, but it’s fair to say that my writing has come on a bit since then!
What I have always done is to write from my heart. When I started this website supporting childless women I thought I was Ok, that I’d done the work I needed to ‘work through’ the grief of childlessness. It turns out I was very wrong & hadn’t even started.
Now, having done a lot of work, my writing, still from my heart, is very different. I write less about the raw sensations about being in the midst of grieving, & more about how to create a life you love.
I hope you’ll indulge me as, for this milestone I’ve been reflecting on how I’ve changed in the 8 years since I put my words out in the world.
And I’d like to start with a story
Several hundred years ago in a Thai Monastery the monks, believing they were about to be invaded by the Burmese army, covered their precious golden Buddha with plaster & clay. Over the next 200 years everyone came to accept the clay Buddha & forgot about the gold underneath.
In the 1950s, during the dry season, the Monastery was being renovated so the statue was being prepared to be moved. A monk noticed a large crack on the surface & upon shining a light inside he saw the gold underneath. Once the plaster & clay was chipped away it was discovered to be the largest golden statue of the Buddha & it now resides in The Temple of the Golden Buddha in Bangkok.
(NOTE: this is a true story &, although the details vary from source to source, I’ve captured the essence of it in my own words).
Then the meaning
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you the parallels with most people’s life (but I will, just to be sure). We’re born pure and gold & over the years we cover ourselves with clay. We could call it a protective coating, or we could call it armour, the effect is the same as it both keeps us safe from the world and more importantly stops us from being seen.
As others stop seeing our gold, we stop seeing it too & over the years come to believe that we’re made of plaster & clay.
For the lucky ones, something comes along & knocks a chunk off our armour & we get a glimpse of our gold underneath. From then on, the path for the rest of our life is set. The only thing we want to do is keep chipping off the plaster so we can expose & rejoice in our true & golden self underneath.
However, the unlucky ones walk through life with their armour intact, not ever realising that were once gold.
What do I mean by ‘gold’?
There are many terms I could use here, some might call it being authentic, your true self, true north, true nature or original nature. The essence being that it’s the real you underneath the perfecting, the fitting in & all the habits you’ve developed to keep yourself safe & to hide from the world. Your inner compass knows the way & can guide you to the place where you feel like you, your centre, or perhaps it feels like home.
However you describe it, you’ll know it when you experience it because it will feel like who & where you’re supposed to be.
I first came across this concept in Brené Brown’s work where she writes (quite forcefully) that …. ‘Your armour is preventing you from growing into your gifts….. Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. ……It’s time to show up and be seen.’ These words were the impetus I needed to set me to work & I adopted this phrase which has guided me ever since.
Is it all armour?
What Brené describes as armour feels like a protective shell I hid myself inside: like letting friends think we didn’t want children instead of telling them that we were going through IVF, or refusing to feel the grief of childlessness & the loss of my parents.
Whereas to me the layers of ‘plaster & clay’ have happened organically as I’ve developed conscious & unconscious habits, hence they’re harder to remove.
In essence though, as Brené says they’re both preventing me from growing into my gifts, & perhaps more than that, they’re preventing me from being truly happy.
And how I’m peeling it off
As I wrote in Finding Joy, the act of writing it, & digging deep into the subjects of each chapter (such as grief, connecting to my body, self-acceptance, finding a tribe etc) plus therapy peeled off a lot of the tough armour. Reading & associated workshops also helped.
A Yoga retreat in India in 2019 got me closer & since then I’ve kept exploring.
Therapy was my catalyst
I resisted seeing a therapist for a long, long time, until a good friend (also a therapist) really encouraged me (well let’s be honest, she insisted!). And working with the therapist was the catalyst for everything which came after.
In addition to creating a safe space to explore & release my grief, she taught me tools, persuaded me back to creativity &, through Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme, encouraged me to venture onto the yoga mat. And the rest, they say is history 😊.
My biggest shift has been getting out of my head into my body.
I believe this has been my biggest change. Until I started working with a therapist, I hadn’t really thought about my body; other than it was the thing that carried my head around. When writing Finding Joy it emerged as an important theme in a number of stories so I thought I should investigate it, and since we’ve been slowly coming together I’ve never felt more alive both physically and emotionally. If I told you that I cried more in this morning’s yoga class than I did when Dad died, you’ll realise how much I’ve changed.
Your body stores stress and trauma
Learning that everything which happens to you (especially events which trigger your fight, flight, or freeze response) leaves physiological imprints on your body really encouraged me. It made me realise the damage boxing my grief into my body was doing to it & I was determined to start to release it with care. And so began a beautiful exploration.
My path was through yoga
My connection happened through practicing Yin Yoga & my practice gave me both the skills & safe space to release a lot of the grief I was hanging on to. And much, much more than that, I’ve learned to feel how both physical sensations & emotions show up in the body, how they change over time & then dissipate. I’ve learned to sit in quiet space at the centre of the discomfort, allowing everything to happen without making up stories, simply letting them go.
Practicing at home & taking time to revisit what I already know (& perhaps had forgotten), especially what I learned on Brene Brown’s Rising Strong Workshop & from exploring Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic has enabled me to uncover some of the blocks & patterns (conscious & unconscious) which show up in my life. As my lovely yoga teacher Emma says ‘you can’t solve problems by running away from them, you have to learn to stay & also explore what gets in the way’ which is what I’ve been trying to do (with varying degrees of success).
I feel that I’m hearing more clearly & recently a number of things I’m doing are connecting & many of Emma words are resonating with my life off the mat.
I’m asking myself questions such as, ‘what’s behind this behaviour’, ‘what’s the story I’m telling myself,’ ‘what’s my intention here’ & ‘how can I make small changes to achieve what I want’?
I’ve also complemented my Yin practice with gentle movements by adding a Qigong practice & learning more about how energy flows through my body through studying Traditional Chinese Medicine.
What’s really beautiful is how several strands seem to be coming together & I’m taking much, much more of what I learn on the mat into my life.
It’s over 19 years since we finished our last cycle of IVF & with time & the work I’ve done childlessness is becoming an ever smaller part of me. The scar will always be there, just like the scar of losing both parents will be there, but, as the tissue round it grows stronger, it hurts less & less.
As I’ve written, I’ve touched my gold & with time this happens more often. Whilst I’m enjoying myself & making new discoveries I’ll keep exploring, always using my values as a benchmark. My curiosity will guide me so I’ll continue to follow it, knowing that it may lead somewhere, or it may not, and following it is as permanent or temporary as I want it to be.
Creativity is as important to me as yoga (well almost!), it brings balance to my life & supports my exploration.
I have two messages for you dear reader
You are gold inside
As I’ve already written, inside the protective coating you’ve built up over years lies precious gold & my wish for you is that you recognise this & start to chip off the plaster so you can expose & rejoice in your true & golden self underneath. So I have 2 questions;
Are you walking through life hiding inside your armour, or are you gently removing the layers & get to your gold?
And if you’re hiding, what would it take to start you on the path?
And to end with a message which you might have read before (& I’m not apologising for repeating it). Which is.
I am the same as you and if I can find my way to happiness and joy, you can.
My path included therapy, writing, creativity & yoga. That might be your path, or (most likely) yours will be different. But never doubt for a moment that there is a path for you.
I absolutely believe in you, and I know that you CAN find your gold inside. Please don’t distract yourself by looking too far ahead or imagining yourself in my shoes, the main thing is to take one step and before you know it you’ll have travelled a long way.
If you’ve read one of my blogs or 200, I’m very grateful to you. As always if my words resonated & you feel able to leave a comment, that would be fabulous, thank you.
A huge thanks to Emma Peel Yoga for guiding me gently home & keeping me (more or less) sane this past year. (You can find more about Emma & her wonderful membership area) .
And my exploration of Big Magic with the lovely Cali Bird here.
Here’s my blog about the Rising strong workshops called, Four things I learned from Brené Brown in Vegas
And What’s the link between a water bottle, a dragon, a swing chair and a stone? about my experiences in India
You can download Chapter One of Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness when you sign up to my email list.