Spirituality, mental health, wellbeing

Spirituality, mental health, wellbeing

Written by Marina Robb (Director Circle of Life Rediscovery CIC)

Spirituality is the innate aspect of being human. We have a natural capacity to be spiritual. The search for meaning and purpose in life is a central pillar of spirituality.

The UK school curriculum aims to “Promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental, physical development of pupils at school and of society.” (Section 351 of the Education Act 1996) Many of us who are practitioners who work with children, young people and adults, approach human development from a holistic perspective, with spiritual development being a key ingredient.

But what do we mean by spirituality?

Giesenberg (2007) defines it: ‘Spirituality is an innate part of a person. It is an awareness or consciousness of the surrounding world, a sense of compassion and love towards this world and anything in it shown through wonder and through activities and relationship with peers and significant adults in the child’s life.’

Spirituality mental health wellbeingFor me, it has always been connected to the bigger questions and unknowns of life, as well as the ‘ah ha’ moments and feelings of awe that you get when you experience something special. It has something to do with a ‘consciousness’ or perhaps ‘a group mind’ (like the morphic resonance that Rupert Sheldrake talks about), that permeates all of life.

There is understandably a hesitancy when we use the word ‘spirituality’ as it historically has been closely linked to religion and religious experiences. In more modern times, it has been re-framed to allow this ‘feeling’ of connectedness or mystery to be named without the dogma of any religion or tradition. To enable a discussion around this aspect of life, and to be ‘inclusive’ we are attempting to clarify a very real difference between religion and spiritual. However, experience is inevitably personal and emotional.

Adam et al (2008) defines ‘spiritual’ as, ‘the very sense of being connected to others (whether to people, creatures of things)’. It is intangible, goes beyond anything that is visible or tactile and is, in essence spiritual. Eastern and western mystical traditions focus on spirituality as a journey towards unity with other, ultimately a feeling of becoming one with other.

Spirituality, mental health, wellbeing
Sal Gencarelle, who I will be co-leading our workshop on ‘Well-being and Spirituality’ on June 11th, describes spirituality as, ‘the science of connection’. (Join us live on a webinar on May 7th 2019). We will explore Spirituality, mental health, wellbeing during our webinar and workshop.

The word ‘spiritual’ comes from the Latin ‘spirare’ meaning ‘to breathe’. Elementally, it is linked to air, which moves through and within all of life, and brings well-being. I am often reminded by children about the essential animistic quality of life. In the early years, the child’s world has no separation between object and subject and everything is alive. This sense of aliveness and connection is foundational to most indigenous world view that see all of life as ‘subjects’ within life. This promotes a harmony with nature, and puts a ‘spiritual’ value on life, where the spiritual and physical are united.

Knowledge in this paradigm comes directly from experience and learning happens from the non-human and human alike. Our ancestral traditions are often written off as ‘primitive’ or ‘spiritual’ yet these people deeply felt the intrinsic ‘aliveness’ of the plant and animal kingdoms – from the trees to the stones. Long-standing earth-based cultures have this awareness and understanding and are experts in their fields. It is understood that although we ‘look different’ and grow and change at a different speed (e.g rocks or trees), we share the same essential materials and are exchanging atoms, molecules and hormones all the time. Humans and their galaxy have about 97 percent of the same kind of atoms elements of life. These are known as the building blocks of life and are the crucial elements: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur. We are made of stardust!

Mental Health is defined as:

“The emotional and spiritual resilience which allows us to enjoy life and survive pain, disappointment and sadness. It is a positive sense of well-being and an underlying belief in our own, and others, dignity and worth”. (Mental health Promotion: A quality Framework, Health Education Authority, (1997) London: HEA)

It is really interesting to me that to have ‘mental health’ we need emotional and spiritual resilience – two aspects that are often ‘unconscious’ responses and experiences in life. In way they also are opposite ends of the rational and logical parts of ourselves. Yet we know understand through neuroscience, that we have a ‘system 1’ (emotional, sense-based system) and a ‘system 2’ system (logical, super-intendent) and that to be well, we need to develop in all these aspects.

Spirituality, mental health, wellbeingMy mental health has been challenging several times in my life, sometimes in a big way, and often is small little ways. Defining our ‘wellness’ is often a measure of our ability to move through our pain and discomfort, rather than avoiding it. We can’t avoid pain in our lives, but we can learn to have perspectives and experiences that help us move to wellness.

We know that our experiences impact our lives and our ability to form healthy relationships. Our early experiences have a huge affect on our ability to cope with stress and on the development of our emotional and sensory processing systems. Traumatised children struggle to self-regulate across environments and find it difficult to trust and feel safe with adults. These children tend to experience the world through a ‘fear lens’ (Perry 2005).

I recently saw an image of a piece a paper with many dots on it – there was a red line joining dots to form a line across the paper. This was meant to show the story we tell ourselves about our lives. The story gets fixed on key events and we repeat this story until we believe this is who we are, and all that has happened to us. If we take a moment and look beyond the line, we can see hundreds of more dots, all experiences that tell us more about our lives and experiences. Doing this, helped me remember that the story of who I am and what has happened to me, is greater that the one line.

When we drill down under the surface, many of us don’t feel good enough, we lack confidence in what we know and struggle to speak out. We struggle to tell our story, to share our vulnerability – yet it’s in those places that are the treasure and core, unshakeable strength. Some interesting questions to think about:

– What has happened to you? (How is power operating in your life?)
– How did it affect you? (What kind of threats does this pose?)
– What sense did you make of it? (What is the meaning of these situations and experiences to you?)
– What did you have to do to survive? (What kinds of threat response are you using?)
– What are your strengths? (What access to Power resources do you have?)
– What is your story? (How does all this fit together?)

I have worked with vulnerable and challenged young people for most of my working life and my own lived experience of mental health difficulties in my late teens hugely impacted and transformed my life. Nature and healthy relationships were key to my healing and ability to thrive and make healthy choices. My worldview was influenced by different cultures who opened many doors to my understand of ‘reality’ and how nature plays a huge part in a feeling of belonging, place-attached.

Around the world, we know that economic growth alone is not enough to produce happiness. Happiness and well-being is actually reduced despite people in the UK or USA being richer, according to survey day (Global Happiness and Wellbeing Policy Report 2019).

Nature offers us rest-bite and restoration. It is a place of no-judgement and feeling the different non-human relationship that feels safe, once you get out there – sitting round a fire, allow the gentle movement of the flames. It is often mesmerising, uncomplicated and peaceful. In the cultural we inhabit, we present a particular version of ourselves, and in my experience nature allows us our freedom to be and discover ourselves in a new way.

Spirituality, mental health, wellbeing Workshop:

We will be exploring these themes during our webinar on May 7th 2019 (see below), and during our workshop on June the 11th in East Sussex (Spirituality and well-being Workshop).

You are invited to join Marina Robb and Sal Gencarelle on a Zoom Webinar meeting.

When: May 7th, 2019 8:00 PM London
Register in advance for this meeting here.
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

For more about Spirituality, mental health and wellbeing – buy Sal’s new book ‘Thriving in uncertain times’.


Circle of Life RediscoveryCircle of Life Rediscovery provides exciting and highly beneficial nature-centred learning and therapeutic experiences for young people, adults, and families in Sussex woodlands, along with innovative continuing professional development for the health, well being and teaching professionals who are supporting them.

Sign up to our newsletter for updates about our courses, CPD’s, well-being & nature based training and events.

International Women’s Day 2019

International Women’s Day 2019 –  Celebrating women and our internal connection to nature’s cycles

I am delighted to be celebrating International Women’s Day on 8th March 2019! I will be going up to London on March 9th to the WOW (Women of the World) festival to spend the day with men and women, to be part of a global movement that believes a gender equal world is possible and desirable through empowering women and girls.

Particularly excited to listen to Naomi Klein, a renowned activist and writer, who in 2016 was awarded Australia’s prestigious Sydney Peace Prize, for ‘inspiring us to stand up locally, nationally and internationally to demand a new agenda for sharing the planet that respects human rights and equality, and for reminding us of the power of authentic democracy to achieve transformative change and justice.’

While we act politically, there are private aspects of being a woman, that is rarely talked about as women: our menstruation and bodily hair! If you squirm at the mention of this, you are not alone, with shame about our bodies and monthly periods.

As Dr. Christiane Northrup says in her book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom “Nothing in our society – with the exception of violence and fear – has been more effective in keeping women “in their place”, than the degradation of the menstrual cycle.” Shame, stigma and misinformation surrounding menstruation are contributing to serious human rights concerns for women and girls (UNFPA Report), underscoring the ways period shame and misinformation undermine the well-being of women and girls, making them vulnerable to gender discrimination, child marriage, exclusion, violence, poverty and untreated health problems.

A recent survey found that 73 percent of women across the world hide their periods from others, and 68 percent are afraid to talk about their periods with men. Then there is the cost of sanitary products which prevents young women from attending school because they are unable to afford menstrual products. They miss school every month because they cannot face the shame and fear of going to school using socks stuffed with tissues, old torn T-shirts or newspaper. In these families, menstrual products are an unattainable luxury. Read more here.

These things do matter for half the population.

International Women's Day 2019There are many cultures who view menarche (the first period) as an initiation into womanhood, where a girl gets to be honoured by a coming-of-age ceremony or ritual. There are increasingly women who are reclaiming this natural cycle for themselves and their children.

At Circle of Life Rediscovery Camps for young women and other programmes, we always make sure there are healthy conversations and sharing about our feelings towards our bodies and menstruation, listening to different women’s experience of sex, babies, monthly bleeding, relationships and celebrating the inner wisdom that we have access too.

“To see your cycle as the enemy can set you up for more suffering. But working with and within it’s rhythmic imperatives can be your foundational path to healing.” (Wild Power 2017).

There are many ways of understanding how connected we are to nature and our relationship as women to natural cycles. It is very easy in the modern, externally focused world to forget that our well-being comes from knowing our internal landscapes, and how the external and internal influence each other.

Indeed, we so focused in the next moment, that most of us are also entirely unaware of Earth and moon’s influence on us! The earth rotates every 24 hours at 1000 miles per hour, the moon rotates around the earth, all the while spinning around the sun. We are entirely linked to the forces of life that are always moving and changing.

Linking the small and large perspective with the larger forces were and are often explained through show a map in the form of a wheel or circle. All the while, we know that we can only see a small part of ‘reality’. The most common maps place the earth & humans on the earth in the centre, where from our perspective the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. The influence of the sun on life is fundamental, without which life as we know it could have never evolved or exist. (Find out about our Nature Pedagogy workshop April).

It is less common however to notice that our everyday life is also influenced by the moon cycle. We are 70% water after all. This is particularly true for women, as their internal landscape and emotions are mapped closely to the moon. It is easy to forget that half the population from puberty has their ‘periods’ every month. Practitioners working with adolescent young people supporting healthy emotional and physical development are not educated to know how this internal cycle and understanding of our bodies is central to our mental and physical well-being.

Much of my work is with people with mental health difficulties. Findings based on the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) shows that brighter and poorer young women are particularly vulnerable to mental health difficulties showing a sharp increase of girls under age of 18 admitted to hospital in England (2015 -2016) because they had self-harmed after cutting (285%), poisoning (42%), hanging themselves (331%). “Some people say that physical pain is easier to tolerate than emotional pain.” (Dr Nihara Krause, consultant psychologist).

Our menstrual cycles really affect how we as women feel and following our cycles can hugely help us to harness the different qualities through the month. Empowering young women (and young men) to have the language and understanding of what is occurring physically and emotionally, provides a larger context and framework for what they are experiencing.

Most cycles, like the moon, are 28 days, and our bodies have internalised this rhythm. Like the phases of the moon, we have phases in our cycles: ovulation and menstruation. This is associated with the waxing moon reaching fullness in tune with ovulation and fertility (during the constructive phase) and the waning moon and dark moon (during the deconstructive phase) coinciding with menstruation and being a time of retreat and inner vision.

Menstruation is the night of the cycle, which as in story telling represents a state of consciousness “when we are closer to ourselves, closer to essential ideas and feelings that do not register so much during the daylight hours” (Estes 1998, p.329). Estes, Clarissa Pinkola Women Who Run With The Wolves (Rider 1998).

As an introduction, the following moon wheel enables us to see how our internal cycle links to the qualities of the seasons and phases of the moon. We can use this to apply how we may feel during a day, month or season. Whilst the sun and moon appear to move from East to West from our human perspective, in actual fact the earth, moon and even the sun (albeit at different speeds) are moving anti-clockwise from West to East!

MOON WHEEL DIAGRAM – Your Inner Seasons

Moon Wheel Diagram - International Women's Day 2019

Your menstrual cycle awareness, ‘the act of knowing and valuing your unique cyclical pattern of energy and mood throughout the menstrual month, paying attention to where you are in your cycle at any one time, respecting your feelings and energy levels, working with and within the changing energies, leveraging this as a life management and facilitation tool’ (see A Pope & S. Wurlitzer, Red School) is a key part of knowing ourselves. When used well this awareness and knowledge lead us to an increase in health and well-being.

I am now peri-menopausal and moving towards my menopause. I know that understanding my internal seasons and moving into this new phase is also part of a natural continuum and stepping into another experience. I am certainly not alone, and have many wise women’s support ahead of me.

“Women are the archetypal anchors for the power of the feminine, and when we reclaim our feminine power – by restoring our ways and practices – we integrate the power of the feminine into our lives and back onto the planet” (ibid).

Tell your story so the story doesn’t tell you.

Marina Robb - International Women's Day 2019

 

(Note: Some of you may have noticed I didn’t talk about stigma around body hair – I don’t think our society or this blog is yet ready for that.)

Happy International Women’s Day.

Marina Robb – Director, Circle of Life Rediscovery CIC.

 

 

Transforming education, health and family through nature.

Circle of Life RediscoveryCircle of Life Rediscovery provides exciting and highly beneficial nature-centred learning and therapeutic experiences for young people, adults, and families in Sussex woodlands, along with innovative continuing professional development for the health, well being and teaching professionals who are supporting them.

Sign up to our newsletter for updates about our courses, CPD’s, well-being & nature based training and events.