We are living in a liminal time.
Liminal spaces are corridors or passage ways that we move through rather than stop at. They're transitional places, in-betweeny places. Liminal space is also that place between a transformation: no longer a caterpillar, but not yet a butterfly. It is a time between 'what was' and the 'next'. We are all transforming in one way or the other during this pandemic.
I have spent the last almost year putting my own oxygen mask on first, restoring myself, re-discovering myself. I willing stepped into enforced lockdown and honestly, I welcomed it with big wide open arms. Finally: time to stop, time to reset, and time to recover from being so ‘on’ the whole time. At last: time to shut the door, huddle in with myself & my loved ones, with nowhere to go and no need to rush after everyone else. No requirement to get anywhere. The thing that I had been craving for years was finally here - permission to stop. I let go and leaned into it. Gratefully.
As I stopped, the shedding began. No more jumping to others expectations, no more putting up, no more shutting up, no more ‘others first’, no more ‘I will when’, no more ‘people pleasing’, no more ‘I’d best just do it’, no more yes when I meant no. And so many more 'no mores'. I shed things that I can’t necessarily articulate, but that I felt drop away. I risked seeing who and what was left in my life. The discomfort of the initial shedding eventually eased, and the shedding eventually slowed. The core that was underneath, and within, began to shine through. My core being, that has been strengthening and assuring itself slowly but consistently over this last decade finally felt ready to show itself and hold its own.
A slow trickle of shedding continued and my core told me to wait. To hold steady and to hold my ground. At the end of last lockdown it told me I wasn’t yet ready. I vocalised it to friends by saying ‘I can’t be trusted yet’! We laughed, knowing that I possibly could, but also that more than likely I’d jump back into responding and reacting and putting everyone else’s oxygen mask on first again. My core held steady, telling me it was ok - I’d be ok. Trust me, you have time. Stay grounded with me here and breath, because I've got you.
This precious cargo that is my core self has been nurtured through so many years of self work. It held strong and courageous throughout this whole time and now it’s telling me that the shedding is complete.
In this current lockdown, my core is now energising. It’s ready, I’m ready. We’re not quite sure for what. But the armour and protection is no longer needed.
So in this liminal place I wait, not held back, not restricted. Quite the opposite infact. I wait in this space, breathing and taking it all in. Looking back at how I was, and all the wonderful things that have been. I see the struggle that I had with myself, the covering up, the keeping myself small, the fear of being fully seen as myself. I also acknowledge the amazing things that I did and that I achieved from that place of being. I was strong in a different way. I wait in this liminal space which could easily feel empty. There’s so much that’s been shed and let go off, yet I’ve consciously not looked to fill it. In this liminal space I feel opulence and potent potential.
There was a wall in front of me. It is really not much more than a thin screen now. I stand behind it, knowing that soon that will fade away. I know that behind it there is space, more space. This space contains colour, beauty, wonder, nature, joy, laughter, and song. There’s lots of yellow, white, gold, pink, and blue in this space..
I’m staying in this liminal space for a bit longer. I'm feeling all that I am within myself, knowing that this is what I take forward with me from this place. I’m breathing it in and gathering its energy and strength. When I’m ready to move on from this place, which will be soon, the screen will fade away and reveal the full freedom of all that is in front of me. And I will walk strong and forward into the rest of my life.
Saying no. Taking no action. Allowing others to step in instead. Deciding I don’t want to.
These are all skills I’ve had to learn and ones that have ultimately made my life fuller, and more fulfilling.
I grew up as a people pleaser believing that my role was to make people happy. I would go over and above to make sure everyone else was ok and if I was even half able to, then i’d say yes and figure the rest out as I went along. ‘No’ didn’t come into my vocabulary. ‘I don’t want to’ was a concept I didn’t understand. I didn’t even realise we’re allowed to say it!!
Being the over-achiever that I was (and still can be from time to time...) i shot myself in the foot by having a pretty decent stab at all those things that I started out being half-arsed able to do. Which meant people realised I could, and would, do them and I got asked to do them more often. So I people pleased doing more things I was very capable of doing but not necessarily things that I was best placed to do, or that I could efficiently do. I gained my confidence from things I became good at but was half-arsed interested in doing. I kept doing things that stopped being good for me, coz I didn’t know what I’d do with the space that NOT doing them would create. And my ego balked at the idea of someone else doing them Incase, heaven forbid, they might be better (then everyone would realise that I actually wasn’t that great at doing that thing after all).
The first time I learned to say no was when I chose recovery, my recovery, over and above everything else. It was really difficult. But really necessary. It was the first time I chose me.
I went on to realise and decide that I could, but wouldn’t, continue being: a marketeer, fitness instructor, personal trainer, performance coach, competing athlete, running coach, pilates teacher. I did each of these jobs really well but they stopped fulfilling me and started draining me. So I chose me.
I learned to let others step in and take on roles or jobs that they did better, so that I could put my energy where it was better spent. I chose me.
I learned to wait, to see what might happen, to see if there was another option. I learned that no action sometimes said more. That no action was sometimes the more efficient action. That no action sometimes brought to light a better, easier option. I found the value in NOT doing.
I’m a natural helper. I know this about myself. But I used to think that saying ‘no’ was selfish, and that I wasn’t being helpful. Actually, saying ‘no’ is sometimes the best way to help someone. When I’m not the right person to help, I need to say no. When I don’t have the capacity to help, I need to say no. When saying yes feels like a compromise in some way to who I am, I need to say no. Because for my no, there’s a ‘HELL, YEAH’ person waiting! And that’s the right person.
Saying 'no' models healthy boundaries to others. It also empowers others by offering an opportunity for them to help themselves and meet their own needs when they are infact able to.
So, in the words of Zammo, it's far from selfish to ‘just say no’. And yeah, it sounds like it should be simple, especially when pre-fixed with ‘just’. But you know, try it out, even once - to try it in for size. It might turn out that you like it..
Just because I cry, messily, I am no less strong nor courageous.
Just because I make mistakes, I am no less capable.
Just because I swear in frustration, I am no less focused nor calm.
Just because I get angry at injustice, I am no less loving.
Just because I laugh at frivolity, I am no less of a deep thinker.
Just because I defend my loved ones fiercely, I am no less able to see the others point of view.
Just because I say the wrong thing, I am no less caring of others.
Just because I fight your support, I am no less in need of it.
Just because I feel sad, I am no less full of happiness with my life.
I am all of these things - and more.
You are all of these things - and more.
We are all all of these things - and more.
We are a mix of so many emotions, and traits. It is the mix of all of these things that we are that makes us whole.
Living a happy life doesn’t mean always being happy or smiley. It’s not about being permanently pleasant and it’s certainly not about being liked by everyone.
In fact, if we try to squash down, smother, or hide those emotions that might be labelled ‘negative’ or somehow seen as less, then I can guarantee it is taking you away from feeling deep happiness.
Life is emotional. We are emotional. We’re made to feel life and to express that life.
Live life, feel life, express your life. And I’m the words of Renton ‘Choose Life’. Your full beautiful life
To collect your thoughts
To make space
To listen in
To connect with yourself
To face the next moment
To find choice
The tiny amount of time it takes us to stop and breathe, creates a vastness of opportunity.
In the pause for breath we come into, back to, ourself to check in with the moment. In that pause we can make a different choice that comes from our own knowing.
The pause that can help us to break destructive habits, put our own oxygen mask on first, or gather strength for the big grown up pants moments.
The pause that allows us to make decisions from our internal barometer.
The pause that calms to helps us wait or step back.
Or the pause that energises to help us do or step forward.
The infinitely vast yet microscopic moment of taking a breath can change everything. You don’t have to know how to breathe ‘right’, your body knows. YOU know.
But stop for that breath, for that tiny moment that maybe feels like forever if you’re used to reacting immediately.
No one notices.
But you will.
If I could only offer one piece of advice it would be this: stop for a breathe.
And if you still don’t know what to do, then stay for another.... the answers are in there.
For those of you who find it challenging to focus on your breath, if it’s triggering in anyway, then you can stop and notice the feel of the ground underneath you.
Trust yourself, when the time is right, you’ll find your breath.
The breathing practice below takes you through a layering of techniques that can help to calm and steady you.
When we’re more used to feeling ungrounded, unsteady or ungathered, taking a moment to ‘just breath’ can be seen a less accessible option. Instead we might react habitually and continue to reinforce behaviour patterns that aren’t necessarily the best ones for us.
BUT if we practice breathing techniques at times when we are feeling more resourced (at times when we already feel more stable and able), THEN these resources become more readily available to us at the time when we need them most. They’re in the tool kit for the moments when we don’t want to practice them, but we want to implement them!
Go easy on yourself, working through the layers as you are able to today.
‘Being grounded’, ‘get grounded’, ‘ground yourself’ are phrases that are banded about and it can, for some, be challenging to find grounding.
I always thought it was supposed to be so easy and simple and as someone who for a long time was programmed for vigilance and flight it really wasn’t!! It took me time, courage and support to gradually find some grounding, to feel safe there and eventually to welcome the sense of being grounded.
I say this incase anyone else, like me, is feeling they ‘should’ somehow be able to simply ground and feel good there.
It’s ok to find it challenging, but please also know that bit by bit you can understand how to ground yourself when you need it. My first starting point was getting out of my shoes regularly and bring barefoot.
Grounded means being present in your body, balanced, and steady in yourself and you can maintain this regardless of what’s going on around you. We ALL get ungrounded from time to time. So it’s good to know what helps you get back to that steady and balanced place.
Getting into nature, connecting with the actual ground can be helpful. As can lying on the floor, or taking shoes off and walking bare feet. We may have friends who can have a grounding influence on us (thank you to my friends who give me a reality check when I need it!)
And there may be other things unique to you that help to steady you.
When I’m ungrounded I tend to need more structure around me, and to choose easier options for a bit until I get my footing back. I also lie on the floor and let my body move with gravity (rather than against it, or resisting it) which helps me to come back to myself.
I've recorded a short video (12 mins) which offers some movements, cues, imagery to help navigate with gravity and experience grounding.
Our norm is what’s normal to us. Often clients tell me they didn’t know they were ‘holding themself up’ until they felt what it was to settle and ground. There’s a breath to be had when we come to ground; a letting go, a dropping in.
For many this is a blessed relief. So play with these moves, extend the time, slow, roll, and move from the bones.
Sometimes this need to be drip fed, bit by bit. A little like dipping your toe in a slightly too hot or too cold bath or pool, getting used to it gradually before fully stepping in. I invite you to watch the video and perhaps start with the first two moves if you feel able to.
2020 has truly taught me to go with the flow and to move with it, rather than against it.
I’m historically a planner, a forward thinker and a ‘pre-empter’. I like to know what might come up, what might be ahead so that I don’t get any unwelcome surprises. Control has been an issue for me in the past. I’ve actively had to work at letting myself be spontaneous - which has caused many a hilarious moment in my family
It’s easier now, but I’ve still gravitated toward ‘what might be’ as my more comfortable place, rather than risk what I perceive could be a potential chaos of choosing ‘what will be’.
And then 2020 threw my guise of control up in the air and threw it all about! Nothing has been predictable, plans have had to adapt at the last minute and holding onto what I had planned for 2020 seemed the most ridiculous thing ever.
But relinquishing all that control, and yes ‘going with the flow’ has been so enriching for me. Truly utterly one of the best things I’ve done!
My long term companion ‘Anxiety’ has left and I’m not missing it! I am sleeping. Finally. I consistently sleep through the night. And I can make clearer decisions in the moment, and healthier ones.
Before I would liken myself to a duck - looks all calm on the surface, but the feet are paddling furiously to move forward against the waves. Now I’m feeling more dolphin-like as I go with the waves and have fun playing in them.
I’m slowly taking time to get used to flowing with my skills, experiences and my own needs for my working life. It’s taking a bit of a leap of faith to see where that takes me and who joins me on the ride. But it’s a truer ride, and there’s definitely more fun involved. More surfing and less crashing!
And I actually HAVE signed up for a surf class. Spontaneously, I just booked it. Seems so appropriate really
Please enjoy the following movement practice (8.5 mins) to help the lymphatic system flow and gently shift lethargic energy.
Despite distancing and limitations, I’ve made connections I wouldn’t otherwise have made this last 9 months. In so many ways I’m convinced that my connections now are better that they were a year ago.
‘Disconnect’ has been taunting us, but the need to connect is hard-wired into us & we seek it as part of our survival system.
As my business quickly had to pivot and adapt I sought support from an online coached group (from all over the world). For the last 9 months we’ve shared, cried, fretted, celebrated and metaphorically held each other through the rollercoaster.
I’ve also felt aligned to people I know only through social media yet I know we could have an easy conversation over a cuppa sometime.
I have never met these people, yet I feel the connection.
My work has pretty much been online throughout this time.
And with a job that has connection at the heart of it, I’ve had to find new words and actions to maintain that connect between us. I am a better therapist & teacher as a result.
In my friendships, my inner circle hold me stronger, as I them. We can drop a text or pick up the phone knowing that we might have nothing to say, coz nothings going on, yet even on the phone or on text we can stay with that place of ‘i don’t have anything to say but I want to connect with you’.
As a family, we’ve become better at saying what we feel & how much we mean to each other. Or maybe we’ve become less lazy at it!
It turns out my hubby and I can be with each other literally 24/7 and still find new nuances in our relationship & new ways of having a laugh.
And FOR SURE this last 9 months my connection with myself has deepened. As distractions and coping methods have been stripped away I’ve sat with fears, anxieties & uncomfortableness that I’d preferred not to. But I have, and in doing so I’ve discovered strengths - and limitations - within myself that I’d never have otherwise found. I know myself better than ever and I love myself with less judgement.
Somehow in amongst some inevitable disconnection and detaching I’ve found more true personal connections. And I can also acknowledge the global connection that we ALL have in living through 2020.
I long ago gave up setting resolutions for a new year, but I do like to start it with some conscious intention. To help me do that I usually reflect on the year that has been but with this being the year of years (!) I wanted to keep it simple. So I went with five lists of 5 things! They are:
5 things that I am grateful for in 2020
5 things that probably wouldn’t have happened this year without the pandemic
5 things that I was sad about in 2020
5 things that gave me joy in 2020
5 words (my intentions) for 2021
If you like to reflect back too then they might help as a guide.
Here are my lists
5 things that I am grateful for in 2020
1. Best friends: For keeping each other jovial, holding each other’s tears, kicking up the proverbial every so often and knowing just what to say when.
2. Technology: I can be guilty of slamming technology, but where on earth would we have been this year without it!
3. Nature: For having fields and trees and countryside on my doorstep and for teaching me the cyclical nature of everything
4. Books: I eventually picked up on the unread books on the shelves and then some. I can’t imagine a evening without reading now
5. Sleep: When lockdown came, I started to sleep through the night for the first time in years. I think I finally gave up trying to control everything that I couldn’t!
5 things that probably wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic
1. Writing: I had a strong sense in March that I needed to write weekly to my email list to send out positive vibes. The writing evolved, I started a daily writing habit, I joined a writing group. I now call myself a writer and am working on ‘stuff’
2. Homeworking: I’ve been wanting to work form home for 2-3 years now and while I dipped my toe in the water, I hadn’t really fully committed to it. Well now I am!
3. Online Classes: Both teaching and participating! I’d never have thought of teaching online, but it now makes so much sense and is now part of my long term business model. Online classes have also allowed me to ‘go’ to classes and trainings from other teachers all over the world.
4. Walks with my husband: a need to just get it of the house has left us with a regular walk habit where we catch up with each other and take in the joys of the countryside around us. I cherish these walks
5. Appreciation of what’s actually important: Honestly, I reckon without this year I probably wouldn’t have appreciated what and who keeps the country going, how important community is, how little words make a big difference and how the busy-ness of life can get in the way of seeing the real stuff of life
5 things that I was sad about in 2020:
1. My brother and sister-in-law split up after 30 years together. I didn’t see it coming and I cried for days.
2. One of my best friends experienced an acute and serious deterioration in her mental health. She’s still not well but she is now getting support she needs
3. Clashes in values around how we all interpreted limitations and some of the divisiveness that came from that
4. Foodbanks, poverty, businesses going under, businesses hanging on for dear life
5. Not being able to hug
5 things that gave me joy in 2020:
1. Dancing - in the kitchen, in the supermarket, anywhere really!
2. Box sets in the evening - in particular ‘Schitts Creek’.
3. Being outdoors - every single damn day
4. Walks with friends
5. Growing my hair long again and faffing about with updos, plaits and accessories
5 words that I’m taking into 2021:
The issue of 'form' has come up several times this last week or so when working with clients. And it’s been mulling about as a concept for me as I’ve been doing my own practice.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase ‘I want to know I’m doing it right’ over the years. And certainly way back in the beginning of my time as a movement practitioner I also wanted to make sure my clients were doing it right. I looked at their shape, their position, their symmetry and what I believed to be the best form in the movements we were practicing. My head hurt. I was analysing, thinking and focused on what wasn’t right, so I could help them to ‘get it right’. And I was constantly disillusioned with my own lack of ‘good form’ no matter how hard I tried.
I'm not exactly sure when it was, other than a good few years ago now, but I realised I wasn’t seeing the bigger picture. I wasn’t seeing all the GOOD movement that was going on. And I wasn’t building the support that I was giving clients around that - as I could have been! I threw the rule book out, and instead kept concepts, connections, guidelines about what ‘good’ movement is.
I’m not going to lie - that wasn’t an easy direction take. I questioned so much of my training. I drifted massively from my association of being a pilates practitioner (and I’m not sure I’ve ever integrated it back in). But the more I studied psychotherapeutic and other somatic practices the less I could believe in there ever being a ‘correct’ form.
We are all as unique in our anatomy and movement patterns, as snowflakes are from each other. We are each formed by our DNA, our early physical and emotional development, our experiences, our beliefs, our personality, our environment, our interactions.
How can there EVER be ONE right posture, version of a pose or movement??
And yet, somewhere and at sometime ‘they’ decided there was. (I have no idea who ‘they’ are either!!)
So we learn to lack trust in our own ability to FEEL form. We get caught in the visual of what it might look like & seek confirmation we got it right - even if it means overcompensation, lack of easy breath, increased tension and it feels painful!
Yet, we ultimately know better than anyone when form feels right - in the same way that we know when a jacket doesn’t fit (or maybe it does but we know it’s ‘just not me’).
I get that if you’ve never known how to feel the best form for you then how can you know? And I guess that’s where I come in... i’m not here to contort you into a version of yourself that you can’t do life as! I’m here to help you do YOU! To feel how YOU stand, sit, bend, walk, run, jump, do cartwheels (if you wish).
And we both know it when it’s ‘right’ for you! I see it, yes, but not as a text book symmetrical posture or movement. I see it as an ease in how you breath, or hold yourself. I see it in the brightness of your skin and the lightness in your energy. I also in my own way FEEL when your form is right for you. I’ve learnt to trust that as being gut feel and intuition.
Someone this week called it ‘magic’, someone else called it ‘weird shit - good weird shit’. To me it’s the thing that happens when we stop trying to conform and fit into shapes that suppress who we are. And instead explore who we are and our own unique form.
I miss hugs. My arms ache for them. I miss giving them and I miss receiving them. My heart feels a little bit less full, a little bit sadder, for not giving out the hugs that I now realise 8 months ago I was offering out several times a day.
While I know I’m missing the sharing of the feel good hormone ‘oxytocin’ that we get from hugs, it feels more. I miss showing my love. I try to smile more from my eyes, I animate my face differently and I’m conscious that I’m now verbalising my hug to friends by telling them how happy I am to see them. These all feel really positive new strategies and yet, my arms feel the undispersed energy of ungiven hugs.
Our arms could be said to be our first source of expression. In utero, our arms developed before our legs. And they originate from our heart, which was beating and developing before our brain was even on the horizon. Watching the video below of embryo development, it looks to me like the arms express out from the heart and around the body in a big hug. A huge big hug from the heart saying ‘here I am’!
It makes sense to me now how much our arms are an expression of our heart.
Notice when someone talks passionately how much they use their arms to add more vigour and depth to their subject. The expression of grief as arms wring or lift upwards or hug around ourself to somehow hold the loss. And the opening of the arms in a hug to express our love in a way that words cannot.
In so many ways this year we have lost that expression of our arms, whether we are conscious of it or not. We spend even more time on technology working away with great finger dexterity, but keeping our arms quite close in to our body and expressing through our gadgets rather than with our body. And of course, we’re socially distancing, less able to hug, or offer out a gesturing touch or hold to show that we care. We can’t dance together with arms above our heads or around our space connecting with others through our dance.
I wasn’t always a hugger. I’d class myself as ‘arm-shy’ for many many years. It felt too vulnerable, too exposing. I see now I was protecting my heart. Through my training as a movement therapist I began slowly, first some gentle pushing and pulling and then a little swing here and there, and finally I found fully expressive hugs that I could sink into and fully hold. And now I really miss that.
So imagine my joy yesterday when my fellow therapist, Michelle, and I were both seeing clients in TRC Edinburgh at the same time and she had an idea! It was the first time we’d seen each other in person since February and the unhugged hug was palpable. So, she asked me to take 2 big cushions from the couch, as she did the same. She gave her two cushions a huge big bear hug. She gestured for me to do the same. “Caroline, I’m so so happy to see you. It’s so good to hug you” she said as drew the cushion to her heart. “Oh Michelle, what a beautiful hug. I am so very happy to see you too” I said. We hugged our cushions and we felt the connection. I know I breathed a little bit fuller and my arms ached a little bit less for the instinctive interaction. Michelle, you are a genius!
So in this time when just maybe our heart needs our arms more than usual, what can we do to give it a bit of a lift:
1. Grab your cushions and hug them as you tell your friend how much you care - just like Michelle and I did.
2. Open your arms wide and air hug with the fullest expression your arms can offer
3. Place both hands on your heart and feel all the love from your heart flood into your arms and come back round to yourself. The circle of giving and receiving.
4. Stretch out in your space – reach out and lengthen your arms as much as you can, raise them above your head and let your heart breath fully.
5. Dance with the music on fully, Shake your arms, move them in all directions and let your heart express itself.
We will hug again. I look forward to when we do.
I am Caroline Toshack. Movement is my passion, my mirror, my creative source and outlet. I am a therapist, coach, educator, geek, yogi, mover and creative who loves getting muddy on her bike, running in the hills and having pyjama days.