Let go of letting go (and let rip)

  • By Jo Murphy
  • 29 Oct, 2016
The normal question is, “is this bad enough for me to have to change?” The question we should be asking is, “is this good enough for me to stay the same?” And the real question underneath it all is, “am I free?”

These words (by Laura McKowen ) stopped me in my tracks the other day. There’s so much noise about ‘embracing change’ (which I happily contribute to), but few are talking about what really counts in the game of letting go.

And it’s not necessarily freedom. It’s the necessity of attachment.

We have to hold onto something before we can let it go. You see, everything is relative – we cannot truly know a thing until we intimately know it’s opposite. How would we know, for example, if something felt ‘right’ unless we already knew what ‘wrong’ felt like?

Think of it as progressive muscle relaxation. Tense and release.

It’s this tension that brings us to the heart of the matter, since, with attachment, often comes anger. You know the feeling, when someone says quite earnestly that you need to let go, you just want to slap them.

But, contrary to popular belief, this is good. All good. Not the slapping, but the anger. We can work with anger. It drags us kicking and screaming out of our sense of powerlessness and into our power. This makes it a much more useful emotion than, say, apathy. It implies that you not only care, but you do so deeply.

This is why we mustn’t shy away from our shadows, as some self-helpers imply. We don’t rise above our baser emotions, because the rising only comes when we move through them.

Instead of letting it go, we need to let it come. That doesn’t mean sitting with it and allowing it to pass. It means moving with it. And letting it move through you.

I’m not saying go forth and stir up a shitstorm. I’m saying give it the requisite attention so you can direct it. Let it become a motivational force for good. Your feelings are indeed your power. And all of them are valid because life isn’t black and white . Sometimes we see red and that’s okay. It’s how we find our way.

According to Psychology Today, neuroscientists no longer class emotions as positive or negative, but classify them according to the motivational direction they provide. This means the way they stimulate us to avoid or confront things.

Anger becomes a powerful motivator, since it gets us closer to the things we want to eliminate or change. It’s an active refusal of what is. And, in this sense, actually shows us what to let go of.

Anger asks us to choose again. It gives us the language to engage with our emotional lives without waging war on someone else. So take your temper tantrum and ask it to tell you a story. Ask it some questions.

Why am I angry? Who is responsible for my anger? How did they hurt me? Is any of this true? What evidence do I have? What if the opposite were true? Am I responsible for the way I feel? Am I hurting myself with my own choices?

Anger alerts you to the story you’re living in. Moreover, it alerts you to the fact that you don’t have to live in it anymore. So watch what arises when you challenge the ideas that hurt you.

Chances are, the people or situations that rile you reflect something that angers you about yourself. This means your beef is with nobody but you. Anger is an indication of values being violated, especially for women . Often it tells a story of self-value being violated. And more often it boils down to overall self-violation. Whatever makes you mad is simply the mirror that shows you this.

Whatever is unfolding, you have allowed it to unfold. Be that a personal or professional situation that you feel diminishes you in some way. You’ve given external forces control over you, but anger helps you take it back.

Ask yourself this. Who have I become because of this situation or circumstance or person? Who could I become because of this situation or circumstance or person? You can turn powerlessness into power. With this comes freedom. You find the eye of the shitstorm.

Our rage leads us to peace because it drives us to seek and discover. If we stifled it, we’d stagnate. Our change muscles would atrophy and letting go would take on a whole new self-destructive direction.

Nietzsche puts it nicely: “One must still have chaos within oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” Indeed, our internal chaos is what connects us to a sense of something bigger and more important than whatever is in front of us.

And once we connect to this, then we can let go. It’s not so much a question of finding freedom in faith, but freedom in knowing yourself and your validity as a human being. No matter if a thing is bad enough to change or good enough to stay for, find freedom in your power to decide.

Let’s not pussyfoot around life.

By Jo Murphy 18 Jun, 2017
My friend's four-year-old daughter told me with all sincerity the other day that girls “can’t be in charge”. But boys can.

Oh shit, I thought, how can I show her otherwise?  

We’d been watching a cartoon about a team of male undersea explorers led by a male captain. Its aim, I’m sure, was to educate young minds about the wonders of nature. Only it’d been teaching this darling girl something quite different.

The men are in charge.

This cartoon is no exception to the rule. I’ve been paying close attention to the media available to young minds and the messages they convey. And the main takeaway, unsurprisingly, is the importance of traditional heterosexual ideals. In other words, boys will be boys while the girls vie for their approval. And this hurts all children , male and female.

Yes, quality parenting can expound equality, but we cannot control everything that children are exposed to. Nor should we hide them from the world. Instead we can change it for them.

We do so by deconstructing the ways we’re told boys get to have all the fun while girls look on... and so we come to patriarchy. I know, I know, I can hear you sigh. Patriarchy has become a catchall phrase for the blame mongers, a punch bag for those who feel hard done by. But attacking it does not serve our cause here simply because patriarchy isn’t outside us. It’s inside .

Patriarchy is a mindset. It’s the values, ideals and beliefs that have taken root in our collective psyche as human evolution has favoured the powerful – not just men, but the privileged and strong. We don’t just worship men and deride women, you see, we deride all weakness and difference.

Patriarchy isn’t just about male domination, but all forms of domination.

Take a look around. Within any relationship, personal and professional, there will be both a dominant and a submissive party – black, white, gay, straight, male, female. And the stronger party will inevitably be the (straight, white) male simply because the world is set up in a way that supports his (superficial) empowerment.

Okay, let’s take a breath. How did we get all the way over here from that cartoon? Simple. Patriarchy begins with something as innocent as a cartoon or a throwaway comment. This is how we plant the roots .

I’ll give you another example.

While strolling through the park this week I overheard a conversation between two teenage girls and a teenage boy. One of the girls said to the boy, jokingly , “are you watching porn already?” Cue much hilarity. Oh, how they laughed, like it was a fact of life that boys watch porn and girls accept it . I mean, WTF?

I don’t know if women watch porn because they like it or because they want to be cool. But I do know that women have been raised to accept the idea that the female body, the female person, is an object to be owned and oppressed.

But wait, you say, oppression is a word that can come off a little heavy; surely we’re all too progressive for that kind of thing? I’m afraid not. We’re way more regressive than we realise, merrily maintaining this system of oppression through our patriarchal relationships.

And we take our cues from the likes of pornography and children’s cartoons – apparent extremes – because they’re not only teaching us how to be male and female, but also how to interact as males and females. And they perpetuate patriarchal dualism that says the world is understood through binary categories – there is always an inferior and a superior, a strong and a weak.

Think about any relationship in which one person gives and the other gains. The heterosexual ideal tells us women do the giving because females are wired to nurture others , right? And yet, if we’re programmed to submit to and care for others, how is it that we don’t know how to do these things for ourselves?

Girls, it seems, are growing up with the belief that someone else will lead them, decide for them, and validate their existence. And we women were once those girls, which is why I see so many of us relinquishing our agency, our power of self-definition, in the name of relationship.

We constantly seek approval from whomever we believe holds the power – so that would be the men since we live in a world of (male) domination. But patriarchy hurts the boys too because it defines masculinity in such narrow terms. It asks them to step up even if they don’t want to.

Talk about pressure.

This oppressor / oppressed paradigm is hurting everyone . So how do we kick it into touch? Whatever is manifesting in our outer lives is simply a projection of the inner life. Okay, let’s start there. Even better, let’s start with the inner child.

There’s a part of us that just wants to be loved . But we simply won’t allow for it because humans can be silly like that, believing it to be a sign of weakness, neediness. So the inner child becomes the submissive, we become both the oppressor and the oppressed, and the relationships we have with ourselves become as patriarchal as any other.

We’re constantly critiquing and bullying ourselves, serving ultimatums and denying our inner child’s full development and expression. But love can never take root in a relationship based on domination and coercion, which is why we have such a hard time walking the long road from self-loathing to self-loving.

But we will never truly grow up into self-identified adults until we walk that road and tend to that child within – until we stop projecting our inner pain onto our outer lives, protecting our most private selves with public shows of one-upmanship.

This, my friends, is why we have a responsibility to be kinder to each other, to look after each other better, by first being kinder to ourselves. Mutually beneficial relationships may be built on mutual respect for the individual, but respect for the individual begins with the individual.

So take a look at the ways you relate to yourself and answer me this, when was the last time you did something kind for yourself? When was the last time you spoke kind words to yourself? When was the last time you were gentle with yourself? Oh my, why is this self-love stuff so hard ?

All I know is that it’s not impossible. In a recent moment of panic and pain I made the bold decision to mute my inner bitch and ask myself, what would I want mum to say to me right now? Even better, what would I say to her in her moment of panic and pain?

And then I let the kind words flow.

My recovery was quick. All it had taken was that moment of acknowledgement and gentleness. There was no right or wrong, weak or strong, no binary categorisation, just a parent loving and caring for her child.

So maybe we all need to become the mothers and big sisters and aunties we long for. Maybe we need to raise ourselves to become the female leaders, the female role models we crave. The ones who can change the world. And we do this through mutuality, not domination. Only then will the cartoons (and the porn) tell a different story.

By Jo Murphy 02 Jun, 2017
I once followed a man half way around the world because I thought it would please him. I followed him all the way to the top of a mountain where it actually pleased him to try to end his life. He survived. So we parted ways and I came home to deal with a life-threatening issue of my own.

It’s called co-dependency.

The nuts and bolts of this particular relationship were complex to say the least, but my main takeaway was crystal clear. I was addicted to pleasing people, not just the men in my life, but everyone. And my addiction had been life long. I didn’t have the first clue how to please myself, and any attempt to do so was followed by self-recrimination for being, you know, selfish .

So what about the nuts and bolts of co-dependency? Does it make us selfless ? The experts tell us it’s an excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner who needs a lot of support. Typically this partner will have an addiction. And so the co-dependent is addicted to pleasing the addict. More than that, they gain a sense of worth and identity from being wanted and needed.

Fine, you say, but what’s this got to do with me? Well, my friends, I fear that co-dependency is becoming a modern epidemic. Consider this. It’s often not that far of a leap from being easy going, the cool girl , to being downright passive.

And there’s a fine line between accommodating and over-accommodating.

But being co-dependent isn’t all about boy meets girl; girl dotes on boy. The vast majority of us are fixing for it. Yes, society is certainly set up to support female submissiveness – it has been for centuries – but the truth is we’re all being conditioned to indulge in mutual co-dependency. While the experts tell us it’s a learned behaviour passed on by parents, it’s not the parents doing the passing.

We’re all teaching each other day in, day out to have an excessive emotional and psychological reliance on a sociocultural system that requires conformity above all else.

Take a look around. Notice the ways in which we consciously behave. These are also the ways that make us self-conscious – as if we were looking at ourselves from the outside in. We want to know that we’re doing it right, saying it right and wearing it well. And this pull of conformity impacts every choice we make from relationships to jobs to, well, life in general .

Our very real, very human need to be accepted and liked means we’re always trying to please someone somewhere. We want to be wanted. And so our conformity is tantamount to co-dependency.

We want to belong, of course we do, but here’s the rub: we must belong to ourselves first and foremost.

Let me explain.

Imagine life as a sliding scale. On the one side you have the individual experience. On the other side you have the shared experience. Ideally we move up and down that scale, compensating as necessary  without overcompensating . But co-dependency, and the pull of conformity, prevents us from doing so. It’s like a barricade.

If you depend on something outside of yourself – a person, a system – for your sense of identity and worth, then your dependence builds the barrier. You’re asking this person, this system, to deliver something they cannot. And when they don’t deliver you can neither connect with them nor yourself.

While we look to others, to our peers, to our social feeds for inspiration, we will never know what is uniquely ours to bring to the world. While we may actually want to live in the service of others, we cannot give of ourselves until we know who or what it is that we’re giving.

And so it follows that we can know nothing of the shared experience until we get up close and personal with the individual. Great, you say, now how do we dismantle the barriers we’ve built between the two?

We do it from the inside out. We dig them up by the roots . We burn our allegiance to a culture, a system that tells us who and how to be. And we start making those decisions ourselves.

We become independent.

Now, our independence is something that we can cultivate in each moment. And each moment is an opportunity to choose differently, to see things differently. We simply use the contrast between what’s going on outside of us and what’s going on inside of us to craft the pertinent questions.

Why do I spend time with these people? How do they make me feel? How do I want to feel? What do I want from this relationship, this situation? Where is it taking me? Where do I want to go? What can I do to change this?

Whatever the situation or circumstance of your life, it provides fertile ground for self-discovery. This doesn’t mean hours of naval gazing, it simply requires that we become conscious in new and different ways. That we become self-conscious in new and different ways. We start looking at things from the inside out.

This is how we build the foundations of lasting and mutually satisfying relationships. This is how we marry the individual experience with the shared. When we remove the barriers of dependence, we can interact with each other in new and different ways. In fact, we begin to see each other’s difference as a gift.

Conformity, be damned.

Our contrast becomes our point of reference. It’s how we know who we are. And so the point at which we separate ourselves is also the point at which we identify ourselves. Therefore the point of identification also becomes the point of reconciliation – it’s where we meet on that sliding scale.

When we build relationships upon mutual respect for the individual, we can build wider networks based on the same. This is how we create a whole new culture, a whole new system that cannot exist without all its parts – even if each of those parts is separate and unique.

So slide away my friends, up and down that scale. And remember that whatever the situation or circumstance of your life, you are both a part and apart .

And that’s okay.


By Jo Murphy 12 May, 2017
I’m in a taxi bound for the station. A train waits to take me to Rome. The sky is grey and Mika plays on the radio. I have a flashback to another taxi ride two years ago. I’m headed to Colombo airport, bound for Delhi. The sky is blue and Mika plays on the radio.

Time has collapsed.

These experiences may be years and miles apart, but the feeling they incite is the same. I know it intimately, this sense of simultaneous excitement and disquiet. Change is coming and it’s unsettling, yes, but it’s also deeply regenerative.

The greatest disparity between these two pictures, however, is me.

There’s a chasm between the girl I was and the woman I’ve become. Sometimes I look back at that girl and admire her tenacity, but I also knew her pain. And I know it’s her chaotic journey to womanhood that’s taught me to love this in-between space where both departure and arrival are imminent.

We’re always in transition physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, but travel intensifies this sense of momentum, of endless new beginnings. It’s a process of growing up. So my nostalgia affords me a reminder that without life’s flux we’d atrophy physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.

As the taxi moves through the traffic, I consider the way I left London three years ago. I knew what I was turning away from, but hadn’t a clue what I was turning towards. While it was prime circumstance to turn towards myself, I was far too preoccupied with running away.

While I’d happily leapt, I didn’t want to land.

More than that, part of me fought like fury to resist all that was changing, recklessly grasping at passing relationships as a grounding mechanism, relying on others to lead the way, doing most anything to shirk responsibility for my journey.

I’d not yet truly departed from my former life, which meant that anything new I desired was little more than a pipe dream. The irony was that I’d unknowingly catapulted myself into a highly unstable, but highly creative space, which I now know to be chaos – a word (and concept) that makes us twitchy.

If we trace its etymology back to classical Greek we discover the origins of chaos in ‘chasm’ or ‘void’. Better still, Hellenistic mythology tells us that chaos was a primeval state of existence, the blank canvas upon which the universe was painted. So if chaos refers to something that’s not yet formed, it grants us great opportunities for creation as well as destruction.

Chaos is pure potential.

Yet still we fear it. Anything without defining parameters confuses us. We’ve no means of measuring, classifying, ranking, of knowing a thing without form. Just like that girl gallivanting across Asia didn’t know herself.

I was simultaneously running from and craving all that was measurable, definable and knowable. I was falling unconsciously into chaos, resisting the process, which led to knee-jerk planning and overspending as overcompensation for all I could not control.

Fast-forward to today, however, and I now thrive on the chaos, choosing to fall into it consciously . I’ve learnt to recognise when it’s time to leave , and to properly grieve whatever is passing, before painting new beginnings with very broad brushstrokes. I have faith in the process of destruction before (re)creation.

So what changed? How did I get from that place to this one? How did something highly reactive metamorphose into something deeply creative? It did so when I finally understood how the relationship between that girl and this woman was rooted in chaos.

Chaos was the bridge.

And so it goes. However much we want to move from one place to another we simply can’t if we bypass the bridge. And since we worship continuity, bypassing anything that threatens it is the easy choice. We expect change to be preassembled and delivered next day. But life doesn’t work like that.

Chaos is the natural order of things.

Whatever you’re ending and whatever you wish to begin, know there’s a world of mess that needs to be experienced between the two. Consider it your wintertime , the necessary pause before creation springs forth from the mulch.

Full immersion in chaos is what grants us full liberation from the past and full access to the future. It’s where we collapse time. It’s where we learn to love whatever we’re leaving behind ( like I learnt to love that girl ) and harvest it for the seeds of something better.

And this is why travel for me is no longer about escaping but decontextualizing . It’s an essential deconstruction of any routine that breeds dependence on continuity. It’s a way of strengthening my change muscles. But you don’t have to travel to do the same. The chaos metaphor stands wherever you are since life has a way of throwing curveballs whenever you get too comfortable.

So while you may tell me you’re happy as you are and you’ve no desire to change, take care not to atrophy, my friends. If you’re not moving forwards, you’re most certainly drifting backwards.

But if you are ready to leap, know that chaos will always catch you.

By Jo Murphy 21 Apr, 2017
I’m sitting on a marble bench. In front of me stands the Taj Mahal, magnificent, symmetrical. The serenity of the place astounds despite how many of us clamour for the money shot, the memory.

But this moment, and the memory I’m making, has been interrupted.

Next to me sits my ‘guide’, a man with verbal diarrhoea. I’m not sure if he’s visited the Taj so often it’s old news to him. I’m not even sure if he’s aware of his trespass. I am certain, however, that he doesn’t care.

Nevermind the magnificence in front of me, this man insists on talking about himself . Nonstop. And then out come the photos of his wife and daughter. He’s also sitting a little closer than is necessary, breathing his lunch all over me.

I nod, smile and feign interest – my learned co-dependency allows me to coo at the picture, to let him know that I’m okay with his intrusion. But I’m not okay with it, really not okay at all . Beneath the benign smile my fury simmers. Yet my enduring silence grants him permission to continue. I consider filing a complaint after the event .

If I were a man, I wonder, would he encroach on me in this way? Would he pour his narcissism all over me? Would he be so comfortable stealing this memory I’m making, which should be mine and mine alone?

But I don’t have answers to these questions since there’s too much cultural disparity at play. Instead I reach the conclusion that I have led this man on with my niceness, with my need to please. My lack of objection or resistance has signalled to him that I’m okay with this situation. Ergo the situation is my fault .

And there it is.

What do I expect as a white woman travelling solo? It’s my first trip to India, after all, and I’m just learning the do’s and don’t’s. I’m deposited daily at my hotel and told not to leave until a chaperone returns. I wait for hours, obediently, watching others come and go at whim. This is no adventure .

But nobody is holding me prisoner other than myself. I may have taken this trip as an act of a rebellion against the stuffy old prejudices I’d grown up with, but somehow I’m still being the good girl . Despite my efforts to reject beliefs that don’t belong to me, a system I don’t buy into, I’ve dragged it 5,000 miles across the globe with me.

And so it goes.

No matter how badly we want to change a thing, or a belief, we can’t until we burn our allegiance to it. Simply denouncing something just won’t do. Instead we have to dig it up by the roots, to excavate whatever exists at a subconscious level. Likely it’s a belief system we’ve grown up within, which means it’s also grown up inside of us.

So why tell you this story?

Because, in hindsight, I see how this was one of many events that seeded my coming out. One of many happenings over the course of my 30 plus years – both large and small – that finally broke my allegiance to the old system.

This coming out I speak of wasn’t so much an event but an evolution, an emerging clarity. It was something that I’d not been able to articulate for a long time, until I could: I am a feminist .

And there it is.

So what, you say. Here’s what. Feminism burns beliefs – it burns barriers to fairness, respect and empathy – not bras. It’s the complete opposite of the masculine system currently holding us in place – one that’s built on apathy, fear and prejudice.

It’s not about putting women first, or any minority above the majority, but pitching everyone at the same level. It’s about redressing the balance all around. And so feminism strikes a chord with me as a women and a human .

For me it’s not academic or angry, it’s a response to my accumulated experience, my ongoing observation of the ways in which we hurt ourselves. It’s a feeling that’s been with me for a long time, but I’ve only just discovered its name. And, being human, I like to label things.

Ironic how it took a label to help me look beneath all the other labels.

Feminism has helped me to understand what I misunderstood about myself – to put my puzzle together , to understand where, why and how I didn’t fit in. It’s allowed me to dismantle difficult and self-destructive beliefs, to make sense of personal dilemmas, as well as the bigger picture stuff.

Most of all, feminism helps me understand how and why change is both necessary and possible.

Take that day at the Taj, for example, where I sat festering and fuming. I was nigh on terrified of that man’s disapproval. Nevermind that he displeased me, I couldn’t bare not to please him because I (like so many of us) had internalised our world's need for co-dependence and conformity.

If we don’t play by the rules of the system we imagine all kinds of rejection, which is why we act in ways that protect ourselves. We’re so engrossed in the business of self-defence that we imagine attack where there is none.

And when we make enemies out of everyone, we undermine our shared experience, expression and growth as both men and women.

That’s why feminism doesn’t just address women’s problems, but human problems. It’s as diverse as the diversity it asks us to embrace.

Which brings us back to India, a country I’ve visited many times, alone and un-chaperoned, since that day at the Taj. It’s the place that opened my heart and mind in ways I could not have foreseen. It’s the place that finally broke my allegiance to the system (and broke me, but that’s another story for another day).

Once broken, however, I could rebuild something different, but not necessarily new. It’s not that feminism is old news so much as the majority understanding of it is. The f word is still too out there for many, but this resistance tells me it has something of value to offer.

Anything that makes us uncomfortable, that challenges the norm, also enhances our shared experience, expression and growth as both men and women.

I’m told repeatedly that gender is irrelevant in today’s post-feminist world. Does that mean race and colour are also a non-issue, or sexual and religious preference? Feminism says no, fuck the rulebook, and asks us instead to embrace the necessity and beauty of difference and diversity.

I’ve been a long-time advocate for self-expression, for encouraging people to find the freedom within themselves to be themselves, but this takes it to a new level. It’s a rally cry, really, change doesn’t just get delivered alongside your organic veggie box. Yep, I’m gonna say it folks, we have to be it .

Let’s do this. Who's with me? 

By Jo Murphy 07 Apr, 2017
In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act…

Self-helping was my religion for a long while. I didn’t read a work of fiction for many years (odd for a writer, no?). But I’d been mainlining mind, body, spirit… books on mindful living, goal setting, desire mapping, tapping, how to get everything you want, how to want nothing at all…

Self- mastery.

Then, one day, I stopped. And the penny dropped. I hadn’t been self-helping so much as self-doubting. Yes, I’d evolved along with the reading list, but for the most part I’d been seeking help I didn’t actually need.

I’d consumed one book after another, barely pausing to digest each new discovery. My books had become an FMCG. The more I consumed, the more I thought I needed…

Sound familiar?

When we behave like this we’re fixing to be fixed. We’re actively looking for evidence that part of us is broken or missing. And so self-help becomes another big stick we can beat ourselves with. It is, to some degree, a perfectionist’s poison.

And yet perfectionism is one of the greatest oppressors of our time, as Brené  writes: “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving for excellence. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is a defensive move. It’s the belief that if we do things perfectly and look perfect, we can minimise or avoid the pain of blame, judgement and shame.”

Ouch.

No wonder self-help can devolve into self-doubt. Life-optimization demands that we leave no stone unturned. Am I doing it right, we wonder, am I doing it wrong? But the better question to ask is what’s your motivation?

Why do you think you need help?

In the same way the beauty and diet industries reinforce our insecurities, so the wrong kind of self-help can do the same. Diets fix our bodies. Miracle creams fix our faces. But what’s our worth without the products that promise to perfect us from the outside in?

We have to wake up to this toxic drip feed that tells us we’re not enough.

No matter the product for sale, we’re fed the lie that happiness only comes when we’re fixed, when we’ve found the missing piece. It’s the mass marketing machine at play, offering the solution to our pain points. But what if the machine itself were the point of pain?

I’ve noticed how mention of self-help causes people to recoil in the same way mention of feminism does. Both inspire a desire to get away from the socially awkward or angry. We don’t want to be around people who ask difficult questions, who challenge the status quo, who object to the machine.

But this is the purest form of self-help.

Andrea Dworkin  says: “Many women, I think, resist feminism because it is agony to be fully conscious of the brutal misogyny which permeates culture, society, and all personal relationships.”

Ouch once again…

And since I’m framing this as a cautionary tale of self-help, the term ‘misogyny’ can be replaced with any ism or phobia that criminalizes those (man or woman) who challenge our cultural or social 'ideals'. It’s this brutality that’s making us all a little socially awkward and angry. It's causing the pain.

But pointing the finger of blame is not the solution here (or anywhere). Instead we have to understand the part we have played in fuelling the machine. We have to ask ourselves if, when and how we have bought wholesale into this vital lie? And what could we believe instead?

You’re not broken. You’re not a problem that needs a solution. You’re simply a puzzle. And all the pieces fit.

More than that, none of them are missing. But to understand this we must first see where our personal puzzles do and do not fit into the bigger one. It’s the only way we’ll see the cultural conditioning at play. How we’ve internalized ideas and ideals that don’t belong to us. How we’ve placed value on things that don’t really matter.

The beauty myth has become the inner beauty myth.

We need to be more discerning. To have greater awareness of the environment in which we’re trying to fix ourselves or find our missing piece. We need to wise up to the cultural puzzle we’re trying to fit into. At first it seems like the odds are stacked against us. But on closer inspection we realise that the power lies in the hands of the consumer. It lies with us.

Cultural awareness brings self-awareness, the very essence of self-help.

When you separate the personal self from the cultural self – the person you really are as opposed to the person you think you should be – you’re free to choose how you help yourself. You’re free to put your puzzle together any which way you like.

You begin to understand how the pieces got so mixed up. You begin to understand how you’ve been deceived. You begin to understand how you’ve been deceiving yourself.

When we’re all free from the cultural lie of inadequacy we can make better decisions, individually and collectively. We can see that our own puzzles don’t need fixing, but the bigger one does. We’re the pieces that will make it right.

And so self-help becomes the collective act that allows us all to profit from our rebellion... 
By Jo Murphy 19 Mar, 2017
Sometimes you have to break down before you can break through.

If something breaks down – a system or relationship for example – it’s simply a signal that the system or relationship in question is no longer working.

Okay, no problem. If something’s broken you can always fix it.

Or you can build something completely new in its place. This is often the better option (in my experience) since the more you try to fix things that don’t want fixing the more they break.

Now let’s look at the nature of the breakdown.

We assume it’s nervous, tight with depression or anxiety. This isn’t so. Breakdowns are as diverse as we are. They’re designed to serve a specific person in a specific set of circumstances. They’re designed to show you a way out of those circumstances. Which is why they’re always temporary.

Martha  tells us, “for anything new to be born, the existing arrangement of particles and situations must die.”

By ‘die’ she means ‘break down’. And yet it all sounds so melodramatic. What if you don’t want something new? What if you’re A-Okay? But what if you’re not and you just don’t know it?

Like me.

One month ago I was going at life, hard. I’d declared this the easiest year yet and pushed on with no thought for anything but work, until I worked myself right into the arms of a nasty virus.

Goddess bless the wisdom of our bodies.

While my head was saying go, my gut was saying stop. I was out there in the world, teaching women to do the very thing I wasn’t doing. And in them I saw myself over and over again, as they tried to circumvent themselves by keeping busy.

More than that, in my enthusiasm to do the good work I’d let my beloved book project stall. That didn’t matter, I told myself, there was a world to change, one woman at a time. Yet the foundation of this work is in the writing, since that’s how I come home to myself. And I hadn’t been there in a while.

When I write, whatever needs to move through me moves… ideas, emotions, life… but I wasn’t writing, so nothing was moving. Things got stuck and started to stagnate, morphing into that nasty virus.

It was killing off and recreating my existing arrangement of particles.

So I made more space in my diary for the things that make space in my soul. And I made a new website (nice, isn't it?). We like neat, tidy, tangible solutions. But my body knew it ran deeper. Call it intuition, call it an inner compass, we all have one. But few of us follow it.

It’s that ol’ double bind of the mind.

Masculine (ego, action man, thinks thinking is best, but doing is even better, likes consistency, loves control) meets feminine (liminal, a little woo, has an issue with authority, intuits a lot, doesn’t do logic, feels her way).

Bur our bullyboy egos don’t just dominate our minds. We also live in a world – an arrangement of particles and situations – that supports his domination. What’s going on in our heads is simply an internalised version of what’s happening around us.

We struggle to give the feminine the floor because we still associate her with passivity.

We’re still working to recondition the conditioning passed on by our parents, grandparents, great grandparents – the generations upon generations in which we told woman she was secondary, submissive, subservient.

Feminine energy is receptive and flowing, for sure, but not without her own power. Her passivity, when misunderstood, becomes an impasse. But her passivity, when understood, becomes the breakthrough.

It doesn’t mean submit to the outside world, to the falsehoods of following others. Instead she calls for submission to our inner world, where we find, feel and follow our own truth. It’s simply a question of non-resistance.

Don’t fight who you are.

Think of it this way. We’ve insisted for so long that the feminine (aka our inner and emotional worlds) keeps quiet, it’s no wonder she occasionally blows her top. But we can’t handle all that Freudian hysteria; it’s just too messy.

And it’s only going to get messier.

A human being can only take so much oppression before they bite back. And we’re the ones subjecting ourselves to self-oppression . We think we’ve better things to do than emote.

Because, you know, emoting is women’s work and while we’re all striving for equality (to be like men), we’d best not let the side down by crying.

By not permitting the full expression of the feminine – men and women – we’re actually denying ourselves full expression of our humanity. She’s within us all, this wild and wise woman. She’s the one steering our compass. She’s the full driving force behind any breakdown. And that’s why a breakthrough will inevitably follow.

When you allow her to speak, feminine passivity becomes plasticity. Like nature we learn to evolve , to kill off what’s no longer needed.

So let your feelings become a source of forward motion rather than fear. And know that however these passions unfold, they are all atoned by compassion.

“Com” means togetherness. It’s like one big continuum. She’s at one end and he’s at the other. We feel at one end and think at the other. Everything in between is an expression of the strength of their relationship. It’s a meeting of mind, body and soul, of masculine and feminine, of man and woman… this continuum is your full range.

And if all passions are atoned by compassion then all difference is atoned by the same.

Now let’s get back to that breakdown and that woman on the verge... 

She’s actually the one who can save us all since she lives within us all. So, next time you have a wobble, know that it’s worth investigating. Follow her lead… if we all keep breaking down our existing arrangement of particles and situations we can create something new.

We can break through together.

By Jo Murphy 18 Jan, 2017
I'm calling a timeout on 2017.

Truth be known, the year hasn't really got going for me yet. I'm sliding slowly and intentionally into it. 

Easy does it.

Yes, we may be careering through this first month, but stress not my dears, we have 11 more to come. So, ditch the diet, I say, and scrap the goals. Put your feet up instead and read on…

Rest is part of our natural cycle and right now is a time for recalibration and revaluation. That means we’re not necessarily preparing for what’s to come, but we’re looking more closely at what’s already here.

You see, this go-slow isn’t just about doing less, but becoming more intentional about what we actually do. It’s not about conserving energy, but investing it better.

It’s not all about motivation, but inspiration.

When gleaned from the outside, motivation becomes obligation, an echo of somebody else’s standards. But when it comes from within, it’s inspired, an echo of your deepest desires – it tells of your inner compass, which is needed now more than ever, since these are precarious times.

The urgency of the New Year can pull us out of ourselves. At best, it calls us to explore our desires. At worst, it leads to feelings of anxiety and insecurity. And that’s why I’m asking you to go against the grain.

You don’t need to step up your game, you need to step into yourself. Go on, give up those resolutions and give in to yourself instead.

I see so many of us forcing our way through January by being good , most likely comparing and despairing en route. While envy can be advantageous , comparison is devastatingly destructive, especially for those who remain loyal to the heavily masculine way of things (men and women alike).

We’re living in a world dominated by patriarchal energy. Its masculine structures rely on promotion, goal setting, key performance indicators, more, better, faster, year upon year. He’s externally motivated, competitive and often unforgiving.

He’s all push, no pull.

If, however, we countered this with a more feminine way of things, we’d invest in (self) compassion rather than comparison. We’d learn how to be more forgiving and flexible. She teaches us that life ebbs and life flows, that we don’t all have to be alpha players.

She tells us more isn’t always better and we only reap what we sow.

I only started listening to her the year before last, when I finally decided to retreat from it all. I knew I needed a digital detox, I knew I needed to remove all external noise, and I knew I needed to recalibrate my own compass, to pull rather than push . So I did.

Initially I fell into a fugue state, surprised by the depth of my exhaustion. It was only in slowing down that I finally understood how hard I’d been pushing all year. Had I achieved a lot? Hell, yes. But I’d also made productivity God.

This had left me empty, not that I’d known it. I just kept going and going… until I couldn’t any more. I know I’m not alone in this story.

We invest so much time in being seen that we rarely see ourselves. We give so much airtime to other’s words that we barely hear our own, until, at the end of the day (or year), something has to give.

So now it’s my deepest desire that you hold fast to your desires. It’s my wish that you truly get to know your wishes, because who wants to commit to something outside of themselves in order to feel good? Who wants to rely on restrictions or rules? Who wants to be beholden to tough targets?

Goals can actually help us to hate ourselves. They tell us we’re not good enough and we must try harder. And they create conditions for our joy and happiness.

But the real aim here is to find joy and happiness within, regardless of condition.

Often we replace our destructive habits with equally destructive goals, substituting one distraction with another. But what is it you wish to be distracted from?

Say, for example, you declare your commitment to a new diet, what are you covering up? Do you really know why you eat in ways that hurt you? What does restricting your calorie intake promise to give you?

This is a promise that’s rarely delivered. When you starve yourself, you experience the complete opposite of what you desire. And yet this contrast sharpens your focus on what you really wanted in the first place – freedom around food, joy in eating, appreciation for your health, love and respect for the body that faithfully carries you through life.

Diets aren’t generally founded in freedom and joy and self-love. They’re motivated by self-loathing. They make us dour and dark and serious. We believe we’re not allowed to taste the good stuff, to have any fun, until we’ve hit this target or crossed that milestone.

But truthfully, whatever your desire, it’s likely to come into your life much quicker if you ditch the goal and start having fun instead. You only reap what you sow.

So, whatever your goals for 2017, how do they make you feel?

Are you trying too hard?

Are you pushing when you could be pulling?

If we allow ourselves to relax a little, to find happiness without all the conditions, we can experience ourselves, as we are – hell, we can even enjoy ourselves, as we are.

Rather than clawing for ways to make things better, we can simply allow them to be better.

So let’s run with the diet analogy some more…

Say you’re unhappy with your body, rather than trying to change it, rather than rejecting it, why not work with it? Get into your skin. Find ways to move that make you feel good. Dance in your living room. Take a walk somewhere beautiful.
Savour that early morning stretch. Discover how often your body brings you joy every day.

Instead of trying to become someone you’re not, find ways to celebrate who you already are.

Take the easy way out, literally. Goals, be damned. Achieve less and become more. More you, more joyful, more free, more empowered, more inspired, more motivated.

2017 will be all that you want it to be, truly, so long as you become the committed caretaker or your own joy, your own desire, your own self – without condition.

Everything worth having comes easy, because everything worth having comes from the inside.

By Jo Murphy 24 Dec, 2016
Solstice literally means ‘Sun stands still’, which it did this week, marking the start of the fourth and final part of this particular twirl around its circumference...

Winter has begun, my loves, which means the light is finally on its way.

And yet we’re normally so down on this time of year. Once the festive frenzy has died a death, we’re all misery and bed socks, biding our time until spring.

But this is where it gets interesting, because the way we choose to move through these cold, dark months is actually our journey back to joy.

How so? Well, while nature sleeps, it’s preparing for its grand reawakening. It’s processing waste from seasons past, literally lightening its load ready to rise once again. And so we can do the same.

Since this is traditionally a time of hibernation, we too can be like the Sun, and be still for a while, before we change direction.

But, of course, we won’t. We’ll try to suspend time in other ways instead. Christmas carnage means we can forget about real life for a week, maybe two, before galloping full steam ahead towards the promise land that is 2017…

Part of me wants to join you, to be done with this year. But there’s a bigger part of me that knows it’s not over yet. In fact, I’ve noticed that I intuitively want to batten down the hatches around Solstice. I know in my heart, in my bones, that I need a total and essential timeout.

So many of us are so deprived of true rest, constantly trying to keep up and to be better and to become more acceptable. We’re so buried beneath these expectations of betterment it’s a wonder we can breathe.

And yet we ask for more, please, please give us more mountains to climb, targets to hit, reasons to be strong , ways to punish ourselves for not making the grade… the encroaching end of year feels like the end of days unless we have new goals in place.

But, my loves, I say bollocks to all that.

Nevermind that the calendar tells us one year will end on 31 December and another will begin on 1 January, our real annual cycle doesn’t truly conclude and renew until the spring equinox .

That means we’re still in the thick of this particular turn around the sun, I’m afraid. Which also means that more reflection than resolution is required. We need to be like nature, to rest, to process the waste and to lighten our load.

You see, this isn’t simply another ‘year-in-review’ post. It’s more of a ‘life-in-review’ ramble, since these seasons cannot be contained inside our calendars. They are contained within our bodies, our hearts and our intuition.

If we allowed ourselves to fall into the circadian rhythm of things , there’d be none of this expectation of betterment, but an understanding that each of us is a miraculous evolution in process – rising and falling, and rising again .

That’s why all this New Year hype can be a bit of a false start. We really cannot start building anything new until we know that our foundations are fit for purpose. We can’t truly change things until we understand how things have already changed, or are still changing.

Lucky for us, nature is constantly showing us how to handle this change business, with all its endings and beginnings, elegantly and efficiently. She’s constantly carrying us with her seasons…

So cast your mind back to spring, the true New Year. You were likely out and about, feeling brand new and buoyed by the light and the colour and the promise. Nature was flirty, virginal, asking us to sow our seeds. Can you remember what you were planning and planting?

Then came summer, the season of the mother and your time for gestation and creation. You were likely connecting, building and bonding, nurturing ideas and relations. Can you remember what you were creating and who you were creating it with?

And then autumn brought it all back inside. This was your editing process, your time to sift and sort. As the leaves fell, you too shed what wasn’t working, allowing you to hold tighter to what was. Can you remember what had to fall away? Did you mine for the gold?

And so we arrive here in the wintertime, where we break it all down. We kill our darlings and feast on their remains. Just as the earth absorbs the rotting leaves, so we absorb the year – it’s fertile ground from which life will spring next year.

So what has to die in order for life to begin again? What patterns, problems or pain are weighing you down? What belongs to you now and what belongs to a season past? What do you want to take with you? What do you need to leave behind? Where are you reacting instead of creating? Where are you living and where are you waiting?

Every question challenges us, just as nature is constantly challenged by the environment. But she finds ways to evolve and adapt or else she expires. And so must we, growing without always moving forward, but always doubling back.

Different versions of you arise with different seasons. And every season brings its own kind of light.

Because this is how life unfolds, always towards the light. Sometimes it’s inside and sometimes it’s outside, sometimes we pull and sometimes we push . And we get to do it again and again.

We really are the luckiest. We get to go round and around that Sun, knowing that the light never really left us.

And it never will.
By Jo Murphy 09 Dec, 2016
The smallest of acts sets the tone for the big ones...

Even those we indulge in privately when we think nobody else is watching or listening. But you know what you’re doing. You’re watching and listening and setting the tone for, let’s face it, your whole life.

Knowing this is important for everyone, yes, but it’s critical for women. How so?

Because these small acts keep us small. We live by rote, abiding by various unspoken contracts that place us second. We’re hardwired to care for others, it seems, which makes women complicit in our own submission.

Consider for a moment the qualities we associate with being feminine: compassionate, comforting, caring, soft – it all sounds so secondary. When we think of women we generally think of a mother or a lover, someone who holds us, like a vessel. It’s in this holding that she can heal or comfort or pleasure us.

But who’s healing or comforting or pleasuring her? Who’s raising her up?

Nobody. Instead our collective aim (as women) is to occupy as small a space as possible, literally and figuratively. And so this one thing has become the way we do everything.

We feel virtuous if we want for nothing and selfish if we want for anything.

Often we don’t feel safe enough or supported enough to ask for anything. And yet it’s our responsibility to create that safe space for ourselves. It’s up to us to support ourselves and each other. Imagine if this became our one thing, it would be the way we did everything. For all of us.

If we serve ourselves first and foremost, we increase our ability to serve others tenfold. And we discover how all those sensitive, compassionate feminine qualities make us strong, not weak.

We don’t need to ‘man up’ to be taken seriously. We need to take ourselves seriously.

This isn’t just about asking for what you want. It’s about knowing what that actually is. Even more than that, it’s about knowing who you are. Because this is the one thing that shapes everything – knowing what you can give and what you can take, what you can do and what you’re due.

Let’s look at my own journey (so far) as an example. I’ve been a crowd pleaser for many years, marketing my business, almost apologetically, in ways that I thought appealed to the masses.

For a long while I didn’t dare speak up for the women out of fear of offending the men. Oh my, the irony.

And so I’ve made the shift from crowd pleaser to woman pleaser to me pleaser, because this is how I actually serve you better. When I stand grounded in my own experience as a woman, I can teach and coach and mentor and write from a place of integrity and conviction. I feel on purpose .

So this is the one thing that will shape everything for me. And yet I’m aware that many of us wrestle with this word ‘purpose’. We imagine it to be a dream job or vocation (yes, it might be), but really I want you to see your whole life as having purpose.

As women we cannot know how much we matter until we know what matters to us as individuals. Which means we have to keep coming back to ourselves over and over and over again – the very thing we’re programmed not to do.

It means showing up for yourself as yourself, exactly as you are. It means setting your own standards, knowing your boundaries and saying yes only when you mean it.

Martha Beck describes this as the integrity cleanse. She asks: “Where are you not feeling what you feel, knowing what you know, saying what you believe and doing what most feels right?”

We can only know the answers to such questions by becoming intimately acquainted with our own minds, hearts and bodies. Moreover, by knowing how they serve us before we offer them up in service to everyone else.

It may seem like a big job, but we can start small. Begin by looking for the one thing that’s currently shaping everything.
It will be a recurring thought or belief or a story that you keep telling yourself.

It may sound something like this: I don’t have time for myself, I never come first, nobody notices me, I never get what I want, I never do what I want, I never speak up, I always keep the peace… ah, the tyranny of always this and never that.

Notice where you’re walking on eggshells or holding your breath. Notice where you hunch and shrink and whisper and betray yourself. Ask, who benefits from this? Moreover, ask, how do I benefit from this?

Then, whatever you notice, practise the exact opposite.

Practise saying no instead of yes, practise speaking up when it hurts you to stay silent, practise taking time for yourself even if you believe it’s not yours to take, practise getting what you need.

Do this just once a day. Do just one thing. Start small, since it’s the smallest of acts that set the tone for the big ones, the seconds that make up the minutes that make up the days, months and years of your life.

Eventually you’ll start to push everyone else out of you and create space within yourself for yourself … you’ll get to know who you are and what you want and what you can do. And whatever you reveal will belong to you entirely.

Trust me on this. My one thing was apologising (in the spirit of transparency, sometimes it still is, I’m a work in progress). I’ve been known to apologise for myself, for everything, for everyone else… I saw myself as powerless in the face of the needs of others. My idea of being good and likeable and of service was to abandon myself.

Danielle LaPorte puts it perfectly: “You will always be too much of something for someone: too big, too loud, too soft, too edgy. If you round out your edges, you lose your edge. Apologise for mistakes. Apologise for unintentionally hurting someone – profusely. But don’t apologise for being who you are.”

Unapologetic is becoming a major theme for me as we move into a new year, a new cycle of being. If it’s how I do one thing, it’s how I do everything. It’s how I walk taller and smile wider. It’s how I don’t just take more, I give more too. It’s how I raise me up so I can raise you up too.

So please, my loves, let’s be the women we came here to be. The CEOs and the entrepreneurs and the healers and the doctors and the artists and the dancers and the lovers and the mothers and the sisters and whoever we damn well choose to be.

This isn’t selfish. This is self-acceptance, self-determination and self-expression. This is freedom. This is how we do one thing. This is how we do everything. Do it for you, do it for all of us.

By Jo Murphy 24 Nov, 2016
The future is coming no matter what, my love. So be here, right now, for a moment with me. And let me ask, how much of your anxiety is about this very moment? How much of your anxiety comes from the absence of love?

They come and go, these moments, taking you with them, thrusting you into dimensions you’re not yet ready for. But it’s time to change the dynamic, my love, from push to pull. It’s time to see life as the metal to your magnet, not simply as seconds that slip through your fingers.

Yes, I know that sometimes it seems like you must do things you don’t want to before you know what to do next. And sometimes you wind up in the places you’d rather not be before you know where to go next. Often you’ll experience the opposite of what you want before you can even know it. Life is a paradox. And so are you.

Don’t fight it, embrace it. Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down. Pay attention to your cycles. Honour your bleed. Accept your tears as much as your laughter. Let the shadow show you what you need to see. Moods may feel as long as a lifetime when you’re in them, but no more than a moment once they’ve passed. And let them pass, you must.

Don’t hold onto to things, or people, that don’t wish to be held. You cannot force the hand of life through exertion. Yes, effort pays dividends, but know when to stop, when to push and when to pull. Soon you’ll discover that life requires more pulling than pushing, so you can draw in what belongs to you rather than chase what doesn’t.

Magnetise yourself. Put yourself in the way of receptivity by making you your first choice. Make your standards your own. Yes, you will be judged. Eyeballed. Examined, from top to toe. Let it all go, for your work right now rests with you. And no approval is needed from anyone but you.

You can address the judgers and haters later.

Until then, know that you will always feel everything intensely. These feelings are your guiding lights, my love. Your sensitivity does not render you silly. It is your super power. Own it. Hone it.

Learn to meditate. Every day. And pray to the Goddess within you, nevermind that others speak of the God without. And ask of yourself what you’d never dare ask of another – unconditional love. Read up on Mary Magdalene and Kali Ma.

Don’t lash out at the men in your life. Empower yourself as a woman instead.

Know that you’re no longer a little girl. Yes, it feels that way sometimes. There’s always someone who knows better or best, isn’t there? There’s always someone who’s lightning fast to belittle you. Because you let them, my love, and you’ve no need. They’re just people, full of doubt and projecting their own pain.

One day you’ll heal them, but for now heal yourself. Push them out of you and pull me into you. I want to tell you stories of your power, because nobody else will. Nobody said you were allowed to stand up, to speak up. Nobody showed you how to shine. And you believe that no one sees you, but I see you.

So consider this your permission slip, my love, from me to you, to do all of these things and more. Push everyone out of you and pull me into you.

Not everyone will agree with all of this. And that’s okay. There will always be a no to your yes, and a yes to your no. It doesn’t make them right and you wrong, or them wrong and you right. Their approval is not one-on-one with success.

And success is not always one-on-one with happiness.

And so it goes until you realise that you, and only you, know what these things feel like. What they mean to you. What colours and shapes they form in your heart, your body and your soul. Get to know all three, intimately. Care for all three, passionately.

There’s a whole world within you that’s unrealised. If this is where you choose to dwell, this is also where you will become.

And this is where I’m waiting for you, my love.

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