Ismene Cole is a counsellor based in the UK.
I caught up with Ismene to discuss what its like to be a counsellor and how she inspires people to become the best versions of themselves.
Ismene can you tell me how and why you started counseling?
Previous to being a Counsellor, I worked in the mental health field in various sectors, both for children and adults. Helping people was always something that I was drawn to. Those years were a great learning experience; I learned what I enjoyed and was good at, and also how helping professional were delivering services to the public. This eventually led me onto a counselling course, where I had the realisation that counselling was something I could be really passionate about; it was like I had found my place in the world.
What was it that attracted you to that particular field of work?
I began therapy after my mum died; it was a life-changing experience that helped me overcome a lot of personal difficulties and begin to build a different life, something that I continue to reap the benefits from. That experience was a big driving force to want to share that knowledge with others; that we all have the potential to become much more than we ever imagined.
Why do you continue to work within the counseling sector?
Simply because I love it. My work still continues to fascinate, educate, excite and humble me every day.
Have you ever-experienced depression and if so how did/do you combat it?
Yes, I’ve had a few depressed episodes in my life. There were many things that supported me during those periods of my life, but these were the main ones:
- Counselling and knowing I wasn’t alone.
- Complementary therapies such as reiki, massage and reflexology.
- Walking in nature.
- Telling myself that the despair would pass and it wouldn’t always feel like this.
- Having an end vision- knowing where I was headed even if it was slow progress.
- Finding gratitude every day, however small.
- Being with people who didn’t try to make it better, -sometimes we can’t make it better- but just sat with me or hugged me.
You have a daily routine of mantras can you explain what a mantra is and the aim of having one?
Language is a really important part of informing how we think – feel- behave. So many of our thoughts are unconscious, but are fueling what is possible for us; they form our perspective and how we see ourselves, others and the world. Our core beliefs mean our unconscious mind seeks to validate them by filtering out what doesn’t fit with that perception of the world and attracting more of what does. Mantras or affirmations are a way of consciously re-focusing where we want our intention to go, giving instruction and direction to our thoughts..
Where do you get your inspiration for your daily mantras?
I do my affirmations on a Monday morning, and use that time to check-in with myself and ask what I need that week. An affirmation is a positive statement, for example “I am perfect just as I am”, “I fully support myself” etc… So, if I’m struggling with something, I ask myself, what encouragement do I need or what do I need to remember? If I’m working on a goal or project, what do I need to be reminded of? I pin these on a board I have opposite my bed, it’s the first and last thing I see before I go to sleep; both very powerful times to input messages into our unconscious minds.
Do you still think there is a stigma attached to admitting going to see a counselor or do you think it’s more widely acceptable these days.
I think we are blessed to be in a point of history- in the UK at least- where there isn’t much stigma. Counselling is so much more readily available through schools, employment, NHS, charities and privately for a range of budgets. The power of the internet and social media, also makes it accessible and things like social media, normalises it, it’s no longer so clinical. I see a wide range of people and ages, from CEO’s of corporate companies to students, something I’m not sure would of happened years ago. I think the hardest part of therapy is getting through the door. It takes a lot of courage and bravery to admit that we need help. By the time clients are in the therapy room, they’ve already gone through a huge process. I had a client who had been carrying my number around in her purse for a year before she felt ready to call me.
What advice would you give someone who may be considering seeing a counselor but is apprehensive about doing so?
- Feeling anxious is normal about doing something new and unknown. This will lessen with time.
- The relationship with your therapist is key. Qualifications and experience are obviously important, but what will make the therapy a success, is that you find someone you feel comfortable, safe and understood with.
- Shop around. Ask questions and meet therapists before you commit- this is a very normal process and most therapists offer an intial session either on the phone or in person.
- Going to therapy doesn’t mean you are a failure! When we have support, it’s easier, quicker and more effective than struggling on our own. It’s actually a gift, both present and future selves.
What are the different types of counseling services and which do you specialize in?
There are many times of therapy and how a therapist practices is dependent on their training, and what their individual passions and styles are. I am an Integrative Counsellor, meaning I was trained in a variety of different schools of thought. This enables me to offer an individual approach to each client, because I have a range of tools and knowledge, rather than a “one size fits all”. My real passion is helping clients reach their potential by changing their mindset and supporting them to understand “why” they are getting stuck and “how” to move forward.
What are the benefits of visiting a counselor?
- Counselling provides a safe, empathetic, confidential space with someone who is professionally trained and is there only for you. This means you can talk through things that you might not feel comfortable talking about with those in your life and who will be unbiased.
- To gain insight into unhelpful behaviours or patterns,past hurts or wounds, and how this might be holding you back.
- A better understanding of who you are, what drives you, and what you are creating.
- Developing a mindset to one that supports you and your deepest hopes, dreams and wishes.
- Learning ways to maximise your self-awareness, self esteem, confidence and potential.
Is it hard listening to the thoughts and worries of others constantly, how does it make you feel and how do you cope with that?
I work in a relational way, so I build strong relationships with my clients and genuinely care about them. Of course, at times, it can be difficult, intense, and deep work, but at the same time very humbling. Clients entrust me with their stories and parts of them that they may never have shared before. I take that responsibility very seriously, and in order not to burn out, I need to take care of myself. I think the key is to be honest about your limitations and know what works for you. This has changed over the years, but I now limit my client work to 3 days a week, have monthly supervision, and invest a lot of time in my own development, both professionally and personally. This keeps it my passion and means and I have the time and energy for each client, keeping it a personal, individual service. This is something that is very important to me.
How do we achieve and sustain happiness?
I really believe everything starts with the relationship we with have with ourselves and the ability to adopt a positive mental attitude.
What are your personal three golden rules?
- Replenish myself first- listen to my body.
- Life is temporary, make the most of it. If something feels right in my heart, follow it, even if it doesn’t make logical sense or it’s difficult.
- Work cyclically, take breaks, don’t try to be productive all of the time.
If you were given the job of well-being and happiness minister for the government what new rules and regulations would you make law?
A 3 day weekend would be nice wouldn’t it? I’d also tackle the media and bring in a more balanced approach. There is so much fear-mongering and straight out hate, which really has an effect on people’s mental health: it frightens them. That’s why I invested in the Positive News and joined many to become a co-owner; we need a balanced, constructive approach to sharing information. Rather than specific rules and regulations, I think we are over regulated as it is, I’d be starting the conversation- how do we support the conditions to help people to thrive in society? People are smart, give them the right conditions and they will grow and evolve on their own; it’s inbuilt in us all.
Do you meditate and would you recommend others to do so?
I meditate most days and it’s an integral part of me staying sane! I’ve been doing it for years and I when I don’t do it, I notice it. Mediation is many things to me, but the biggest is remembering to make the space to come home- to myself. We are all so busy and plugged in, that mentally we hardly ever get a rest, or enough time to reflect and process things, leaving us feeling stressed, anxious and overwhelmed. I also do a lot of meditation and visualisation with clients which they find really useful, it’s why I made my own meditation cd so that I could share that with others.
Do you think children should be taught happiness and well being in school instead of say algebra?
I wouldn’t say instead of because I think formal learning is also useful and variety is important; for some children their passion may be to be a brilliant mathematician and the world needs those too. The key is to start seeing children (and adults) as whole people. We are both cognition and emotional beings therefore we need education and support for both. Children and young people are so brilliantly susceptible to learning; they absorb things so quickly, so imagine how wonderful it would be to give them life skills and nurture their unique skills and talents.
I believe what we eat highly affects how we feel do you agree?
I’m not a nutritionist but I know that when I eat a balanced diet, I feel much happier, healthier, have better concentration and focus, and more energy. We are after-all a body-mind, what we do to our body, we do to our mind and vice-versa.
What sort of food do you eat and recommend?
I really love food and cooking, I find it creative and it helps me unwind. I eat a lot of wholesome food that makes me feel good. I don’t deprive myself of anything but I don’t eat much gluten or diary as it doesn’t agree with me and limit my caffeine intake- if I have too much I feel wired and anxious. I buy organic, free range and locally sourced wherever possible. I think the key with everything including food, is balance. Food is also about self-love, because it’s the most primal thing you can do for yourself- feeding yourself. I didn’t care about my health as much when I didn’t like myself. The key is learning to tune into your body and learn what it needs to feel taken care of.
What are your plans for your future?
I loved doing my first retreat last year, and am really looking forward to the next one in Devon in September. I will also be running Sunday relaxation classes in Bristol in the Autumn and working on other projects as they come in.
How important is it for you to set goals?
Setting goals has become a way of life for me. It keeps me focused on what on my hopes, dreams and values and gives me a tangible strategy for making those a reality. Since setting goals, my life has been much more meaningful and fulfilling for me, because ultimately I keep asking myself- what is it that you want? – then using all my resources to make that happen. We hardly ever get asked what we want in life, yet it’s a very important question.
How do you personally measure success and what advice would you give others on measuring theirs?
I measure my success by how closely aligned my life is to my core values. For me freedom, connection and contributing to a better world are core values so the type of things I evaluate are:
- How much autonomy do I have over my schedule, professionally and personally?
- Am I the person I want to be?
- What is the quality of my connection to others and the world at large?
Whilst it’s tempting to evaluate our success based on external factors, this is a quick way to misery and wasting our time. I see a lot of people who to the external world are extremely “successful” but internally deeply unhappy because they followed someone else’s life plan which has nothing to do with what really lights them up. So start with what your core values; what is YOUR vision of success? Then work towards that.
What is happiness?
Happiness is in the present moment. Most of us are so busy in our heads thinking about the past or the future that we don’t get to enjoy the deliciousness of being fully where we are.
What is a typical day/week like for you?
Last summer when I’d got very out of balance, I wrote down out everything that I need to thrive, both professionally and personally and then structured my week to incorporate that. I colour code my online diary which sounds neurotic but actually provides permission to stay balanced.
I start my day with my morning routine (meditation, yoga, inspiration, herbal tea etc…) and end the day with reading in bed and herbal tea. I love those times and protect them. They sustain me.
Mon & Tuesdays are my days to do the other things for my business; admin, finances, social media, blogs, meetings, and work any other projects I’m doing.
Wed-Friday are my client days.
Then around that I make sure I have time to do nothing, life admin, connection, nature, exercise, self-care, cook, fun.
I keep one day on the weekend where I have no plans.
How do you maintain your own happiness?
- Saying no regularly and keeping space in my diary every week to be by myself and I don’t have to do anything.
- Putting myself first. If I’m not looking after myself properly, it impacts everything I do in a negative way.
- Doing things that make me feel good every day and being unapologetic about that.
- Having depth and purpose in my life on a day-to-day basis.
- Exploring life and all its wonderful and limitless possibilities, then expanding what is possible for me.
- Unplugging regularly for stillness and silence, preferably in nature.
- Surrounding myself with positive, inspiring people and connecting regularly with what is good in the world.
- Developing and making a habit of a positive mental attitude.
Thank you Ismene for being a part of my journey and I wish you every success for the future.
If you would like to contact Ismene you can do so by clicking here and in a few weeks I will be hoping to interview Ismene for the new sober coach TV show that I am currently working on.
Rarely do we see someone so determined to be a success that not only do they achieve what they aim to do, but they surpass even their own expectations.
Claire Spooner AKA international DJ/Producer and record label boss is that someone.
I first met Claire Spooner some twelve years ago whilst working at Loughborough College as a lecturer in the music department teaching DJing. Claire back then; a lecturer in sports science came to see me with the ambition of becoming a DJ. I asked her to play a few records in the small studio I worked from and found not only was she already a DJ, she was a good one and had the potential to be world-class. Something she proved to be and is without doubt one of the finest and most hard-working DJ/producers on the planet. What was it that made Claire the success she is today? Was it me teaching her as she had asked me to do? The answer to that is a resounding NO! Claire didn’t need a single lesson in DJing but what she did need was self-belief. All I did was tell her “you’re already a DJ there is nothing I can do for you except tell you one thing – get out there!” and boy, did she get out there.
Claire’s success is down to a one thing, tenacity! Claire’s rise through the ranks from bedroom DJ to international DJ/record producer is not born from luck or waiting to be discovered, it is born out of her unrivalled passion for the music and the industry she loves, if you cut her through, she would bleed music.
Often I have met people who have had dreams and aspirations and the longing to be a success and all too often, I have seen failure. Failure not due to wanting to succeed, but failure to put in the thousands and thousands of hours it takes to become everything you wish for.
When I was DJing back in the late 80’s through to 2008 I had many, many opportunities to make myself a success at something I loved so much but this was a time when procrastination fuelled by alcohol and lack of self-worth ruled my world. I had given up on my dream of playing in the top clubs and producing records; something I had dreamed of doing since first seeing Break Machine perform street dance on the cult music show -Top of the Pops when I was just 14 years old.
Making a record was something I had always dreamed of but alas, it had eluded me. Until now that is!
I’m a great believer in reaping what we sow. The seeds we sow today will be our harvest tomorrow.
Back some twelve years ago when I met Claire and gave her what at the time felt like permission to go out and become one of the best DJ’s playing in clubs, bars and venues all over the world, I honestly knew deep in my heart that this was a girl who could and would achieve what she so longed for; musical success. I just hoped she would stay the course and keep on pushing when the venues where small and the crowds were made up of a few friends in an empty club. I knew that she would never get full-time results on part-time hours. I wanted so much for Claire to succeed where I had given up and succeed she did. She has played in some of the most prestigious venues in the world alongside some of the best names in the business; achieving more than anyone could have ever expected. She’s graced such venues as Egg in London, toured South Africa, played gigs on rooftops in Dubai, exclusive beachfront bars in Greece, and venues all over the UK, Ireland and Europe. The pinnacle of her career so far was her outstanding track ‘Gone Too Long’ produced under the alias of “Himself Her”; being featured as Pete Tong’s Essential Selection.
I lost touch with Claire for a couple of years but always kept an eye on her rise through the DJ ranks and every time I saw another flyer for another gig, I was elated to see she was pressing on, moving closer to her dream, succeeding where so many had failed.
I got back in touch with Claire through social media and we arranged to meet up for a coffee. When we met I was awestruck that not only did she still have that same hunger for success, it shone on her face and oozed out of every word she spoke. She was the living embodiment of a dream come true.
As we sat and spoke, Claire told me about her elation at what was happening and how she had retrained herself in music production and became “one of the best lecturers ever” (the words of my young nephew whom she was teaching at the time) in the music department where we met. But she didn’t stop there. Claire’s DJing had become so in-demand, she had now stopped working at the college and become a full-time producer and international DJ. She had achieved everything she had set out to do and more.
During our chat I told her about how I’d always wanted to make a record and in an instant, without thought of profit or gain she invited me over to her studio and within a few short weeks, I had done something I had wanted to do since I was 14 years old; I had made my own track.
From a small seed planted over twelve years ago, a kind word of encouragement, a slight push in the right direction and I had reaped my own reward from pushing someone else towards their dream.
Claire continues to move forward in leaps and bounds and not only am I emotionally charged every time I hear of her constant success, I am in awe of her tenacity, her work ethic, her “never give in” attitude that so many people fail to see. The hours and hours of long, hard work, the rejections, the failures, the knock backs, the empty clubs, the hours and hours of study needed to perfect the programmes and instruments needed to produce.
When I look at Claire, I see a person who doesn’t sit by and let opportunity pass her by; I see a go-getter; a hard-working musician who has stayed up late and rose early to achieve her dreams. She is a master of return and I love her, for she is truly an ambassador for what it takes to make your dreams come true.
In short if you want the success you crave; Be Like Claire.
You can watch Claire’s latest release, Just Her & Kieran Fowkes – Hand in My Pocket which she wrote, performed and produced below:
Just Her Biography 2015
It’s all about the music and always has been. It’s always been there – from crafting homemade DJ mix tapes as a child and learning to play any instrument within reach, to studying Creative Music Production and Lecturing in Music Technology, Claire Spooner aka Just Her, has grown and evolved to become a major force in Electronic Music.
A heavily in-demand DJ, producer and musician, her stellar songwriting and engineering work with Him_Self_Her has propelled her into the upper reaches of the underground music scene, landing releases with world-class labels such as Toolroom and Crosstown Rebels, a wealth of Beatport chart positions, an Essential New Tune on Radio 1 and gigs all over the world.
Just Her marks the start of another chapter in her journey. Already making serious waves under her solo moniker, Just Her’s debut solo EP on Suara caused a stir, with support from the likes of Maya Jane Coles, Agoria and Hot Since 82. On top of this she has secured releases on Stil Vor Talent, Motek, Save Us, Serkal, Chapter 24 and Click Records within just a few months. With her own label Constant Circles launching recently, a successful radio show on Deepin and Proton and a growing reputation for technical prowess on the decks, Just Her is fast developing a loyal following from around the globe. Expect deep melodic emotion-filled grooves from House and Electronica through to Techno.
I first met Geoff Thompson in the the early nineties when I was heavily involved In martial arts. My brother had read his book Watch My Back; a British cult classic and his friend Ken contacted him to invite him down to teach our class and a few of the local Martial arts instructors, doormen and named fighters of the area. Geoff, back then was teaching his “Animal Day Seminars”; a four hour session of no holds barred training and fighting. These classes were not for the faint-hearted and broke many a martial artist but also moulded many others; myself being one such person.
Over the following years, my own martial arts journey had come to an end as I had fallen into the fold of the demon drink. Through the hazy days I always kept up with Geoff’s work and watched through bloodshot eyes as his rise to being named as “the most influential martial artist since Bruce Lee” Blackbelt Magazine. Geoff had superseded a life of violence and instead, honed his creative skills through books, scripts and short films; eventually winning a BAFTA for his short film Brown Paper Bag.
Geoff not only transcended the murky world of violence, but also delved deep into his inner spirit and studied the world’s bibles, philosophers, artists, playwrights and authors. Geoff is without doubt, one of the most influential people in my life and I look upon him as a mentor and a friend. Without his guidance through my early years of sobriety, I doubt I would even be here writing this today. Geoff helped me through a lot of suffering by way of his courses and personal guidance; always having time to speak to me, always having time to help me through my darkest hours.
Geoff has helped many people through pain and suffering and has brought many a man back from the brink of despair – he truly is a shepherd of light.
Geoff is a great believer of turning pain and suffering into gold and today Geoff talks about just that, The alchemy of suffering.
The Alchemy of Suffering
Who is Geoff Thompson?
Geoff’s first book, WATCH MY BACK, detailing his experiences as a doorman in Coventry for over a decade, became a Sunday Times Best Selling Autobiography. In 2008 it was adapted into a screenplay by Geoff and filmed as a major motion picture, CLUBBED. It premiered in London’s West End, Birmingham and Paris and was nominated for a BIFFA award for Best Film.
His work as a playwright includes: DOORMAN (Liverpool Everyman, Plymouth Theatre Royal and National Tour); FRAGILE (Coventry Belgrade and Edinburgh Festival) and THE PYRAMID TEXTS (Birmingham Rep. and Soho Theatre, London).
His work as a screenwriter includes: BOUNCER, with Ray Winstone and Paddy Considine, which was accepted into 32 international festivals and nominated for a BAFTA: BROWN PAPER BAG, for which he was awarded a BAFTA, ROMANS 12:20 (directors, Shammasian brothers) which won Best Short at the Arpa International Film Festival, Best International Short Film New York International Independent Film & Video Festival, the Grand Prize at The Rhode Island International Film Festival, and the Long Form Award at Rushes Soho Shorts Festival. And the feature film, THE PYRAMID TEXTS, directed by the Shammasian Brothers and starring James Cosmo, which had its world premiere at The Edinburgh International Film Festival, 2015 and was nominated for Best British Film and won Best Actor (James Cosmo) in a British Film.
Geoff’s third feature film for cinematic release, ROMANS, has been optioned by The Tea Shop & Film Company in London.
His fourth feature film script for cinema, LAST WILL (adapted from his Sunday Times Best Selling novel, RED MIST) is currently in the production process.
“Life is suffering.”
So says the Buddha.
“Is that it? Is that all you’ve got to offer from a life time’s pilgrimage? Tell me something I don’t know my fat friend.”
I am paraphrasing from a monologue in my latest stage play, Fragile, which evoked a wonderful 5 star review from one Edinburgh reviewer, with the caveat; ‘in no way do I recommend that you see this play.’
Now then, there’s an oxymoron.
In her defence, Fragile is a tough watch; it evokes discomfort in the audience because the nameless character speaks with blistering honesty about the secret that keeps him sick.
The secret that keeps us all sick.
He is mortally afraid; his secret is that he is full of fear.
I am fascinated by the fact that this one emotion seems to hold our entire species to ransom. The most intelligent men and women in the world are all held under its miasmic spell. They all feel fear and they all react to its call when aroused by any kind of confrontational stimulus. People the length and breadth of the known world are fighting over land, over power, over money and over beliefs.
Many of them are prepared to kill others in order to enforce their way.
They are fighting because they are afraid.
There is beautiful story I read once about Francis of Assisi.
Legend has it that Francis nursed a mortal fear of leprosy, and he confessed his secret in prayer to God. The next day, as he rode through the countryside on his horse he heard the ever familiar warning clang of a leper’s bell in the distance and his heart sank. His immediate reaction was to heed the alarm and run away. Instead he listened to an inner voice that instructed him to climb down from his horse and embrace the Leper. This he did, kissing the sick man on the cheek and wrapping him in a warm cloak. Francis decided to carry the leper to a nearby refuge, but before he had even walked a few steps he felt the man get lighter and lighter in his arms. When Francis pulled the cloak away, the Leper had vanished.
The message was clear: when we embrace fear, it has no existence, and anything left between us and our Great Potential disappears.
Philosophers would have us believe that all terrors share a singular genesis; the fear of death.
As a man who has stood on that very dangerous edge and has risked life, limb and sanity in order to study fear in forensic detail I can tell you categorically that this is not true. The reaper may be the bogey-man of archetype, but he is not the nemesis of the masses. There are people in the world right now – thousands of them – that will end their mortal lives before this day is out, deliberately and violently, not because they are afraid of dying, rather they will cut short their earthly sojourn because death casts a less daunting shadow than life.
These troubled souls are not numbers and statistics, they are not strangers who headline on a news bulletin or appear in the obituary column, they are people we know: brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends.
Today…family and friends will jump under peak-hour tube trains, gas themselves in lonely cars or hang by the neck from an open attic hatch rather than face their fear.
This is not the first time I have written on this subject.
My first published book, Watch My Back, is a 552 page discourse on fear. It chronicles how (and why) I became a nightclub bouncer in Coventry in a bid to eradicate the chemical cocktail that kept me so small, so afraid. I followed this book with another title, Fear the Friend of Exceptional People, detailing my process: identifying and managing fear through exposure therapy and desensitisation.
These books offer the elixir of my hard journey.
As a young man I was bullied by fear, hounded by depression, sometimes I was afraid simply of being alive. After deep internal enquiry I was able to discern that it was not injury that frightened me, neither was it the angry mob or the assailant’s knife – I realised it was fear that frightened me.
Or more specifically the feelings that are associated with fear.
The explosion of fight-or-flight in my stomach.
The caustic burn of bobsleigh-adrenalin running a gauntlet through my veins.
An untrammelled and ill-schooled imagination that dragged me into all nine circles of the inferno.
A squatting internal voice who threatened me with every past recrimination and all possible future disasters. Adrenalin spawned heinous stories that I played out over and over in a nauseating loop. They became three dimensional realties projected onto the cinema-screen of my mind. Like prison guards they kept me padlocked in a small reality: joyless marriage, menial job and a savage scarcity mentality.
The fear of fear itself scattered my emotions to all four corners of terror.
But there was more.
I could cope with fear and anxiety for a minute or for an hour or even for a day if I had to, but it was the pervasive threat of having to endure the same feelings again the next day, the next week and the next year that blackmailed me into deep depressions. Especially as I had no answer to the unsolicited and often random onslaughts of rogue stress hormones, no coping strategies, other than to run away, hide or throw a blanket of denial and heavy consummation over my angst: food, drink, drugs, porn – the usual subjects.
These unlikely medicines always promised relief, and then reneged; they turned out to be back-door inflammables to an internal fire that was already raging out of control.
I was afraid of nothing more than my own bodily reactions to confrontation.
And worse than this, I felt as though I was the only person in the world who felt so afraid.
This made my reality a lonely place.
In order to understand and perhaps overcome this irrational sensitivity I conducted a searching enquiry into the genesis of my fear. I traced some of my anxiety back to biological heredity (the adrenals are a life saving part of the human anatomy). I followed much of my fear home to social conditioning, the early teachings of my peer group; I inherited my mother’s debilitating fear of shame, I did not question the religious dogma that even God must be feared, and I lived by the innate mantra that ambition was not for the likes of me, it was pretention, and should be clubbed like a beached seal.
My culture was also an ill angel – the poisoned well of tabloid media was a breeding ground for fear with its bleed-to-lead policies, and it’s highly subjective mode of scaremonger reporting.
I realised after close scrutiny (qualitative and quantitative) of myself and the world around me, that I didn’t know anyone who had not fallen into a debilitative fear and subsequently allowed that imposter to (if not destroy then at least) diminish their life.
My beautiful brother Ray was a case in question.
He died violently at the age of 42.
He left behind four beautiful school-aged children and a legacy of terror.
I was with my brother at his best when the world was not big enough to contain his great ambition, where every fear became vapour before his courage.
I was also by his side when poor life decisions turned his fear into disease and pushed him towards the dubious balm of alcohol. I watched his world shrink to the size of a hospital bed and finally the muddy hole when his fear became a coat that he could no longer take off.
I wrote a film inspired by my brother (Brown Paper Bag) both to honour his life and to extract any learning that his brief stay on this spinning planet might offer me.
I refused to let him leave without snaffling at least some of his learning.
The essential teaching of his four decades was not that we should eschew fear.
Met with a lion in the jungle or its equivalent, brandishing a knife, down a dark alleyway fear is very necessary if we are to stay alive for our allotted four score years and ten. His tutorial was that we should listen to fear when its message was rational, ignore and override the alarm signals when the trigger was neurotic, and develop both the wisdom to know the difference, and the will to act in the positive.
It sounds insultingly simple; and of course in concept it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Certainly my brother was not able to bring his terror to heel.
No matter what our stature, our wealth or our knowledge, we remain, as a species, deliciously vulnerable.
Fear left unchecked is a contagion.
All of our religious scriptures, right back to the metaphysical teachings of Hermes Trismegistus concur on this one point.
Every bible has forewarned us of the illusory and yet destructive nature of fear and how, unguarded, even our prophets and saints fell under its spell.
Arjuna Pandava (Hindu prince, son of Kunti) buckled under the weight of fear in the battlefield, fighting to win back his stolen kingdom from his corrupt cousins.
Joshua Ben Miriam found his knees in the garden of Gethsemane and begged God ‘please take this cup from me’ when the fear caught him, as it must catch us all.
The Holy Prophet Mohamed ran in terror when the Archangel Gabriel spoke to him in the caves of Saudi Arabia, outside Mecca. He was so afraid that he wanted to throw himself off the mountain, he begged his wife Kadija to hide him under a coat.
If even the prophets fell into the temptation of fear, and the greatest brains of our species have been unable to escape its clammy grip, what are we to do?
I’ve been searching for the answer to this question my whole life.
I have taken the advice or Rumi and become a night-stalker, hunting down my fears.
I have heeded the council of Jesus, who said that I should not resist evil.
And I have followed the doctrine of Lord Krishna and shed light on the sea of nescience with increased intelligence and expanded awareness.
All of this written wisdom and literary instruction has helped me greatly.
I am grateful.
In times of trouble it has offered refuge, perhaps even a temporary map.
But there is nothing better than actual experience in the arena, a personal scrimmage with fear to find our own truth, or at least confirm the conclusions of lore.
We can only truly know what we have personally experienced.
I am in my sixth decade of facing fear and (as the Irish say) I have been around a few corners: this is what I have learned so far, this is what I know.
Fear is an illusion.
It is vapour.
It is a cosmic joke that the universe is playing on us, or perhaps that we are playing on ourselves.
It is not real.
It is little more than a cocktail of hormones and chemicals that our bodies release in times of perceived threat.
These chemicals and hormones are biological, they are us.
The perceptions too are ours.
Or certainly they are a part of us.
Being afraid of (what is essentially) our self makes no sense intellectually.
Certainly fear is subjective, which is why one man’s adrenal-rush can be another man’s terror-barrier.
Although fear is not real, the perception that it has existence is still strong enough to start wars and end lives. People decapitate other people on the World Wide Web not in acts of great courage or righteous revenge; people commit heinous acts of violence in moments of deep fear.
Although I am a practiced man, versed in the language of fear, and although I have learned how to manage and manipulate my own biology in times of stress, I still fall for the false-perception the same as everyone else. When the adrenalin drops and my ancient survival mechanism commands that I run, fight, or freeze into immobility it still takes every sinew of my being not to react in the negative.
So what can we do?
What can I do?
That is the question I keep asking myself, the perennial question.
Personally, I am going to keep doing what I have always done.
Why not, it works.
It is uncomfortable, but it delivers, I have the proof, my life is the proof.
Like the Buddha, I shall accept that life is suffering and lean harder into the sharp edges. In accepting that life is suffering I may not immediately end my pain, but certainly I will honour it, and I will become better at the alchemy of suffering, turning my moments of lead into talents of gold.
Like the Christ I may occasionally fall to my knees in fear and ask for this cup to be taken from me, but I will get up again, and I will face my stations with courage, with grace.
Like the Holy prophet, I will climb the mountain again; I will enter the cave, and stand trembling before the angel I fear.
And inspired by Prince Arjuna, I will honour my dharma; I will engage every battle to win back the kingdom that is my true inheritance.
And finally, ultimately, like Francis of Assisi, when I hear the ever familiar warning bell of my leper-fear I will accept it, I will embrace it, I will kiss it on the cheek.
I will not run away, or cover myself with the heavy blanket of denial and consumption, or hide under the protective coat of Kadija, rather I will wrap my fear in a cloak of loving understanding and I will watch as it transcends before my very eyes.
Fear knocked at the door, the poet Rumi told us, and love answered. There was no one there.
There was no one there because fear is an illusion, and courageous love breaks its spell.
As well as having guest blogs by inspirational and motivational people from around the world it is also my aim to champion positive role models from the local area. One such role model is my friend Shaun ‘Bomber” Crowson.
Shaun grew up on the same estate as myself. He’s a man that regular runs for charities and supports a local homeless project called the Falcon Centre which does fantastic work with young homeless people within our town.
Take a read of Shaun’s Inspiring story and about what drives him to do what he does.
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Fashion designer Masato Jones.
I think it’s important for artists, writers, poets, designers, film makers and anyone involved in the creative arts to share their stories so today I have been speaking to international fashion designer Masato Jones.
Masato Jones is a British based fashion designer born and raised in Tokyo. Masato wasn’t always a fashion designer but he did have creativity and flair starting off in the hair industry but after visiting the UK, he decided to learn English whilst residing on the East Sussex coast in Brighton.
After studying fashion and graduating from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, Masato; his own fashion label was born.
The label has since gone on to show at many major Fashion Weeks including Brighton, Cheltenham, Essex, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Nuremberg. It also featured in Chicfantastique, STYLEetc magazine and many more respected fashion magazines and publications.
His designs are making waves in the fashion world and he has worked with many top fashion houses in the UK and internationaly.
I first contacted Masato through Twitter after tweeting about needing a wardrobe for an upcoming film project I have in the works with Paul Shammasian and Sergi Vilanova.
I got in touch with Masato to ask him a few questions about his work and how he made it through the competitive world of fashion from his humble beginnings to the pages of some of the best fashion magazines in the world.
P: Masato, what inspired you to work in the fashion industry?
M: I was a hair stylist and obsessed with my visits to Ginza in Tokyo. I had drawn since an early age so my goal was to study art, which led to being accepted by Central St Martin’s in London where I studied fashion.
P: Were there times when the chips were down and you felt like giving it all in?
M: Many times I have nearly quit. Fashion is feast or famine and at times I have been close to being homeless. But you have to keep going and remember in the beginning, you are making clothes that may not sell. There are so many hidden costs that go unnoticed by those wanting to get into fashion. There’s the material, the cost of good studio space, hiring photographers etc. Each collection is not only hours and hours of hard work, but also a gamble. I have to thank my partner Mike for being a rock as he’s the one that manages all the social media and business.
P: What was it that kept you going through the hard times? What drove you forward?
M: My will to succeed. With very poor photography in the beginning and not much income to improve it, I had to believe in myself and have faith that people would believe in my designs.
P: You’ve told me about the early days, the self-belief and the faith in your designs but what was it that made you become a success, how did you get noticed?
M: Totally through Twitter, my social networking has been so important in getting Masato out there. Although I have always been and still do design and creative pattern cut for other businesses. It’s my investment for my label. My 2nd line has been a success even though the advice always was and still is, don’t do a 2nd line; but without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
P: You really are making waves in the fashion industry with your designs, so what’s next for you and Masato the label?
M: I currently concentrate on adult fashion but now I really want to shake up children’s wear and fashion.
P: I’ve been homeless in the past and I can tell you it’s not easy. I noticed you’re doing something called “The Beenie Hat Project”, can you tell me more about that and what inspired you to do it?
M: Being so close to not being able to pay the rent myself I know how, like yourself how hard life can be and I wanted to give something back. I want my company to have social responsibility and part of the profits on certain items I design will help various charities now and in the future. We do like to help raise money for independent charities and help them have a voice through Masato.
P: Thank you Masato for taking time out to give me this interview and for helping me to inspire others with your story.
M: You’re very welcome and thank you.
So there you have it, another fantastic inspirational story of success through adversity. No matter what you are doing or whatever your goals, dreams and aspirations are, it is possible for you to achieve them. Yes there will be times when you want to chuck it all in, there will be times when you will have self-doubt, no money and seemingly no resources, but it is then that you need to dig deep and remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing. Remember why you started the journey and think about the rewards you reap when you finally become what you want to be.
Never give in, never let the hard times stop you. I have found in my own struggles that success lays just beyond the pain.
As long as you keep knocking at the door of success it WILL open.
Please click on the image below to Check out the Masato Beenie Hat project.
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I love reaching out and connecting with fellow bloggers who I believe have something positive to say.
Today My guest blog is from Roci over at the wonderful, positively, well written Blog Sunday stuff.
I asked Roci what is happiness and as always her reply is beautifully put and wonderfully well written.
It is the small ray of sunlight peaking sheepishly through curtains on a Sunday morning. It is the soft, uplifting moment when birds take flight. It is far from my mind when it is present, and it is all I long for when it is not. Happiness can be a feeling, a place, a person, but mostly, it is a choice. Happiness is not a destination but a journey that never really ends. I used to believe that happiness should be effortless and abundant; I think happiness is like this for children. As a young adult I realize that happiness can be found in many small, precious ways. Growing something from seed, or making my partner laugh, for example.
I am not the happiness guru or anything of the sort, but I do know a little about what it’s like to be unhappy…and deeply happy. I obtained happiness when I made the conscientious decision to be happy. I chose not to let the actions of others influence my view of myself or the world around me; I chose to devote myself, my thoughts, my time, and my abilities to what and whom means something to me. These decisions slowly changed my life and slowly brought me happiness.
I think true happiness is realizing everything that makes me unhappy (insecurities, fears, anxieties, prejudices), forgiving myself and others for these faults and failures, and giving love profoundly because of these things that make me human, that make me flawed, and not despite them. Happiness is loving myself and loving others. It is accepting unhappy days and trying harder tomorrow. It is accepting truth and reality and learning to be satiated and not just satisfied by it.
Am I happy every moment of the day? No. But, do I experience happiness everyday? Yes. I seek it out, I recognize it in the smallest things, and I say to myself, “I am worthy of this.”
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As a blogger and Author I think its imperative that I share success stories of other successful Authors on this site as inspiration to us all. Over the next few weeks I will be having some amazing Authors, Bloggers, inspirational writers and people of action who have, and are achieving their dreams. Today I kick off the guest blogging with a real story of triumph over adversity in a literary sense with Author Mary wood.
Please do leave comments and any questions you may have for Mary below.
Peter Skillen AKA The Twelve Step Warrior.
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FROM WANNABEE WRITER, TO SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHOR, TO BECOMING A TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED AUTHOR
Mary Wood Saga Author
First of all, thank you, Peter, for inviting me to guest blog. I am honoured to be asked and hope your followers enjoy hearing about my journey into publication.
Well, where do I begin? I am still black and blue from pinching myself to see if I am awake or if I am dreaming. Because after twenty odd years of trying, I have finally made it to the third step of my title, I am a traditionally published author. But it all happened in a very different way to what I envisaged when I began writing.
I have been writing novels since 1989. Up until then I had been an avid reader who’d always thought I could write a book, but never found the time to do it.
It took a sad event to get me started. My mother entered the twilight months of her life and needed constant nursing, I gave up work to look after her.
Initially putting pen to paper was to provide me with an escape from the sad task I had undertaken, and so, in the afternoons when mum slept, I sat in the garden and became enthralled in writing my first novel.
As happens with everyone, I thought I had the next best seller flowing on to the page, and could see it as a film with me attending its premier. Oh the thrills of that dream . . . And how quickly I tumbled down from it as rejection after rejection piled up.
Down, but not out as they say, the next novel would be the one, but no. So, what was I doing wrong? These were powerful sagas I was writing. They had taken me through many emotions as I wrote them, why couldn’t the agents I’d sent them to see my potential? At last, one did. She took the time to write a letter back to me, something that was rare in those days as usually your untouched manuscript thumped back onto your welcoming mat without a word of why it hadn’t made the cut.
This agent told me that I was a good story teller, but that I wasn’t ready. She said that my characters were flat. That I ‘told’ their stories instead of allowing them to show the reader their lives. She told me to learn the craft of writing, and then to rewrite my story.
Having no idea what she meant, I spent the next ten years working with one novel trying to get it right. I paid money to people who said they could help me and didn’t, I read books on ‘how to’. I joined writer’s sites on line – YouWrite On and Authonomy where other wannabees hang out and help each other by critiquing each other’s work and passing on tips, until finally the penny dropped. At last I understood what it meant to write three dimensional characters and have a story live on the page.
My ten year old manuscript in all its new glory was ready to do the rounds.
Still I could not break into the publishing world. I had a best-seller (as I know now) on my hands and no one wanted to know – sagas were out of fashion. Celebs and Harry Potter – Farts and Fantasy, as I nicknamed them, were all the publishing world wanted to know.
An author friend gave me the solution. The new craze, reading downloaded material on a tablet had arrived. And with it self-publishing, previously known as vanity publishing, became a respectable thing to do. My author friend had done it and was having a lot of success. She urged me to do the same.
And so in July 2011 I was Published and be Damned!
It changed my life. My novel ‘An Unbreakable Bond’ that had been my ten year companion and learning curve became a best seller reaching the number one spot in genre.
In the two years following its publication on kindle I wrote a further four books and published them on kindle too. Each book became a platform for me. If a reader picked up one of my books and liked it, they looked for more written by me. My success bred success.
If you are a wannabee writer, you could do the same. Learn the craft of writing – there are many courses now offered at colleges, and run both during the day and in the evening, then write your novel using all the different disciplines of your craft. Do not listen to those who say there are no rules to writing – there is – learn them and use them. Those advocates of free creation that you will meet in writer’s forums are wrong, and sadly because they think they are right, they will live in forums forever and that will be the only place you will ever read anything they write! Don’t be one of them.
With my success came the next step of my journey.
By now, at the age of sixty eight, I had given up on ever being traditionally published and seeing my books on the shelves of WH Smiths, Waterstones and Supermarkets. How wrong I was. In 2013 I received a message on Facebook from an editor of Pan Macmillan, one of the top six publishers in the world!
At first I thought it was someone having a joke with me, but I crossed my fingers and rang the number given.
An editor answered the phone – yes, an actual, real life editor! Thank goodness she couldn’t see me with my fist in my mouth to stop myself screaming with joy!
She told me that she had been curious as to who I was. She’d seen my books in the top ten and yet no one knew me, or who was publishing me. And so, she had downloaded one of my books and read it and absolutely loved it! OMG! This was really happening!
But then I nearly blew it. The book she had chosen was set in the war. It was a spin-off of a trilogy that had reached that era. She asked me if I intended on writing any more war-based books. I said, no. I was a Northern Saga writer, and my next novel, which was already written was set in Bradford in the 1820’s. My heart sank as she said, she was sorry but they had a Northern Saga Writer already and were looking for someone who could handle the war setting. She thought that I could and ended the conversation by saying that if ever I changed my mind I should contact.
Not one to let go of such a wonderful offer, I sat down and in five minutes had written a synopsis of a book that I had no idea I would ever write, and rang her back. She gave me her email, I sent it, she loved it and I was offered a contract to write it! Just like that!
Next, along came an agent. Seeking ME out! How incredulous was that! All of this culminated in Pan Macmillan offering me a seven book deal. They bought the rights to the five books I had self-published and commissioned two new ones.
Having fulfilled that contract, I have since been offered a two book deal, which is the normal deal offered to an author. Yes, dreams do come true, I am living proof of this as I look forward to my seventieth birthday. I have three titles traditionally published. I have stood and gazed at them on the shelves of WH and in the Supermarkets, and yes, I have mugged customers and told them ‘I wrote that!’
In December my fourth title comes out, a new book called, ‘All I Have To Give’.
Set in The First World War, it tells the story of Edith and Ada. Edith is a lady doctor working in a tent hospital on the Somme. She falls in love with Albert, a soldier, and a man far below her station in life. Albert is traumatised and takes a decision that has devastating consequences for himself and for Edith.
Ada, a northern lass is coping with losing her three sons in the war, and finding out that her husband is having an affair with her sister. Working in the munition factory, Ada is involved in an incident that brings her sorrow to a climax that she cannot recover from.
Hope comes when Edith and Ada’s paths cross. Together they find the strength to cope through their work of setting up an orphanage and a surgery for the poor. But war leaves legacies, and both Edith and Ada have a lot to face before they finally find a kind of peace.
I am so looking forward to launching it. And, if you see a poster in your local WH Smiths saying, Mary Wood appearing here on . . . Please come in and say hello, I would love to meet you. Much love to all, Mary.
To Catch a Dream – Set in Yorkshire and Ireland, in 1872 – 1900, follows the lives of the rich and the poor of the times and how their lives impact on each other. It is available on all ebook outlets to download and as a paperback, and in WH Smiths. Also to order from all book outlets in paperback.
An Unbreakable Bond – a sequel to, To Catch a Dream is available on Kindle and will be available in Paperback in Wh Smiths and Supermarkets in May 2016
Tomorrow Brings Sorrow – the third in the series is available on Kindle and will be out in paperback in 2017
Time Passes Time – a spin-off taking one of the characters forward to becoming a heroine in The Second World War, but is also a stand-alone-book, is available on all ebook outlets to download or in paperback, and in WH Smiths, and to order from all book shops.
Judge Me Not – set in and around Bradford, tells the story of Ruth, a girl whose beauty is overshadowed by her struggle to walk due to her club foot. She is feared as folk law has it that she is evil and puts curses on all who cross her. This sees her facing being burnt at the stake as a witch. Ruth has many trials to overcome, but in her life is a love forbidden to her and one that is her saviour at a great cost to himself. Available on kindle. Its future has not yet been decided by Pan Macmillan.
Proud of You – set in the Second World War, tells the story of three girls thrown together by war – A Spy, a Nurse, and A French Prostitute. Their lives are torn apart, but together they are strong. Available on all ebook outlets to download and in paperback. WH Smiths in paperback and all bookshops to order
All I Have to Give (see details in my blog above) Available on all ebook outlets to pre-order, as a download or in paperback, and in WH Smiths and Supermarkets from December 3rad