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  • Writer's pictureHannah E Greenwood

Spring Equinox: receiving joy!


For those of us in the northern hemisphere, we have just celebrated the Spring Equinox. Out of the long dark night of winter comes hope: the promise of new life and the healing power of the sun.


The photo above was taken last week on the morning of the Spring Equinox where I was working on a ‘We Free Women’ retreat, the fifth one given since the pilot 12 months ago. Led by Tamzin Outhwaite, the amazing We Free Women aims to: ‘Create space in women's lives to reset, reconnect and recharge. We Free Women is a not-for-profit organisation that funds retreats and experiences for women who could really do with a break; women who would deeply benefit from the chance to relax and make their wellbeing a priority. We aim to provide ‘a retreat and reset’ to women who are struggling, whether it be financial difficulties, menopause, single mothers caring for children and some caring for elderly parents too.


We fund our retreats via a combination of donated time (from therapists, support staff and goods and services) and fundraising. The more funds we raise, the more retreats and experiences we can offer.’


The theme of last week’s retreat was ‘Spring Forward with Joy’ and I gave a talk on being open to receiving joy. These women were there because they have been in their own dark wood where any ray of light felt very remote. To talk about receiving joy when we are without hope can feel insurmountable and often very painful.We are in survival mode, our confidence shot, and any crumb of respite from this Hades darkness is gratefully welcomed. The concept of Joy in this self-doubting, low self-worth place, feels an indulgent luxury far, far beyond our reach, a possible aspiration for others but not for us.


And yet it is only when we have experienced the deep sorrows that are an inevitable part of being alive that we can paradoxically fully experience and appreciate the passionate joy that life also brings: Spring bursting raucously out of the depths of Winter.


Feng Shui is an ancient Taoist practice aligned to the life-force energy, ‘Chi’. ‘Feng’ meaning wind and ‘Shui’ meaning water: both wind and water are aligned to good health and fortune. Feng Shui is essentially how we interact with our environment physically and also psychologically. All energy can get trapped, and we can feel deeply overwhelmed by that stuck energy, not knowing where to begin to change things. The secret is to focus on that one next step. It doesn’t matter how small or inconsequential it might seem: by that simple act of faith in taking one small step forwards, often against our conscious will, we can then generate a flow of energy in a different direction, rich with health and possibility.


I began my talk by asking the women the following:


‘To move into health and happiness, what do you need to let go of and what is no longer serving you?’


There is always external reality. Dreadful things happen and we are brought to our knees in sorrow and defeat,psychologically and emotionally spent. We cannot control these events but we can control how we respond to them: do we respond in fear with a tight anxious energy which will exacerbate the situation or do we take a deep breath… create the space between… and respond with wisdom and an open heart and mind?


‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In the space is our power to choose. In our response lies our growth and freedom.’  Victor Frankl


This is what we can control. This is where we can always shift that stuck energy, by entering the ‘space between’, what is called ‘Detached Involvement’ and asking: ‘How might I be contributing to this, what can I do differently and…crucially…what might I need to change in me?’


As we talked about what was no longer healthy or serving us, a key theme emerged: what I call the ‘Good Girl Mindset.’ I have never yet met a woman who does not nod knowingly when I use this phrase.


I wrote about the ‘good girl’ for a talk I was giving on International Women’s Day five years ago, the theme being ‘When We Show Up’.


‘I spent many years struggling to show up and each time I failed to do so, I felt guilty, depressed and bad about myself. Worst of all, it distanced me from ‘me’, from life and from others. At other times I’d seemingly show up, physically there but not fully present. Like many women, I grew up ‘playing small’, trying to be a good girl, focusing on empathy and listening and shying away from speaking my ‘voice’, my inner truth. And yet, paradoxically, I have always wanted to make a positive difference to the world, to change it for the better. So, despite my ‘good girl’ intentions, my voice would not be silenced for too long. I wasted a lot of energy over many years trying to reconcile this internal conundrum: how to stay safely under the radar and yet how to voice my inner truth.

And then I finally gave up resisting and started to listen. It took a lot of courage and a lot of stumbles but gradually the shift happened: each time I consciously showed up I began to respect and like myself more. And this encouraged me to stretch myself further and, in turn, this created a positive flow: like attracting like. I began to embrace life and because I was open to ‘me’ and life, I became open to others. This is what true intimacy is and the real reward for showing up.’ When we show up


As the women on the retreat last week explored this concept of the ‘Good Girl’, three key aspects emerged:


Good girls are expected to give but not receive.

Good girls can cry but they must not feel or show anger.

Good girls do not listen to their inner truth…their intuition…and consequently learn to doubt themselves, which is manifested in over-apologising and low self-worth.


It’s no coincidence we talked about the ‘good girl’ as the block and what we need to let go of. She is what keeps us in the darkness. She was born knowing how to listen to her intuition, her inner voice, but at some point, the voices of others took over and she stopped listening to herself and began to doubt her own truth. She would initially fight back and be a ‘bad’ girl but that was still reacting to others and not listening to what was healthy and right for herself.


Eventually she swallowed the messages, and the judgmental voices became internalised into what is psychologically called the ‘Critical Parent’. This cynical inner voice has the good girl in a tight grip. The two are inextricably dependant on each other for their existence.


Two years ago, I explored this concept of the ‘Good Girl’ in another article:


‘Servant Leadership is mooted as the counterbalance to aggressive, egotistical leadership. As a woman I slightly shudder at this. Serving is what we are trained to do from birth, to be the ‘Good girl’. My work with many of my female clients is conversely to develop their voice, inner confidence and assertiveness.

From a very young age, I learned how to give and anticipate what others needed, even before they consciously knew it themselves, what is called ‘advanced empathy’. This finely tuned empathy is the essence of kindness and compassion, and I am deeply thankful I have it: it’s a key part of who I am.

But I’ve since learned that when I was coming from a ‘good girl’ dutiful place, I was not truly giving: it was conditional and controlling. Ironically the shadow aspect of overly giving to and caring for others is that it not only infantilises them, but it is a brilliant deflection from looking after our own emotional, physical and psychological needs, what I call the ‘Do-gooder syndrome’. I know when I go into overdrive in my concern for others, there’s something I’m not attending to in myself.


What did I have to do to make this shift? I had to learn to love myself as well as others. It took me many years: lots of therapy and far too many experiences of what not loving myself does to me and to those I love but I persisted because the alternative was no longer an option. If we don’t love ourselves, not ego love but deep inner love, then we cannot begin to love others, embrace our life and create the future we desire. To paraphrase Ghandi, our Beliefs become our Destiny. If we don’t believe passionately that we are worthy and deserving of love, then we will inevitably create the self-fulfilling isolated future we most fear.

So, I focussed on learning how to give freely and cleanly: to myself as well as others. And I thought that was it. I’d got there! But, of course, I hadn’t. Love is only genuine when it is a two-way process. My focus on giving was out of balance and masking a blind spot in me, namely that I didn’t know how to receive. And so, I had to go down THAT rabbit hole!’


And so, two years …and a lot of deep inner work…later, I found myself giving a talk on ‘Receiving Joy’ and it was an opportunity to revisit where I was with receiving. I’ve realised I have become much easier with two-way giving and receiving. It has become the norm in my relationships now which is much healthier.


I am now at a growth point of learning to receive, to simply be ‘me’ without expectations to do or give anything in return. I’ve realised that when I jump into a giving back, I am deflecting, i.e. rejecting, the beautiful gift that has been given to me. It was terrifying at first, an existential void. Would I cease to exist?


And now I am exploring what it feels like to fully embrace being me and to receive the miraculous wonders of life. And my ‘Good girl?’ She can still emerge, but she is increasingly transforming into my beautiful ‘Free Child’ the only place within us where we experience true awe and wonder.


Hannah Elizabeth Greenwood









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