One of the people I admire most is my friend Catherine Cowan. My husband and I met Cath at a retreat in Bali almost two years ago now. She showed up with this quiet presence that made me feel grounded and peaceful without her having to say a word. When she did, she oozed easy wisdom and truths that halted my frenzied mind instantly – without sounding preachy and withthose eyes of hers that say, hey, don’t worry, it’s all gonna be ok.
I later found out she was grieving the loss of the love of her life. And this was a huge trip alone for her. And as if that wasn’t ballsy enough, she took us up on our offer to come visit us in Lebanon, all the way from Australia. A few months later, she showed up in Beirut, despite the Australian government’s travel ban on our country, and despite being told she was mad, crazy and many other versions of the same, for doing this.
My kids all fell in love with her, as did we. I found myself taking notes in my phone as she spoke.
I’ve been thinking that this woman is such a true gem, why not share some Cath with you? Cath was kind enough to oblige so below, you’ll find five questions on self-activation and self care that she’s answered for me.
Yes, I know, you’re welcome!
1. What has your journey to self-activation been like?
We are all self-activated. It can be no other way.
The key for me is to be consciously and deliberately self-activated, not live as an adjunct to others. To know and understand that we create our own reality through the things we focus on and the self-worth we feel. To understand that we are complete and whole and worthy and to activate from that place of strength and self-love.
For me it has been a journey to discovering my intrinsic self-worth, coming to know that Well Being is my birthright, that I don’t have to earn it… and that I am writing my own story.
I have learned to trust pain and the growth it brings in the knowledge that while it hurts, it is guiding us and teaching us and if we can trust that all is well, we will grow.
There have been 3 big, stand out, cathartic experiences in my life, all incredibly painful but ultimately having launched me to a new level of understanding and enabled me activate from a different and better place.
My parents did not do a fabulous job of parenting. This is not a criticism of them; they were both fighting their own demons and I am certain we all do the absolute best we are capable of.
I entered my teenage years thinking “everyone knows that parents love their children, mine don’t love me, so there-fore I have to perform, try harder, be and do what others want me to be and do”… in order to gain acceptance and reflected love and approval into a heart that did not feel worthy.
None of this was conscious and it wasn’t until my late 30s that I could understand and articulate this.
By then I was married for all the wrong reasons.
Big experience #1
Facing my own death.
Age 40, I nearly died after a post hysterectomy haemorrhage. The day after surgery, I had a slow internal bleed and a trainee nurse who did not join the, “I’m feeling unwell”, drop in body temp and blood pressure, loss of colour… dots until I was at death’s door.
By the time I was rushed into theatre I knew I was on the very edge of life. I had lost sight and the ability to move but I could still hear.
I was calm amidst the panic that surrounded me.
The only thing I thought was that I wished I had showed up more.
Really showed up; been true to myself and honest with others.
Not taken anything for granted. Been totally present and 100% me, not tried to be what I thought others wanted me to be.
Suddenly it was absolutely clear that here and now is all we have, that any minute can be your last.
Show up!! Love, cry, laugh.
Be vulnerable. Be real. (sometimes this is messy and it hurts and that’s OK!)
Big experience #2 – kind of runs on from #1.
I spent about 5 days in intensive care, then another 3 weeks in hospital in acute pain, on intravenous antibiotics, having sponge baths and being stripped bare of any semblance of social veneer.
I was a vulnerable human animal, frightened, powerless and in pain.
I promised God that my new measure of happiness would be to be able to get out of bed, have a good poo and a hot shower by myself, to appreciate everything I had taken for granted!!
And that I would show up. EVERY DAY.
Then I was released from hospital and went home to the beautiful new house that my husband and I had just built – and I had to sit – for 3 months!
I could not move because of the pain and the risk of another bleed.
I had always buried any nagging unhappiness under busyness and now I had to be still and quiet and alone for long periods and I could not escape the truth.
My marriage was over. We should never have been married in the first place.
“The truth will set you free” had always sounded good to me but now I understood this at a gut level.
The truth is not what causes grief; it is the running away from it, denying it, burying it, dressing it up as something else that keeps us trapped and causes us pain.
The day I could sit with my husband and say that while I thought he is a kind and decent man, I could not wake up next to him every day for the rest of my life was a release for both of us.
This is why it is so much easier to set boundaries and speak your truth every day – as eventually you will have no other option, it WILL NOT go away, so save yourself years of pain and heartache and just front up with the truth every day!
Sometimes it’s hard to speak and hard to hear the truth. That’s OK.
Big experience #3.
Dealing with Mal’s death.
I left the marriage and was then in a relationship with Mal that was complex and at times difficult due to the circumstances that surrounded us. It was not until after his death that I came to understand just how much he had struggled with issues that I did not even know about. I want to make it clear that our relationship was far from ‘perfect’. But in amongst it all, Mal and I had a love like no other. We adored and celebrated and appreciated each other. There was sheer JOY. Absolute pleasure, adventure, frivolous fun, golden silence and the easy natural ‘at home’ feeling you get with people you are truly connected with.
Mal’s death in 2015, left me utterly shattered. He fell off a shipping container onto a concrete floor and died of head injuries.
He was the most ALIVE and vibrant person I had ever known. How could he be dead?
Touching his dead body was the hardest thing I have ever done.
Lifeless; it was clear that he was gone and this was just his body.
But WHERE did he go?
I had always neatly sidestepped the big questions around death – even my Mother’s. It had been a relief when she died as I didn’t have to deal with the trauma of our relationship anymore; if I grieved, it was for what would never be, not for what was.
Mal’s death ripped the ground out from beneath my feet and my heart out my body.
The pain was so intense it was physical. Debilitating.
Unable to breath or sleep or think or eat or process any of it. For months.
It was like I was in free fall. Nothing solid. No idea which way was up or how to find it.
It forced me to face the big questions.
What makes us who we are? What happens when we die?
Is it simply THE END, lights out? Or do you go somewhere?
I could not accept that such a force of life, of vitality and energy and ‘aliveness’ that was him could simply cease to exist. I knew his body was dead but I could not accept that his body was the sum total of him. I had enjoyed his body but what I loved about him was not his body. What is it that makes us who we are and what happens to that which we are when our body dies?
His death left a huge gaping hole in my life, in my heart, in my bed and in my future.
The VOID is relentless and brutal.
It’s been almost 3 years. Life does go on and the pain does ease.
His death has taught me many things.
I now know that love never ends and it is all that matters.
I now know that we just get wings when we leave our body. Our body is not us. All the people we have loved are still with us. You just can’t see them.
I now know that we must consciously and deliberately examine and choose our thoughts and by doing so we create our own reality. I know that you cannot go from ‘on the floor depression’ to happiness in a single leap, that it is a process of choosing to lean towards and focus on the positives until slowly, like a plant that slowly but surely turns towards the sun and grows, we too can turn towards the light of conscious, deliberate choice and grow. It’s hard, it’s messy, it’s worth it.
We must “water the flowers we want to grow”. Consistently.
I now know that the same magic and power and love that created us in the first place always flows to us and through us, if we let it.
I now know that pain, both physical and emotional is our in built, ever present, fail safe guidance system and we must trust and heed the message if we are to grow.
Finally – I know that words don’t teach.
You cannot teach a toddler to walk with words, they have to stumble and fall in order to find their balance. They have to ‘fail’ repeatedly and they will have bruises and they will cry and it will take many attempts…
You cannot teach a child that coffee is hot by telling them, they must touch the cup and feel the pain.
Loving some-one means allowing them to fall and ‘fail’ and get bruised in order that they find their balance.
Pain is our teacher.
Wisdom is just healed pain.
We are all in this together.
2. How do you get grounded when life is moving too fast?
I put the big things in first – you know the story about the teacher who wants the students to put rocks, stones and sand and water in the jar…if you put the sand in first the big rocks don’t fit, but if you put the big rocks in first the sand can fit around the rocks.
Decide what the big things in your life are. Put them in first. Your own wellbeing and happiness is the biggest thing. Always put it in first.
I cut out the “noise”. No news, occasional Facebook. No ‘let’s catch up and gossip/complain people’.
I have a date with myself every morning for a pot of tea and to look at the birds in the garden and be grateful for all the magic and perfection I see and that I cannot see; there is synergy and love and power in this world, in us.
I meditate EVERYDAY.
I edit my life ruthlessly and regularly; of people, commitments, thought habits, ideas and perceptions…just like cleaning out the cupboards. Good and normal are two different things; make sure your normal is good.
I say NO. Regularly. Politely. Firmly. Unapologetically.
I put my own self-worth and happiness at the top of the list.
3. How do you set and maintain boundaries without feeling guilty?
Because I turn into Monster Girl when I don’t!!
Resentfully “YES” is the dumbest thing I can say! Then I get narky and ugly. Just say NO. It also inspires confidence in others because they feel safe with you, no guessing about what’s really going on.
Boundaries are simply what is OK and what is not OK.
Much better for every one when I listen to my intuition and speak my truth about what is good for me and what isn’t. It is that simple.
When I set my boundaries clearly, firmly and unapologetically, everyone wins. Then I can be generous without feeling depleted as I have taken care of myself.
It’s not my job to make you happy. It’s your job.
It is my job to make me happy and sometimes that means I will say NO and that I will not do or be what you want me to do or be. Suck it up!!
4. What was the process of discovering what truly mattered to you like?
Agonizingly painful. Really messy, often embarrassing. Confronting. See the answers to question one!
Mostly through first f*%@-ing it up spectacularly to figure out what I did not want so then I knew with absolute certainty what I did want.
“Failure” is your friend, pain is your guidance system.
Leads to simplicity, certainty, clarity, confidence – and the next level of understanding which I am sure will involve more “failure” and pain and messy bits at some point!
What matters to me is simple.
Love. Love of myself, love of others, love of this planet.
Peace. Peace within, peace with others.
This is about BEING, not DOING.
If you can sort out the BEING, then the DOING and the HAVING come easily as you are activating from a place of love and peace, appreciation and joy.
5. What advice would you give people who are looking to reconnect with themselves more deeply?
Be still. Be quiet. Breathe deeply.
Meditate. Meditate. Meditate.
Trust your intuition – it is guidance from the universe.
Be gentle with yourself. Nurture yourself. Eat well. Exercise.
Edit your life ruthlessly and regularly – clean out your internal and external cupboards. Cut out the noise and the busyness, get rid of the old, de-clutter, have clean space internally and externally, disconnect from people who do not leave you feeling good.
Do NOT watch the news or spend time on Facebook.
Consciously and deliberately monitor your self-talk and if your normal is not good, change it.
Look around at the perfection of this planet and know that you are part of it.
Trust that the love and power that made a single sperm and egg grow into the perfect baby you is still flowing to you and through you. Think about this, it can be no other way!!
Put the big things in first. Your happiness is the first big thing.