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Neha Misra Tries Out Her First Workshop – Naked Dating!


9 Minute Read

I have a confession to make, until last weekend I was a virgin in the realm of workshops. Despite being an intuitive life coach and healer, the word ‘workshop’ and the thought of all that navel-gazing with a load of strangers has always made me want to run for the hills. Maybe because I am such a rebel and that it seemed almost ‘de rigueur’ that by a certain age, 53 in my case, with a certain lifestyle, one ought to have attended some kind of self-development workshop/course/retreat.

However, I came at Jan Day’s workshop ‘Meeting without Masks’ in a back to front way that sidestepped all my knee-jerk reactions. I went to a talk she gave in Portobello Road’s Electric House one rainy night in February and was immediately struck by Jan’s gentle energy and the powerful content of her conversation. She discussed intimacy in a way I had not heard spoken about before - with really intelligent observations around consent and about when ‘yes’ truly means ‘yes’ and ‘no’ truly means ‘no’.

I was totally hooked in and wanted to know more, because in the months post the beginning of the ‘Me Too’ movement, I was predominantly working with clients wanting to heal and release their sexual traumas. I liked the way Jan talked about how critical it was to explore one’s own boundaries first, and how vital boundaries are in a trusting relationship.

Of course on the actual day, I wasn’t so keen to go. We were having a rare moment of stunning sunshine after the Beast from the East plus it a was the London Marathon and it felt like the entire world had stepped onto my tube platform, it was worse than any rush hour scrum. Consequently, I was a bewildered hot mess when I arrive a few minutes late.

However, Jan and Frieder, (her husband and co-workshop host) couldn’t have put me more at ease with no judgement. In fact, the moment I walked into the room, I felt the loving playful way in which they were holding the space for everyone. Participants were already sitting down in a circle and the only place left was between Frieder and rather fortuitously the best looking man in the room.

The icebreaker in the first exercise was designed to loosen us up and inspire playfulness was actually my idea of hell, plus it didn’t help that Mr Good Looking was my partner. I was even more flustered. Thankfully, he seemed to find it equally awkward and I sensed a mutual rebellious spirit against anything contrived to force merriment. He had a droll deadpan humour and I couldn’t stop giggling. The group was gender-balanced with ages ranging from mid-20s to early 70s. As we moved onto the next exercise, I could see how cleverly they were designed to subtly yet skilfully lead us into exploring true listening and being present to our partner. I know from my marriage of 18 years that this is an area that gets woefully neglected in long relationships.

Meetings Without Masks or Naked Dating (in other words allowing you to remove your social masks) is not created for participants to get to know one particular person, but more to look at one’s own interactions and to get us accustomed to interacting in more heartfelt ways. As I worked with different partners, it struck me just how many men hadn’t considered what kind of relationship they really wanted. I actually started to really appreciate and respect the courage it took for everyone in the room to articulate this. It wasn’t easy to pull masks off that had built up over the years of self-protection. True intimacy requires vulnerability and that requires courage and most of the people I worked with seemed utterly frozen in their fears of rejection.

As the morning continued, I felt that shifts occurring. That maybe some of those shackles were loosening. Jan and Frieder were pushing us gently yet firmly to move out of our comfort zones. We had been asked to write notes of appreciation about everyone we encountered which would be put into envelopes with our names on it to take home. At one point Frieder even came up to and asked if I had written a note to Mr Good Looking and I recoiled in fear at the mere thought of it. I told him if I ever found a man attractive, it actually made me want to run away or even leave the room. Then to my extreme surprise, he asked me if I had been abused a lot by men, which I had. Having done decades of healing on myself, I was shocked to realise there is so much residual trauma left which still impacts the way I behave in a relationship. This workshop shone a torch into all my dark crevices making me see right into those areas that had yet to be healed.

In another exercise, we had a fabulous opportunity to start an honest dialogue with the opposite sex, which is so rare and precious. We were divided into sexes and invited to think about three questions. Firstly, we were asked to think about one thing that we appreciated about the opposite sex, then to consider one aspect that aggravated us, and finally to ponder a question that had always intrigued us about them.

I found myself in front of Mr Good Looking again and despite my lack of comfort, I forced myself to look into his eyes and tried not to get flustered as more masks came off. His answers were surprising and yet confirmed what I had already realised, we are all scared of getting rejected, and we all just wanted to be accepted, heard and loved. The vulnerability of showing these feelings of fear and discomfort - is real heartfelt intimacy.

By lunchtime, I had a lot of insights to mull over. For a small extra amount of money, there was a delicious vegan and gluten-free buffet.

The kindness and nurturing energy emanated by Jan and Frieder throughout the workshop, reminded me of my doula (trained birthing assistant) when I gave birth. They know that this isn’t an easy process and they hold the space in a strong, loving and supportive way so that participants can push through the layers of social masks to give birth to themselves safely if they wish.

It felt as if time was slowing down as we dived deeply into examining our responses to exercises, which encouraged us to practice vulnerability and openness. We went from less talking to more experiential work. In a very simple exercise where we could explore consent, we walked towards a partner after they had indicated their consent with an open or closed arm gesture. This became a moving, revelatory and extremely powerful experience for me because as someone who was brought up with the ‘disease to please’ simply taking the time to check in with myself that I was okay with moving forward, was an alien concept.

I had to consciously stop myself going on doing what I thought my partner wanted. Although a total stranger, my partner displayed extraordinary kindness by waiting patiently and holding the space in a non-threatening manner. I felt safe so I eventually was ready to move forward. It was the first time in my life that I felt that kind of patience from a man.

Having said that, when I was about three feet away from him, I felt the energy between us dramatically change. So much so that I had to go backwards in a knee-jerk reaction and take a moment before I stepped once again into that challengingly intimate space. It was almost too much for me and even though we hadn’t exchanged a word yet I knew he could feel it too. When I caught his eye, we both burst out laughing with the surprise and intimacy of it all.

The second version of this exercise became even more interesting as it required us to look at what was leading us to make the decision to move forwards or backwards. Was it our head or our sexual desire? Jan knows this is an enormous challenge for most of us and I loved the way she gently introduced it – especially to the men - as a way of unapologetically standing in and embracing one’s own sexuality.

As the day ended, we left holding our envelopes with the notes of appreciation and there was no doubt many masks had been removed. I felt tired but lighter. As I left, Mr Good Looking asked me how I had found it? The energy between us felt different. We had both just done the workshop and it felt as if there was another quality to the communication. I felt as if my words were truly being listened to, as if my words were falling into a deep pile that softly held it.

The truth is that I felt a bit discombobulated after the workshop. I was shocked that at 53 and after an 18-year marriage, I didn’t know how to respond to an attractive man. My traditional response had been to run away. Yet now I could look Mr GL in the eye without needing to control the situation. I could be instead present to the connection we were making.

Therein lies the beauty of this day course. Its tools are so accessible and immediate. Perhaps we were still in the bubble of the workshop, however, I think there was a difference to the quality of our communication as we walked and talked and got to know each other better in the beautiful back streets of Belgravia bathed in spring sunshine.

Later that night, I read the notes of appreciation we had been encouraged to write. Mine were touching and sweet. They reminded me of the courage that it takes to be vulnerable. True intimacy is so scary for so many of us, especially for those who have never had it. The last note I opened was from Mr GL, it said; ‘I loved your infectious joy, positivity, sense of mischief and curiosity – and your jewellery which was nearly as plentiful as mine.’

As for what happened next with Mr GL, well that’s a story for another time…

The next Meetings Without Masks is on June 17th in Belgravia. More info on meetingswithoutmasks.com or janday.com

The Advantages of Being 71


6 Minute Read

After joining this group, I started pondering the advantages of being 71. I couldn’t think of any to start with! Last year, I went to a Blondie concert with my daughter and her friends and although Blondie is my age, the crowd was all my daughter’s age, mid-forties because they grew up in the 1970s and 80s listening to her music. They are from a different generation.

I was feeling a bit glum and a bit like an old fogey. I couldn’t stand for hours and my daughter found me a chair so I could sit down, in between jigging to Blondie tunes.

So, what are the advantages of being in my 70s? For me, the biggest is having been alive in the 1950s, a totally different epoch.

I was born in 1947 in Prague, the illegitimate daughter of a Ukrainian refugee. We escaped the Communist regime and ended up in Australia, the only place in the world who would take a Ukrainian single mother and child. Having read the horrors of what happened in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s (copying the terror of Stalinist Russia of the 1930s), I am extremely grateful that my mother risked everything to get us out.

Although Australia was gripped by its own version of McCarthyism and was a puppet state of the USA, I experienced the many positive sides of the 1950s. No one locked their houses, no one had a car, TV or telephone. I walked to school (twenty minutes away) often alone, from the age of 5. Later, I rode my bike - well into the 1960s - and never locked my bike anywhere. It didn’t even occur to me or anyone that someone might steal it. We as kids played in the street and rarely saw a car. I would occasionally listen to serials on the radio, and hardly ever went to the cinema. In the evening, I would read all sorts of books and dip into my trusty Arthur Mee encyclopaedia set. It wasn’t a happy childhood - my mother Olga did not survive the terrors of Stalinist Russia and of being a prisoner in Nazi Germany. She spent the last 17 years of her life incarcerated in a mental hospital, after being subjected to psychotropics, ECT and a lobotomy. These were the days when mental illness was misunderstood and treated as a scourge.That was extremely difficult to bear, but I benefitted from living in a relatively free society.

In 1957, I was riding my bike (not many people had lights in those days) on a dark road looking up at the starlit sky. Then I saw it - the first Sputnik. That was an amazing feeling - that Russian earthlings had put up a spacecraft and I could see it moving through the sky. Then crash, I ran over a man who was also staring fascinatedly upwards. I knocked him out. When he came to, he said: ‘Gosh, I just saw stars and a Sputnik!’

The 1950s were a lot slower. We waited in queues in shops, wielding our string bags and jiggling our coins, and everything was served in brown paper. At 14, I opened a bank account which I have kept to this day. The bank teller would enter my small amount of money in ink and add up the columns. It was all pounds, shillings and pence and when I worked in my stepfather’s delicatessen, I was really good at adding up long sums as well as working things out in pounds and ounces. SUGAR. We all so blithely ingested tons of sugar. I would drink a few cokes on a hot day from the refrigerated machine, which a Coca-Cola representative kindly installed in our shop, for free!! At home, we would drink strong Russian tea laden with sugar. Life was very sweet!! The upshot is that I have now developed diabetes.

Queen Elizabeth II visited Adelaide in 1954. I loved her dearly and thought she was the prettiest woman in the world. In fact, she was the Empress of a vast monolith. I proudly perused a world map, which was dominated by the red countries of the British Empire, where the sun never set. I felt like a privileged citizen of a vast, seemingly ordered world and basked in what was promulgated as an age of freedom. In the north of South Australia, was the Woomera Rocket Range, which we were told, was where Australia was keeping up with the Space Race. It was only when I was an adult that I discovered that nuclear bombs were secretly detonated there and that at times when the wind changed, and Adelaide was swathed in radioactive fallout. Of course, no attention was paid to the hapless Aboriginal inhabitants in the outback.

So, I am glad that I am as old as I am because I experienced a whole different world in the 1950s that was changed out of all recognition by the advent of the 60s and 70s. If I had been born much later, I would not have had that experience. I would have also missed the timing of the Beatles song, ‘She was Just 17’, which thrillingly, hit the Australian charts shortly after my 17th birthday.

I believe experiencing the 1950s has added a depth to my perception of life. Dare I say wisdom? I lived during a time when we were not bombarded by information technology and social media. The world was fine without those things - stretching out in a slow, peaceful and leisurely fashion. However, if you are immersed in modern technology the whole time, you can’t catch the effect it has on you. My daughter and her friends were born into a world of cars, phones, TVs, music tapes - they are like fish trying to see water; they are unaware of their immersion. They don’t know a world without the ever-present technology being used continuously.

Now I am in my 8th decade, I feel enriched by having lived in a totally different epoch. It has given me more of an overview - an ability to identify what is truly important. Like many people my age, I am horrified that people in restaurants look at their mobiles a lot more than at each other.

There are a lot of ‘Age is just a number’ slogans floating around the internet. I understand that these slogans are fending off societal attitudes to age, and rightly so. For me my age is an important number - it signifies a lot. Being 71, is a badge I wear proudly, despite my creaking bones. I am a baby-boomer who emerged from a dreadful dark age in history and survived, being an immigrant and the child of a traumatised mother. I won the freedom I have today, by dint of a lot of hard work on myself and truckloads of psychotherapy. I had to do it because I had a deeply painful legacy to unravel. I am grateful to be living in a time when there are a wealth of techniques to face our dark sides and not be run by them. My dear mother did not have that luxury.

I’m not crazy about my wrinkles but I take heart in a claim by a woman on Instagram who says of herself; ‘my wrinkles are my stripes’.

Campfire Bugle: Reflections of life at 60 : Q&As to self


8 Minute Read

It’s hard to start any article written on the day I turn 60 without resorting to clichés and platitudes, so I thought I’d try a different approach. After spending a fair amount of time reflecting on life on a recent sojourn to Greece, I thought that I’d actualise some of those reflections and put myself on the casting sofa and attempt a few ‘Q&As to self’

Read the full story here: Campfire Bugle: Reflections of life at 60 : Q&As to self

How to Break Unhealthy Relationship Patterns and Find Love


5 Minute Read

Are you always attracted to unavailable men or women, to commitment-phobes, people living on different continents or to those already attached to someone else? Do you struggle to find emotionally healthy people attractive and run in the opposite direction as soon as a decent prospect wants to get serious?

In short, are you tired of repeating the same mistakes in your romantic relationships and getting the same results? If so, there’s no time like the present to change.

Dating for me used to be like banging my head against a brick wall. Why did I keep falling for commitment-phobes or unavailable types? Why couldn’t I fancy the good guys who were into me? And where have all the eligible men gone anyway?

I spent many a Valentine’s Day single, staying home to avoid all the red hearts or arranging a night out with my female friends. I had a good life and was content in many ways but I wanted to be in love. I thought things would never change.

But they have. I’ll be spending this Valentine’s Day with my partner, to whom I’m engaged. More importantly, I feel settled, confident I’m with the man I want to spend the rest of my days with and certain that there’s enough love between us to cope with whatever comes our way.

For an indecisive, restless soul who always thought there was someone better out there and who couldn’t stop looking over her boyfriend’s shoulder for the next guy, my newfound peace is nothing short of a miracle.

So how did I change my unhealthy relationship patterns and find love?

I first had to understand where I was going wrong. For years, I blamed the men I met for being emotionally distant or scared of commitment. What was wrong with them? Eventually, I discovered there was something wrong with me.

I was drawn to unavailable types because I was emotionally unavailable myself. I fancied commitment-phobes because I was terrified of commitment. Dating someone who wasn’t willing or able to give me love made it easy for me. It meant I could avoid getting into a true, intimate relationship with a man, and therefore avoid getting hurt, which was what I was scared of the most.

After years of personal development work and lots of therapy, I understood that my first relationship with a man, my dad, had set me up for a lifetime of self-sabotage. When my father sat my eight-year-old self on his knee and told me he was moving out of our family home, my heart cracked. The experience hurt so much that I resolved never to repeat it. I would never open my heart again. I would never get that close to a man.

I took something else away from that painful experience – the idea that I wasn’t lovable, valuable or good enough. This is what we do as children. We assume everything is our fault. We assume there’s something wrong with us.

My decision to avoid pain at all costs and that core belief that I wasn’t enough formed the basis for my future relationships. Unavailable types were safe to date. Available men who were up for commitment were dangerous so I ran away from them. And I didn’t believe I deserved love so I accepted crumbs and allowed others to treat me badly.

To change those patterns, I had to change how I related to myself.

I had to connect with the painful feelings from my childhood that I’d run away from for years or numbed with excess food (I had an eating disorder for several decades). That meant learning to slow down, sit still and allow the hurt to surface. I thought the feelings would kill me if I let myself feel them. But they didn’t. I’m still here. By feeling the pain, I could begin to heal it.

I had to learn to love, accept and respect myself wholeheartedly, to believe that I was enough and that I deserved a healthy and loving relationship with a man who could love me back.

I had to learn to trust that I could cope if I loved deeply but then lost someone again, to realise that I was a resilient adult now, not a vulnerable child.

I had to truly understand the root of my unhealthy patterns and talk about them with others who had similar experiences.

And I had to dig deep and find the courage to change those patterns.

I helped myself by building up a support network around me and by setting healthy and loving boundaries for myself whenever I went on a date. So I would try to avoid alcohol, which clouded my faculties and got me into scrapes with unavailable types. I would try to keep first dates short so I wouldn’t be tempted to end up in a man’s arms before I even knew anything about him. And I would try to move forwards at a steady pace, always alert to my history of self-sabotage, always questioning whether this relationship was good for me or whether I was repeating the same mistakes.

I say try because I messed up so many times. I am a human being after all. But every time I did, my awareness grew. Gradually, I began to date more mindfully. I began to choose who I spent time with rather than letting myself be chosen. And I began to give myself love and care so that I didn’t crave another’s love so badly. Cravings had always got me into trouble.

Awareness was the key to my transformation and I believe it’s the key for all of us. Awareness opens the door to change. By identifying and owning our patterns and by understanding why we cause ourselves pain, accept less than we deserve and run away from happiness, we can recover and heal.

That is my wish for you this Valentine’s.

Emma Freud: “I’m Not Interested in Spending My 50s Pretending I’m in My 40s” | InStyle.com


1 Minute Read

My amazing mum was 90 last month. She’s been an actress for 70 years—and on her big day she performed two theater shows before hosting dinner for 30 people. She swims every morning, goes tap dancing every week, and has nearly mastered the names, if not the sexes, of her 18 grandchildren.

When someone recently asked her how she is still sparkling at her mighty age, she suggested it might be connected to her lunchtime diet, always the same: a packet of potato crisps and a glass of red wine. She’s sharp, funny, and beautifully eccentric.But each time we talked this year about her 90th birthday, she asked me not to mention her actual age. “I don’t want people knowing how old I am—they’ll write me off,” she said, in a 90-year-old way.

So, in that incredibly patronizing tone that only a 55-year-old can use when addressing her nonagenarian mother, I had a massive talk to her (to her, not with her—she’s my mum, remember).It went something like this: “Mum, if you’ve arrived at 90 with your health and your faculties intact—not to mention your insistence on sunbathing in a bikini and your refusal to wear clothes to bed—surely that is something to celebrate rather than hide. You fought for female liberation in the ’60s—you can’t now be part of the conspiracy that women are valid only when they are young. We’ve moved on from that. If people are standing up and openly saying ‘I’m LGBTQI’ or ‘I have mental-health issues,’ then surely we should say ‘I’m old’ with pride?”

Read the full story here: Emma Freud: "I’m Not Interested in Spending My 50s Pretending I’m in My 40s" | InStyle.com

My Voice Lost and Found


6 Minute Read

Some things you just take for granted. Me being able to sing was one. When I was young I was one of those kids that used to get up and sing in front of my parents friends to entertain them. When I was in High School I was chosen to be part of an exclusive group of singers to perform madrigals. For a couple of years a dozen of us would go 'on tour' to Spain or Germany to perform in secondary schools in front of kids our own age. I loved singing those medieval songs almost as much as the mischief I made on those school trips. I remember more than one occasion, stripping off my horrible costume, a tartan floor length A-line skirt and matching waistcoat straight after a concert, and climbing out the hostel window with my friend Laurie so we could go in search of the young men who had come to see us perform.

At University I was rejected from singing with the school’s jazz band because I wasn't doing a music degree and that was the criteria for anyone who wanted to sing with the group. And in my twenties I did lots of session singing, eventually rejoining Laurie and her sister to perform complicated three part harmonies that Laurie had devised as the band ‘The Dirty Blondes.’ We had a blast, singing at various pubs and clubs where I’m sure nobody really knew what to make of three twenty-something young women singing Andrew Sisters and Rogers & Hammerstein tunes when punk was all the rage.

By my late twenties I’d moved on, teaming up with a pianist where we would perform jazz standards for hours in tiny wine bars across the city. Singing and music was in my blood. My mother had sung on the radio as a child. My uncle played drums for Janis Joplin (whom I met when I was 6) and a distant cousin was Stan Getz.

In 1988 I met my husband who was not musical but was a total music geek and photojournalist. Although he was obsessed with music, he could never understand why I would want to sing in some half empty wine bar all evening for the price of a decent steak. So I stopped singing except for humming along to tunes on the radio or a Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald record. I gave birth to a couple of kids, my youngest of whom also inherited the family’s musical gene, and put my own singing years behind me.

It took a trip to Cherry Grove, Fire Island, and a good ten years into my marriage, to re-awaken my voice. I’d gone there with a man with whom I’d been having a long distance affair. He was a born and bred New Yorker and, being August, he suggested we spend a week there to get away from the heat of the city. The place was populated almost exclusively with gay men, so much so that we quickly got a reputation as the only straight people on the Island. It was Friday night when we popped into a piano bar. One after another, guys got up to perform show tunes or jazz standards. They were mostly buff, young men who were taking a break from a Broadway show and so the bar had been set pretty high for me. I hadn’t sung for over a decade but I’d told my lover enough that he knew that with enough provocation, I’d want to have a go.

I’ll never forget that night, I went up to the pianist and said, “My Funny Valentine. Key of G.” He started playing and all those years of being silent just fell away. Suddenly the room grew quiet. When I’d finished, I went to sit down and lots of guys came up to me and asked me where I performed in the city so they could hear me sing again. “I don’t perform,” I said. “I haven’t sung for a decade.” I started to cry. I suppose I felt cheated, that I’d stopped doing something I loved so much, just because my husband thought it was a bit silly. Although I still didn’t return to singing despite feeling validated that evening.

Then the menopause arrived, and along with hot flushes and sleepless nights, I lost my singing voice. When I tried to sing to songs on the radio, all that came out was a strange and unfamiliar croaky sound. I couldn’t hit the notes I used to and I couldn’t find my way around a tune. I grieved the loss of my voice much more than my sex drive or my waistline. Singing was just so much a part of me, I just never thought there would be a time when it was something I could no longer do. I stopped singing along to the radio because it was just too painful and derived pleasure listening on the sly to my youngest son and his beautiful, soulful voice as he sang along to R&B songs in his bedroom.

Over the last year I decided to try something new, I dropped down an octave, sounding more like Barry White than Barbara Streisand. I wasn’t ready to let go of the singer in me and discovered I could still carry a tune despite not being able to hit the high notes,

Recently my friend invited me to a burlesque karaoke night. I didn’t know what to expect but when they passed the book of songs around, I worked out that it wasn’t the burlesque performers who would be singing along to the backing track, it was the audience. After a drink, I decided to have a go. I picked my signature tune and one that I’d sung with the Dirty Blondes thirty years earlier - Fever. I dropped the song by an octave and, recalling that evening in the piano bar in Cherry Grove; I could feel the room go quiet. After I’d finished, a few people came up and told me how good I sounded. At the end of the night, I got back on stage (at the audience’s request) and sang another song. I felt transported back in time, only this time with my new, different voice.

That’s the thing about getting older. It’s about acceptance and celebrating that transition. I won’t lie. It’s been hard getting used to not being able be sing like I used to, but hey - I can still make a room go quiet. And I have a new voice. That is something to relish.

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