Book review ‘I swear allegiance – Being yourself in a uniform world’ by Michiel van der Pols, Part 1

Through a post on LinkedIN I became aware of the work of Michiel van der Pols, who, as a former marine, focuses on guiding people who get stuck in the high-risk sector. He does this in his role as a ‘breakthrough coach’, in which he works with people to find out where the behavioural patterns that are currently obstructive once originated. Over time he has discovered clear patterns in this and in his book  ‘Ik zweer trouw – Jezelf zijn in een uniforme wereld’ (‘I swear allegiance – Being yourself in a uniform world’), he explains in detail those patterns, which he calls ‘red threads’, in nine solid chapters. After a hesitant start, I was quite fascinated and quickly finished the 300-page book, published in the spring of 2023.

After the foreword by the commander of the Marine Corps, Michiel explains in five introductory pages what led him to write his book. In it he is immediately very open about how he had suppressed all kinds of emotions within himself for years, which eventually came out forcefully: “As a child I felt little room for my own opinion (…) I did not talk about my own problems (…) and in the Marine Corps I just continued this behavior” (p. 17,18). In the sessions he gives, such old family dynamics turn out to have a major influence on current beliefs and behaviour patterns for many people. These are often so deeply ingrained that it proves difficult to get rid of them, but “Growth within a comfort zone is only possible to a very limited extent” (p.21) and so change takes a lot of courage. The rest of the book is essentially about the underlying mechanisms and the steps needed for change. The book is rich in candid stories of people in the high-risk sector who, together with Michiel, have taken on the challenge of change and thus restored the emotional connection to themselves.

From page 27, Michiel explains the core of his ideas in eight pages. Children are born with basic needs and develop ways to get them met; the child “protects itself against what is experienced as unpleasant” (p.27). The closer the child can remain to their authentic core, the healthier and happier they will be. If the child becomes disconnected from itself and becomes alienated from that authenticity, then we speak of trauma. The more adjustments the child makes, the more compromises it makes, however subtle and invisible they may be to the outside world, the more the inner balance will be disturbed, with all possible long-term problems: “If you adapt yourself for a long time and are not true to what you need, the body will react to it. The imbalance will manifest itself in burnout, depression, addiction, PTSD, cheating or entering into unhealthy relationships” (p. 29,30). An adapted identity is created, as it were, which is confused with one’s own identity.

Relationships and work environments are selected in accordance with that adapted identity and the high-risk sector can then be attractive: it provides a strong identity and encourages adapted, (literally and figuratively) uniform behaviour. In other words, the culture in many high-risk organisations is such that people who have learned to adapt can apparently function well for a long time. The suppression of emotions in particular (needed to be able to do the demanding, often dangerous work) ultimately, however, very often leads to the emotional bucket filling up and overflowing.

In Chapter 1 Michiel tells his personal life story. He looks back on how he unconsciously learned to shut down and block his emotions at home, how he got used to doing everything alone and relying only on himself, how his role as a marine gave him something to hold on to and an opportunity to show that he mattered, how individualistic thinking was skilfully converted into collective thinking, and how he realised at one point that by taking the military oath he had promised obedience and submission to a system that could also punish him if he did not (properly) comply ( p.51). Many of his motivations were inauthentic; they were choices made from a sense of emptiness, where he gave up much of his authenticity in the quest for safety.

Due to various events, he became aware that he could show more of himself, because in doing so he also got to see more of the other person and could build much deeper connections with others (p.64). The meeting with his current wife, whom he recognised before he knew her, opened his heart completely and made it clear to him how much he had hidden himself for years. His attention shifted from focus on the judgment of the outside world to loving attention to his own inner world. He embarked on an intensive personal healing journey and this also gave rise to the courage to choose a different course professionally. That is how he became a breakthrough coach: his experiential expertise became the basis for guiding others who are looking to reconnect with their authentic selves.

Michiel felt a deep urge to shape his new profession as a coach in such a way that he remained true to himself: “In a no-nonsense and impactful way, I wanted to help others to break through their blocks on their emotional world and to face their fears of ‘just’ being themselves. (…) If I don’t do that myself, how can I help someone else?” (p.70).
The breakthrough he grants his interlocutors is that through the timelines he works with, they find their way back from thinking with the head, from analysing, rationalising, complicating and minimising what lives inside of them, to feeling with the heart, to tolerating, validating, accepting and integrating – the way we start our lives as babies. As a result, space can arise to grow towards true knowing from the source, towards realising and manifesting, towards sensitivity that, as humans, connects us with the divine.

The second part of this book review will follow later this week, in which I will discuss the ‘red threads’ that Michiel has found, in addition to a number of theoretical points that are discussed in the book. I also had a wonderful podcast conversation with him, which will be online in between these two blog parts. Keep an eye on the socials!

Trauma-sensitive lactation care – I am ready for it!

It was the summer of 1994 and after a beautiful home birth our third daughter was born. She’s getting married in a few weeks; her white baby clothes from the first days, contrasting so beautifully with her pitch black hair and deep dark brown eyes, are in the attic. In August, they will be replaced by a truly beautiful white wedding dress. Again her eyes and hair, slightly lighter in colour but still beautifully dark, will contrast with her clothes, both with what she will wear during the pre-wedding drinks and with what she will wear during the festive day (that wedding dress) and in the evening, when we are all expected in gala outfit.

On the day of her birth, I could not have imagined that almost thirty years later I would be working as a lactation consultant and medical anthropologist/sociologist. Especially the lactation science is directly connected to her birth. I was literally deathly ill in childbed due to puerperal fever and when we were together in the hospital because of my recovery, I saw that the support for breastfeeding often left a lot to be desired. That is why I became a volunteer at the Dutch breastfeeding association VBN, later a lactation consultant in my own practice, and eventually the trauma-sensitive anthropologist I am today. Some people thought that I was suddenly doing something completely different with that anthropology studies, but I always only saw a straight line from micro to macro to meta level. What happens between mother and child in early life is a template for what follows. What we experience on a small scale in our family of origin becomes on a large scale our frame of reference for how we view the world. And how we all are in the world is the basis of our societies and their associated cultures. Thus, in my experience a direct connection from small to large, from inner to outer environment, from healthy, secure attachment in the parent-child relationship (or lack thereof) to peaceful, empathetic resilience in the world (or lack thereof).

When I was reminded last year that I had to renew my lactation consultant certification this summer (every five years, if we want to keep our ‘IBCLC’ credentials), I did not hesitate: of course I want to remain a lactation consultant! My trauma work as an anthropologist/sociologist within ACE Aware NL and my lactation consultant work for Breastfeeding Center Panta Rhei form such a relevant combination – I want to continue that. In fact… I want to expand it!

So there was no escape: I had to go through the recertification procedure. Since the obligation to take the re-examination has been abolished for re-certifiers (allowed, not required), you must demonstrate in a different way every five years that you have received sufficient training and are also otherwise competent to practice the profession. I consider that justified in itself: mothers and babies are entitled to high-quality care. The only follow-up question then is: how do you demonstrate that you deliver such care? You can provide credits, but have you integrated the knowledge? If, on top of your many years of lactation consultant experience, you have done and learned things other than what the requirements prescribe, does that mean that by definition you cannot provide good care?

With the abolition of the re-examination, the requirements have been adjusted somewhat and thus I had to make the corresponding ‘self-assessment’ for the first time this summer, so that it would become clear in which areas of knowledge I scored sufficiently and where I had fallen behind and should catch up. Nowadays you must also successfully complete a resuscitation course; you must still be able to demonstrate 75 training points (minimum 50 L (‘lactation’) and 5 E (‘ethics’) and a maximum of 20 R (‘related’)), and if necessary, you must be able to provide convincing timesheets. Colleagues said reassuringly that although you have to have everything in order, you will only be asked for ‘evidence’ if chosen for a random survey. I did all the calculations, submitted my recertification application on July 13th and paid off a few hundred euros. A few hours waiting and then the website would report that I can continue for another five years.

The latter was delayed… not a few hours, but days and days. In the meantime I had been away for a week for a retreat in a place associated with my childhood. I needed it and it did me good. However, I kept checking my e-mail and half way through my week I had a message: “Thank you for submitting your application. You have been selected for an audit; we look forward to receiving your documents! Remember: late submission means the end of your certification.”

Ai, ai, ai… the lack of a quick confirmation had already made me suspect this… and also made me fear this to some extent. Now I had to collect a lot of attachments and prove that I really am still worthy of that credential.
Self-assessment: check. CPR course: check. Training points: check, big check – more training than I thought! But that one part, that time registration… I dreaded that. My rough estimate beforehand now needed more detail. A very busy master year for my studies, a year of board work with limited time for consultations, for all kinds of reasons re-energising after that board year, focus shifted to more biopsychosocial aspects of early childhood… would I get the required number of lactation hours?

In my mind, I went back to all my activities in the preceding five years. I realised that, in addition to the consultations, I had worked hard on the thorough revision of the professional profile. I had also made a solidly substantiated version of it, translated into English, for the European lactation consultant organisation. In addition, I had written an evidence-based essay in response to a draft guideline on the parent-child relationship and the role of breastfeeding and secure attachment therein. I had made the Dutch translation of James McKenna’s second, thick book and had gotten it published by a major Dutch publisher. I had followed all kinds of trainings and courses for ACE Aware NL and read endless books and articles that gave me more and more insight into why it is often so difficult for mothers during the early postpartum period, why their births do not always go smoothly, and how they then struggle with breastfeeding problems. However, none of these things had earned me CERPs, the educational points accredited by the international lactation consultants certifying body. Now that I had to demonstrate both my hours and my CERPs, I became aware that the frame of reference is actually rather narrow. That R category… I was only allowed to record 20 points in that category, while much of what makes me a much better lactation consultant now than before falls exactly in that category or in none at all.

Working out my hours and my CERPs, placing them in exactly the right row… it made me a bit rebellious, but mostly sad. Once again I realised how far we are from a trauma-sensitive approach, from a holistic rather than a fragmented, reductionist approach to health problems. A mother and a baby who together cannot get the breastfeeding relationship going smoothly… there is almost always much more going on than ‘just’ a lactation-related, ‘technical’ bottleneck. Of course, latch should be observed and corrected if need be; of course, anatomical or neurological problems in the baby must be ruled out. And naturally you have to look at how pre-existing medical problems have a place within the breastfeeding relationship, but… from a trauma-sensitive approach you know that even all these things may (and very often probably do) have much deeper roots.

There is still a lot of hesitancy to include these trauma aspects. And there is often a lot of fear to talk about them with clients: can they handle it, do they want to talk about it, is it not rude to discuss them? In such cases, it is good to remember that when such questions come up, they are often a mirror for your own pain, for your own triggers and your own survival strategies. When you develop the competencies that are necessary to enter into that vulnerable, intensely personal conversation with the client in a safe, constructive, compassionate way, a wonderfully beautiful depth arises in the consultations. Then a moving connection arises, because the client feels the safety to restore the connection with their deepest Self. What an honour to be allowed to be present and to contribute to it… talking about high-quality care!

Elsewhere in Europe it took them a few days to study all my attachments, but it all worked out: last Monday I received the message that I am recertified until December 2028 – hurray!
Free rein, therefore, to further the development of trauma-sensitive lactation consultations!

Book review ‘Vadervuur’ by Jeroen de Jong, Part 2

Earlier this week we shared Part 1 of this book review; today you read Part 2.

As mentioned, ‘Vadervuur’ (‘Father fire’) contains many essential questions, questions that require an open, self-reflective attitude and Jeroen therefore says: “Conscious and involved fatherhood is not for the faint-hearted” (p. 42). He points out that there is a difference between relaxing and escaping; there is also often a difference between what we want to be and think we are, and what we actually do (p. 47). This field of tension calls for regularly recurring moments of standing still, saying goodbye, leaving behind and mourning (p. 54). It also has common ground with the ACEs we may have endured as children. This can be a complicated theme, especially for men. Being tough, persevering, not complaining… these are qualities that are often still valued in men, even though they can get in the way of involved fatherhood. In this kind of reflection, ceremonies can be helpful, rituals that mark transitional moments. That is one of the reasons why Jeroen and Wendy so much love the sweat lodges they regularly organise (and of which I am a devoted visitor). Sweat lodges are a way to give very physical attention, time and space to what lives inside you. Ceremonies of any kind can help you stay emotionally in touch with what’s important to you and establish how you want to set boundaries so that you can safeguard and protect the “sacred space” (p. 59) of your true Self, your home, and your family. This creates a safety experience for everyone.

In this exciting and challenging parental adventure, you can therefore sometimes use some wise advice. The ‘elders’ (not the ‘elderly’ – not the old, but the mature, wise people) are of great importance in many cultures. In the western world we are not so familiar with this (anymore). There are actually two directions to that concept, and both require vulnerability. The younger father can learn from the older one, from everything that he has already lived through. And the reverse is also true: older fathers (and grandfathers) can also learn from the new insights that the younger fathers share. That is why Jeroen is happy that his groups are very diverse, as was also apparent during the theatre evening. Many ‘experienced’ fathers in Jeroen’s groups are willing to grow further in a new personal and social reality, with new knowledge and experience, with a little less ego. Even if your family is older, if your children have already left the house… then as a parent you still have an influence on your family culture and the ‘being a role model’ that Jeroen advocates at the beginning of his book remains of great influence and meaning: “Every master should be proud when his pupil surpasses him. This is how we move forward together” (p. 67).

What we take with us from those who came before us shows the way we were ‘marinated’ as children (p. 79): “The better you know the nest you come from, the finer the nest will be that you will build for your children” (p. 80). In one of the chapters in this section about parents, Jeroen states that they are usually deeply rooted and that mostly it will not be so easy to get them moving. He says that the chance of change is greatest if, as a father, you take action yourself and don’t wait for your parents to take steps. Although I agree that you can take steps yourself if your parents’ approach does not match your own vision of life, I would like to add some nuance to what those parents are (still) capable of. Unlike Jeroen, I am already a grandparent and that role also requires a reorientation. I have noticed that this is also a powerful motivation to get moving, to dig up the roots a bit and to investigate whether they can be encouraged to new growth with some unearthing. That can be very beneficial for the fresh lots on the tree (and regularly attending a sweat lodge is very helpful… 😉).

There is much more beautiful stuff to tell about ‘Vadervuur’, but I would say: go read it, that book; as a young father you will get a lot out of it, but as a mother too. The book gives air to breathe, is soft and friendly, has funny self-mockery and cheerful humour. The holistic approach is a relief. It encourages recognising and acknowledging one’s own emotions, those within yourself and those in your original and current family system. Have faith in yourself and in your child and remember: “Role-modelling is developing yourself with your children as external motivation” (p. 147). This also requires learning to say ‘sorry’ to your child, so that your relationship continues to feel safe and you do not abuse the unavoidable power that you have as a parent (p. 168). You will have boundaries, but so does your child and they mutually deserve to be respected. This stimulates your child’s authenticity.

At the same time, it is also nice if there is a certain limitlessness, a pure and sincere enthusiasm that is linked to eagerness and a feeling of abundance. Jeroen describes it as “happy, thank you, more please” (p. 223), a way to break free from the often so intrusive ‘scarcity thinking’ that is usually based on trauma. Thinking in terms of abundance, from authenticity, without a mask on, gives a different personal and family dynamic. That is not always easy, but that is why Jeroen ends the book with his motto: “We do it ourselves, but not alone” (p. 229), as an invitation to find each other and learn from each other. This is an important invitation, because the belief that we have to be ‘strong’ and that we have to do the hard things in life alone is one of the common trauma responses after a childhood with ACEs. Jeroen’s encouragement for openness, social connection and reaching out to your peers, your fellow fathers, is therefore an important message.

I really enjoyed ‘Vadervuur’ and one of these days the podcast with Jeroen will also be online. We spoke shortly after the book came out and had a wonderful conversation about all of these themes. You can find the podcast here .

Book review ‘Vadervuur’ by Jeroen de Jong, Part 1

Once you get into circles of attachment parenting and responsive, sensitive parenting, there are some people you will meet again and again. One of those people is Jeroen de Jong. Since 2013 he has been active in an important part of the parenting field, namely with the young and the older, the mature and the fresh and green fathers, who are all in their own way looking for a form in which they can shape their role as the male parent of their child(ren). It is wonderful to see how Jeroen has found his place by organising all kinds of activities for ‘involved fatherhood’ and how he wants to keep the fire burning not only figuratively, but also literally in that adventure. Even better is it that he has now also written a book about this, so that everyone has easy access to his vision.

The official presentation of ‘Fatherfire – Follow your own parenting course and become the father you wish your child to have’ took place on 31st May 2023 in Theatre De Slinger in Houten and unlike most other parenting events, the hall was now filled mainly with men. Stacks of books were waiting in the corridor, which were handed out after the performance to those who had ordered a copy or decided to buy it on the spot. Just as the theatre evening was a party, so is the book.

Below the title on the ocher yellow cover is a drawn black and white image with two men and three children. The children hold a stick with a marshmallow in their hand, which they hold close to the flames of a campfire. The flames are red and the fire seems to be burning nicely. Under Jeroen’s name is ‘De Praktijkvader’, the name of his own company that he has been running together with his wife Wendy for quite some time now and which also indicates that he has a warm heart for drawing on daily practice. Not the rules are paramount, but everyday reality. And that reality is, among other things, that involved fathers play a very important role for a favourable development of well-being and health in their children and thus contribute to the prevention of ACEs.

‘Father fire’ has 53 short chapters, divided into seven thematic parts, namely Making space (9 chapters), Initiation (7), The place of your parents (8), Thinking, feeling, doing (7), From raising children to being a role model (11 ), Parents ánd lovers (6), and finally: Out into the world (5). That is a nice division: it gives the impression that the most important part of Jeroen’s message is that ‘raising children’ is a difficult concept and that parenting is more about ‘being a role model’. If you ask me, that is indeed what he means. And then it comes down to how we as parents approach life and how we deal with things. In doing so, it turns out to be of great importance to most of us how forced or how powerful our connection is to what our parents taught and showed us. What do we take with us and what do we let go of? What do our children need from us? Can we look openly, without judgement, childishly curious in what Jeroen calls the new world of parenthood? In the seven parts of the book, Jeroen looks for answers to those questions, among other things, and each part starts with a quote from an author who has said valuable things about it.

In his book Jeroen does not try to know better than those he addresses. What he does is to share with you the journey of discovery that he himself started with the birth of his eldest child. During that journey, which continues to this day, the (in the end three) children were his greatest mirror, in which he saw what he still had to learn: “My children grew up and I grew up with them” (p. 13). The book is in a way a reflection of what has happened in his family growing up over the past twenty years and he shares the insights he has gained.

One of the most important of these is that a child actually wants the same thing as you did back then: “someone who was there for you, completely, fully present and unconditional” (p. 31). This works better when parent and child do not worry too much. The more we think we have to do all kinds of things to get those children ‘right’ (raise them!), the more difficult it all becomes. Jeroen tells a nice story about a photo of his one and a half year old eldest son who was bursting with zest for life, to which a friend said: “So Jeroen, you can only ruin that boy” (p. 33). This sets the tone: no longer wanting to tinker with them, he says: “We can stop raising children, because that is where all the trouble starts” So: “How can you be that sparkling father your child is looking for?” (p. 34). That is a good starting point for a book that will probably end up somewhere in the ‘Parenting’ section in most bookstores after all.

I found the numerous questions in the book remarkable and refreshing. Many chapters are richly provided with questions that can be confrontational, but the answers to which can give direction as to how you as a father (and also as a mother) want to shape your parenting. “What are the needs of this child? What sacrifice do these needs demand from me? What did I miss most as a child myself? Am I still living in accordance with who and how I want to be?” The book explores these themes in many ways through personal stories and expert questions. The relevance of these kinds of questions is huge, because if we examine them honestly and deeply, we often come face to face with our own life history and with the pain that is stored there and influences our actions as a parent.

Part 2 of the book review will follow later this week.

Trauma, triggers, and protecting your boundaries, Part 3 (final)

Last week I shared the memories that surfaced in the CI-session and today I share the insight I gained.

My colleague continued her compassionate inquiry, asking what emotions arose from that disgust. I reviewed everything and grew sad about the heartache it had so often caused, about the emotional absence due to all the addiction, and suddenly I realised how furious I also was. I raised my voice: “I’m just really angry too! Always the lying about the drinking! I don’t want to smell that smell! I don’t want you to come close to me! Stay away from me! Fuck off!” I shook my head, narrowed my eyes and grunted open-mouthed, stretched my arms out in front of me in a defensive gesture, pulled them back in with clenched fists and cried as I screamed. My colleague remained present; her face on the screen slowly calmed me down and we were silent together. She kept her eyes on me all the time and gauged how I was doing. “What must that have been like for the girl you were back then?”

Of course I also knew that question and we dived into it together, how sad it is when you have to growup like that. There is little you can do as a child in such circumstances and with her questions she led me to the insight known to both of us: that the ‘freeze’ you experience as a child can be overwhelming and can catch you again if you later find yourself in similar circumstances. That was what had happened: I had gone into a freeze when the lady approached me while she was drunk and wanted things from me that I was totally unwilling to give: attention, acknowledgment, physical closeness. I was the young girl who couldn’t turn to her mother, but could also not bear to have her mother around her in a drunk state either.

“I understand you didn’t want to make a scene, even if it wasn’t you, but that woman who was wrong, but what could you have said?” I thought in shared silence. “Uh… I could have said something like: I think you are drunk and I think it is better that we don’t have this conversation right now.” I laughed at myself: that sentence was actually very simple, very ‘cool and collected’! I could have said that; it need not have led to ‘drama states’, states that in themselves might have reminded me of the past. That sentence had also been respectful towards her. And if she had made a situation after all, I would not have been responsible for it. That, too, was interesting, of course, my attempt to keep the peace and not create ‘states’, when what was happening definitely crossed boundaries. How afraid was I of ‘states’? How many of my own limits and desires was I willing to give up to avoid ‘states’? How responsible did I feel for preventing ‘states’ and, moreover, for ensuring the well-being of those around me, bypassing my own? Since when and with what consequences had I done that as a child and continued the behaviour into adulthood?

Then I became aware that I did not quite understand how these themes had been discussed in plenary for two days and that someone then approaches another conference attendee in this way. As I spoke I realised how much trauma there is and how not even the best teacher can get the student ready to hear and take in the full magnitude of the message. If we are not ready, we cannot learn the lesson. When we are still in survival mode, our neocortex, our intellectual brain, does not work properly. Then we fall back on primary instincts and defense mechanisms. In that sense, it was interesting that she had said that she was grateful to me for mirroring her. Was she not used to encountering boundaries? Had she needed her drunken state to recognise that…? I once read: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Recently I saw a sequel that goes with it: “When the student is really ready, the teacher will disappear.” She said she had learned something from me and with the help of my CI-colleague I had now also learned something from her. Even though I definitely prefer a sober teacher for my learning process – I had gained an insight again.

An important question that Gabor always asks is whether you have ever ignored your intuition and later regretted it. I probably did that regularly as a child, ignoring my intuition, possibly even continuously. A lot of things happened in our nuclear and in the extended family circle that was not okay, but it was not talked about and I did not learn (or unlearned) to say something about it myself. When my mother said she had not been drinking when she had, despite the intuitive signals, I still started to doubt myself: “Am I so wrong? Am I such a nasty daughter that I mistrust my mother, that I don’t believe what she says? Maybe I’m wrong after all…” In fact, I’ve only recently realised how deep the impact of all these dynamics is and how they led to my estrangement from myself.

Therein lies the core of trauma: the broken connection with the true Self, the denial of your authenticity because of (your attempts to maintain) the attachment relationship. There was no bonding relationship with the drunken lady, but nevertheless an effort on my part not to cause ‘states’, something that could happen if I guarded my boundaries with strength and healthy anger. I had felt them, those boundaries, and also that she was crossing them, but I was paralysed. I let myself be caught off guard in the belief that that would be the quickest way to get rid of her and never see her again. However, wanting to get rid of something does not have to be a reason to let others cross your boundaries. These kinds of incidents can, however, be a reason to take a closer look at your own triggers. What had it done to me that she arrived late and objected emphatically to the limited space? What made me decide to arrange a chair for my colleague? Why did the restlessness in our row make me vicariously uncomfortable for the speaker? What had bothered me so much about her attempt to get ahead in line with the book signing? What pain had been touched in me by her fire-spitting eyes and her averted head? With compassionate curiosity there would be much more to discover in my experiences – as a student I am ready and a teacher I already have.

Two days later I had a beautiful closing meeting; to my surprise the lady appeared there too. Again I saw and heard extraordinary things. However, when she arrived (too late…) I had resolved not to enter into a confrontation. I wanted to enjoy the meeting and put my energy into imbibing the richness of the evening to the maximum. Moreover, I felt no need or responsibility to work on the relationship with her or to contribute to her process. A Buddhist saying I once heard: “If you cannot make it better, it is already great progress if you don’t make it worse.” That sounds compassionate enough to me: that is what I had chosen to do.

Earlier in the day, with the help of my colleague, I had discovered that simple statements are possible with which you can indicate and guard your boundaries if necessary. Through the disgust the body had said ‘no’ and from now on the head through the mouth is also allowed to say ‘no’ in a friendly way. If the other person is triggered by this, there is work to be done for the other person, which involves a compassionate investigation into their own reaction, and if I feel the space to do so, I can be supportive there. Being articulate about your own boundaries is also respectful towards the other. “Clarity is kindness”, says my dear, wise Scottish ACE-aware colleague Suzanne Zeedyk.

All in all, I learned a valuable lesson. The incident and the session have helped me to better understand the old patterns that are hidden behind apparently new circumstances. Cognitively I had known that for a long time, but I now experienced it from the language of my body. And when the body says ‘no’… then you are welcome to listen to it and act on it – the wisdom of your body is huge!