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MEET TEGAN LINDSEY

I began my journey of a life committed to enhancing awareness and living more mindfully in 2013. My father, Russell Sturgess (who is the founder and principal of The Centre for Western Mindfulness), was my mentor, and I spent about nine months embarking on my own journey of radical self discovery. A journey that I have continued on every day since. 

On completion of the program I decided to leave my 'successful', high pressure career in the fashion industry, where I had spent eight years in management and leadership roles, to work for my father and become a mentor in my own right. I participated in the Western Mindfulness Mentor Training Program in 2015 and took on the role of Executive Officer at The Centre for Western Mindfulness. I received my certification early in 2016, and have since gone on to become a Western Mindfulness Senior Mentor, as well as a tutor for trainee mentors.

For those who are interested, I have shared a short story (on the verge of a short novel) below, about a recent moment in my life where I found myself exceptionally challenged and feeling quite broken. I included this recent personal struggle as a way of displaying how I used awareness and mindfulness to turn my life around after spiralling into a place of mental, physical and emotional suffering (which is the basis of the work that I do with clients). I also shared this story as a means for helping you to understand the essence of who I am and what I stand for, which I believe should be a key consideration when deciding to invest in someone like a mentor.

I have also included a little slide show of my family so you can put very real faces to this very real story. 

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MY LITTLE FAMILY

LIFE AFTER BECOMING A MENTOR

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After resigning from my career in fashion and becoming a mentor, life was moving along nicely. I worked from home and had established healthy boundaries around work life balance (which was in stark contrast to my previous career). I loved the work I was doing as a mentor, I was taking good care of my body, I was rested, joyful and happy. In 2017 I married my husband who I had been with for 12 years, and in May 2018 I fell pregnant after discovering I had endometriosis and having it (and one ovary and tube) removed. By February 2019 we welcomed our first daughter, Frankie, into the world.

 

When Frankie was about 10 months old, my sister, who has Williams Syndrome and who also lives with Dissociative Disorder, came to live with us. As well as taking on the role of a main carer in her life, I also took on the responsibility of learning how to navigate the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) so that we could use it in the best way possible to support her in her life goals. By April 2020 I was pregnant with baby number two, and on the work front, Dad and I decided to make some rather large adjustments to our client program (Pathways to Mindfulness), and to rebrand the company at the same time. This meant our entire online mentor training program had to be redone, and it was my job to do it. As you can imagine I had an exceptionally full plate juggling work, my sisters needs, chasing after an almost two year old, seeing to the general day-to-day runnings of a household, and dealing with morning sickness. So I decided to stop mentoring while I transformed the company. Throughout this time we were also navigating life through the Covid 19 pandemic, and then a few days before Christmas 2020 baby Mila joined us.

SPIRALLING INTO A PLACE SUFFERING

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Within a few weeks of Mila coming home from hospital, my life as I knew it started to unravel. I observed myself engage life in a way that was completely unique to my life experience so far. I was angry, frustrated, burnt out, irrationally emotional, short tempered with my children, never pleased with my husbands efforts, and exceptionally self destructive in terms of my inner thoughts about myself. I had not only gained weight after having Mila, but my weight continued to rise regardless of how much exercise I did, the type of exercise I engaged in, or how healthy I ate. As diet and exercise didn't seem to be the issue, I thought it surely had to be hormonal, but it wasn't. I had no idea what was going on. This just made my frustration and anger rise and my self esteem plummet. To top things off, I kept thinking things like, 'You know better than this! You are a bloody mindfulness mentor! Shows how good you are if you can't even walk your talk.' My inner critic was relentless and this just compounded my stress, anger, and feelings of low self esteem.

Thank goodness I had put my mentoring on hold as I was not in a position to be mentoring anyone in the state I was in! My inner child had taken the rational adult within me captive, and was at the helm. 

 

For the first 18 months of Mila's life things just gradually spiralled no matter what I tried. I went through the motions of doing things to take care of myself physically (exercise, healthy food, limiting alcohol, massages etc). I tried to keep a positive mindset, I desperately tried to apply all of the tools I knew, and I tried my hardest to keep my emotions in check. I would see windows of progress but I didn't have the energy, the thought capacity, or patience to sustain anything I tried. I, the rational adult, was trying to reason with, and take control of, my erratic emotional inner child, and this is useless. What a child needs when they have big emotions is to feel heard and understood. That is how you talk them down off the ledge. But I was trying to take control, trying to bypass my feelings, trying to fix everything, and this was just making my stress rise and the symptoms worse. 

So I just continued to observe myself spiral out of control.

HITTING ROCK BOTTOM

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Then, one very challenging and emotional day, I was staring at myself in the bathroom mirror, my head was racing, my inner critic was yelling, my emotions were all over the place, and I had been crying. Then, in a brief moment of observing the overwhelming amount of sadness in my eyes, I remember everything suddenly stopping. My racing thoughts and judgemental inner critic fell silent. Then a very succinct voice in my head said with unwavering certitude, 'I HATE THIS'. This was followed by more silence as I digested the thought.

 

Then a multitude of uncensored feelings exploded in my mind. 'I hate what bearing children has done to my body. I hate what has become of my relationship with my husband. I hate how angry I am. I hate how out of control I feel. I hate myself for not being able to do better. I hate myself for being so negative. I hate how serious I am and how I have lost all aspects of myself that were once fun. I hate that washing my hair is no longer an experience I enjoy, but another chore. I hate being a parent, and if this is what it meant to be a mother, then I hate that too!' I had put a frame around family life, my role as a mother, and my marriage, one that associated these experiences with feelings of hatred. 

My heart sunk. I felt physically sick. I felt so much shame. I felt like the worst mother in the world. I felt like a thankless, selfish wife. I felt like a phoney who knew nothing. I felt completely broken.

YOU CAN'T CHANGE WHAT YOU CAN'T SEE

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I sat with these feelings for a few moments, and then almost as suddenly as they came, they left. It's like a flip switched in my head and my feelings of remorse were replaced with relief. I felt like a huge weight was being lifted from my shoulders. You see, a core part of the healing process resides in our capacity to hear our truth, and I had finally heard mine loud and clear. Allowing my truth to be expressed, was uncomfortable, and confronting, but it was essential. Then a very important piece of information I often refer to when working with clients popped into my head:

 

Nothing has a meaning of itself, it only carries the meaning we give it. 

This timely thought reminded me that I didn't have to resign to this reality of hating life. In fact, the thought of hating my family life was actually repulsive to me. I didn't want that to be my reality. I didn't want that to be the reality for my children and my husband. I wanted to feel joy again. I wanted to enjoy being a mother, in the good times and the challenging times. I wanted to feel connected to my children and my husband. So I stared at myself in the mirror and acknowledged the fact that if I wanted to relate to this experience differently, I could.

First of all I had to get clear on the fact that the experience itself does not carry hate, that was just the meaning I had given it, the frame I had put around the experience. So I asked myself the following questions: 'How else could I relate to this experience?', 'What sort of thoughts could I entertain if I was not 'hating' the experience, but also not denying the truth of my struggles?'', 'How might someone else respond to this situation I find myself in?', and 'What are the facts, what do I know for sure?'. What I came up with was simple, but it acknowledged the truth, and it was a realistic concept for my brain to get on board with, 'I don't hate this experience, but at times I don't enjoy it, and that's ok. Sometimes being a parent is really challenging, but I am smart and resourceful, I can figure this out. I've got this!'. This was going to be my thought process moving forward, my 'parenting mantra' to get me through until I could work through it in more detail.

 

GETTING CLEAR ON MY CURRENT REALITY

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This timely thought reminded me that I didn't have to resign to this reality of hating life. In fact, the thought of hating my family life was actually repulsive to me. I didn't want that to be my reality. I didn't want that to be the reality for my children and my husband. I wanted to feel joy again. I wanted to enjoy being a mother, in the good times and the challenging times. I wanted to feel connected to my children and my husband. So I stared at myself in the mirror and acknowledged the fact that if I wanted to relate to this experience differently, I could.

First of all I had to get clear on the fact that the experience itself does not carry hate, that was just the meaning I had given it, the frame I had put around the experience. So I asked myself the following questions: 'How else could I relate to this experience?', 'What sort of thoughts could I entertain if I was not 'hating' the experience, but also not denying the truth of my struggles?'', 'How might someone else respond to this situation I find myself in?', and 'What are the facts, what do I know for sure?'. What I came up with was simple, but it acknowledged the truth, and it was a realistic concept for my brain to get on board with, 'I don't hate this experience, but at times I don't enjoy it, and that's ok. Sometimes being a parent is really challenging, but I am smart and resourceful, I can figure this out. I've got this!'. This was going to be my thought process moving forward, my 'parenting mantra' until I could work through this in more detail. 

APPLYING THE PTM PROCESS TO MY CHALLENGE

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To change our behaviours we have to do two things. 1. Enhance our awareness and 2. Be mindful of that new awareness in each moment. The first part of the process I use with clients requires them get clear on the facts of their current reality. The second part is about identify the fearful story that is holding them back from a more loving life experience, and the third part is about identifying what a kinder, more loving reality would look like.  

 

The facts of my current reality: I often feel exceptionally challenged in my role as a parent. I constantly live in fear of fucking up my kids. I am trying my best, but I feel like I am constantly falling short. I try really hard to practice conscious parenting, and at times I get it right, but other times I explode with anger and I yell more than I care to, then I beat myself up for not doing it right. I feel burdened by the weight of life and often take my frustration and anger out on the kids. I feel unhappy, stressed, and overwhelmed. Not only do I feel shame for the state of my body in terms of the weight I am carrying and the physical changes I am seeing in my form, but I feel ashamed for being so shallow for having my sense of worth tied to something so superficial. 

My fears (the stories I am making up): If I don't get this right, my children will grow up with a mother who hates what her life has become, and they will be aware of my resentment toward life, and in worse case scenario feel responsible for that resentment or learn these behaviours from me. My incapacity to regulate my anger will result in my children constantly feeling like they are in trouble, they will develop a story of feeling not good enough, and this will impact them for the rest of their lives. We will have a turbulent relationship. Knowing better, but not doing better, would mean a life time of relentless criticism from my inner voice, topped with shame and guilt. My constant mood swings and frustration will cost me my marriage. If I don't get my stress and weight under control I could be facing possible lifestyle diseases. Holding excess fat makes me less appealing which means I am less loveable. 

 

My alternative, more loving reality: I feel joy when I am with my children. If I feel anything other than joy, I pause to recall my parenting mantra, and ground myself. When challenging parenting moments arise, I no longer feel burdened and stressed out, but thankful for the opportunity to learn and grow. I feel connected with my family, and they enjoy my company. I create an environment where my children express themselves freely and they develop a healthy sense of their worth. I feel close to my husband, we work together as team, and our marriage is stronger than ever. I no longer feel a constant knot of stress in my stomach. My weight has returned to a healthy range, and I feel at home again in my own skin.

The fourth part of the process is about identify the steps you could ne

 

and the fifth step is to be mindful not wilful. These two steps required a bit more space to explain, so I have discsussed thethe first part of that is get really clear about the importance of changing, I had to be teachable. I had to be willing to expand my awareness and learn other ways I could approach my family and my health issues. Expanding awareness is about gaining new knowledge, new information, or a new understanding. This creates new ways of thinking and broadens our perception of different ways we could respond in any given moment. In other words, expanding our awareness creates more choices.

EXPANDING AWARENESS

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The fourth part of the process is to identify steps you can take to shift from the current reality to the more loving reality and one of the most significant parts of thi

I came across a terrific website, Flourish Together, and I subscribed to their newsletter. I found the articles from Shelly Lefkoe particularly insightful. Her content fully aligns with the work that I do as a Western Mindfulness Mentor, as she talks a lot about how our child hood programming is established. So I signed up for one of her self paced learning courses, as well as one by Susan Stiffelman. I also followed Big Little Feelings on instagram, and Dr Vanessa Lapointe and Dr Shafli on Facebook, as they share lots of great insights on conscious parenting.

 

I started researching videos from 'The Institute for the Psychology of Eating' to help expand my understanding of what could be going on with my weight gain. Miraculously only a week or two after I started getting into their content, they did a live session that addressed 'Unexplained Weight Gain'. This video reminded me of something I knew, but had slipped my mind. And that is the significant impact relentless stress can have on your body. Light bulb moment! The only significant change to my wellbeing regime since having Mila (the time I started putting on weight) was the undeniable amount of stress I was being exposed to every single day. I also pulled out a book I had half read a few years earlier called 'NeuroSlimming' by Helena Popovich, which is about changing the way you think about and relate to food. I had developed a mentality of 'this food is bad', 'this food makes you fat' etc and had lost my passion for cooking and enjoyment of eating. I needed to recalibrate my thoughts about, and relationship with, food.

This experience had shown me that I also needed to slow down, be more mindful and aim to remain more present in my interactions with my children. So I read Eckhart Tolles book 'The Power of Now'. But the most significant piece of information I needed to expand my awareness around was the direct relationship between my story, and the suffering I was experiencing. In summary I become really clear that most of my anger and frustration would occur in the moments I felt unheard or ignored. My story is about needing to feel important, or on the flip side, the thing I fear most is feeling unimportant. When people ignore me, I feel unimportant. So in the moments when I feel ignored by my children or husband, that is when the erratic, emotional seven year old takes over. I know it's not the intention of my children or my husband to make me feel unimportant, but that is how the subconscious programming from my childhood interprets the situation. Armed with this knowledge I can now see when see when this scenario is playing out and nip it in the bud. 

The trouble with being exposed to all of this insightful content is that we often feel a strong desire to go out and fix everything using willpower to eliminate our suffering as quickly as possible. I knew that this was not the approach to take. I had taken the 'wilful' route when I was in my height of suffering, even though I knew it wasn't the answer. If I really wanted this transition to happen, I would have to commit to being mindful, not wilful.

BEING MINDFUL NOT WILFUL

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"Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.

In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

That statement by Victor Frankl carries the essence of what it means to be mindful. Being mindful is about remembering in each moment that a kinder, more loving option is available. So after we have expanded our awareness (gathered new information), mindfulness is about stopping before we react, and remembering the kinder choice exists. But, as mentioned earlier it is about being mindful not wilful. So it is important to respond in which ever way comes easiest.

 

Sometimes lashing out feels like the easiest thing, and that's ok, as long as you have stopped to recall your options and their outcomes first. You see, every time you even remember that a more loving choice exists, you strengthen the more loving neural pathway in the brain. Rethinking about something over and over again is how you retrain the brain. Retrain the brain and your actions will follow. Willpower on the other hand is about trying to force the change (act first) and bypassing the necessary process of thinking about the new loving behaviour over and over (retrain the brain second... or in some cases not at all). Eventually willpower fades and we find ourselves back to where we were.

So, even if you make the choice to lash out, the difference this time, if you have taken the time to stop and recall your options first, is that you will be conscious of your decision to lash out, and you will be more present to the experience of doing it. Once the knock on effect of your choice plays out (the repercussions of your actions turn up), you will become more conscious of why next time you might want to choose the loving alternative - which again strengthens the loving neural pathway. So no matter which choice you make, it is useful in helping to transform the behaviour. Nothing is wasted as long as you have been mindful of the choices first. 

REMEMBERING TO REMEMBER

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The hardest part about being mindful however is remembering to remember! So it can be helpful while developing the new neural pathway to put reminders all over the place. So in my situation, I surrounded myself with information to keep the idea of being more conscious as a parent in the forefront of my mind. I have several newsletters from Flourish Together arriving in my inbox each week. I have the parenting courses saved on my phone so I can listen (and relisten) to them on my morning walks or in the shower, which helps me set my intention to be more mindful from the moment I wake up. I have Big Little Feelings, Dr Vanessa Lapointe, Dr Shafli, Bruce Lipton, Ekhart Tolle, The Institute for the Psychology of Eating and similar content flooding my social feeds. I have three books I am reading on my bedside table so I can read chapters from them from time to time as I need inspiration. Having the books beside my bed also reminds me to spend a moment before going to sleep, acknowledging the ways I did manage to turn up kinder and more loving that day. This triggers the reward system in our brain, which makes us more susceptible to repeating the behaviour.

 

But none of the things I listed above are going to help me in the middle of a debacle with my child, sitting in the carpark of a shopping centre, after they've decided to dash into the middle of the road, directly after I've asked them to stay behind our car. So, my three biggest reminders when it comes to my children are my emotions, the thought 'you didn't listen to me' (which is a form of being ignored), and my childrens faces.

If I feel any strong emotions, followed by feelings of anger or frustration, I instantly think 'Hang on. Pause. Wait. Stop! This is one of those moments where you need to stop and think about your options.' At times I blast straight through with vindication that the easiest option is the one where I explode (but in this scenario I bypass the necessary step of considering the loving option). But more increasingly I have found myself stopping. I then acknowledge my emotions (remember you can't rationalise with the seven year old until you talk them down off the ledge). 'Yup - I can see why this is frustrating. You feel ignored again, and I bet that makes you feel unimportant. Having to repeat yourself 1000 times can be quite taxing. And yes, what she did was so dangerous. I bet your fear for her safety was through the roof. I get it'. Once I am off the ledge, I then remember the repercussions if I react habitually, and the benefits if I respond lovingly, before I finally chose how I want to respond.

 

My back up for this, if I don't catch myself before the lid comes off, is my childrens faces. Anytime I see my children crying when interacting with me, I instantly know that I need to stop and find a way to connect with, and not seperate myself from, my child. 

GRATITUDE AND FINDING THE GIFT IN THE EXPERIENCE

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As well as having constant reminders everywhere to help me be more mindful, I am also well aware that gratitude plays a significant part in shifting the way we think about things. In fact, gratitude supercharges our capacity to change. When we feel truely grateful for something, our brain gets a hit of dopamine and frames that experience, or that thought, as something we want more of. So through practicing gratitude we are more inclined to repeat the behaviour so we get another hit of dopamine.

I had developed a frame of mind that said, 'I hate this', when it came to parenting, and I wanted that to transform, and quickly. And so, I made time each day to express gratitude for my family. For my husbands patience with me while I sorted myself out, and for my two healthy, vibrant children. But most importantly for my struggles, as I knew that the lessons this experience would teach me would be exceptionally valuable. 

One day, several months after hitting rock bottom, while in my practice of gratitude, I thought to myself, 'I am so grateful that I possess the knowledge and understanding that I do, to be able to turn this around.' My thought continued, 'Imagine how many families are out there that fall apart because they don't know what to do. And how many children will be impacted because their parents are too distracted, struggling to navigate their own pain, that they lack the capacity to turn up in a way their children need.'

In that moment I realised the gift of this experience. 

 

This experience reinforced to me just how important a commitment to expanding awareness and living mindfully is, and it showed me how passionate I was about conscious parenting. In that moment I decided that that was how I was going to channel my time moving forward. Firstly I was going to get back into my mentoring to continue sharing the power of awareness and mindfulness with others, and second of all I was going to start turning up in the world as an advocate for conscious parenting both personally and professionally. My focus has been unwavering from that moment. 

THE TIPPING POINT

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You may recall I mentioned how being mindful strengthens the kinder, more loving neural pathway in the brain. Well, there is a tipping point where the more loving behaviour becomes the easiest choice and your habitual reaction (such as lashing out) takes the back seat. It takes time to build the new neural pathway, but once you do, turning up in a kinder more loving way becomes easier and easier, which means the benefits you were seeking start turning up. The next thing you know, joy and fulfilment become more and more consistent as your life experience.

 

You also find that your capacity to be more conscious and loving spills over into other areas of your life. Other challenges you weren't necessarily focussing on become less challenging at the same time. This happens because your goal was to be more mindful of being more loving rather than focussing on the outcome you wanted. Once you start focussing on being mindful of how you can embrace each moment in a kinder more loving way in one situation, you start applying this approach generically.

Of course as life goes on you will charter into unknown territories and be faced with new challenges. These are the moments that have the capacity to send you spiralling, just as I did in this story. But touching the bottom doesn't mean you have to stay there. You can reframe the meaning you are giving to life, and you can choose to change it. You just need a framework you can rely on to help you through. 

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RELEARNING HOW TO LOVE

I still have 'bad days'. I still have moments of reacting unconsciously toward my children and my husband. Currently I am still holding more weight than I am used to. But I am less angry and less frustrated than before. Most days I am filled with joy. I feel more connected to my children. I am slowly but surely seeing my weight reduce. I am often catching myself 'doing it right', and I know the benefits will continue to unfold as long as I remain aware and mindful of what matters to me most.

 

Most importantly, I no longer associate the feeling of 'hate' with family life. In fact, anytime I find myself challenged in my role as a parent, I am grateful that it is another opportunity for me to grow. I might not arrive at that conclusion in the heat of some of the more stressful moments, but I get there.

 

Working with me is not some magical process that will prevent you from ever experiencing pain again, so you never have to do work on yourself again. If you haven't figured it out yet, the whole point of life is to relearn how to embody loving kindness, and our challenges are essential to that learning process. We come into the world as children only knowing love, until life happens, and then our experiences, perceptions, desires, and expectations get in the way and we forget how to do it.

 

Working with me is an opportunity for you to develop the understanding of how awareness and mindfulness work. It is an investment that will provide you with a framework that you can relay on as challenges arise. A framework that has the capacity to transform your life experience into one that you love, because you have learned and been mindful of a new way to embrace life with love.

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