From the ears of Introverts: How sound and music can influence your energy

This article first appeared in issue 2 of The Introvert Effect Magazine https://theintroverteffect.com/free-introvert-magazine/

As a sensitive, introverted type of soul – you might have noticed a thing or two about sounds and music. You might be aware of sounds and music that get your attention, what drives you crazy (don’t you dare tap your fingers on a table near me!), what drains you, what gives you a headache, what energises you and what helps you feel a sense of peace. Getting to know and understand your sound and music sensitivities, preferences and stressors is a helpful, practical and fun way to boost your physical and emotional well-being and productivity. You can create your own toolkit of music and strategies to help you thrive in different environments and conditions.

Listening to music can have a profound impact on our bodies and energy. Research has shown that music can affect our heart rate, increase oxygen flow, influence cortisol (stress hormone) levels, motivate for increased physical movement, maximise concentration and promote sleep. The most important thing when you are choosing music to boost wellbeing – make sure you like it. There’s no need to overcomplicate things by worrying about beats per minute for a relaxing song – consider, do I like it? Does it make me feel relaxed? Listen closely, consciously and with intent. Get to know the music. What is more powerful than listening to music? Singing. You don’t have to get up on stage, but even a few minutes in the shower can be an easy way to relax, or ramp up your energy with a more upbeat song.

For those of us that identify as sensitive and introverted, auditory stimulation that we did not choose and do not have control over can feel irritating, distracting, draining and overwhelming. For example, passengers having noisy mobile phone conversations near us on public transport can set our teeth on edge. Working in an open plan office can be distracting – and it’s not always possible or appropriate to tune out with headphones. And if you have young children like me, well…they do say that children are sent to teach us!

If you know you are going to be exposed to an overwhelmingly noisy environment – schedule in time later where you can recover. Visit a garden and listen to the birds, lie down in silence, listen to music of your choice in the bath or aim for an earlier night’s sleep. Sometimes silence is a long way off in my busy day, so I counter this by listening to a favourite song that re-energises me. (Even though it’s more sound, it’s sound that I love and that I choose – somehow it magically re-sets me).

Photo by  Eric Nopanen  on  Unsplash

Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash

Create Your Music + Sound Kit

It’s so easy with Spotify and YouTube to find songs and music – I’d love to invite you to spend some time exploring and creating your own kit.

Here are some prompts – why not go and find a song to fit? I’ve shared some of my favourites.

For focus and clarity: Bach Cello Suite No. 1 – Yo Yo Ma (lots of structure, one instrument, beautiful – this helps me think and feel peaceful – I listen to it before facilitating a coaching session).

For confidence: Consider a song that makes you feel strong, sure and empowered. Think about the lyrics and the energy combined. My favourite is #41 by Dave Matthews Band (“I will go in this way and find my own way out” are lyrics that resonate with me).

For relaxation: Typically music that is slower tempo and doesn’t jump around a lot in the melody is relaxing – however this is personal, so if Metallica relaxes you – then you know what to do. I like Loreena McKennitt’s album Nights from the Ahlambra.

For release of pent up emotion (frustration, anger): Something that matches your energy is a good choice – think faster tempo, louder volume, drums, guitar...I tend to choose songs I can really ‘belt’ out and tend toward songs from the guitar bands of the 90s (showing my vintage here!).

For writing/working: If it has lyrics then I can get more easily distracted. On Spotify, I have a favourite playlist of acoustic guitar unfamiliar songs (if they were known songs, I’d be singing instead of typing). It’s called Acoustic Concentration (the one with 450k followers).

For celebration: What songs makes you feel joyful? Consider what songs evoke beautiful and happy memories from past celebrations you can revive, and lean into those feelings again. My personal pick is “These Days” by Powderfinger.

There are endless ways that music can help serve you in managing your energy as an introvert. Be conscious and intentional of how you listen, where you listen, why you listen and what you choose. We can’t always control the stimulation that comes at our ears in this busy world, but we can always find ways to retreat and to come back to ourselves with music.

© Naomi Morrow, 2017.

Embracing Uncertainty

The things that make life worthy and magical: love, wisdom, creativity + spirit – they all spin on an axis of uncertainty.

But for many of us, uncertainty can be an uncomfortable and unwanted experience.
The desire for certainty is strong, and feeling in control is like an anchor in uncertain waters – but it is an illusion and it does not last.

Life is supposed to unfold with some mystery isn’t it? Are we really supposed to have all the answers all of the time? Are we really adrift if the plan or the path ahead is unclear?

When we try to avoid or fight uncertainty, we risk an existence that is devoid of colour, deeper meaning and connection – and indeed, more painful.

In my journey from desperately seeking certainty to a new openness to the unknown – I have felt inner peace, re-awakened my creativity, more connected relationships and lasting joy.

Here are my stories and my five lessons on embracing uncertainty.

It’s December 2015 and my mother will die next week. My soul suffers, but I hear its call for me to finally embrace uncertainty.

I hold a new vision for living more boldly.

I know that uncertainty is inevitable and necessary.
I quit my safe job and start my braver life.

It scares some people, this shaking of the status quo. But it inspires others.
Me? I’m equal parts inspired and terrified, but at least I know I am living.

I learn that the most devastating uncertainty can be a source for our greatest growth.

I learn that uncertainty calls us inward to create what we need most.

The lesson is to be creative and curious.

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It wasn’t always this way for me, embracing uncertainty – I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been referred to affectionately or less so, as a control freak.

It’s 1992. I’m 12 years old. I’m deeply certain of two things: Firstly, when I grow up, I will marry Joey McIntyre from New Kids on the Block.

And secondly, when I grow up, I know exactly what I want to do for a job - a Music Therapist. I read about it on a careers day, and I feel it instantly, the knowing, this is what I am meant to do. This is who I am.

From then on, I know exactly what is required of me. There is a clear plan. I study hard, I practise my instruments, I do work experience, I even change schools to be in the right music program. I am certain this is my path.

And so it is. I am accepted into the course, graduate four years later and my career is rewarding.

In 2004, Joey McIntyre and I move to the country.

Oh wait, no not Joey McIntyre. That didn’t work out. Despite my pre-teen certainty!

In 2004, my partner Shaun and I move to the country. And that’s when everything changes.

Music therapy jobs in the country are not falling off trees. He leaves every day for his fulfilling new career and I sit at home, waiting and watching a lot of uninspiring TV. I don’t try anything new because it does not fit with my plan or my tightly wound image of who I am and what I do.  I realise that I have made my career such a big part of my own identity that without it, I feel lost, unimportant and uncertain.

It’s only my growing frustration and time that move me to the next thing. A job in an unrelated field. I rally and resist because it does not fit with my plan, but I do it anyway. It takes me half an hour each way but the country scenery is breathtaking. As I drive, I sing Joni Mitchell’s entire Blue album. The people are good and I learn well beyond the world I have so far inhabited – about culverts, potholes, grazing permits, grants for the tennis club and resilience. Being in flow in this new chapter creates space for openness and curiosity which allows me to realise what’s possible.

I learn that releasing the grip on control allows something new to emerge if we are open to it.

I learn that hankering for the past steals us from living in the now.

The lesson is to be present and curious.
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It’s October 2015. I see her and my knees feel weak. She looks old and in pain, but she wears a defiant smile. My suspicions about the cause of her pain are finally confirmed. Yes, it is, she says and stretches up from her wheelchair to hug me.

I ask How Long? But she doesn’t want to know. Only God knows, darling, not the doctors.

The TYPE A in me is raging. I want answers, I want more tests, I want explanations, I want treatment, I want control.

But there are no answers and no control. And there sure as hell isn’t any certainty.

I wait until I’m in the hospital lift before googling ‘adenoid carcinoma.’

The bottom drops out and I’m floating. There is nothing for me to hold except my breath.

My dear Mum shows me how to surrender and how to accept– even on the very worst day and on all the very worst days that are yet to come.

I learn that I must keep breathing even when it hurts, especially when it hurts.

The lesson is to be accepting.

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It’s 2009 and I’m in hospital. I’m sore, beaten and bruised but here I am, singing and dancing.

My new baby is in my arms. She doesn’t sleep, I fear she will never sleep. But I’m determined not to press that call button. The midwives told me to not hesitate if I need help, but they’re just saying that. They have to say that. I won’t press the button. I’m not weak, I know what I’m doing. I’ve got this.

She cries now. She’s still crying. I’m rocking, I’m singing. She’s still crying. Maybe she doesn’t like my version of Mockingbird. I look at the buzzer and then quickly look away – I’ve got this. She still cries – louder now. I sing louder – thank god for a private room. She cries. I cry. I don’t have this. I still don’t press the buzzer.

For a control freak like me, becoming a parent is rife with uncertainty. Gone is any sense of control about my body, sleep, time or interior decorating (I never thought I would need to clean honey from my dog’s fur. Yes, when you hear “MUUMMMM….he’s honeyed the dog! – it means exactly that).

I feel huge uncertainty when they are sick, when I am sleep deprived + in my ridiculous quest to be a “perfect” mother.

Yet they teach me more about life than any other relationship, Zen Master or text book. When I finally admit that these experiences are difficult and I am not a mythical superwoman, I show myself greater self-compassion.

I learn that when we seek to control our environment in attempts to preserve self-image, we miss out on opportunities for support and growth.

I learn that rewards of sharing vulnerability and uncertainty with those we trust outweighs the risk.

The lesson is to be forgiving of ourselves.

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 So, to revisit: here my 5 lessons on embracing uncertainty:

Lesson 1. Be creative

I don’t want to hear you say you’re not creative. You are, simply by being human. The way you think, speak, live, love, work and create is unique. No-one else is like you. Be creative with your language. Notice the words you use. Are you saying: This is awful! When will this end? When will I know? I hate surprises! I hate uncertainty!

Your mind and heart are always listening. Experiment. Use language such as “This is interesting, this is a chance for growth, I can handle this, I can learn to handle this.”

Being creative is also about becoming more comfortable with living outside black and white, right and wrong. There is beauty and growth in the grey. Experiment with your own creative voice – journalling, painting, writing song lyrics, dancing, making a vision board, redecorating your room, planting a garden – find ways to tap into your creative spirit and express yourself.

Creating boosts your well-being and resilience, making you someone who can better thrive in uncertainty.

Lesson 2. Be present

Uncertainty makes us want to run away, either back to the past or into the future, anywhere but now. Yet it’s right NOW that is our only real thing. Learn to be present. Be aware of your senses, notice what you can hear, see, smell, taste and touch. This helps you ground into the present moment. Be deliberate in your daily tasks. Being present and mindful is about paying attention without judgement. Simply observe.

Lesson 3. Be curious

It helps to ask questions. What can uncertainty teach me? How might it feel to loosen my grip on certainty and control? What other things could I be doing if I wasn’t wasting all my time and energy on trying to control everything?

Lesson 4. Be accepting

You don’t have to love uncertainty, but it’s time to drop the fight + create room for it.  Pay attention to where you feel uncertainty in your body. For me, it’s my stomach. Breathe deeply into that space and imagine making even more room for uncertainty to stay. Accepting it doesn’t mean you have to like it, but you can make room for it.

Lesson 5. Be forgiving

Learning to embrace uncertainty isn’t going to be easy. So make a committed ongoing practice. Show compassion for yourself. Celebrate even the smallest steps you make toward living more wholeheartedly with uncertainty.

By embracing uncertainty, we are saying yes. Yes to risk and reward. Yes to love, wisdom + spirit: within ourselves, our relationships, our work, our creativity and our communities.

Uncertainty is inviting you to let go and lean in.

Go and dance with its magic.

You have one life, embrace it all – even the uncertain, ESPECIALLY the uncertain - and be in bloom.       

© Naomi Morrow, 2016.

**THIS post was first presented at the speaking event, On The Rise, Melbourne, December 2016. 

How to be more resilient: Key learnings from The Resilience Project

“Developing Resilience in Young People” was the title of the event facilitated by Hugh van Cuylenberg of The Resilience Project. The event was supported by Wodonga Council and Gateway Health, through Healthy Together Wodonga.

Here’s my key take away messages of how we can boost our own resilience and that of the young people in our lives by practising empathy, gratitude and mindfulness.

1.     Pain can be transmuted into gold.

Hugh described the devastation and helplessness felt as an older brother witnessing his sister’s battle with Anorexia Nervosa. Years later, whilst teaching in a remote Indian village, he was profoundly struck with the deep happiness described by the residents, many of whom were homeless, orphaned and without ready access to safe drinking water. Intrigued by this village’s incredibly low mental illness rates (1/85) compared to the current crisis facing Australia (1/7 children and 1/4 adolescents diagnosed with a mental illness), Hugh embarked on exploring the topic of resilience and sharing his knowledge with Australian schools, workplaces and communities. His expertise and research knowledge is conveyed with deep passion from his personal experiences. Stories of suffering are imbued with heart felt meaning and inform his drive.

Look closely: consider how you might reconstruct your pain and create something from it.

2.     Noticing moments for gratitude

Gratitude is about focusing on what you already have, not the “If and when” model of happiness – (‘I’ll be happy when I get a promotion/bigger house/ sports car/ top marks/when I lose x amount of weight’). The “If and when” is not a sustainable approach to happiness.

Hugh told a story of a student at the remote village school in India who he describes as ‘the happiest person’ he’s ever met. Stunzin, who was homeless and an orphan, spoke very little English. He slept outside under cardboard for shelter and warmth. He would smile often and point to what he was grateful for, saying “Dis” (This): shoes, despite his feet growing too big and having to cut the ends off to fit; the shop awning for keeping him dry whilst he slept at night on the street; the water he walked for hours to retrieve in heavy buckets for boiling at school and so on. Stunzin noticed and gave thanks for what he had. If you search #dismoment on social media, you will see that Stunzin’s approach to life has inspired many.

Notice: where can you stop and acknowledge what you have with gratitude? #dismoment. This is a practice you can do yourself, but imagine the power as you show others this practice…Your children, work colleagues, friends?  

The sun. Welcomed after a pretty cold and gloomy NE Victorian Winter © Naomi Morrow, 2016

The sun. Welcomed after a pretty cold and gloomy NE Victorian Winter © Naomi Morrow, 2016

3.     The Gratitude Questions

Ever tried to keep a gratitude journal but started to recycle the same responses over and over (eg. my health, my family etc) and got tired of it?

Try answering these questions daily to keep things fresh and unique:

  •                   What is the best thing that happened to me today?
  •                   Who am I most grateful to today and why?
  •                   What am I most looking forward to tomorrow?

Research shows a multitude of benefits for keeping this daily practice going. Keep writing for 21 days and your brain can retain a pattern for scanning the world not for the negative but for the positive.

If you keep going for 42 days, you: are less likely to get sick; have higher levels of energy; feel happier; are more enthusiastic; are more attentive; are more determined; are more optimistic; have a better quality of sleep; and have lower levels of depression and anxiety.

Journal writing on gratitude is a quick, creative, free + effective way to boost resilience.

 4.     Wear your friend’s shoes (or: show empathy)

The audience giggled as Hugh told a story of asking a group of children what they thought empathy meant. One young girl suggested it was when you wear your friend’s shoes. She was on the right track! The metaphorical ‘stepping into another’s shoes’ is the willingness and capacity to try to understand the situation and feelings of another. Showing empathy is a key step to developing resilience.

How to cultivate this? Encourage your child to plan one act of kindness to carry out during the week. Who are they going to help? How? Review at the end of the week. What did they do? How did they feel doing it? Also keep an eye out for an opportunity to engage in a random act of kindness during the week. Give it a go yourself too. Each time you do something kind for others, your brain releases oxytocin (the feel good hormone) – which leads to increased confidence, energy, happiness and positivity. The boost to your wellbeing by engaging in these kinds of acts is long lasting.

5.     Influence the strength of your emotion.

Within seven seconds of hearing your favourite song, you can increase your positive emotion or decrease your negative emotion. Within 30 seconds of exercise you can make a change. Laugh – and the change is immediate.

You know what song you like. You know what exercise you like to do. You know what makes you laugh. Seek out these things and keep them in your bag of wellbeing tricks.

For the young person in your life – what song do they like? What exercise do they enjoy? What jokes, movies, stories make them laugh? Use them.

You can control the strength of your emotion. You can teach your child that they have power over theirs.

6.     Practising mindfulness.

An adolescent brain now takes in the same amount of information in a one week period than 20 years ago, where that same amount of information was absorbed over a whole year.

It is vital that adolescents, children and adults alike have opportunity to practise mindfulness and reduce mental clutter and overwhelm.

Mindfulness colouring can be a way to experience ‘flow’ – that is to experience enjoyment, lose sense of time and not be distracted by worries.

A number of mindfulness meditation apps exist. The Smiling Mind App has been proven to reduce anxiety, depression, relieve stress, prevent heart disease, improve sleep, reduce chronic pain, lowers blood pressure, enhances decision making, improves focus and decreases drug and alcohol abuse.

The problems are complex.

The solutions need not be complicated.

© Naomi Morrow, 2016

Rob Bell Wake Up Project Event: My top 5 Take-Away Messages

Admittedly, I wasn’t too familiar with Rob Bell and his work – but after I’d heard Elizabeth Gilbert refer to him as a “most inspiring spiritual leader” I was intrigued.

It was a clear winter day in Melbourne when Rob Bell spoke about all the big things: life, spirituality, love, suffering, creativity and mindfulness.

© Naomi Morrow, 2016

© Naomi Morrow, 2016

Listening to Rob speak, I felt more sure of who I was, who I am, and who I want to be. Yet for every time I thought YES, I now understand X or Y about me – there raised another three questions. That’s what happens when you go a bit deeper on yourself.

I filled half a notebook with AHA moments, phrases, snapshots of stories, wisdom + reminders. I can’t relay it all here, but if his work calls you – please check out his latest book How to Be Here.

1.     What can you create from EVEN this?

When we talk about life, living and relating to others – and finding our way in the world, we soon come to learn about suffering. When in the midst of suffering, whether it’s experiencing loss, illness, despair, pain – Bell suggests that we can always ask “I wonder what could be created out of even this?”

What new thing, action, belief, connections or presence could we consciously choose to adopt as a new creation out of our suffering?

This isn’t about looking for reasons why we suffer, but about finding ways to acknowledge that suffering presents us with an opportunity to know ourselves and our world in a new way. Could we choose to consciously become softer, more self-compassionate, more empathetic? Could we create new connections and reach out to others experiencing similar circumstances? Could we create a new path through life that acknowledges and transcends, rather than vainly tries to deny our experience?

Consider how many support groups and fundraising charities have been founded by someone who has lost a loved one to cancer. What can be created from even this?

As I listened to this message, it was impossible for me not to be thinking about the death of my mother last year. Every day following this loss, I consciously ask “How can I live wholeheartedly right now? How can I express my truth fully? How can I be my boldest self? How can I show love?”

Consciously create your life – pain and all.

2.     Is your ladder against the right building?

From a young age, we intuitively learn about ladders. We learn: study hard at school = get good grades. Get good grades = get into a good university. Get good grades = get a good job. Work hard = get a promotion. Work harder = get the corner office. And so on. All the ladders are there, waiting for us to climb up. We learn: keep striving, keep going up.

Rarely do we stop to ask “Is my ladder leaned up against the right building?”

Is this what I want? Many people get right to the top, achieve incredible success and wealth, but never have asked the deeper questions. Who am I? What will my life be about?

Some of us get really good at climbing ladders.

Is the endless striving and materialism fulfilling you?

Bell said “People make all kinds of radical choices to live the life that means the most to them.” They might choose to live frugally most of the year in order to travel extensively, or to sacrifice a certain level of income to maximise time with family or on a creative outlet.

Making a change and moving ‘down’ from the ego is a disruption of sorts. Moving toward greater vitality and health can challenge the assumptions of your society, tribe, family and/or workplace. The centre of consciousness has a message “This is how we do things” but you can make a disruption by saying “This is not my path.”

Ah. Being a disrupter. How does that sound? Waking up to what is possible and most meaningful for you. Do things your way. It’s certainly not going to be easy, because it will likely generate ripples of dissonance, but living in a way that’s not true for you won’t be a picnic either. What will you choose?

3.     What is that to you?

Ever notice yourself becoming too focused on what others are doing?

Wasting your energy comparing your parenting, business success, perceived wealth, physical appearance, accolades etc to other people?

Who you aren’t, isn’t interesting. (“I’m not smart enough, I’m not successful enough”)

Who they are, isn’t interesting. (“They are smarter, They are more successful”).

The time and energy you spend in this space takes you away from your capacity to live a rich, full and meaningful life. You are in control of how and where you expend your energy.

Decide now that you will not compare what you DO know about yourself with what you DON’T know about someone else.” – Rob Bell.

Ooh. Tough one but I’m going to try. I’ve already had my husband on to this for me, replying “What is that to you?” when I’ve been too focused on how I think someone should have behaved. It’s pretty effective when you boil it down. Keep your eyes on yourself, not over your shoulder or over your fence.

What is that to you?

4.     What is the number one here?

There’s that thing we want to do. But it’s big. And we’re stuck. We know what the first step is, but what happens at step 17? We don’t know. It’s unclear. So we don’t even start, because we want certainty and a smooth path.

And the longer we stay stuck, it gets harder to move into action. We get tangled in a sea of complicated thoughts, trying to second guess all the unknowns along the path. So to appear capable, confident, skilled. Not foolish. God forbid we make a mistake!

How do we cross over from spectating to participating?

Ask, “What’s the number one here?” Then just do it. Once you’ve done that, then you’ll do two – even if two may be different by then.

Step by step by step. It’s impossible to see the whole course, so commit to action, be curious and open. Keep moving. You don’t need to have a clear vision of step 17 yet!

Wowsers, some big truth telling here. As a new business owner, I’m faced with new. Different. Unknown. Unfamiliar. All the time. I’m committing to shifting my perception to one of excitement, intrigue and purposeful incremental action rather than anxiety, fear and avoidance of action.

Care to join me?

5.     What can you do to remind yourself that you have today?

A physical reminder, or moving meditation, can help anchor you into a space of gratitude and presence. Remembering that you are here and alive today.

Bell spoke of people who are thriving at a deep level, have a ritual that is personally meaningful for them that helps them feel into that place of aliveness.

He spoke about moving houses many times with his wife and family, and always carting around the heavy boxes of ‘good’ china that remained saved for a ‘special’ occasion – but were remain unused. Remembering that every day is a gift, they now use the special china for family breakfasts. It is a tangible, physical reminder to celebrate and mark life with gratitude for the here and now.

For some it might be baking cake, going for a hike in the forest, surfing, running, singing, sewing. The possibilities are endless. Choose what gives you that sense of awe and vitality and do it.

Are you putting off doing something special? Don’t wait.

© Naomi Morrow, 2016