The Canary in the coal mine of our current culture

Israel Adesanya, is deemed to be one of the strongest middleweight fighters in the world. In the poignant documentary Stylebender, Israel is filmed in his process of healing. Through feeling and expressing emotions from historic scars he is leading the way, showing strength in his vulnerability. This is courage from a whole different perspective. He let himself Feel 2 Heal.

I was born into a Lancashire working class town Burnley, where most worked either in the mines or cotton mills.

Before immigrating to NZ in 1973 aged 14, I had an intrinsic sense that the world was my oyster, if I worked hard. My first paid job was when I was 13 at a shoe shop in Colne, a neighbouring town. Aged 20 I bought my first house in 1979 for $23,500 complete with a fridge, freezer and washing machine thanks to a NZ Housing Corp loan. I knew the joy of  creating what I wanted, I was part of the game: “for every winner there is a loser/s”.

I witnessed the effects of modern culture on my three sons Chris, Michael and Jamie who, relaxed at home, suddenly tightened and squared their shoulders at the front door, in order to face a different world. Protecting themselves and each other in the competition culture they knew outside our home. 

What is the cost of ‘squaring the shoulders’?

One morning in 2006 Jamie came into my bedroom, white as a sheet. “Tim has killed himself”.

This news rocked Jamie’s world. One expression of his grief and loyalty to his friend was to tattoo Tim’s name on his forearm. How else does a 15-year-old express his love and grief for his dear mate in this culture? A culture absent of authentic adult initiation processes, leaning instead on self-created initiations of obtaining a driver’s license, shaving, first sexual experience, drugs, drinking alcohol, etc.

The last funeral I was invited to hold was for Daniel. Another dear friend of my three sons. I still recall the sea of faces grimaced with the deepest incommunicable grief. A silent, yet palpable question of “Why?”. I felt their powerlessness and guilt. I felt the silent sea of speech bubbles: “I knew he was struggling”, “I didn’t know what to do to make a difference!”. Sentiments leaking from tightly held, armoured sadness, anger, and fear, buried under a sealed, steel numbness bar, a “This doesn’t affect me” persona as they farewelled their mate who had suicided.

Recently I received a text message:

I’m in a hellish downward plunge and I need serious help. I’m not even sure you’ll be able to do it for me. My comfort standbys stopped working. My meds stopped working. I’m almost dead. I want to die.

As a Possibility Manager I coach Lifeliners, the people who take calls for the helpline agency Lifeline. They receive countless risk calls per shift. Callers seeking imagined relief through the option of taking their own lives. Loser’s is often a word used to describe people who aren’t ‘winners’ in the current culture game of I win you lose.

I hear a deeper message, a wake up call to a culture gone astray.

“SOMETHING ISN’T WORKING WITH THIS CURRENT SYSTEM” they are yelling, via their strategy of suicide ideation, and suicide.

I hear people say what a selfish act suicide is. What if people who use the strategy and fantasy of suicide are actually the “canaries in the coalmine?” 

What do I mean?  

My great uncles, as miners in my hometown, used to take Canaries down the coal mines as an indicator and detector of the presence of carbon monoxide. The bird’s rapid breathing rate, small size, and high metabolism, meant the birds would quickly succumb, giving the miners time to take action.

The men and women choosing to take their own lives, are highlighting the dangers of our “coal mine” current culture. They are the canaries in the coal mine indicating that something is drastically wrong with our current culture!

Humans create a steel numbness bar and “square their shoulders” to survive. But suppressed, mixed, and unexpressed emotions create dis-ease personally and relationally. The darkest culmination of this numbing is death through suicide.

My personal version of squaring my shoulders to survive was to “Be Strong”,  “Toughen Up” and “Don’t Feel”. These were a strategic bond that worked for a limited time only.

Numbing my feelings and burying my needs meant I survived modern culture. Generations of people before me in post-World Wars, post-depression working class Lancashire, learnt a similar tactic to survive: “Keep ya chin up” was the Lancashire anthem.

A “thinner” is a volatile solvent used to make paint and other solutions less viscous. Eventually the bond between “toughness” and “numbness” thinned and disintegrated.  My survival mechanism had reached its use-by date and emotions leaked out like lethal gas from a sewer. 

I was terrified. My dreams repeatedly had rows of toilets filled to overflowing with excrement. There were often no empty toilets in my dreams for me to use. 

I needed something else.

Through regular counselling and psychotherapy, and latterly through Possibility Management, I began shedding the layers of tightness I had created to survive. I learnt to feel to heal. I now empower others to do the same.

I embody a profound knowing that contrary to popular belief, emotions are not dangerous, nor are they to be numbed at all costs. After many layers of healing and training, I have unmixed years of tangled emotions, and have learned to stay in connection with the sensations in my physical body, my emotional body, and then ask for what I want.

From my own deep healing and training I now offer spaces for you to feel 100% anger, sadness, fear and joy. I work with the distinction between emotions and feelings. Feelings are resources and forces for creation, while emotions are for healing. 

Both Feel 2 Heal and Building Communication Bridges: Inside & Out are spaces to feel. Places to identify your current beliefs about feeling mad, sad, fear and glad. A place to discover new road maps for you to travel to new territory in your life and your relationships. This is what Israel started to do in Stylebender.

I am a mother, a grandmother, a healer, a trainer, and a village weaver. I am here to walk alongside you as we collectively birth a totally new culture, one that holds the bright tenderness of our young men, women and children at the core.

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  1. As a New Zealand bloke myself who has gone through many things from being violently assaulted and having quite serious sports injuries. I have also gone through the process of healing and being helped by Janet. Being able to understand your feelings and emotions as a male in New Zealand I feel has never been valued. I think the article above illustrates the importance of how urgently this needs to change. To any other males out there reading this, It is okay to ask for help. This journey will be the best one you make, with the rewards that will fill your heart and soul.

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