Posts Tagged ‘mind and body’

The integrity of the Trickster

Sep 24 2015

I was brought up to be a good boy; eat what I’m given, say the right things and above all do what I’m told. Over the years I’ve realised that there are more of us around than we realise. Good boys, working to a set of rules imposed on us by someone else. Someone who thought that they were doing the right thing by making us good boys because someone had told them to be a good boy or a good girl.

Time passes quicker than one realises and it doesn’t take long to go from being a good boy in a school to becoming a man who has learnt to do as he’s told. One of the things that keeps us on the straight and narrow path is the fear that if you’re not a good boy then you may be banished remain lonely and lost. So for years, we’ll do what we’re told, at first by our parents, then by teachers and others in authority and finally our partners. As that’s what good boys do and are trained to do, what we’re told. However there is something in the background, something that tries to pull us away from the straight and narrow, something that wants us to stop and play in the sun, splash in the puddles or just watch the birds circle and soar. As we’re good boys we don’t; we hurry home as there are books to be red, instruments to be practised, someone to be looked after or some other kind of work. We’ll do this again and again because we’re good boys, until life feels as if it’s something mundane, something to be endured. However I believe that in the heart of every good boy there is a part of us that longs for us to be taken away from the life that we live; away from perfectly combed hair, clean shirts and the prison of being a good boy. I believe that we both long for it and fear it equally. I’d read about the trickster in all his/her forms both in myth and legend and also how the archetype manifests in Jungian and other forms of Psychology. All the stories I’d read had convinced me that the trickster be it in the form of Loki (Norse god of Mischief) or Eris (Greek Goddess of discord) and a whole host of others weren’t people I wanted to cross my path. I’d come to believe that like Jack in the story of Jack and the Beanstalk I’d lose a cow and end up with a handful of beans which I’d throw away, or worse.  Losing both the cow and any profit that I may have gained from it. As a good boy, I’d been happy with this state of affairs, as I’m far too sensible to be taken in by the trickster’s wiles, or so I thought. Perhaps it’s a part of growing up, maybe it’s part of being a writer and needing to understanding someone’s motivation, even if that someone only exists in myths and legends or our subconscious. However I could feel the trickster calling from the shadows and recently I’ve answered his (for me the trickster energy manifests as a man, for you it might not) and what I’ve learnt has surprised me. This may feel like the stuff of fairy tales and myths or depth psychology. I am coming to believe there is a part of ourselves, somewhere deep in our subconscious that rallies and rails at the way we treat ourselves as well as others. That notices each and every time we put other’s needs before ourselves or each and every time we sell ourselves short and keeps score. I believe that this is how the trickster is born into our awareness, all that disappointment and sadness about how we are treating ourselves manifests something in the shadows of our soul. Something that tries to hold up a mirror to show us the life we are living. The trickster’s work starts gently and subtly;  you may forget your keys or wallet, which makes you stop and take a different way to work or miss your usual train to work and things go on from there. Or the trickster interrupt your train of thought in a meeting and tell you that the person you are listening to and you’ve admired for so long isn’t the wise and wonderful person you thought and their persona and finery only exists in their (and possibly your) mind. I think at times like these that the trickster is trying to remind us good boys that there is more to us than the good boy that we’ve become. There is a man who is wise and has experience beyond his acceptance or knowledge. I believe that the internal trickster is trying to remind us that there is more to life and more to us than the place we are in right now; more than a life of service to others at a cost to ourselves, more than a life of constantly working and not stopping to see the wonders of the world around us. At his heart, I believe that the trickster is saying “stop, you’re better than this, worth more than this” and that isn’t always easy to hear. So, the trickster will try again and you forget our keys or forget to grab your wallet so you can’t pay for that oh, so needed latte again and again. Until you begin to wonder what’s going on, what happened to my life, how did I get here and do I want to be here? Like the trickster of legend our trickster wants us to change ourselves, the way we look at the world and our place in it. However it’s not easy for us to do as we’re good boys and good boys don’t rock the boat or do anything crazy or weird, but when we do he cheers and celebrates as he’s a part of us. This is the journey I’ve been on for the past few years; at I was committed to my identity to be a good boy, then I got confused when things started to happen that I couldn’t explain such as misplacing items which when I stopped looking were just where I’d left them, then I started to look at the people around me and realised that some of the people I’d looked up to weren’t as wise or wonderful as I first thought. When all else failed the trickster came into my life through a friend asking me the question “If money was no object what would you be doing?” Each time the trickster seemed to be asking the same questions. Questions that made me to see my existence in a different light and begin a journey that has helped me to change things I believe, for the better. There are still times when I revert into the old ways of wanting to be a good boy and if I seem to be going too far the trickster reminds me of his presence. I’ve now learnt to be patient and look at what’s going on in my life and identify what it is that I need to look at differently. Which leads to the title of this piece. I think the trickster sometimes gets bad press. However for me he has been a very useful part of my makeup. I believe that when he appears in our lives the trickster is asking us the questions – Is this really where you thought you’d be? This thing that is so important to you at the moment, how important is it really? Are you being the man that you want to be? I believe that the integrity of the trickster is that he wants us to be more content and happier. It’s just that as good boys we’re so busy being good that sometimes he needs to take us out of our comfort and that’s not fun for any of us.   by Shaky Shergill

Older Men Blow Away the Blues!

Jun 13 2013

Check out the prescription a Doctor gave for depression!…

The Five Aces are a popular UK swing band which formed in 1989 – and the 6 members with lead singer Ian Clarkson are now (mostly) older men.

Their jive music video of the Morecombe and Wise standard Bring Me Sunshine was released on YouTube in 2011. It has had over 2 million views since then.  Watch the You Tube video!

In 2012 Dr Wallace Hodges, a GP from Seattle USA, prescribed the link for a patient who was feeling depressed.

“At the end of the visit, he unexpectedly wrote me a prescription. ‘Check this out,’ he said. ‘Can I blog it?’ ‘Sure,’ he said, ‘spread it around. It is an instant mood lifter, whatever your predicament might be.’ ” – the story being told by Sally Schneider of .

Men Beyond 50 says, ‘Let’s all find more ways to be “instant mood lifters”!’

OK, so sadness and losses – we all experience greyness in our lives and can feel miserable at times  – and depression is an illness that hits many older men.  Simply naming it, going to see your GP doctor and naming it, or telling your story in a peer group (like a Men’s Group) can be the first step on the road to recovery. Here are the most useful, trustworthy and reliable UK sites to look for more information and help:

1. About Depresssion (Mind UK),
+ Mind UK has more pages on the full range of treatments available

2. Peer Groups – where to look (Depression UK)

3. Self-Help / Coping Advice (Depression Alliance network)

NB: If you have severe depression, and are in crisis, there are teams of doctors and nurses who can provide intensive support, which will enable you to stay at home if, rather than going into hospital.
For more information about what help may be available to you in your area, talk to your local Mind (see ), or call Mind Infoline (0300 123 3393).

Walter Michka – Life after Quadruple Bypass and more..

Jun 07 2013

Walter Michka is a Chicago writer and comedian who’s worked on national TV, local radio, and major ad campaigns in the States. His short story “Gut Feeling” can be found in the Clackamas Literary Review and his eBook “Thought Nuggets” at fine e-retailers near you. Walter underwent an emergency quadruple bypass in January of 2009 after experiencing chest pains that everyone, including his doctor, thought, at first, was acid reflux. Read his weekly blog: and more at:

We have also featured the link to his lighthearted quiz – 12 Ways to tell if you are older than you think.. have a look.. if you dare!


No shaming, no blaming, just naming: – A journey beyond mental illness

May 16 2013

A fascinating story from Kenny D’Cruz of MENSPEAK.

In Men’s Health Week Kenny will be co hosting special group sessions with Max of the Men Beyond 50 network (Tues 11th June), as well as running his own MENSPEAK Men’s Groups (Mon 10th June) and a WOMENSPEAK / MENSPEAK Mixed Group (Thur 13th June) on the theme of mental health, stress and stigma. Here he describes how his own astonishing journey through life and through mental illness to wellbeing now inspires his acclaimed work with clients.    

Kenny D’Cruz was eight years old when his father took a phone call at his family home saying ‘we’re going to come and kill you tonight.’

“My father was declared an enemy of the state by Idi Amin’s Secret Service in 1972. He made a joke about the phone call” Kenny recalls, “but the rest of us, our blood went cold. They phoned straight back, saying ‘we’re not joking, we’re coming to kill you tonight.’ I was the only one who cried. The others were in shock. I was an aware child and I knew what was going on.”

The D’Cruz family were Catholic, of Goan descent. Kenny’s father, the head of the parcel department of the Uganda postal service, had already fallen foul of the government in helping to protect helpless individuals and families from outside his community from ethnic and political persecution.     

Like tens of thousands of other Ugandan refugees with British passports, Kenny’s family fled to the UK. His father remained in Uganda and was smuggled to Italy, stateless, at the 11th hour, then miraculously reunited with his family nine months later, once the Conservative government changed policy and allowed him in. His father’s parting words to his elder son were: “You may never see me again. You are now the head of the family, you have to take care of your mother and brother.”

Although only a small child, Kenny took his father’s instructions to heart. The family were raised with domestic servants and knew literally nothing about cooking, cleaning and caring for two young boys in a cold country, all alone. Weeks and months in refugee camps, unprotected and not knowing the Indian languages and customs, then after that settling in a dilapidated council house in a small town in Wales, Kenny continued to take care of his mother and brother, while working around his father’s panic and anxiety issues, as they started again with nothing, having lost everything but their lives.

The day-to-day practicalities of the family’s new life were demanding enough, but emotional matters were no easier. Kenny’s father was literally absent at first, but even when he joined his wife and children, he remained emotionally distant. Kenny’s mother turned to her son for companionship, unconsciously creating an intense, psychologically demanding relationship, the type which clinical consultant and writer Pia Mellody calls enmeshment.

The responsibility weighed heavily on his young spirit. Before long he began to develop symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. “My inner world was chaotic and impossible to put right, so I guess I tried to control my outer world. Things out of order would cause added anxiety. It was all about avoiding possible harm and control over my environment.”

“I carried deep guilt that my mother, who lived like a princess in Africa, was suddenly my servant, having to cook, clean and hold it together for us. I would clean like crazy, while dealing with the contamination that came from cleaning.

This period marked the beginning of a secret long battle for Kenny over his own mental health and strength. He soon began to display symptoms of Tourette’s Syndrome with spontaneous, uncontrollable tics, twitches and grunts.  Throughout his childhood he continued to internalise and avoid his anxiety, panic, depression, paranoia, body dysmorphic disorder (which wasn’t helped by being the only coloured family in the area and an oddity in the changing rooms) and both traumatic and post-traumatic stress disorder as best he could. He developed eating disorders, would obsessively pull his hair or gouge his skin (known as trichotillomania and dermatillomania) and the family became compulsive hoarders and collectors. Those days are long gone, though Kenny recently discovered he has dyscalculia, a neurological condition that makes it hard to process numbers and measurement. “Knowing this has helped me get off my case with mid-life loss for not having followed a normal career and financial path. Now I can work around this too, with the help of my level-headed fiancée with whom I manage our money and passwords. My life is healthy and wonderful now.  I am not my past, I am not my thoughts, I am not my emotions, I love what I do and I do what I love. I’ve turned it around.”

Despite the stresses and his personal demons, Kenny made it through his education and graduated from business school. His OCD was becoming so severe that it impacted seriously upon his employability. “I was often late for work, once I moved to London to my first job in publishing in the 1980s. At worst, I would have to wash, scrub, bath and then shower before leaving home, then if even the hairs of my arm touched a ‘contaminated’ surface I’d have to do it all over again. I’d continually return to my front door to check I’d locked it, as I’d check my bag, my pockets, my flies, the time, anything and everything that could help avoid impending doom. I began to make up more and more ridiculous excuses as to why I was late. I once told my manager that I had been on the bus and it had just stopped in the street for a long while for no apparent reason. Eventually someone went to check on the driver in the car at the front of the traffic jam and he had had a heart attack and died at the wheel. It was a desperate lie, but easier than telling the truth.” Twenty years on, Kenny lives free of these issues and is running a thriving consultancy enabling men to live beyond their stories and true to themselves. “I now keep good time and don’t need to check anything, because I am present.”

“My mental health issues have felt like my dirty secret that no one should know. I have no idea of the consequences of coming clean as a man with mental health issues. I am a man with physical health issues and the people around me understand and accept that as normal. I would like to dispel the idea that mental health problems are any different.”

Counselling and therapy helped with some of his symptoms, but the breakthroughs came with his own determination and self-calming from a young age. “I learned to be calm. Not just internalise, but to truly calm myself, irrespective.” It is something he passes on to his clients. “As soon as they get taken over by their fantasies of the future, fear, or unfinished business from the past, I invite them to take a deep breath in, as they think: ‘Thank you for reminding me of who I used to be’, and then on exhaling they allow themselves to be calm, present and able to deal with what is in front of them, from a state of mindfulness.”

“For most of my life I’d been a little boy pretending to be a man. There hadn’t been the space for me to be safe enough to do my adolescence until I was in my thirties. I made a best friend in Australia who came back to England with me and we did our share of partying, finally experiencing the initiation of adolescence so that I could move on and become my own man. I realised that in order to free myself from my repetitive life script I had to retrieve lost parts of me that kept me in a loop as I survived life. Life kept showing me where I was stuck and I realised they stemmed from the moments where my emotional growth had been put on hold. Slowly I discovered how to release those ‘depressed’ pause buttons. There was no shame, no blame, just naming the truth of what happened and unlearning my beliefs about myself and my take on how life worked. As I accompany clients to these places of vulnerability they claim themselves back and inevitably uncover a tool for the next step of their life path. It’s a courageous and magical process where awareness is the key and we come from the bigger picture.”

Some of Kenny’s clients and group members work with him while also seeing medical or psychological professionals. “I always tell clients that if they are seeing another professional, they must keep them informed so there are no conflicts,” he explains. Mark Strider, a psychologist and former priest (who nominated Kenny for the ManKind Project’s Ron Hering Award, which he won for living his life’s mission, for his work with men including his MENSPEAK men’s groups that have been running for over a decade) describes Kenny as a ‘soul doctor.’ Kenny clearly states that he is not a doctor or a psychotherapist, while celebrating the fact that his group sessions belie to the notion that men don’t willingly speak about themselves. “Carl Jung stated ‘Secrets make us sick’. I strongly believe that the more men have a space to be heard, the better our mental health and lower suicide figures.”

“I meet people where they are on the road and together, we walk forward. Often that means meeting people at the point they keep returning to, which might be the time they were abandoned by their father, or publicly humiliated by their best friend, or whatever it might be. So if I meet someone with a Peter Pan Syndrome, for example, the men who can’t quite grow up, I will meet them at the point at which they got stuck and use the most efficient tools to support them in moving forward.”

“My own experiences of mental health and emotional trauma inform what I do because whatever problems people might have, there will be something I’ve gone through that is in some way parallel, if not actually the same, so it does help me understand and meet people’s reality. There are many different tools we can use. Sometimes naming it rather than shaming it or blaming it is enough, it breaks the spell and allows them to authentically and successfully take part in the world. The same thing can happen in groups. We’re allowed to talk about it. Often that leads to people having less need for therapy or being able to reduce their medication and that’s great if it happens, but it is not necessarily the goal.”  Group work also allows Kenny to assist clients at costs that can be affordable within even the tightest budgets.

kenny dcruz

The key, Kenny says, is to never let a problem of the mind define the person as a whole. “I assist my clients in owning their stories, rather than being their stories. Keeping them in the shadow simply fuels and recreates these denied parts.

“I can’t say that I was brought up in a bad way or that I had a horrible or nasty life, I didn’t. I had a life that was normal to me, and I had some limiting reactions to it. I was able to undo those and find my pathway. Now I love my life, I accept my past and I live with purpose.  I love facilitating groups, I love working with private clients, this is what I am here for and it brings me alive.”

Interview by Ally Fogg.

Hazel Hill Wood: A very special place for men

Mar 13 2013

Hazel Hill is a magical 70-acre wood near Salisbury, which I have owned since 1987. It has been an amazing catalyst for vision, healing and lots more, for me and many other men over the years, so I’d like to share the story with you.  This will build on the previous section, and show you in more depth how Nature can help you on your journey.  To get these benefits, you don’t need to own a wood: come and enjoy mine!

In 1987, aged 39, I was still in the thick of my workaholic business career, but knew that I needed to move on, re-invent myself and expand.  I had just received a chunk of capital from share options in the business I was running, and wondered what I could do with this money that I’d really enjoy.  Out of nowhere came the idea, you could buy a wood.  I was inspired by the idea, and after a few months of research, bought Hazel Hill.

Since the mid 1990s, Hazel Hill has been a conservation woodland and retreat centre, with lovely wooden eco-buildings, diverse wildlife habitats, and a fascinating range of groups using them.  However, I didn’t start with a vision or a business plan for any of this.  I followed a strong inspiration to buy the wood, and everything else has unfolded, slowly and organically, through listening to the wisdom of the wood.  The catalyst for all this was vision questing: in 1992, when my kids were entering their teenage years, I wanted to do something to help adolescents approaching adult life.  Vision quests are a rite of passage also relevant for maturing men: you can read more about them in the section below.

I started co-leading vision quests for teenagers at Hazel Hill in 1992  These awoke me to the dialogue which I and others could have with the wood, with individual trees, with nature and the spiritual world, so that Hazel Hill is a kind of gateway to these deeper connections.  Stewarding this wood has been a profound education in sustainability.  For a start, you have to think long-term: in Wiltshire, pine trees take 60 years to mature, and prime hardwoods like oak or beech take well over a hundred.  Changes happen slowly, and you have to think about posterity: many of the benefits of our current forestry and conservation work will be felt far beyond my lifetime.  Secondly, the wooden buildings used by groups are low-impact and mostly off-grid: we have PV electric systems, composting toilets, reed beds for grey water, and visitors have to sort, take away and recycle all their rubbish.  When you’re at the wood, your impacts on the environment are visible, so it’s a great place for learning about sustainable living

The more time you spend in a special landscape, and the deeper your relationship, the more it can support you when you need it.  When my wife finally called an end to our marriage struggles, I was shattered.  It was the wood which gave me the most comforting and parenting through this shipwreck: I recall spending three days there in shock and grief, partly alone, partly with a couple of close friends from my men’s group.

If you go into a church or mosque, you feel a special atmosphere: this is a place set apart from everyday life, where generations of people have come to make a spiritual connection.  The same is true for landscapes, but in a different way: here, you’re open to the sky, the stars, the sun, and direct contact with all the beauty and wisdom of nature.  I’d say that Hazel Hill has become a sacred landscape, through twenty years of people being here with this intent.  It’s worth finding a landscape which feels sacred for you, or creating one.

Here are the main roles which Hazel Hill has played in my journey through the maturing years.  I hope you can find places that do the same for you.

One-off men’s weekends: I have co-led many weekend workshops and retreats for men at Hazel Hill, and they have been some of the deepest I’ve experienced.  Being out together on the land gives men a unique sense of fellowship, perhaps recalling our primitive times as hunting bands.  There’s also a quality of safety, being able to open up and share deeply, which comes from being in a men-only group, out in a sacred landscape.  I’ve seen many men voice painful feelings which they had carried alone for years, finding healing from being witnessed and accepted, not judged, by a company of men.  Growing from this comes a stronger, happier sense of self, realising that who you really are is ok.

Solo quests: Hazel Hill has been used by myself and numerous other maturing men, and I highly recommend the wisdom quest for all men beyond 50.  See more in the Section below.

Conservation work: Michael Meade, one of the pioneers of men’s development in the US, says that men of all ages connect best shoulder-to-shoulder, not face-to-face: meaning that when men work together on a physical task, this creates a setting where it’s easier for them to open up.  The men’s groups at the wood usually include conservation projects, and they’re a great catalyst.

Seasonal celebrations: The Celtic and many other native traditions, celebrate each turn in the year’s cycle out on the land.  Having organised seasonal celebrations at Hazel Hill for many years, we now have a rolling community of people who come together for a weekend at the eight main festivals: this means the Solstice and Equinox points, and the cross-quarter festivals between them.  The wood provides a superb mirror and guide for people, helping them to move through the seasons of their year and their life.

Men and women: Hazel Hill is an important place not only for men, but also for women, and for their relationships.  The wood enables sharing wisdom between men and women, and exploring sacred relationship.  My wife Linda and I initiated our relationship here, and got engaged with a handfasting ritual at Hazel Hill.

Ongoing conversation: As well as being at Hazel Hill for many of the groups, I spend a night and day there alone every couple of weeks.  This gives me relaxation, renewal, healing, and whatever insights I need.  As everyday life gets more speedy, complex and technical for most of us, getting back to Nature like this becomes more and more crucial.