Birthday Girl

by Mona Kino – April 2017

Shortly before my last birthday I had a dream: one of my friends youngest daughter screamed out loud, arms wide open: „Hello world, I am the birthday girl.“

The joy in her face accompanied me for a couple of days. It made me realize that I don´t  like celebrating my birthday a lot. I mostly celebrated it in the past because I thought I would start to like it if I just jumped over the first step of resistance. Unfortunately it never worked out for me. The resistance became even bigger every time I crossed that line. But when I chose not to celebrate my birthday at all I didn’t feel better either.

So with the birthday girl dream in mind and knowing that strong emotional reactions are related to childhood experiences I decided to explore both: my withdrawing from and longing for celebrating my birthday.

I grew up with sentences like: „You just have to try hard enough, then things will change.“  So naturally I started working very hard to change the past by seeing it in a positive way.

I even created great birthday parties in my mind, at home with my parents as opposed to boarding school where they actually had taken place. But all this didn´t help. And I had to realize that you can work as hard as you want, it is impossible to change that what had happened in the past.

However it is possible to change how much power we allow the past to still have over our lives. Hence I decided to turn it around: in the past the message I got as a child having to celebrate birthdays away from home at boarding school was that the day of my birthday wasn´t worth celebrating for my parents, and being dependent on my parents as a child I identified with that message, inflicting a deep lack of self worthiness.
So I sat down for the first time in my life and asked my friends and family for a favor as a present: I asked everybody I invited to my 50th birthday to describe how I enriched his or her life.

Looking now at the vast variety of different presents I got, from a bonsai tree to self made fortune cookies that contained answers to my question, to hand written letters from my kids (imagine that from an iPhone addicted teenager) – I still feel overwhelmed. Before my birthday I knew why I was connected to my friends. What they contributed to my life to be enriched. Now I know how I enrich their lives and that my humor seems to be a big part of that. And that they think that I lead my life with a heart „as big as a bus“ – an unexpected perspective that helps me a lot when my try-to-understand-everything-brain goes around in circles again.

The exercise that inspired me to all this happened during a module of training empathy. We were asked to evaluate our relations to each other in the smaller working groups with following questions:

What made it easy for me being part of the group?
What made it difficult for me?
What did I contribute to the group?
What did I get from the other participants?

Try for yourself with your family and friends. Or if you are a teacher or pedagogue try it with your colleagues or students. Sit together at least once a year and ask yourself this question: how do we enrich each others lives?

It is great getting to know the actual status quo from the ones most beloved or important in our lives.
If you feel the atmosphere is a bit shaky add a grounding exercise before.

Three steps grounding

1. stepgrounding12_1
. Place your-self in a standing position with parallel feet hip-width apart.
. Bend you knees as much as you can without lifting your heels. Knees are pointing straight forward.
. Lift yourself from flat feet to standing on your toes without stretching your knees. Knees are still bended pointing straight ahead
. Lower your heels to the floor. Now your back in the starting position.
. Find your own rhythm and do the little sequence a number of times.
. Stand for a moment. How does your body response to the exercise? And what about your breathing?

2. stepgrounding12_3
. Place your-self in a wide legged standing position
. Shift your weight from one foot to the other.
. Press your foot into the ground.
. You can bend your knee to get the movement a little bigger. Keep the other foot in the ground.
. Move from side to side in your own rhythm a couple of times
. Place one foot in front of the other.
. Be aware of the contact between your feet and the floor
. Shift your weight as you did before from on foot to the other.
. Role through your feet so that you feel each foot from the heel to the toes.
. Find your own rhythm and repeat a couple of times
. Switch legs so that the other foot stands in front. Repeat the exercise.
. Stand for a moment. Be aware …

3. stepgrounding12_2
. Place your-self in a standing position with parallel feet hip-width apart.
. Make a small release in your knees
. Make a full body stretch raising your arms to the ceiling
. Be aware of your feet and your breath while stretching
. Be aware of the two directions in your body. Stretching into the ceiling and grounding down into the floor at the same time.
. Let go off your arms and let them relax down the sides of your body
. Bend your head and move slowly into a forward fold. Let your awareness follow the movement of your spine.
. Come as far down as possible. Stand for a short while in the position. Relax your head, your arms your face.
. Move back very slowly to the standing position.
. Stand for a moment. Feel your feet on the floor and the impulses in your body.

Illustration by Gesine Grotrian

Editing by Kerstin Schöps