"Look at what you bring to the world, not what you lack." - Miranda Kate

Sunday, 9 July 2017

What is meditation? The myths, the truth, & how to fit it in.

Tree with sun shining through. Do you keep hearing people talk about meditation and wonder if you should be doing it too?

Do you struggle to clear you mind to meditate?

Do you get frustrated that you can’t find time to meditate?

According to my Oxford English dictionary, to meditate is to “focus ones mind for a time, for spiritual purposes or for relaxation.” And mediation is the act of doing this.  

There are a wealth of articles on websites, and YouTube videos about mediating. People do it daily; they make it a routine; they say they can’t live without it. Some even go away on retreats, and boast about how it alters their lives. But there are a lot of myths about meditating, and here are a few.

  • You don’t have to have special training;
  • It doesn’t have to take long 20 minutes or an hour;
  • You don’t have to do it daily;
  • You don’t have to be able to sit in the lotus position;
  • You don’t have to listen to music, or burn oils while doing it;
  • You don’t need special clothing;
  • You don’t need a special place, or room to do it in;
  • The place doesn’t have to be quiet;
  • You don’t need to be alone. 

You can do all of the above, but they aren’t necessary. You can mediate in any way you feel works for you. There is no right way of doing it, and it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

I don’t mediate daily, I meditate when I feel the need, or when I have time and am in the mood to do so. I struggle to meditate for longer than 10 minutes. But there are moments during my day where I do still mediate for just a moment. I consciously stop my thoughts in my head and breathe. And I can do this several times a day when I am so busy I am overwhelmed. 

“Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It’s a way of entering into the quiet that’s already there - buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day.” - Deepak Chopra 

You can meditate in just a minute; it is simple. The first thing you need to do is breathe. It doesn’t matter where you are: you can be in your car driving, or in the midst of cooking the family meal – anywhere. As soon as you feel the need to clear you mind, just think about your breathing: count 2 while inhaling, then 4 when (slowly) exhaling and then pause for a count of 2 (neither inhale or exhale), then begin again. Consciously feel your body physically relax for a moment.

And that’s it.

No really, it is.

You can continue to do this, or you can do it for a moment.

If you want to keep going you might find thoughts coming into your mind as you do it. Every time you realise that is happening, return your mind to your breathing. Imagine your thoughts running like the credits of a movie in the back of your mind. Don’t engage with them. Just leave them.

And that is meditation. 

“The goal of meditation isn’t to control your thoughts, it’s to stop letting them control you.” - meditationSHIFT 

Yes, there are people that continue to do this for hours on end, for entire weekends on retreats. And there are those that go so far with it they are able to control their heart rate. And others chant too, all sorts of sounds or words, believing it will draw positive things to them and into their life – and that might well work.

If you can focus your mind for long periods of time, you can also develop the same self-discipline in other areas of your life, and concentrate on the things you are working on, which can result in a lot of personal success. But the fundamentals of meditation don’t change. It is just a matter of building up from that single point. 

“Not to be able to stop thinking is an affliction, but we don't realize this because almost everybody is suffering from it." – Eckhart Tolle



Friday, 30 June 2017

Writing it out: how to resolve a noisy mind


Quill shaped cloud in blue sky.
Do things people say or do replay in your mind?

Do they go round and round distracting you in the day, or keeping you awake at night?

Do you spend a lot of time thinking about things you should have done, or wish you could have done?

I call this a noisy mind, and it can be triggered by many things:

- A conversation with someone;
- An action someone has taken;
- An event that has taken place;
- Or be an action that you haven’t taken;
- Or an event you wanted to go to but didn’t.

These things stick in your mind
, or something about it stays with you. You might be questioning it, or worrying about it; it might cause you to feel anxious, sad, angry, or upset in some way. But most of all it distracts you from your day to day life, interrupting your concentration and causing you to forget things, or not listen properly to those around you.

When this occurs for me I know I need to get whatever it is out of my head.

Sometimes talking it over with a trusted friend can help. But if it is something I feel would come across wrong, or sound stupid when said out loud, I find the only solution is to write it out; my journal becomes my friend.

“Journal writing is a voyage to the interior.” – Christina Baldwin

Once I do this, I often find solutions and answers to my questions; seeing it in black and white on the page enables me to see it from another perspective. Just getting it out and showing it to the light of day minimizes its impact on me emotionally. I sift through it and deal with it in a more constructive way, deciding what is real and what is self-created drama inside my head.

It gives me a sense of release, but also empowers me by helping me feel as though I can handle my thoughts and emotions again and function again.

When writing it out I often make sense of my feelings, identify patterns or past events that are influencing them.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” – Flannery O’Connor

When connecting with myself in this way, I understand myself better. It enables me to see inside myself, explore thoughts and feelings which influence my external life. Through this process I listen to my feelings and learn to trust them – and thus trust myself.

It helps me build confidence and inner security: Once I become sure of myself I rely less on external factors, such as other people and their opinions or acceptance of me.

“Paying attention to the inside for the purpose of living well from the inside out.” – Lee Wise

To clear a noisy mind some people might try meditation, but when my head is exceptionally noisy and I have a lot of things bubbling up to the surface, I find transferring my thoughts onto paper much more helpful. Then when I meditate afterwards, it’s much easier.

Journalling doesn’t have to be a chore, or even something you do on a daily basis. There are people who like to keep a diary, or do what they call ‘Morning Pages’, which means writing out your thoughts first thing after you wake up. But I tend to only journal when I feel the need. I also do a lot of creative writing in the form of short stories and poetry, which is also a good way to express yourself. 

 “Whether you are keeping a journal or writing as a meditation, it is the same thing. What’s important is you are having a relationship with your mind.” – Natalie Goldberg

Never be afraid of what might come out, or how it comes out, just write it out as it appears in your mind, letting it flow, unblocking your heart and your mind.


Friday, 4 November 2016

Perception and Perspective: How you can alter how you see things

Water by Uluru (Ayers Rock)Have you ever had someone experience the same moment, but see it completely differently?

Did they find it positive when you found it negative? Or vice versa? 

When something isn’t how you imagine it to be, are you let down, disappointed, and frustrated? 

Perception is how we understand or interpret something. Perspective is our attitude and view point on how we regard it.

How we perceive something is affected by how we think. Whether we see a situation as positive or negative depends on our perception of it. And that perception is set by our expectations and assumptions, which supply our perspective on any given subject. 

Everything we hear is an opinion not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth."- Marcus Aurelius 

As discussed in Reducing Expectations, we can change our perspective by not having a preconceived idea about how something is going to go, or desire a specific outcome. 

Assumptions and expectations are fed by information either from previous situations - or hearing about them from others. Often how we expect something to be is not actually how it is. We can end up disappointed, disillusioned, even hurt and upset if it doesn’t go as we thought it would.

What screws us up the most in life is the picture we have of how it is supposed to be.

To change that, we need to change our perspective. We need to realise we have a choice in how we see, hear, and view things. 

This was first brought to my attention when I expressed my upset about something my mother had said, when I was first in therapy. They asked me:

“If your brother had been in the room would he have been upset by it too?” 

It made me stop and think and realise that he wouldn’t; his internal dialogue and relationship with my mother was different to mine, thus the content of my mother’s dialogue would have had a different meaning. He would receive what she said in a totally different way. 

My perception of her and the things she said depended on my history and relationship with her and affected my expectations from her, even giving another meaning to her words. In some ways I had already decided her meaning before she spoke, and my reaction was based off that rather than what she actually said. 

We see things not as they are, but as we are. Our perception is shaped by our previous experience. - Dennis Kimbro

Our perceptions are based off established ideas and thoughts we have about all the things around us. We learnt them from our parents, friends, teachers, work colleagues, newspapers, textbooks, television - everything has an input, but we can alter our view at any time. 

And how we continue to filter that information and react to it is also a choice. 

If you change the way you look at things, the way you look at things change. - Wayne Dyer

And this extends into the outside world. If we only focus on the negatives in the world and all the bad things that happen that is all we see, and our perception becomes negative. It doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen, but if we aren’t seeing the good things, we aren’t leaving room for them to filter in and bring a more balanced perspective on the world.

Without that balanced view we risk becoming overwhelmed, and this can lead to anxiety and depression, conditions which are fed by a mindset based on how we perceive things.

“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation, but your thoughts about it.” - Eckhart Tolle

So how do we change it? By recognising that our perception of any given thing might not be how it actually is, or the same as another person’s, thus realising that it is possible to see it differently. And if we want to change it we can - it’s a choice.

“When you observe rather than react, you claim your power.” - Denise Linn
 
It may not be possible with everything, but allowing the possibility makes us more flexible, and releases us from the potential shackles of a fixed mindset, opening us up to opportunities we might not have had before. 

Ask yourself how you would like to perceive something: What do you want to experience? How do you want to feel? And what is stopping you from feeling this way?

Once we are able to understand that we have a choice we return a sense of power, which gives us a sense of control. We can return to an event or situation that we previously viewed as negative and experience it differently, through fresh eyes. 


Monday, 27 June 2016

Learning to 'Let Go': how to stop being scared of giving up control


Clouds on a blue sky. Let go, and go wtih the flow of life. Do people tell you to ‘just let it go’?

Do they tell you to ‘get over it’?

Tell you it’s not worth it and forget about it?

The whole ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ thing?

Do you struggle to do that? I know I do.

I’m an analytical and critical soul, who wants everything to be perfect and run smoothly and go to plan – particularly MY plan. I make a lot of lists. I think things through in great detail. I imagine how things will turn out. The small things matter to me.

On occasion, I have been called a ‘control freak’. Sometimes I’m okay with that and sometimes I’m not. The times I am not is because it relates to something that I am sensitive about; something that matters a lot to me. And in those moments I can become defensive. My defensiveness means I am feeling insecure and trying to control something that I am worried might not work out or meet my expectations (or someone else's), or is something I could have done differently.

We want control because we feel something is out of control. We don’t feel we have power in a given situation – that power being the ability to change or influence a situation, event, or project. We are seeking a particular outcome and putting ourselves under pressure to achieve it. It frustrates us, and it can cause a great deal of anxiety and stress, which we then take out on those around us by being defensive or unapproachable.

"The more you try to control something, the more it controls you. Free yourself and let things take their own natural course." – Leon Brown

But we must remember, the only thing we can control is ourselves. We can’t control how others will respond, what they will choose to do, or what they will think. We can’t control what will happen after our participation. We can only do our part and then release it.

In my post How to Reduce your Expectations to Reduce Anxiety, I discuss how to stop anticipating an outcome; how to stop having an expectation of how something will turn out.  Learning to ‘let go’ requires the same processes. We can only take responsibility for what is within our control. The rest we have to let go of, including the outcome.

Some call it ‘surrendering to the outcome’, and that is what we need to do. But the word ‘surrender’ to me indicates defeat or giving in, whereas I see 'letting go' as the opposite. It is rising above our anxieties and need for control; it is being sure we have done all we can, content with our input, and knowing it is enough.  Letting go means you made a choice to release it. 

“Sometimes letting go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.” Eckhart Tolle

When we become sure of ourselves and our efforts, the fear we have about not being in control, or letting ourselves and others down, disappears. Letting go allows us to feel liberated and derive pleasure from any and all outcomes.

So if you find yourself frustrated and feeling like you are losing control, or out of control, ask yourself:
What is it I am seeking from this situation or event?
What is it I am trying to control?
What outcome am I looking for?
Why does it matter so much to me?

And then ask yourself:
Am I happy with my part in it?
Can I change it, or improve it?

Look at what you are in control of, what power you do have, and reassure yourself you have done all you can. Then you can take the pressure off and let go of your frustrations, expectations and desire for a particular outcome.And often you will find the outcome is much better - because you hadn't expected it.

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” - Joseph Campbell
 

Monday, 15 February 2016

The Point of Affirmations: what they are & how they can benefit you


Photos of an orange Gerbara flower. The point of affirmations
In the self-help and personal development world, affirmations have become a buzzword of sorts: everyone uses them, relies on them, and considers them a necessary aid to personal growth.

But what are affirmations and what benefits do they bring?

Affirmations are positive words, sentences and phrases you repeat to yourself on a daily basis – in some ways similar to chanting, prayer, or meditation.

They are used to counter negative thoughts we have about ourselves. In my posts: How to Stop Negative Internal Dialogue, and Negative Emotion Addiction: How to Recognise & Release it, I talk about how to combat negative thinking. Affirmations are a way to do this, and can replace negative thoughts.

Through the repetition of sentences, words or phrases, affirmations work to remind us of the good things about ourselves, and enable us to see our lives from a positive perspective. They are a way of training our minds to provide a healthier internal dialogue.

By reaffirming positive things in our lives on a daily basis we set our outlook and intention for the day. Reading or saying them every morning can bring renewed energy. It can have a positive effect on how we approach the people around us, and how we do our work.

Whatever you hold in your mind on a consistent basis is exactly what you will experience in your life. – Tony Robbins.

For example, in my early 20s I struggled to see my value and always put other people before me, I felt that I was not important or significant in any way. It made me depressed and anxious. My therapist gave me the task of coming up with a sentence to repeat to myself to shift this belief. The sentence I came up with was: “It’s my life and I’m the most important person in it.” It took me a long time (years) to honestly believe it, but it made a difference every time I said it. I would particularly call on it in times of struggle. 

It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a conviction, things begin to happen. – Muhammad Ali

I also struggle with being a parent, and some days feel that I fail. But when I find myself saying that to myself, I do two things: I remind myself that tomorrow is a new day and a fresh start, and I repeat the sentence: “I am a good and valuable mother.” And with those words I receive a flood of positive emotions and memories reinforcing them, and providing me with fresh energy to start again.

Here are a few of the affirmations I use:

“You are important, your thoughts create, your actions matter, your presence changes everything.”

“My intention is to love, honour, and respect myself.”

“Expect nothing, appreciate everything.”

“Look at what you bring to the world, not at what you lack.”


Do you use any words, sentences or phrases to help you? Feel free to share them in the comments.  


Monday, 8 February 2016

Remembering The Why: How to find the point of it all when you feel lost


Remembering the why - photo of the branches of a tree with the sun behind
Do you ever wonder ‘What is the point of it all?’

Do you ever feel lost and struggle to see your way ahead?

I have moments in my life where I lose interest in everything I am doing. I feel drained, exhausted and tired, waking up to the same day-to-day existence. Maybe things aren’t going my way, or I’m not achieving what I want - or they’re not happening fast enough. It all seems too much work to keep reaching for my dreams.

It’s in those moments we need to remember ‘the why’.

Some people might refer to this as having a purpose. In the self-help and personal development arena people talk about ‘living your purpose’, or ‘finding your purpose’, but I feel this relates to external factors: making something the objective, or intention, like children, a job or partner.

I believe ‘the why’ is more personal: it’s our own inner flame that burns inside and keeps us moving forward and focusing on what we want out of life, what we want to achieve emotionally, not just physically. 

“I am not interested in what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dream of meeting your heart’s longing” - Oriah

When we trip and fall it’s what gets us back up again. When we get lost along the path on a journey that seems to have diverted to somewhere else, it’s what brings us back on track, popping up like a signpost.

Sometimes we need to prioritise it, and fight for it to keep us moving towards it.

And no ‘why’ is the same; it is what resides deep within each individual’s heart and only they know.

If you are unsure what your why is, take time out to sit quietly and listen to yourself. Think about the things in your life, or anything that is troubling you, anything you are unsure about and don’t know if you want. When you think about these things, how do you feel? Which thoughts give you a positive feeling? Which dreams make your heart soar? What would you like to do? Which choices are you sure about?

Do this without taking into account any of the ‘ifs’, ‘shoulds’ or ‘buts’ in life – this isn’t about anyone else but YOU. 

The things you are passionate about are not random, they are your calling. - Fabienne Fredrickson

As a writer I often wonder about the point of my writing: Will anyone read it? Will they be interested? What will it achieve? And when I am on the brink of walking away from it entirely, I ask myself why I started writing in the first place. I go back to what inspired me to write in first place.

For me the answer is ‘because I want to express myself’: whether through a story, a blog post, or a tiny piece of fiction. I have an overwhelming need to express myself. My concern for how it will be received is overridden by my desire to do it.

The moment I find my ‘why’, I reconnect with it. My energy is restored; my motivation is rebooted. I can continue on, sure of what I am doing – and why.

We have to keep checking on the why, because if too much ‘what’s the point?’ builds up we can end up in an avalanche or landslide into the land of pointlessness, and get stuck in feelings of emptiness, depression and whole lot of darkness.

When we feel overwhelmed; when we don’t know which way is up; when we feel pulled in all directions, remembering the why brings us back to centre, putting the rug back under our feet.