Holiday

I’m just back from what I can genuinely say was my best holiday so far. Practising presence has really paid off.

Being present enabled me to treasure each moment for what it was, without labelling it, predicting its expiry date or viewing it through a haze of longing or attempted prolonging.

Everything unfolded perfectly. Whatever happened was the way it was meant to be. I even enjoyed the day-long trek to Athens via Stansted. I chatted to friends, read, slept and conversed with fellow travellers.

When I arrived in Greece, I soaked up the heat, the smell, the ancient language and the ardent stares of the hot-blooded males. My friends and I lapped up the attention and the compliments. We flirted and joked and laughed so hard that tears came.

I sat in silence on a ferry as dawn set the sky on fire. I sipped frappes in the blaze of the morning. And I shared cocktails with family as we watched the journey of the ball of glowing sun until the last of its embers trickled into the horizon.

When the boat was over an hour late, I delighted in the extra time in Paros where I people-watched from the port café and availed of the free WiFi.

I relished every mouthful of tzatziki-filled gyros and olive oil-drenched salads. I savoured the evenings as my friends and I swallowed beer, applied makeup, put on fashion shows, danced and sang.

I felt gratitude for the time I spent with my father as we lunched beneath the Acropolis.

I snorkelled with the fish and mermaided underneath the water. I was truly present as I floated in the sea, my body pressed towards the sky.

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And when the impatient bus driver took us the long way around the island, I appreciated the view of places I hadn’t yet seen. I giggled as the driver shouted at passengers, beeped and gestured furiously, and belted around precariously narrow bends. He caught my eye in the mirror, winked and turned the music up loud.

Occasionally, my mind put up a road-block but I simply noted it and veered around it. I was aware of the impact of my thoughts and I reminded myself to stay present.

A few times, a “bad” feeling descended. Whereupon, I allowed myself to really feel it. I uncovered the thought process behind it. Once I recognised its source, I was able to let it go.

On my last day in Athens, I visited my grandmother. We said all that we could say in our limited Greek and English, then sat back and watched each other as we sucked on ice creams. Then, she started to cry. I too became emotional.

In the bathroom, as I collected myself, I realised that the reason I was feeling so upset was because I had had the thought: This could be the last time I see my grandmother.

I brought myself back to the present, returned to my grandmother, touched her ninety-year-old skin and told her that she’s beautiful and I love her.

And now, as the bus carts me back to Newbridge, I try to shake the sinking feeling that most holiday-makers catch at the end of their vacation. This time however, I see it for what it is: habit.

I’ve had an amazing holiday. And now I’m hurtling back to “reality”. I’m being dragged away from the aquamarine waters of Antiparos and Mykonos and plunged into a swamp of thought-induced depression.

But that’s all in my mind. I look out the window. The fields are green and the sun is shining.

I’m not in Greece. But I’m also not in Ireland. Not really. I am me. I am now. And it is what it is.

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Images: Author’s Own

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All I Need Is

Last night, I observed my reaction to something. Initially, I was disappointed that I was still allowing a thing like this to affect me.

Then, I remembered to accept the feeling and to really feel it, instead of sweeping it into a corner in the hope that I wouldn’t notice it any more.

I didn’t have to analyse the emotion or figure out why it was there, with the sole purp0se of making it disappear. I didn’t have to do anything at all. I just had to allow.

In the presence and the allowing, the thoughts that I’d imagined I was glued to began to float away. The outcome of all this really wasn’t important.

It doesn’t matter what happens. Everything is at is is. And all is well.

Today as I sit in meditation, I struggle with my own neediness. I criticise myself for this perceived defect. I really don’t like needy Sharon very much and I’m so afraid that entering into a new romantic relationship will reactivate this  destructive pattern.

Yes, if I close myself off to men completely, I think I’m totally fine. But I don’t want to do that. I want to open up to life and all that it offers.

So I sit and allow whatever needs to surface. I realise that I’m assuming that I’ll react in the same way as I used to. But I know that I’m different now. Things have changed, as they always do. 

And even if I do react from a place of neediness again, I’m so aware now that I’m learning from things as they happen. And I’m actually grateful for these episodes as they illuminate more opportunities for growth.

As I sit in this post-dawn meditation, I have a deep and peaceful understanding that I don’t need anything from anyone. I am enough. I have everything I need already. I am all that I ever need.

Practising Presence

I’m over a week into my challenge to be present. I could tell you that I’m completely zen, that I’ve attained enlightenment, and that I’m connected with and full of love for the entire universe. But I won’t do that.

I’ll be honest. I’m not there just yet. I’m definitely not present all the time. I’m probably not even present half the time. However, the knock-on effect from simply setting this challenge is that it’s making me much more aware. And once you’re aware, you begin to wake up.

I’m looking at my thoughts and feelings with interest. Rather than scolding myself for not being perfect, I’m observing my reactions with curiosity and humour. And when I notice my mind fleeing from the present, I’m now able to catch the tail of my projections and coax myself back to centre.

I recognise that I always have a choice as to how I feel in any given moment. I can decide which thoughts to believe. I can question my assumptions. And I can release stagnant patterns so that life flows with ease, joy and abundance.

For most of my life, the extravaganza of my ego hypnotised me. But now that I’m sampling pure pockets of peace, this mindfulness jazz tastes like more.

Today, I sit in the September sun. For fear of doing nothing, I walk outside armed with phone, book, journal and iPod. But I get a sense that I’m doing this out of habit. I ignore the paraphernalia, put my feet up, tilt my face skyward, and appreciate the wine-stained autumn leaves and the heat on my toes. The crumpled clouds remind me of a morning strand, slick from a recent tide.

This evening though, I huff and puff over the stories my mind barrages me with. Again, it dawns on me that I’m doing this out of habit. I take a breath, drop into my core, and let it go.

In bed tonight, my mind visits many foreign and oft-explored destinations. At first, I indulge these memories, fantasies and nightmares. Then, I shift out of the nonsense and into the present. Only in presence do I realise that my body is clenched and I’m not lying in a comfortable position. I give myself permission to relax.

zdravoslovnohranene.com

zdravoslovnohranene.com

If you want to become more present, remember that practice makes “perfect”. It may be helpful to figure out which places and techniques assist you with the process. Being in nature usually grounds me. So does concentrating on my breath.

And yes, it is easier to be present when faced with a special moment or a spectacular view. Being present comes effortlessly when you gaze at the enormous moon in a glittering sky. Or when you watch the holiday sun melt into the horizon. Or when you turn your attention to your other senses – sinking into a yoga pose after a long day; the sensation of a lover’s touch; the strangely comforting sound of the roaring rain and wailing wind at your window.

But what about all the other moments? How can you be present during the difficult, sad and angry episodes? Can you maintain your presence of mind, body and spirit throughout the mundane and the chaotic? When you’re stuck in traffic or shuffling at the back of a massive queue? When you’re exhausted after a trialling time or choked up with dread over an imminent event?

Don’t worry if your desire to be present doesn’t manifest immediately or if it vanishes at the first sign of struggle. Simply be aware of how you are. The key is to treat yourself with compassion. Whenever I have trouble with mindfulness, I  recall a friend’s suggestion:

“You must be gentle with yourself. Each time you attach to thought and abandon the present moment, bring yourself back with the lightest nudge. Like with the soft top of a paintbrush.”

With practice, presence will start to become automatic. Because it’s our natural state. We just got a little lost along the way. We got caught up in the adventure, we drank in too much drama, and our vision grew blurry.

But now that I’m sobering up, I can focus on the path home, and I finally understand that I don’t have to travel very far. I don’t have to go anywhere at all. I just have to be.

What Happens to This Moment?

It is a beautiful day. My companion and I stroll through the woods, picking shamrocks and blackberries. We touch the thick trunks of towering trees, admire the hawthorn, and sniff purple lupine and yellow furze.

We stand for several minutes, gazing out at a stunning view of the Mourne mountains, the sun on the water, and the unexpected sight of a large round moon in the cornflower sky.

I break the silence and ask, “How present are you?”

He pauses then says: “There are a few ways I can be right now. I could be all about the other person – you. I could be totally present within myself. Or I could be present to myself and to another human being simultaneously. Thank you for reminding me of that.”

Later, we discuss the topic further. My friend recalls a Byron Katie quote:

“The end of suffering is to not project a future even one nanosecond away from now, whether you’re experiencing a terrorist attack or just doing the dishes.”

He adds: “We’re always thinking: ‘What’s next? What’s next?’ And when we’re doing that, what happens to this moment?”

“We’re not there for it,” I respond.

I realise that, even while speaking about presence, I’m catapulting myself out of the present by planning and daydreaming, hoping and worrying, fantasising and catastrophising. I’m stepping ten minutes into the future, leaping into next week and somersaulting over decades.

When I’m doing that, what happens to this moment?

I take a breath deep into my centre, look into his eyes and smile.

Image: Author's Own

Image: Author’s Own

Thoughtclouds

It’s been a roller coaster of a week. I hurtled into shock, grief, disappointment and confusion. And I soared with laughter, love, joy and beauty.

For the month of September, I’ve decided to be present. And for the first few days, my commitment to this challenge has really been tested.

Instead of beating myself up over being less than perfectly present, I’m glad that I’m aware when I swing high above and far below the present moment.

When I experience a rush of happiness, I look at it with curiosity. I can see that this feeling was born by a thought. A fleeting image of an interesting man I’ve been chatting with. I detach from the reverie and come back to the present.

When I tell myself I’m in a bad mood, I question it. Am I this feeling? Does it belong to me? I examine it. I realise that I feel this way because I just read a message from a friend who’s depressed.

If she’s feeling unwell, should I feel lousy too? Is it my responsibility to make her better? I need to cut the cord that I have loving placed around both our necks before we strangle one another completely. I unravel the attachment and step back into the present.

When I believe a thought, I adhere importance to it. A feeling arises from this connection. This can occur so quickly that it’s difficult to spot the sequence. Now that I understand what’s happening, I ask myself: What am I choosing to believe? And is that true?

This evening, I flake out on the armchair and watch the thoughts that dance for my attention. What can I say to help her? Will I go to badminton tonight? Would it be better to drive to the airport next week or get the bus? Maybe she doesn’t like me any more. Will I grow old gracefully? I wonder if we’ll fancy one another… I need to make an appointment for a bikini wax. What’ll I wear tomorrow night? Where am I going to live? Is everything okay?

The thoughts shimmy before me and I am exhausted. I decide that I’m too tired to think. I just couldn’t be bothered.

I could simply be present. Isn’t that where I want to be anyway? Isn’t that where I am? Spiritual teacher Mooji said:

“You’re like the infinite sky. Can any clouds come and stay? Everything is passing, everything is passing. Will you fall in love with a cloud? How long will your relationship last?”

Thoughts come. Thoughts go. Feelings surface. Feelings change. Nothing is permanent. Nothing stays the same. Everything passes, like clouds.

Why then should I fear what won’t last? And why should I hold tight to things that cannot remain? I’d rather not waste time and energy when there really is no point in doing so.

So I sit here, close my eyes and breathe. And the thoughts pass. Like clouds.

VulnerAble

Do you ever feel lost? Unsure of your next step? Hesitant about which direction you’re going to take?

Will you move house, emigrate or travel the world? Would it be more sensible to start your own business or remain an employee? Should you go after this guy or that girl or concentrate on your own growth?

Well, I’m feeling pretty lost right now. I’m all over the place. And I’m angry with myself for thinking so hard and not being present.

I’m impatient too. I want to find all the answers immediately. I need to make decisions. And I worry that I don’t have the luxury of time.

But I’m afraid. Should I take the risks and trust that it’ll all work out? That it’s already unfolding exactly as it’s meant to? That I’m okay just as I am?

Today, I opened up to a friend about all this. She reminded me to tell myself that even though I don’t know what to do, I love and accept myself. Even though I feel shame and embarrassment, fear and anxiety, anger and annoyance, sadness and grief, I deeply and completely love and accept myself. She got me to tap on the feelings that arose as I spoke these words. As I tapped, I remembered this quote:

“Wherever you go, there you are.”

I can find beauty and despair anywhere. It doesn’t matter if I’m in Ireland or Greece, Thailand or Australia, if I’m in my current flat or a quiet house in the countryside, if I’m loved up or single (I can be loved up and single too of course).

All I have to work on is myself. Once I feel inner peace, everything else will fall into place. I must raise my own energy and the right path will beckon.

Right now, I feel vulnerable. Shaky. Part of me is too proud to admit this. To show my weaknesses and risk disapproval. But I’m doing it anyway.

Here I am in all my naked glory. I’m not perfect. I feel scared and uncertain. And that’s okay.

I could ask friends and family for advice. I could make an appointment with a life coach. I could listen to my acupuncturist’s words of wisdom. And I’m tempted to do all of those things. But I know that I have the answers. I need to take time out, switch off my phone, be in nature, sit in stillness and listen…

I still don’t feel good. But these emotions, events, deadlines and ultimatums are mirrors that are reflecting back to me the things I need to look at. They’re presenting me with an opportunity to make changes for the better. And I’m grateful for that.

It might seem like doors are closing but that shouldn’t limit me if I see the world as my playground. So instead of shutting down and resisting, I’m unlocking and allowing.

I have cracked open and that doesn’t feel safe. But it feels right.

anais nin

Lost in Thought

It’s after midnight so it is now the first of September. My self-determined challenges for this month are to stop biting my lip and fingers (something I’ve been doing since I was a child) and to be present (and whenever I discover that I’m not being present, I’ll gently bring myself back).

Tonight, I lie in bed, wide awake. I cry for my friend Michelle, who died suddenly. Since receiving the shocking and upsetting news, my emotions have become heightened.

I went for a long walk today and photographed the sun in the trees. I gazed delightedly at the yellow crescent moon perched low in the dusky sky. Music pulses through my body like blood.

I feel for Michelle and her parents. I remember the times we had together. I wonder how I’ll be at her funeral.

My mind flits from Michelle to a guy I’m interested in to an upcoming holiday to work and back to Michelle. I bite my lip.

I glance at the time. It’s twenty-five minutes past midnight. It’s September, I realise with a jolt and snatch my hand away from my mouth. I’m supposed to be present now.

I groan as I recognise that sometimes I actually enjoy being entertained by the drama of my mind. I quite like fantasising and reminiscing and anticipating. Mindfulness can be boring, right? Twenty-five minutes in and I’m already resisting the challenge.

The clock creeps past one am. I know that my mind is keeping me awake, like an enthusiastic relative back from their travels, telling me stories and bombarding me with pictures.

It’s late and I’m still wired. Not so entertaining now, is it? Maybe being present would be a good idea, I decide.

My breath deepens. I sink into my body and snuggle into the bed. My mind escapes again. And again. I patiently allow it to shuffle back. My shoulders drop. I stop holding on so tight. And I fall asleep.

Perhaps living in the past and potential future is just another bad habit like biting my lip and fingers. Apparently it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. Thirty days hath September. So let’s see if this month bestows me with boredom or liberation and peace…

How will you challenge yourself this month?

Safe journey, Michelle. Rest in peace xxx

Safe journey, Michelle. Rest in peace xxx

Image: Author’s Own.