Tag Archives: freedom

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.

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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.

The Dancer

As part of the Life Coaching course I’m doing, I have to attend a professional Life Coach. In my most recent session, I was telling the coach about how I sometimes think unkind thoughts about myself.

He asked me to describe how I feel when I do this. I told him it was overwhelming. I moved my hands frantically in an attempt to explain. It was difficult to put into words.

He asked me where I feel it and if it has a shape. I told him that it’s in my chest, it has sharp edges and it wants to get out. He asked if it has a voice. “Yes,” I replied. “It’s saying, Let me out!”

I realised in that powerful moment that the feeling I believed to be negative is actually a part of me trying to give myself a message. It is an energy, so big and fizzing that just wants to be expressed. For as long as I can remember, I have been trying to suppress it, to abolish it. It feels so constrictive when all I want is to be free.

I sat there, full of excitement. I wanted to scream and roar and rage and beat my fists against something. I had had enough. I was like a child having been admonished by a strict parent. And this child just wanted to say Fuck off and go outside and play and sprint and front crawl through the ocean.

A recent experience came to mind. A few weekends ago, I took part in a dance workshop. As part of the day, we had to form triads. One of us took on the role of the dancer, one was the witness, while the other was the writer.

I was elected to be the dancer. The music began to play as I self-consciously walked into the centre of the room. I stood and faced my group. Then I started to move slowly. When I closed my eyes, I was able to get into the music. I could hear violins and African beats. I twirled and swayed and stamped my feet. Strong emotions moved through me and, for the first time, I understood what it was to express myself through dance.

Every so often, I’d remember that I was being watched but I was determined not to spoil my experience. I took a deep breath and gave myself the space to own this moment. I deserved it. I haven’t enjoyed something so much for a very long time.

camihlira.tumblr.com

camihlira.tumblr.com

As I relayed this story to my coach, I likened it to the times when I’ve had a few drinks. When my inhibitions relax, and I feel that lively, fun-loving spark. And right now, I was feeling a similar urgency to let go, to be free, and to embark on a wonderful new adventure.

This “bad” feeling I’ve been trying to get rid of is actually presenting me with an opportunity to transform into who I really am. It is showing me what I’m no longer willing to put up with. The feeling that once seemed anxious and overwhelming is, in fact, a taste of the magnificent burst of energy that I have been reining in with my self-criticism. This energy is full of creativity and strength and passion. And it’s there for me whenever I choose to access it.

As we finished the session, the coach suggested that the next time I think a mean thought about myself, I should tell it to “fuck off” just like the child in the image I had mentioned. I laughed and thanked him for what he had done. He told me that I had done the work, he had just been the witness. I sang the whole way home.

i-knew-youd-never-fly.tumblr.com

i-knew-youd-never-fly.tumblr.com

Make Friends With Yourself

I’ve been pretty tired lately as I’ve been really busy and noisy neighbours have been robbing me of my precious sleep. I noticed that I’ve started feeling anxious, rushed, under pressure and annoyed.

Little things that wouldn’t usually bother me were playing on my mind. My thoughts were ceaseless and I found it difficult to wind down.

I longed for a holiday far away from it all, where I could enjoy a complete lack of work, deadlines, meetings and boisterous children next door. I would sleep and walk in nature and breathe…

However, right now, I can’t just take off. Well, I could if I really wanted to as I always have a choice. So right now, I’m saying yes to the assignments and visits, dates and appointments.

But I still need to take a moment in between. I need to create space for myself amongst all the busyness so that I can hear what’s going on for me.

But wasn’t that the last thing I wanted to do? I was fed up of hearing myself think. I slouched off into the dark bedroom and flung myself on the bed. I was full to the brim with my own thoughts.

Last night, I gave my Positive Living group the homework of recording their self-talk for one day. The purpose of this is to monitor how many negatives and positives you’re telling yourself and to see what negative issues are most common.

I decided to take on this task today and what a day it was to complete such an exercise. My self-talk was predominantly negative, full of doubt and criticism, perfectionism and irritation. And when I realised how negative I’d been, I felt even more negative. I really was sick of the sound of my inner critic.

So instead of trying to analyse or reason with myself, I wondered: What would a friend say if they overheard my self-talk?

Instantly, my inner voice became encouraging and supportive, gentle and complimentary. My inner-friend was understanding and compassionate and even offered some useful advice.

She told me to always listen to what I needed, to prioritise and to take enough time to rest and have fun. She insisted that my health and happiness were of utmost importance and whatever I needed to do to conserve both of those things was absolutely worth doing.

And you know what, she was right. I must listen to her more often.

What’s your inner friend telling you?

artsymphony.blogspot.gr

artsymphony.blogspot.gr

Being Negative For A Change

All day, I’ve had an anxious feeling in my chest. I haven’t been able to take deep, satisfying breaths. I had a busy day so I just pushed on through, hoping it would pass.

Tonight, I was about to watch television and simply ignore how I was feeling. I realised that I didn’t want to do that. I’m an advocate of sitting with your emotions and listening to what they have to tell you. So I sat. I slumped into the armchair, feeling down, frustrated, angry and fearful all at once.

Then, like the good writer and avid list-maker that I am, I reached for a notepad and pen. I decided, rather than run from the things that were annoying me, I’d write them all down. I don’t usually give so much energy to the negatives but, this time, I felt it would be therapeutic to have a look at what had been festering.

As synchronicity would have it, I came across this quote by Jill Bolte Taylor today: “Just like children, emotions heal when they are heard and validated.”

And so I moaned and doubted, raged and self-victimised all over two sides of an A4 sheet. I tore out the page and turned to a new one. Here, I wrote how all of my grievances were making me feel. Let’s just say that I don’t know if many other negative emotions even exist because I was feeling all of them.

Although I don’t believe in focussing on the negatives in life (and who’s to say what’s “negative” anyway?), it became clear to me that this was a really beneficial exercise.

I had been feeling this way for no apparent reason. However, when I asked myself what had been upsetting me, I was able to fill two entire pages with reasons.

I also realised that some of the things that were irritating me were things that don’t usually annoy me when I’m feeling good and energised. All of the small stuff was mounting up and creating a massive lump in my chest. It was robbing me of my peace. Or rather, I was allowing it to. But how was I to know what I was allowing when I hadn’t even given any of it my attention?

As I worked my way down the list of feelings that had arisen from all of my perceived problems, I recognised that there was one thing that would set me free. Acceptance.

I could accept the situation. I could accept other people as they are. I could accept what they had done and hadn’t done. I could accept that the past is the past (even if it only happened yesterday, it’s still old news). I could accept how I’m feeling right now. And most importantly, I could accept myself exactly as I am.

Acceptance melts resistance. Acceptance and struggle cannot coexist. Neither can acceptance and anger. Or acceptance and judgement.

When you accept something, you let go of the desire for things to be different. And with that, you become truly present. With that, you can breathe again…

freedom

This is Your Song

Last night, I went to see The National in the O2. They were amazing. Matt Berninger’s voice sounded just like it does on their albums. And he really got into the performance.

The person with me commented: “They don’t write songs for the public, they write songs for themselves.” This really rang true. The lead singer appeared to let go when he was on stage. It was like he was losing himself in his passion, exposing his darkest thoughts and deepest emotions, sharing his heart with all of us. It felt raw and honest.

We could only get seated tickets, which was fine as The National’s music is quite relaxing. But there was no dancing or jumping in our section of the arena. However, after a while, the energy of the musicians rippled into the crowd. The woman in front of us started raising her hand and standing after each song. The man beside me played air guitar. And I swayed and roared in appreciation.

I gazed at a beautiful visual behind the band of the ocean and a sun-streaked sky. I was brought back to times when I swam in the sea or bobbed on a boat. I had felt free and alive.

I thought: How often do we experience these things in our everyday lives? When do we allow ourselves to let go and become one with that joy, that aliveness?

Perhaps when we drink alcohol, take drugs, have sex or go on holidays. Or when we attend gigs like this one. We connect with that passion when we witness someone living their dream, when another human being lets us in to the honesty and depth of their authentic selves.

We become truly present. We enjoy all of our senses. And we give ourselves permission to be free, even if just for one day, one night, one moment…

weheartit.com

weheartit.com

Slow Down

I am currently on a weeklong holiday in the west of Ireland. Each morning after breakfast, I do some work. Then, I take myself out for a walk. I rush the walk to get it out of the way so I can pop into a pub or café to use the WiFi.

Not too long ago, I felt peace. I appreciated nature. I could lie in a bubble bath and listen to music or read a novel over a frothy cappuccino.

How easily I’ve forgotten. How quickly I’ve transformed into a busy, perfection-driven woman who finds it hard to sit still.

Lately, I’ve been trying to fit as much as possible into every single day. No wonder I wasn’t glad when morning arrived.

Even the things I’d once enjoyed had become just another chore to tick off the self-renewing to-do list. Cycle – check. Meditate –check. Prepare Positive Living class – check.

Even nature, my most favourite thing in the entire world, had become an afterthought to work and exercise. When I did get out in it, I sped through it, favouring body tone over nourishment of the soul.

Today, the sun comes out and I decide to go for a walk. Alone. I leave the phone in the car. I don’t listen to music or take photographs. Today, I walk slowly. I roll up my sleeves and feel the heat on the back of my neck. I breathe. I inhale delightful fragrances that bring me back to simple childhood holidays.

I pause to take in the aqua milkiness of the ocean. I watch a man swimming. A fluffy green caterpillar inches its way along the path. Seagulls congregate on a large, flat rock. Cows graze in a field below.

A woman sits on the cliff edge, eyes closed, face tilted towards the sky. I wonder if she’s being truly present, mindfully aware of all of her senses. Or is she simply completing her daily chore of meditation?

Even though it pains me, I challenge myself to sit for a few moments. To just sit. I exhale a sigh of frustration.

Then, I gaze out at the waves as they crash upon the rocks. The waters roar mightily like the exciting take-off of an aeroplane.

The ocean speaks to me of opportunity and adventure, beauty and impermanence, creation and destruction. Tears spring to my eyes.

But even now, in this blessed moment, I am eager to get back. Because I have been mentally making note of everything I’ve experienced. This is the curse and wonder of being a writer.

I take a deep breath. I breathe in and out. I accept myself as I am in this moment. A writer who is forever composing. A human being who is doing her best. A person who is learning and growing and steeping herself in the awareness that will ultimately set her free.

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This evening, I go for a second slow-paced walk along beach, cliff and country road. I peer out at boats bobbing in the bay. I stroll past jellyfish, seaweed and salt-polished pebbles.

I sit several times along the way. I marvel at the sheer magnificence of a cliff face. Gulls soar overhead. I walk beneath a cacophony of starlings perched upon wire.

The sight of fuchsias makes me well up. The scent of cow dung and the perfume of a passing stranger make me smile.

I saunter past stone walls, a tractor and a good-looking horse. I feel my body as it moves. My hips roll and my arms sway. This evening, I do not rush or yearn for the finish line.

I stop to taste roadside blackberries. I pick a handful to take home. For the remainder of the journey, I walk palm up, my hand ink-red with an offering of sweetness.

I realise that when I’m an old lady, reflecting on the beauty of my life, I won’t be thinking about the times I power-walked up hills. I’ll remember the magical moments when I sat and witnessed the silent majesty of a gliding gull and the mesmerising movements of the ocean.

Images: Author's Own

Images: Author’s Own