Tag Archives: christianity

Body Talk

Two weeks ago today, I injured my left calf while jogging. It happened about half way through my run so I had to hobble the rest of the way back to my car.

I couldn’t exercise at all for a few days. I remember commenting to a friend that, “Usually I’d be feeling fat by now.” But I wasn’t.

I wasn’t beating myself up over not exercising, which was my usual pattern. I was aware that the negative voices were whispering to me but they just weren’t getting to me. I was delighted.

A few days later, I started back with yoga. Then walking. I danced at a gig last weekend. And during the week, I went for a cycle. My leg was better.

So yesterday, I attempted another jog. And the same thing happened. Half way through the run. Again, I had to limp the rest of the way back to the car.

The walk took me forty-five minutes, which gave me plenty of time to think and to feel. Why is this happening again? Why me? Lots of people can jog every day. It’s not fair.

An anger arose in me. Frustration bubbled. How am I going to exercise now? And of course, fear. If I don’t exercise, I’ll get fat. That old chestnut.

I’d kept the voices at bay a couple of weeks ago. And last week, I discovered my reasons for trying to be perfect. I think I have to be perfect so I can be accepted and loved. So I won’t be left all alone in this world.

If I understand it, why is it still coming back to haunt me? I’ve learned the lesson, so do I now need to be tested on it? If this is a test, I’m pretty sure I’m failing miserably. Emphasis on miserably.

I know I’m pushing myself to try to be as perfect as I can be. I only feel good when I do all that I can do. But when I’m not doing, I feel bad. When I can’t do, I feel unworthy. When I’m not exercising, I feel uncomfortable in my body. I feel bloody angry.

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Having injured myself a couple of weeks ago, I hurt myself again yesterday. If I were a client of mine, I’d be able to see that maybe I need to slow down. Go easier on myself. Be gentler. Take the pressure off. Believe I deserve love and care and give those things to myself no matter what I do or achieve or how I look.

I realise that I tend to push myself. Whenever I have time to exercise, I cycle or jog. I don’t walk unless I’m with somebody else or I’m on holidays.

When it’s raining, I follow yoga sequences on YouTube. The types of yoga classes I do are Yoga for Weight Loss or Yoga Fat-Burning Workouts. I don’t allow myself to take the easy option. I admire myself for that too. But there has to be a balance.

Last weekend, because I was easing myself back into exercising, I went for the first walk on my own in a long time. And it was one of the best hours of my life.

I thoroughly enjoyed my music, the sensation of the sun on my skin, and the welcome sight of the flowers, trees and country fields. I had time to appreciate this feast for the senses because I wasn’t speeding past it or wanting to get it over with.

And today, because I can’t run or cycle or even walk, I completed a yoga class on YouTube for hips, hamstrings and lower back. The sequence was slow and my body actually oohed with pleasure.

Today, I have the awareness of what’s going on in my mind, why I’m doing what I’m doing and what I’m hoping to achieve. I have insights into the underlying fears that are propelling my thoughts and actions. And I can even understand why my body’s giving out to me. Great.

So how do I stop myself from feeling the way I feel sometimes? The times I feel so uncomfortable in my body that I want to hide. The horrible things I think about myself. The unconditional love that I’m unsure I’m capable of giving.

I just don’t know. It makes me angry that I don’t have the answers. I want to change. I can’t continue life like this.

In a moment of desperation, I turn to God. I plead for help. A feeling of calm descends upon me. I could just let go. And to complete the popular saying, I could just let God.

Show me what to do God, I sob. A line from a prayer I used to recite as a child springs to mind: “Thy will be done.” 

I’m letting go. I can’t control this. I don’t know how I’m going to change. I can’t predict how life is going to be.

I have to trust that it’s all unfolding perfectly. That God will show me what I need to do and where I need to go.

I don’t know exactly what or who God is. Does He/She/It resemble the traditional Christian image of God with white hair and a long beard? Or is God an invisible Higher Power that resides in all of us? Could God encompass the infinite magnificence of The Universe?

I guess I don’t need to know that either. I just need to let go. Which is something that I very rarely do.

If you’re suffering from illness, injury or pain, it could be worth your while to explore the possible messages your body is trying to express to you. Are you willing to listen? Are you ready to change? Are you able to let go?

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Time takes from the Essence

Recently, I’ve become aware that I am often rushing, running late, under pressure, behind. The questions I have to ask myself are: Behind what? Rushing where? All that exists is the present moment. Everything else is past or future. Whenever I don’t give myself enough time, I am refusing to accept the beauty of the present moment.

I curse as I get stuck behind a tractor. I can’t walk fast enough as I barrel down the street. However, when I feel I have time, I can enjoy the journey. I sing along to music. I appreciate the countryside; the shades and colours and patterns of the sky and fields and mountains. The shock of daffodils on the side of the road that announce the arrival of spring by simply being.

From the moment we are born, a big clock starts ticking. As difficult as it is for a lot of us to accept, we are all going to face death. However, most religions teach us that we are everlasting. Hindus believe in reincarnation. Christians and Muslims believe in an eternal afterlife in Heaven or Hell. Therefore, for want of a better phrase, we have all the time in the world. This doesn’t mean we can afford to waste our time on earth. We are here for a special reason and so, we should make the most of every precious moment. And if you believe that when we die, we die, that’s it, nothing more, then you’d want to make the most of what time you have left. For religious folk and atheists alike, all that exists is the present moment anyway. Right here. Right now. Now… Now… Now… And now.

Of course, if we wish to participate in mainstream society – if we want to work, take classes, keep appointments – we are choosing to follow the structure of time that we have constructed. However, when we believe that time is all there is, this is when problems arise. We are stressed because we don’t think we have enough time to get everything done. We get depressed because something we perceive as negative is taking too much time to go away. We feel guilty because we haven’t exercised as many times this week as we should have. We become frustrated because it’s been so long since we’ve gone on a date or a holiday or had time to ourselves. We judge our situation and our feelings with regard to time. If there was no such thing as time, we would be more at peace, more relaxed.

Alan Watts writes:

“Fictions are useful so long as they are taken as fictions. They are then simply ways of “figuring” the world which we agree to follow so that we can act in cooperation, as we agree about inches and hours, numbers and words, mathematical systems and languages… But the troubles begin when the fictions are taken as facts. Thus in 1752 the British government instituted a calendar reform which required that September 2 of that year be dated September 14, with the result that many people imagined that eleven days had been taken off their lives, and rushed to Westminster screaming, ‘Give us back our eleven days!'”

How can we get away from time when we have to be in work or at a class, when we have to pay our bills and study for upcoming exams? We can give ourselves time off. We can take ourselves on a break away from the constraints of time, where we can enjoy lengthy breakfasts on the balcony, sunbathe on the beach, and read until our eyes become heavy. We can give ourselves more time. This sounds paradoxical but it can be done by managing our time and figuring out what’s really important and what we want, as opposed to what we think we should be doing or falling into the trap of wasting time doing very little. Instead of losing too much time on Facebook or watching the soaps or on the phone listening to someone complaining about this and that, we can give ourselves time to stand under the shower and feel the warm water cascading along our bodies. We can go for long walks in nature. We can sit beneath a large tree and inhale the fresh air and scents of flowers and freshly cut grass and recent rainfall. We can turn off the TV and open a book. We can log off Facebook Chat and meet up with loved ones. We can meditate.

Meditation is one of the best ways to simply be. There should be no time. No stress. No ego. The word “meditation” comes from the Latin “meditare”, which means “to heal”. You can meditate in silence or by repeating a mantra. You can meditate with prayer or by sitting in nature or by watching the flickering flame of a candle. Initially, it can be difficult to switch off the incessant thoughts, the constant checking of the watch, the negative thinking, and the internal planner who sits there deciding what to have for dinner and how to complete that project. You don’t have to banish these thoughts. Simply observe them and let them go. And after a bit of practise, you’ll notice your mind becoming clearer. Focus on your breathing. Feel the connection with everything around you. Simply be. With the present moment. Now. And now. And now.

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Faith in More

I’ve been learning a lot about religion lately. I’ve been pondering questions and ideas and philosophies about what to believe and how to live my life. I was raised a Catholic and my father is Greek Orthodox. I married a Muslim. I spent a week in a Buddhist centre in the Scottish Highlands. I’m currently preparing to give a lecture on Hinduism in my meditation class. And this week, I’ll be learning about Judaism from a couple of other students.

Faith is something that gives people hope and direction. It enables them to look to the bigger picture when crawling through dark and difficult times. It offers them comfort when they face illness and death, be it of a loved one or of themselves.

Nowadays, many people have moved away from religion and towards what they call spirituality. Spirituality is a belief in the spirit or the soul. New Agers talk about energy and chakras, synchronicity and meditation. Without a specific religion to practise, it is important for spiritual people to have a discipline and a network of people with a similar mindset to their own. But what a spiritual person does is not so dissimilar from what a religious person does. Prayer is a form of meditation, after all. A way to connect with God or nature or the oneness of the Universe.

I’m constantly searching and questioning and wondering. Some people might accuse me of being lost or easily led or of turning my back on the religion I was baptised into. I disagree. I find other cultures and their beliefs fascinating. I love to learn new things, to consider different ideas, and to understand where everybody is coming from. I think there is value and beauty in all faiths. We are, every one of us, a human being, whether we wear a burqa or drink the blood of Christ or circumcise our children.

In my early twenties, I read the Quran, completed Ramadan twice, and spent a month in Morocco, where I spoke to many Muslim men and women, attended a Mosque, witnessed the slaughtering of lambs for the festival of Eid al-Adha, and even wore a headscarf. It appealed to me that the focus of Muslim life points far away from that of body image, which many Westerners obsess about. However, that reason alone is not reason enough to dive into a religion.

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Hinduism teaches about karma and reincarnation. This religion is about overcoming maya, the delusion of separateness; and accepting that this world, which we believe to be reality, is in fact an illusion. Every time we suffer or feel depressed or alone, every time we have a problem with money or with a co-worker, we must realise that this is all a dream, a test. Nothing is as important as it seems. What a relief.

Buddhism is an offshoot of Hinduism. Buddhists don’t believe in a God and they don’t worship a particular prophet. They believe that God is everywhere. God is within all of us. They don’t believe in souls either. They believe in energy and, when we die, our vibration simply joins the vibration of the Universe. The end goal of a Buddhist is to achieve enlightenment, which like Hinduism, is to lift the veil of maya, and become one with the world. I also welcome this concept of feeling at one with everyone and everything. When I have a negative thought about someone, I should just remind myself that I am them and they are me. Not so easy to get the head around that one.

Last weekend, I paid a visit to Glenstal Abbey, a beautiful Benedictine monastery in Limerick. I participated in a Chant Day, attended mass and Vespers in the evening. I even had an interesting chat with a lovely priest. I put my questions to him about different religions and spirituality and the idea that God is a part of us all. He answered in a non-judgemental fashion and presented me with quotes from The Bible.

He told me the story of the thief who was nailed to a cross beside Jesus Christ. He turned to Jesus and said: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The priest elaborated: “This man had sinned all his life but, at the last minute, he asked to be pardoned. Don’t forget to ask.” This reflects the New Agers’ thinking on the power of intention and of “putting it out there to the Universe”. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive.

The priest also told me about the importance of gratitude. And of helping others. And of positivity. And when I spoke about us all being part of the same family, he answered: “You are not just one piece of the whole, you are irreplaceable. God loves you very much.” Always nice to hear.

The following morning, as I waited for the gift shop to open, I decided to attend 10 am mass. The ceremony was beautiful. I felt like I was at the theatre. The monks gave readings and chanted and sang to the tunes pounded out on the organ. They bowed and swung smoking incense in every direction and held the priest’s robes as they moved across the altar. I felt happy to be able to participate in this celebration of faith and togetherness.

I don’t have any more answers now than when I started writing this blog post. In fact, I probably have more questions. But I’m curious and open-minded and full of faith. Faith in God. In love. And in the bigger picture. Faith is “belief that is not based on proof” (dictionary.reference.com). I don’t have proof. But I know that I believe in something higher, something more important, something more real than this body, this pain, this life. I also believe that we can learn so much from all traditions. My eyes and ears are open. And, more importantly, so is my heart.