Tag Archives: consciousness

Open your Heart

A dear friend sent me a link to an interesting TED talk on love and relationships given by Mandy Len Catron. The theme of love and relationships had already been playing on my mind.

After watching the clip, I confessed to my friend that I long to share intimacy and affection with someone of the male variety. I quickly added that I’m just feeling impatient and that I should simply be present.

My friend replied: “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have a special connection with a man. What you mustn’t do is ever make yourself feel bad because that want is there. It’s human nature.” It was nice to read her words.

Mandy Len Catron’s TED talk came about because Mandy, in the midst of a breakup, turned to science to better understand love. While researching the workings of the heart, Mandy discovered a study undertaken by psychologist Arthur Aron 20 years ago.

The study involved having two strangers ask and answer a series of 36 questions designed to make the participants fall in love. Six months later, the participants were married.

One evening, Mandy described Arthur Aron’s study to a university acquaintance. He proposed that they put the questions to the test. And they promptly fell in love!

Mandy went on to write an article about her experience for The New York Times. Since then, she has received endless calls and emails from people who all want to know one thing: Are Mandy and her university acquaintance still together? And the answer is that they are.

This may seem like the happy ending that we’re all hoping for. But what Mandy learned from this incredible experience is that there is no happy ending. There is no ending.

Falling in love is the easy part. The challenge lies in the decision to continue loving each other through the good and the difficult times. The hard part is to allow yourself be vulnerable and to give your heart to someone who may or may not choose to love you back.

These are the parts of love that many single people forget about when we crave a relationship. We want the smiles and the glances, the cuddles and the kisses, the electricity of attraction and the rush of romance.

However, closeness with a partner can really trigger you and bring all your issues to the surface. The choice then is to succumb to the temptation to close your heart and retreat (or defend) or you can deal with these issues and expand, both as a human being and as a couple.

It’s exciting and scary to open your heart to another human being. Being loved can make you feel blissful and secure one moment and out of control the next.

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Today, I told another friend about all of this. She excitedly suggested that we ask one another the 36 questions. “Imagine if we fell in love,” she laughed.

My friend and I answered all 36 of Arthur Aron’s questions. The questions encouraged us to share our life stories, embarrassing incidents, favourite memories, fears, problems and dreams. We were also invited to tell each other what we liked about one another.

Did we fall in love? I can honestly say that my heart was bursting by the end of the exercise. In truth, my friend and I already love one another.

However, this exercise highlighted how much we have in common and how much we value our friendship. Being let into my friend’s life in this way deepened my love for her. Answering these questions also reminded me of how far I’ve come, how great my life is and how wonderful I am.

How do a series of questions make people fall in love? I believe that these questions inspire you to share yourself with another human being openly and honestly. This vulnerability allows someone to get to know the real you. And this can greatly speed up the falling in love process.

I’d definitely recommend completing this exercise, preferably with someone dishy. It may just make you fall in love – with your friend, your partner, or an attractive stranger. It may also make you fall in love with your journey, with your life, and with you, the real you.

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Great-Great Advice

I’m going to share with you a brief but worthwhile exercise from Prof Steve Peters’ book The Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme for Confidence, Success and Happiness.

 Imagine you are 100 years old and on your death-bed with one minute left to live. Your great-great-grandchild asks, ‘Before you die, tell me what I should do with my life.’

Pause for a moment and try to immediately and honestly answer this question. You have just one minute.

Answering this question, according to Prof Steve Peters, will identify what is important to you. It is what life is all about for you. It is your ‘Life Force’.

Whatever your advice was for your great-great-grandchild is really the advice you need to hear. If you’re not living by this advice, which is the essence of your existence, you are living a lie.

“Don’t live a lie,” urges Prof Steve Peters because, “it will unsettle you more than anything else.”

My advice for my great-great-grandchild is to: “Be happy and really really live your life.”

So how can one be happy?

On Friday night, I watched a movie called Hector and the Search for Happiness. This uplifting film is about a psychiatrist who takes himself on a journey around the globe to research what makes people happy.

Without giving too much away, Hector discovers that happiness shouldn’t be the end-goal of the things we do. Rather, we should do the things we like to do and then happiness will emerge as a pleasant side-effect.

One of the most common barriers to happiness that Hector diagnoses is the destructive habit of making comparisons. When we believe that others are happier, more successful and better looking than us, we fail to feel content where we are. We ignore all the positives that are right there in front of us, waiting to be appreciated.

It’s simple really. Happiness is a choice. Do the things that bring you happiness, and appreciate and enjoy all that you have and all that you are.

The second part of my message to my great-great-grandchild is to really really live life. Are we not already living our lives seen as we are alive, you ask? Yes, of course we are. But there’s a difference between living and really really living. And I want to really really live my life.

Really really living means getting out there to experience, explore, learn, grow and expand. It means being present to beauty, to nature and to love.

It’s in the sharing and connecting with other human beings and with all living things. It’s in the embracing and supporting. It’s in our tears and in our laughter.

It’s when we dance, sing, hike and swim. It’s in inspiring and being inspired. This for me is really really living.

Am I following my own advice? Am I being happy and really really living? For the most part, yes. Then sometimes, I compare. I think too much. I worry. I complain.

I wish things were different and I turn my back on the abundance that’s right here right now. I shut myself into a safe, boring, compact box and forget that there’s a glimmering world out there and I can do anything. Anything.

And then somehow life reminds me that it wants to be really really lived. And I thoroughly agree.

What advice would you give your great-great grandchild? Are you practising what you preach? If not, listen to yourself. You’re a wise one!

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The Judge

Yesterday, I came up with an exercise to assist people to get to the root of certain destructive behaviours or patterns. The behaviour I had in mind when I designed the exercise was that of judging or criticising.

Last night, I wondered if I could do the exercise. Who am I judging or criticising? I realised that the person I’m currently judging most is myself.

So I completed the three steps to this exercise. The first step is to ask yourself these questions:

1. When you’re judging, is there an underlying fear? If so, what is it?

My answer astounded me and brought me to tears. My fear is that I’m imperfect. I go deeper with this realisation. If I’m imperfect, I believe that I won’t be loved or accepted. I go deeper again. Then, I’ll be rejected. Cast out. Abandoned.

Suddenly my mind is flooded with snapshots of childhood, teen years and early adulthood, where I felt my imperfection brought about rejection, humiliation, anger, fear and withdrawal of love.

Messages I internalised from an early age convinced me that I had to try to be perfect in order to earn love or even just acceptance. I couldn’t be myself or feel the things I was really feeling. I had to try to be what others wanted me to be. Otherwise, I’d be left alone in this world. And to be all alone in this world means certain death.

This made perfect sense when I read Harville Hendrix’s brilliant book Getting The Love You Want. Hendrix describes the structure of the human brain.

The brain stem, which is the most primitive layer, oversees reproduction and vital functions such as breathing, blood circulation and sleep. Then there is the limbic system, which generates vivid emotions. The main concern of this portion of the brain is self-preservation. It is constantly on the alert, trying to ensure your safety. Hendrix refers to these two parts of the brain as the “old brain”.

The third part of the brain is the cerebral cortex, which is most highly developed in Homo Sapiens. This section of the brain deals with cognitive functions. It’s the part of you that makes decisions, thinks, observes, plans, organises information and creates ideas. Hendrix calls this the “new brain”.

The new brain is logical and tries to find a cause for every effect. This part of the brain can moderate some of the instinctual reactions of your old brain.

With regard to my self-judging, I believe that I need to be perfect. If I’m not perfect, I won’t be loved. I will be abandoned. This primeval fear comes from the old brain logic that tells me that the world is not safe. When love is withdrawn from me, I am filled with a fear of death.

So, in answer to the first question about the fear underneath my self-judgment, I am afraid of abandonment. I am afraid for my very survival.

This leads on to the second part of the exercise, which is to ask yourself the following:

2. When you judge, what are you hoping to achieve?

When I judge myself, I’m hoping to change aspects of myself. I’m longing to be perfect. Maybe if I criticise myself enough, I’ll change. Then I’ll be loveable. Both to others and to myself.

I am hit by another huge insight. When I see myself as imperfect, I question my right to be loved.

This makes me feel depressed. I close off a part of myself. My vital force shuts down. I no longer feel alive.

I am abandoning myself. I’m actually killing off a part of myself. Yet again, the old brain is pretty sure I’m going to die.

Having answered these questions and hopefully arrived at some interesting insights, you’re ready for the third part of the exercise, which is this:

3. For one whole day, every time you notice yourself judging, stop and ask yourself: “What would it be like to accept this?”

Yes, it’s good to be the best that you can be and to do things that make you feel good. But for so many years, the only way I could silence my inner critic was to do do do.

However, this was just a temporary fix that didn’t unearth the root cause of the problem. And so these deep-seated beliefs, fears and behaviours were repeatedly resurrected. When I got sick or tired, or when I just couldn’t do all the things that boosted my self-esteem, my superficial confidence crumbled.

Finally, I was no longer prepared to continue running on this ridiculous treadmill of turmoil. I kidded myself that it made me feel good to be doing something but it got me nowhere and, every so often, I’d slip off and smack myself in the face.

So, I’ve stepped off and decided to look deeper. And this exercise has facilitated the process.

Now that I have an understanding about why I’m so self-critical and why these judgements make me feel so bad, my behaviour ceases to be unconscious. I’m now conscious of my seemingly destructive patterns. I understand what’s happening and why it’s happening.

Therefore, I can consciously introduce a new way of thinking and behaving. A way that’s healthier and more beneficial than my previously misguided, outdated attempts at self-protection.

The next time I call myself fat or wince at my grey hairs, I’ll remember that what I’m really experiencing is fear. My critical voice is just trying to prevent me from dying. It wants me to be loved.

As an adult, am my primary care-giver. am responsible for caring for me. I have a choice to love and accept all of me as I am. I’m not going to abandon myself any more. I am safe.

This exercise can be applied to any thought process or pattern of behaviour that is causing you to suffer. Remember, the old brain got its name because it’s been here for a long, long time. So be patient with yourself as you recondition your thinking. And know that you are safe.

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Flaws

After posting Wednesday’s blog, two people very close to me suggested that I could be more confident. Having made a list of the qualities I’d like in a romantic partner, I’d asked myself if I possessed these desired attributes. And I’d acknowledged that there were a few things I needed to look at.

However, I’d zoned in on the fact that I could be a better communicator. I’d actually thought I was doing quite well in the confidence arena.

But in the last few days, two people have remarked on my confidence. They’ve done it because they want the best for me. They believe that I’ve a lot to offer and a lot to be proud of.

One of these people asked me if there’s a possibility that I’m going for men who are unavailable. I reflected on my most recent crushes. Perhaps she has a point. The men I fancy are usually not right for me, they wouldn’t be good for me, or they have girlfriends.

If I want to be in a relationship, why would I lust after unavailable men? Unconsciously, perhaps I don’t really want to be in a relationship. I decided to tap on the issue.

[For more on tapping (or Emotional Freedom Technique), click here: http://www.thetappingsolution.com]

As I tapped, something interesting revealed itself. I don’t allow myself to get too close to men because there are certain parts of myself that I don’t like. And there’s only so long that I can keep those parts hidden. I’d even done quite a good job of hiding them from myself.

Yes, I have a lot to be confident about. And yes, I’m much more confident than ever before. There are times when I get it, when I genuinely love life, when I have fun and I’m in the flow.

But I’m still placing conditions on my self-love. I have to look a certain way and I have to be doing certain things. I can’t just love me for me.

Usually when I feel unloving towards myself, I retreat. I don’t want to go out or see people. Yesterday, I decided to do things differently.

I opened up to a friend. I confessed that I feel sad that I’m not allowing myself to get close to a man because of these conditions. I told her that I feel upset that I’m not loving myself unconditionally.

She advised me to love myself, including the part that isn’t loving myself. But I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know if I can.

I want to. I’m sick of this issue raising its ugly head over and over again. But I still don’t know how I can love myself anyway.

I know I’m resisting reality. I am the way I am. I also know that I can’t love somebody unconditionally when I can’t do the same for me. And I know I can’t expect someone to love me unconditionally when I can’t do it for myself.

Maybe bringing this to the surface will help. I did feel better for having shared my deepest darkness with someone who sees and encourages my light.

I know I’ll get there eventually. I’ll be okay. I’ll be more than okay. One day, I’ll break down those barriers and love myself unconditionally. Imagine how life will be then…

But for now, I give up. Not in a feeling-sorry-for-myself, life-isn’t-worth-it kind of way. But in a I-just-don’t-have-the-solution-right-now kind of way.

Today, I walk alone down a beautiful country road. I put my iPod into shuffle and enjoy the music.

The warmth of the sun settles on my skin like the softest blanket. Field chamomile makes me smile. Lush leaves reach out to something that I can’t yet see. And this song starts to play at just the right moment.

I’m Always Here

Mindfulness is a buzz word of the moment. And being present is a recurring theme in my blog posts.

Yesterday however, I realised that there’s an element of resistance in the way I’ve been practising mindfulness. I’ve been using my version of mindfulness to criticise myself and block self-expression.

Living in the now is being present to experience life as it happens. It’s not about dredging up the past or catapulting into the future. It also isn’t about trying to change how things are. Mindfulness means nonresistance.

Mindfulness has certainly enriched my experience of life. It has enabled peace of mind and improved my sleep. And it’s giving me a deeper appreciation of myself, other people and the world around me.

I’ve also become pretty adept at catching myself as I catastrophise a situation. When I worry about what could possibly go wrong, I can quickly bring myself back to the present moment and know that, right now, I’m okay. This potential future I’ve spun dangerously into doesn’t even exist. All that exists is this moment.

Recently however, I’ve been a little hard on myself when I find myself in my head. Get out of there Sharon, I shout. As if my head isn’t part of me.

When I feel excited about something, I immediately shut off that excitement. I tell myself that I’m silly for fantasising. I insist on being present. There’s no place for dreams Sharon, I scold. There is only now.

I convince myself that hope is a dirty word. Where there’s hope, disappointment will follow. 

It’s as if Eckhart Tolle has infiltrated my inner voice and I can hear his disapproval every time I slip into expectation or attachment. Of course, there’s massive wisdom in Eckhart Tolle’s teachings. And mindfulness is a wonderful practise. But what’s important is how we internalise these concepts.

Yesterday, I complained to my Life Coach that I’m not being present when I fancy a guy. I described being alone in my room thinking of a man I like.

The Life Coach asks me what that feels like. “It’s nice,” I answer. “I feel excited. But then, if things don’t work out the way I’d hoped, I feel so disappointed. I’m not being present.” I frown.

“Are you not being present?” he wonders.

Suddenly, I realise that I am being present. I’m actually always present. I’m always here.

I’m aware of myself as I fantasise. I’m aware as I attach hope to someone or something. I’m the witness, the consciousness, that’s observing everything, all of the time.

When I feel disappointed or excited, in love or anxious, it doesn’t mean I’ve taken a step back spiritually. It just means that I’m human. I’m experiencing and learning.

Being present doesn’t eradicate emotion. Mindfulness doesn’t obliterate thought.

I can be present in my hope and disappointment. I can think thoughts and I can watch myself as I think them. I can allow the inner child to play and get excited. And I can open up to love instead of closing myself off for fear of losing myself.

Mindfulness isn’t about being perfect and feeling zen all the time. It’s about being present to everything exactly as it is. It’s about observing and accepting.

With this new understanding, I feel relieved. I feel looser. I give myself permission to be a human being with wants, needs and desires. I allow myself to feel, to play and to love.

This frees me up to recognise myself as something bigger also. The witness who sees everything and doesn’t judge or criticise. And so I can allow all that is and be as I am.

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Flow

Tonight at an Amber Run gig, I watch as the band becomes immersed in playing. There’s something riveting about witnessing other people express their creativity and passion. It’s exciting to be invited to share the experience.

The vibration of the music pulses through my body. The beat of the drums pulls me in and spurs me on. My hips begin to sway. I raise my arms and close my eyes.

The music moves in me and expresses itself through me. I’m not thinking about how I should dance. And I’m not looking at what other people around me are doing. I’m perfectly happy with myself in the enjoyment of this moment.

Suddenly, I realise that the same concept holds true for life. When we’re present to the now, we’re in the flow. We don’t have to worry about how a thing will unfold. Because when we let go and allow, unfold it will. Beautifully so.

We are the instruments through which life happens. We are the consciousness that sees life happening. And we are life.

A bombshell of awareness and connection implodes and explodes and ripples into infinity. I stand for a while in blissful understanding. Then I smile and rejoin the dance.

Other People

Yesterday, I texted a few of my like-minded friends to share my most recent awareness. The importance of other people.

Relationships (with a partner, friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances) accelerate our growth and teach us more about ourselves than all the spiritual retreats, self-help books, and hours of meditation and counselling ever could.

Other people serve as mirrors. They reflect back to us how we feel about ourselves and the beliefs we’re holding about life.

Every single person who enters our lives is there for a reason – to show us all the barriers we’ve placed around ourselves. Once we become aware of these barriers, we can remove them and open ourselves to love.

In Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Loveshe writes about the two main emotions we experience – love and fear. Fear closes our hearts. Love opens us up to an easier, brighter, more wonderful world.

Up until recently, I had assumed that I preferred to be alone. I’d spend most evenings on my own, reading, writing, and watching TV. I walked alone, jogged alone, cycled alone. I meditated and did yoga alone. I took myself for coffee. I wandered alone in nature and took pictures. I holidayed in the west of Ireland. Alone.

I’m proud of my independence and I’m content in my own company but sometimes a stray pang of loneliness manages to slip through my carefully constructed armour. I realise now that I was confusing strength with a refusal to budge out of my comfort zone.

I really believed that I did better at life when I was single. Romantic relationships seemed to blaze into my world. They were quick and exciting and dangerous.

They were so out of my control that I feared I’d be engulfed in their flames. Then they died out, leaving me to tend to my burns.

I missed the warmth and beauty of relationships but I also felt blessedly relieved to be alone again. Alone, I was in control.

My longest romantic relationship was with my now ex-husband. Everything since then has never made it past the four-month mark.

I led what I thought was a balanced life. I had oceans of time to work on myself. I grow more when I’m single, I convinced myself.

And I’m glad of the time and space I’ve had to heal and to flourish. I agree that one must love oneself and have a full and happy life before one is ready to enter into a healthy relationship.

The thing is, I kept waiting for one (i.e. little old me) to become perfect, conscious and enlightened. I forgot that this life is a journey. And on this arduous yet rewarding adventure, we’re constantly learning, evolving and recalibrating.

It’s nice to share some of that journey with our fellow travellers who can also feel lost and who are also searching for meaning. And there’s more laughter and intimacy to be had on a path walked with more than one set of feet.

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After living alone for four years, I now have two housemates. I’m also spending more time with my fabulous friends. And I love meeting new people. How different we are fascinates me. How similar we are humbles me.

I understand now that living involves other people. For what is a life without company, support, affection and passion?

Other people highlight the areas we need to work on so that we can peel off yet another bullet-proof layer. It’s so much lighter and freer to let go of these heavy burdens that weigh us down and close us off. But it’s scary to be so exposed, so vulnerable.

I know that I have difficulty letting people in. Asking for help and believing I deserve to have my needs met is a challenge. But it’s a challenge I’m willing to accept.

Communication is also an area I’m working on. Recently, I detected a pattern of mine. When the going gets tough, my instinct is to bolt. To get out that door and never come back. But where’s the maturity in that? Where’s the learning, the growing, the compassion? Where is the love?

Other people have an amazingly frustrating knack of triggering the emotional reactions that I used to resist and get angry about. Now, when someone does or says something that provokes me to feel hurt, annoyed or defensive, I remember to breathe into it.

I feel grateful for this issue that I need to deal with. I look at my feelings about the incident, which leads to an understanding of why I’m feeling the way I do. Then, I let go and bring myself back to the present moment.

This is a very new practise for me, by the way, but it’s a revelation! I highly recommend it.

Today, I’m more open than ever before. This translates into a heightened enjoyment of life, a deeper appreciation of beauty, and more fun, peace and connection.

I am, thankfully and in Melody Beattie’s words, codependent no more. Nor am I locked in a distant land of me, myself and I.

I’m travelling on this awe-inspiring path called life. And it’s rich with billions of souls from whom I can learn so much, and with whom I can share a luminous journey.

hammock

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