Tag Archives: holiday

The Christmas Present

It was the end of September and I was practising mindfulness. I had just had the best holiday ever. I’d also experienced a summer of fun, friendship and adventure. I remember telling a couple of friends that I was in a “really great place”.

And then things changed. The following few months were turbulent. I felt stressed and under pressure. My feelings swung from anger and resentment to guilt and fear.

Ten days ago, I was asked to make a difficult decision. And one week before Christmas, I found myself moving out of one house and into another. I was shocked and exhausted, upset and excited, free and frightened.

My friends rallied around and took me on a couple of big nights out where I drank a lot of alcohol. The days afterwards were strangled with panic and depression.

I certainly wasn’t feeling very Christmassy. I didn’t decorate. I stopped meditating and exercising. I was just too tired to take out my tools for well-being.

I convinced myself that people wouldn’t like me very much if I wallowed and complained but I couldn’t pretend either. I wanted to be left alone but I felt needy for company and love.

I beat myself up for not snapping out of it, for attracting in this turmoil with my thoughts and beliefs. It’s all my fault, I decided. But I didn’t know how to transform it. It isn’t fair, I wailed.

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favim.com

And today it’s Christmas. I meditate. I exchange gifts and well-wishes with family and friends. I gorge on chocolate and a variety of meats and vegetables. I take the dog for a walk. I watch movies. I give myself acupuncture. I rest. I write in my journal. I do everything I can to lift my spirits but I’m still lacking in enthusiasm and hope.

Suddenly, it strikes me that my suffering does not exist in this present moment. It has arisen out of my thinking. It lurks in my expectations about how I should be. It grows in my resistance to how things are. It expands with my longing for something more, something different. It strengthens with my doubt and self-flagellation.

I realise that this moment holds no pain. So I bring my full attention to right now. I become present to the dog as it snuggles up beside me. To the trees that line the quiet country road. To my laughter at The Big LebowskiTo my loved ones. To the clear night sky and the shooting star that dives before me.

This moment is perfect. My suffering is simply an illusion created by my thoughts, attachments and misguided beliefs.

Today, my brother gives me a gift of a beautiful necklace. I decide to use this chain as a reminder to be present.

Today, I give myself the gift of my presence. I shall stop telling myself that this moment is not enough, that I’m not enough.

Because when I’m truly present, this moment is complete. I am complete.

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madripoor.tumblr.com

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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

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.

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

Falling into Winter

Right about now, people are starting to complain about the cold weather and shorter daylight hours. “Oo, it’s getting wintry,” they’ll say as they shiver and rub their hands together forcefully. Some of us have not so happy memories of low moods during the long, dark season. Spring and summer are like autumn and winter’s bubblier, more popular cousins; the ones we long to be around and can’t wait to see. However, autumn and winter do have their own unique, positive attributes. Here are some tips for surviving (and enjoying) this time of year:

  • Follow in nature’s fashion footsteps and treat yourself to some autumn-coloured accessories.
  • Wrap yourself in cute woolies and go outside. Who needs makeup when you’ve got fresh air to blush your cheeks and brighten your eyes?
  • Walk through a park or by the water and watch the leaves dance.
  • The most important thing is to continue getting exercise and daylight so, if it’s raining, pull on the waterproofs and connect with nature.
  • Take a good book to your favourite café and allow yourself to relax and enjoy just as much as if you were on holidays.
  • Put together an amazing costume and throw a Hallowe’en party for adults. Except do all the things you used to do as a child – play bob the apple, eat coconut and colcannon, watch movies and buy stuff in for the trick-or-treaters.
  • Make plans. If you’ve something to look forward to, it’s less easy to fall into an apathetic mood. Book a January sun or snow holiday or a city break. Or buy tickets for an upcoming show or gig.
  • Grab your best mates for a comedy night or get all dressed up and go for dinner followed by dancing.
  • Join a dating website and use the never-ending nights to chat up some potentials. Then, line up a few dates.
  • Enrol in a new class like pilates or flower arranging or take the time to learn a new language or instrument. Or be proactive and start your own book or film club.
  • Keep warm. Light a fire and snuggle up in a blanket with a mug of tea or hot chocolate.

If you’re worried that you have all the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), get support from loved ones and professionals. Then, to help yourself further, try out alternatives like homeopathy and acupuncture, take a vitamin D supplement, and do some research on purchasing a lamp. Also, make sure to get at least 30 minutes exercise in daylight each day.

And if it’s (dare I mention it) Christmas you’re (already) dreading, take the pressure off by buying the odd present here and there, starting from today. Or even better, suggest a Secret Santa arrangement so you only have to buy one or two presents each. Remind yourself that Christmas is a time to spend with loved ones, many of whom will travel home from abroad. So, you can look forward to being together, to fun nights out, good food, movies, hilarious board games, magical fairy lights and the inimitable scent of pine.

And just remember, if it weren’t for the cold, dark times, you wouldn’t appreciate the sunshine, would you?

Being Human

I met someone at a festival recently, who made a few interesting observations about what it is to be human. As we walked by groups of animated festival-goers, he remarked: “Everybody here has paid money just to be around other people. Humans love being near other humans.” As we passed strings of coloured fairy lights, he added: “Humans are always drawn to the light.” He then urged me to scream: “I’m alive!” We both did, like an aural, two-man Mexican wave: “I’m alive! I’m alive!” Each declaration stirred the life inside me. “It’s true,” I thought. “I am alive.”

A week later, as I drove towards my home town, a great tune came on the radio. I’d love to be on a night out so I could go mad to this song, I wished. Then, I reminded myself that there’s no time like the present. So I howled at the moon and fist-pumped at the oncoming traffic.

And just tonight, as I lie in bed, the wind whipping outside, I grasp a whisper of that evasive peace I felt as I listened to the nocturnal sound of the sea once upon a time in Utila, in Antiparos, in Ballyferriter. I can have that peace right here, right now, I decide with a smile.

Really living doesn’t have to be reserved for the weekends or when you’re drunk or high or on holiday. Each breath is a reminder of the life that courses through you. Your life is a wonderful, miraculous gift. You can enjoy every single moment. Every slurp of tea. Every unexpected chuckle. Every splash of colour. Every chord, caress, aroma and flavour.

You know that you’re alive when your body bounces to a beat, arches into a kiss, nuzzles into slumber, twitches in a dream. You know that you’re human when you shed hot tears of rejection and loss. When your insides glow at a compliment or a pleasant exchange. When you feel the excitement of a flirtation or the nervousness of a new challenge. And you know that there’s more than all this when you feel that magical intimacy with another human being and the world opens just a fraction wider to accommodate the growth of the budding bond that you share.

You feel how spectacular the world is with every  glimpse of the sky, the clouds, the trees. With every field, flower, and blade of grass. With the wind that keens and moves amongst it all. With every breath that revives you and moves you… Allow yourself to be moved.

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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