Tag Archives: impermanence

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.

Mindfulness for the Full Mind

In recent weeks, I’ve been battling against my own reaction to noise. I eventually decided to stop blaming the external and work on my inner peace instead.

Last week, I was so exhausted (from lack of sleep but mainly from my own internal chitchat) that I gave up. And that was when the magic happened. I let go. I surrendered the control that I had been fearfully clasping on to so damn tightly. I recognised that I can’t control my surroundings. But I can be okay with them.

I was too tired to use all the positive tools and techniques that I’d taught myself over the years. So I stopped trying so hard. I simply accepted what was – the noise and how I was feeling.

I also figured out that I often felt anxious before the noise started. I was nervously anticipating when it would begin. Then, I would project into the following day and I’d imagine how tired I’d be. I was so very far removed from the present moment.

healthshire.com

healthshire.com

One word kept entering my mind: Mindfulness. Then, I remembered that I’d seen a workshop advertised a while back. I rooted out the email and, as synchronicity would have it, it was on in a few days’ time. I immediately signed up for it.

The workshop consisted of four hours of meditation, silence and mindful walking. Halfway through the class, I suddenly felt impatient. It was all so slow. Nothing was happening. It was then that I had a deep knowing that this was exactly what I needed – I had to physically slow down and bring my awareness to the present moment (my bodily sensations, my breathing and the sounds around me) in order to slow down the sprinting chatter of my mind.

No wonder I felt restless during this workshop as I had been living such a fast-paced life. Rushing to work. Coaching sessions. Classes. Reading. Cramming weekends with class preparation and assignments, then trying to squeeze in family time, dates and catch-ups with friends.

And even when I did sit down to watch television, whenever the ads came on, I’d check my emails, pop onto Facebook or send a text. I even checked my phone while sitting on the loo (hands up if you’ve done this!)

When I received an energy treatment the other day, I realised just how busy my mind was. I lay there composing emails and imagining conversations I would have. If I could just be present, I wouldn’t have to drain myself with all the mental rehearsing and reliving.

weheartit.com

weheartit.com

Last night, I woke at 2.30am and could not go back to sleep. So I got up, trudged into the sitting room and switched on the light. The first thing my bleary eyes landed on was a book that had been recommended to me almost a year ago – Mindfulness for Life by Craig Hassed and Stephen McKenzie.

It was just the right time to start reading this book. Hassed and McKenzie describe mindfulness as “the practice of paying attention.” They say that many people get interested in mindfulness because they want to learn to relax or cope better with stress and anxiety. However, they suggest that this can pose a problem. If we become too preoccupied with the goal of relaxing and destressing, we may become frustrated if the practice doesn’t turn out the way we expect or if we don’t achieve the results as quickly as we want.

Another interesting point they write about is how we try to cling to the bits of life that we like and banish those we don’t. Of course, this is understandable. We are trying to protect ourselves from suffering but this is what exactly what causes suffering.

Hassed and McKenzie write: “To be peaceful and happy we have to accept things that we don’t like when they come, and we have to let go of things that we do like when they go.” 

The only guarantee in life is that nothing is permanent. Not the good stuff, nor the bad. As the old adage accurately predicts: “This too shall pass.”

At five am, I put the book away and became aware of my bed and the feeling of it beneath me. I snuggled into the duvet and breathed deeply. I was aware of my breath and the sound of the rain outside. I was aware of my thoughts and how frequently they whisked me away from the present moment.

It was easy to want to detach from the negative thoughts but what I found challenging was to bring myself into the present when I was lounging in happy memories.

Recently, I had a pleasant experience. Last night, I found myself remembering all the tiny details of that moment. How I felt, what was said, what it all meant. I smiled as I relished reliving the event. However, I was no longer aware of my body, my breathing, the bed or the sounds outside. But why did I need to be mindful when I was clearly enjoying dwelling on certain parts of the past?

I asked myself: Was I truly present when that event was actually occurring? Incredibly, I hadn’t been. A large part of me had been caught up in thoughts, fears and expectations. And now, I was making up for it by reliving every last detail.

From this, I have learned that I need to practice mindfulness now so that I can be fully present in every moment. Then, I will be able to really bask in the pleasure and beauty of life. Practicing mindfulness will also help me to act effectively, with a clear mind, during the challenging times.

Hassed and McKenzie suggest starting with a mindfulness practice of five or ten minutes twice daily – before breakfast and dinner. It is best to sit upright and bring your awareness to the present moment by focussing on your breath, on an image or on the sounds around you.

The idea is that mindfulness can become part of your life, not just in a formal capacity. When you get into your car after work, take a few mindful breaths before you start driving. Wash the dishes mindfully. Brush your teeth mindfully. Eat, walk, and listen to music mindfully. Give your conversation partner the gift of a mindful ear. Conduct your relationships mindfully.

Mindfulness isn’t easy but it is oh so simple. Be present. Because all that exists is now.

be all there

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.

IMG_1484

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

Stinking Thinking vs Good Gut

In the space of a couple of days, a handful of people have told me to stop thinking and listen to my intuition. And this morning, I tore off a page from my Louise L. Hay calendar to read: “All that I need to know at any given moment is revealed to me. My intuition is always on my side.” And just in case I hadn’t taken notice, as I write this blog post, the following picture pops up on Facebook!

louise hay

For about a month now, I have been thinking, thinking and more thinking. I haven’t felt as calm as I had been. Chinese Medicine tells us that too much thinking puts extra heat into the body. I’d done so much over-analysing that my mind was ready to erupt and I’d given myself an infection. I was exhausted, sick and cranky and the negativity had deviously spotted a chink in my threadbare armour.

Today, finally, I feel that I have dropped back into who I really am. I trust that my gut won’t lead me astray. I realise (or re-realise) that worry is a useless and destructive activity. Today, I choose to breathe, to be present and gentle with myself, and to enjoy this wonderful day.

So this morning, I went for a walk by the river in the August sunshine. A warm breeze swept over my bare arms. I strolled beneath lush green trees that whispered soothing lullabies. And the river kept moving and flowing. As all things do.

Tuesdays with Morrie

I pick up a little book called Tuesdays with Morrie while on holidays in Spain. I saw it years ago but avoided it because the blurb on the back made me worry that it’d be a depressing read. It is about a dying professor (Morrie Schwartz) and his younger student (Mitch Albom). This time, I am ready. I devour it in two sittings. And I cry and cry and cry.

It isn’t that it’s unbearably sad. It’s just so touching, it moves me like nothing else has for a long time. I can feel Morrie’s energy with me as I finish the memoir. I love him. I can honestly say that he (and the endearingly honest Mitch) has changed my life. The gradual shift in Mitch’s attitude inspires me almost as much as Morrie’s wisdom.

Morrie allowed himself to let go, to be vulnerable, and to ask for help. He observed that, when you’re an infant, you need help from others and, when you grow old, you require their assistance also. However, what we fail to acknowledge is that we need other people in between times too.

Morrie told the tale of the little wave that witnessed other waves crashing against the shore. The wave wailed, fearfully: “Oh no, look! This is the fate that awaits us. How horrible!” Another wave reassured him: “Don’t fret, little one, for you are not a wave, you are part of the ocean.” As Rumi wrote: “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean, in a drop.”

Morrie’s message has made me realise how closed off I’d become. I’d tell myself that “I like my own space”. I’d go home while co-workers would sit and have tea, a chat and a laugh. I’d stay alone in the flat watching episode after episode of The Good Wife. I’d spend weekends preparing classes instead of exploring the countryside with loved ones. I’d retire early rather than spend time with friends.

I still believe that there should be a balance between rest, work and play and between stillness, silence and moments of noise and interaction. But Morrie’s story has shown me that the most important thing in life is to love. To share what you have with others. To give another human being the gift of your time. Morrie said that he was always 100 per cent present with whomever he was speaking. When he was talking with Mitch, he thought only of Mitch. This resonates with me as I am often in the company of others when I’m not really there. I’m thinking of what needs to be done, or how I shouldn’t have eaten that or I might even be putting a photo through Instagram while somebody attempts to converse with me.

Morrie’s big, brave, generous heart has made me resolve to really live life, to connect with people, to appreciate nature, to question the values we’ve been brainwashed into adopting, to understand that love and peace are what’s true and priceless compared with ever-changing, unreliable material and physical possessions. One of my new goals is to do something that makes me feel alive every single day. I also promise to be present with people, as if each encounter were our last, and to ask, in the words of Robert Holden in his book Loveability: “How can I love you more?”

I have a couple of hours before I have to head for the airport. I could go for a last swim at what the locals call the “healing beach”. But it’s a bit of a walk, I mentally argue. And it’d mean packing a wet bikini. Then, I remember that I’m living life. So I set off in my flip-flops, carrying a pink towel. A line of ants and a yellow butterfly cross my path. A lone purple wildflower on this dry dirt track reduces me to tears. I offer an Hola and a smile to an old man sitting alone. He returns my smile, its corners clipped with surprise. An elderly couple stroll ahead, hand-in-hand. Yet again, my eyes mist. I beam as I spot a set of keys a stranger has carefully balanced atop a bollard.

My breasts bob and sway as my feet flap upon the sand. I feel like an ancient elephant striding across the desert. I inhale the scent of my sweat that has collected in cracks and creases. A homeless man sits on a wall behind the beach. I abandon my beach bag and strip. I don’t suck in my stomach. Not today. I duck my head into the ocean even though my hair was freshly washed this morning. I am alive.

Mitch and Morrie used to say, “We’re Tuesday people” because they usually met on Tuesdays. And I am writing this piece on a Tuesday, watching the waves surge and retreat, with tears in my eyes and a heart that’s breaking… wide open.

Image: Author's own

Image: Author’s own

The Sound of Silence

On January 31st, I made a list of goals for February. One of those goals was to sit in silence for five minutes first thing every morning. Since before Christmas, I’ve been emphasising the importance of silence to my Positive Living group. However, even I hadn’t managed to set aside just five minutes each day.

For the last nine days before I get out of bed, I’ve been giving gratitude for about five things in my life. This instantly brings me joy. Then I wash my face and, if my body feels the need, I do a bit of yoga. Next, I move into the living room and sit in silence for about five minutes. I don’t switch on my phone until I have completed this ritual. This really centres me for the day ahead. And if I feel unsettled in the evening, I give myself time to sit in silence and observe what is going on for me. This allows me to get in touch with my body and the subtle messages it’s giving me. Often, I feel compelled to write afterwards or I get an idea for a class or a solution to a problem I’ve been mulling over. Other times, I simply enjoy the space and quiet I’m giving myself. I feel an expansion and a blurring of all those things I used to think were so important. There is freedom and peace and connection in these moments.

Last night, I did a meditation with someone who said: “Your mind is just another organ. You can’t stop it from thinking. Just like you can’t stop yourself from breathing. The trick is to focus on the breath. Allow the thoughts. Do nothing. Try nothing. Just observe.” We sat in silence, focussing on the breath for at least 15 minutes. The time flew. And I felt totally relaxed. When I came home, I didn’t open the laptop straight away as I usually would because I just didn’t need the noise.

Meditation has been scientifically proven to improve health and mental wellbeing. It lowers blood pressure and boosts the mood and immune system. When we are stressed, our breathing speeds up and we find it difficult to take a deep, satisfying breath. Meditation helps us to unwind. When we relax, our breathing slows down. This benefits the heart and blood flow to the organs, which in turn allows for healing to take place.

When we meditate mindfully, the idea is not to change anything. We don’t attempt to slow the breath or change or banish the thoughts. It’s all about awareness. Observe the breath. Bring awareness to the sensations in the body. Allow the thoughts to occur. And when we don’t attach to the thoughts or bodily sensations, they will move on like clouds in the sky.

Many people who are trying to change their lives for the better come to the realisation that happiness is a choice and that their negative thinking is impacting their lives. Therefore, they try to change their thoughts. While I believe that it is beneficial to introduce gratitude for all the good things in our lives and focus on that which brings us joy rather than pain, I also feel that it is counterproductive when we begin stressing over the negative thoughts we are having. Awareness is key. Don’t judge your thoughts or deny the parts of you that you perceive to be “bad”. Simply observe, let go and focus on the breath…

"You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you're too busy; then you should sit for an hour." Old Zen saying

“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” Old Zen saying

Image: bendalayoga.com

For more on meditation, check out: https://betterthansurviving.me/2012/03/04/time-takes-from-the-essence/

Everybody Hurts

Last night, I watched Before Sunrise and Before Sunset back-to-back. By the end of the second movie, I was in tears. Because I am single and pre-menstrual and because I don’t believe in romantic love the way I did when I was 21 and in love with the man I would marry and later divorce. Because I felt sick and tired and depressed. Going to bed, I felt so bad that I asked for a sign to be given to me in my dreams.

I dreamt that somebody close to me admitted that she was feeling depressed for the first time. I told her that I still get depressed sometimes. I described it as a heavy feeling that weighs down upon you. I confessed that I get frightened when I feel like that because I’m scared that I’ll be the way I was before. Because I once suffered from depression and because it “ruined my life a few times”. I then told her that it’s just a feeling and it will drift on by so long as you don’t put a label on it. And then I woke up.

This morning, as I walked in the sunshine, I felt strong. Not because I was feeling a bit better. But because it’s okay to feel “bad”. Because we’re all only human. I passed other people and realised that they also feel down occasionally. To quote an R.E.M. song: “Everybody hurts sometimes”. We just aren’t comfortable with letting people into our pain and suffering. We all feel hopeless and purposeless and beaten down. We all go through hard times. We get dumped, we lose our jobs, we struggle to pay the bills, we feel lonely, we wonder what the point of life is, and how we’re going to cope.

But they are the days when we don’t leave the house. When we cancel plans to meet friends. Or when we hide behind makeup and alcohol and busy schedules. When we put our best foot forward and hope nobody will notice that we’re terrified or grief-stricken or worn out. We see other people smile and laugh. We look on as they post the best possible version of themselves on Facebook. What we fail to realise is that they too are hurting. They too worry that they don’t know what all of this is about. They too wish they felt more connected, more positive, more sure of themselves.

Our humanness is what binds us together. We are not alone. We all feel sad at times. We have the same fears and worries and regrets. We have the same longings and resentments and insecurities. We just don’t show them. We think people will only accept us or like us or love us if we are perfect. If we look well and feel well and keep on achieving. But all it takes is for one of us to admit that we’re not so perfect after all.

I set up a Positive Living group this year. Some of the people in the class presume that I’m doing well all of the time. But they don’t see me first thing in the morning, tired and makeup-free. They don’t see me as I weep in front of Ethan Hawke movies. They don’t see me cranky and weak in the days coming up to my period. They certainly didn’t see me when I left my husband or when I fought with a family member or when I bitched about a co-worker. And they didn’t see me when I hated myself and lost all confidence. They see me now, having come through all that, trying to pass on some tips to live a happier, more positive life.

I do believe that we should stay present and do things to make ourselves feel better, so we don’t dwell too long in our suffering. But I want everyone to realise that even the most successful, positive, energetic people have off days. And that is okay. Once we acknowledge this, we will feel more compassion for our fellow human beings. We will feel more connected, more normal, and more at ease with the wide spectrum of human emotions. And we will know that we are never alone.

So, the next time you’re feeling down or fearful or fed up, let a loved one in. Let them in when you’re tired, when you’re feeling fat and ugly, and when you can’t stop crying. Not only will you feel better but you’ll be giving that person license to show you that they’re not “perfect” either.