Tag Archives: memories

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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Feeling Alive

Last weekend, sitting in front of a roaring fire and feasting on cheese and red wine, I asked my friend: “What fills you with passion?”

“What do you mean exactly,” he wondered.

“What makes you feel totally alive,” I rephrased.

He paused before answering then turned the question back to me. Images of myself in various scenarios flashed before me. I listed them.

“Getting lost in music. Dancing alone in my apartment. Singing while driving.

Nature. Swimming in the ocean and marvelling at the panoramic scenery.

Writing. When I’m inspired, nothing can stop me from putting pen to paper. Time stands still.

Sunshine. Travel. Experiencing different cultures, foods, languages and landscapes.

Belly laughing with friends and family. Deep conversations.

Bear hugs.”

Writing them down now makes me smile. It stirs something inside of me. This is what living is all about.

The simple yet show-stopping moments. Points of pure presence. These times to be truly thankful for.

What fills you with passion and gratitude? And how do you feel when you remember these wonderful things?

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Music Uplift

Certain music raises your emotional vibration. So I suggested that my Positive Living group find a piece of music that uplifts them. And in time, they could put together an entire playlist, which they could listen to whenever they want to feel happy or energised.

Last night, I scrolled down my iPod to see what I would place on my uplifting playlist. My choices had me shimmying, singing along to the lyrics and smiling as I was flooded with lovely memories. Here’s what I came up with…

1. Happy Face – Destiny’s Child

This song helped me put on my happy face when I was going through a tough time in my early twenties.

2. You Make My Dreams Come True – Hall & Oates

If you’re a fan of the film (500) Days of Summeryou’ll remember the scene where Joseph Gordon-Levitt dances through the streets after a night of passion with one very lucky lady.

3. You’ve Got The Love – The Source feat. Candi Station

This track reminds me of being spun on the waltzers by a sexy carnival bad-boy, and later, the emotional final scene of hit series Sex and the City.

4. What Makes You Beautiful – One Direction

No explanations, no justifications. Now excuse me while I check out some of their newer music videos. For research purposes.

*17.32 minutes minutes later* Yep, feeling pretty good alright.

5. Intro – The XX

Cooler than a pair of Ray-Bans.

6. Drumming – Florence and the Machine

This music had me dancing with wild abandon in my bedroom.

7. Taro – Alt-J

And this gets me belly dancing round the flat.

8. Halcyon – Ellie Goulding

I recall feeling hopeful and alive as I raced through the rain while Miss Goulding belted out the lyrics: “It’s gonna be better!”

9. A Real Hero – College feat. Electric Youth

I couldn’t put the treadmill on a high enough speed when this song came on my I Work Out playlist. And anything Gosling-related is feel-good if you ask me.

10. Instant Crush – Daft Punk feat. Julian Casablancas

Cruising along the coast, windows down.

Bonus Track: Sweet Disposition – The Temper Trap

Another tune from (500) Days of Summer, this brings me back to sunny days lying on the grass and gazing at a clear blue sky…

I’d love to know what would appear on your uplifting playlist!

Nostalgia

I tentatively suck on a peppermint tea, its steam swirling like the dream sequence in a low-budget eighties’ flick. The taste transports me from my February bedroom to Tangiers, 2004.

I was sitting outside an ornate café with my new husband, drinking the most delicious sweet tea from a tall glass crammed with mint leaves. I watched the men and women on the streets, their robes gathering in creases as they walked. Cars weaved in and out of people; horns beeping constantly like a type of shorthand for impatient drivers.

I take another gulp and am reminded of the last time I drank fresh mint tea. About a year ago, a friend and I decided to dine in the Moroccan restaurant my ex-husband works in. As head chef, he didn’t have time to converse but he presented us with a procession of trays laden down with tasters of everything on the menu. By the time the main course arrived, we were already full. And then there was dessert. It was sumptuous.

We finished off the meal with mint tea in patterned glasses, which instantly banished the sickly stuffed sensation. When I hugged him goodbye, he didn’t really hug me back. That was the last time I saw him. He has since remarried.

The tiniest thing can whisk you back to a time or a place or a feeling. A waft of coconut sun cream. The rushing of the ocean. The smell of grass on a spring breeze. The delighted cries of children playing late into a summer evening. An almost forgotten song on the radio. The scent of your first crush’s aftershave. The feeling of a lake as your body breaks its surface.

This is beauty. However, it can lead to nostalgia, a wistful yearning for the happiness of the past. This dilutes the perfection of a simple moment with sadness, regret, loss, and longing.

The secret is to experience the magnificence of these minute details right now. There is magic in every spark and crackle of a winter fire. In the music of the wind and rain dancing outside as you snuggle beneath a soft duvet. In a tight embrace. In the pale orange and yellow of a young daffodil. In the comfortable silence that settles between two people who love each other no matter what. And in the feeling of warmth and serenity as you sip a peppermint tea.

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