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My Song

I welcome the first day of summer by attending a yoga and music workshop with musician and yoga teacher Jack Harrison.

We lie down and begin with some breathing exercises. Jack strums his guitar, recites poetry and sings.

Then he takes us through a powerful yoga sequence. No music plays now. All we can hear are Jack’s instructions and our breath.

My breathing deepens. I feel strong, present and peaceful.

Afterwards, we sit in a circle and sing. For the most part, I close my eyes and really get into it.

Occasionally, I open my eyes and appreciate what’s in front of me. The fantastic Jack Harrison playing guitar. And a group of people joyously opening their hearts together in song.

Next, Jack suggests that we sing any tune we feel like.

“Dissonance is beautiful,” he insists.

“Some of us were told as children that we weren’t good singers. I was kicked out of the school choir when I was a boy,” he laughs.

“But singing is easy,” he says with a smile.

Many of us spend our lives trying to fit in and appear normal. We’re told how to live and what’s expected of us.

But today for a change, we’re being encouraged to be different. We’ve been given licence to sing our own song in a way that’s right for us in this special moment.

We start quietly and self-consciously. But before long, we become louder and more confident.

I realise that it’s much easier to sing in unison. It’s actually harder to be different. But I’m determined to find my own song.

I go with the feeling. I put judgment aside. I allow myself to be me.

Somewhere between dissonance, unison and harmony, I hear my own voice. Tears prickle behind my eyes. Jack’s right, it is beautiful.

bird girl

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Take Me Over

I decide to open up to a fellow holistic therapist about how I’m feeling. I tell her that nothing necessarily bad is happening to cause this feeling but that I sense its heaviness.

I’m choosing to carry it around and I’m not letting it go. I admit that I’m afraid, which makes me want to close down and not care in order to protect myself.

My friend instructs me to close my eyes and really get into the feeling of being scared. She tells me to allow it to grow and expand and fill my body.

I feel an energy in my chest and my stomach. It feels like fear then anger and then I relax. I open my eyes and relay this to her.

She asks if there’s any bad feeling left. I tell her there is. Sadness and grief. So I’m told to repeat the process of feeling and allowing the sadness.

I see the little girl inside of me. I feel what she’s feeling. But there’s a resistance within me. I don’t particularly want to go there now. Been there, done that.

Despite my current resistance, this year I’ve been loving myself more. When I feel bad, I remember not to reject myself. Because of this major personal breakthrough, I know that I’ll be okay.

My friend tells me that I’m repeating an old pattern. There really is nothing to be afraid of. I need to face my fear so that I can see that it’s just an illusion.

I already feel much better. This makes so much sense. I usually resist these bad feelings, fearing that they will control my life and affect how I behave, react and relate to others.

My friend reminds me that this is where my resistance lies. I don’t want these feelings. I’m trying to avoid certain behaviours. And I’m fearing the worst possible outcome.

“Stop resisting,” my friend insists.

“Allow the feeling to take you over. That will create a shift. A letting go. Which will open you up in wonderful ways.

Open your heart. Allow yourself to be hurt. And the funny thing is, you won’t be hurt. Because the real you can never be destroyed.”

She predicts that letting go of resistance and allowing the feelings to take me over will change everything. I won’t have to worry about what might happen, how I may react or the many ways I could self-destruct.

She also warns that just because I’ve now stopped pushing against the swing of resistance doesn’t mean that it will immediately cease moving.

“Once you stop pushing the swing, it will continue to move back and forth for a while. But it will be less forceful and it will gradually swing less and less,” she smiles.

I leave my friend’s house with an unfamiliar feeling in my chest. Is it pain? Discomfort?

I allow the feeling to grow and expand until I realise what it is. My heart is open. And that’s okay.

withanopenheart.org

withanopenheart.org

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.

meditationandmindfulnessforchildren.blogspot.ie

meditationandmindfulnessforchildren.blogspot.ie

To Let It Be

I turned to my friend and announced: “Resistance is what causes most of our suffering.”

This was off the back of a weekend spent in bed, sick and alone, while the sun shone, radio DJs played dance music to prepare us all for a fun Saturday night out, and my Facebook friends posted pictures of forest walks and ice creams in Dun Laoghaire.

I knew I was feeling sorry for myself. And I knew I had a lot to be thankful for. I wasn’t battling cancer. I hadn’t lost my home to a hurricane. And I wasn’t counting pennies to see if I’d be able to put food on the table.

But I was sick. And the weekend blazed sunnily through the windows. And there were no more dark chocolate covered rice cakes in the house.

And I was face-slappingly, heartbreakingly alone.

The thing is, I could have asked for help. In fact, one friend asked me if I needed anything. I replied honestly that I didn’t. There was nothing that I needed. And I didn’t want anyone to have to cancel their plans for me. I wanted people to be with me because they wanted to be there.

So I spent two days at home alone. Between sleeping, blowing my nose and weeping over my aloneness, I delved into Cheryl Strayed’s wonderful book Wild.

Cheryl had gone through some really tough times. Her father was abusive and her mother died of cancer. After Cheryl’s marriage broke down due to her infidelities and use of heroin, Cheryl took on an extraordinary journey in order to become the woman her mother saw in her. Cheryl hiked over a thousand miles alone on the epic Pacific Crest Trail.

“I felt more alone than anyone in the whole wide world,” Cheryl admitted. Later, she reasoned: “Maybe I was more alone than anyone in the whole wide world. Maybe that was okay.”

I lay in bed reading but it felt like I joined Cheryl as she sweated up mountains, grew blisters, lost toenails, and crossed paths with deer, bears and rattlesnakes. I walked alongside her as she raged into the wilderness, carrying a giant rucksack which she aptly named Monster. 

Before Cheryl set off on this amazing trek, somebody told her that the father’s job is to teach his children how to be warriors, “to give them the confidence to get on the horse and ride into battle when it’s necessary to do so.” She said that if you don’t get that from your father, you have to teach yourself. This woman predicted:

“There will come a time when you’ll need to get on your horse and ride into battle and you’re going to hesitate. You’re going to falter. To heal the wound your father made, you’re going to have to get on that horse and ride into battle like a warrior.”

I could relate to the burden Cheryl bent beneath. As she emptied a lifetime of sadness and anger into the wild, I too allowed myself to heal and release. And when Cheryl didn’t think she could go any further, I championed her as she walked on anyway. Her strength and determination humbled me as she completed a miraculous journey back to self. Cheryl finished her memoir with the words:

“How wild it was, to let it be.”

How wild it would be, to let everything be as it is. Without trying to change it. Without resisting what is. Without wishing things were different. Without wondering and worrying, regretting and replaying.

So this evening, I turned to my friend and said:

“Resistance is what causes most of our suffering.” 

And she retorted:

“Thinking is what causes most of our suffering.”

She went on to describe her morning. How she had spent time sweeping up leaves. My friend, like all of us, has plenty to think about, but she didn’t think. She swept.

She watched the leaves swirling in the wind. She felt the brush in her hands. And she listened to the sound of the bristles as she swept.

Tonight in bed, I notice that I am curled up tight, thinking. It hits me that I’ve probably spent most of my life thinking. Not living. Not experiencing. Not being. I’ve spent most of my life in my head. Thinking.

This is my life, I realise. And I want to be present to it. So I resolve to climb out of my head and into my heart. To be in my body. To feel. To experience. To live. To be present. To be open. To simply be.

A vision of my friend sweeping leaves floats into my consciousness. I relax into the bed. I can almost hear the bristles flicking onto the pathway, as the leaves dance in disobedience.

How wild it would be, to let it be.

weheartit.com

weheartit.com

No More Drama

These past few days, I’ve been questioning whether I’m holding the belief that good things don’t last. It’s like I dare not presume that it’ll all work out. I’ve been almost expecting things to go wrong.

I certainly don’t want to think this way and I’m afraid that this type of thinking will turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But how do I shake such a belief? On the one hand, I’ve managed to become much more positive in many areas of my life. I often go back to the mantra: If one can, everyone can. But I haven’t yet integrated this optimism into all aspects of my life.

As I drive to work today, I tell myself that I’m going to have to shift this. And soon. But how? Do I need to do more tapping and thinking? Should I book in with an energy therapist or a Life Coach?

And then it dawns on me. I don’t have to do anything at all. I just have to stay present. It’s so simple that I might actually have to stop struggling.

What would I do with all the time and energy if I’m not worrying, resisting and analysing? I might have nothing left to write about.

Earlier today, I was speaking to someone about setting up a mindfulness evening. I remarked: “Some people might find the idea of a mindfulness evening boring. We’re so addicted to drama.”

And we are. We get caught up in the highs and lows of life. We love to complain and gossip, fantasise and catastrophise, daydream and reminisce. The thought of sitting in meditation and being present, without constantly narrating or being entertained by our loquacious imaginations, isn’t all that appealing.

My friend told me how beneficial he finds practising mindfulness. He pointed out that the more we sit in meditation, the more automatic mindfulness becomes in our day-to-day lives. It’s no longer such an effort to stay present. It just is. And we just are. He adds:

“And one day, a cup of tea is enough to bring you into total presence.”

I thank him for this beautiful reminder, then go right back to trying to decide what to do tonight. Should I stay in or go to that party? If I go out, will I enjoy it? Will I be too tired at class tomorrow?

I listen to this internal dialogue and bring myself back to the present. I don’t have to decide anything right now. I can see what I feel like doing when it’s time to do it. And I can enjoy this moment because I’m in it.

It really is that easy. No fuss. Just presence.

Well, that was an anti-climax.

unrealitymag.com

unrealitymag.com

I Surrender

Something happened this week that left me feeling extremely vulnerable. Instead of acknowledging my reaction, I ignored it and hoped it would disappear all by itself.

This morning, I set off on a fairly long journey. I switch on the radio to distract myself from how I’m feeling. Just as I turn up the volume, I miss my exit. I want to cry. But that won’t do. I’m wearing mascara.

I know that my upset isn’t really about getting lost on the motorway. It’s about the vulnerability that I’m trying to suppress. Issues around love, rejection and self-worth are simmering beneath the surface.

I want to be strong and independent. But now that I’m well and truly lost in a foreign part of the country, I realise that a lot of that is fake. I’m putting up walls in an attempt to protect myself. Act like you don’t care, Sharon. Then you can’t be hurt. 

Where’s the logic in that? Is anybody benefitting from this performance? I think not. And know it’s not real. So of course I can still feel pain. I’m just hiding it from others. And while I’m feigning nonchalance, I’m disconnecting from the full potential of the present experience.

I don’t know where I am or where I’m going. I allow the tears to roll down my cheeks. I give myself permission to feel the fear, to embrace it, to listen to its voice, and to open up to what is.

As I drive into unfamiliar territory, I spot a lone tree in a large green field. I feel an irrational kind of sadness for this solitary tree.

But who’s to say the tree is on its own? Is the tree separate from its roots and leaves and branches? Is the grass beneath it a part of it too? And the air that caresses its limbs? Where does the tree begin and does it ever end?

In The Infinite Way, Joel S. Goldsmith writes:

“The wave is one with the ocean, indivisible and inseparable from the whole ocean. All that the ocean is, the wave is; and all the power, all the energy, all the strength, the life and all the substance of the ocean are expressed in every wave. The wave has access to all that lies beneath it, for the wave really is the ocean, just as the ocean is the wave, inseparable, indivisible, one. Note here this very important point: There is no place where one wave comes to an end and the next wave begins, so the oneness of the wave with the ocean includes the oneness of every wave with every other wave.”

If there is no separation, there can be no rejection. It is only my thinking about abandonment that causes suffering. In my resistance to what is, I’m floundering.

I let go. It doesn’t matter what happens. And what has already occurred is perfect too. I surrender.

A sense of calm settles around me like a blanket of sunbeams. I feel cleansed. I really am okay. I’m whole and open and connected.

I take a chance on an unknown direction and it brings me to where I’m meant to be.

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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