Tag Archives: religion

First Dates

A couple of friends recommended watching First Dates, a television series that films real first dates in a London restaurant. I’ve since watched the entire first season and it’s totally addictive.

As I binge on this hilarious reality TV show, I laugh a lot. But I also shed a few tears.

I can see the beauty in every single singleton. The daters differ in appearance, creed, age, personality and life experiences. But they’re so similar too.

They’re all self-conscious. They all have fears and insecurities. They’ve all lived through hardship, be it heartbreak, illness, loss or rejection.

And they’re all holding on to hope. Hope that they’ll finally find connection, affection, partnership and love. They all want to share their lives with that special someone.

One man, who’s been single since his diagnosis with HIV five years ago, admits: “I just want to be loved.”

This heartwarming show highlights how quick we are to judge our potential partners. I don’t like his receding hairline. I prefer women with smaller bums.

Interestingly, we’re also quick to judge ourselves. I’ll lie about my job because I don’t want to put him off. She’ll never agree to a date because of my height. I’m punching above my weight with her. I’m not as skinny as the other girls.

I believe that when we stop judging ourselves, we cease judging everybody else. When we love and accept ourselves, we become free to love and accept others.

I also believe that we get what we give. So when we give love, we receive it.

I have a friend who loves her dogs more than anything. Recently, I spent an evening at her home. One of her dogs burrowed his way into my arms. Later, he lay on my friend’s lap, his body splayed open, as my friend hugged and kissed him.

It struck me that this dog is full of love. He’s open and trusting and loving. And it’s such a good feeling to have him in your arms.

And my dog-loving friend is perfectly at ease with herself. She’s open and happy and loving. And when I’m around her, I am too.

It’s so easy to give love to a person who’s open to receiving it. And when someone gives love with unconditional abundance, being a recipient of that love feels effortless and unselfconscious.

It’s when the fear takes hold and the thinking starts and the barriers come up, that we block the love. We’re afraid to give love in case it’s thrown back in our faces.

But my advice now is to give love. Give love to yourself. To your friends and family. To your pets and your plants. To everyone you encounter.

Be yourself. Be open. Be present.

Laugh. Flirt. Have fun.

Give love. Accept love. Be love. And I guarantee that you’ll experience love.

So I’ve rejoined Tinder. Again.

P.S. When searching for an image for this article, I browsed the internet. Suddenly, I realised that I’d forgotten to type “Love” in the search bar. “Have I put love in?” I asked aloud.

Have I put love in indeed.

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Energy

Today, I decide to spend the whole day chilling out at home. I have a lie-in, I meditate, I eat breakfast.

I reply to a few text messages. I attempt to get cheap car insurance. I have lunch. I read emails. I watch Whip It for the second time.

By four pm, I’m agitated. What to do next? I could watch another movie. What a privilege to have the time and space to do so. I could read.

But I’m starting to feel uncomfortable. I’d probably feel better if I went for a walk. It’s sunny outside. I’d feel less guilty if it was raining.

I could follow a yoga class on YouTube. But I just don’t want to.

In the past, when I suffered spells of depression, I spent long periods in my room. I stayed in bed. I binged on junk food and mind-numbing box sets.

As a result, I became even more depressed and self-hating. Then, I definitely didn’t want to face the world because I felt so ugly and useless. Now, a part of me is scared that something similar could happen again.

For the past while, I’ve made sure to exercise every day. I get out of the house. I’m sociable. I’m busy. I work. I write blogs.

What I’ve learned from Chinese Medicine is that, when we don’t move enough, our energy becomes stagnant and we experience pain and fatigue. When enough energy doesn’t go to the head, we can feel depressed. That’s why it’s important to move our bodies and to receive energy treatments such as acupuncture.

However, I’d been moving my body to such an extent that I’d injured myself several times and I was exhausted. Following an acupuncturist’s advice, I haven’t exercised in four days.

Last night, I met a friend who’s home from abroad. She told me that I’m looking really well. I wanted to work out immediately. But I didn’t. Instead, I noted this reaction and I was okay with it.

For a change this Saturday, I haven’t arranged any coffee dates. I haven’t driven to the gym. I haven’t walked or yoga’d or even ventured outside the house. Instead, I drink hot beverages in bed, bite my fingers and click on Facebook for something to do.

The energy is rising. I usually shake it off or stuff it down. I’m not used to doing nothing. I don’t think I can do nothing.

I want to pump iron and dance and make love with aggression. I want to race through the countryside and bomb into the ocean. I want to laugh and cry and scream with abandon. I want to explode all this energy into my writing. I want to squeeze all my blackheads and peel off my skin. I even consider rejoining Tinder.

But I don’t do any of these things. I stay in my room, turn my phone on silent and sit on my meditation cushion. I bounce a little and rock back and forth. I start composing this blog post.

Then, I realise that there’s something about this energy that makes me want to burn it off. It doesn’t matter how. It just has to be released.

Suddenly, images of yogis and monks come to mind. People who have trained themselves to sit with this energy and allow it to build.

Humans who have managed to transcend these egoic and bodily urges to sex and spend, do and distract. They harness this energy and use it to connect with something bigger than all of this. To be present to all that is rather than losing themselves in all that they wish they were.

There’s nothing wrong with making the most of this creative energy. Artists splash it across canvasses to form beautiful masterpieces. Musicians and singers unleash it with passion. Champions triumph. New lives enter the planet.

And the rest of us mere mortals make sure to stay just ahead of it so we don’t have to think or feel too much. We move forward, we move forward, we move forward. We don’t want to get caught.

Most of the time, when I write an article, I’ve reached some sort of conclusion. I’ve come up with a positive slant. I’ve learned something. I’ve let go of something else. I’ve made myself feel better.

Today, I don’t transcend body, mind or ego. I sit on that meditation cushion for 10 minutes before moving the cushion in front of the laptop and vomiting all over WordPress. I feel a little bit better. I guess I’m still ahead.

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Body Talk

Two weeks ago today, I injured my left calf while jogging. It happened about half way through my run so I had to hobble the rest of the way back to my car.

I couldn’t exercise at all for a few days. I remember commenting to a friend that, “Usually I’d be feeling fat by now.” But I wasn’t.

I wasn’t beating myself up over not exercising, which was my usual pattern. I was aware that the negative voices were whispering to me but they just weren’t getting to me. I was delighted.

A few days later, I started back with yoga. Then walking. I danced at a gig last weekend. And during the week, I went for a cycle. My leg was better.

So yesterday, I attempted another jog. And the same thing happened. Half way through the run. Again, I had to limp the rest of the way back to the car.

The walk took me forty-five minutes, which gave me plenty of time to think and to feel. Why is this happening again? Why me? Lots of people can jog every day. It’s not fair.

An anger arose in me. Frustration bubbled. How am I going to exercise now? And of course, fear. If I don’t exercise, I’ll get fat. That old chestnut.

I’d kept the voices at bay a couple of weeks ago. And last week, I discovered my reasons for trying to be perfect. I think I have to be perfect so I can be accepted and loved. So I won’t be left all alone in this world.

If I understand it, why is it still coming back to haunt me? I’ve learned the lesson, so do I now need to be tested on it? If this is a test, I’m pretty sure I’m failing miserably. Emphasis on miserably.

I know I’m pushing myself to try to be as perfect as I can be. I only feel good when I do all that I can do. But when I’m not doing, I feel bad. When I can’t do, I feel unworthy. When I’m not exercising, I feel uncomfortable in my body. I feel bloody angry.

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Having injured myself a couple of weeks ago, I hurt myself again yesterday. If I were a client of mine, I’d be able to see that maybe I need to slow down. Go easier on myself. Be gentler. Take the pressure off. Believe I deserve love and care and give those things to myself no matter what I do or achieve or how I look.

I realise that I tend to push myself. Whenever I have time to exercise, I cycle or jog. I don’t walk unless I’m with somebody else or I’m on holidays.

When it’s raining, I follow yoga sequences on YouTube. The types of yoga classes I do are Yoga for Weight Loss or Yoga Fat-Burning Workouts. I don’t allow myself to take the easy option. I admire myself for that too. But there has to be a balance.

Last weekend, because I was easing myself back into exercising, I went for the first walk on my own in a long time. And it was one of the best hours of my life.

I thoroughly enjoyed my music, the sensation of the sun on my skin, and the welcome sight of the flowers, trees and country fields. I had time to appreciate this feast for the senses because I wasn’t speeding past it or wanting to get it over with.

And today, because I can’t run or cycle or even walk, I completed a yoga class on YouTube for hips, hamstrings and lower back. The sequence was slow and my body actually oohed with pleasure.

Today, I have the awareness of what’s going on in my mind, why I’m doing what I’m doing and what I’m hoping to achieve. I have insights into the underlying fears that are propelling my thoughts and actions. And I can even understand why my body’s giving out to me. Great.

So how do I stop myself from feeling the way I feel sometimes? The times I feel so uncomfortable in my body that I want to hide. The horrible things I think about myself. The unconditional love that I’m unsure I’m capable of giving.

I just don’t know. It makes me angry that I don’t have the answers. I want to change. I can’t continue life like this.

In a moment of desperation, I turn to God. I plead for help. A feeling of calm descends upon me. I could just let go. And to complete the popular saying, I could just let God.

Show me what to do God, I sob. A line from a prayer I used to recite as a child springs to mind: “Thy will be done.” 

I’m letting go. I can’t control this. I don’t know how I’m going to change. I can’t predict how life is going to be.

I have to trust that it’s all unfolding perfectly. That God will show me what I need to do and where I need to go.

I don’t know exactly what or who God is. Does He/She/It resemble the traditional Christian image of God with white hair and a long beard? Or is God an invisible Higher Power that resides in all of us? Could God encompass the infinite magnificence of The Universe?

I guess I don’t need to know that either. I just need to let go. Which is something that I very rarely do.

If you’re suffering from illness, injury or pain, it could be worth your while to explore the possible messages your body is trying to express to you. Are you willing to listen? Are you ready to change? Are you able to let go?

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Moving On

I walk out of the Life Coaching session beaming. There is something about saying things aloud to someone I trust that shows me how strong I am and how well I’m doing. I see myself as he seems to see me – competent, insightful, brave and proactive.

So much has happened in the two weeks since I’ve last been with him. I’m leaving unhealthy situations. I found a beautiful house to move in to. I started a new course. And I’ve taken a few steps to further my career.

The Life Coach points out that I’m starting to have a healthy sense of entitlement. This means that I know that I’m entitled to have my needs met, in my living environment and in my relationships. I’m thinking more of myself now. And I’m believing that I deserve good things in my life.

I tell the Life Coach that I can really appreciate how I am now because I used to feel so bad. I was anxious. I worried that I wasn’t good enough. I compared myself unfavourably to others and beat myself up on a fairly constant basis.

I also landed myself in less than ideal conditions. And I didn’t even question them. Because I didn’t realise that I deserved better.

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Up until very recently, when I spotted a good-looking guy, I’d immediately think: He’d never look at me. Talk about placing huge invisible walls around myself. Invisible but impenetrable nonetheless.

I’d feel intimidated if a man seemed to have it all together. The men I did feel comfortable with often had so much baggage that it was no wonder the relationship couldn’t go far. Slap my baggage on top of that and we couldn’t move at all.

At twenty-three, I married a man who tried to change me completely. When I first started seeing him, he lived in a rough part of Bilbao. Prostitutes and drug dealers hung out on the street corners. My ex’s flat had mice and boarded up windows.

But I was in love. And nothing else matters when you have love, right? I was defiant in my love for him. Who needed money or common beliefs or a partner who thought you were lovely just as you were?

I didn’t think enough of myself to expect nice dates and holidays with my boyfriend. I didn’t even think enough of myself to expect to be treated with respect and acceptance.

What did it matter if he was pressuring me to change, pressuring me to marry him? I had such a low sense of self that I was okay to bend to his will. Until one day I wasn’t.

So I left him but I went on to date addicts and emotionally unavailable men. Why? They say like attracts like. It was all I knew.

Recently, something big happened in one of my closest relationships. I had to make a tough decision to change my behaviour. I had to break free.

This comfort zone was no longer comfortable. Although it felt impossible to cut the ties of this codependent relationship, not doing it was a scarier option. So I did it.

The guilt and fear threatened to push me backwards but I forged forwards anyway. In order to do that, I had to let go of some of that baggage.

And now I’m moving into a gorgeous house in a lovely little village. I’m surrounding myself with people who think that I’m awesome. I’m doing things that nourish me. I’m meditating, exercising, reading and writing. I’m stepping out of that comfort zone and I’m proud of myself for it.

This morning, after the Life Coaching session, I decide to treat myself to a soya latte and a gluten-free scone with strawberry jam and cream.

I walk into the café where an attractive man catches my eye. Out of habit, I duck my head. Then I remember who I am. How amazing I am.

The smile comes from deep inside. I raise my chin. It doesn’t matter whether he likes me or not. Because I like me.

And my healthy sense of entitlement is telling me that I want to be open to all the wonderful possibilities that are staring me right in the face.

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Images: favim.com

Blossoming

It occurred to me this morning that so much of what we do is done out of fear rather than joy. We spend a lot of our time protecting, defending, hiding, banishing and preventing.

This is evident in so many of our actions. We try to prevent illness, protect our energy, delay ageing, cover up blemishes, shy away from challenges, defend our egos, and bolt from pain (both physical and emotional).

We stock up on multivitamins, sip on Echinacea, and get jabbed with flu vaccines. We visualise ourselves in protective bubbles, confess our sins, and make appointments with Shamanic healers. We join the gym, dye our hair, pay for our faces to be chemically peeled, and inject ourselves with Botox. We cover ourselves with makeup and fake tan, whiten our teeth, and shimmy into girdles.

We judge and criticise others so we don’t have to look at ourselves. We work longer and harder so we can be defined by our job titles. We yearn for prestige and approval so we can love and accept ourselves. And we’re terrified to slow down, to stop, in case someone takes it all away while we’re sleeping.

Fear prevents us from going on that flight or that date or initiating that career move. We don’t put ourselves out there so we can’t get hurt. We close our hearts because we think we’ll save them from breaking.

But how often do we do things for more positive reasons? For the sheer fun and enjoyment? We’ve forgotten how to live, really live, and experience all the world has to offer, which is a lot!

We could be singing in the rain, zip lining through a cloud forest, or swaying in a hammock on a Caribbean island. We could be melting into a full body massage, swimming with dolphins, or scuba diving with exotic coloured fish. We could be playing with our children, embracing our older and bolder selves, or writing our first fantasy novel.

And above all else, we could be opening our hearts to love, to possibility, to life. Because the heart can never really break, it just opens that bit wider to allow the light shine through.

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You, Guru

Tonight I watched Kumaréa documentary about a man who impersonates an Indian guru. Having become disillusioned with religion and faith, gurus and masters, Vikram Gandhi decides to fake it. He adopts an Indian accent, grows out his hair and beard, and sports orange robes and a comical staff.

Before long, Sri Kumaré has gathered a loyal following for his self-made teachings, pushing the boundaries as far as he can. It is amazing but not all that surprising to see how readily people believe and how willingly they devote themselves to him.

It is not Vikram’s intention to fool or humiliate these people. He simply wants to demonstrate that there is a guru within each and every one of us. That we already have all the answers. That we don’t need to give our power away by looking outside of ourselves for guidance. That we shouldn’t have to follow anyone else’s orders or advice. Sri Kumaré tells his devotees: “You are all great beings and you must stop pretending that you are not.”

Interestingly, Vikram realises that his new persona is the best version of himself. He is happier and more loving and connected than he ever was as Vikram Gandhi. But he must unveil the illusion in order to teach his lesson. By revealing who he really is, he hopes to reveal the guru inside each of his followers. And speaking of revealing, don’t worry, I’m not about to give away the ending.

In India, the greeting “Namaste” is frequently used. It means “I bow to you” and it is accompanied with a slight bow made with hands pressed together in front of the chest. The gesture represents the belief that there is a divine spark within each of us. I love the idea of saluting the divinity in every person I encounter. But it must start with oneself.

An old Zen koan attributed to Linji Yixuan goes like this: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” This means that you should not worship any one person or value anyone else’s opinions over your own. Yes, it’s great to meet a wise person who shares their valuable teachings. But the smart thing to do is to take what they say and then allow it to sit with you. Is it right for you? What is your intuition or gut telling you? Give yourself time and space in silence to listen to yourself. As your own best guru, only you can lead your way. Namaste.

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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