Thought of the Month
Letting go (Feb 19)
It has been just over a year now since I gave up refined sugar and I feel quite amazed to be writing and saying this. Never did I think this would be possible as I loved chocolate, cake and biscuits, hunting them out at work and indulging on a daily basis my well ingrained habit that I had been feeding all of my life. After a full year, I no longer have cravings or desire sweet things, in fact my taste buds have changed considerably now and I find many things too sweet! It took about 3 months to lose the desire and pull towards my daily addiction but once it had gone, it got a whole lot easier. I do allow myself natural fruit to replace the refined version and never has this tasted sweeter and more delicious than it does now. When I need a snack I always have a supply of nuts in my handbag ready.
As time has moved on I have become more adventurous and started to make sugar free pudding; chocolate mouse made with avocado, dates, almond milk and Cacao, unbelievable tastes like the real thing. Last week I had my first piece of cake in over a year, sugar free banana and date loaf absolute bliss divine.
I no longer have dips in my energy throughout the day and feel generally much healthier than before. Sometimes it is surprising what we are capable of. Maybe try it for just a month and see how you get on, you just never know.
Our amazing body
I have always had a fascination with the body and how it works which is why I chose to become a nurse, specifically an oncology nurse. I have worked in nursing for 32 years now and along with this I teach yoga, mindfulness and anatomy. All of these link in so beautifully together as I have seen; nursing is looking after those where a part of the body has stopped working properly, yoga is experiencing movement in the body, embodying presence fully, and mindfulness is observing the mind at work, thoughts arising and how we relate to our body. We can observe our default mechanism in terms of thinking along with our attitude towards our body.
John Kabat-Zinn, founder of the 8 week mindfulness program says, “so long as you are breathing there is more right with you than wrong with you”. There could never be a more true statement when you pause to think about it. But what normally happens is that our mind will focus and concentrate on the parts of us that are perhaps not the right shape or size, the part of us that is not functioning as well as we would hoped etc. So while the vast majority of the body systems, trillions of cells and structures and working very efficiently our mind focusses on what isn’t. Can we turn that around and perhaps appreciate, pause and remember that there is more right with us than wrong with us.
Guilt is often a sign that we feel we have done something wrong. it can often be on the back of having to make tough decisions that we feel lets people down. It can be a sign that you are striving too much, that you feel you are not good enough. we can feel guilty sometimes just by our own thoughts and not by anything we have done.
Guilt is an emotion, a negative feeling state that can make us feel sad, anxious or even angry. Sometimes it serves as a purpose for example, if you spend your day eating chocolate and cake, guilt's purpose is to re-direct your behaviour. If we are ruminating over our guilt, it can be all consuming and we often blow things out of proportion. Being aware of our thoughts can help us navigate this pattern and develop perspective.
If you find you are reliving a storyline, how would it be to give yourself a break, you are only human, nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes in life. Maybe we are striving for perfection which is a perfect recipe for failure as it can never be attained. Be mindful of your thoughts and thinking processes, let yourself off the hook, embrace compassion, guilt cannot be present in the presence of compassion. Remember guilt is an emotional response, it isn't real. Begin by being gentle on yourself, have a little self kindness.
I have just finished reading one of the most inspiring books I have read in a long time "The Surrender Experiment" by Michael Springer. As a Yoga and Mindfulness teacher, being present enables me to see the dialogue arising in my mind and not being governed by this. Michael in his 20's discovered his ability to observe / witness the arising and passing of thoughts and this led him on a spiritual path of inner discovery and surrender to what arose in his life.
As you witness thoughts telling you what you like, dislike, want, prefer etc. you notice that they guide your decisions and actions. What if it were possible to open to more of the flow of life and observe the commentary, let it go and open more to the flow of what comes into your world. This means stepping out of your comfort zone, perhaps encountering vulnerability and not living by rigid rules and controls governed by the mind thoughts. Michael discovered a whole different existence which led him to a life full of richness he could never have imagined.
As a result of reading the book I am now opening more to allow life to live through me and not close as a result of what the mind preferences tell me. I was asked this week to teach at the OM Glasgow Yoga Show and everything in me said no - and then I heard a voice in my head say, surrender experiment, so I said yes! Who knows what it will bring.
Self compassion when facing difficulty
Life is tough, despite our best intentions things go wrong. No matter how hard we try to avoid emotional pain / challenge, we find we just can't, it follows us everywhere. How do we react when things go wrong? Do we become self critical; what's wrong with me, why can't I cope, why me, I don't want this feeling. Do we fight against it, creating tension in our body that we carry around. Do we become distracted by negative thoughts creating lowered mood. What we resist however, persists. Pain x resistance = suffering.
How would it be to tackle it differently? Perhaps bear witness to our pain and greet our own inner world with kindness instead of blaming, criticising and trying to fix; our normal habits. How would it feel to say yes to how you are feeling instead of fighting it and resisting or pushing the feelings away; turning towards and opening to how we really are in the moment. Just as you would support a friend in a challenging situation, turning towards yourself with a kinder attitude, a warmer tone of voice. Maybe saying to yourself a few kind words of acknowledgment, just as you would a friend. When we do this the heart begins to soften, we stop trying to feel better and discover a warmth and openness towards ourselves in challenging moments. Try words of self kindness next time you experience difficulty, it will feel different and nourishing.
"Following your heart: Livings according to your values"
Sometimes illness makes you stop / pause and take stock of where you are, what you are doing and the chance to ask yourself the question; am I living my life according to what I value and what my heart is telling me is the right path.
Your values form the foundations of your life, determine choices you make and the paths you choose. Few people stop to work out their values and live then by the values of others around them or those of their parents stemming from childhood. If you are living by the values of others, you might be in the wrong job and on the wrong path and direction in life. If you don’t know your values, you wander through life not knowing what you should be doing!
Becoming unwell and confined to the house and bed due to a horrible infection, changed the direction and path of someone close to me recently. The chance to reflect, work out what was important and take an open and honest look current at circumstances provided insight that initiated change.
Are you happy and contented or unhappy and frustrated? If it is the latter, ask which part of your life you are unhappy with, what is important to you and be honest with yourself, making small changes can create deep fulfillment. Life is about trusting your feelings, taking chances, finding happiness, learning from the past and realising things can change.
"Managing life’s ups and downs"
Have you ever noticed how much your thoughts affect your mood, how they can take over sometimes making you feel worse. Thoughts can be made up, imagined and often negative and conflicting. When this happens and you are not aware of it, what can happen is that someone might say the wrong thing to you and you blow up at them. You feel bad for your reaction and the other hurt.
Life is full of different experiences; pleasant, unpleasant and neutral. What we do as humans is grasp onto the pleasant, rejected the unpleasant and miss the neutral. The mind habit is often to relive the challenge we have experienced and overanalyse it: the what, why and where of the situation.
In mindfulness we pause or stop, acknowledge what is here in its entirety eg what am I experiencing in my bodily sensations, my feelings and in my thoughts, taking stock of the whole experience and allowing it to be fully here. Difficult experiences or challenges are part of life, but when we reject them we create more suffering. We also miss many simple things that are pleasant and wonderful happening all the time around us.
Why don't you spend the next week writing down at least once every day, something good that has happened to you, looking at how it felt emotionally, what thoughts were present and noticing the physical sensations. Every day is full of life's challenges no matter how big or small and we can bring a sense of balance and equanimity when we see all experience not just the negative. Give it a go.
“Taking in the good”
Rick Hanson in his book “Hardwiring Happiness”, talks about the science of reshaping your brain to develop inner strengths needed for well-being, coping and success. He says the brain is the most important organ in your body and what happens to it is determined by what you think and feel, say and do. Rick talks about taking in the good a few times a day, a dozen seconds at a time and the more you do this the more it will naturally grow enabling you to feel more joy, calm and strength inside. Using the acronym HEAL: Have a positive experience and Enrich it. Absorb it. Link positive and negative material so that positive soothes and even replaces negative. How do you do this? Each time something good happens, pause to feel it and let it drop in. For example, if you want to feel more gratitude, keep resting your mind on feeling thankful or appreciative. We are normally hardwired for a negative bias and so focusing on the positive and the many small positive things happening around us all the time can sensitise your brain to positive experiences so they become inner strengths more quickly and easily.
When you learn the skills of taking in the good this can help you to see the good in yourself, in the world and in other people. We are often so self critical that spending time to grow the seeds of good in the brain and see the good in yourself must be worth it.
The breath is always with us and it is the thread that connects all moments in our lives. We can live for days without food or water but deprive us of breath and we die in minutes. In view of this is it quite incredible how little attention or importance we give the breath and breathing correctly. Proper breathing brings vital oxygen to the blood and all parts of the body nourishing and providing vital energy. The breath can be a barometer at any moment. Each breath has a flow and rhythm and as we bring awareness to breathing we start to notice how the breath changes our mood and our state of mind can be reflected in our breath. When we are stressed, anxious, fearful, our breath can feel rapid, shallow, tight and restricted. When we feel calm our breath can feel slow, deep and full. Equally you can control your breath to bring about changes in your mood when you practice breathing exercises.
The breath can be an anchor to ground us in the present moment as you become aware of the sensations of breathing, the quality of the breath. Did you know that you breathe approx. 21 6000 breaths per day and so properly attended to, the breath is an opportunity to relax and let go of tension.
Breath in and silently say “Calm”
Breath out and silently say “Smiling”
Breath in and silently say “Present”
Breath out and say “Now”
Proper breathing is one of the most effective mechanisms we have to release tension in the body, energise us and calm and settle the mind. Appreciate your breath.
Neuroplasticity –re-wiring the brain
As we start the New Year, how would it feel to intentionally create positive changes to your brain circuitry? Most of the time we are in automatic pilot, with habitual thoughts and behaviours; constantly in the doing mode and coping with our reactive patterns that we have often lived with for a lifetime. It is possible to change our neural pathways, but like any muscle within the body, change need motivation and working at but can come with many benefits; you can become more focused, resilient, resourceful, more present, kind and compassionate to yourself and others. It is known that the brain detects negative information much faster than it detects positive and therefore we need to work at positivity to strengthen it just like any muscle in the body needs or it wastes away.
You really do have the power to bring about positive change if you are prepared to work at it, energy follows focus and therefore if your focus is negative you will attract more negative, if you work at the positive you will develop more positive. Here is a suggestion; why don’t you write down 3 good things that will happen to you today at the start of the day and at the end write down 3 good things that have happened over the day, no matter how small they are. Just as a single raindrop doesn’t have much effect, when you have enough raindrops you can carve a grand canyon. It’s up to you.
“The spirit in which we do something is as important as the act itself”
Sometimes we have a sense of feeling trapped or working too hard, maybe long hours, starting to feel exhausted and helpless. Feeling trapped makes you feel anxious, less creative, less flexible and you might then say yes to something with gritted teeth, tense jaw, with negative thoughts and a critical or judging mind; all of which creates a narrow focus on your life.
Your life has a chance to step out of this pattern to become richer, more flexible and more creative. Williams & Penman in their book “Mindfulness –Finding Peace in a frantic world”, suggests that the trapped feeling may come from your past; a time when you had to prove something to yourself or others that, over time, has got locked into a habit. This habit destroys any playfulness within you and over time removes all the spirit you once had. Do you recognise any of this within you?
Turn towards and observe yourself and notice if your world has become so frantic from ingrained habits and patterns. The process of turning towards it in itself is often enough to bring about some change. Think about this moment right now, you are in control of your destiny and can change the way you feel about any moment. If you think about the spirit in which you do things and open your heart, welcome experience in whether good or bad and see if you can start to have fun again and notice if your life starts to feel richer, warmer, and more flexible. Give it a go; you might just enjoy it much more than before.
Finding Peace in Yourself
Over the past 13yrs of my spiritual journey of yoga, meditation and compassion training, I have come to realize, you don’t need the world outside of you to find happiness, fulfillment and peace, it is right there within you; you just need to tap into it.
We are often our own worst enemies with the constant barrage of our inner critic telling us “I could do better”, and “I am not good enough” etc. When you can start to see how hard you are on yourself you can begin to do something about it. This is not easy of course and most people don’t know how to begin.
This year I attended a compassion retreat with Chris Germer and Kristin Neff on the Holy Isle. It was there, immersed in meditation practices on self compassion and compassion to others, that I realized that everything I needed was already there within me, I just needed to tap into it. We did many deeply transforming exercises, not always easy but a week later, left me feeling so full of love, compassion and kindness toward myself which has naturally flowed to others.
So try this:
Sit for 10minutes, engage your senses; hear sounds, notice smells, notice how you feel and drop into your body and relax. Place you hands on your heart and notice how this feels. Then repeat any of the following phrases:
“May I be peaceful”
“May I live with ease”
“May I be free from fears and anxieties”
“May I learn to accept myself exactly as I am”
“May I live with ease”
Do this every day and notice how it feels.
Coping with stress
Modern life is stressful, there is less time for family, more worries and anxiety, you may feel irritable and that your demands outweigh your ability to cope. Life is so busy that we have forgotten how to slow down and relax. The busier we are the more we fail to recognize the messages telling us to slow down. We talk about being too busy to rest and when we do we feel guilty!
If we are exposed to too much stress we can start to see headaches, dizziness, frequent colds, neck tension, back ache and have difficulty sleeping. For some stress can be described as exciting, stimulating and even thrilling such new projects; stress therefore is unique to each and every one of us. What is stressful for one is positive for another. Deliberately putting yourself into challenging situations can be considered good and bad stress.
Take a moment to think about your last week, then write two columns, on the left are all the things that drain your energy such staying up late, difficult conversations, saying yes to everything and on the right are all the things that nourish you and give you pleasure such as laughing with friends, having a bath, reading or going out. Take time to reflect over whether the columns are balanced? if not what can change. Do you need more nourishing activities and can you remove some depleting ones? Take a moment be kind to yourself, make some small changes that will bring a little more balance into your life. You deserve it.