Getting right to the heart of it

I have felt a definite shift in my mindfulness and meditation practice over the last few weeks.  I have felt the need to be silent, to be still, to step away from the noise and to drop into my heart, to hear what it has to say.

The heart seems to have a mysterious way of knowing just what is required, yet so often we don’t listen to it.  In the busyness of life, the heart gets drowned out by the noise of it all, opinions, judgements, I should do this, I shouldn’t do that. When we drop into the heart and truly listen,  intuition comes to the fore and common sense prevails.

I find it fascinating that science is coming round to the fact that the heart may have a brain of its own. Besides its primary function of keeping us alive, research has shown it appears to contain thousands of neurons and neurotransmitters.  I am not a doctor nor a scientist, I can only tell you, (from my heart) it has been one of the most transformational aspects of my practice so far.

“If mindfulness is the boat, compassion is the water it floats on”

Mindfulness without compassion is a bit like trying to push a boat on dry land. If mindfulness is the boat, compassion is the water it floats on (you know I like my nautical references).For this reason, compassion is the most important aspect of my practice and teaching. Compassion, kindness and awareness can come to us naturally if we truly listen to our hearts.

The heart of the practice

It takes time to connect with the heart again. For years, I didn’t listen, beating myself up, fears, judgements, all the noise took over. But slowly, without over thinking it, for ten minutes I would just sit, putting my attention to the heart area and breathing in deep as if breathing in light to the area, then a release of the breath out, sending the darkness out into the atmosphere, just repeating that for ten minutes, light in, dark out.  As with most of this sort of practice it is experiential, it cannot be intellectualised and in a way it can’t be written, it has to be felt and experienced with no expectation.  I don’t practice this at every meditation but at least once a week, I drop into the heart.

The heart knows what we truly need, it wants to be listened to.  Don’t take my word for it, drop into your heart every now and again and just listen. Put your hand on your heart and give yourself the love, the kindness and the compassion you need.

Be patient, watch the small shifts happen and allow things to unfold in their own good time, not forced but from the heart.

With Love from The Mind Shed.



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From the Heart

 


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A compassionate reminder

Live life today

For so many years I lived my life in the future.  Constantly projecting a picture of what life could be like, constantly looking for the next big thing to make me feel alive. Whilst I was busy projecting, the day-to-day life, the real life, just past in a blur.

It took the death of a relative to snap me out of that fantasy world of make-believe and come back to life as it is right now.  I vowed from that day on to live life now, not in the future.

“Death is not the greatest loss, the greatest loss is what dies inside us whilst we are still living”.

Those simple moments we lose. That empty cup you stare into, wondering who drank your coffee and then suddenly realising it was you. Those moments you get to the top of the stairs and wonder why you went up there. That destination you arrive at and then suddenly wonder how the hell you got there.  The truth is we have all done it.  Small moments that may seem insignificant but what if we spent a whole life like that, what if you only had a few months left to live and you look back on your whole life like you looked into that empty mug. Is that it? was that my life? it must have been, nobody else has lived it for me.

Ask yourself the question “what simple thing can I do right now, to nourish my life”

I used to think, Oh I will enjoy life when I have this or that, or life will be better when I have completed this task and the next big think comes along. Life will be happier after the next holiday and so on and so on, always one day sometime, but never today. It is so easy to fall into this trap, I catch myself still doing it now and again.

Something amazing started to happen when I said to myself “what simple thing can I do right now in this moment to nourish my life and make a difference”.  It could be as simple as being aware of breathing, or just listening to the birds outside, having a mindful cup of tea or coffee, small moments of awareness that ground me to a life of reality and authenticity.

I started to not need the vacation to feel happy, or the next big thing to come along to make me feel alive.   I dropped the need to be so busy and in turn became more productive.  This different mode of thinking, although sometimes difficult to maintain, has and is having, a profound effect.

Last year, I took the leap to reduce my day job working hours, from five days to four. Something that was always going to happen in the future, started happening there and then, that day. Just a small step made possible by just living now, not in the future.  It has meant less money coming in but there is no contest when I weigh it up against having more time to live life in this moment, to follow my heart and passion, to write this blog and to hopefully inspire others to see it is possible.

Cherish those beautiful small moments, it may be walking barefoot on grass, walking the dog, sipping a cup of tea, listening to a friend or loved one or counting your breaths up to ten. Whatever it is, it is what reminds us we are alive now, right in this moment, not in the future.

Pause, take your time, be bold, be courageous but more importantly, live your life today, not tomorrow, not next month or next year, but today.

Be happy, have a great week.

From Roger

www.themindshed.co.uk

Knocking down the walls of fear

“Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack, in everything, that’s how the light gets in”

Leonard Cohen

For many years I built a metaphorical prison for myself. Brick by brick, wall by wall, until I was completely surrounded.

The walls I built were made of fear and shame.  Although it was all in my mind, it felt very, very real, trapped in a prison of my own making.

But what was I afraid and ashamed of?

The truth is, I was afraid to expose who I really was.  Sensitive, awkward, anxious, quiet and well and truly in the closet.

I was so afraid that somebody might see the real me, I built a prison to hide in and I started to live a lie.  In doing so, I cut myself off from life bit by bit.

If we believe it, fear has the ability to stop us from taking any action.  It will tell us that it is just far to painful to show up as ourselves in the world, much better to stay in the familiar prison.

I want to tell you now, there are cracks in the walls we build, big enough to let the light in and to show us the way out.  True happiness, true contentment and peace will never be found in the prison of fear.

knock down the walls or just open the door

It took me until my late twenties and early thirties to accept who I am and to be comfortable in my own skin.  It is work in progress,  I can find myself back in the prison sometimes but once you have seen the way out, you don’t forget it.

Mindfulness – Coming out of auto pilot mode

One of the things mindfulness is good at, is taking us out of auto pilot mode. In autopilot mode we are unlikely to see the patterns of behaviour that put us in the metaphorical prison.

With a heightened awareness that mindfulness brings, I can see when I am starting to build the walls again, when anxiety and fear start to take over.

A daily practice of meditation and everyday mindfulness provides the awareness.  So when I find myself back in the so-called prison, I don’t have to knock the walls down, the prison door stays wide open, it never gets locked, all I have to do is make the choice to walk through it.

Kindness and compassion

In my post “From the heart” I wrote how compassion and kindness has helped me over the last few years.

There was a time I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror, now I look and smile as if I am greeting my best friend.

At least once a week, I will carry out this simple compassion meditation and drop these words right into my heart.  I start with myself and then wish the same for a close friend or loved one. I don’t search for a special feeling or emotion but more often than not a feeling of peace and contentment will arise during the meditation.

May I be well, May I be happy, May I be free from suffering and harm.

May you be well, may you be happy, may you be free from suffering and harm.

Being kind and compassionate to ourselves and others can bring great inner strength and inner peace.   It helped me to see, that I can just be me, I can have a soft heart but also a strong back, I can be kind but doesn’t mean I am a walk over. I can be sensitive and caring because that just who I am. I can drop the macho bullshit, it’s just not me.  A big learning curve, but one that allowed me to escape that prison I built once and for all.

Goodbye prison

Mindfulness and meditation have changed my life.

To be clear though, It hasn’t changed me. When I first started with it, I so badly wanted to change, to be somebody else.  It is what brought me to the practise in the first place, but it had other plans.

It is returning me back home, back to my natural state, my true self, just simply me.

I hope this helps anybody out there that feels stuck in a prison of fear, shame, guilt or whatever other things we build our walls with.

Take the time to stop, to notice, notice the cracks in the walls you have built around you. Be curious about the light that shines through them and go after it.

There is plenty of time, know that it is okay. It is okay to just be yourself.

With Best wishes, I hope you have a great week, from Roger.

 

 

A journey to where?

The journey of a thousand miles, begins with one step

Lao Tzu

The first step is often the hardest

When starting any journey or change in life, spiritual or otherwise, it is often the getting started that is the hardest part.

When I remember back to when I first started practising mindfulness and meditation, my mind would do anything to stop me from actual starting to practise.  Procrastination and distraction was there in abundance, doing all it could to stop me from making that first step.

One little simple trick helped me to push through all of that. I was reminded of it this morning when I was out walking George.

Our walk this morning took us into a corn field with a path running right across the middle.  As we traversed the field my focus was on the end of the path, way up ahead.

We do this in life too, we don’t concentrate on each simple step but rather tend to look to the end of the path far away.  This can lead to a sense of hopelessness, bewilderment and a sense that life is just passing us by.

We stop seeing the steps that we have may have already made, or feel that the task is so huge that it would be easier to simply stay stagnant.

All of these things went through my mind when I started to practise, how can I change? How can I calm my mind with all these thoughts? How is it possible to stop this rumination going on? I haven’t got time to meditate and so on and so on.

At this point, it indeed would have been easier to stay as I was, but instead I put all my focus into that very first step, nothing else. I sat for just ten minutes and counted my breath, in – one, out – two.  The thoughts came and went and tried to push me off-balance but I just simply came back to the breath, in – one, out – two.

The simple trick was to focus not on have I got the time?, can I calm my mind? how will I change? but just simply focusing on sitting and breathing.  It could be easy to dismiss this first step as too simple, too basic to be able to change a life. That first simple step was difficult but has truly changed my life for the better.  Dropping the expectation and taking that small step was the key to starting the journey, overcoming procrastination and taking action.

Steadily over the last couple of years, I have gradually increased those ten minutes to a regular daily meditation practice, ten minutes in the morning and twenty in the evening.  When I feel like I am going off track, or that knot of anxiety starts to bubble up, or life throws something up unexpected (life has a habit of doing that), I return to that very first step, the anchor, the breath, in – one, out – two.  A sense of peace and calm, slowly returns without fail.

a journey to where?

Unlike the path I took with George this morning, our lives rarely play out in a linear way.  The journey I talk about with mindfulness, isn’t a journey from point A to point B, it is a journey to now, right here, in this moment, the only moment we have.  It is a journey to this step, the one we are taking right now and being able to see it in all its glorious detail.

As we focus on each little step and not on our expectations and achievements, something magical starts to happen.  Decisions we have to make start to become clearer, we may become more creative and procrastination finds no home.

If you find yourself at a standstill, stagnant or unsure, try dropping the big picture for a while. Concentrate on now, this step, this moment and see what happens.  It sounds simple, but it works.

Think of the places where you plant your feet

Inscription on the door of Zen dojos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relighting the fires of wonder and curiosity for life

I have a distinct memory from my childhood.  Behind my Grandparents bungalow, was the most amazing rock formation.  There was a network of little grassy paths all through the rock formation and next to it an old wood, full of gnarled old trees, with knots in the bark that looked like faces.   We often played up there as kids. I had lots of fun, conjuring up little imaginary adventures and scenarios, but most of all was the sense of wonder and curiosity the place gave me as a child.

I stopped going up into the rocks and woods when I got older. That sense of wonder and adventure ebbed away as my mind developed and I started to become an adult.

My Grandparents have long since gone and the bungalow sold, but part of me wishes I could go back there now.  After many years, I feel that sense of wonder and adventure has returned. Slightly different from when I was a child, but quite similar.

I am sure I am not on my own with this, but as I grew up and became an adult, I successfully covered up this sense of wonder and curiosity or life, with layers of guilt, responsibility and fear (to name a few).  I closed my heart down to just functioning, just trying to get through it all.

Thankfully, those layers are now starting to be peeled away. Slowly, not forced, no goals in sight just a beautiful by-product of daily meditation and mindfulness.

Simple Rewards

The rewards show themselves in surprising ways. The  simple wonder of a seeing a flower open in the garden, the curiosity and excitement of trying something new.  I am listening to a beautiful piece of music whilst I write this, I can hear every instrument, every note and all the pauses. Simple signs, but it is that spark of childlike wonder and curiosity for life again.

Unlocking that childlike sense of wonder

So how to unlock this sense of wonder? My advice would be to not over think it. Just sit, just meditate consistently.  Don’t look for change, it will find you.  Small steps each day and may that wonder for life fill your heart.

Speaking of childlike wonder, my favorite author as I grew up was Roald Dahl and my favorite book was and still is …..

 Charlie and the Chocolate factory. I think I shall read it again. Although not from this book, I will leave you with a little quote from this amazing author…

” Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places”

Roald Dahl

 

 

 

 

Letting go of perfection

Me and perfectionism have had a long, long relationship until recently when we decided to part company.  It was an amicable split, we are still good friends.

Our history together goes way back, I think I was about seven when we met. That was when me and perfectionism decided to set the bar high, so high in fact, it was impossible to reach.  100% wasn’t good enough, just ok was a fail and a fail was the world is over.

In primary school, it was all about getting the teacher’s attention, striving to be clever and popular, to be the good little boy.

In secondary school it only continued, except now I not only wanted to seen as perfect in the teachers eye, I also wanted to be seen as perfect from my peers eyes, cool, funny, in the gang and so on.  I even tried to be the perfect football player (to this day I am terrible at it, no wonder they always put me in goal or defense!).

Next came the world of work, striving to be the best employer, to be liked, to be recognised, to keep my job, to earn more money so on and so on, makes me tired just writing it.

From the outside all looked okay, but underneath perfectionism was slowly turning me into a wreck.

Every time something didn’t go 100% perfect, I would beat myself up,I would tell myself I was useless. I was really good at that, always 100% perfect at beating myself up.   Oddly, the worse I started to feel about myself, the more perfect I had to be. A vicious circle, one that needed to be broke.

So, that’s how me and perfectionism met, but how did it end…

The thing with perfectionism, is that it is only bothered about the outcome. The experience itself becomes insignificant. When I really saw that for the first time, me and perfectionism started to part company.

When I think back there are so many examples of when I’ve been so focused on the outcome (of being perfect) that the experience of life has just passed me by.

My driving test was a good example, I failed first time and past the second.  My instructor couldn’t understand why I had failed, he knew I should have easily passed, but it wasn’t my driving that was at fault, but my striving to be perfect.

The first time I took the test, I told everyone when it was, I was so focused on passing, I had to pass otherwise I would be letting everyone down. On the day, I wore a suit so the examiner could see I was smart and conscientious. I was so anxious, the examiner was very strict and matter of fact, needless to say my nerves got the better of me, I made some silly mistakes and failed.

The second  time, I told no one. It was the same examiner but he was very different this time.  He got in the car and said, “I just want you to drive, enjoy it, pretend you are just taking your Dad out for a drive”. It was the best drive I had done, not once did I think about the outcome, I just drove, enjoyed it and passed without a single fault.

There really is nothing wrong with trying to do something well, but when the focus is only on the outcome, we can miss something vital. Perfectionism can be the one thing that stops you from being perfect.

Perfectionism can make you miss opportunities.  In my case, I started to stop doing things because if I couldn’t do them better than 100% what would be the point.  Perfectionism has a false logic.

How to say goodbye to perfectionism

  1. Give yourself some slack.  My journey into mindfulness has taught me that the strongest antidote to perfectionism is self compassion.  Give yourself that same understanding, gentleness and kindness you would give to your closest and dearest friend.  Easier said than done I know. Take small steps, when you notice you are beating yourself up over something, just take a few moments out, practice some self compassion and go easy on yourself.
  2. Ground yourself in the present moment.  When the urge is to focus on the outcome, bring yourself back to the present moment, to what is happening right here, right now.
  3. Stop people pleasing.  Perfectionism puts its roots down in people pleasing.  For me this is where it all started years ago, trying to please my teachers and peer’s.  I never really grew out of it.  Drop the people pleasing and perfectionism starts to lose its power.

So that is where my long-term relationship with perfectionism ended, in those three little steps.  It takes time, it’s a hard habit to shift but the work is well worth the effort.

Perfectionism is illogical, it doesn’t make sense.

Know that you are amazingly perfect because you are imperfect.