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“These mountains that you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb”

Najwa Zebian

Thoughts racing, time is passing by at a rate of knots. Conversations, past and future are played out in the mind, yet twisted out of reality. Everything is on fast forward.  I need sleep but as I lay my head on the pillow, the thoughts start racing again, I twist and turn but it’s no good, I just lay staring at the ceiling in desperation.

I look over at my little meditation stool in the corner and realize I haven’t practiced for days.  How strange, it’s the one thing I know for sure will help yet the hardest thing right now for me to even contemplate doing.  Oddly it feels easier to stay in this flow of anxiety as if I’m swimming in a fast flowing river, caught in the current, it’s easier just to go with the flow, but I know it doesn’t go anywhere nice and usually ends up tumbling over a large waterfall, I know this from experience, time to start swimming again to get out of the current and onto the shore.

I pull myself up, set my timer for 30 minutes, and sit on my little stool. Thoughts are racing still, I feel my body jolt, my chest feels a bit tight and the little muscle next to my eye is in spasm.  It’s probably been doing that for sometime but I’ve only just noticed it.

I breathe in, slowly and deeply, then let it out very slowly, I feel the cold air in and the warm air out.  I scan my body, my feet in contact with the floor, the sensations in my toes, there’s a tingling feeling, I never notice it normally. I feel the contact with the little meditation stool, a slight discomfort, up to my chest, rising and falling, to my heart, its beating (thankfully), its fast but slowing down. Up to the shoulders, tense but as I put my awareness to it, they soften and drop, up into the neck, the face, I realize my brow is tight as if in a frown, soften, soften, the twitching muscle next to my left eye, I breath into that area and feel the tension ebb away. To the eyes themselves, I have them closed, they feel tired but when I put my attention there, I see dark and light, a soft glow. I come back down to the heart, there is a well of kindness there, a gentle soothing, bringing me back to earth, grounded and solid. Then I put my attention to my whole body sat in awareness, in spaciousness, it feels good. Thoughts are still there but they float by like clouds in the sky, I can let them go, for truly what is happening is here right now, on my little stool.  The timer bell goes, I sit for a moment, my eyes gently open.  I feel rested and calm.  I slowly get into the bed, turn the lamp off and fall into a deep, deep, restful sleep, dreaming I’m back on the shore, watching the river just flowing by.

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Enjoying the ride, Loosening the grip

“Breathe in, Breathe out, Let it go”

Happiness and contentment can be elusive, there one minute, gone the next.  We might be happy for a long time them something side swipes us, and then its gone again.  We may try so hard to find happiness and contentment that we lose sight of it all together.  We may be unhappy for such a long time, so that when we become happy again, we hold onto it so hard so as not to lose it again.

Now, I don’t know this for sure, (in fact I really don’t know anything for sure but that’s the wonder of life isn’t it?)but I’m starting to understand that the more you hold on tightly to the feeling of contentment and happiness, the harder it is to keep, a bit like a slippery eel that wants to get away.

I started out on this journey in search of happiness like an adventurer on a quest to find some hidden treasure in a long-lost land. I equipped myself for a long journey, knuckled down thinking this is going to be a tough one but I’m going to find it come hell or high water!   It wasn’t long before I realized I didn’t have to go anywhere, it was right here all along, hidden under layers of worry, panic, anxiety and the little stories Id told myself about how useless I was, how difficult life was and how I would never achieve my goals.  With that kind of self talk, it’s no wonder I couldn’t find happiness and no wonder I thought it would be a mammoth task to try to be happy again.

My early twenties were spent in a general panic.  I would worry about everything.  I had a picture of what my life should look like, nice house, earning a decent wage, a lasting relationship etc, all normal things but I was so seriously attached to these goals that whilst I was striving so hard, real life was just passing by unnoticed.  I spent most of my early twenties alone, I never really went out and never made the effort to meet anyone even though I wanted to, I was just too anxious.  I tried so hard at work, but never seem to get anywhere, I got the house but didn’t really enjoy it, I just worried about paying the bills on my own and keeping it clean. It wasn’t long before I started to get tired and depressed because life was not going the way I thought it would and all the way through this, happiness and that general feeling of contentment was slowly being buried alive.

Anyway, this is not me indulging in a past that has gone, I write it to paint a picture of how easy it is to fall into a trap, how a normal everyday chap going about his business can easily get so side swiped that the spark of life goes out, and when your down there  it is difficult to see that happiness is already there, it never went away.

I’ve written in my past blogs about how the practice of mindfulness has helped me get back on track.  It truly has been a life changer, but it’s not a cure-all. A mindful life for me is not just about living in the present moment, it isn’t just about sitting on my meditation stool for hours on end, no way.  It is about loosening the grip on the reins, sitting back and enjoying the ride that is life, opening up to the fact that we don’t have all the answers and for me, that is just a lovely place to be in.

I have aims and goals still, I still want to achieve things, do things, see things, I  don’t think there is anything wrong with that. One day I want to be able to teach this stuff to people who need it.  One day I want to work when I want to, live by the seaside and spend more time with my partner and my dog.  All great stuff but I realize now how life is unpredictable, things can turn out differently to how we think.  I can hold onto these goals lightly but not get attached to them like I did before.

I’m not always happy, but I’ve come to realize that is also fine, its part of who I am, part of who we are. The difference I see now is that I don’t get lost in the unhappiness, I don’t cover it up anymore like before with the layers of worry and anxiety etc. Generally it doesn’t last for long.

It’s a bit scary at first but if you find your holding onto the reins of life so tightly that nothing else matters and happiness has become elusive again, try loosening your grip.  Try sitting back and enjoying the ride. There is nothing special in this, nothing special about being mindful, it is very ordinary but just by loosening the grip a little, by holding our thoughts, beliefs, goals and aims lightly, we may start to see the beauty in life again.

Happiness and contentment is there, if only we care to look.

Reality

 

 

I have written in another blog post about making friends with anxiety. This is an odd concept and one that I wanted to look at further.

It took a while but through regular practice, I am less likely to now see anxiety as my enemy, I can see them as opportunities to practice.   When that familiar feeling of anxiety crops up, instead of thinking “get me out of here, I don’t want this”, I can think “Ah, hello, let’s have a look at this, what is really going on here”.

This observing created a sense of spaciousness and allowed me to see the sincere and honest reality of a given situation.  My mindfulness teacher taught me three words to use in meditation and everyday life, those three very simple but effective words are “What is this”

It was one of those wake up moments.  Instead of trying to get rid of a difficult situation or bad feeling, I could be more curious, asking the question “what is this, what is this feeling”.  Not in a wishy-washy way, or an over analyzing, over thinking way, more of a “what is really happening in this very moment, what is the truth of this present moment”.

In the past, I would have got stuck at the first feelings of anxiety with thoughts like “I can’t cope, I need to get rid of it”. The battle would start.   When I look at it with a more curious and open approach,when I put the magnifying glass on it so to speak, the anxiety is there but it’s not quite as strong, it looses its hold on me, I can look at it the situation more clearly, to see what is the reality and what thoughts are just not real.   A lot of the time I have noticed that most of my thoughts are not reality.  For example, this weekend I have been to a family occasion and met lots of people I have never met before.  The day before we left, I got the anxious feeling.  The thoughts went a bit like this

Will they like me

What if nobody speaks

What do we talk about, I’m no good at small talk.

So, I just sat with these thoughts and asked the question “what is this”.  I turned the magnifying glass on and looked at it.   What was the reality.  The main thing I realized is that of course, they were not the reality of the moment.  I can’t look into the future and all these thoughts were from the future, the occasion hadn’t happened yet.  The little problems I had conjured up in my mind where just not real, I could let them just float away and as I did that the anxiety floated off too.  I was then able to go the occasion without any pre-conceived ideas,  without the little made up conversations I thought might happen.  It was a lovely day, we met some lovely people and it was very enjoyable.

So I have made friends with anxiety because it is a reminder for me to practice being mindful, to keep coming back to the present moment.  It was the reason I started on this journey and the reason I will stay on it for the rest of my life.

So I say thank you anxiety, see you next time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple happiness

Happiness is simple. Everything we do to find it is complicated.

Karen Maezen Miller

My mind is really good at over complicating things.  It wants to analyse and ponder. Wondering why this and why that. Before I know it something quite simple turns into the most complicated thing.

Finding happiness was one of those things I used to think was so complicated and elusive. Just when I thought I had found the thing that would make me happy, those anxious thoughts would come flooding back and them bam… the happiness had gone and I would start again.

One thing that struck me when I started on this life of practice and mindfulness is how simple it is, yet how my mind wanted to make it so so complicated.  The true essence of mindfulness for me is just to keep coming back to this present moment whether it is in formal meditation or everyday life, how complicated could that be!

The truth is, it is simple but takes practice, our mind wants to wander.  I liken my practice to letting my dog off the lead on a walk.  I have to keep gently bringing him back to heel, each time he wants to go on ahead just that bit further, I just keep bringing him back to heel, just a gentle training.  He is a Jack Russell and can be quite stubborn, so sometimes he has to go back on the lead for a while.   The mind is the same, I just keep gently bringing it back into the present moment whenever I feel I am lost in thought or ruminating about one thing or another. Occasionally, I will get really lost in a thought, then I have to clip on the lead so to speak.  A really simple technique of breath and body awareness works well for me.  I put my attention to my feet, feel the contact with floor, then the breath, feel the air coming in through the nostrils, cold air in, warm air out.  Just this simple technique brings me back into the present moment.

So what has this all got to do with happiness.  For so long, I thought happiness was this big, massive thing, that when I found it my whole life would change.  Yet I could never find it,  I would buy a new car, no I couldn’t find it there (well only for about a week and then it would disappear again)  how about changing jobs?, earn more money?, no not there either.  New house? no I couldn’t find it there either.   Happiness eluded me at every turn until I learnt how to truly come back to the present moment.

The sincere, honest and open truth is that I truly believe a lasting happiness is not big and brash, it’s not outwardly life changing, when we find it doesn’t mean we are going to go round all happy clappy and smiling for the rest of our years. No, happiness is Simple, it’s already here, right here in this very moment.  If you read this without thinking about the future or the past, then there is happiness.  All those daily tasks, driving, walking, working, eating, washing up, drinking a cup of tea (sorry I know I always mention this but I like tea), when we can do them mindfully, from the present moment we can see a glimpse of joy and happiness, a kind of spaciousness.  When I tap into this space I feel at peace, joyful. It’s a bit like the feeling I get when Spring comes and the days and nights get lighter, an inner sense of joy, its difficult to explain,much better to experience.

The featured image on this post is a picture of me when I was tapping into this happiness.  It was taken shortly after I had discovered mindfulness, we had gone out on a walk and found this amazing little hidden away coral beach.  I remember it so well because I was present for it, It was the first time in a long,long while that I had truly been in the present moment, not thinking about anything else other than that place.  From a distance the sand just looked normal, until I looked closely I realized it was made up of tiny pieces of coral, millions and millions of pieces.

That beach will forever be my happy place, etched in my mind and a reminder for me to try as best I can to live in the present moment and to experience everyday things in full awareness, sight, taste, touch etc. For me that is where the happiness and joy of life is.

Simple happiness, it takes some practice to find, but its right here now, just waiting to be uncovered.

A year of living mindfully

What Lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Ok, this is not meant to be a fanfare moment far from it but the 31st October 2016, marks the one year point. A year ago, after completing the 31 day Mindfulness Summit online, I pledged to change my life around and start this journey into living a mindful life.  I thought it would be interesting to just reflect on this past year.

In my previous blog Mindfulness-Making friends with anxiety and removing the mask, I talked about what brought me to mindfulness and meditation.  Basically it was a sense of not getting the most out of life, feeling like the spark had gone out and battling with emotions such as anger and anxiety.  I was constantly striving for something, lord only knows what.  I would make up little targets and goals for myself, “if I only had this, or only had that, then it would all be just hunky dory”.    Except it was never hunky dory, just as soon as I got what I thought would be the answer,the feeling of joy would disappear into thin air, like a thirst never quenched, I would be off looking for the next thing.

 I know a lot of us experience this, over the last year I have talked to so many people with similar stories.  If you have experienced it yourself, you will know it is an exhausting way to live.  So what is different about practicing mindfulness and what has changed a year down the line?

Present moment Living

I know this phrase is banded around so much,  “Live in the moment” you hear it said so much, but what does it really mean to live in the present moment.   To live in the present moment is subtle but powerful.  It can be a difficult concept to grasp because our minds don’t want to be in the present, they want to be way up ahead in the future, or dwelling on the past.  We can say “oh yes, I’m living in the moment, look I’m doing this or doing that, but if we are honest we are probably thinking about what comes next, or what do I have to do, or what happened yesterday blah, blah.. it goes on.

To truly, live in the present moment is magical.  I started to see glimpses of it early on, when I had just started the online summit and started to cultivate an awareness I didn’t have before.  I remember listening to one of the first talks by Mark Williams, he talked about how we live a lot of the time on autopilot.   A simple thing like making a cup of tea, is so often done on autopilot he said.  How many times have you made a cup of tea, drank it, then after a moment gone back to the empty mug and wondered who has drunk your tea?  If you actually added these little moments up, it’s a lot of life wasted on autopilot.   Driving is often done on autopilot, which is a bit scary but I have been guilty of it, you get to your destination and wonder “how did I get here!”, not remembering anything about the journey.

Practicing mindfulness, cultivates this present moment living.  I remembering making and drinking a  “present moment” cup of tea after listening to Mark Williams.  It sounds daft but it was the most joyful thing.  Don’t take my word for it though, go try it, put all your attention to that cup of tea, listen to the boiling water, feel the tea bag, watch it brew, then sit and savour every mouthful.

Present moment living was also my gateway out of anxiety,  when you are really in the present moment, anxiety starts to go away,  I became aware that my anxiety was all related to the past and the future.  How could I be anxious if I’m only making a cup of tea? or just driving the car, or just taking a bath or just carrying out my work duties, or just being present. It was because I wasn’t living in the present moment but thinking about the future or the past.

I still slip into autopilot mode sometimes, but the difference now is that I am quickly aware of it and can observe it happening to a greater degree, the past truly is loosing its grip on me, I become less interested in it and the future I am more seeing that it will take care of itself if I take care of the present more. Sure I still plan for the future but I am not living my life in the future.

I understand it isn’t good enough for me to just say “I am living in the moment”.  I have to really practice it daily and cultivate the awareness through daily meditation, but for me this is the hub of living a mindful life, where it all begins and will never end.

Just Being

Mindfulness over the year has helped me to just be myself, to know what I like, what I dislike, what makes me comfortable, what makes me uncomfortable.  The difference is, I’m now not battling to change these things. I can observe them come and go, there may be some internal battle still but I can observe that too without reacting.  Strangely enough, without reacting or being lost in thought, actually I have found that the answers come to you intuitively, without having to be lost in thought or lost in some internal battle of worry and anxiety.

Kindness/Compassion

I’ve always been a sensitive person, wearing my heart on my sleeve a lot of the time, but I have found there to be a big difference with compassion and kindness born out of a mindful life.   For a start it is less about the “I” and more about the “us”.  For example I used to remember listening to people’s problems, trying to be sympathetic but all along I would be thinking about how it compared to my life, usually my response to them would be more about my problems than the persons problem I was listening too!

The more I practice, the more compassionate I become, not in a gushing or false way, but from a place of sincerity and purity.  There is a growing sense of oneness,a wholeness and as I wrote in the piece “cogs in a machine” , the practice is helping me to create a Soft heart but a Strong back.   To be able to deal calmly with the storms of life ( because they will come), yet to remain with compassion for myself and others, this is the practice.

Drama and Awareness

For sure the drama is going.  The internal drama that my mind so loved to create, those thoughts of “I’m not good enough” or “I can’t do this” or “he did that to me, how dare he” blah,blah… just all drama.  This internal drama used to play itself out,  I would get angry or anxious or would want to change something outwardly.  Slowly this is calming down. So called dramas are not dramas anymore, just a set of events to observe.

Last week on the way home from work a car pulled out of a side street without looking, I had to emergency stop, they just carried on regardless. I could feel  the anger rising, but it disappeared quickly.  My first thought was, its ok, nobody hurt, there was nobody behind me and all is fine.  I set off again, the moment was gone, no need to react.

Now if this had happened a year or so ago, my first reaction would have been to hit the horn, then I might have tried to catch up with the driver so he could see me in his mirror, flash my lights, wave my fist at him. It sounds absurd but I spend a lot of time driving and I see this happen so much.   I would have been lost in the drama, but also I would be hurting myself, working myself up for nothing.

Mindfulness helps me to see where the drama actually is, in this case the drama was short, it was the moment he pulled out and then my reaction of hitting the brake, the drama was over right at that point, I don’t then start to add another drama to it like “we could have hit” or “how dare he, what an idiot” blah blah.  It’s just a small moment in life, but these little insights are big reminders the practice is working.


Mindfulness is subtle, there is a subtle shift in awareness, but that slight shift has for sure changed my life.  It has become part of my life as much as eating or breathing but to really truly embrace it, I think it has to.  You can’t just read about it, or think about it, that helps, but the changes happen when you actually just do it. Out of the formal daily practice, these changes come.

I couldn’t grasp this at first, why does sitting in daily meditation change how you live your every day life.  This very thought was why I had a mindfulness audio book sat unread on my kindle for months before I actually started my journey.  You can’t grasp it, until you practice it.

A year really is nothing in the grand scheme of things, this is a journey that I know now will last a life time.  Learning, practicing,doing, being one moment to the next moment, slowly I am starting to see the sheer joy in those very moments, it’s not big and brash, it is just life as it really is and a realization that happiness is already here in this very moment.

Now it is time for a mindful cup of tea.

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With best wishes for now to you all.

 

 

 

Old v New

“How can you start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one”

I have been having a slight battle with myself this week, some of you may relate to this but my mind seems to want to go back to its old mindset, its old way of thinking, judging, criticizing, reacting. It’s a bit like a coiled spring that’s being stretched, it wants to go back to its original, familiar shape.

As I travel further into this journey and learn a new way of being, to see things as they really are, the old way seems to cry out for attention like a lost child.  I want to share this with you because it could so easily de-rail any attempts to change and I am sure why sometimes, we can feel like we are stuck in a rut.

I like the spring analogy, the more I practice mindfulness, I can see the spring stretch, it keeps trying to go back to its original shape but its being stretched so much it can’t anymore.  It keeps me on track, knowing that I might have the odd off day, when the spring is trying to re-coil, that’s ok, just as long as I am aware of it and not lost in it. Awareness is the key.  There is no battle really, its being with life truly as it is, the good, the bad and the ugly.

The more I practice, the more I lose interest in my past, I don’t mean memories and people etc, its more the anxious past I lose interest in, the stories, the drama, they lose their grip on me.   It is not easy to lose that old identity, to suddenly wonder who you are. It scary and exciting at the same time, but I know that this self was always there, the joy, the happiness was always there, just covered up.  Its not new, its not old, its just real.

I knew this journey would not be easy, there is going to be some twists and turns.  It might be 3 steps back and 4 steps forward but there really is no turning back now.  If you are going through a similar journey, watch out for those twists and turns, don’t let them de-rail you, know that you are on the right track.

With Best Wishes for now

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